Tuesday, April 12, 2005

So, I'm sitting with a small group of mainstream Christian mothers, one with teens, two with young children, one a grandmother.

Much as I try to avoid it, I broach the subject of spanking because it is relevant to our book. Each woman admits to relying on physical punishment and finding it justified with certain children if not all. The grandmother found the threat of a wooden spoon in her purse necessary to maintain order in the grocery store when her five were young.

As usual, my thoughts remain in my head. I sit there, lips tight, feeling like I can't say anything without coming across as either judgmental or naive. Who am I to suggest that spanking isn't necessary to a mother with five mostly grown children, all of whom are good citizens and love their parents? I have only two, and they are still young.

The mothers admit to each other that discipline is complicated, that some children need stronger discipline than others. And time-outs don't always work. I insert that I don't believe in time-outs either, but I'm cut off before I can explain.

Everyone assumes my children are not "strong-willed." Oh, but they are. I am their mother, after all. And my own gentle mother broke so many spoons over my bottom as a two year old, she finally left the task of discipline to my father and his belt. I received my last "spanking" at age 12. (My mother regrets this, and my parents and I have made peace about the issue.)

The mother of teens laments what to do when your children are too old to spank. When they don't take responsibility for things you think they should, what do you do? Talk leads to withholding privileges. The grandmother suggests that at some point, you just have to call it a day and hope for the best.

On the way home, my eldest mentions his friend who gets a lot of time-outs. (Was he listening to the grown-up talk from down the hall?) Why don't I get time-outs, Mommy? he asks.

And I finally get to say what I wish I had said to the other moms.

Because I think you should do the right thing because it's the right thing to do, not because you're afraid of being punished.

What's "punished," Mommy? he asks.

Punishment is doing something bad to someone to make them want to be good, I say. It makes no sense. I want you to be kind and considerate and giving because you love people, and because you know you are loved.

But sometimes people aren't nice, he counters.

Yes, I respond. Sometimes people do things without thinking about how their actions affect other people. Your friend gets time-outs when she acts impulsively, like when she sprays her sister with the hose. But when people are punished for being impulsive, they start thinking about whether they want to risk punishment, instead of thinking of whom they're affecting. I try not to assume that she didn't want to upset her sister so much as she just wanted to spray the hose.

This is my theory... People are neither bad nor good. We were made in God's image, but we are vulnerable to all kinds influences, both positive and negative. We are capable of both great evil and great love, depending on our experiences and how we learn to respond to them. We were given free will to choose good or evil. But we are also offered the Grace necessary to overcome our negative experiences and choose good.

When children are treated with respect and trust, when they are expected to do good, not assumed to be Sinful, they want to do good, to trust, and to be respectful. When they are loved, they want to keep that love. Yes, some children are more impulsive than others, and have a harder time doing the right thing the first time. But when their motives are not assumed to be the worst, when they are given a second chance, they try that much more.

Christ took our punishment. Because of Him we no longer have to suffer needlessly for our mistakes. We can look to Him for never-ending love and mercy. I have never felt punished by God. I have punished myself by running from Him when I needed Him most. I have punished others out of my own fear and shame. I have suffered because I did not trust Him fully. But He has not punished me in order to teach me. I have learned from my own failures, and I have learned to trust Him because He is always trustworthy. He has taught me to love by His example.

I am able to love my children because I have been so loved by my Heavenly Father and my Savior. I do not do it perfectly. But I am thankful that I am not dependent on punishment for influencing their behavior. Sometimes I wonder if my God is not the same Person as the God of other Christians I know.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this. Even with a 7 month old I am struggling how to tell my family that we will not be punishing our son. You have given me an idea of how to tell them of our parenting choices.

tom said...

Wow. You've inspired me to really want to be a dad (10 or so years from now (I'm 18)). I wholeheartedly agree that spanking is not effective parenting at all.

bty, your link to "parenting in Jesus' footsteps" is not functioning properly. one too many http's, I think.

Anonymous said...

I don't know exactly how to say this, but I do feel that I need to defend myself. I am not offended at all by what you have said Amanda, but I do believe that there is an area of acceptable spanking. Not out of anger but out of getting a child's attention. And only when it really truly is a 'teachable moment'. I don't mean hurting a child either. But if a tantrum is thrown in the middle of the store a startling swat can do the trick with the right child. Or if the child is about to run across the street without looking, it makes the connection that what is going on at that moment is a bad choice. And of course you have to explain why that behavior isn't good. I mean,it doesn't stand alone unless the reasons and expectations have already been stated. I didn't swat my daughter until she was three and I can't remember the last time I did. So for her, the effectiveness of a swat has gone away and now I use other forms of correction. Generally when she acts rude towards me or is disobedient she simply needs a verbal reminder. Fortunately she aims to please and wants to be a kind person. I do believe there are ways that spanking can be an effective and non-damaging way to instruct behavior.

mo said...

You are awsome!!! I have 2 almost teenagers and 2 barely in school, I have never spanked any of them. I get wonderful compliments about my children wherever we go.
I've used the argument about "what happens when they become teenagers". If you don't teach them without punishment when they're young, then why would they listen to you when they're older and they know that they don't have to listen to you.
I just found the other mo's blog and she had this link to yours. I'm so thankful that there are others that want to teach there children without spanking.
Mo 2

Granny said...

Are you the Amanda who comments on Blogging Baby fairly often?

I like what you said in the post. I've always thought that teaching kids not to hit by hitting them is a little silly.

I've been guilty of a swat on the butt for running out into the street but that doesn't mean I think it's right. It's more of a fear driven instinct. I'm glad they're older now (10, 10, & 12)

Drop in and visit granny sometime when you have nothing else to do (lol)

Marjorie said...

What a great post. A friend of mine gave me Shepherding a Child's Heart. I felt truly warped after reading the parts of it I did. My kids are good kids, I'm not going to treat them as 'disobedient' because they are small and they forget. I'm an Old Testament kind of parent. I think I blogged on that once. I try to set expectations and guide them along the way, but every now and then God must come down from heaven and let them know what cannot be tolerated.
How cool -- a crunchy Christian, they seem to be too hard to find!
Thanks for commenting on my blog!

lydia joy said...

Thanks for sharing your heart - this is very helpful...You have inspired me to feel more comfortable with what has been in my heart regarding discipline for so long.....we are all the perfect parents for our own children, with God's help, Jesus example and the Holy Spirit leading us, we can train our children creatively and most importantly as you mentioned lovingly....Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Your column is making me feel extremely guilty. with 2 naughty boys who are a year apart and the parenting part left to me - spanking has become a way of life. Yes I dread to think of the day when spanking will be ineffective.If we go visiting then they jump on the sofas, tear the flowers in the garden, act as if famished even if they are well fed upto the brim at home. Off course there is the pressure of relatives that your kids are intolerant, indisciplined. HELP>>>>

Michigan said...

All of this said, lets remember that we all have the opportunity to receive personal "revelation" for our own families. One of the most important thing to remind ourselves is that what is right for one person may not be right for another. If we are striving to "Keep The Commandments" with are sincere heart and praying to our Father in Heaven over all of our stewardships he will lead and guide our thoughts and choices. Lets just remember that we aren't to judge others when we are far from perfect ourselves. We can encourage each other. We can share what works for us. That's awesome.
And remember Gods love for us is unconditional, but our ability to receive blessings in conditioned upon the commandment that precedes that blessing. Love you all of you Moms out there! Let's keep praying for each other and reaching out in love as we journey through this life as Mothers!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that my parents spanked us for inappropriate behavior, but not for every little thing. as far as "what do you do when they are teenagers?"---- I remember my last "spanking" being at 17 years old. It was well deserved. I had amazing parents, they taught my brother and I right from wrong, instilled high morals and values in us, and we are followers of Christ. Every time my brother and I were ever disciplined, each time we were ever "punished," we were given an explanation and taught why we were being punished. Not one time did I ever base my actions on whether or not I was afraid of the "so called punishment." My parents guided us and disciplined us in a way that taught us to be very loving, kind, courteous, and respectful to everyone in this world. Just thought I'd mention that you are never "too old" to get spanked.

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