In 1994, a book called To Train Up A Child by Michael Pearl came out. It was quite an uproar as this book promoted that spanking is not only ok, but that the bible demands it from good parents. It works with several example situations, one of them being the comparision of children and dogs, saying that if even a dog can learn a simple comand, you child should too. Not only does it use this image but it also suggests the same training method.
This means that, for example, very small children can be trained like dogs. It works like this: You put a “desirable object”, namely a toy in front of the kid, within its reach. Whenever it grabs the toy, it gets hit, for example with a willow branch. This training is supposed to teach the kid to ignore its natural urge to explore things, and to only touch something when particularly allowed to.
This system found friends in my family. As a mother, you might be able to keep track of 3 or even 4 kids on your own, but once you got more than 5, it gets tricky. Especially when many of them are still toddlers and very small children. Things get touched. The kids might even gang up to aquire an object of desire. The bigger brother lifts his little sister up to reach something neither of them usually could, such as the cookie jar. My mother just couldn’t keep up with us anymore, especially when pregnant. The Pearl’s ideas seemed like bliss to her. And so, the smaller children were trained according to the book. My mother figured that I was too old already for the easy “don’t touch” training, but nevertheless the rules were applied to me as well.
Another suggestion of the book is that spanking produces happy, cheerful and content kids. In reality that means: If your child has a bad day, is grumpy and whiney, spank it until it laughs again. I don’t know if that makes sense for you, it certainly doesn’t for me.
I remember a day where I was in a particularly bad mood. I was 9 or 10. The entire week of homeschool I felt I wasn’t doing as much as I was supposed to. It wasn’t fun either, it was exhausting. My siblings were falling on my nerves. I was at an age where you feel you’re going to be a teen soon and you want some space, some privacy. You’re too old for those silly child’s games. You want friends to ride bikes with and go to the small store to buy candy. Instead, I was home, helping mom do laundry and cleaning, watching the children, doing homeschool that I couldn’t do, not feeling like anything of what I did was good enough or worth the attention of my parents.
I can tell you, I would have starved myself for a week for just two hours of ice cream with my mom alone. I wanted so bad to feel like I was worth it.
So, on that one day, I was in a very frustated, grumpy mood. I barked at my siblings. I didn’t do my chores as thoroughly as I should and normally did. Come dinner time, I sat on my chair with a sour face, poking around in the mashed potatoes and not really eating. My mother told me to straighted up, which I did only half heartely. My dad asked me what happened, and I told him I didn’t know, I was just feeling a bad mood. Silence. Chewing. Let’s get over it.
After dinner, I was quick to clean up the dishes with my mom. I wanted some alone time. I was trying to carry the dishes as fast as I could. In my hurry, I dropped a glass. That wouldn’t have been a big deal on its own. But my mom was so stressed – so stressed. She started yelling at me, yelling away her day’s worth of frustation. After a few minutes of this, my dad came storming out of the living room, yelling at us both for disturbing his peace. My mom started crying and yelled back at him that I was impossible to raise and she needed him, that he was never around to be the strong leader he would like to be. That pushed my dad over the edge. He grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the room. I heard my mom yell behind me that when I got back, she wanted a happy child and not this grumpy lump of clothes I was. My dad pulled me into the kid’s bedroom, got his cane off the closet and started beating me in fury. I was screaming my life out. My siblings started crying outside. My dad ran to the door, grabbed the first child he could get a hold of, which was Jacob, pulled him in too and gave him a spanking as well.
While at first, with less and small kids, the spankings were rare, they were getting more and more and more. Though not every child was spanked daily, there was a spanking for one or two of them every day.
And the rules got harder to keep for us kids. While my parents punished only things that were offensive at first, over time passive behaviour deserved a spanking as well. You could get spanked for really anything in our house. Breaking something, even if it wasn’t on purpose. Bad mood. Overly good mood. Bad attitude. Grumpiness. Saying No when you were supposed to say Yes.
All of this lead to quite strange behaviour at our house. Kids were constantly afraid of something. Kids were trying to please our parents so badly that they cried for failing. If you were in bad luck, that could mean a spanking for bad attitude. My parents got many many compliments on how well we were behaved. Today I can say that it wasn’t good behaviour. We didn’t want to be good people. We were afraid. We feared our parents and tried everything to avoid negative attention. We were standing there, quietly smiling, heart beating fast with fear that something might go wrong.