One of the biggest reasons I struggle with my parents is because they still feel they have the right to tell me what to do–what kind of music to listen to, how to vote, how to spend my money and how to worship God. For the first twenty years of my life, their will was imposed on me through what they called “The Persuader”—my father’s belt. I received my first spanking when I was one week old and my last on the day I left home at nearly twenty.
No one thought of my parents as mean. They didn’t look like evil parents, but they believed breaking my will was needed for my salvation. No one who knew us realized I was belted because I was isolated from society by not going to school and having visitors to our home was a rare occasion.
I would love to say the spankings I received were because I lied or stole or hit someone, but no, my list of crimes included everything from listening to John Denver and Amy Grant, to wearing tinted chapstick, to rocking back and forth to music. Sometimes I was belted for not moving fast enough when we were moving. And oh yeah, my worst belting occurred when I was seven for whispering to my sister in church.
My mother told me her father spanked her only two or three times and he very gently spoke to her about what he was about to do and why. She told me several times in my childhood that she hated when Daddy punished me out of anger, but that was the situation most of the times I was belted.
Despite all of this, I didn’t grow up bitter or hateful toward my parents—I hated myself. I was bad. I was the loser who didn’t live up to their expectations. I spent the first twenty five years of my adulthood, buying groceries and paying power bills and doing whatever I could to help them. The truth was I loved my parents then and I still love them today, but I don’t agree with their methods and I refuse to let them tell me how to live my life any more. If they want to have a relationship with me, they will have to accept me as I am because I am through trying to play a game I could never win.
One day when I was forty-five, I was still telling a lie they taught me—that I was home schooled. It wasn’t a conscious lie, it came so naturally to say it, I said without thinking and then I screamed. I told someone I had been home schooled because this is what I had been taught to say. As a teenager, I had to say it or I would be belted. As an adult I had to say to protect their reputation and stay in good rapport with them.
That day I went home and screamed at myself in the mirror. I realized I had been trying to please them for over 45 years and a lot of was because I was taught to submit to their will. Even my issues with God came from these beltings. If the biggest person can bully others to do what they want, then why would I trust God who has all power in the universe?
The last time I saw my parents, I tried to explain how much these beltings have affected my life. My words fell on deaf ears because they believe they are right and I am wrong and they back it up with scripture because according to Christian tradition, the Bible says we should spank children. I know I’m not the only one who has childhood post traumatic shock because of beltings. People write me every week to tell me their stories and most of them include being beaten into submission in the name of God. One reader says she ended up in a fetal position on the floor with family members yelling at her. All of this was done in the name of religion and love.
Recently a landmark study about spanking has shown spankings are not as effective as people once thought. This study covered fifty years and 160,000 people. The term spanking in the article was not referring to beatings, but a swat on the butt.
This study has incited arguments all over social media with lots of people who didn’t even bother to read the study saying, “I was spanked and I turned out just fine.” The truth is if they said this without reading the study, they didn’t turn out fine. They are mere sheep following the crowd because the spankings they had in their formative years, taught them not to question and think for themselves.
One guy said he was spanked and he turned out just fine. I didn’t say anything because I’ve known him for years. I have seen him punish his little children in an anger fit and yell that they deserve a spanking. I also know his temper and anger are part of the reason his wife left him. He thinks he turned out all right, but why is he still trying to control his adult son? It’s a sad thing to see the damage done to this father son relationship because this man feels he still needs to wield power over his children.
There are two groups of people who will argue for spankings–narcissistic parents and religious parents and heaven forbid they meet up in Religious Narcia. The first narcissistic group of parents have to be right. They used physical violence over their children to bully and control them. Narcs feel justified in hitting their kids into submission because the world revolves around them and they feel they shouldn’t be bothered to take time to patiently discipline their children.
The second group are religious people who were spanked and taught to spank and feel it is God’s requirement to spank their child. Despite the fact it’s a misunderstood quote, despite the fact that Jesus never modeled spanking children, many of us have been spanked in God’s name. Even angry and abusive parents have justified beating their children supposedly for their children’s salvation. So what is this misquoted verse?
Whoever spares the rod hates their children,
but the one who loves their children
is careful to discipline them.
This verse definitely supports discipline but there is a marked difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline teaches and corrects, while punishment gets even for a behavior. If all the parents who used spanking to discipline thought about it, they might realize there are much better ways to train and get a point across than hitting their child. But it’s easier to hit them than reason with them. Being a parent is hard work and many feel they don’t have time to reason to they hit their children into submission.
The most important thing to note about this bible verse is to realize what a rod actually is–it’s not a switch it a belt. It’s a shepherd’s rod. To fully understand the meaning if this verse we need to consider how a shepherd guides his sheep. He leads and prods them and rescues them with the rod, but he doesn’t hit them with it. If he started hitting every wayward sheep, he would have chaos. Sheep are followers and not very smart. They need rescuing and guidance, but beatings won’t help with either of those goals.
This rod is NOT used for spanking.
What is used for? To guide, to prod, to rescue and lead. The fact that so many parents defend spanking with this verse and ignore the non-violent words and lifestyle of Jesus, reveals their Christianity is not about Christ, but human tradition. Using power over small children to hurt them because they don’t do what the parent wants is not only cruel, but it’s unchristian–as in unChrist-like.
There is another well quoted verse which mentions the rod from the 23rd Psalm:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Apparently this comforting rod of the great shepherd is not to beat us when we are in fear of death. It’s very obvious this rod is not used for spanking. There is no comfort in a beating or a spanking.
Probably one of the worst arguments for spanking is the one that we can reason with older kids, but the youngest and most fragile in our families should be spanked. This argument takes the stance that babies who can’t talk or reason need spankings to communicate to them. Intelligent parents must surely contemplate what they communicating to their helpless baby by hitting them. They are saying, “I am the boss. Your needs are to be put on hold for my comfort. You are to conform to my request for quiet or whatever the spanking has provoked.
Someone shared a story with me from Astrid Lingren who wrote Pippi Longstocking. It was about a pastor’s wife who felt her little boy needed a switching. She told him to go out and pick a switch for her to use. He was gone a long time, then he came back crying with a rock. He said he couldn’t find any good switches, but she could throw this rock at him.
I cried when I read that story because it doesn’t matter if you hit with a stick or a rock, it hurts and it hurts deep inside the child’s psyche. Please don’t say that hitting is okay as long as you don’t beat them, you never know what is happening to their heart. And it only takes anger to go from a gentle spanking to a horrible beating. It does damage to children to realize their parent who they trust and adore intends to hurt them. That is the part of many of us that is broken. As the child grows up and leaves home, it will come out in all forms of violence against self through addictions.
Jesus is very fond of young children. He says to let them come to him–not so he can hit them, but so he can bless them. Jesus also has very strong words for anyone who harms a little child.
While he was dying on the cross, Jesus spoke of his abusers and said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do,” but he has much harsher words for those who harm children. Jesus said it would be better for them to have a millstone hung around their neck.
This millstone is not retributive justice as some might mistakenly think–this is Jesus describing the terrible condition and lack of conscience it takes to harm a child. Jesus is basically saying if you stoop this low, there is very little hope for your salvation–not because God wants to kill you, but because the act of harming others changes you and it could make you contemplate suicide and/or lose your salvation.
We can’t take these words of Jesus lightly. They’ve been used against all kinds of evil, but perhaps our Christian tradition of justifying hitting God’s most vulnerable and precious children has seared the consciences of many to imagine they are doing the work of God–when in fact they are doing the work of the enemy and harming their children.
If you are still reading this, you must surely understand by now that the rod is not used for hitting. That God does not ask us to spank children. That Jesus wants us to discipline and teach children to live non-violent lives, but that won’t happen unless it starts at home. We now have a very large, long term study which shows the long term effects of hitting children is not a viable option. It doesn’t work. It only damages them far into their adult lives. We now have no more excuses for ignorance and continued spanking of children.
One thing most ACoNs know for sure is what happens in childhood, never stays in childhood, but according to Jesus, what happens on earth never stays on earth. Jesus says the angels of all little children look into the Father’s face in heaven–which means that all of heaven is watching and fully aware of those who choose to hurt children. If the Father sees a sparrow fall, then how much more does he see a child spanked?
Jesus also said whatever we do to the least of these, we’ve done to him.
Love and Logic has great ideas on non-violent parenting
Here is information about that Spanking Study