A resource to inspire, inform and empower parents.

An Insider’s Perspective on Cry It Out and Spanking

By Shae

When I was born my parents were thrilled and determined to parent the right way. Well, I suppose they did the best they could with what knowledge they had. They wanted the perfect little nursery for their perfect little girl. So there I was, newly entered into the world, torn from my mama, and already I had my own room. It wasn’t as cozy as you may think. They did “sleep training” and made me cry it out to teach me to “self-soothe.” I often had bad dreams and woke up crying all night. But they stuck with “self-soothing.” As an infant, or maybe a toddler, I developed night terrors. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, night terrors are far worse than your average nightmare. You wake up panicking, often paralyzed, and absolutely terrified. As in, gun-to-your-head-watching-someone-you-know-being-killed terrified! There just aren’t words to describe the feeling, and no, I’m not exaggerating by any means.

No one would come to my aid. When I was very small my mom would rock me back to sleep if she was still awake when I starting screaming, but that did not last long. When I was about 4 years old I was moved into a room on the opposite end of the house. I was given a nightlight to ward away the bad dreams. But my cries went unanswered. I remember VIVIDLY waking up frozen by fear, but I made no sound for fear of being punished for “waking the whole house.” It often took over an hour for me to fall back asleep. I had to learn early how to calm myself down, but usually exhaustion kicked in while I was still scared. I did what many kids do and threw the blanket over my head. I was too scared to close my eyes, but eventually the exhaustion did win over. I slept restlessly and was very tired all day from the events of the past night.

I stopped screaming, but cried in a dark room all alone. Imagine that, if you will. A small child all alone in a dark room having just woken up from horrible dreams that are just unimaginable even to a horror film junkie without a single person to comfort them. It left me scarred, jaded, and I developed learned complacency. That’s where someone learns that no matter what, they cannot escape the thing hurting them so they just give in and let the fear and pain take over. I was a very angry and scared child because of this. I fought bedtime. I was not being “difficult” or “rebellious,” I was simply horrified of being in that room anymore.

I think, though, that more than that room, I was terrified of my mom. Many times I found myself thinking about how much I hated her. My parents were strict, which is a good thing! A child does need some form of moral guidance, and that should come straight from his or her parents. My mom, however, spanked. Freely. When I was spanked, and not just a swat on the butt but a hard smack, it was usually with her hand but often with a flat, wooden spoon. Immediately I was swarmed with questions. “Did I do something wrong? I must have. What was it? I don’t know! Oh, mommy, please just tell me and I promise I’ll never do it again!” If I couldn’t produce the reason I was being punished by the end of the spanking, then I was told I had to sit in my room and think about what I had done. Much more often than not, I couldn’t think of anything. I was finally let out after.. 10? 20? 30? minutes. It seemed like an eternity. I was never given a reason or an explanation as to why what I had done was wrong. I would run from her as soon as she was angry, again not to be “difficult” but because it HURT! That just ended up with a longer spanking.

My dad, however, never spanked. As a toddler I threw temper tantrums. As a child I cried sometimes. My mom’s response was immediately, “I’ll GIVE you something to cry about!” My dad would listen and explain why I couldn’t do or have something or why my wants weren’t being met. I was always close to my dad. Though my dad distanced himself from us emotionally. This just added to my feelings of neglect, and made me want to seek out attention from anyone who would give it to me.

As time went on, I lost all trust in my mother. I knew deep down she was trying to help me, but more often than not any little thing would send her over the edge. I tried as hard as I could to stay out of trouble, but siblings fight (I have two older sisters) and that guaranteed a spanking. I learned from this that, if I was going to get spanked I may as well do something to deserve it. I began acting out as a preteen. My trust issues growing rapidly. I started dating young; I was 11. He didn’t treat me very well, but he gave me some good attention, and that was all that mattered to me. I faced sleepless night after sleepless night from the night terrors just fueled my anger and distrust for these people who were supposed to guard me from all of the bad things and monsters.

As a teenager I acted out more. Nothing too crazy, but I definitely hung out with the wrong crowd. I clung to anyone who would feed me any semblance of positive attention. Of course, this only got me hurt several times over from friends who walked all over me to abusive boyfriends. I got pregnant at 16 and was scared to DEATH to tell my mom, who was now divorced from my dad because he smacked my sister across the face. I ended up miscarrying and, instead of telling my mom and going to the ER to make sure everything passed, I hid it. I very, very luckily did not get an infection, but I honestly, at the time, would rather have died from not going to the hospital than tell my mom. I knew it would have resulted in at the very least a slap across my face, and I would never, ever hear the end of it. I had boyfriends, but I never really could find myself trusting anyone. Especially the nice, good people. I always feared punishment of some kind because THAT was how I was “trained”: to be alone and to fear.

I dated bad boyfriend after bad boyfriend all through high school. I dressed differently (goth/punk) so they were the only ones who gave me attention. The “nice” boys all hung out with the popular, preppier girls. Or, at least, the ones who had little to no issues. I ended up being raped when I was still in high school. I told my dad and he helped me try to file charges. I was way too scared to tell my mom. I knew she’d lash out at me for even “putting myself in that situation” and would be furious with me. I feared another unspeakable form of punishment so I didn’t tell her until a couple of years ago. I feared that I had done something wrong, that I did deserve it. It just felt like another punishment at the time.

Over time I became extremely co-dependent. Anxiety always took over from the years of, well, neglect. I was always afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing and being made to look foolish or getting yelled at by whomever I was speaking to. I wouldn’t make phone calls, I didn’t go anywhere without my sister or mom accompanying me. I couldn’t do much of anything by myself and always had to have someone else speak for me. It always caught me off-guard when someone addressed me, and I was freeze up and just respond without thinking. But I never let go of that fear that I would say something wrong and be chastised as soon as we were in private.

My big break came when I was 20 and headed off to a university on the other side of the state. I easily did everything myself. I made phone calls any time it was asked for, I was eager to make plans with good people who were good friends to me. I was, dare I say, happy. Far from the disapproving eyes of my mother. I started learning how to act like myself, and I was just learning how to be myself. I did really well. I made A’s and B’s in every class and still had a wonderful social life.

Some things happened at the university that forced me to leave, though. Back to mother’s house it was. Back to fear and anger. Not long after I moved back home I became really close to one of my university friends, Andrew. That summer he moved in with us. He still had a year left at the university, but he came to visit every other weekend and on holidays. He’s been my saving grace. Through him I’m slowly learning to trust people. He never gets upset with me, though I’m often afraid he will become angry at me over my emotions and how clingy I can be. He even begs me to wake him up if I have a night terror, which I do. He comforts me and helps me calm down so I can fall asleep again. I have them a lot less often now that I have someone to comfort me.

Now I’m 23, and I still don’t trust my mom. I withhold many things from her. I’m attracted to girls, my past abuse from ex-boyfriends, my recent miscarriage. All would invoke skepticism and harsh words. She’s not against LGBT, it’s just, basically, because it’s me. She would reject me further. She knows about my anxiety problems and depression that I’ve had since I was little, but she just tells me to “suck it up” and “move on.” She doesn’t believe me about my past miscarriages (I’ve had four total), and I don’t want to face more rejection from her. I’m moving soon to another state and, as much as I love my mom, I can’t wait to get away from her. All of her “discipline” has done nothing but push me away.

I will never force my children to cry it out. They will sleep in my room with me and Andrew, who has been my fiancé for two years and will soon be my husband! They will never know what it feels like to face being spanked or the fear of having to run from me because they know pain is inevitable. I don’t want them to obey me because of fear. I will sit down and talk to them, just as I would an adult who does something I don’t like. I want them to listen to me because they understand why I’m telling them “no.” I will teach them love and tolerance. I’m in therapy and on Prozac, Zyprexa (a mood stabilizer for my impulsiveness and anger), and Xanax. All are working to help me get over my past until I can manage it on my own. I’m weaning off of them, though, and am learning how to be a better person than my mom was to me. I know that’s all she knew, but I have a hard time trying to forgive her for the years of fear, anger, betrayal, rejection, and punishment.

Shae

Comments

  1. I do agree with most of this, I do swat my lil ones bottoms, but only to get their attention sometimes, that way I can speak with them and I know they will be listening to what I have to say. I like to explain to them, in detail, what they did wrong and what not to do the next time. Never to young to be spoken too, always learning even from the day of birth. I speak to my infant like he understands me, and when he stops crying to listen to what i have to say it makes me realize that he really does. Also as far as the bed goes, I loved being in my moms bed as a child, I loved the comfort I felt from it, knowing I could go to her anytime, day or night, if I needed her. I have always agreed with co-sleeping until they are ready to get out. My kids now sleep on their own and have been for a while, but they still know they can come into my bed if they need too. I feel that has help my kids have a better connection with me, even my 14 year old son talks to me about things that ale him, and i like that.

    • wow. did you even read the entire post? if you did then maybe you would see that your response about “swatting” was incredibly rude and shows a stunning display of ignorance.

  2. ah Shae, I wish I could envelop you in a giant warm mama hug, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for being brave enough for sharing this very traumatic start you’ve had in life. I understand as mine was similar and tho I have not been left with such terrible consequences I still struggle with my mum now and I’m 42! Therapy really helped but I’m on medication too. The best therapy tho, was my children, nursing them, co-sleeping and just plain loving them!Written with much love for you, you’ll get through <3

  3. Kudos for your bravery.

  4. The first few paragraphs could have been me, it was so similar. I have wondered at times if I had seizures back then because I remember waking as though I had committed an unforgiveable sin, but I could never figure out what, I thought the devil was going to come get me, I thought I was outside God’s care, and I was only three! I have a husband with seizures, that’s where I’m starting to wonder about it.

    Eventually I got a nightlight too, and this saved me, as I felt God’s presence in a new way. I don’t remember how I knew I couldn’t get my parents, I didn’t have overt abuse, but it was scary neglect, and my Dad was very rigid and Dutch, and didn’t have a clue how to be express tenderness. I also had croup and took a bad medication for it (phenergen) that induces SIDS, so that may be part of it, and I had codeine which always slows my respirations, and I had earaches etc. I just knew I couldn’t wake them.

    My Mom spanked with ye olde wooden spoon, too, although in my case I knew it was unreasonable and that she was just spazzy, not hated me. Although since then I’ve wondered….

    I agree with the comment on having kids, though. Co-sleeping and nursing helped me reimagine what parenting is, and how available we are to be night and day. Blessings on your life, and your story, in Jesus’ NAME, AMEN.

    MB

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  6. I know this is an old post, but I still have to respond for the sake of anyone else who might come across it.

    Firstly, Shae, I’m really sorry for your experiences and pain. I am thankful for your supportive partner, and I fully support your choices in raising children one day.

    However, I hope to give any potential readers a fair view before making their choices. I too was cry-it-out and spanked, but I had a very different experience.

    My mother did use CIO with me, but it is meant to be a one time strategy. For one week, and one week only, she would put me down to bed, say good night, and leave the room. Every five minutes or so she would come back and reassure me that she still loved me and all was well, and again leave the room. All this was when I was 4 months old. After a few days I learned to fall asleep on my own and no longer cried. When I did cry, she knew something was out of the ordinary and would immediately come check on me.

    Growing up, I always knew I could go to my parents for whatever reason. If I had a nightmare (which was rare), or if I wasn’t feeling well, I could always wake them up and they would either stay up with me or let me sleep in bed with them.

    As for spanking, a wooden spoon or hand was used, but only when I intentionally disobeyed (after multiple warnings),and my parents always, ALWAYS explained why I was getting spanked before actually spanking me. And they NEVER did it when angry, only when they had full control of their emotions.

    I don’t think that either of the experiences harmed me. I had a wonderful very childhood, and grew to be a confident able woman. My parents are still two of the people I trust the most on this earth, and I often go to them to seek advice. I think my siblings would agree.

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