I grew up hearing unfortunate tales of people in times past using Scripture as an excuse to be abusive. “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” was the Biblical justification for wild temper tantrums by adults. I decided to stop taking their word for it and find out for myself. I once read the Bible cover to cover in seeking truth on this one issue of corrective discipline.
Here is what I found. That statement, "spare the rod and spoil the child," is not in the Bible. The passage we can find says this: “He who spares the rod hates his son.” Proverbs 13:24. Not quite the same thing as spoiling them. I’ve thought a lot about that passage and I would like to think that God is giving us two if/then statements within it to help us.
1. If someone does not take the time and effort to discipline, then she will eventually end up hating that child.
2. If someone already hates her child, then she demonstrates this by not taking the time and effort to discipline him.
I really hoped “rod” could be interpreted to mean a gentle cane. A nicey-nice staff perhaps, guiding a child like a shepherd, but no such luck. I found many references of “rod” all throughout the Bible referring to a spanking stick.
I concluded that God would have me spank our children with a rod. It’s what my husband wanted all along, so that's the reason I really sought God on the thing in the first place. I was wrong in resisting my husband’s leadership on this issue at first. I resisted him on it for three reasons. One, I was haunted by the horror stories I'd heard from times past. Two, I was paralyzed by modern societal gasps and frowns at corporal punishment because the world confuses discipline with cruelty (question for society: how’s that working for ya?). Three, I was tenderhearted.
But you know what? It’s really not tenderhearted to withhold corrective discipline from a child because guess what happens when you do this. You “hate your child.” Well what do you know, the Bible is right. I was far more frazzled and unkind before I spanked my children. I was exhausted and, to be honest, I strongly resented my children when I went to bed every night. Being a mother was not much of a joy. That wasn't their fault.
I always disciplined them before I began doing it the spanking way. But I was completely worn out from the methods I was using that were not a simple, swift swat. I was being punished as much as the child was. I had to keep up with which child was getting dessert that night or not. Then I had to punish the whining fits regarding the upcoming dessert punishment. I had to mediate smug 'tudes and competition among siblings regarding who was getting dessert. The whole day was ruined, dreading who was not getting dessert.
Or what about, "If you don't share the sand toys then we will have to leave the park and go home." Wow, that gives the child a lot of power. Everyone is punished. How are his siblings (or Dad) going to feel about this? Collectively punishing everyone and changing the family's plans creates resentment and tension among family members who weren't causing any trouble at all.
I did diligently discipline my children for years without spanking, for their good and to honor the Lord, but it was pretty rough for me. It was damaging my relationship with my children, because I was really having to pray for more love each new day for them, after the intense battles of the day before. I rather disliked being a mother in those days.
I was praying for wisdom over this whole spanking thing years ago, asking other moms about it, and reading lots of books about it. I was at a park one day. The sweetest lady was there with six or seven children. She adored these children. They were all so happy. They loved her so much, were incredibly respectful, polite and obedient, and all ran back and forth hugging her and telling her their thoughts. Very much under her authority and control. Just the total picture of sweet, affectionate mothering right there. The very thing I was wishing for in my family. I couldn’t help but sit down on the park bench beside her and ask, “What are you doing with these children? They are so happy and obedient.” This is what she said to me:
“I got a little switch.”
That’s all she said. Then she really wasn’t interested in talking to me, too delighted with them, and so she looked back at them and smiled and cheered them on as they looked at her for encouragement and approval as they went down the slide. When it was time to leave they ran to the car cheerfully, right when she said to. No arguing, no whining.
This 20 minutes changed my life. This woman demonstrated to me that a spanking chick can also be loving. I didn’t know the two attributes could exist happily. I thought spanking meant harshness, and harshness is unBiblical and futile, or even damaging. I believe God sent this woman to me that day at the park to show me what I could become.
The Bible passage that best articulates to me the problem with harshness is this one, “The rod of his fury will fail.” Proverbs 22:8. There’s my spanking bumper sticker right there. The point of corrective discipline is to drive out folly from a child’s heart. If a mother is furious with her child then the spanking is about her. The spanking is about her frustration, her need to wail on something to make herself feel better, and it will fail. It won’t drive out folly from a child’s heart, it will only create pain in that child’s heart and strain his relationship with his mother as he gets older. If the spanking is about the mother throwing a fit, we are scared.
If, on the other hand, the mother is not angry, harsh, shouting or fierce, then the spanking is about the child and his need. If she takes her child somewhere private and calmly gives that little pip squeak a couple of well deserved whacks on the upper thigh region and then hugs him on her lap and prays with him afterward, it will not fail. If the spanking is about the mother saving her child from his own destruction, then yay. This is some pretty kickin’ mothering which is explained in the following passage:
“If you beat him with the rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod, you will save his soul from hell.” Proverbs 23:14.
So, all those years ago, convicted by the Lord, I went to Hobby Lobby, walked down the aisle that has very long, thin wooden dowels. And I got me a little switch.
I got quite a few switches actually and planted them all over the house. I was too scared to use a switch for a few days. I would just walk around the house carrying it. I was terrified of being abusive to my poor little darlings. That makes me laugh now but I was pretty freaked out about spanking back then. But as the Bible says, it’s going to be okay, your child “will not die” if you do this. No one's going to die, just do the thing. Gradually I got the courage to use those switches confidently and I’ve been using them ever since.
I hardly ever get upset with my children now. There’s nothing to get upset about. I'm not the one hollering at my authority, throwing food, or drawing on the walls. Sure, my heart grows weary and exasperated sometimes from the effort it takes, but I'm not out-of-control upset on a tirade just because the children might be.
When my children defy my authority, shout, argue with me, refuse to obey or blatantly break a rule, I stop what I’m doing. If it is disobedience then I give the child one warning -- not by threatening, pleading, begging, shouting, belittling, negotiating or talking about how I feeeeeel but by saying one word. I quietly say, "Obey." That's their one merciful chance. It usually snaps them into realizing what's going on. If they obey, I cheer and clap for a tiny toddler and tell them God is very pleased and so is Mommy. Or I speak sincere "awesome job" high five language to older children.
If they don't obey, I get up and lovingly and calmly take that child to a private-ish place and use the switch. If a switch isn't available then I have to use my hand.
I'm not skipping along happily; this is a somber thing, I'm grieved and serious. But pretty much I'm just dealing with the situation. There's no anger, no harshness. A spanking is the choice the child has made, not me. I'm always hoping in my heart that they won't choose a spanking. I rather dislike administering them. But I give a few quick flicks of my wrist to their upper thigh area with the switch. It hurts like the dickens because I’ve tried it on myself to see what we’re inflicting here. I think the upper leg is better than the tushy because it has so much cushy. The spanking takes no physical strength or force at all on my part, no effort really at all. I’m just flicking my wrist a little bit, but it gives a serious sting, the child does cry and it’s over.
It’s no biggee.
So, schwack, schwack, get yourself together child. We hug and pray afterward. I hold my arms out and put that child on my lap, and talk kindly for a few minutes about what he needs to do differently next time. We talk about what needs to change in his heart. "You cannot shout at your mother," something like that. "You cannot push a kitchen chair over and climb up on the counter to get into the marshmallows." I'm not naming any names. Then it's over, and I go back to what I was doing. If they have a sour-poo reaction or diva look on their face that indicates pure rebellion then we might not be done, and certainly if they lash out at me in a violent way, we're fixing to have another round of spanking.
My hands are not swatting around at people or grabbing them. My hands touch them lovingly: the switch does the correction. I’m not being mean to my children. I don’t yell at them, I don’t jerk them around or hit them, it’s not like that. I don’t have to resort to that sort of undignified insanity. I’m pretty doggone sweet to them if I do say so myself. And they throw a lot my way, many times while their daddy is traveling for days or months at a time. So I am quietly keeping them under control and disciplined much of the time on my own, without a father to back me up or do it for me.
Disciplining children, in whatever way the Lord might show someone He wants them to do it -- and it won't include harsh emotion or endless talking to be effective in my opinion -- is a lot more merciful than teaching children to walk all over their authority. It’s a lot more loving than producing a world full of out of control, self indulgent, rebellious people that we all kind of dislike.