Monday, March 1, 2010

Spare the Child

Spare the child (a guest post by Jessica-Martin Weber)

There are many, many things I said I would never do as a parent.  When I was young, without children and smug about how the children that weren’t even yet a glimmer in my eye would be, I had parenting all figured out.  No, seriously, I did.  I had done enough babysitting and been a child myself to know everything parents do wrong.  Everything.  My list was lengthy, here’s a sampling, I’m sure you’ll want to take notes.
  • No sticky, jelly faces, I wouldn’t be too lazy to wipe the snot and food of my child’s face.
  • No running around like crazy, my child would hold my hand and stay by my side.
  • No food coloring and sugary foods, my child would have a varied palate.
  • No boxed Macaroni and Cheese.
  • Only adorable, matching clothes that I found at bargain prices with boutique looks.
  • No dingy lovies, my child would be secure enough to not need something like that.
  • Screaming and whining for me to “hold you” wouldn’t be tolerated.
  • Calmly sitting and reading books together before bed with no tantrums to read the same book a million times over.
  • Bed times would be a 20 minute routine with my child snuggled comfortably in her own bed not to be heard from until a decent hour in the morning.

Nice list, huh?  Wish I could slap my old self.  Oh wait... 

Even after having my first child I was confident in my parenting skills and that I would have a well behaved child that slept through the night, ate a wide variety of foods, played well with others and behaved like an angel.  My smugness only grew after my first was born, she slept through the night at 2 weeks, was content hanging out in a bouncy seat or swing most of the day, would sleep anywhere at anytime, and rarely cried.  I knew that my greatest-mother-in-the-world-list was to credit for my overwhelming success at mothering and I felt like I had showed the world.  For a year and a half I thought I was something else.  Doubt began to grow right around 18 months into the mothering gig and suddenly my list was challenged when I had to put into practice the bullet point that was really at the heart of my list: discipline.  It came as a shock even though I had thought I was prepared.  She threw down her bowl of snacks and refused to pick it up when I asked.  The set of her jaw and the look in her eyes said “you can’t tell me what to do” and I knew the time had come.  She was defiant.  I was going to have to spank her.  With everything else I knew what I had to do and did it, but this, this proved to be much harder.  At the idea of hitting my child I felt ill.

Growing up I was spanked often, my parents subscribed to the “spare the rod spoil the child” teachings and so, they thought that to ensure that we were not spoiled and weren’t going to be criminals when we grew up, my parents had to apply the rod to our behinds often.  Some more often than others.  My brother, the first born, decided he wouldn’t cry which often meant he received twice as many spankings.  Seeing how effective that was for him (not), I went a different route; cry as soon as possible which usually meant less spankings.  I can’t remember what my sister did but I’m pretty sure I cried for her.  Of course, I also figured out that if I just did things that made my parents happy and avoided what didn’t make them happy then I also avoided spankings all together.  It was almost fool proof except for one piece of the puzzle, sometimes I just wanted to do my own thing and sometimes, when I did end up getting a spanking I didn’t want to give them the “pleasure” of hearing me cry.  My parents honestly believed what they were doing was right to “train us up,”  though they didn’t always do it the right way or from the right place.  Not knowing of any other way to train up a child myself, I planned on doing the same.  I hated spankings as a child, loathed them and I know my brother and sister did as well.  In fact, I didn’t know of anybody that liked being spanked.  Even my parents would tell us they didn’t like spanking us but they did it because they loved us.  We were told that spankings would helps us to grow to be happy, content and responsible.  It didn’t make sense to me then.  And, here it comes, it doesn’t make sense to me even now.  As a victim of this type of "training,” I felt neither happy nor loved and certainly not content.  I knew my parents loved me but I didn't feel loved.  Instead, I knew at an early age that if I wanted my parents (positive) attention, love and affection I had to be perfect, had to be cheerful, sweet and responsible.   And so I would be, not because I felt happy or sweet all the time but because if I wasn’t, I would be punished.  The feelings I do remember from my spankings and even from when my siblings were hit were anger, humiliation, fear, frustration, powerlessness, confusion, hurt, distance, grief, and eventually, as I got older, depression.  My motivation for making good choices was fear, not the satisfaction of making good choices.  I wasn’t concerned about the natural consequences of making poor choices, I was afraid of getting in trouble and deserving a spanking.  In fact, I never thought about the natural consequences of making poor choices, just the ones my parents threatened me with.  I loved to make my parents happy and feared getting in trouble so much that very little of what I did was for me but rather a constant attempt to win approval and positive attention.  Every time I was spanked, I was crushed.

So many feelings and memories came flooding back the day I faced spanking my daughter for the first time.  I couldn’t do it.  I didn’t know what to do but hitting my child wasn’t an option.  Unable to hit my toddler, I chose time out for her, repeatedly until she finally helped me pick up the spilled snack and bowl.  By then we were both in tears.  This experience set our family down a different path.  I still held on to my list for a while just looking for this key component that wouldn’t involve hitting my child.  I wish so desperately I could say we never did spank our children but it took a long time to undo the mindset I was brought up with.  Both my husband and I only knew spanking for discipline and for a long time we believed we needed to control our children.  Over time we spanked less and less until the day finally came when I could see in my daughters’ eyes all the emotions and hurt that were in mine as a child.  She didn’t know how I love her, not as I really love her, for I had just scared her, humiliated her, and placed myself as more important than her by exercising that physical power over her.  I thought that if I did it differently than my parents did, less than they did, somehow it would be ok.  What I didn’t understand until that moment is that every time we hit someone we stop communicating and start domineering through pain and fear.  As adults we call someone physically controlling or hitting someone else abuse or assault; why was it any different with my child?  And if I was really honest, I spanked because I didn’t know what else to do.  It takes a lot more work on my part to guide my children without hitting or any other abuse, but being a parent isn’t about my convenience.  

“What right have you to strike a child?  In God’s eyes we are all children and we are all equals.  If you hit and humiliate a child, the only lesson she will learn is to hit and humiliate.”  (Marmee 1868, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

Though I’m no child expert and can only speak from personal experience, I have strong feelings about spanking now.  At best spanking is the tool of parents that don’t know what to do and haven’t taken the time to be creative enough to develop fitting, less damaging alternatives.  At worst it is a malicious abuse of power.  For both and everything in between, hitting a child chips away at their understanding of what it means to be accepted, of their experience of having help working through their mistakes, and most tragically, distorts their picture of love.  I know families that use spanking for discipline and I know they love their children but it makes me sad at what they are unintentionally teaching their children.  As parents, we are in a unique position to show grace, a character trait I want my children to be able exhibit and can best teach by demonstrating it myself.  Now instead of seeing the rod to mean spanking, I see it as a shepherd’s staff to gently guide.
Today I roll my eyes at my list and not just because my discipline choices have changed but because I now know that my children are unique individuals and parenting them isn’t as simple as going through a check list.  Some of those items on that list are no longer important to me (it may not be Kraft but it still comes from a box!), certainly not worth risking my relationship with my children anyway, and others make me cringe.  Still others, well, let’s just say my children had a lot to teach me, humility being one of the most important lessons.  Besides, our second daughter blew that list completely out of the water, but that’s another story for another day.

Jessica Martin-Weber
Instant human, just add coffee.

"I challenge everything. It is important to me that I understand why I do what I do and I'll challenge everyone else too because that is how I learn. Christ-follower, student, teacher, artist, musician, mother, wife, daughter, friend, home-schooler, doula, home-birther, knitter, abuse survivor, advocate of women, children, families and peace, I value relationships more than anything in this life. I know I don't have all the answers and I'm willing to listen, I don't argue for the sake of arguing or to win but I am passionate and opinionated while being open to change. Wrap all that up and then some and serve it with a cup of coffee, a glass of wine and some chocolate and that's a little bit of who I am."


Kaitlin Rose said...

Thank you for your honesty. Well written. I'm happy for you to have come to the conclusion you did. This post is hopeful, insightful and classy. Thanks for sharing something so personal.

Clarinda said...

WOW! you have hit a nerve here. I could have written that word for word myself.

Thank you for articulating what has been swimming around my head since I first became a mum.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you went through that pain growing up. :( This was good stuff; thanks for sharing!
I won't say I am 100% against spanking, but it is definitely not something I do often. I was spanked occasionally as a child, but I never felt abused. I knew with my whole being how much I was loved, and my parents showed it in a myriad of ways. So while I am not in favor of constant or even frequent or hard spankings, a little swat on the bottom here and there for certain situations is okay in my book. I do understand if parents do not want to spank, or because of past abuse are afraid to make their child feel the way they did.

Amanda said...

Thoroughly enjoyed your blog. Makes one think of their own past, present and future.

Loud and Dark Clear said...

I was spanked any time I did anything wrong as a child. If it was bad enough, I had to wait for my dad to get home and he'd use the belt on my bare bottom. I won't go into details of the painful memories, as I'm sure you can all imagine.

My dad was a preacher, and of course subscribed to the "spare the rod, spoil the child" ruling. I always wondered how in the world you could take that passage to mean anything other than spanking. After all, in my church, it was understood that it meant spanking and there were no other logical explanations.

My husband was raised the same way, and was hit until he cried "enough." After all, how would his father know it was working if he wasn't crying?

At the thought of raising our own children, we feel we are expected to do the same, even though it feels very wrong. Of course, as our parents always said, "it hurts me more than it hurts you." That must be why it's ok... it's supposed to feel wrong to the parent.

To get to my point, I love her take on what the rod is... not a rod used to beat, but a rod to lead. And when I think about it, the only time in the Bible that a rod was used to strike anything, Moses was punished for striking the rock when he hadn't been instructed specifically to strike it. Interesting and very helpful!

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way as anonymous (#1), sorry you went through that abuse during your childhood, i'm not against spanking in a needing situation, i wasn't spanked often, i barely remember one time, and it was totally my fault, my dad had brought me a candy after work, and because it wasn't the one i wanted, i stepped in front of him and spat the candy out of my mouth, if my children did that to me right now, i would do the same thing my dad did, no regrets, but again, i wasn't abused as a child. I show my kids how much i love them everyday, and spend the quality time they need, one on one (everyday), the way they are corrected in the house or outside, is time out in the corner (whatever kinda spot we can find), and that is more embarrassing for them, (i think they would rather have a spanking), but if needed a rear end spank once a year,is not bad.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, I agree spanking is not a one-size-fits-all solution to discipline. I was rarely spanked as a child and I rarely resort to it. The times when I have spanked my daughter, the natural consequences of her actions would have been more painful than the spanking itself (as in serious mortal danger) AND she was too young to understand a verbal explaination of the consequences. It absolutely horrifies me when I see parents allowing kids to do dangerous things, saying "That will teach them a lesson" or "They've got to learn somehow."

Andrea said...

Great post! I was never spanked. But, once, when my son was almost 2 and I was 9 months pregnant, I lost my mind. Spanked him on the back of the thigh. The look of sheer terror and emotional pain sent me into a guilt I have never known. I have never done it since and will never do it again.
I do the old "deep breath and count to 10" sometimes all the while I'm counting he's screaming and defying me, but for me, it works.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that if I was caught hitting my dog, I would be fined and possibly jailed for animal cruelty.

But I could legally hit my 15 month old, and some would even cheer me on and tell me I am doing the right thing.

We have lost our way. To try to muster up Biblical support for hurting children only makes the whole situation disgustingly offensive.

Remember what He said? Whatsoever you do to the least of these, my brethren, you do to Me.

If we can have complex adult relationships without hitting, we can raise our children without hitting.

Anonymous said...

Children who are too young to process verbal explanations are also too young to process being hit & why.

Cindy said...

I love this line: "...but being a parent isn’t about my convenience."

Like Amanda said, your post makes us think about our past, present and future. Being a parent is about personal development and reading blogs like this makes you think about how, when, if and why you would or would not do something. (if that makes any sense!)

deb said...

I linked to your post on my own blog. I think that it is important for parents to see that there is a huge outcry among Christians over the Pearls methods.

Anonymous said...

The Marmee quotation was from the recent movie version of "Little Women," not Alcott's novel. This is what Alcott had Marmee say: "I don't approve of corporal punishment, especially for girls. I dislike Mr. Davis's manner of teaching and don't think the girls you associate with are doing you any good, so I shall ask your father's advice before I send you anywhere else."

In "Little Men," the character Jo explains how her mother decided to stop using corporal punishment and learned how to control her temper.

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