I grew up in a Christian, Bible believing home. One of them beliefs that were strongly held were that disciplining a child must be done using a rod. So I got some serious beatings in my childhood. Some were more scarring than others, but they all scarred me. I have a scar that runs down my spine from one of those legendary beatings. And why was I getting beaten you may ask, any flimsy reason really. The last beating I got, was because I asked a question, and I was deemed rude and an ingrate and I got one hell of a beating. I ran away from home soon after, not the first time I had ran away from home after or from a beating though.
When my parent would beat me, one of the phrases they would use is:
“I am not beating you, I am beating the mistake”
I have no idea where this twisted thinking came from, but I heard it a lot. And guess what, when I got my own children, I picked it up and would beat them as well and always use that phrase.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy!
It is really a strange thing in life that we easily become what we hate if we do not consciously identify what we love and work towards becoming it. What we hate and what has surrounded us from childhood literally becomes out autopilot mode, our default function. Courtesy of my gracious introduction by the Pocket Project and Thomas Hübl into the world and terminology of trauma, I have been able to get the language to describe this fatal reality for so many people.
Before I got my own children, I registered for a parenting class that was Christian in nature and perpetuated the beating children = disciplining them = Bible obedience narrative. I weep when I remember attending that class with a dear friend who was mortified when the facilitator demonstrated rods with Bible verses that we would use to beat our children with. Of course I bought into all of it, it was the way I was raised. I did not know any better.
However, bearing in mind all the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social scars I bear from all the beatings I received in my childhood, I always questioned this logic. But I had no template for an alternative, leave alone my nagging fear of disobeying God and all the hell fire and brimstone associated with it. When my mortified friend explained to me how they raise children in their country and how I would be arrested and have my children taken away from me for hitting, it was an alternative ideology.
As years have passed, I have continued to question the beating of children in the name of disciplining them in the name of obeying God’s Word. The more I questioned it, the less I was convinced on the path of beating my own children and the less I beat them. We slowly begun to walk the path of talking, the path of negotiating, the path of discussing. But the real turning point happened a couple of months ago.
Why would you beat someone you claim to love?
Then why do we beat our own children in the name of love?
Why would you inflict pain on a child in the name of teaching them a lesson?
A few months ago my children sat me down for a meeting and they let me know they wanted to talk to me about beating them. They said that I always beat them when they make a mistake, yet no one beats me when I make a mistake. If I make a mistake, they said, I apologise and ask for forgiveness which they grant me. Going forward they said, we needed to abolish beatings in our home and if I beat them, they would beat me as well.
I took a loong hard look at these three precious living children of mine and I cried. I cried because I remembered not to long ago when someone who claimed to love me had punched my face so hard, it shook for days; I honestly thought my jaw was going to drop. I cried because I dearly love my children and yet I had caused them so much physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social pain. I cried because in the name of love and beating mistakes, I had lumped them up with their mistakes. Aftercall, was it not their bodies that felt the pain when I supposedly beat their mistakes? I cried because it hit me so had that if me and my whole adult self would be and still am so traumatized by physical abuse, yes that is what beatings are, how much more these tiny little frames?
I had literally become what I hated most in my parent, the nightmare of my entire childhood, to my very own flesh and blood.
I apologized to them for all the beatings, I asked that they walk with me in the transformation journey and call me out always. And true to form, you should hear them now, anytime they see me getting angry,
“Mommy remember we said, no more beatings”
Which has made me consciously come up with alternative healthy, affirming, loving ways of teaching and training them. Loads and loads of touch, hugs and kisses and words of affirmation have become our new norm; As well as breathing out, taking time off, being together in silence as we process issues just to name but a few.
I don’t have all the answers. I am here learning, unlearning and relearning. I am grateful for the gift of all my children, those with me and those in heaven. I am grateful for the priviledge of motherhood and the gift of raising up my children.
A lesson on our romantisization of meritocracy from Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM comes to mind. The diagram below explains it well.
The preferred ego pattern is:
sin [mistake, err, wrong doing] —-> punishment —-> repentance —-> transformation
The grace pattern is:
sin [mistake, err, wrong doing] —-> unconditional love —-> transformation —-> repentance
For most of us, and especially Christians (my faith tradition), we really have embraced violence as the epitome of justice. It is strange when I say it like that, but in retrospect, it is so true. Just think about the penal substitutionary atonement theory/ies and you will begin to see what I am talking about. No judgement here, as I said, I had bought into all these hook line and sinker. We are in the learning, unlearning and relearning journey together.
Going forward, I am making a deliberate choice to move from the ego pattern Fr. Richard shows above and into the grace pattern. Also really grateful for all the self work I have been doing, that allows me to be present and to consciously step back every time the old default setting rears its ugly head.
Am I the perfect mother, no.
Am I trying to be the best mother, ooh yes.
By being and becoming the very best me that God made me to be.
It’s a beautiful, breaking, healing, restorative, growing journey.
And I am here for all of it!