Monday, February 14, 2011

In Defense of the Spank

I just read a blog written by a mother who grudgingly admitted to spanking her child on occasion.  She said that she doesn't do it often, but sometimes she is just so frustrated, and at the end of her rope, that she doesn't know what else to do.  She ended the blog by describing how she's starting to use the "1-2-3" method for her toddler, mainly to help her gain self-control in her toddler-management skills.

This mom has shared a very personal and possibly embarrassing side of her life, and I admire her courage.

But (contrary to popular opinion) there are people who spank without being out of control.  Without feeling ashamed.  Without regretting their parenting technique.  I am one of them.

It seems that in parenting circles, those who parent with logic and consistency, and spank, are often shouted down by the "spanking is always an out of control violent act" mobs.  This is unfair.  Spanking in love needs to be defended.

(Disclaimer: I am not claiming to be the perfect mother or have all the answers to everything, but I do not have any guilt or qualms about the way I discipline my children.)

I was raised in the most loving home imaginable.  I never once doubted, in my entire childhood, that I was valued, loved, and wanted.  I was also spanked.  Possibly 5 times.  I don't begrudge a single time.  My parents were absolutely consistent with their rules, and in a case of intentional, willful disobedience, the offender was marched ceremoniously up to the den, and proper punishment was doled out: we were informed of our crimes (which we knew ahead of time, of course), spanked once on the bottom with a pancake-flipper, given a chance to apologize, forgiven, and comforted lovingly.

Guess what?  I look back on those times as a display of love.  My parents cared about helping me develop self-control, and I am incredibly grateful for that.  My sister and I benefited greatly from our reputation as some of the best-behaved kids in town (we got extra invites to play with friends because our good behavior rubbed off on them).  And, contrary to what some psychologists may insist, we never once got confused about whether "hitting was okay" in our home.  We knew it wasn't.  We knew being spanked had nothing at all to do with hitting.  We had fewer violent tendencies than the Dalai Lama.

Now, my experience does not mean that all spanking is okay, oh no, no, no.  We lived in an atmosphere of constant love and affirmation, and we never once feared our parents.  This is not the case in many homes.  Parents who lose control, threaten, yell, storm, have tempers, and spank in that attitude have absolutely no business doing it.  They give the rest of us a bad name.

But I'm tired of hearing that all spanking is done in anger, or that it is always harmful to children.  I have yet to see a valid study where loving, gentle spanking in a Godly, tender environment was separated into a different category from hitting, smacking, and abuse, and still yielded screwed-up kids.  All anecdotal evidence I have seen indicates the opposite: all my close friends were spanked when they were growing up.  The ones who were raised in loving homes look back fondly on their childhoods and respect their parents for disciplining them.  The ones who were raised in violent or fearful homes recall feeling fearful and angry about the spankings.  Both were spanked, but the atmosphere of the home and the attitude of the spanking were the key factors in how the child responded, not the spank itself.

I have given an idealized remembrance of my childhood spankings.  Now, here is how it happens in our house.  We have committed to spanking only in case of willful, intentional rebellion.  We do not spank for "childish irresponsibility" or annoying behavior.  Only if we look at a child, they look at us, we tell them what needs to be done, they fully understand, and they intentionally do the opposite.  There is no yelling involved.  There is no bargaining, begging, or bribing.  There are not third, fourth, and fifth chances.  Willful disobedience - "If you do not obey Mommy, you get a spank." - spank.  We then talk about what happened. We make it an event - a memorable unpleasant consequence occurs when willful disobedience occurs.

We don't have a problem with hitting in our home.  We don't "smack" to get a kid's attention, we don't do "If you shove him, I will show you what it feels like to be shoved."  Spanking is clearly not hitting in our home, so there is no confusion.  It is a totally separate event, a very clear feeling on the bottom, not a random act of angry violence.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying spanking is for everyone.  My husband and I are blessed with very laid-back, easy going temperaments, and we don't have any trouble controlling our tempers in the home.  I think there is something to be said for the Holy Spirit's power to provide supernatural self-control in child-rearing, and if you don't possess something akin to this, spanking is probably not for you either.

That's the problem, isn't it?  The world at large has no clinical way to measure the grace and self-control given by God, so they assume it's impossible to spank a child in love.  Well, it's not.  I can testify to it.  And if you can too, then please, don't feel guilty for spanking done in love, gentleness, and a fully rational state of mind.

I know this can be a volatile topic, but I'd really like to hear your thoughts on spanking (for and against!)  Am I way off base here?


  1. Excellent post! I agree completely. I wasn't spanked growing up, but I also come from a home where they just didn't care enough to hug, smile, talk to me... or spank. However, I got more than enough physical abuse from an older sibling.. not what you're talking about at all.

    With my own children, they were spanked several times. My daughter was only spanked once, "the look" was all that was required with her. However, I'm sure she knew it could happen... and they always knew they were loved. My boys got into a little more trouble, but were spanked maybe 5 times. These spankings were more like a swat... but carried the point across.

    I am proud of my adult children, and my daughter told me not long ago that she'll raise her children exactly as I did... with love and discipline. I wasn't a perfect parent either, but I sure think you're doing it right!

  2. Thanks for your encouragement, Heidi! I'm pretty sure I'm not doing everything right, but I don't stay awake at night worrying either. It's good to know I'm in good company.

  3. The only problem I have with your post is saying that spanking young children is "Godly". Spanking is not biblical. The original Hebrew text is much more complicated that our English language and not correctly interpreted. I often pass on this post because it is so well written and clear.

  4. Hi, Megan, I'm so glad you brought that point up. If you read again, you may notice I don't refer to spanking itself as Godly, only that it can be used in a Godly household.
    I have heard many interpretations of the "spare the rod" verses, and tend to agree with you that "rod" refers more to discipline than an actual stick. It saddens me when parents use a faulty interpretation of the Bible to justify whacking their kids with a stick. I even read one book that claimed that there is something special and "holy" about a spanking stick. Wow! Thank you for the link.

  5. Interesting post! I really like how thoughtful you are about spanking - only doing it in this one behavioral context and then having dialogue with the child after.

    I was raised without ever being spanked and when I saw spanking... friends being spanked, kids spanked in the store, etc. it was always quite violent. It seemed to be intended to make the child afraid of the parent so they'd obey out of fear and/or punish them with pain because the parent didn't like what the child did. There was no respect for the child as a person like there was in our house. So, I decided long ago that I wouldn't spank our kids because obviously my brother and I didn't need it and it looked wrong.

    However, as I've gotten older I've found a fair number of well adjusted adults who, like you, experienced a small amount of judicious spanking done calmly and in clear cut situations. It's really changed my view on spanking.

  6. Like you, I grew up in a loving, Godly home that occasionally used spanking as a form of punishment. I, however, was never spanked. While rules and discipline were clear cut in our house, punishments were different becuase, as my parents pointed out, every child is different. My older sister was spanked many times (in a manner similar to your childhood recolection of spanking) I had a much different temperment than my sister. She was much more rebellious and resilient than I was-- I was much more tender hearted and eager to please. My parents wisely noted this difference in their children and selected appropriate punishments for the child. We both were well-behaved, balanced children who never doubted we were loved and valued, and were never fearful of our parents.
    You noted spanking may not be for every parent... my parents also believed it may not be right for every child.
    I respect your choice to spank your children out of love. I believe it has it's place and can be a very appropriate and effective tool for some children when done in a rational loving manner. I don't yet have children... when I do, I think I will follow the example of my parents and make that decision based on the child.

  7. Valerie, it's really good to hear your perspective on this. It sounds like your parents were really wise and thoughtful about how they disciplined you. I've wondered if we'll discipline our kids very differently too, because our little one is really tender-hearted. She hasn't been spanked, and I don't know if she'll ever need it, because just looking at her seriously or using a firm voice make her cry. Totally different from big brother!
    Thank you for stopping by and reading, and lending some parent-tested wisdom. When you do have your own children, I know you will be very thoughtful in how you discipline them. And they will have the cutest clothes and blankets in all creation. :)

  8. I believe I was spanked once or twice in my childhood, and it certainly didn't turn me into a horridly violent person. (My parents' preferred punishment was time-out, and the boredom generally did the trick.) But I tended to be an obedient child.

    I still do not understand how you are expected to discipline a very young child without some sort of physical response. Not abuse, obviously, but a spank or an equivalent slap on the leg. A two year-old really doesn't understand the logic and the explanation of why their actions were wrong, but they certainly feel that their butt or leg hurts for a while. Do it only in the context of a punishment, with well-defined parameters, and it helps children begin to understand that actions have consequences.


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