Monday, February 9

We Don't Hit

I grew up in a home wherein if you did not obey the rules, a black belt was brought out and liberally applied to whatever part Mom could reach.  She called it, "using the belt" or "getting the belt out." 

If she got your leg...
If she got your back...
If she got your hand...
"Oh well.  You shouldn't have moved."

We should have stood still while an angry person, twice our size, screamed at us and hit us.

No one at school asked us what the welts on our bodies were all about. No one ever accused my mother of abuse.  I'm not claiming that I was abused.  At the time, none of this was abuse. 

In the 1980s, it was perfectly normal for your parents to smack you.  Everyone's parents "whooped" them when they did something wrong.  Sure, we hated it.  Sure, we plotted against it.  Sure, we knew it was unfair, but as powerless children, it never occurred to us that it was wrong

My mother recycles.  She feeds stray cats and donates to toy drives.  My mother tends to sick family members and plays 'tea party' with my kids.  She is an occasional vegetarian and checks in on her elderly neighbor.  She is a kind, loving person and my best friend.  She and Doodle Bug have a heartbond unlike anything I've ever seen.

But... my mother is also human and a product of her generation.  When I hear stories of her father, my grandfather, I wince.  His hand would fly for the smallest slight.  Without warning, she and her siblings would be whipped while doing the dishes if he thought that they were talking too much.  They would continue to scrub, tears silently rolling down their cheeks.  His version of 'being grounded' was inhumane.  They were allowed to attend school, but when they returned home, they went straight to bed.  That was it. No dinner.  No bathroom.  No talking.  For a month.  She remembers being grounded like this for crying when her sister hit her.

The stories I've heard about my grandfather make me realize that I might not have liked him.  He was the type that would boast about bar fights as if they were a badge of honor, instead of the hallmark of jackassery we know them to be.  My grandmother never spoke ill of him, even after he passed.  I'm sure that he had a softer side at some point as my mother loves her father, but his idea of discipline wouldn't fly in modern day America.

Abuse, unlike money, truly trickles down.  My grandfather was probably smacked around and fed drivel like "real men don't cry" when he was young.  It broke part of him and twisted him up.  He vented that hurt and negativity by fighting with men in bars, verbally abusing his wife, and disciplining his children to excess.  My mother, a single parent, channeled all of that trauma through angry words and a belt.

I'm not saying that we were perfect angels.  We got detention, we had failing grades, we would trash the house.   We were 9, 8, and 5 year old latch-key children in a distant Chicago suburb.  There was food on the wall and a television blaring.  Our laundry was everywhere and we stole bricks from the neighbor's landscaping to help build our fort.

We were largely unsupervised and emotionally lost.  Our exhausted mother worked three jobs and had small packages delivered to the house on occasion to make sure someone was checking on us.  As the eldest, I knew how to make macaroni & cheese, so we lived on that.  We had no fewer that a dozen cats and fleas were everywhere.  There was a portable washer that I didn't know how to use and we line dried our clothes.  I was so stunted by constant loneliness and belittlement that I didn't even flinch when my first grade bus driver let me off at a stop 2 miles from my house.  I simply started to walk.

I see these things now. 

Whenever our circumstances led us to wallowing in filth or fighting amongst ourselves or breaking something, my mother would break us down verbally.  We were "ungrateful monsters."  She might as well give us all knives "so that you can just kill each other."  We were "pigs" and "animals".  Then, she would remind us of the smallest things for which she would have been beaten.  She would inform us of how the punishment she was giving us was somehow better or kinder than the one she was given at our age.  And then we'd hear the sound of the belt being pulled from the drawer.  She'd order us to "Come here!"

My sister would break out in hives.  My brother pretended it didn't hurt.  I hid in the coat closet.  It didn't matter how sorry you were, how hard you cried, how much you pleaded... that belt was going to sear your skin.  Her words got uglier and uglier.  Then you were hit again and sent away with disgust.

My siblings and I often pow wowed after these discipline sessions.  We never discussed what we'd done.  To this day I don't remember the whys, but I remember her hatred and the pain she willingly inflicted on us.  We'd vent our fears.  We imagined her laughing at us behind closed doors.  We imagined her wishing we would just disappear.  We wondered if our mother loved us and decided, as a group, that she did not. We decided that we were bad and unwanted.

We plotted to run away.

Our first plans, sketched out in crayon, were discovered.  My mother screamed and whipped us.  The second time, we made plans in code.  We snuck a bag of chips and juice boxes out of the house and set up a shelter made of sticks in the nearby woods.  We were discovered by a neighbor and ratted out.  My mother beat us with the infamous belt and grounded us from dinner.

The last time we ran away, we made plans to survive on whatever we could find in the woods and tried to cross the frozen lake so that no one could follow us.  I remember my sister's small voice as she lamented, "Mommy doesn't love us anymore."  We didn't make it far.  I was leading the way and fell through the ice.  All the way in.  My head hit the ice from the underside and I remember absolute panic flooding my body.  My brother grabbed my hand as I grasped at the broken edge of the ice.  He pulled me out.  I lost a boot to that lake.  I had blood on my chin from scraping it as I'd fallen in.  My hair was ice and my lips were blue by the time we'd retreated to the house.  We snuck back in and, while I probably should have gone to the hospital, we rushed to hide all of the evidence. 

If my brother hadn't have grabbed my hand, I wouldn't be here to type this story out.  All because I didn't want to be hit anymore.  Because I couldn't stand to be called the same names by my mother that the bullies at school called me.  That's how far, as an 8 year old child, I was willing to go to escape.  That was the danger we put ourselves in in order to get away from the pain, the humiliation, the terror....

As we grew older, the belt disappeared but the mental scars were already there.  The three of us developed a wide array of negative coping skills, anxieties, and disorders.  We all have real problems with authority figures.  Of the list below: I have 21 of the listed negative coping behaviors.  My brother has 20.  My sister has a whopping 28.

I turned to food and victimhood.  I eat to sooth my emotions.  It has crippled my body.  I have kidney issues, deteriorating vertebra, bad joints, etc.... all from eating.  I am hyper-critical and pass a lot of judgement in an attempt to feel like I'm better than others.  It is how I boost my self-esteem.  I also have severe problems with depression.  When things get tough, I retreat.  I have withdrawn from college four times because I was overwhelmed or had a "mean" professor.  I freeze up when I have a real problem.  If I'm in a bind, I don't have the skills to figure it out on my own.  I am terrified that anyone with the power to help me will blame me for my problems and write me off as useless or unworthy.  I can't stand the idea of being rejected or ridiculed.   

My brother suffers from uncontrollable anger, narcissistic personality disorder, and compulsive lying.  He is an abusive and controlling boyfriend, never having been able to maintain a relationship.  He is emotionally paralyzed.  In boy scouts, he was cornered in a room and beat up so bad that the boys tore his clothing.  In high school, he was duped by local boys into thinking he'd been invited to a party.  They drove him twenty miles out of town and abandoned him on the side of the road for a laugh.  It took him a day and a half to walk home.  My mother had reported him as missing.  The only explanation he ever gave her was that he'd been visiting friends and fallen asleep.  I found out what they'd done to him through a friend of a friend.  He has been completely estranged from the family and gets in regular physical fights with strangers. 

Being the youngest, my sister has reached a state of being absolutely disabled by her issues.  All four of her children have been taken by the state or adopted out because she does not know how to function as a good mother.  In her tween and teen years, she had a nervous tick wherein when my mother got home from work in the evening, she had an uncontrollable impulse to hide (to the point that her limbs would twitch if she didn't).  I remember her telling me once, "I don't know why, but I have to be the one to see her (our mother) first."

My sister is an alcoholic and a cutter.  She never finished high school.  She now lives penniless in my mother's basement.  She has bi-polar and depression.  She blames the world for her problems, completely incapable of taking responsibility for anything at all.  Everything is someone else's fault.  If cornered with responsibility for a mistake, she crumbles.  Even pointing out that she made a mistake while playing a card game a few months ago, she began to sob uncontrollably and spun into three days of drinking and depression.  

I had my son, Doodle Bug, in the autumn of 2002.  I was a 23 year old single mom and he was my world.  We co-slept, co-ate, co-bathed, co-sat-on-the-couch.  I bought him adorable miniature sunglasses and trendy sneakers while I wore thrift-store.  I carried him on my back when we went for walks.  We went on Mommy-Son dates and watched movies together.  My sister told me that he would never learn to walk because I never put him down.  My boss actually told me that I loved him too much!  Haha.

Doodle Bug my spark.  He was the reason I went to college.  He was the reason I exercised.  He was the reason for my focus on Pagan Parenting. He taught me what unconditional love was.  He had brought me that gift, straight from the Goddess.  She had put in my care this amazing and beautiful boy.  He was my sun and stars.  

So... why was my first instinct to hit him when he made me angry?  He was 20 months old the first time I smacked his butt.  He jerked forward on unsteady feet and I was reminded instantly of how small he was still, compared to my angry hand.  He made a face I'd never seen before and then it cracked into a river of tears.  Was THIS worth the peas he might have spit out or the item he may have touched?

It broke my heart.

I tried to comfort him, but he wouldn't come near me.  I had shocked him. Stung him.  He was afraid of his mother for the first time in his short life.

Some of you might think of that as the appropriate outcome.  There are parents out there who still live inside of the myths of spanking.  "I was spanked and I'm okay," says the bipolar alcoholic.  "Sometimes words just don't work," says the woman who has a broken relationship with her father and chain smokes.  "You gotta teach them respect," says the obese guy with an arrest record.  "Now he knows the consequences," says the emotionally crippled guy who doesn't understand why no one at the office likes him.  

Science now supports the idea that physical punishment (or corporal punishment) has nothing but harmful, longterm effects.  Children who are disciplined like this are more likely to show aggression and develop anti-social behaviors, even years after spanking may have stopped.  They can become coercive and bully other children.  A majority develop psychiatric disorders, such as depression, OCD, or bipolar disorder.  Many go on to struggle academically and hav reduced grammer and vocabulary capacities.  Physically disciplined children are far more likely to develop addictions, use drugs and alcohol, and engage in risky behaviors.

Homes where corporal punishment is used are far more likely to cross the line into domestic abuse territory.  Children who are spanked are seven times more likely to also be punched, kicked, or otherwise seriously assaulted by their parents (compared with children who are not spanked).  Studies show that children who are physically disciplined develop less grey matter than children who are not.  The trauma of being hit by their caregivers literally stops their brains from growing properly.  That should be an eye-opener for everyone!

Back in 2004, I didn't know that there was already mounting evidence against corporal punishment.  I just knew that I hated myself for hurting my son.  I vowed to never hit my child again.  I didn't research alternatives, I simply didn't hit him.  As time went by, however, I noticed that I was a screamer.  Instead of being physically violent with my son, I was becoming emotionally and verbally violent with him.  I was hyper-critical, obsessively stern, micro-managing, and downright MEAN to my angelic boy.  I had a wake-up call when he started kindergarten.  Bills were tough, so I got a roommate.  He was my best friend and a guy who had suffered multiple forms of abuse in his life.  He pulled me aside after I had scolded my son for something and told me how I sounded.  I began to pay attention to the ugliness coming out of my own mouth and realized that I needed help. 

It took a lot of reading and attending parenting conferences and therapeutic counseling for me to understand how to be a peaceful parent.  You can't simply abstain from hitting.  If you don't deal with your childhood traumas and learn gentle discipline techniques, you may fall into the verbal and emotional abuse trap, like I did.

My son will have his share of childhood issues to work out because I spent so many years rushing him, shaming him, and insulting him (as an alternative to hitting).  I am ashamed of the ways I've hurt my son.  I hope that if you choose to take the gentle parenting route, that you will research techniques and methods.  

Papa J and I strive to use gentle and peaceful parenting techniques.  Sometimes we slip and have to remind each other.  Family members and friends don't get it.  The still live in a world where spanking and shaming and threatening and committing violence against children is "okay."

As Pagans, we live a world of love and energy and blessings and karma and balance.  Let us remember that as we care for our precious children.

For info-graphics, articles, and advice check out Mama Stacey's Peaceful Parenting Pinterest page.


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