The sound of a belt whipping through its loops still startles me and makes my stomach turn. When I was a kid that was the sound of my father about to wreak havoc on my body for testing limits.
Physical beatings were the norm throughout my entire family. It was a topic of discussion whenever we would hang out with our cousins. All of us feared the belt, race tracks, whatever our parents could get their hands on. We compared bruises and experiences.
My parents were raised this way so why would it be any different for me? It was passed on from our ancestors to us. As we were crying and secretly plotting their murder, our father would remark that someday we would look back on these moments and laugh.
He also reinforced the adage that if he didn’t love us he wouldn’t beat us. Somehow it didn’t feel like love but it was attention, I guess.
I learned yelling, screaming and beatings were the norm for the typical American household. I didn’t know running away to school without lunch and a sweater to get away from a beating wasn’t normal.
If beatings were détente enough, then it wasn’t effective
Here are examples of crimes against humanity and their subsequent punishments that obviously didn’t keep me from my sinful ways.
Approximate age: 10
Crime: When my parents took off for a weekend getaway, we had a babysitter who we really hadn’t known before. I and my brother were royal brats that weekend. Since I was the oldest I also was responsible for my brother’s behavior, an unwritten rule that after applied got me in trouble anyway.
Punishment: a long lecture while being beaten with a belt as I stood on a chair
Approximate age: 12
Crime: My parents warned me never to enter their room or touch anything in it. I picked the lock and went directly into Dad’s chest of drawers searching for his guitar tuning harmonica.
Punishment: He backhanded me in the hallway.
Approximate age: 16
Crime: Caught shoplifting while shopping with my father.
Punishment: Dad backhanded me the moment I turned around after entering his apartment. It was so hard I saw stars and woke up on the floor in front of my brother and sister. I got caught again about two years later.
Breaking the cycle
Yelling and screaming like my parents wasn’t working with my special-needs daughter so I grabbed a belt and whacked her twice. I could see the terror in her eyes. She didn’t understand but I could see I was breaking her spirit. I stopped as soon as I “came to” and swore never to do it again. I never did.
A few years later we found a family therapist who shed some light on best practices that didn’t include violence against our children. First we had to admit what our parents did was neither instructive, constructive nor productive.
We had a desire to do it right. We figured out we were teaching our kids how to parent our grandchildren. We were committed to breaking the abuse cycle and replacing it with effective and loving forms of discipline.
Today my kids are rock stars. They are far from perfect but they desire to please me through their obedience. My secret: humor. What a concept.
Posts in this series
Parenting with posttraumatic stress disorder
Discipline requires training, love spelled t-i-m-e
Beatings/Spankings are abuse: plain and simple
Parenting, like marriage, requires work
Parenting is a lifelong-learning proposition
Stop, look, listen and ask yourself questions
The high art of juggling
Downtime: the golden goose of PTSD
Worldwide parenting with PTSD Awareness Day
Parenting is a high call no matter your lot
The drought before the drought
Being misunderstood is a symptom
You are being forged in fire
Awakenings podcast: Parenting with PTSD
For single parents
A tribute to single parents