In January 2008 a friend of mine asked me a question about something she thought was not right which she figured I would know about. As I began to answer her, it led me to answers I had never considered before and ended up thrusting my family into a year of "transition" and really changing the future of my family tree. What did she ask me?
"What do you think about spanking?"
My friend had three small children who were entering toddlerhood and so she thought for sure that I was the one to ask. In January 2008 my oldest was 21, and my youngest of 8 children was yet to be born. With all that experience for sure I'd know the right answer.
And, I thought I did. I was confident I did!
I grew up in a family of two kids and although I was very angry, and depressed, I was well behaved. I knew that if I did something naughty I was getting "a lickin''" as it was called in our house. The wooden paddle hung on the wall and just passing it by made me afraid. I didn't get too many lickin's. I was a smart kid. Fast learner. I learned how to get away with things without getting caught and how to mind my own business at home.
I had my 1st baby at age 18 after a very depressed and love-seeking teenagehood (I just made that word up). I had held a baby maybe once that I could remember, and the day I brought home my baby thoughts of how to "raise" her hadn’t really entered my mind.
Once she was old enough to do irritating things I simply did to her what had been done with me and smacked her. I smacked her hands. I smacked her butt. And, then, once she got a will of her own, when she made me mad enough, I "spanked" her.
Her father had had a similar childhood experience with spanking and so it was nothing we ever thought to question or discuss. It's just "what you do with kids". It's how it was in our families and in all the families around us. If a kid is "acting up" anyone around you will say that that kid needs "takin' over a knee!" It's just how it's done.
After 8 years of a relationship that would have made a Reality TV producer drool…my boyfriend became my husband and by 1995 we had 3 children. And, we also had a new motivation in life: Jesus. We became Christians. The results in our life were very good because we began to respect one another and treat each other with more patience and kindness. Church life really did us good.
So, along comes a Sunday School class about child training in the same place where we were learning how to love and respect one another. The same place where we were learning that God is love and that He is not behind all the bad and painful stuff in the world. This should be the best place to learn about how to care for the world's most precious and innocent beings: our own children! Right?
In class we were taught the, “who, what, when, where, and why,” of spanking. We were taught that it was ordained by God as evidenced by a handful of Old Testament verses speaking of "the rod", and that if we didn't do it the Bible said we hated our children. We were taught that if we didn't to it our children could end up in rebellion and ultimately in hell.
The people teaching the class were actually our best friends who had entered our lives and had really brought out the best in us. They weren't freaks or religious nuts. They were teaching us to do the same thing that they did in their own homes with their own children out of the sincerity of their hearts to do what they felt was right, even though they felt it was hard to do. What was there to question?
In the classes we were taught that whenever the child did anything "naughty" we were to determine whether the child was behaving “irresponsibly” or “rebelliously” before deciding punishment. Everything was analyzed in this way.
But, then on February 5th, 1998, 12 ½ yrs after we’d met and 7 months after the birth of our 4th child…my husband was given an early retirement. I got the call around 10 that morning to come to the local trauma center because my husband was there. On his way to work a tractor-trailer jackknifed and struck his work truck. He had died instantly. I was now a widow with 4 children.
About 6 months after my husband…aka my kids' Daddy…just didn't come home…my 2 year old son started to "act up". Suddenly he couldn't walk up the stairs anymore. His "socks would slip" on the steps and he'd dramatically flop and flop on the steps and need me to "help him". Then, one night he was told to go brush his teeth. I could hear him in the bathroom, "Flop! Flop! Flop!" I went in and peeked at him and he was (I don't know how he did this physically!) lifting his feet up and just landing on his cloth-diapered butt repeatedly. "Flop! Flop! Flop!"
I put on my "stern mom face" and told him to stop it and brush his teeth. I went back out of the room. And, I could hear him in there doing it again, "Flop! Flop!"
The teaching I'd learned about rebellion vs. childish irresponsibility came into my mind and I knew what I had to do. This was clearly a rebellion issue. So…I put on my "stern mom face" again, marched into the bathroom, and told him to get his tiny 2-yr old hiney into the office (where all the spankings happened).
I looked at his tiny little face and asked him, "Why were you doing that? I told you to brush your teeth!"
He looked at me with his big brown eyes and said, "My socks were slipping."
I had to turn my face and stifle a giggle. His socks were slipping?! I composed myself to deal with the serious issue at hand. My 2-year old was rebelling against my command to brush his teeth and to stop flopping on the floor and now he'd just lied! No matter how cute he was I had to do what I had to do!
And, so…he was paddled.
Eventually, I got his flopping, and sock slipping behaviors to stop. I had squelched that rebellion before it got ugly and he took over the household. I had done my job.
You know, I tell that story now and it makes me wanna scream and cry.
In 1999 I ended up at a new church and made lots of new friends. And, all these friends too were quite normal average Christian people. And, they all spanked more than I did and also pinched their kids when in public (because you could do it subtly and quietly). I learned from my friends to keep an "extra" paddle (wooden spoon or spatula) in the car for when we were not home. And, sometimes when I was out with my friends, I had to wait outside their cars while their toddler got a spanking for not listening in the store we were shopping in.
For two and a half years "disciplining" was my lone responsibility because my husband was gone. In late 2000 I married a good and decent man who was raised on the mission field and served as the emergency medical pilot for his parents' medical clinic in the jungle in Guatemala. He'd been raised by an ex-Amish father. He never disobeyed his parents! He told me that in church just "a look" from his parents told him he'd crossed the line and there was no mercy; when he got home he always got a spanking. He often commented that we were too lenient with the kids because when he was little he was not even allowed to argue with his mom or even say that he didn't like a meal that was served or he'd get "the belt". But, because he loved his parents who were truly awesome people and felt they loved him, why would he have questioned spanking?
So, in 2008 when my friend asked me about "spanking" I went right to it. I tried to look up the Sunday School materials I'd gone through so many years ago. I did searches on the internet as I prepared to tell her who, what, when, where, and why to spank as I had been taught it.
That is when it happened.
I happened upon a website that shattered the illusion I'd been living in for over 20 years. It was a simple website talking about ancient shepherding practices and it explained that the "rod" that the ancient shepherds had used was actually…a weapon. It was a club with spikes on the end used for killing predators. It was the equivalent of a modern gun. The rod…was not…for…the…sheep! That is why David could say that God’s rod and staff comforted him…not scared him…
If you coulda' heard the brakes screeching inside my head…I was horrified. How could this HUGE HUGE important detail have slipped our notice? "The Rod" of the ancient shepherds was what all the teaching I'd received on spanking was based on! But, it wasn't a wooden spoon or a spatula used for whacking wayward sheep! NO! The rod was a "gun" used to protect the sheep...and I had been using that on my children?
I sat back in my chair and my whole head was spinning. I ran to my husband and told him. Now what?
I started to become aware of the biggest problem with spanking that first year that we stopped. That first year was not fun. It left me sitting holding my head with screaming kids in the background often. I realized once that "parenting tool" was taken from me that I had no idea how to handle any stress between my children without being able to either hit them (spank them) or threaten them with doing it. It hadn't been a tool to "guide" them and "discipline" them and lead their hearts toward God. In reality, it had been a weapon to control my kids' behavior and nothing more.
So, there I was at age 39 with seven children of all ages and a newborn completely at a loss how to relate to my children. I had to learn a whole new way of thinking about my children and their behavior. And, this new way of seeing the children was as dramatic as Dorothy coming out of the plain black and white farmhouse into the full Technicolor of Oz. Now, instead of looking at all of the children's behaviors and analyzing it to look for hidden rebellion to punish I saw behavior as attempts at communication. I began to realize that their behavior’s cause was what I needed to look at. What are they trying to say? What is their motivation? What is bugging them? What’s wrong? And, fixing what is wrong is what will make the behavior go away. Making the behavior go away leaves what’s wrong still wrong.
Spanking was taught to me as a way to make sure the child's heart was right with God, yet when I spanked them, I never addressed their motivations and touched their hearts, I only addressed behavior and touched their behinds…with pain.
I look back now and it is as clear as day. My little boy…had lost his Daddy. Daddy used to lie in his bedroom every night and sing to him as he fell asleep while I read with the other 3 in the oldest child's bedroom. Nighttime was an awesome fun precious time. And, his Daddy disappeared. His Daddy was just gone and Mommy was acting funny and often distracted and unavailable and he didn't understand why. Why didn’t I think about it then? Why didn’t I ask him then? Why wasn’t it the first thing I thought of when his socks were slipping? Why didn’t I see it from his perspective when he “couldn’t walk up the stairs” and wanted me to help him? Why…did I not consider the troubled thoughts that could be in that sweet tiny person’s mind as he toddled toward the office to get whacked by Mommy? What was in his tiny little heart that night and what did I do to him when I punished him for trying to express it?
It makes me sick to think of it and I can’t tell ya how many times I look at him now and feel sorry for having done it. I’ve asked his forgiveness and he’s given it to me, but, the damage was done.
Do you know…that little boy is now 16 and…given a little stress he clams up and withdraws. Sometimes I can see that he is upset and I can see that he pushes it away and just moves on and tries to ignore it. And, I’ve often thought over the years that he has “sad eyes”.
Now that the world is in full color I could tell you story after story of why this is wrong. Stories from within my own family which when I think of them I post them on my blog. I at times feel like a fanatic about this subject, but, this practice is so damaging to people and I can now see its effects on not just my own kids, but, on others. This is such an unpopular topic because everyone is doing it or has had it done to them and feels the need to either defend themselves or their parents because admitting a mistake like this is a difficult thing to do. But, I wish I could stand on top of a building and shout it out to everyone.
The petition that has been started to get Amazon to stop selling books that promote violence against children, in my opinion, is a great step toward getting this practice stopped. It is not just the act of getting those books removed from easy sale; it is the “why”. It is the fact that everyone who looks for those books will have to ask “why” are they not available on Amazon, and then, they will be made aware that spanking is not the universal only and best way to raise kids. Their searches on this topic will lead them to blog sites like this one, and they will see that there is a problem with spanking and it may open that door into the Technicolor world of parenting for many.
For me all it took was one friend to challenge me on it and for one piece of truth to be shown to me. What I wouldn't give to go back in time and find just one friend who would have stood up and told me it was wrong. Thanks to Facebook and the world-wide-web now, we can be that friend to people we've never even met before. I encourage all of you to share and repost things you find about this subject whenever it comes along your path. Sign and post the petition on your own walls and blogs. You never know what friend-of-a-friend is going to see your post and realize that there is another way to raise kids…before they march their tiny son into the office to punish him for missing his dead Daddy…
This was originally posted on "The Mule"