Spanking Tears

I’ve written a lot about spanking in the past, but one thing that is difficult is that, for my family, it’s not really the past. I am the oldest in a family of over a dozen; many of my siblings are still minors, living at home. My parents still spank. This can make visiting home painful. I keep trying to write about this but I’m having trouble doing it it in my normal fashion. So instead, I give you a series of vignettes—short scenes or conversations from recent visits home.


“Smile for the camera!” Mom is taking a picture.

My smallest siblings are giggling, making funny faces.

“Do you need a spanking?” Mom’s tone has changed, and her face.

My smallest siblings are smiling now, large, fake smiles.

Inside I feel empty, slapped.


At the table my parents swap spanking stories, stories from the present and the past. They laugh, but I do not find them funny. The youngest children laugh nervously. For them this is still life.

I tell a story too, but my story is not funny. My story is about pain. My story is about the messages spanking taught me—messages they never intended to send.

Silence. What I said was not expected. Not in the script.

After a moment of deadpan expressions, conversation moves on, nothing addressed. Nothing is ever addressed.


She’s almost yelling now, her voice full of emotion, my mom. Telling me that I am ruining my children by not hitting them as she hits hers. Telling me that they will end up selfish, miserable, and in jail, or worse.

She is so very sure of herself—it becomes hard to keep a level mind. But I do. And I hold in the tears, though that is harder. The tears will come later, when I am alone.

What she is saying is wrong. I know that. But it still hurts.


“Pick up the mess you made, now.”

I look across the room and see a sister, brandishing a wooden mixing spoon, standing over a still younger sister—the special needs child.

“Pick up your toys or you will get a spanking.”

The threat of sister on sister violence. The older one’s voice is harsh, angry. The room is tense. The younger one protests, and the older one’s face hardens. Does the age difference even matter? It’s not much.

I leave the room. I can’t take this. Inside, I am dying.


I take aside a middle sister, the one who seems to toe the party line slightly less—the one I hope may be yet receptive. I tell her that I did as she does—that I too wielded the rod against those not much younger than me, authorized by our parents as she is now. I tell her that I only learned later how much those siblings hated me for what I did to them. I tell her of broken relationships, things that need mending, work yet to be done—and regrets.

She listens.

She says nothing.

Perhaps I planted a seed? I may never know.


After reading these vignettes, you may wonder why I don’t say more, do more. There are a myriad of reasons, but perhaps I am indeed at fault for not trying harder. This issue is painful, and for my parents, it is not ancillary. It is central to their ideas about child rearing—and life. I have tried—believe me I have tried—to convince my parents to give up their devotion to spanking, and particularly to the authoritarian form of spanking taught by Michael and Debi Pearl. But it hasn’t worked. If anything, they’ve become more steadfast in their convictions on the issue, defending the Pearls to my face. There is only so far I can push the issue, though, and still be allowed to be in my siblings’ lives. And so, perhaps too often, I bite my tongue—and taste blood.

Anonymous Tip: Meet the Lawyer
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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • sunnyside

    I struggled with the same things. This sib said the physical abuse wasn’t happening like it had to the rest of us, but there was still neglect and isolation going on. I talked to a social worker about what likely outcomes would be and they were all acceptable (mostly being required to follow state laws re: homeschooling or enroll in public school if that didn’t happen) but the sibling really didn’t want me to. I trusted him and it worked out ok. My parents have made overtures more recently to repair our relationships.

    I talked to a social worker I’m acquainted with, but you could call 800 4ACHILD. It’s anonymous, they don’t record the conversation, and they’ve been handling child abuse issues for 30 years.

    And good for you for refusing to follow the family line re: “funny” spanking stories! Sounds like it had quite an impact and I’m sure your siblings paid close attention.

    • Libby Anne

      I’ve looked up the state code on child abuse. Nothing my parents are doing is illegal in the slightest. You’d be surprised what has to happen to count as child abuse in some states.

      • Niemand

        That is unfortunate. From what you’ve written here, your parents sound like loving people who are genuinely interested in their children’s welfare-but who are making dangerous mistakes and are unwilling to correct their behavior. Since they seem to believe in authority, maybe an authority figure telling them that they were doing wrong would influence them for the better.

      • sunnyside

        Technically, my parents weren’t either (even the stuff that’s led to one sibling having PTSD was not technically abuse, even the police defended them the one time they were called) – our gotcha was that they were being lazy, not making sure all school was done, then just not submitting required documentation because they didn’t have much.

        My thought in offering the number is that they’ve had so much experience that they may have recommended “scripts” or resources that have helped in similar situations. The SW I spoke to said that just being visited can jar people into being less-awful because it’s a wake up call. She also said that that wouldn’t happen unless we wanted it to because we had a choice in reporting.

      • trinity91

        given that you know your parents use food witholding as a method of punishment and that is illegal federally you should at least be able to call a social worker on them.

  • mpanchuk

    I’m so sorry that you have to experience this. My younger sibling are now grown, so this is not longer my reality, but it was for a very long time. I remember burying my head under my pillow so I couldn’t hear my sibling crying or screaming while being spanked. When my parents trade spanking stories, not only at the dinner table, but also with other church families, I want to scream. The spankings that hurt me the most were the ones that I listened to others enduring. How can they think that causing pain to small, defenseless people is funny?

    • anonymous

      Is it not enough to hurt someone? Why would people have to brag and laugh about it in their presence and further demean, humiliate and victimise those they already hurt?

      • Mel

        Because the only way to continue doing something that feels bad is to get reinforcement from someone.

      • Sarah-Sophia

        I have heard people laugh and joke about how much they were spanked when they were children (including myself when I was younger) I think when spanking is not accompanied by beatings and authoritarian parenting people are able to dismiss it.

      • Basketcase

        I was spanked as a child. With a wooden spoon at times. But it was a spanking, not a beating. I know others who were much worse off, and yeah, I’ve been able to completely downplay it, and even joke about it.
        My parents were pretty liberal and relaxed most of the time, and we had a lot of fun together. Spankings were not “routine” or over minor infractions, we were always actively misbehaving when they occured.
        My ideal is to never do it to my own child.

      • SansDeus

        Unfortunately beatings are often guised as spankings.

        My fathers favorite punishment phrase was: “Cry and you’ll get more.”

        Sadly, crying was all too easy when a very strong 6’3″ 260lb man swings an approx eleven inch by five inch palm/belt (twice buckle first) at a child. An eternity would pass as an initial promise of five spankings would always escalate to 25 or more.

        Afterwards, if he wasn’t super pissed off from what he was beating me for, he’d read the bible to me while and would try to buddy up to me about why he had spanked/beat me.

        One thing is for sure, this article hit all of my triggers and got me physically shaking.

      • Liz

        I’m sorry, hon, please take care of yourself :-(

      • Guest

        Did you ever get “I’ll give you something to cry about!”? I did, when I was already crying about wrongdoings and/or the prospect of a spanking.

      • SansDeus

        That was a popular one too.

        It’s very confusing being a child as emotions can already be overwhelming. Then to feel threatened for feeling them? It’s awful.

      • The_L1985

        I’d get it after spankings, mostly, when Dad hit harder than usual and I couldn’t make myself stop crying.

      • CarysBirch

        I definitely was made to sit (!!) on my sore bum and listen to verses after a spanking too. My parents never did anything that I think would qualify as a beating, although they did spank us with a stick. I was never bruised, just stinging and sore. But even so, I was expected to be receptive and responsive afterward, and I never could be. Half the time I couldn’t actually breathe properly because I was choking on tears.

        Yuck, this is an uncomfortable memory.

  • Anat

    “Do you need a spanking?” Mom’s tone has changed, and her face.

    My uncle’s line used to be ‘does anyone need their ears cleaned out?’

    • jdens

      My grandmother’s was, ‘Do you need an attitude adjustment?’

      • onamission5

        Gah. “I’ll give you something to cry about.” I wasn’t even able to be impotently frustrated without permission from my parents.

      • fancystephanie

        Oh god, yes… that is the worst saying ever.

      • The_L1985

        Cringing over here. I certainly haven’t forgotten that one.

      • Basketcase


      • jdens

        Yeah, I remember that one, too, although I think it was in the context of, “You think you have it bad? Listen to what they used to tell ME…”

      • Karen

        Heard it the whole 18 years I lived in my parents’ house.

      • Snipe

        I had that one, too, especially when I was crying about doing something wrong and/or afraid of an imminent spanking. Apparently, feeling genuinely sorry wasn’t good enough.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Sadly, I’ve used that line in utter frustration with a child who cries at the drop of a hat over everything and anything. The threat tho is to indicate that the child will go to their room, not that I will hit them.

      • Liz

        “Do I need to call your father?” *shivers*

      • jdens

        “Do I need to get the fly swatter?” (grandmother again)
        Do you want to go to the bathroom?” (I only know this one because my mother has told the stories; by the time I was old enough to remember, she had mostly stopped spanking. She says people used to tell her she’d never get me potty-trained if I associated bathrooms with discipline. I actually have a wonderfully close relationship with my mother, but she is rather proud of the spankings she gave me when I was a toddler–describing it as an early battle of the wills that made the rest of parenting easy. There is one story of repeated spankings in a single day that she thinks of as being rather definitive. It culminates with me crying the punchline, “I wanna say yes ma’am“. My mother has always told it as a humorous story featuring an exhausted mother and a willful but endearing child, and I always thought of it in those terms until my husband said he didn’t like that story very much. I mentioned it to Mom, and she said, “You know it’s funny, but your dad doesn’t like that story either.” It’s certainly made me think of it differently.)

      • Rosa

        my husband’s mom is mentally ill, and didn’t get treatment until after her kids were grown (she’s way better now, with appropriate treatment & less stress). He had a lot of “funny” stories that were actually really scary. Sometimes I feel bad for spoiling them for him, by being so horrified – funny stories were one of the things he salvaged from the bad parts of his childhood.

      • Karen

        “Wait til your father gets home” was a constant in my childhood. Many hours later, after my sister and I were sleeping, he would come in and jerk us out of our beds so that he could administer the beatings that my mother instigated. At that point, we didn’t even know what we were being spanked for. Even if spanking were a justifiable punishment (which is isn’t), nothing justifies doing it so long after the fact.

    • Boo

      My mom used to say, “I’m gonna knock your teeth down your throat!”

      • Anat

        When my father got really angry he used to threaten to hit me till I shook, or alternatively to hit me until I forgot my name.

        I was the eldest, and the only one who really got hit a lot. My parents say I was their experimental child, with the other two they knew what they were doing.

  • Niemand

    What’s wrong with a picture of small children giggling and making faces for the camera? I’d rather see that than fake smiles.

    • Alix

      But it’s not the picture-perfect family photo!

      Bleh, I’m with you. Give me a shot with some genuine fun and friendship, not fake images of a false perfection.

      • The_L1985

        Indeed. The only place I want to see posed, phony smiles is in a photo that was taken in a studio. Elsewhere, let them have fun!

      • sylvia_rachel

        And even in those photos, an *actual* smile is much nicer…

    • Vi

      Oh, yes. I agree. Recently I had to do a family photo and my grandma decided it would be great for all the girls to wear the same dress in the same color. The boys all wore the same polos and khaki shorts. I wouldn’t have minded a bit of color coordinating, but everyone had uniforms! Not to mention, the boys’ shorts had elastic waistbands.
      I think personal/family photos should have everyone reflect themselves somehow with fashion or facial expression or something. It seems like that would trigger better memories.

      • CarysBirch

        I don’t know, some of the best family photo memories I have come from “Ahaha! Remember how you made *brother* wear that Sailor Suit and he came unglued? Well he WAS fifteen!” :P

  • Machintelligence

    The problem with using spanking (or beatings) on children is that they eventually grow up to be too big to spank — especially the males. As in, “If you try to use that belt on me, I’m going to take it away and use it on you.” Of course this may well result in the child being banished from the household, but sometimes the answer to the question “Is this the hill you want to die on?” is “it is as good as any other.”
    No personal experience here, but I have anecdotes.

    • Cassiopeia

      Seconding this. Especially if one parents is physically quite small.

      And if spanking is the only parenting tool in the arsenal then that’s not going to end well.

    • Boo

      Oh wow, this is what happened to me and my mom. She was always very abusive. There was almost no appropriate boundaries in our household. I was an adult the last time she slapped me in the face, and I fought back. I have never seen her become so brutal (and that is saying something), but we were about the same size and I was able to hold my own. She never hit me again, but she dramatically increased the emotional abuse. I think that was worse.

      • Rosa

        I’m so sorry.

        Unfortunately, no matter how you started breaking away, she would have escalated. There’s no “good” way to set your own boundaries with someone like that, that will make them behave well.

      • kisarita

        i wish i would have hit my dad back. he spanked me when i was 14 and i refused to speak to him for a year. we never grew closer. perhaps had i fought back i could have saved the relationship.

        my brother on the other hand fought my dad and they developed a great relationship.

        this of course was only possible is because my parents were not abusive people by nature, they just spanked “normally”. by american standards.

  • jasondick

    I can only hope that I have the strength to speak out if I am again in the presence of a family member talking about spanking.

  • kisarita

    i have not read this post because i do not wish to be exposed to graphic violence against children. this being said, I feel really bad. I think you should speak out even though it may mean you will be unwelcome for a while. I had a similar issue with a family member, i did not know whether to speak out or whether it was important to remain silent so that I could be around in case things really got out of hand ie dangerous. it’s very hard with family. speak out because although your folks will poo-pah you to your face, after you are gone they may actually listen. Your siblings also deserve to know that what they are going through is wrong, that they aren’t bad.

    I bought a book called “growing with my children” and left it around hoping that family member would read it, but unfortunately they didn’t. it is a memoir by an orthodox jewish woman and how she weaned herself away from abusive parenting techniques and the positive effect on her children, also the negative effects when she backslid into her old habits. the book helped me a lot. Maybe your folks would be affected by it, seeing as they view their religion as an outgrowth of judaism…..

    • Jayn

      The thing is, if she gets herself cut out of the family entirely, she’s no longer able to be a positive influence (or, when her siblings are old enough, lifeline) for the children left behind. She’s spoken out in the past and wasn’t listened to–pressing the issue is more likely to see her limited influence cut off than have any positive effect. The advice often given to people with friends/family in abusive relationships isn’t to press for the person to leave, but to try and maintain contact so that when the person IS ready to leave, you’re there to help them. I think the same principle applies here. It’s not an easy position to be in, and not everyone can manage it–sometimes contact needs to be cut for your own sake–but Libby can probably do more for her siblings by keeping quiet and staying available to them to talk to and learn from.

    • Aeryl

      She didn’t say she would be unwelcome for awhile, she’s stated she would be ostracized, and that’s something she’s unwilling to risk.

      Shaming her isn’t helping her.

  • AAAtheist

    Yeah, Libby, this stiuation really sucks for you. I don’t know what else to say on the topic, so I looked online for some advice about this delicate situation.

    Dr. Michele Borba, a TODAY parenting contributor, suggests holding your tongue about parenting differences with family is probably the compromise you’ll have to make to continue to have contact with your siblings, which you’re already doing. Gently coaxing siblings who might consider nonviolent parenting strategies in the future also seems to be a good choice on your part. That seed may well yet sprout for your sister.

    Having you around as the older, wiser sister is probably the best thing you can do for your younger siblings. Even if you can’t actively “make your case”, the fact that you’re around not behaving the way your parents do may give the younger kids food for thought.

    However, if the spankings get too bad, you may have to bite the bullet and report your parents. I don’t really have any easy answers for you, but I hope this helps.

    • DavidMHart

      Totally off-topic, but is your graphic a temari, and did you make it yourself?
      If so, nice work.

      • AAAtheist

        I actually can’t take any credit for the object itself. I downloaded the image of it off the web. It’s a Kwanzaa ornament. The ornament could very well be a Japanese thread ball (“temari”). I don’t know.

  • Jackie C.

    You sound conflicted, but it seems like you are doing a lot when it won’t do any good to report them. Just writing this blog informs so many of us who were clueless about this culture. We can then share it with others who may get sucked into this life or who may have come out of it and are in danger of repeating it. By speaking up when you can, you are planting a seed.

    You’d think they would realize the methods didn’t work when they look at your rejection of their culture. Though I’ve heard a lot of kids say it took at least the first two or three leaving home and rebelling for the parents to wake up.

    • Amethyst Marie

      Unfortunately, sometimes this just makes parents conclude that they were too lax with the older children, so they crack down harder on the younger ones.

      • Ráichéal Silverkiss

        This? This is exactly what I am afraid of for my younger siblings.

  • Mel

    Libby Anne, you’re in a rough spot. Please don’t be so hard on yourself. Any change that happens for your parents/siblings will take a long time. Your mother’s anger/insistence that you must spank too is a sign that they are hearing your message.

    In my years of teaching, I’ve learned that when you are trying to change or extinguish a behavior, the person will often escalate the situation before stopping the behavior. For example, a student who is used to verbally intimidating teachers will generally end up screaming at you more at first when you try to stop the behavior. Let’s say “Mayra” starts being rude to me in class. I remind her how to act in a classroom and then ignore the behavior. Rudeness worked for Mayra in the past so if it didn’t work this time, Mayra decides she must not be rude enough. Mayra adds screaming into the mix. I continue the plan of extinguishing the behavior by removing positive reinforcement. (In this case, I think she was removed from the classroom for the period. As a very social person, this was a very severe punishment.) What happens when Mayra returns to class tomorrow? More screaming. Additional removal from class. Next day – no screaming or rudeness. Two days out: Screaming + removal. Three-six days out: no screaming or rudeness. I don’t know if I’m explaining this concept very well, but in a counter-intuitive way, an escalation is actually a sign that you are being heard. Mayra was learning that screaming and rudeness didn’t get her what she wanted, but she needed to test out all the possible scenarios first.

    Your mom isn’t really trying to convince you that spanking is right; she’s trying to convince herself.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      Yes, i second that. Her insistence that you spank is escalation. The best thing you can do is stick with it and watch the prophesies not come to pass – your daughter grows into a healthy person, not a juvenile delinquent. Sometimes when stuff like that happens the “prophets’ prefer to act like they never said/yelled in your face that the world would end, bu they need to be called on their crap. Nicely of course.

  • Sophie

    I am in a very similar situation to you, my mother is emotionally abusive and I have much younger siblings at home. If it wasn’t for them I would have cut off all contact with our mother when I turned 18, but I couldn’t leave them alone to deal with her. I hate going home, being around my mother severely exacerbates my depression and anxiety. It took me several months to get out of the hole she made after her last visit. But I keep up the contact for my little brothers because getting them out of home with good mental health is more important than me hurting.

    When they were younger it was a lot harder because they would get more upset and that hurt me because I knew there was nothing I could do. Proving emotional abuse is almost impossible, I used to lie awake trying to work out how I could get them away from her but other than abducting them and running away there were no options. Once they got to be 8 and 10 I started teaching them coping strategies, as well as continuing to model positive parenting techniques. Now they are 13 and 15 and they talk to me about most things, it’s hard on the phone because our mum hovers within hearing range but when we see each other I make time with them both. In two weeks they are coming to stay with me without our mum, which has taken a lot of arranging and until a few days ago I wasn’t sure it would really happen.

    Our mum is clever and she worked out long ago that she can manipulate me through my love of them. She cancels visits at the last minute to hurt me and to remind me who has the power in our situation. What she can’t control is how much my brothers love me, they call me when she isn’t home and they complain about not seeing me enough. They end every phone call by telling they love me and they spend a lot of our time together cuddling up with me. All my hard work maintaining our relationships when they were little and all the hurt that my mother has caused me over the years have paid off because I have strong loving relationships with both my younger brothers and our mother can’t do anything about them. Now I know that as soon as the youngest leaves home I can cut all ties with my mum and that feels really good.

    • Mel

      Power plays are a sign of weakness. I suspect your mom knows how little power she really has over your younger brothers right now and can foresee that her power is going to decrease to near zero once the boys leave.

      Keep up the good work. You’ve made a big difference in the boys lives so far.

    • Liz

      I think you’re doing an awesome job, and I really hope this visit goes through!

    • Christine

      Sophie, I too applaud the effort you have made in establishing a good relationship with your brothers. It sounds like it’s working, and I suspect that as soon as your brothers are old enough, they too will leave and you can all sever relationships with your mother.
      I agree with Mel – your mother’s actions aren’t a sign of strength – they’re a sign of weakness. She knows she “failed” with you, and your continuing presence in your brothers’ lives mean she is likely to “fail” with them. You may have suffered from her actions, but you aren’t a victim. You’ve got scars, but ultimately YOU are the winner, because you have survived and are helping your brothers survive too.

  • Christine

    Were your parents also abused as children (the fact that your local laws allow for children to be instructed to hit other children, and for such young children to be hit doesn’t really change the fact that this is physically abusive), or do they have some other explanation for how they managed to avoid spending their lives in jail?

    • AlisonCummins

      Yes, this is the part that confuses me. If not beating children always results in the children growing up to be drug addicts and going to prison, then every adult in the world who is neither a drug addict nor in prison *must* have been beaten as a child. And yet non-drug-addicted, non-judicialized adults who were not beaten as children are not that hard to find, and it only takes one to bust the theory.

      • Rosa

        They’re probably not of the exact right church, though, which is just as bad.

      • AlisonCummins

        That’s not what they’re threatening Libby Anne with, though. They are specifically threatening her with drugs and prison.

    • Amethyst Marie

      Libby Anne’s parents are probably baby boomers, so it’s more likely than not that they were spanked as children. They probably do credit it for the fact that they haven’t spent their lives in jail.

      • Christine

        I thought that “spanking” was used in a dog-whistle manner here to refer more to “Pearl-style breaking of wills through physical punishment”. So they wouldn’t likely have been spanked “properly”, although I guess that might be enough to keep them out of jail.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      I think they are blind to reality. Surely they must be able to see all the non-jailed non-addicted non-spanked people, but they refuse to acknowledge they exist. No threat to their narrative is allowed. I don’t think such irrational minds can be convinced. I think limiting the harm they do is the best outcome.

      Libby Anne, do not beat yourself up. You are doing so much already, and you have to work with some severe limits and restrictions. I can’t ease your pain. There is nothing worse than seeing those we love suffer, and not being able to completely stop it. But I hope you take some comfort in others telling you that you really are helping.

  • AnotherOne

    It’s hard, Libby Anne, but keep it up. After years of similar interactions, many in my family have softened their stance on spanking. A lot of that is that as my kids have gotten older, it’s so obvious that they’re well adjusted and that we have a loving relationship, while it’s also become clear, as my generation of my extended family has reached adulthood, that the spank-all-the-time, instant obedience philosophy hasn’t had the success rate it promised. I’ve always been pretty guarded about what I said, and when my kids were toddlers, I was actually too afraid of the blowback to tell my family members that we are adamantly opposed to spanking. But as time went on, here and there i would mention things like Dulce La Leche’s gentle parenting blog (which with its Christian focus does a better job of meeting my family where they are), or reference studies that indicate spanking doesn’t work, or talk about how we deal with challenging behaviors. I also made a lot of headway talking about spanking as an “absolute last resort,” which felt disingenuous to me since I think it’s categorically wrong. But framing it that way allowed me the room to push for a lot of other positive parenting techniques when younger siblings looked to me for advice with their own kids. The only major confrontation I had was an exceedingly awkward and awful moment where I physically prevented one of my siblings from spanking their young toddler (i had seen that that sibling’s “spankings” verged on beatings and I couldn’t take it).

    Anyway, all that to say, yes, it’s hard. And man, seeing a special needs child threatened with physical punishment would kill me. But I do think a combination of holding your tongue, making judicious comments when there’s the opportunity, and then standing your ground when you have to, can really have an effect over years.

  • antimule

    Try telling them that Pearl’s methods go counter to the idea of a supposed God-given free will. Programming kids to instant obedience won’t cause them to choose to love God (if that’s the purpose) on their own. Tell them that what the Pearls are really promoting is basically Skinner’s conditioning under a guise of spirituality. If they continue to use those methods they are basically admitting the superiority of ‘secular’ methods. After all, if people are mere automatons, then the whole faith thing is in vain.

    I am actually not 100% against spanking (well 95% against, probably), but what the Pearls are doing is a monstrosity. If where you I would not argue that all spanking is wrong (as it is something you probably won’t be able to persuade her), focus at first on excessive spanking.

    • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

      I think the Pears are calvinist. I had some close friends who were calvinist, and they think differently about free will – it really isn’t a part of how they understand the world. To someone outside the calvinist system this makes no sense, but trying to talk logic about free will to a calvinist can be an exercise in frustration.

      • antimule

        We don’t know if Libby’s parents are Calvinists, thought.

      • Kathleen Margaret Schwab

        That’s true, they may not subscribe to the calvinist side of things. I find in general that talking logically to people in what i think of as closed systems gets trickier than one expects. I’ve had this experience plenty in my family. It’s not about christian or theology issues – more about alcoholism/abuse/general craziness. I observe that when people are inside these closed systems they kind of think in grooves. Talking sense to them doesn’t work. I think the whole spanking-is-good-for-kids is part of this.

      • Eric

        Worth noting that many Calvinists disagree strongly with the Pearls on theological grounds: witness Tim Challies’ negative review of TTUAC.

      • Gretchen1

        They’re certainly not Christian, that’s for sure. No TRUE Christian would beat/”spank” a child.

      • David Kopp

        You might look up the No True Scotsman fallacy. If your words were correct, there would be almost no Christians in the US:

      • Composer 99

        Indeed, I dare say there would hardly have been any Christians at any time in the past.

      • The_L1985

        You’re not familiar with how things are done in the US, are you? Most American parents spank. I’m never going to be one of them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have kin who probably will.

      • singingfrogs

        I would be careful in making a black and white statement like that. Parents make different decisions for different reasons but what matters most is how they act out those decisions. My parents spanked me but they did so without anger after they had given me warnings and time out. Then they held me and told me they loved me. Even as a child I felt that they had acted fairly and for my good. They displayed Christian love and grace in their marriage and parenting and I’m thankful for that, even if I may not make all of the same decisions now that I’m a parent.

      • Norm Donnan

        Your parents disciplined well then didnt they,the way its should be done.

      • The_L1985

        There is no ONE way to raise a child. Children, like the rest of us, are individuals.

        For example, being sent to his room worked very well on my brother, but didn’t do a damn thing for me.

      • Norm Donnan

        So you would be fine with your parents spanking you and not your brother??Parenting is hard to work out for anyone and your right all children are different .

      • The_L1985

        To be quite frank, I’d be a much happier person today if my parents hadn’t done half the things they did to me.

        If I cried too long after being spanked, because I couldn’t make myself stop, I got “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

        If I spilled a drink, I was asked, “HOW STUPID ARE YOU? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?”

        If my grades dropped to a 92 (still an A–and I was accelerated several grades!) I was accused of not trying. Loudly. And my report card was held up to me and called garbage.

        Even when I was a toddler, before I developed good bladder control, I have sickeningly-clear memories of yelling, insults, and the sting of my father’s hand because I made a puddle on the carpet.

        At various times, my father has threatened to disown me, told me to go to my room because just looking at me made him sick, and called me a whore. I clearly remember hour-long (once even 2 full hours!) sessions of being yelled at–and my only way to “escape” was by staring at the clock, because if I took one step I got it worse.

        My father’s “parenting” style is the reason why I am deeply neurotic today. I have to take Effexor or I have panic attacks. That is not normal.

      • Norm Donnan

        This is what you call abuse.When you have children it will become a never ending mystery how any parent can do what your parents did,ever.As I said ,Im not against smacking,but it would be a rare thing.One of my sons I can remember once when he stabbed 17 holes in our tent,and my other son I carnt ever remember smacking.Its not that they were great kids,but they didnt do things that we thought that deserved smacking,they were just being kids. I really hope that you become the confident,secure person you should be.One thing you might consider is does your father have any mental issues that maybe wernt recognized years ago like aspergers /tourette syndrome ect.My father had his funny weird ways what we now know was obsessive compulsive dissorder.It might be worth looking into.

      • The_L1985

        We’re pretty sure he has undiagnosed ADHD. Or as his teachers thought of it back in the 50′s, “rebellious acting-out that we need to control with a ruler to the knuckles.”

        I also think that his military training drilled hierarchical thinking into his brain more than he realizes. He has a hard time envisioning how treating other people as equals wouldn’t count as a loss for him.

      • Norm Donnan

        I thought as much,he probably thought he was easy on you compared to how he was raised.The good news is we dont have to be the same no matter what our experience was like.My grandfather was an alcoholic so my mum made the choice to marry a man who didnt drink,her sister on the other hand married a man just like dad and continued the cycle of abuse.Hope you have an awesome dad and husband (assuming your a woman of course)of your children.

    • Norm Donnan

      This is good advice.all of it.

  • Rosa

    You have to do what has the best possible outcome FOR YOU, and if that’s holding your tongue to have a relationship with your younger siblings, that’s what it is.

    You feeling responsible to try to make sure your siblings are parented better is just one more way your parents lifestyle loaded parent responsibilities onto you. It’s something your parents have in common with alcoholics and drug abusers.

  • Japooh

    Libby Anne, I’ve been reading your blog for about a year and have recently started commenting. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for sharing your story. Your words have been educational and inspiring, and through them I now have some insights into a culture that was largely impenetrable to me.

    Your commitment to tell your truth is so very much appreciated. I’m sorry for the posts that make you sad but please know that useful insights are coming with the hard stories. My understanding of this culture, thanks to your blog, positions me better to lend real assistance if I ever find myself in a position to do so. Your compassion is admirable Libby Anne – keep up the fantastic work you’re doing.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Silence. What I said was not expected. Not in the script.

    The fact that there is even a script is a sign of a dysfunctional family, and makes me very sad.

    • Jayn

      There’s always a script. Family, friends, co-workers, random people you meet on the street–no matter who you’re talking to, everyone has a ‘script’ in mind of how they expect the conversation to go. The problem comes when holding to the script becomes more important than dealing with real issues.

      • The Other Weirdo

        If you’re phoning your mother to ask about the award she just received re her front yard garden, or asking your kids how their day went, that’s not a script, that’s a conversation. An interview for a job is a script, and not a conversation. I thought we were talking about conversations. Turning conversations into scripts is what makes me sad, especially where it’s completely unnecessary.

      • AlisonCummins

        There may be different understandings of the word “script” here.
        If you’re casually asking your kids how their day at school went, you don’t expect to get a graphic recounting of violent sexual abuse and you wouldn’t have an appropriate response ready if you did. It’s not in the script.
        If you’re phoning your mother to ask her about her landscaping award, there’s probably a routine you guys go through. In some relationships she might talk a lot while you say mm-hm. In others, as soon as she replied you would cut in and start complaining about work. In still others, there’s a balance and in the long run each of you talks and listens about equally. If one of you announced that you didn’t want to use that routine any more and that you would hang up if the other said something objectionable, that would not be in the script. You would probably both feel shaken afterwards.

  • sylvia_rachel

    It sounds to me like you are doing the best you can to keep the balance and not be shut out of your siblings’ lives. The difference you make may be for the next generation — there you are, modelling another way to parent. Planting seeds. Your kids will grow out of their age-appropriate-but-difficult behaviours without being spanked for them, and their aunts and uncles will maybe notice that. Your kids will be nice, kind, intelligent kids, albeit not perfectly-behaved automatons.

    You don’t know how much of a difference you may be making just by being around. I for one don’t fault you for not pushing harder, if pushing harder is likely to mean being banished.

  • Beroli

    Your mother is so wrong, and hopefully one day she’ll realize it. And your children will be grateful–

    Well. Hopefully they won’t be grateful, because they’ll grow up with a much healthier set of bare-minimum standards than those of us whose parents believed in corporal punishment did.

  • Fina

    Always that there’s always only so much we can do. There are limits to everyones strength. It shows how much this is hurting you – getting more involved would only hurt more. More arguing with your mother, opposition from your siblings.
    You can’t be blamed for drawing a line to protect yourself. Sometimes we have to accept that we can’t save everyone, because otherwise we’ll just collapse and can’t save anyone*.

    And in more pragmatic terms – if you were openly going against your parents spanking, they’d propably just shut you out entirely and you couldn’t even do a little good.

    *A lesson every doctor, social worker, nurse, first responder, therapist, teacher and so needs to learn. It’s really hard to accept, but if you try too hard you’ll just burn yourself out. Please don’t do that!

  • CommentMaker

    I am sorry for you and your siblings. Hurting memories and hurting for your siblings is a double dose of misery. I must say, it is a tough pill to swallow. What your parents are may have produced just the opposite in you and the opposite isn’t good either. Since you have seen the destruction first hand, get with your other siblings that are on their own and take the siblings for the weekend each month. Let them have a weekend of peace. Bond with them because there is a better future for all once mom and dad have to live with each other alone. Don’t become a victim, love conquers all. Direct it towards your siblings now.

  • Kivrin

    This is horrible, through and through. You’ve been through so much hurt yourself, and now to see it continue with your siblings is horrific.

    But, when you visit them, you are showing them that you love them. You’re showing them that they have family members who will not hurt them, and who will be there for them. And, you are showing them that there is a way out of the abuse. Having that example in their lives of an older sibling who escaped, and found a life away from the abuse and the fear, is an incredibly powerful gift you give them. It may well make all the difference in their lives.

  • Sandy

    It is never too late to change what needs to be changed. I hope you are brave enough to stay the course and let the other children hear your words.

  • LindaK

    Wow, brings back lots of bad memories. And they were definitely beatings. And worse. One sister was diagnosed PTSD — all of us fight depression and alcoholism. I quit going “home” to visit family after my mother passed away — seems like the conversations would always come back to “war stories” about dad beating us — and worse. I made a decision when I was 8 yrs old that I’d never have children because I didn’t want to chance that I would ever do the kinds of things to my children that my parents did to me and my siblings. And, I kept my word.

  • Rose

    I had to sit through “spanking storytime” last Easter. I was the only one in the room disturbed by the fact that these people were laughing at stories about breaking wooden spoons, and how they kept spanking until their children cried to make sure they were “getting the message across”. I was physically ill afterwards. The hardest part is that these are my parents, and the parents of my childhood friends. I know without a doubt they love us, but from that conversation one would think they were psychopaths; it’s confusing.

  • Atheista

    I too was raised in a religious, conservative, spanking (or slapping or occasionally yanking hard on an arm) type family. To me the scariest part wasn’t the physical pain. It was the sense that my parents were so out of control. That they were so enraged and didn’t know any better way to interact with their own children than to say, “I’m bigger than you, and I can physically force you to do what I want!” (Remembering that feeling makes me feel like I’m six instead of in my mid-30s.) I made a promise to me when I was very young that I wouldn’t do that to my kids. The last time my dad raised a hand to me, I was 16. I turned around and said, “You are never going to hit me again.” And he hasn’t. I don’t doubt that my parents love us. They just had NO IDEA how to be parents. With too many kids and a need to be obeyed absolutely — these are the results.

    • Karen

      That reminds me of the last time my father tried to hit me. I was about 17, and he came for me and I ran. He chased me through a cornfield and I outran him. After that, he never hit me again.

  • Melissa_PermissionToLive

    In the years before my mom decided to stop spanking, visits home were so hard, spankings threatened and the desperation inside wondering if I could say or do something quick to change it. I remember my 11 year old sister coming inside with a dispute over a shared bike, and my mom wouldn’t listen, just told her to be quiet and stop complaining or she would spank her, and when she started to say something else, she did spank her, right in front of me with the wooden spoon. And I died inside again.

    • The_L1985

      That’s how spanking taught me to lie. There was no such thing as presenting my side, or asking how to do better from now on–those things were “making excuses” or “talking back” and got you more licks.

      So I stopped telling my parents anything about any decisions I ever made or grades I ever earned. This got me by until either report cards came in, or my failure to manage my own decisions maturely yet caused the whole house of cards to come tumbling down.

      And as horrible as it was, the constant betrayal of my parents’ trust, the dread of shit hitting the fan, I was always convinced that the alternative of frequent spankings would be much, much worse.

      • CarysBirch

        YES THIS. I remember letting my brother take the fall for something I’d done, even though I was horribly remorseful at betraying him, because the alternative was spanking.

        I let him take my spanking, and he couldn’t protest because that would be backtalk. Parenting should not make siblings enemies. Discipline shouldn’t make you too afraid to do the right thing.

  • kisarita

    most of what you describe as “spankings” would by most americans be described as “beatings”. the world spankings makes it seem much lighter than it is. when mainstream folks think of spanking they think of 2 or 3 swats, usuallyl just with a hand, most often not premeditated, no use of designated objects, not continuous for extended peariod of time and so forth. I would suggest you use the more correct word beating.

    • The_L1985

      Spanking can be abusive even if objects aren’t used and there is no accomplice. My father insulted me vociferously before spanking me. I’m pretty sure that’s the reason why I developed a habit of calling myself stupid as a teen (a habit I’m still trying to break).

  • ako

    That’s a really hard situation. It sounds like if you speak out too much, your parents can cut off access to your siblings, and if you speak out too little, it’ll come off as supporting your parents. I don’t have any advice (since it sounds like they’re staying within the law), just a lot of sympathy.

  • Norm Donnan

    Its hard to read this stuff,i dont have a problem with spanking,its just that I never needed to.I figgered out that kids are kids and thats ok,

  • Tricia
  • Lucreza Borgia

    Do your parents know how this has affected your sibling relationships or have they heard the affect of spankings from the other siblings? Say if you all sat down with them at once and talked about it? Or would they still bury their heads in the sand?

    • Libby Anne

      They know. I was at my parents’ during holidays and my brothers told me how they’d thought of me and my mom caught me crying and basically said it was my fault for being a bully.

      • Lucreza Borgia

        Ah…so it’s your fault that you didn’t discipline with the right mind and heart and became a bully, not their fault for using the Pearl’s method. *rolls eyes* I just can’t wait until we get to that part of TTUAC…

      • Rosa

        Oh Libby, I’m sorry.

      • Conuly


        Edit: that is, “I find that awful”, not “I literally do not believe that, and you are a liar.” Sorry for the potential confusion there.

  • CarysBirch

    My parents used other harsh punishments than spanking too. My youngest brother is EXTREMELY stubborn. He (to this day) hates to admit when he is wrong, which admittedly is probably not one of the strongest parts of his character, but he is who he is. He was that way as a child as well, and because he hated it so much, my parents would force him to admit he was wrong as punishment — which isn’t abusive, I don’t think in and of itself, it took a lot to get through to this particular brother sometimes. However… they used to sit him on a barstool in the middle of the kitchen under the fluorescent light and not let him move until he said it. There was nothing to lean against and he was not allowed anything to eat or drink or any bathroom breaks while he was there. I remember more than one occasion when he fell asleep and fell off the stool because it was so late at night that he couldn’t stay awake anymore. He was woken up and put back on it to continue his punishment. He wasn’t older than six or eight.

    We were also forced to hug and kiss as punishment for fighting among ourselves. I hate the idea of taking a child’s bodily autonomy away like that. I hated to be forced to kiss someone I was angry at. If we refused to do it we were physically put in a hugging position on the couch and spanked if we moved until we had kissed each other. My parents thought it was funny.

    • Whirlwitch

      “If we refused to do it we were physically put in a hugging position on
      the couch and spanked if we moved until we had kissed each other.”

      That is utterly revolting. I’m sorry you went through that.

  • gimpi1

    A few queries for those of you raised under this kind of authoritarian parenting:
    What is the difference between “talking back” and discussing or explaining the situation? What is the difference between “talking back and having a conversation? How did you communicate with your parents if you couldn’t “talk back?” Did you communicate with your parents at all if “back-talk” was banned?

    I wasn’t raised this way, and I really, truly, don’t get how this works. If parents want to know what’s going on with their kids, hitting them for telling you would seem to be contra-indicated to me. Yet the few parents that I know that spank claim to know their kids very well. Do they? Or is it just a fantasy?

    • Rosie

      I could be wrong about this, but I imagine these parents know their kids “very well” in the same way pet-owners often claim to know what the pet is thinking. A few cues from body language combined with a whole lot of unconscious projection on the part of the parents.

    • Libby Anne

      In my family, if you got in trouble and tried to explain it was “back talk” unless you said “may I appeal.” If you were granted the right of appeal, you could explain. If not, nope, nothing. Zipped lips.

      • gimpi1

        Wow. Nothing like treating your children like convicted criminals.

        I know the concept of justice isn’t as important as the chain of command in some families that go for this. For myself, I always figured toddlers don’t belong in the army.

      • Kate

        Yup, pretty much. Crying so hard you can barely talk and sure as hell can’t talk calmly, but if you can’t make a “respectful appeal” it’s disrespect and you’re arguing STOP ARGUING WITH ME.

        Sorry, this is a mildly triggering topic.

  • Sophia Sadek

    When I was very young, my sisters and I found the place where our mother kept the wooden sticks that she used to spank us. We broke them into pieces as small as possible, then stuck the pieces back in their hiding place. When our mother got angry and went for the sticks, we were expecting all hell to break loose. Instead, she returned with a very disturbed expression. After that she never laid a hand on us.

  • Silas

    If it’s too painful for you to explore much publicly, be patient with yourself. It’s likely that the day will come when you can speak publicly and with strength. Regardless, you don’t owe anyone anything. Thank you for writing this, though.

  • emjb

    I will confess; I spanked my kid a few times when he was younger. About
    two years ago, I couldn’t live with my hypocrisy; how could I tell him
    “no hitting!” *while I was hitting him*? It was too much. I made a
    promise to him directly that I was sorry it happened and I would never
    do it again. And I haven’t. I was never a severe spanker like my folks,
    who did all the ugly warnings/no back talk/give you something to cry
    about bullshit to me and my sibs. (My sibs say I got off easier, but I
    don’t remember feeling coddled!) I still cringe at male voices raised in
    anger, because I associate it with hitting. My father died when I was
    in college, but our relationship was already failing, because I was
    starting to feel more and more anger about the threats and hitting, and
    more distance because he consistently refused to accept that I could ever have a different opinion.

    I also loved him. When he relaxed, he was funny and smart and we got
    along well. He was proud of my intelligence and never told me to act
    dumb for boys or any of that crap. I miss the good things about him, but
    I know if he was alive, that pain would still be between us. He was
    wrong to hit me. That will never be ok.

  • Jessica

    This post really hit me hard. I nearly started crying (though I’m glad I didn’t; I would have ruined my mascara. :p). My family isn’t nearly so large or religious as yours is, and I’m not out of the house yet, but I have tried desperately to persuade my sisters to see my point of view. It’s worked so far with the two youngest, and I am especially close to the sister who came third, but the second oldest takes after our dad, politically, and I am much more cautious about what I say to the youngest, for fear that she may injudiciously repeat what I have said to her. I just hope that the sister I am closest to continues to talk to her once I am gone.

    My parents like to think that I will agree with them as I grow older. That I will cease caring about those less fortunate than I once I have to pay taxes, that I will beat my children once I have them. My mother has said, many times, that when she babysits my children, she’ll hit them just as she hit us. So fat chance of that ever happening, obviously. But when I’m an adult, and no longer dependent on them, maybe I’ll feel just a little more free to try and start a conversation with them, without worrying quite as much about it turning into a confrontation.

  • A

    I am also the oldest of over a dozen, and I still have lots of minor siblings at home. I also hit my brothers and sisters when I was still a child, and it still haunts me. The trading spanking stories, the unexpected blurts, all of that, I know and share with you. It’s really difficult.

    And now my sister (right after me) is spanking her kids. My sister is an amazing mother in all other ways, it’s not like it was (is) at home, but it’s still hard.