Sunday, March 22, 2009

Concerning Spanking: starting on my path to Gentle Discipline

I was spanked as a child. Spankings were not common, but they were painful. They occurred only as the consequence to two infractions (lying or direct/defiant disobedience), and everybody knew how to earn one and how to avoid one. In spite of that, we feared them. Looking back I suppose it was irrational to fear something that was instituted only as the consequence to an action over which I had complete control--but fear I did. Often.
Nevertheless, it was effective. My siblings and I were (and are) very honest people. We are very obedient people. While I hated the few spankings I did receive, I certainly never thought of them as abuse. They were simply discipline: a harsh consequence designed to enforce a pair of non-optional behaviors.
It is only now, years later, that I remember something that happened one night when I was about 11. Brother A had smacked brother B in spite of repeated warnings, and so he got spanked. I asked my dad "If you hit him as a punishment, then how does that teach him to not hit?" My dad told me that my logic was wrong and that the idea came from Satan, and that the difference was that brothers are equals but that parents are in a position of authority and sometimes needed to use force. It didn't sit well with me at the time but apparently I eventually accepted it because as I entered adulthood, I had no problem with the occasional spanking of a child.
When I met Hubby, Wolf was 3 years old and more than a handful. He'd had a lot of upheaval in his early years and was a master of testing boundaries. Hubby did not believe in spanking, and I felt that Wolf's wild behavior was a direct reflection of that. Every "gentle discipline" or non-spanking family I'd ever met had wild (ie, undisciplined) children, and I concluded that Hubby should be glad that I'd come along when I had, so that I could teach him how to parent and teach Wolf how to obey.
So for a few years there was some spanking. Not terribly often, and not as severe as what I'd been raised with, but it definitely happened. And do you know what? It didn't make a lick of difference. That was the first thing that made me start to think. I had never questioned whether it would work--it seemed so obvious that it had worked with me and my siblings--but Wolf just didn't care. He would get mad about it, but he didn't change his behavior. Unfortunately, my initial conclusion was that the solution was to be more consistent--to discipline more often and (sometimes) more harshly.

Then I started associating with a group of "natural LDS moms" (on a yahoo group). Spanking came up a number of times, and was always a hot topic. There were moms who were staunchly for it and moms who were staunchly against it. For a long time I fell into the former category--still relying on the firm belief that there was a time and a place for spanking: usually as a last resort, but still, an appropriate place for it. I shared this opinion a number of times. The story is somewhat longer than this, but for the sake of the privacy of those involved, I'll just say that one mother mentioned (privately) that whenever spanking came up she always skipped my posts because she knew that I supported spanking, and it broke her heart to see that kind of message from someone whom she otherwise respected. She said that she just couldn't imagine Christ spanking someone, and she didn't feel like it was a Christlike way for us to treat our children.
A lightbulb went on for me that day. I think I have thanked her for that message, but if not, she knows who she is, and I know she reads this blog, so at the very least she's hearing it now.

"If you hit him as a punishment,
then how does that teach him
to not hit?"

Yes, I have spanked my children, well, that is to say, I have spanked my older child. I have not spanked the younger one and have every intention of not spanking either one of them in the future. Unfortunately, when a person is raised with something it is usually very difficult to change the habit. Even if you want to be different, it's very likely that you'll fall back into certain familiar things. And so even since making the decision to not spank, I have done it once or twice. I yell more than I mean to as well. BUT I am not giving up, and I continue to try to find better ways to teach my children.

I am learning that "gentle discipline" does not have to mean "undisciplined," but that it really can mean teaching children discipline through gentle means. In fact, the more I have thought and read and talked with others and pondered about it all, the more I realize that gentle discipline is Christlike discipline. So now every time I am faced with a problematic behavior from my children I try to think of what Christ would do. Christ never hit anybody, and he never yelled, so I figure those two things are out. What is in, well, that's something that everybody has to work out themselves. I lean toward a combination of natural consequences, imposed logical consequences, and a lot of distraction for little ones and discussion for older ones. I am planning to write more about my ever-developing philosophy of parenting.

For what it's worth, regarding my own childhood and the things my father told me... My father was raised in what I consider to have been a terribly abusive and unloving home, and as I said, old habits die hard, even when you're trying to overcome them. In college he also studied behavioral psychology (which is based on drooling dogs and pecking pigeons and focuses on rewards and punishments to teach behaviors). Since it's based on animals (and doesn't allow for free will) I believe that it's inappropriate for humans, but the behavioral psychologists say otherwise, and dad trusted his professors...and that's a whole other post. ☺ Anyway, the point is, my dad's parenting style was imperfect but was unquestionably better than what he grew up with. Over the years he has continued to work and improve, and from what I hear my younger siblings are having quite a different childhood from what the first few of us did.
I love and respect my father on many fronts, and believe that most of the faults with his parenting stem directly from what he was taught by his own parents. On the other hand, what kind of a person would I be if I were content to maintain the status quo? No! I have every intention of continuing to improve. Maybe my children or grandchildren will be perfect parents...I know that I never will be, but at least I'm making a conscious effort at making each generation better than the last one.


Samurai Mom said...

I love you! You did, and I never replied. :) Thanks for the reminder I need to put CHRISTLIKE back up in the forefront of my parenting skills.

Becky N. said...

I sure appreciate this post. I was raised with a whole lot of yelling and demeaning parent-to-child "conversation", as well as spanking for bigger offenses. I desperately want to completely break out of that, but it is SO HARD. Even when I find myself screeching at myself mentally in the middle of a poor choice of discipline, I find it nearly impossible to stop and change my behavior in that moment. But I think the more and more I hear the reminder of asking ourselves, as parents, what Christ would do in our situation, I think I'll get closer and closer to stopping the *un*Christlike parenting I often fall into.

I appreciate your experience and your thoughts. Your attitude of pressing forward with the intention to constantly improve yourself is also a shining example to me - I too often focus on my failings instead of my goals.

Mae said...

I'm theoretically on the fence about this one, but in practice I don't spank. I was raised almost exactly like you were in this aspect (abusive grandparents to parents that only spank in very serious situations...probably recieved 3 my entire life but I REMEMBER them.) I never understood the "don't hit so I'm going to hit you" thing. So I generally avoid it.

I remember a talk by a sister in some general conference of some sort (maybe it was for the sisters, maybe general, I don't remember) where she spoke about seeing Christ taking a little child's face between his two hands and loving talking to them to correct them. That has touched me greatly and I remember it often.

Once while taking kid#2 to the potty at a fast food restaurant, kid#1 was allowed to stand in the stall next to me. Got busy trying to help kid#2 so I didn't notice kid #1 walked out of the bathroom. When we were done, I couldn't find her and I freaked out, rushed out of the bathroom with kid#2 pulled behind me and found #1 all the way across the restaurant chatting with some random people (she was 4 at the time). I walked straight up to her, silently took her hand and pulled her back to the bathroom (embarrassment doesn't work for this child, and I'm not a fan of that tactic anyway, so I took her back to the privacy of the bathroom) and kneeled down to seriously chew her out. Her little chin was stuck out ready to fight me head on. And suddenly, I believe that Christ spoke for me, because I heard myself say, "I was scared! When I couldn't find you, I was scared to death that you were lost." Her face melted, tears started to come, I explained why it was not good for her to leave, etc. etc. She cried, I cried, we hugged, and she has never left my side since (she's now 7). I've tried to replicate this experience but I'm not sure it's ever worked quite as well.

I also remember supposedly back talking my mother when I was 14 (in all reality, I was probably just finally standing up for myself and telling her something she didn't want to hear but was the truth) and she immediately slapped me. We were sitting in church and I remember being mortified. I've since thought a lot about it, and it really was an infantile response. It was not a thought-out correction. It was flat out reacting like my 2 year old nephew does when his toy gets taken away. And THAT i strongly disagree with.

Bet you didn't expect traditional me to have slightly untraditional opinions on this, huh?!

katef said...

What a great story!

I love that you have written this, honestly, from the heart and as a real person, taking into account all that you have experienced and and learnt.

This is one of the best Gentle Discipline stories I have ever read because it is real, you don't preach you just express...

Thank you for sharing.

Destiny said...

I really like the point you brought up about spanking being unChristlike. For some reason, I had never really thought to think how Christ would parent. I do try very hard not to spank, and rarely do. Aside from it being ineffective, I know that if I am at the point where I am spanking, then I know I have lost my temper and need a time out just as much as the child I'm disciplining.

Family Nature said...

Great post. It's a nice reminder that it's okay to change; to evolve our parenting style as we go.

I always joke that with each child I lower my standards (I have four children). The truth is that with each child my expectations are more realistic.

Becky said...

I would love to write a post on all my thoughts about spanking, but my parents read my blog, so I haven't and probably won't.

I grew up in a home where my mom pretty much kept her mouth shut because Dad was in charge of discipline. I got spanked. A lot. There was actually a leather belt set aside for that particular purpose. And the spankings never resulted from a specific infraction; they happened because my dad was angry and felt out of control. Of course, I didn't realize this until much later, so I grew up thinking that we (my brother and sister and I) were just bad kids. I still struggle with that, and I swore up and down I would never spank my kids. Yet I have, though very rarely and never EVER with anything but my hand, and I hate myself every time.

Some people would say I don't believe in spanking because I wasn't spanked "correctly" - as if there is a correct way to hit your child - and so I don't really understand spanking. No, I don't believe in spanking because I can think of a thousand better ways to teach your child.

Mommy Bee said...

I would love to write a post on all my thoughts about spanking, but my parents read my blog, so I haven't and probably won't.

Becky, I have been thinking about this post for a while--because my dad gets email feed from my blog and reads every post. That's part of the reason that I added the bit at the end about his background--because I think it excuses a certain degree of his imperfections.
In retrospect, I realize that my father is a very forceful person, and that my mother has often gone along with things she didn't entirely agree with just because she wanted to keep the peace (I have no memories of being spanked by her though, and no recollections of fearing her). My father has improved over the years, and hopefully he won't disown me over this post ;) but it was something worth saying regardless. Sometimes the truth is worth saying, no matter who gets mad over it.

Lisa said...

I started out my parenting journey with a firm believe that spanking was wrong. My first was/is an extremely intense kid, and I found myself on a few occasions losing control and swatting him even though I firmly believed it was wrong. In every instance, I found several things to be true. 1) It only escalated the situation. My son is a very sensitive child, but one who doesn't like to show that side. He will do anything to avoid showing that he is hurt or humiliated, and that usually means he will retaliate and fight back. Spanking NEVER helped and always hurt whatever it was I was trying to accomplish. 2) I only spanked when I was angry and didn't know what else to do to solve the situation.

I have gotten much better over time as I've become more used to dealing with kids day in and day out. My second child has never been spanked and hopefully no more of my children ever will be. I used to be afraid to leave a situation without doing "something", therefore, when I didn't know what to do, I would spank. Now, I am much more self-disciplined to be able to walk away, to realize that I don't have to know what to do instantly. It won't be the end of the world if I don't "do something right now". Refusing to spank is like the one boundary that I can count on to keep things safe for all of us.

Sharla said...

My Mom came from a very abusive home and she also suffered from depression. That combination was bad news in the spanking (to put it mildly) dept. Eventually (through a really bad situation) it all came to a head and she got help. She is my best friend now even after all we went through. And I think the reason is because I always knew she loved me. I knew it. My dad spanked but it was like yours. It was seldom and only when we really deserved it. In my own parenting, I very rarely spank. The only kind of "spanking" that has done any good in our home is smacking their hand when they are getting into something they shouldn't like the stove or a plug. Anyway, I'm rambling on but I do appreciate your post. I wouldn't say I'm anti spanking, I'm all about finding what works for you and your family. And I also feel the most important ingredient is that your children always always know that you love them no matter what. Oh, and Jesus did yell, remember the people out selling their wares dishonestly outside the temple? I don't know why but I've always remembered that. That there is a time for rebuff. But to try the gentle way first, and much more often.

Mallory said...

I don't want to spank a lot. I probably will. (Of course, now all I have done are love pats and simple swats). When I was growing up, spanking wasn't painful, but it was scary. My dad told me that he would try to make himself seem big and scary, but really just do a little swat. I don't know if that is really all that much better, but at least it isn't borderline abuse, right?!

As for Christlike behavior, remember when he drove the money changers out of the temple? Not that I think that makes spanking ok, but I think we have a right to be upset when our children do something that is wrong. And we have a right to punish accordingly. But, that is where most people mess up. They punish kids for doing things they don't know are wrong. Or for things that could only hurt them (like running out into the street.) I don't think we should punish our kids for stuff like that, but use the opportunity to teach them. I DO think they should be punished for doing something wrong when they KNOW that it's wrong.

Discipline just means to teach. I know that there are many ways to teach children. And, I agree, we probably shouldn't spank them in order to teach them!

Mommy Bee said...

I have heard a lot of people bring up the cleansing of the temple as an excuse for spanking. Personally, I don't buy it. As many commenters have pointed out, when one is spanking one is typically out of control. Even when it's a pre-set thing blah blah blah, there is a certain lack of control about smacking a kid. I firmly believe that.
I don't think Christ was ever out of control. The Bible does not indicate whether He hit anyone with that little whip he made, but (based on my understanding of the culture and time) the whip would have been used to drive the animals out, not to hit anybody. He also overturned tables--taking away the opportunity to continue the unacceptable behavior--but I genuinely believe that he didn't hurt anybody. It just seems so strongly in opposition to everything He ever taught to have been beating people.

Mallory said...

Oh, I completely agree. I don't think that Christ HIT anyone. But, I do believe that it is ok to get upset. I guess I'm trying to justify the times that I may yell, or just generally be "un-calm" when my son does something he shouldn't. I don't's very difficult to just say "What would Jesus do?" and do that. We should understand WHAT we need to do and WHY we are supposed to do it. If Christ found certain behaviors unacceptable to the point that he would -seemingly- lose his temper, there are certainly some children's actions that would warrant a similarly harsh punishment. That doesn't mean spanking, though. I do think that parents need to learn better self control.

Lisa said...

Hmmm, I don't know. Christ was dealing with adults in these situations, not children, so I'm not sure we can generalize that.

I do think it's OK for children to see some emotion, to see that parents are people with feelings. I also think it's important for kids to learn that sometimes we get mad, but we still love each other. (I don't think we need to purposely go around getting mad, though. It happens enough without us doing it intentionally. :))

Yelling, though... I don't know. I don't think I've ever had a situation where yelling at my child (in anger) helped anything. I think anger is frightening for kids, and I think it feels a lot more strong to them than it does to us.

A book I love is "The Soft-Spoken Parent" by H. Wallace Goddard. He's an LDS author. He has a very compelling chapter about the destructiveness of anger. It really opened my eyes. He talks a lot about how deceptive anger is--the very nature of anger makes us feel like we are in the right, even though the vast majority of the time, we are not.

nicole said...

Wonderful post. Thanks for the reminder!! I've thought about that concept you brought up to your father about spanking a child for hitting their sibling. It makes no sense, and could certainly confuse a child who sees you preach one thing, and then fail to act in accordance with that principle.
I've spanked my children a few times, usually for major offenses, but I've stopped. Mostly because I paid attention to how I felt, (guilty) and realized the spirit was teaching me that it was wrong. I think we simply need to pay attention to the spirit in our discipline choices. Thanks again for your insights! I admire how you are teachable, and humble enough to change your ways and admit you were mistaken, even when it's something you had once felt strongly about.

Future Mama said...

Great post! I'm finally catching up on my favorite blogs after visiting so many new ones from 5minutes for mom.

I think I mentioned before, I was spanked, my husband was spanked, I imagine if it we feel compelled to do it, we'll spank our kids. I don't think we'll do the good cop bad cop thing like my parents did, but I guess we'll just have to see. I'm open to trying whatever WORKS to be honest, and if gentle disiplin doesn't and spanking does... well, we may just have to go with spankings.

Thanks for sharing your story!

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