[Trigger warning: spanking, child abuse.]
Someone found my blog recently by searching for “fought back against spanking” and that hit me hard.
Whoever you are, I want to give you a hug. You’re not alone.
The memories triggered by that phrase aren’t pleasant. In some ways, I realize I’m reliving the feelings of utter helplessness, desperate fear, and anger associated with those memories. Things with my ex took a much more stressful turn in June, friendships have been shifting, I moved three times in a month, and lost ground with church being a safe space (not my church’s fault). And I’ve been fighting occasional waves of processing/grieving that last for days and make things like focusing, doing my job well, prepping for the GRE, and being a social person really really hard. So much of this season is out of my control. So much of what I’ve been through has been dumped in my lap by circumstances, and I’m sitting on a pile of rubble wondering “what now?”
God was supposed to be good. God was supposed to have a plan for me. I played the game I was taught to play by my Christian upbringing. I was the dutiful one who did what she was supposed to. I followed the rules, didn’t pass go, didn’t collect my $200.
And some days when I just want someone to hear me out, when I write pieces like this, or could write pieces like that, I wonder…what happened? When did all the staid-and-true life pieces on which I was supposed to be able to depend go and turn on me? Why? What did I do?
I remember, when I was a kid, I’d be somewhere in the house, doing school, and I’d hear someone fighting with a parent. I’d hear voices get louder, someone thump their hand on a counter or a table, and then more yelling until the parent had enough and the child would shriek, and I knew that they were going to get spanked. And you could hear the wailing and crying all over the house.
As far as spankings go, my parents weren’t cruel. There was no reason to call CPS on what was going on. And all of us are strong-willed, loud, creative individuals. [If you're new here, you should read my disclaimer.]
But there is something fundamentally terrifying about the shift that happens when a parent goes to spank their child, for the child. They have no one else to depend on for food, shelter, direction, comfort. And suddenly something goes wrong (and a child of the age when spankings typically happen usually doesn’t have the reasoning capabilities of the adult doling out the punishment), and it’s hard to say why or what the transgression was (in our house, the loudest person usually got the punishment), but suddenly your comforting, nurturing parent on whom you depend…is hitting you.
I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not qualified to say what exactly this does to the psychological development of a child, but I think it boils down to reinforcing that they are
- dependent on a higher authority,
- this authority is sometimes nice, so be emotionally vulnerable to them,
- but if you make a mistake, this authority will be capricious and hurt you until you comply with their will, and
- discussing your side is always secondary and less important than the perspective of the authority.
I have a really hard time seeing God as a caring Father. I have a really hard time seeing God as nurturing.
My last spanking was when I was 16 years old. It was the last spanking because I fought back and screamed at my dad to hear me out, because he didn’t understand the situation and had come into the room to spank whoever was being loud. I don’t remember the details, but I think I sassed my mom right when he walked in. I think I was mimicking her back to herself because I was upset at a double standard. I don’t even remember if I was right or not. I just remember the terror of being yanked into the hall bathroom and being told to lean over the sink for my punishment.
I’m not saying that every parent who spanks their kids at any point ever is going to ruin them for life, is going to make them unable to trust God.
But it might make it a whole lot harder.
And if your child might ever have a reason to fight back, or if you ever think of the parenting process in any way as breaking the child’s will to yours, you’re wrong.
Your child isn’t yours. And you will be held accountable.
Listen, talk, work as a team, compromise. Embody grace.
And if they don’t turn out just like you, congratulations. You have succeeded in not perpetuating a cycle of unhealth, and you have nurtured an individual.
Spanking can have adverse effects that damage sexuality and sexual identity, too, but I’m not qualified to comment on that beyond observing that it happens.