Whipped and worked in Indiana

Jan 27, 2022 | survivor-stories

I was one of six kids growing up in Indiana in the ’70s and early ’80s. My parents were extremely devout Missouri Synod Lutherans and were convinced that almost everything us kids did aside from praying, chores, sleeping or going to church was a sin. Having unkempt hair or a messy room was sloth, for instance, even if we cleaned it up immediately. Asking for an extra serving of something at dinner was gluttony. Et cetera. 

Our parents decided early on that the best way to keep us free from these sins was to have us work constantly. When we were school-age, there was never any time allotted for leisure on school days–when we got home, we got a long list of chores to be done before dinner. It didn’t matter whether the chores needed to be done–the same windows would get washed several days in a row. We often washed and dried clean dishes. The point was to keep us moving and working. After dinner, it was time for homework, baths and bed. Weekends were often the same, because our parents would find a reason Thursday or Friday to ground us, which involved dusk-to-dawn work on the weekends. On grounding weekends, they favored the hottest, most miserable and yet pointless outside work they could find. They told us that if we didn’t stink to high heavens when we came in the house, we hadn’t worked enough. 

Spankings and bare-bottomed shaming were the norm in our house. In contrast to my parents’ usual hyper-modesty (i.e. boys and girls of any age couldn’t be in the bathroom at the same time, or change together, and modest clothing was required at all times, etc.) spankings normally happened in the living room, no matter who was around or who happened to be over at the house. It was a big ritual leading up to the spanking. First, we had to retrieve the ruler, spoon, or belt (depended on Mom or Dad’s mood) and explain exactly what we’d done to deserve punishment. Then pants, underwear and even socks or hose came off. Then we had to bend over the couch, hands on the arm rest, looking straight forward and actually ask to be spanked. We had to keep looking straight ahead as our eyes filled with tears while our buns got blistered. This would be the punishment for things like coming home ten minutes’ late, answering in a “disrespectful tone” (which was anything they decided it was) or giving them or each other a “dirty look” (again, anything they decided what qualified). There were six of us and someone got spanked every single day. Most days, 2 or 3 of us got it. This went on until we left home, one after another, as we hit the age of 18. 

Looking back, I feel the extent of the punishments was abusive. I’m not against anyone ever spanking their child no matter what, but there’s no good reason to spank for every trivial thing or to amplify the normal degree of embarrassment a kid feels when they are spanked. 

What advice would you offer to encourage others? 

Hang in there, nothing lasts forever and you’ll be stronger for having endured the trial.

– Donna Mulrehn-Kuebler, Child Abuse Survivor


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