Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Spanking vs. Beating

 Every summer when school let out, my parents dropped me off to spend the summer with my grandmother and extended family.  I loved the summers with my grandmother.  We did something different every day and my parents, babysitters and brother weren't around to bother me.  

Both of my parents believed in spanking as a form of discipline.  They both had abusive, alcoholic fathers who had disciplined them.  They hated their fathers and were estranged from them.  But, like their fathers, they often went to far with discipline and spankings quickly turned to beatings.  

Our two primary babysitters were also very abusive.  The private school we attended was authorized to spank us.  It seemed like everywhere we went some adult had the right to beat us and we just had to take it.  I don't know what it was like in other places but this was the norm in the south in the 70's and 80's.  

These summers with my grandmother were a welcome relief from being beaten.  She spanked me on occasion but not with the frequency or intensity of my parents or sitters.  When my grandmother spanked me I knew it was in response to something I did wrong.  At home it was generally because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and they needed someone to let out their frustrations on.  

My extended family also believed in spanking.  I frequently witnessed my cousins getting beaten with a switch.  These beatings were painful to watch but I knew from my home life that I should keep my distance.  My mother would often lose control when beating my brother and start hitting me as well because I was in the same room.  

Most beatings left bruises.  Occasionally there was blood if the skin was broken.  Wooden spoons, leather belts with metal buckles and switches each had the potential to break the skin.  No one ever told them what they were doing was abuse.  My brother and I frequently threatened to call child protective services on my mother but we never did.  She knew they were idol threats and had no reason to do anything different. 

No one at school every questioned the bruises and we never went to a teacher or other adult for help. We thought this was how all parents treated their children.  Most of our friends were covered in bruises and scars just from rough housing and being kids.  I'm sure if we had black eyes or burn marks an adult would have stepped in but I'm not sure.   

The Adrian Peterson story is shocking to the public because there are pictures of a 4 year old with bruises.  The use of a switch to beat the child seemed barbaric to many people.  Peterson's only defense is that this was how he was disciplined and he saw no reason not to discipline his child in the same way. 

I have vivid memories of being beaten from the time I was 3 years old.  I didn't start to forgive my mother until I was well into my 20's.  I still resented my father when he died.  

One of my babysitters died from cancer 10 years ago.  Even though I had not seen her for many years I felt a strange sense of relief after she died.  

A couple of my cousins have been arrested for assault.  My brother has struggled with controlling his temper and has been arrested as well.  For a number of years he was medicated but he has learned to control his anger as he has gotten older.  He works in a very physical job which helps him relax.   

I often find myself so angry that I feel like my entire body is going to explode.  Exercise is generally my refuge.  After a good workout my anger subsides.  But there are still times when I think extremely violent thoughts.  I am proud of myself for being strong enough to never act on these thoughts but the fact that I have them concerns me.  I wish my parents had given me other tools to deal with conflict.  I wish my first instinct wasn't to fight.  

Maybe other people will see themselves in Adrian Peterson.  Maybe they will recognize that what they are doing is abuse and seek help.  Maybe they will learn how to discipline their children without violence.  Maybe some other little girl in the south won't grow up resenting her parents and terrified of having children of her own and continuing the cycle of abuse.  

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