Starting around the age of ten, until I was sixteen, I was abused.
I don’t mean sexually, just physical. And, it was not a secret. Everyone knew that my mom’s boyfriend would abuse my brothers and myself. Well, everyone but him. He thought that it was just “punishment”.
Once, he drug me down a flight of stairs and whipping me with a belt until my mom called his parents. That was just punishment for listening to my Walkman after he told me to go to bed. Another time, I was made to chew a bar of soap until I puked. Then, I was whipped with a belt for puking in front of my mom. That was when my pubic hair had started to grow in and I unconsciously scratched myself. To this day, even the smell of a soap bar causes psychosomatic reactions. But at least I did not get it as bad as my older brother. Once, he got his leg broken as a punishment. My mother and her boyfriend told the hospital that it was a skateboarding accident to avoid the police.
There are many more stories of the abuse, but I think I’ve provided enough examples for now. As a father now, I constantly fear abusing my daughter. Given the widely held belief that those abused will often also become abusers.
Before we had our daughter, my wife and I talked about my fear of becoming an abuser. Raising a child would mean that I would also have to punish them at some point. While positive reinforcement works when they do good things, they also need to be learn that bad behavior has consequences. Raising a child together means that both my wife and I have to be on the same page when it comes to when punishment is due. Allowing my wife to do all the punishment will only cause our child to see my wife as the “bad guy”. Our child would not learn that what they did was wrong, but rather getting caught by mom was the issue.
The key, I realized was to focus on that what I would be doing would be teaching. As a parent, part of my job to teach my child what is acceptable behavior. Even if what my child does makes me angry or frustrated, the punishment should not make me feel better, because it has nothing to do with my feelings.
My daughter is three years old now and she knows how to “push buttons.” But every time she does, I think about what my reaction is going to teach her. It is a difficult thing to do most of the time, but for her sake, I have to. Fortunately, for both her and me, that fear of crossing the line into abuse helps keep me in check.