My Own Son Cringed At My Touch: Michal’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Michal” is a pseudonym.

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Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

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I was an abusive mother. 

My kids are my whole life. I adore them and would do anything for them. I can’t tell you how hard it is to admit, in writing, that I hurt them. I hurt the people I would do anything to protect and I have to live with that. 

With many large families, as the oldest girl, I helped parent my younger siblings. So in my young teens, when these books entered our home, I was reading and discussing them with my mom to help “parent”. I was accustomed to lots of spankings with small branches or belts in my early years and so the book was not surprising to me. Instead of the occasional punishments, though, it laid out a horrific system of beating your children under the guise of breaking wills and spiritual reasoning.

“A child is like a dog” is the first thing I took away from the Pearls book, To Train Up a Child.

If your children do something you dislike, you beat them calmly until they won’t do it again. The other concept I took away from that book was that if I wanted to save my child’s soul from hell, I had to make them obey at all costs. If your children can’t obey you, they won’t obey God. I learned that parents who did not spank their children, hated their children’s souls. Once I was a mom. I was “encouraged” by multiple peers and mom, mother-in-law, wives of elders, etc following this book to have times set aside every day for “training”.

“Training” of my poor 6 month old included finding something he wanted to do and spanking him every time he did it instead of heeding my command of “come here”.

I remember so many times of bawling because I was so miserable and my son was in so much pain and it just wasn’t working. I would tell these women that it wasn’t working and they would just say “spank harder” or I would be condemning their soul. Every time. Spank harder. And I did. Even with the glue sticks (the long flexible “bruise-less” instrument used by many) I would leave welts on my baby’s thighs because he would crawl away from me, not towards me on command. I was afraid to take him to the doctor. I started being afraid of asking for people’s help because it wasn’t working. I would make him eat the food I had deemed necessary for the day or he didn’t get other food. Sermons, from our church selling the book, reinforced the discipline and obedience of children. And that damn book said I didn’t love my child’s soul. And then it happened.

I came close to give my 18 month old son a hug and he cringed.

My own son cringed at my touch.

Over time we gladly threw spanking out the window. I tore up the book and threw it away. I stood up to women who told me I needed to just be spanking my children more. I didn’t know that physical abuse was defined as intentional contact to cause feelings of physical pain. I didn’t know that it was illegal to hit your child with an object regardless of whether it was called “spanking” or not. I started reading books on child development and psychology and realized how harmful it was to start my children’s lives out so aggressively. Most of those beatings had to do with my want for control or punishing my children because they embarrassed me, not with caring for my child. And I know that’s true for all the women and men that I watched “train up” their children.  

I’m not joking when I tell people that I plan to pay for my children’s counseling sessions even after they reach adulthood. Even though I changed my views on parenting while they were still young, my children were hurt by me and I can never go back and change that. 

Lacking empathy and nurturing attachment in the parent/child relationship, To Train Up a Child is destructive to the well being of any person, especially children.  

5 comments

  • The thing that is so sad is that kids are like dogs, but that hurting a dog is equally damaging as hurting a baby. If you watch any of the dog training shows (it is me or the dog, dog whisperer, etc) they NEVER use physical punishment. they usually do things like structuring the environment in ways that are better suited for positive outcomes, they use positive reinforcement, or removing attention. but they never hit the dogs! it is crazy. like the Pearls (and Dr Dobson too!) talk about beating dogs like it is “a thing” when no respectable dog trainer would even treat a dog that way 😦 like alone a baby. I’m so sorry you ever read these books.

  • I am sorry that you were so ill-prepared to be a mother. I know that every moment that you live from now on, as you recover from your own abuse, will be healing for your children as well as for yourself.
    Please be kind to yourself.

  • Michal, You’ve become enlightened: You’ve embraced the most empathic lesson humans can learn: The Golden Rule, the basis for all great philosophies and religions. I hope you will forgive yourself…you were a different, lesser person then. Look forward and forgive and love yourself.

    • That comment just restored my faith in humanity. Thank you for those restoring words to our fellow human being.

  • i relate to this. My story is much less extreme, but yeah. So glad I stopped! Standing up to people who disagree and think they have the Bible on their side is hard, no matter how loving and kind hearted they are. In a way that makes it worse. Good idea on paying for counseling! What a way to communicate that you are invested in your admittance that you were wrong. That’s a gift to your children.

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