This post started off as a response to a message from a friend. Somehow I ended up with a nearly 1400 word essay about discipline, punishments, and parenting. Craziness! I’d never just sat down and written so much about my parenting beliefs and I had no idea how strongly I really do feel about spanking and punishments.
The next day I let another friend read my essay – unedited. She really enjoyed reading it and encouraged me to edit it and make it public. So here goes and maybe others will find this post to be edifying as well :-) At the very least, after reading this you’ll know where I’m coming from and maybe even where other Christians who choose not to use spanking are coming from.
I’m leaving this in letter form so just pretend that I’m writing it to you!
Gosh, I don’t even know where to start about spanking… before I start I guess I’ll let you know straight up that I have friends who spank their kids, although generally as a last resort type thing, and we’ve come to an understanding and agreed to disagree. I have strong feelings about physical punishments, but I understand that sometimes people run out of other tools to use while parenting and believe that spanking will help the situation. After all, I’m an imperfect parent myself so I’m certainly not here to judge anyone :-)
First of all, I guess I’ll start with the Bible. Nowhere in the Bible is anyone commanded to hit their children. On the contrary, we’re exhorted to discipline – which does not equal punishment, correct, and instruct them. We’re also commanded to not exasperate them or provoke them to anger (Eph 6:4). I don’t know about you, but spanking certainly exasperated me! Actually… it enraged me and strengthened my resolve to not get caught the next time.
My goal is not to hurt my children or make them feel badly. In fact, they are perfectly capable of making themselves feel badly and I rarely have to instruct them to apologize now that they’re 3 and 4 years old. My goal is to teach them how to behave properly and then help them to do so when they are unable or unwilling to. Does that make sense?
I don’t want my children to fear me! I want them to obey me out of love and because my requests and demands make sense to them. I always make sure that I have a reason for anything I tell them to do or not to do. If I find that I don’t have a good reason for telling them to do something then I reconsider before saying anything.
I want my children to question authority as adults which means that I encourage them to question me while they’re children. If they have a good rebuttal for something I’ve said, I reconsider and sometimes I stand firm while other times I concede to their point. I want them to know that I sometimes make mistakes, that I’m willing to accept constructive criticism, then critically examine the things I do as well as humble enough to admit it when I make a mistake. By modeling that, I hope that they will also be humble and examine critically the things they do and even the things they believe.
Yes, the world will hurt them, but that doesn’t mean that I need to hurt them. I want to be the one to whom they can come after the world has hurt them. I want them to know that I will be brutally honest with them, but won’t harm them in any way. I won’t shield them from the true consequences of their actions and will encourage them to own up to whatever they’ve done as well as take responsibility for their actions and mistakes, but I see no reason to set up artificial consequences in order to teach them that.
It might shock you to hear this… but I don’t use time outs with my children either. I do remove them from volatile situations and help them calm down in whatever way they need help with, but that’s not a punishment, that’s teaching them how to calm down and remove themselves from volatile situations when I’m no longer around to help them with it.
I truly believe that in order for us to receive respect from someone else, we need to show them respect. I want respect from my children and I have their respect. After a bad situation has been dealt with – usually with food, rest, or snuggles as well as a discussion about what happened once my children are feeling better and able to listen and pay attention to what they’re learning from the discussion – they respond in the same way as people say that children respond after being spanked. They apologize and tell me that they love me and that they’ll try better next time. Then they do try harder next time! They still fail a good deal of the time, but they want and try to do better. They truly feel sad when they fall short without needing any emotional manipulation from me.
My oldest knows when she’s grumpy because of being hungry. I specifically taught her how to tell when that happens. My older two girls seem to have the same blood sugar issues that I have… when our blood sugar gets low, we get amazingly grumpy and irrational. One of the most important things I can teach them is to drink some water and eat something healthy when they start feeling like that. Especially protein! Once they eat even just a little bit, their moods improve astronomically!
Now, imagine that I spanked them for misbehaviors without finding out what the root cause was… I could be hurting them for something that was age-appropriate or that could have easily been fixed with a simple glass of water. Whining can often be fixed with a glass of water, believe it or not. Children at their ages don’t have much impulse control and often cannot stop themselves from doing things even when they know they shouldn’t. Instead of hurting them, I help them stop. I hold them or remove them from the temptation and then help them discover other ways to deal with that temptation the next time it happens.
There are some people who actually advocate deliberately placing temptations in front of the child and hitting them every time they touch what the parent knew beforehand would tempt them. This is essentially setting them up for failure and being hurt from the beginning.
There are even self-professing Christians who advocate this sort of parental behavior. Where is the grace and the love? God’s wonderful Son – part of himself really – died on the cross for our sins so that we would not have to endure the punishment that we so richly deserve, but where’s the grace for the smallest of these? Where is the grace that should be shown to the little children whom Jesus loves so much?
I truly believe that as a Christian parent, I am here to show my children just a glimmer of God’s love and grace. The whole rest of the world will show them wrath and punishment. My job is to equip them to function properly in the world; to love other people as they love themselves; and to trust in, love, and revere God.
I’m raising future teens and adults, not children, and my job is to discipline, guide, and teach them with an eye towards helping them become wise adults. I don’t think that pain teaches much past a very primal level – which would translate to a child: “don’t get caught” – and that’s not the message I want to send my kids. I want them to trust me enough to come to me for help or advice if they’re thinking about or actually experimenting with drugs or sex. I want them to trust me enough to come to me for counsel about anything even if they know I would disapprove. I would rather know and be able to be there for them and guide them than for them to hide their lives from me in the way I had to from my parents.
I was too scared to come to my parents for help when I was suicidally depressed in high school and in college. I was too scared to let them know the horrors that resided in my mind. I don’t want my kids to be scared of me or to fear me. I want them to know that I love them unconditionally by my actions and not just by my words. I want them to know unconditional love from me so that they can more easily accept the unconditional love of their Savior.
Finally, to address the idea that not spanking is the main reason that children behave horribly: My children behave appropriately for our setting for the most part. Sometimes I let them do things, especially at home, that other parents would not allow, but they know how to behave properly in public and choose to behave whenever it is in their power to do so.
We take our children to restaurants and nearly everywhere else we go in public and have only gotten compliments on their behavior. Permissiveness has nothing to do with whether someone spanks or not. I’ve seen pro-spanking parents behave permissively with their children and my children – as well as the children of many of my friends – are living proof that parents can avoid spanking and still have high expectations for their children’s behavior.
With love and great respect regardless of how you take this crazy novel I just wrote!
“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”~ Matthew 25:40
Edited to add: My next post about the context of the book of Proverbs and why context is important is a follow-up from some of the comments I received for this post. Thank you for reading!