(Artist is Anne, age 6)
When I look into the mirror, I don’t want to see the ghost of my mother or father staring back. I want to see a parent who raised her child without the use of a switch, a board, or fear of damnation. I want to hold my daughter’s hand and be proud of who I am.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child,” was the motto my parents practiced. They raised me in the Message, a pseudo Christion religious cult that had a pervasive culture of misogyny; the devil needed to be beaten out of girls. From babyhood, girls were taught that salvation was obtainable only by marrying young, staying dumb, having lots of babies, and to not complain when her husband disciplined her as if she were a punching board. The only education a woman needed was how to change diapers, cook, clean, and obey her father, brother, pastor, and her husband.
I never remember my parents apologizing when they told me I was obstinate, defiant, and on my way to hell. According to the Message, being born a girl made me not only their daughter, but the devil’s daughter as well. I needed to be broken so that I would learn to submit and obey. I became a mindless mannequin who never dared question my father; he claimed he was the authority and voice of God. Fear for my eternal salvation led to blind obedience to the rules.
|(board of education)|
My father was a teacher and was proud of the “board of education’ he hung on the kitchen wall. It was about two feet long, an inch wide, and had holes in the paddle to make more noise when he used it on his kids. When there was a suspected infraction of the rules, my father lined up all five of my siblings in a back bedroom and used the board until we broke or snitched on our brothers or sisters. It was a test of, “Who did it?”
My mother had me cut down whipping switches from the mulberry tree outside our laundry room. She used them on my shins. My parents slapped me with their hands. My mouth was washed out with soap. I don’t know why.
Eventually, I learned to obey. I did what I was told. I married young. I married dumb. When I became a mother, I didn’t know I had a choice in how to raise my child. When my baby girl was about three years old, I swatted her with my hand.
It was summer, the lawn was fried, and it was too hot to be outside. I don’t remember what she did that made me mad. Maybe she had refused to stop playing with the dog’s water dish and spilled it over the kitchen floor. Maybe she had thrown her musical wind-up stuffed elephant toy and broken it. Maybe I was having a bad day and was impatient for her to take a nap.
She didn’t cry. She was wearing thick training pants beneath her white tights and pastel pinafore dress. I’m not sure if she felt the blow but I will never forget how she looked at me and how the whopping changed my life.
I saw confusion and fear in her eyes. I melted into a puddle. I hated myself and vowed that the first time I spanked my little girl would be the last time I touched her with anything but gentleness and love. I hugged her. I apologized. She gifted her forgiveness when she cuddled into my lap.
My little girl is grown up now and is about to be a mother for the third time. Her two beautiful daughters have never known anything but patience, encouragement, and joy. She works hard to shield and protect them from anyone who might destroy their dreams. She built a platform on which they are learning to fly.
I chose to break the cycle of abuse and pass on the heritage of joy. There is never any justice in assaulting a child.
For more stories on how to break the cycle of abuse:
As Long As I Breathe is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a religious cult based on misogyny,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.
Joyce A Lefler is a true crime survivor and the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.
Connect with her: