Follow the Rules

“Why Can’t You be More Like Her?”

My friend’s parents said this to her, speaking of me and my sisters. If they only knew how many spanks it took to break my spirit and get me to comply before I even had words. That wickedness was beaten out of me—the defiance that James Dobson told my parents needed to be crushed. They believed I was born sinful, with a wicked heart. Anything but immediate obedience was punished, usually with a wooden spoon. This was followed by a hug which needed reciprocating, and a small speech about how it’s for my own good and she’s hurting me because she loves me. It turns out that breaking a child’s will at this stage is extremely damaging. I’m only just realizing the extent of this in my 40’s.

By the age of 4, I figured out the safest way to exist in my family was to comply. If I stepped out of line, I would be punished swiftly and harshly. It was not worth it. So for the next 30 years, I did my very best to follow the rules. All of the rules. I was told authority is put there by God. So all authority was to be obeyed, without question or hesitation, unless it was a direct contradiction to the Bible. Nevermind that the Bible contradicts itself. I didn’t question the fact that my parents’ love hurt so much, nor the idea that a loving, all-powerful God would send most of humanity to hell for an eternity of conscious torment. I was shut down inside, just trying to survive. Surviving with a smile, because any emotion other than joy, peace, and gratitude was really frowned upon.

How to destroy a child’s spirit

But it turns out that those years I was getting spanked multiple times a day, between the ages of 1 and 4, are when some really important childhood development is supposed to take place. When I should have been developing a sense of my own autonomy, personal power, self-will, I was instead getting punished for disobeying. When I should have been learning how to develop friendships, compassion, self-acceptance, I was simply trying to follow the rules and keep from getting hurt.

Like my parents, I read Dr. Dobson’s Strong Willed Child when I became a mom. I started out raising my babies the same way. I have such deep regret about this.

Author: Becky

California-based photographer and designer, working to cultivate beauty

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