My last post may have left some people wondering where, exactly, I stand on spanking. Since I’ve openly criticized certain parenting philosophies, I want to be honest about how I’ve disciplined my own children, and how my practices have evolved over time. This is my story: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I was spanked.
Like almost all of the kids I grew up with back in the 70s, I was spanked. It didn’t happen often because I was a compliant little girl. I remember getting the belt from my dad once, for spilling ink on his desk. I remember being spanked in the store parking lot after he caught me stealing gum at the grocery store. I remember my mother slapping the back of my thigh after I’d lost my flute (again) in grade school. That’s it: that’s all I remember of being spanked. I don’t believe I suffered long term because of it.
I have spanked.
When I was starting out 21 years ago I didn’t take parenting advice from the Pearls or Ted Tripp: James Dobson was more my speed. But like most parents I knew, I spanked sometimes. My oldest was a very easy child to parent (like mother, like son?), but I still spanked him now and then.
I don’t spank.
What changed? For starters, I changed. Until I became a parent I didn’t realize what a temper I had. It was alarming to discover how angry I could become at the sweet little boy God had entrusted to me – but that was nothing compared to what was coming.
When my oldest son was seven we adopted Daughter #1 from India. She was three years old; tiny, beautiful, smart – and very spirited. She was like a stick of dynamite in our quiet little family. I have one memory in particular of those early months. Striker was tantruming and I was holding her down on her bed. Finally, finally she went very quiet and still, just looking up at me. I thought, “Aha! I win!” Then my daughter lifted her head off of her pillow and spat in my face.
Little swats on the bottom meant nothing to Striker. Harder and more frequent swats didn’t mean anything, either. I wasn’t ready to swear off spanking, but I knew that we were going to need other approaches. One Sunday morning at church, when Striker was four, she threw another tantrum (there were many). As I struggled to remove her from the foyer an older man approached me and gently said, “You know, it wouldn’t hurt her to be spanked once in a while.” I think I just smiled awkwardly and returned to trying to get my limp, screaming daughter off the floor. But inside I seethed, thinking, “You have no idea how many spankings this child has gotten. They don’t work.”
So I was starting to wise up to the fact that spanking is not equally effective with every child, if by “effective” we mean it produces the desired behavior.
Fast forward a few years and I’m parenting four children. Cheesy had come to us as a newborn, and five months later B.Lake came home from Haiti as a three-year-old. He was developmentally delayed and grieving. I was overwhelmed. I struggled to develop a healthy relationship with B.Lake. In retrospect, I waited far too long to seek professional support. The bitter truth is that on a few occasions I completely lost it with my little boy. I behaved in ways that shamed and terrified me.
This is the point in the story where some of you will decide I’m crazy, but I’m telling you the truth. One Sunday while sitting in church I had a very powerful spiritual experience, almost a vision. It had nothing to do with the service itself, about which I remember nothing. I had the sense that Jesus was sitting beside me (seriously, in the pew), and he was showing me my life with B.Lake up to that point – all of my failures, all of my worst moments, all the times when I’d directed my rage and contempt at this child. Then Jesus showed me the future, and it was equally grim. B.Lake was a bitter, angry young man – and given what I’d just seen, who could blame him?
As the vision ended I wept in despair over the damage I’d caused. But Jesus was still there, and he asked me, very simply, “If the situation was hopeless, why would I show you this?”
And so, like Ebenezer Scrooge, I believe that I’d been given a chance to change the future by changing myself. If you still think I’m crazy, just know that it was a good kind of crazy in that it motivated me to reshape my behavior toward my son. In the long run it changed the way I parent my other children as well.
I try not to yell.
I used to feel that, whatever my parenting failures, I was better than people who think they are entitled to abuse their children by virtue of an awful philosophy of discipline. At least I was sorry after I treated my children harshly, right?
At some point I realized that it would matter little to my children why I was cruel, or whether it was premeditated. It was a ridiculous defense to think that losing my temper was less evil than calculatingly setting out to mistreat my children. And so I stopped making excuses for myself. Because I had not been able to administer spankings calmly and judiciously, I took away all permission to spank my children. I looked for alternative ways of teaching and correcting. And I waged spiritual warfare against my temper.
Here’s one thing I’ve found over the last decade of parenting. Anger doesn’t help. It’s an unavoidable emotion sometimes, but it gets in the way of parenting well. My children hear me better when I don’t shout. A gentle answer does, in fact, turn away wrath. Kindness really can lead to repentance. Mercy triumphs over judgment. If a holy and perfect God can extend grace to His children, surely I can do likewise.
There’s more than one way to parent
Some parents reading this will think, “I spank, but I don’t have temper issues like you do. I’m not abusive.” Okay, then. All I ask is that you not judge the non-spankers as unbiblical, permissive, and unconcerned about their children’s characters.
Other parents will read this and think, “I would never have spanked in the first place.” Fair enough. Please don’t assume that all parents who spank are abusive. I’m only speaking of my own experience, and indicting only myself.
But maybe someone reading this is where I was. You spank because it’s what you know, what you’ve been told to do when your kids misbehave. Still, you’re not handling it well and you know it. Your anger frightens you. You feel guilty. You worry that you are damaging your children. Please know that I understand. I’ve been in your shoes. You can message me privately if you need to (firstname.lastname@example.org). My suggestion is that you stop using corporal punishment altogether. Err on the side of protecting your children. You don’t need to spank. There are other ways to parent, even as a Christian, no matter what you’ve been told.
So that’s where I’m at.
I’m a very imperfect parent, but by the grace of God I am growing into a more gracious, less angry mother with the passage of time. It probably goes without saying, but I don’t miss spanking. I am happier and healthier without it. Cheesy and Bee are receiving benefits that their older siblings didn’t have at their age, and I wish that I could go back and redo the early years with my other children. I can’t, though, and sometimes that’s heartbreaking. There are also still times when I lose my temper and yell, but those times are less and less frequent. I’m working on it. And I no longer hit. Ever. Because it’s wrong for me. And because I don’t need to do it.
For the record, I don’t think you’re crazy. Or at least, you are no more crazy than is healthy.
That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in ages. 🙂
You need some nicer people in your life, then. 😉
What about Ding Dongs? Do you ever smash those into your children’s face? Seriously though – I love this! You do a great job of making your case for why you parent/discipline the way you do while leaving room for others to be different.
I firmly believe that you have to figure out what is most effective for each of your children and apply that sort of discipline. I also believe that the danger in corporal punishment is that it can very easily be more about a release of anger for the parent than about discipline. I have spanked (very sparingly) – and always tried to make sure I have my anger well under control – and that wasn’t always easy to do.
The Ding Dong incident was before I swore off violence. And to clarify for those who don’t know the story – it was NOT ONE OF MY CHILDREN!
Thanks, Sean. 🙂
So it is okay to smash ding dongs (if they ever come back) into other people’s children’s faces?
Awesome. I wait patiently for the return of Hostess products. Then look out, brats at Walmart!
Only Sean receives the Ding Dong treatment.
I am okay with smashing any pastry into Sean’s face, the cheaper the better.
Dorks – you are all pastry wasting dorks
I’m not so sure that’s a true “waste…” 🙂
Thank you for sharing this very personal story. As a parent, I know it’s hard to admit that we make mistakes. I’m not a spanker, but I do find myself yelling much more often than I would like. And I totally know about the assuming looks from others when your kid is acting up.
What parenting techniques did you find that worked better than spanking?
With younger children, I’ve used timeouts; the older the kids get (really, once they hit about kindergarten), loss of privileges is a good backup. But that’s assuming that I can’t talk them through the misbehavior and get them to see where they went wrong. I often think that’s enough. Yesterday I butted heads with my teenager daughter over a conflict she’d had with another sibling and it was the sort of situation in which I am inclined to just yell at her for her attitude, etc. But I very deliberately set up a theoretical situation & asked her to think how she would feel if the shoes was on the other foot…and to my delight she immediately got the point and apologized to her sibling. I didn’t have to “punish” at all. Sometimes kids are openly defiant, or break a really important rule like being home when they said they would be. Then consequences are needed. But often what I see initially as defiance is something else entirely – a rough day that causes them to blow up quickly, not understanding what’s been asked of them, a different perspective (occasionally a more accurate perspective!) of something than I have, etc. Slowing down to try to figure out what’s really going on is never a waste of time.
A lot of this comes from our theological perspective. I don’t believe I need to break my kids’ wills. I don’t believe that teaching them to submit to authority is THE most important task of parenting. I think teaching them to receive and extend grace matters far more. I might suggest the books “Grace-Based Parenting” or “Give Them Grace” for another way of looking at parenting beyond the power and control dynamic so many of us were raised with.
Thank you so much!
Reblogged this on An Open-Minded Journey and commented:
Great thoughts written with great candor. I grew up being spanked, saw others be spanked, and was repeatedly told that spanking was the only way to discipline children. It’s so hard to break out of that mentality after being indoctrinated so thoroughly. I never liked spanking, never liked the concept, but I assumed it was the way to go because the Bible said it was.
As a child, being spanked or yelled at made me angry and defensive. It taught me not to do things out of fear (or find ways to do them without getting caught). I didn’t actually learn anything positive from this form of discipline.
Thank you so much for reblogging my post!
When Andrew first came to stay with us, I made it clear that there were house rules. He immediately broke one of them and was grounded. I waited for the “You are not my dad” to come up. But he did not say that. Instead, he accepted the grounding, understanding that to not accept it would just make it worse. I explained it as a chance to learn, and he pretty much still follows that example.
He tested you and found out you meant what you said, and he responded accordingly. Smart kid. 🙂
My middle child would never actually stay in time out and I always had to sit with her and keep putting her back in the chair. When that kid set her mind to it, she could win an all night stand off. She doesn’t give up and she doesn’t get tired. When she got a little older, I started making her write sentences. Now she also has a lot of electronics that I can confiscate. I once made my oldest daughter write a 3 page essay on the importance of physical education in public schools. She got a B in gym, for not dressing out a few times.
My 4 year old is getting the benefits of Mommy reading a lot of books and parenting blogs. We sit in “time out” together and then we spend the time talking about the situation and discussing what she should do differently next time. This has been much more effective than yelling at her and plopping her in a chair for five minutes.
I still have to try really hard not to yell. I noticed that my little one immediately screams out when you do something that she doesn’t like and I think maybe that’s my fault.
Every kid is different, for sure. Sometimes you have to get creative.
Pingback: What I should have said 13 years ago | Strange Figures
Pingback: Of DCFS, HSLDA, and the day the social worker showed up | Strange Figures
Pingback: HSLDA as a Supervillain
Thank you! I vowed that I would not spank, but get so angry and do spank and even pinch sometimes…every time I feel deep in my heart it is not right but get so angry. I hope today is the day I stop, spanking, ever. What alternatives do you suggest? (From tired, worn out mom of two young, active boys)