Lately I’ve been wondering where ‘I’ begin. Someone said “Your rights end where mine begin.” But then WHERE is that? It is not a geographic boundary, but it is so definite that it is almost a tangible thing… especially when violated. I often wonder if I ever functioned with healthy boundaries, and I have come to the conclusion that the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ I know now I do not in fact function within healthy human boundaries- perhaps indicated by the fact that I am discussing my own Family of Origin (FOO) issues ‘out here in public!’ Somehow I feel safe here. Like an ostrich- head down in sand- if I cannot ‘see’ you the reader, then I somehow remain hidden.
But I digress…
Ah- Boundaries. Well, I never formed any. I never had any modeled to me. In fact, as a child, whenever I attempted to draw a boundary it was purposefully and ruthlessly trampled by my mother. (I should say here that I do NOT hate my mother, I love her. I finally am able to be honest about the effect my mother had on me.) A very dear friend of mine just had her parents visit for a few days. As she poured out her anguish to me, I heard echo upon echo of my own, wounded voice. There are very many ways to violate boundaries with children, because they are so vulnerable. I think my mother violated just about every possible boundary with me.
One of the first Duties of parenting SHOULD be to demonstrate how to relate honestly and appropriately to others. As an adult, I should be able to 1) name what I feel 2) know what event it corresponds to and 3) be able to express it appropriately. Appropriately here means that when (not IF) I express an emotion; it does not require anything of anyone else. I am angry AND I am responsible for ‘sinning not’ in my anger. My anger should not endanger anyone. My sadness should not require anyone to buy me things, feed me, or walk on eggshells in order to avoid ‘making me sad’.
My happiness should not depend on others’ actions, or lack of failure on their part. My peace should not depend upon ‘other people not DOING that to me’. My comfort or self esteem should not depend on others not confronting me with my words or actions. This is a first duty, because the only way you can teach good emotional health is by modeling it. I think every parent wants their child to pick a spouse who supports and edifies them, and the only way that can happen is if the child grows up into an adult with healthy boundaries in the first place.
Now, I have come to understand that spanking is a violation of a child’s bodily boundaries. In the book The Five Love Languages for Kids, the authors describe the devastating effect corporal punishment can have on children whose primary love language is Touch. But there is more to the punitive style of parenting than just the body boundary issues, just as there is more damage done in corporal punishment than just the temporary hurt; especially when the physical punishment requires children to make themselves vulnerable to someone they EXPECT to hurt them; by asking the child to bend over the bed or the parent’s lap, or by forcing the child to remove articles of clothing in preparation for the punishment. Requiring someone to submit to being hurt repeatedly has long ranging emotional consequences.
I asked my mother recently if she remembered making us ‘pull our pants down’ for a spanking. She said that she could not remember specific incidents, but if she HAD, we had to have ‘done something to make me really angry’. I think the worst kept secret in the Christian spanking world is that parents spank when they are angry. We spank BECAUSE we are angry. Dr. Dobson said that you should never spank when angry, but that a spanking should happen right way. I just wonder what amount of total detachment it takes to see your child doing ‘something wrong’, instantly become ‘not angry’ and still issue a spanking.
This is why Dobson’s technique is so deceptive. He states that spankings shouldn’t be necessary for everything. He says that childish error or genuine mistakes should be dealt with gracefully; but he ALSO says that children are born defiant, calculating, trying to take over and usurp your parental authority. He says that kids are sinful and set to rebel, and that you MUST punish them right away so that the pain is directly connected to whatever transgression they committed. These statements conflict with one another. You end up needing to assume everything is defiance, just in case.
I remember clearly a time when- perhaps my sister and I had not been cleaning our room when we were supposed to be- my mother came charging up the stairs to our attic bedroom brandishing one of her wooden spoons. She told me to turn around and pull my pants down. (I hated that phrase more than any other, I cannot describe the feeling it provoked.) I stood there with my pants and underpants around my ankles, waiting for her to strike my bare bottom with that spoon. The memory ends right there. All I remember is my fear at the first sight of her; the sick shrinking feeling as I exposed myself to her; and waiting for the pain.
I made my mother angry. I made her late for church. I somehow singlehandedly made my whole family late for church the morning we all sat in the car for almost 10 minutes waiting for her to come out of the house!! I made her sick, I made her crazy. I made her hurt me.
It should be no surprise that I eventually concluded that my very existence was an affront to my mother’s sensibilities. There WAS no boundary between me and my mother. She claimed to know everything I thought, felt, and intended to do. She knew WHY I did what I did, even when I did not. I was a convenient scapegoat I suppose. Whatever the punishment was, she HAD to do it to me. I deserved it; I ‘had to pay the consequences’. I had to learn.
This kind of language and the subsequent hurt are much more characteristic of revenge, not discipline. In fact, what my mother had done was to place the entire burden of her emotional wellbeing upon Me. The only technique she had to deal with her own ‘big feelings’ was to take them out on me. My mother taught me that when someone hurts you, disappoints you, betrays you, or embarrasses you, you must hurt them, and make them pay. And you must continue to punish them until YOU are satisfied that they understand what they have done to you.
My mother violated boundaries not just with me, but with my little sister as well. I know this, because my sister has told me about how my mother would confide in her; sharing information that was inappropriate for an 8 year old child. Momma was lonely, and she treated my sister like a best friend. She made my sister the guardian of all of her secrets.
The thing about Boundaries is that they are an inheritable health. Boundary-less-ness is likewise an inherited dysfunction. I never did become whatever it was my mother was shaping me to be. I fought her encroachment until I was almost out of the house. To this day, half of the evaluating voice in my mind is my mother. It isn’t the voice of my mother today, mid 60’s, mellowed momma. No. The voice I retain is the harsh one, the scary one, the Mother I never once managed to satisfy. It is very strange that the memories themselves no longer have the power to provoke deep hurt in me. The fact of the original hurt still remains of course, and I cannot measure the effect that exchange had on me, the young girl. It feels very odd to analyze it so coldly now. The woman my mother is NOW does not hold that kind of power over me either. (Praise the Lord!) That long-ago momma may have been suffering a deep depression or some other emotional ailment- I may never know.
I have many memories similar to this one, and they contain many disturbing blank spaces. Why for instance, can I not remember what I had done wrong? Why does the memory cut out right before the strike? What happened afterward? I know that my mom would have hugged me, talked to me about what I had done, and prayed with me- all according to Dobson’s little formula. But that part is conspicuously missing. What am I not remembering? And WHY can I not remember it?