The last time I spanked my child was the first time I did.
She was not quite three years old. She was wearing a pink pinafore dress, a pastel knit sweater, and white tights covering her padded and oversized training pants. It was winter, the lawn was frozen, and it was too cold to play outside.
I forgot why I thought she needed a spanking. Maybe she had pulled the dog’s tail and made her squeal. Maybe she had scattered her toys through the house. Maybe she had spilled her milk on the carpet. What can a toddler do to deserve being assaulted?
I spanked my child and I will never forget how she cried. I will never forget the way she looked at me, startled, afraid of me for the first time. It broke my heart.
I will never forget how her eyes and her tears made me feel. I felt dirty. The same hand that caressed her little face, tucked her into bed, quilted her favorite blanket, made her peanut-butter and honey sandwiches, was the same hand I used to hit her bottom.
When my parents switched me with a stick, slapped me with their hands, or hit me with the ‘board of education’ my father hung on the wall in our kitchen, they never apologized. When they told me I was being stubborn, disobedient, and was on my way to destruction, they never said they were sorry. Fear turned me into a mindless mannequin who believed that because I was a girl, I was the devil’s child and deserved to be punished.
Spare the rod, spoil the child, especially if you were unfortunate enough to not be born a boy. In the misogynistic religious pseudo-Christin cult in which they raised me, girls were made in the image of Satan. The devil needed to be beaten out of me. Wishes, dreams, plans for an education, a life that did not incorporate marrying young, shutting up, and having my husband’s babies were not allowed for longer than I could say the words: “Daddy, I want to go to college.”
“Joyce, you need to give your heart to the Lord and repent. You are our most disobedient child. No one will ever love you. You won’t have any friends. You’re headed to having a terrible life!”
I put my hands over my ears as I cried, Please stop. Please stop. Please stop.
They did not. I was about ten years old at the time.
I became an obedient child. I followed their instructions. I married young. I married dumb. I shut up when my husband beat me because my family, church, and society ignored my bruises. I didn’t know another way to live. I procreated and gave birth to the most perfect, healthy, and beautiful baby girl ever created by God.
That day I spanked her, I looked in the mirror of the past and saw an ugly face staring back at me. I looked like my mother. I felt like my father.
That day I spanked her, I hugged my baby close to me. I cried. I apologized. And I chose a different way to raise her. I don’t know where it came from. Perhaps it came from how badly I was hurt when I was small, innocent, and naïve.
I chose not to repeat that same cycle of abuse with my little girl.
I chose to never raise my hand, my voice, a board, a stick, or anything but patience, words of encouragement, and joy around my child.
I chose to shield her from harm, violence, or anyone who might destroy her dreams. I vowed I would always love her and would do my best to protect her.
I chose to put my body between my baby and my husband when he picked up a dowel stick. He was going to hit her little legs with it. He had done it before. The stick had left red welts on her skin. This time, I looked directly into his wild eyes and said, “You’ve gotten away with hitting me for seven years – but you will never again touch my child. It’s time for you to pack. I’ve been saving boxes for you out back.”
Joyce A Lefler
Joyce A Lefler is the author of From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam. She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children, a bereavement counselor, registered nurse, and an advocate against abuse.