Discipline and Discipleship
These words (obviously) share a root word. As a Christian parent, I see these words as inseparable. There are, of course, times when I forget that disciplining my children is ultimately an act of disciple-ing them, but overall this is how I view God’s intended role for me as a mother. I believe this is how most Christians see their roles as parents.
Lest we speak past one another, I want to clearly state here at the beginning that when I use the word “discipline” that I do not mean spanking or punishing my children. Many Christian parents use the word “discipline” when they mean spanking, but this is not how I’m using this word.
Every discussion I’ve ever read or participated in that involves Christians and spanking, someone eventually says that spanking is the God-ordained method of disciplining our children. Some people go so far as to say that NOT spanking is sin; others take a milder approach and say that NOT spanking is, at least, unwise.
I have spanked my children (so I’m not coming from a place of unfamiliarity with the practice), but I do not spank them anymore. Why? Because I found spankings to be a stumbling block and a crutch, and the Holy Spirit spoke to me through my experiences. When spanking was an option I allowed myself, I found that I did not parent well. It was too easy to threaten a spanking instead of communicating with my children. It was too easy to spank instead of dealing with their hearts. It was too easy to give into righteous indignation that my children did not fear me so much that they would jump-to the minute I gave an order. It was too easy to become self-centered and expect my children to make my life easier. In short, spanking gave me an out: I didn’t have to *work* at parenting, I could just spank them.
If you spank, that last paragraph probably resulted in you writing me off. Maybe you feel insulted — “She’s saying I’m lazy because I spank!” Maybe you’ve categorized me as someone who used spanking “incorrectly”; you are thinking “That’s why I never spank in anger and I always pray and hug my child afterward.” Honestly, I’m accusing you of nothing, I’m simply telling you that NOT spanking improved my parenting, strengthens my connection with my children, and allows me to focus on my ultimate parenting goal: Discipleship. Plainly and simply, spanking got in the way.
Parenting without spanking means that I must stop and *think* about all of the issues that are swirling around us when I give my children instructions. (Are the kids tired? Hungry? Are they having a rough day? Am *I* having a rough day?) I must stop and think about whether the instructions are valid. (Am I being unreasonable? Am I parenting strictly for my own convenience?) Stopping and thinking only takes a few seconds, and as I’ve been parenting this way for several years, I’ve found that I’m rarely aware of these as conscious thoughts anymore.
Parenting without spanking means that my children are free to confess to me without fear of spanking. Sometimes there are consequences for what they confess, but their openness allows us to have a conversation about the issue and for now they accept the natural consequences of their actions with a good attitude. Very rarely do my children attempt to hide their deeds from me, and I’ve had the opportunity to coach them about confessing misdeeds to others in their lives.
Parenting without spanking means that I must actively engage my children about their sinful hearts. Spanking isn’t present to cloud the issue, spanking isn’t present to become the focus of their resentment, spanking isn’t seen as a method of atonement for their sins. I want them to understand that Christ atoned for their sins, therefore we forgive others and ask for forgiveness.
So often when I explain to people that I parent without spanking, their response is, “Maybe you have time to talk to your kids every time, but sometimes I need my children to obey me immediately.” This is not a family-specific need. Sometimes I also need my children to obey me without question, and they usually do when we are in such a situation… I can make it clear with my tone that this is not the time for us to have a discussion or to attempt to give their perspective. We’ve arrived at this point because when my children were younger, if they did not obey me, I simply “made it happen.” If I told them to “Come Here,” and they did not, I went to get them. If I told them to “Pick up your shoes,” and they did not, I placed their hands in mine and made them pick them up. They’ve learned that I will “make” them comply with my commands if they are unable or unwilling to comply on their own.
I know that sounds crazy to you. I know this because it sounded crazy to me when I was first introduced to parenting without spanking. The best way I can explain why I no longer think it is crazy can be summed up by two points:
*Children are immature. At first they are able to do nothing for themselves, so we help them with everything. As they gain maturity, they take on more responsibility and we have to do less for them. I no longer tie shoes or dress my girls, though at one time I did both of these things. At one time they were unable to obey me every time without my help, so I helped them with that, too. Now that they are more mature, I have to help them comply less and less.
*Children sometimes refuse to obey. When this happens, I “make” them obey and the task is done. They are learning that resistance is futile; Mom *will* make me comply. If I were spanking I would have to spank the child for disobedience and then *still* have to make them obey in the end. (And sometimes this is a loop of give instruction, spank for disobedience, continued refusal, spank harder for disobedience, continued refusal, spank even harder for disobedience, continued refusal… and the parent is left with the choice of spanking so hard that it is physically damaging OR deciding it isn’t worth the battle OR doing what I did in the first step and “make” it happen.)
As I mentioned before, many Christians consider NOT spanking to be sinful; others just label it as “unwise” for not heeding “clear instruction” from the Bible. If NOT spanking works well for me, would these Christians have me spank anyway as some sort of insurance plan just in case my exegesis is incorrect? That makes no sense to me, and my God doesn’t want insurance-plan “obedience.”
My discipline goal is discipleship. I found that spanking distracted me from this goal, and the Holy Spirit convicted me to parent gently. So, I don’t spank my children.