Sparing The Rod And Parental Discipleship

This article,“Sparing the Rod: Biblical Discipline and Parental Discipleship,” by Anne Eggebroten was published in the newsletter,  The Other Side in 1987.  In this long article, she not only explains why she gave up spanking and examines the link between discipline and discipleship, but she looks at the history of attitudes towards children.

Sally Clarkson Looks At Obedience

Veteran Mother and writer, Sally Clarkson, looks at first time obedience in Obedience is a pathway of Maturity and Faith.

Sarah’s Arguments Against Spanking

Sarah explains why she does not believe in spanking in a well researched and chatty post entitled, A person’s a person no matter how small.  She also answers some common arguments for spanking with counter arguments, which many will find helpful.

What Does the Bible Really Say About Parenting?

Dulce de Leche looks at what the Bible really says about parenting.  Note that this post is part of the 2012 Carnival of Gentle Discipline which you can find at the bottom of the post.

Jesus: Gentle Parent

Little Hearts Gentle Parenting Resources posts about Jesus, The Gentle Parent and how we can learn from Him and His example.

Is Punishment Biblical?

Rach at The Incorrigible Gingers discusses the question, “Is Punishment Biblical?”  Notice that she is not just referring to corporal punishment here but all punishment.   Now, that is a really radical thought.

My Experiences With Spanking

“Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” -Prov 22:15

This Bible verse and the idea that it refers to a literal rod encompassed most of my mother’s parenting philosophy. How to Be the Parents of Happy and Obedient Children by Roy Lessin strongly influenced her interpretation and application of this verse. One of the messages of Lessin’s book is that a child’s salvation depends on frequent and hearty spankings. My mother was passionate about obeying what she believed God wanted.  She didn’t raise her voice at me or spank me  “in anger.” However, I was spanked on the legs with a dowel rod for every infraction, including refusing to hug her after a spanking.  No “disrespect” was tolerated. This meant I had very little avenue for the expression of negative emotions except stuffing them down. This suppression of emotion back-fired when I became violent towards other children as a preteen. Later when as a teenager I learned to refrain from violence toward others I began to turn the violence towards myself. I had hysterical episodes where I would violently hit myself and destroy any possession I cared about that was breakable. As an adult I still struggle with feelings of self-hatred.

Throughout my childhood there was an emphasis on perfection. The burden of proving the effectiveness of my mother’s parenting fell directly on my shoulders. When people would comment on how well behaved I was she would often respond, “That’s what spanking will do!” Sometimes she would add an anecdote to show how stubborn I had once been and how spanking worked even for children as strong-willed as I. She often said she spanked me because she loved me and that it was really sad some children’s parents didn’t love them enough to spank them so they could be better people. Because of comments like this I believed I had an idyllic childhood and a mother worthy of sainthood. I thought the depression which haunted me was all my own fault for not being cheerful and content enough. When I had children not only did my depression become worse but now my children shared the results of my miserable negativity. I didn’t want to spank them but I had been trained that if I didn’t I was disobeying God and I didn’t love them. I did not spank as early or as often as I had been spanked but I felt horrible inside when I did spank. I found myself becoming unreasonably angry with my children when they disobeyed because I dreaded “having” to give them a spanking. Finally one day I faced God with an open heart and I told Him I found it hard to believe that a loving God would require a mother to deliberately cause pain to her small child. I asked Him to show me His true plan for parenting, whatever it might be. That very day I saw my daughter giving one of her baby dolls a spanking. She whacked it indiscriminately all over. Suddenly I saw my parenting through a child’s eyes and I was shocked and horrified. I began researching the so-called spanking scriptures and I was led to Gentle Christian Mothers where I finally found help for a different way of parenting. When I realized the rod was one of guidance, discipleship and example, I began to cry. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted from me. I haven’t spanked my children since that day. We still have a ways to go in healing our relationship but we have already come so far. It has amazed me how much I learn about them and how much more I can help them when I take the time to look for the why of their behavior instead of masking the problem with a spanking.

The transition from punitive to gentle parenting has been difficult. When I stopped spanking my children their repressed emotion began to come out. For a time it seemed as if they were always angry and I had to remind myself they had a lot to be angry about. I have had to learn new ways to help them deal with emotion and new ways of setting boundaries in a kind but firm manner. In short, I’ve had to re-parent myself and my children all at once. Things have gradually gotten better as I’ve learned from gentle mothers who are wiser and more experienced than I. It has taken a lot of prayer and a lot of hard work. Recently I saw something that made it all worth while. My daughter was playing with her baby doll and she pretended it was trying to hit her. Instead of hitting it as she once would have done she sweetly said, “No, no, be kind,” and gently restrained it with a hug. I could finally look into the mirror of her innocence and not shudder.

People often use the argument that spanking doesn’t work. I haven’t found that to be true. Consistent spanking does work in the short term if your goal is a smiling little copy of yourself who does everything you say and who doesn’t know how to say no to anyone who plays the authority card. Long term, it leads to depression, anger, fear, lack of personal boundaries, and if healing is not sought, violence.

Some of these things have been painful to share but I want to help people see the dark side of the spanking fairy tale. There is no magic formula for parenting. It’s about love, persistence, empathy, boundaries and admitting mistakes.

If you are considering raising your children with spankings and punitive parenting please look into their little eyes and commit to breaking the cycle of violence. If you were raised this way, please get help and healing so that you don’t pass on the violence to others. Thank God, in His love there is a more excellent way.

I Don’t Spank My Children by Rachel

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.

-Rachel



Letter to a Pastor About Spanking

 

By Carlos and Dulce

This is from a letter that Carlos and I wrote awhile back on spanking. I shared it on a couple of sites where I posted and have been surprised at how widely it has been shared. While we are learning as parents every day, even the difficult moments have reinforced our belief that the best parenting philosophy is very simple–treating our children as we would wish to be treated.

(See this letter in Spanish here.)

 

Dear Pastor,

 

We are so grateful for all of the ways that you have helped us to connect in a closer way with God. This of course has had a profound influence on our parenting. Yet, in light of a recent sermon, we would like to present to you an alternative Christian view on disciplining children. Christians, of course, are probably the strongest proponents of spanking in the US. It is, so they say, their God given right—it’s what the Bible teaches. That is exactly the point of contention and what we hope to humbly disprove.

 

Let’s take the Old Testament. Some (our more literal-interpreting brothers) would say that it covers a period of about 4000-10,000 years; others (our more moderate and liberal brothers), anywhere between 10,000 to millions and millions of years. Irrespective of which view you hold, it has to be astounding that there is not one example of spanking in the whole Old Testament. This is especially impressive when you consider the large percentage of OT books which are more narrative than didactic. We might also add that there is no example of spanking in the New Testament, even though the time period is significantly shorter (around 100 years) and the majority of the books are didactic and not narrative. Now certainly there are some didactic passages in both Testaments that can be construed as being pro-spanking, however, they can be interpreted in a different light with sound exegesis.

 

Strange, isn’t it, for a teaching that is so adamantly held by so many believers that it is not illustrated once in either Testament? But, even if no narrative biblical passage illustrates spanking, if it is plainly and consistently taught in didactic passages, then we must accept it as God ordained. In the Old Testament the only passages that can be construed as being pro-spanking are found in only one book: Proverbs. A good hermeneutical principal is to not build doctrine on poetic passages. The wisdom books are full of symbolism and hyperbole and are often a stumbling block to the more literal interpreting readers. The “rod” in these Proverbs passages that so many see as a license to spank is symbolic. This Hebrew word is often translated as shepherd’s “staff/rod” or king’s “scepter”. So, if we were to be more literal, a closer translation would be bat and not twig! But that is not the author’s intent. This “rod” is a symbol of authority and guidance, like a shepherd guiding his sheep or a king governing his people. This is why the Psalmist could joyfully exclaim: “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). We do not wish to pass over this lightly, because these verses are the foundation of the Christian pro-spanking argument. However, to avoid repetition, we ask that you read the following links www.gracefulparenting.blogspot.com and www.aolff.org for a detailed analysis of these passages.

 

It is somewhat puzzling that the people who insist that spanking is Old Testament mandated claim the passages from a poetic book, yet dismiss clear instructions from a didactic passage in the Torah to stone rebellious children (Deut. 21:18-21). Why the inconsistency? You claim that one passage is obviously morally wrong. We submit that both are morally wrong, especially in light of the culmination of God’s progressive revelation—Jesus Christ, who taught us, among other things, that unless we “become like little children” we can never enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 18:3. See also Mt. 19:14). Implication: children are more in tune with God than adults. Which raises the question: should the unrighteous be punishing the righteous?

 

While the Old Testament is of great value, we recognize that no longer being under the Law changes how we apply some of the OT Scriptures to our daily lives. So even if spanking is Old Testament taught that doesn’t mean it is New Testament endorsed. Throughout the New Testament the one passage used to support spanking is Hebrews 12:4-6. Going back to the original language there, however, also changes the meaning to the importance of discipline and authority in shaping a child, not physical punishment. God certainly disciplines us but He doesn’t physically hit us when he does. Read the text. Proper exegesis shows that the pro-spanking people simply choose to read into this passage the very point they need to prove.

 

So, if there are no passages in either Testament that truly encourage spanking, then we must evaluate discipline according to other principles that the Bible teaches clearly. Jesus teaches us that we have two goals: to love God with all that we are, and to treat others the way we would like to be treated. Nowhere does He imply that His words do not apply to how we treat children. In fact, His interactions with children showed a special effort to value them and their feelings. He also tells us that whatever we do to the least of these we are doing to Him. Can you honestly say that you would want someone to hit you? I can’t. I can say truthfully that I would want loving correction and instruction if I were doing something wrong, but being hit/spanked/popped/smacked would not be a part of it.

 

Jesus’ example was that the one in authority had an even greater responsibility to act in love than the one under authority. We are to demonstrate the Fruit of the Spirit. Yet how is hitting a child compatible with the peace, patience, kindness and gentleness in which we are called to walk? The Bible is very specific about how we should deal with sin in others: We are taught that in correcting those who disobey to do so gently (Gal. 6:1). Parents are specifically cautioned to not cause their children to lose heart (Eph. 6:4). Having the people you love most in the world deliberately hurt you is pretty disheartening, regardless of any lofty motives they may claim.

 

The Bible is clear that parents have a responsibility to discipline their children. But discipline and spanking are not the same thing. Discipline is about making disciples, or teaching. It is difficult for children to focus on a life-lesson, though, if they are distracted by the anger, hurt, fear, humiliation and resentment that result from being hit. As career teachers, our professional education classes and our years of experience with students of many ages have convinced us that the research is correct in showing that people learn more effectively through positive reinforcement than from punishment (negative reinforcement). You have seen this in the family of Kevan and Heather ********, whose children are delightful to be around. They do not spank, but instead practice gentle discipline.

 

Another important point is that most of us are able to learn best from example–that is why Paul wrote to be imitators of him as beloved children. Kids are expert mimics. Too many children in our nation are learning that the way to respond to an offense is to hurt the offender. “Turning the other cheek” is not supposed to mean baring a child’s bottom. We recognize that in other relationships of authority (employer/employee, police officer/civilian, pastor/church member, husband/wife) that physical punishment is inappropriate, even when correction is needed. Children are even more vulnerable—surely we can find better ways to correct them, as well.

 

When Christians teach spanking, the majority has several cute euphemisms to describe it and a list of guidelines as to how, when, and with what. There is absolutely no Biblical basis for any of them—they are essentially cultural. Whether you call it spanking, popping, smacking or hitting, they all mean to strike a child in order to produce pain and fear. Why do we feel the need to create so many guidelines: spank only on the bottom or legs, only X number of times, only with your hand/a switch/a paddle/PVC pipe (Michael and Debi Pearl, some of the most popular writers on spanking in Christian circles, advocate plastic plumbing pipe, and we were given a copy of their book by a pediatrician!). Is spanking on the bottom any better than the Waorani practice of slapping their children in the face with stinging nettles? Why, if neither results in permanent injury? If God didn’t impose a limit on the number of times we strike a child, who is to say that 9 times is worse than 2? While not spanking in anger is at least more likely to avoid a total loss of control and avert serious physical injury, watching the person you love and trust more than any other calmly and deliberately choose to hurt you is a chilling experience.

 

I would submit that the reason behind the euphemisms and rules that Christians create is that our conscience is condemning us. We are aware on some level that hurting those who are smaller and weaker goes against the nature of Christ, and feel a need to justify and minimize what we are actually doing.

 

Another issue with spanking is that as the child grows, the spankings must get harder and longer in order to produce the same level of pain and fear. When do they eventually start to cross the line into abuse? Of course, most parents stop spanking once the child begins to approach them in size and maturity. We agree that then it is more appropriate to use the Biblical admonition, “Come now, let us reason together…”. If the child is old enough to reason, spanking is unnecessary. If the child is too young to reason, then the child is too young to effectively understand what the parents are trying to teach, and the spanking is both cruel and pointless.

 

The false dichotomy that always pops up is that if parents don’t spank, they are not disciplining their children. That suggests that parents are relying on spanking as their main or only form of discipline. Permissive, lazy parenting is neglect. The responsibility given to parents is a great, even fearsome one. By choosing not to spank, we have gained deeper insight into our children’s hearts. It has challenged us to deal with anger and pride, and earnestly seek God’s wisdom, patience and love. Proactive parenting is more “work” than spanking, but already the rewards have been great.

 

There are so many alternative ways to discipline that result in harmony and renewed connection between the parent and child. Teaching a child to do right is much more effective than executing judgment for doing wrong. When we as parents obey our directive to treat others as we want to be treated, it causes us to get behind the eyes of the child and deal with the root of the problem rather than just suppressing an outward behavior. It is amazing to see a cycle of irritability and frustration break when the parent chooses to discipline by restoring relationship. Many parents assume a time-out is the default choice if parents don’t spank. However, often what children need is more time WITH the parents to reconnect, reassure and restore. Without turning an already lengthy letter into a book, if you are interested in other approaches, we would be happy to explain how we handle specific situations or direct you to sources that we have found beneficial.

 

The plan behind redemption is clear: God wants to reconnect with us. All of the history of the Law shows that merely punishing sin doesn’t change the heart. What changes the hearts of our children is relationship. Obedience grows out of love and trust rather than a self-centered desire to avoid punishment. If children obey simply out of fear of being spanked, their motivation isn’t righteous, but only self-centered.

 

As a child of God, my choice for obedience isn’t based on a fear of punishment. It isn’t a get-out-of-hell-free card for me. It is because I love Him and have learned to trust Him. My children are learning to obey for the same reasons. If my children do wrong and repent, for me to go ahead and hit them seems very inconsistent with the way that God has forgiven my mistakes. I have a responsibility to show the same grace toward my kids that I have received. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath.

 

We have chosen to look at this from a Christian perspective, but we find it interesting that the research is overwhelmingly against spanking. The American Academy of Pediatrics, like many other professional organizations involving children and health, has issued a statement against corporal punishment on the grounds that it is not nearly as effective as positive reinforcement and that it can be harmful physically and emotionally. In fact, there are some indications that spanking is associated with increased delinquent and antisocial behavior, increased risk of child abuse and spousal abuse, increased risk of child and adult aggression, decreased child mental health and decreased adult mental health. Consider this in the light of Jesus’ warning against causing little ones to stumble.

 

Sometimes it is difficult to discern what the Bible teaches on specific issues. You have often used the illustration of God playing hide and seek in order to encourage us to dig deeper and seek Him with all of our hearts. On the topic of spanking, He has given us glimpses of His heart–the parable of the unmerciful servant (Mt. 18:21-35), I John 4, James 2:13. None of these suggest ignoring or excusing sin, but they all teach us to be humble and loving as we show others, regardless of their age, a better way.

 

In closing, we chose to write this to you because of our respect for you. We know that you are someone who has the courage to look beyond the easy, superficial answers and the integrity to hold convictions that may not be popular. Believe us, in Christian circles not spanking is tantamount to heresy, but it is a very worthy cause. We humbly suggest that spanking is just another religiously transmitted disease. We love you and your family and are grateful that God has placed us under your spiritual leadership. May God bless you and your family.

 

 

By Carlos and Dulce