I submitted a draft of this post to the Homeschoolers Anonymous “Hurts Me More Than You” Series, which you should all read, but I wanted to share it here as well.
I got spanked a lot growing up. Sometimes once a day, sometimes more often.
Spanking was a legacy handed down by grandparents on both sides, but mostly by my dad’s parents. My grandfather used a belt on my dad and his eleven siblings, sometimes lining them all up and spanking them one at a time until someone, occasionally the guilty party, confessed. My paternal grandmother used whatever was handy. “We learned not to irritate her while she was ironing,” my dad would joke.
He was determined to be different until he realized “At least my dad got respect.” I think he went with a board instead of the rod prescribed by Proverbs because it seemed more merciful, but it was still in the spirit of the law.
I remember my dad asking my mom when it was appropriate to start spanking my younger siblings. He decided as soon as a child was old enough to say no, they were old enough to spank for their rebellion, which was as the sin of witchcraft. I think some of my siblings got their first spanking before they were two years old.
My dad rebranded any and all disobedience as “rebellion” and spanked us for it. Worse, he taught us that any time we disobeyed him, it was disobedience to God, because children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Disobedience to him was rebellion against God. He added that “To delay is to disobey,” so failure to obey immediately was also disobedience, and also therefore sin.
I was immensely frustrated and angry when I realized that my dad could turn anything into a sin simply by forbidding it, and he often did. He could make failure to do anything a sin, simply by telling me to do it. This realization made me feel helpless.
Like many kids, we had chores. My dad inspected each chore, every night. Those who completed their chores to his satisfaction were given a bedtime snack. Those who failed to complete them to his satisfaction were not given a snack, but instead spanked.
If we got into fights in which someone got hurt, one of my parents, usually my dad, spanked the offending party. We were spanked for talking back and spanked for leaving the yard without permission. He often said, “I spank extra-hard for lying” to remind us that lying to get out of trouble would get us into more trouble, so we might as well tell the truth and take the spanking. Spanking was basically the go-to punishment for every offense.
When we got in trouble at church (maybe for talking out of turn; I don’t even remember), he would use a plastic coat hanger. Coat hangers were the worst, so we were more careful to behave at church.
At church he would be more cautious to hide the “discipline,” warning us that the government didn’t believe in the Bible and might take us away from our parents if they were caught. Not only were we the victims, but we were forced to collaborate, because nothing seemed worse at that age than being ripped away from our family.
My dad didn’t limit his sources of child-rearing advice to sacred scripture. He also took disciplinary advice from the communists in a book he read to us called Tortured for his Faith. It was about Haralan Popov, a Bulgarian Christian who spent over a decade in prisons on charges of treason. It wasn’t completely unlike a horror story. In one episode, the communists, trying to break Popov, forced him to stand against a white wall for days on end, hitting him when he shut his eyes.
Shortly after reading this book, my dad instituted a new consequence for talking out of turn during our nightly hour-long “Bible Story:” Stand up until he was satisfied we had learned our lesson. I found myself standing during “Bible Story” every night after this.
When I got angry and blew up about something, my dad would assign me to find verses from Proverbs about anger and copy them in good handwriting. It took me years to re-learn how to be angry, and longer to learn how to have a healthy level of anger.
I don’t doubt that my dad had good intentions. He was then, and is now, “trying to do what is pleasing to the Lord.” The difference between then and now is that my siblings, my mom, and I have grown up and moved out, and now there’s nobody left for him to hurt in his attempts to please the Lord. [I have received criticism that I implied my dad intended to hurt us in his pleasing the Lord. He didn’t intend to hurt us. But he did hurt us.]
I think most adults look back fondly on their childhood and wish they could go back. I don’t. I don’t miss always dreading my dad coming home from work. The best part about my relationship with him now is that if I’m talking to him, I can leave or hang up whenever I want, and there isn’t a thing he can do about it. I don’t miss hour-long sessions of my dad reading the Bible and making points, and having to stand up because my brain was wired directly to my mouth. I don’t miss my dad’s arbitrary rules having more power and authority then any of the rules in the Bible except “Children obey your parents.” I don’t miss having to copy verses about anger from Proverbs.
And I don’t miss being hit every night.
“If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” -Anne Lamott
EDIT: On my Facebook page, our pastor, Dr. Tom Trinidad, shared a link to some of his thoughts on spanking that I feel belongs here:
He noted, “My children have never been spanked, and they are among the most respectful, and more important, mature, children I’ve ever met.”
EDIT 2: My dad read this post and called me to say I had slandered him and made it appear that all of these things happened concurrently during my entire childhood. The situation did change over the years. I’m not sure how long the spanking-for-chores situation lasted, but it was years, or it certainly seemed that way. My younger brother doesn’t remember a time when it was not the rule, though my mom suggested it was enforced more laxly in later years.
My dad asked asked how many times I remembered the standing punishment happening. “Hundreds, at least,” I replied. He disagreed in the strongest of terms, but one of my brothers hinted that “hundreds” seemed accurate. My mom said it was “more often than it should have been,” though she couldn’t remember specifics. I lost count of the Proverbs-writing times. He insists it could not have been more than five, but I’m confident it was at least ten or twenty.
When I asked my mom about this, she reminded me of two other significant spankings. One of my sisters was spanked for not blowing her nose correctly when she was about twelve. Another was spanked for giving herself a haircut. I was spanked for helping with that haircut. The haircut occurred when she was three and I was five.
My dad read this post and strongly objected to its accuracy. I will tell you what I told him: It is the truth as best I can remember it.