Monday, March 22, 2010

Spanking and the Imperfect Parent

I am a violent person.

Well, I was a violent person and at times still desire to be one. By violent, I do not mean that I killed someone or beat someone up (except that one bully in the fourth grade), but that I struggled for years with fits of rage, during which I have thrown plates, punched walls, kicked doors, and even slapped, pinched, and pushed my husband. The early years of my marriage, a particularly angry and hurting time in my life, were filled with episodes of such unbridled rage that the ONLY relief came by hitting, punching, kicking, screaming or breaking stuff. Thankfully, my anger has dulled since those days as I began the long arduous process of healing from childhood wounds. I am happy to say that those uncontrolled behaviors have been tamed (now if I could only get my tongue under control!). But to this day, my husband reserves the skin on his elbow to offer me a "pre-approved" pinching spot to help me out when I am on the brink because when I get angry, the desire to act out in physically destructive ways rears its ugly head.

All that to say, I know myself. I, of all people, absolutely cannot give myself permission to spank under the guise of biblical mandates and loving discipline. It would not be so. Even though my mind and heart are wedded to the ideals of nonviolence and grace-based everything, I still live in a body that likes violence and likes to see people get what is coming to them.

Some have said that within every human being, there rages a war, a war between "good and evil." This analogy refers to the complicated web of conflicts and contradictions that make up the character of us humans. We possess profound beauty and potential for greatness as image-bearers of the Living God, and we also can produce disturbing ugliness and destruction as fallen, broken creatures.

So while the nonviolent and insanely gracious teachings of Jesus have won my heart, my base instincts prefer a theology of retribution, retaliation and vengeance. The teachings of Jesus have won me over precisely because of this reality. "Turn the other cheek" is beyond beautiful to me because I know firsthand how ugly the desires behind "an eye for an eye" really are.

My son is nine months old, and already there have been times when he cries in the middle of the night or will not settle down to eat or be changed that I want to give him a good whack. But this desire has nothing to do with discipline. This desire comes from the part of me that is selfish--the part that is put out and frustrated because MY sleep is being interrupted, because MY time is being infringed upon and because my innocent, precious son can't "get with the program." The desire to whack stems from the desire to relieve frustration. That is the ugly truth. But these are fleeting desires that quickly pass as I remind myself of the teachings of Jesus, the beauty and innocence of children, and my own shortcomings. The theology that preaches spanking would, in my case, foolishly nourish those momentary selfish desires and justify them under the guise of discipline. So, while biblical interpretation plays a major role in transforming my opinions about spanking, this decision is also informed by the painful awareness of my own weaknesses in this area.

I don't know what other people experience while spanking their children, but I do know that when Christians preach spanking as the only godly form of discipline, it puts Christians like me in a very precarious situation. I am not alone in this. When I began this series, I started by announcing my husband and I were coming out of the closet because choosing not to spank is a very controversial decision in church world. I have received quite a few e-mails from Christians who feel pressured, bullied, and biblically-guilted into spanking by their friends, churches and christian culture in general. I hope for someone, somewhere, my story and struggle can be a source of encouragement. And hopefully, the Church can better foster open and honest dialogue about this issue and the possible repercussions of spanking in the hands of imperfect parents like myself.


nonprofitprophet said...

I have 3 daughters of various ages. Each one required a different approach to "intervention" shall we call it. Spanking early, for us, had its place and got their attention that those little knuckleheads were not in charge, and that there were painful consequences to disobedience. there is only so much dialogue one can have with a 2 year old, or 5 yr old. However, as that pecking order was established, the need to do so has dramatically decreased, almost not necessary. Grounding, The Look!, etc works now. But we had to get hold of the situation up front. your child may be extremely compliant with no discipline required. maybe ur child will be strong willed and extremely defiant. your approach may depend on the child. not spanking is GREAT! if it works. If it does not, you may have to change your tactic. the unfortunate thing is that being a parent requires us to guide and discipline... its a fun job. ugh. ;

Anonymous said...

I think that this is very well thought out.... my only question for you would be how you are going to discipline??? children are born sinful (they are not always innocent) and struggle with their sin early on. Our job as parents is to teach them that life is about bringing glory and honor to God. Living for God all the days of our life is not easy... and sometimes we have to make hard choices that others may look at as wrong.
I think that if you have issues with anger and are afraid of the amount of self-control you will have then it is a good idea not to spank. however, God has put you in charge of your son... he comands you to bring him up understanding that he is to obey you. Listening to you will protect him. There are many parents that I know personally that will not spank their children and yet yell at them all the time. There is no benifit to that. God's word is clear that we are to guide our children in the Lord and teach them that there are consequences to their actions. This will be protection to them as they get older.

Tia Lynn said...

Nonprofitprophet and anonymous. Thank you for weighing in and excellent questions. You are wise to question, if spanking is off the table, what IS on the table? I am working on a post now that addresses this more extensively. I have seen many parents who, for many different reasons, reject spanking, but then do not know what else to do, so they do nothing, which has horrible consequences for children and the family unit as a whole. I am also against yelling and screaming, since that is NOT discipline but the result of anger, frustration, and lack of self-control.

The next post will look at some of the discipline principles we plan to utilize. :)

Tonya said...

Tia, just wanted to send you a (((cyber hug))). You've got my support for non-violence with your cutie;). I am fully aware that there are people who struggle with this and even the dreaded Michael Pearl says don't EVER spank a child if you can't do it without anger or retribution in your heart. Yep. He actually does. There are plenty of good ways to train a child without spanking. They may take a little longer and be a little harder on all three of you but you can do it! I'll see you in Georgia on Easter Sunday, I hope. Maybe we can chat while I'm in town.

Tia Lynn said...

Thanks Tonya. And yes, I did read Michael Pearl's comments about that, which I glad for, because in other places he makes it out to be one of those mandatory obligations and if you do not, you are in rebellion against God. Yikes!

Yes, I agree, I think training without spanking does take longer. Right now, we are working with Rylan on using sign language for "more" and "all done"--because he was screaming for more and climbing out of his chair when he was done. It took A LONG time, having to withhold food from him any time he screamed for it and repeatedly sitting him down and finally getting him to quietly signal for more. It was very frustrating, but we had a major break through today and it felt so rewarding to have made progress by only using restraint. Rylan has a strong will like his mama, so I'm sure we are in for a lot of challenges ahead! :) Can't wait to see ya!

Tonya said...

Sign language is GREAT for littles. We do that too and just by using restraint. It works:).

See ya in a week!

Jen said...

I'm not a parent, but my parents were more likely to use "grounding" as a discipline tactic. I've read somewhere recently, I think in Why You Do the Things You Do by Tim Clinton & Gary Sibcy, that it's important the first year or two to show love to your child and not let them "scream it out" even though the parenting books say to do so. But it's just good wisdom to know yourself and not spank in anger or frustration. I knew some homeschool parents who used something called "The Rod" with their children. That is a scary looking device and just a quick switch of it over the legs is painful. I do not recommend "The Rod" patented device for it looks like an instrument of torture.

Anonymous said...

Spanking is vital when it comes to rebellion against the standards imposed by society and parents! It works because no human being can withstand pain that keeps increasing, for ever. There comes a point that the child, teenager or adult says: may be the bad conduct is not worth this price!