My journey toward Grace-based Parenting begins.

My journey toward a peaceful parenting approach began before I ever had any kids. In fact, it probably began before I could even talk, with the first time my Mother smacked my fingers as a baby. As a BABY- You ask? Yes, I was just able to propel myself around our home in my wheelie-walker…y’know, the kind that aren’t made anymore. In fact, my mother tells me that I went down the stairs in that walker… but I digress. Mom tells me that I would roll myself over to the plug socket (aka an electrical outlet) behind the stereo system, and pull the cords. She would say, ‘No baby, smack-fingers!’…and of course, being all of 8 or 9 months old, I reached out and touched the cords anyway. She was always careful to elaborate on the scenario, saying that I would ‘inch’ over to the cords with my hand outstretched, eyeing her the whole time, just to ‘test’ her. I of course got the promised smack on the back of the hand. Apparently, I would go right back to the cords…and try to touch them again right away. My mother insists it was defiance. My mother got most of her child rearing information from Dr. James Dobson’s books- he’s written several. I remember Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child on our bookshelves, and my parents delighted in telling us how difficult we were.

I have now been through that baby stage twice with my own boys. I used Dobson’s stuff at first, and a lot of it fit the assumptions my parents had unknowingly taught. I have found however, a way to parent, disciple, and discipline that does not need to involve punishment or shame. As I have learned about God’s marvelous Grace, I have come to understand just how damaging the type of punishment Dobson advocates really is. This is my journey.

I started out my parenting in a very gentle way. I went with my instincts, and got to know my baby very well. My older son- I call him Maximus- was not an ‘easy’ baby. From the very start, I had older women telling me that I shouldn’t pick him up when he cried, or he’d ‘always cry’…or ‘he’ll expect you to answer him every time’. The more of this type of advice I got, the less of it I listened to. You see, for various reasons I was committed to exclusively breastfeeding my baby until at least 6 months old (we made it to 19 months…but that’s another story) and all of that advice flatly contradicted the biological information on a successful breastfeeding relationship. I felt quite free to chuck all of that ridiculous ‘advice’ and find my own way. By the time Maximus was 19 months old, we were very close. He was close to other people in his life, his Daddy (my hubby), and both sets of grandparents…as well as a few of the older adults at church. He went where I went, and lived life with me. I consequently had a tiny person who loved the library, Star trek TNG, the grocery store, walks, plants, and many other things. (His little brother, whom I call Minimus, shares these interests but this first post is really Maximus’ story)

I don’t remember the first time I slapped his tiny hand. It makes me shrink up inside now, to think about it. I didn’t want to spank…I never set out to, and until this time, I had been as gentle a parent as possible. I believe God gave me insight into the needs and learning processes of the tiny soul with whose care he entrusted me. Maximus would do something and a little light bulb would go off inside my head, ‘Oh, That’s why he did that!’ When you know why someone did something, it’s much easier to give them Grace and modify your response appropriately. So why did I switch to spanking? I got tired. I got pregnant. I ran out of tools. Maximus got big enough that everyone thought he was a year, or more, older than he was and I started to feel their judgment of my ‘out-of-control’ boy. He was really only 18 months old, but people assumed he was as old as 4! Obviously, expectations for a 4 year old are much, much different than expectations for a 1.5 year old. None of these are good reasons, they are just my reasons. One of the most significant problems I have with spanking is that it leaves room for nothing else. Once you resort to pain as a punishment- not much else makes an impact. Trust has been violated. There are so many other ways to enforce a parental request, or to define a boundary, and a parent who spanks loses sight of these in favor of a more ‘consistent’ or ‘effective’ method. Spanking…or hand slapping, worked for about 2 months. Well, it worked once Maximus realized I was going to hurt him if he didn’t do what I said. Then, mysteriously, it stopped working. I found myself spanking harder, more strikes, bare bottom…and despite my escalating violence against my son- he refused to comply. There is a very good reason for this- which I will explore in later posts. I became a very angry mommy. I knew I was hurting him, so I was spanking ‘properly’ (Dobson says if the child doesn’t cry- it’s not enough) yet it produced ONLY an increasingly defiant boy. I began to feel guilty about wanting to hold or touch my son, because he was ‘defiant’ and I had to ‘enforce my authority’. I felt that to be soft and loving with him was to undo the spankings. I started to see my son flinch when I moved suddenly. Each day began with a greater distance between this boy, who had been my precious baby, and me- an out of control, abusive momma. I began to hate myself for violating what I felt was most important, my relationship with my son.

God began to speak to me. First, he sent me Believing Mommas who practiced Gentle Discipline. I didn’t get it at all. I wrote them off at first, thinking, ‘that’s fine- they don’t have to deal with this boy’. And anytime someone complained about their kids’ behavior, saying they didn’t know what to do about it, I thought smugly, ‘yeah, that’s what you get for being permissive’. But as I met my incredibly tenacious and intelligent boy head-on, my friends’ words began to replay themselves in my head. It stopped me in my tracks after a while. I was, during that time, crying out to God because I knew something was wrong. I knew I was destroying my relationship with my son, and the baby was watching these scenarios play out. The guilt over what my tiny Minimus was witnessing was crippling. I was also missing out on church services and Bible study, and I found myself so starved for spiritual meat that I eagerly listened to Chapel services online, and to the two CD’s I have of Dr. Stephen Manley’s sermons. In one of Dr. Manley’s sermons he says, “Nothing will matter in 100 years, except…relationship.” I realized one day that Minimus was about the same age as Maximus had been when I started smacking his fingers, and the thought of spanking and smacking this tiny precious person- the thought of breaching this relationship- made me physically ill. Not too long after that, I was spanking Maximus (again) for hitting his brother. Now, I had always maintained that hitting someone to teach them not to hit people was…stupid- quite frankly. So, why was I doing it? *shrug* I heard myself say, “Max- you cannot hit people just because they do something you don’t like!” I heard a quiet voice whisper, ‘But that’s what YOU do.’ I froze. They talk about the Holy Spirit speaking in a ‘still, small voice’. Well that was it. I would hear that still voice precisely pointing out my sin each time I used pain as discipline on Maximus. At one point I hit the wall. My children could do much better than having me as a parent; I thought. I finally understood that I would have to break Maximus if I ever wanted the kind of rule-follower Dobson’s books said every Christian parent should have. I would literally have had to beat him into submission.

That day I stopped spanking, cold turkey. It’s actually much easier than it sounds. Some of you are thinking ‘oh my goodness, I’ll bet all of Hades broke loose!’ What happened was completely unexpected, and it changed my perspective forever.

The first time I did not spank Maximus for his error, he looked at me in amazement, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop. By the end of that first no-spanking day he had become very snuggly, and I loved it. He became very careful to do everything I asked, when he could. He was…ginger with me- if you know what I mean. SO careful, as if he really liked this ‘new’ mommy but wasn’t sure he could trust her. I held him a lot in the week that followed, and I cried a lot. He gave me what I had not been able or willing to give him. He gave me Grace. He forgave me, without my ever having to ask it. I did not make a ‘no spanking’ announcement. I was terrified that I would not be able to stick with my plan. I had no tools, but God had already provided for me. continued…

About greenegem

Wielder of the Pen of Deep Wit.
This entry was posted in Greenegem's Story, Testimony and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to My journey toward Grace-based Parenting begins.

  1. Jenny Bryant says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. ❤

  2. Pearl says:

    I really identified with that anecdote at the beginning. Most of my family is a big believer in “the look” when it comes to babies. Instead of seeing curiosity and desire to connect with their caregivers, they see a defiant gleam that must be squelched. Once a family member told me she could see the “sin nature” in her tiny, less than 6 month old baby. Why? Because the baby “resisted” letting her mother put her arms through the holes of her clothes! I think that started opening my eyes to the wrongness and absurdity of an adversarial mindset.

    Thanks so much for your transparency. Can’t wait to read the rest of the story!

  3. HJ says:

    THANK YOU for sharing, I’m so looking forward to your future posts! I was raised by Dobson parents. I am struggling so much with my 2.5 year old. While I haven’t resorted to spanking I have been using fear based tactics more than I ever want to…I’m looking forward to hearing more. Will be following!!!

  4. shadowspring says:

    Thank you for writing this! Someone posted a link on facebook, and here I am.

    Your last paragraph is stunning, amazing, beautiful.

  5. Sharon says:

    Thank you for starting this blog. I look forward to what you have to say. My son is only 7 months old, but my husband and I have been working hard to nurture a secure attachment with him and are committed to using gentle discipline. Both of us come from families where painful and/or violent punishment was used, and we don’t want to continue the cycle with our own children.

    As I have begun reading blogs and articles on peaceful parenting/gentle discipline, critical pieces of my own childhood have suddenly started to make sense to me. My parents also had copies of Dare to Discipline and The Strong Willed Child in their library, and I grew up hearing how strong-willed, difficult, stubborn, and resistant to discipline I was. I was spanked hard and often, especially by my father. I remember being terrified by his anger. When I was too old for spanking, he used to pinch the back of my neck until I complied. Since childhood, I have struggled with feelings of perfectionism, the belief that if I am “bad” and if I make any kind of mistake I deserve to hurt, that I must painfully punish myself, the belief that I am only loved if I do everything right. It has dramatically and negatively impacted my relationships since my teen years. It has led to a number of very unhealthy emotional patterns and difficulty with self-control in some aspects. I have been working through these things but could never understand where it all came from since in most ways my parents are loving and supportive and would never have wanted to communicate the kind of beliefs that I mysteriously acquired while growing up. Looking at issues of discipline has been a big piece in the puzzle for me and I feel I’m one step closer to healing those things for myself, and consequently, being a better mother to my son.

    My husband also came from a physically and emotionally abusive home (his father nearly strangled him once, and broke his sister’s arm. Violence and violent “discipline” were the modus operendi in his home.) and was always determined to not spank. But the things I’ve been able to convey as I’ve learned for myself, I think, are also helping him understand himself better and form a more comprehensive parenting philosophy.

    Anyway…I have a fledgling blog also that is roughly along the lines of peaceful/gentle parenting. Just wanted to give you a shout-out as another parent sharing this journey!

  6. Brenda K. says:

    Thank you for having the courage to share this powerful and touching testimony! I look forward to future entries.

  7. just me says:

    Thank you for writing your story. For being so honest, and so humble.

    Please carry on!

  8. Sara says:

    Thank you for sharing this so openly!

    I too was raised by parents who spanked, and the decision to not do it myself was made when my parents spanked me for the last time at age 14. I was humiliated and it damaged our relationship so much.

    I think spanking is an ineffective tool because it only works for so long. If you think about it, very few people advocate for spanking a less than year-old child and most will agree that it’s only acceptable until the child is about 8 years old (if that). Why would you use a parenting technique that is only effective for such a short time? When it becomes unacceptable to spank, what resources would you have?

    Anyways, just wanted to let you know that there are MANY of us on the same journey. Can’t wait to hear how things have been going for you. 🙂

  9. Sarah Holwerda says:

    Very interesting. I too struggle with the issue of spanking and use it as a last resort, however, the Bible teaches against “sparing the rod.” Since “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” ( 2 Timothy 3:17) I would love to hear your views on how could we appropriately utilize various methods of discipline using the word of God as our basis for teaching and training our children.

    • greenegem says:

      Hello Sarah, and thanks for your question. Very simply, I am going to direct you to someone who can answer your question much better than I can. Please visit and check out the section entitled ‘spare the rod’.
      In the meantime, please check out Luke 11:11-13. We ARE called to be the authority; the place where ‘the buck stops’, but we CAN be an authority while embodying the Fruits of the Spirit toward our children. Among those I feel spanking violates are, Love, Peace, Patience, Kindness, and Gentleness (Gal 5:22).


  10. Pingback: Dare to Disciple | Why Not Train A Child?

  11. Guggie Daly says:

    Excellent post that brings the deeper aspects of this issue to light. I especially like how you highlight the interpretation of the baby. It has always amazed me how our culture holds onto two contradictory concepts at once. On the one hand the baby is supposed to be a nonsensing, nonthinking, almost nonhuman creature…a blob that can’t feel pain or think or dream…but then at the same time they are apparently crafty, evil manipulators trying to control us. So strange!

  12. Amy says:

    Thank you so much for this beautiful post. You put some amazing concepts into words that I never could. I always believed in spanking (although never really was spanked growing up). All of my spiritual mentors in youth group etc. taught that spanking was biblical and I never thought to question them until years later when I found out I was pregnant. I am so so grateful to God for opening my eyes to a different way to parent then most of what I saw modeled for me. I can’t wait to read more about your journey!

  13. Katie says:

    Your last paragraph brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your journey so beautifully.

  14. AP says:

    Love, love, LOVE your blog!!!! So…could I say your experience sounds EXACTLY like mine (except that you’ve made bigger strides so far!)…I even have two boys the same age :). Please keep writing…I’ll be coming back to learn more.

  15. CP says:

    I had a similar realization when my oldest was about 4 (she’s 7 now) that I would literally have to break her spirit if I wanted her to be the obedient, rule-follower that I had been raised to be. And after giving up punishments–spankings, timeouts, etc –I had almost the same experience you did with your son. She cuddled up to me for the first time in a long time, but did so with obvious wariness. It almost broke my heart. And yet the transformation I saw in my child, the way I saw her literally blossom in those first weeks taught me such a powerful lesson in the damage I had been doing, not just to our relationship but to my child as well. It’s been 3 years now, not always easy, but “all hell” has never broken loose. Thank you for sharing your story here! I wish I could have read such a story when my daughter was a toddler, to know that there really is a better way.

  16. barb says:

    Excellent information! Thank you for taking the time to reach out to other moms needing some direction.

  17. Hello, I have 2 blogs, a closed facebook group (“Child-Friendly Faith”), and a nonprofit called the Child-Friendly Faith Project. I would like to edit down this blog and post it on our site, giving you full credit of course. (I found out about your blog through our FB group.) Thanks for considering this,
    Janet Heimlich
    President, The Child-Friendly Faith Project
    P.S. I wrote a book called “Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment,” in which I write about Dobson’s teachings over the years.

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