Saturday, July 16, 2011

What Do They Really Think?

Children receive a very clear message when they receive corporal punishment, but it is usually not the message their parents intend.  I asked several women what they remembered about being spanked; here are their thoughts and stories:

"I was three or four years old. After putting me to bed, my parents were sitting in the livingroom where they were untangling and testing several strings of Christmas lights to put up on the house. Of course, I found this fascinating; the sparkly lights seemed to call to me. I found excuse after excuse to come out of my bedroom. Eventually, my parents spanked me and sent me to bed with the threat that I'd get more spankings if I came out. I was crushed. I felt misunderstood. I was too excited to sleep but they didn't care. I stayed in my room but the resentment stewed. The next day I took it all out on anyone and everyone who couldn't strike back--my baby sister, the dog, the children at preschool. I became a bully." 

"After the spanking was over, my parents would hold me.  I remember being terrified, humiliated, and scared to do anything that would displease them in the least, lest the nightmare repeat itself.  I would sit in their laps and pretend I was sorry.  I learned that tears of "repentance" really made them happy.  I became a fake repenter.  I felt bad about what I had done, don't get me wrong.  I even wished I had not done it. But not because it was wrong.. But because with the punishment came the terror of shame.  The sick feeling of worthlessness, and a total and complete failure as a person."

"I remember feelin scared. Ashamed. Unloved. I remember the feeling of anger and resentment towards my parents. My mom would stop on the side of the road and "cut a switch(spelling wrong I'm sure)" and carry it with us in the van if we were acting up. And I don't remember what the "acting up" consisted of either. But I rememeber the anger from her. And the hate in her voice. I felt unsecure and worried about my next move."

"I always vowed to "get them back", I don't remember if I actually did anything, but I was very angry. The last time I was spanked, I screamed so loud that the neighbors came over to see if everything was OK. I had warned them that I would do it. They didn't spank me that hard, but it made me very angry. I don't think my younger brother or sister were spanked much after that either. I must just add that I have wonderful parents who love me very much, they just didn't know what else to do. (I was very difficult)."

"I was never a violent child. At all. But when my mom spanked me I wanted to get a knife and stab her in the chest. I wanted to bite her in the face and spit a chunk of her flesh back at her. I remember feeling somewhat good inside when other kids would misbehave and get spanked. I wasn't the only one. I felt like I wanted to dominate younger children at times due to it. I had been subdued and dominated, I needed to unleash that on someone else or it would consume me from the inside. When I got older and babysat other children I was terrified when I realized the anger that had been building up inside of me all those years. I was able to control myself and I never hit a child in my care. As an adult, I had to work through all those things and release them in a way that would not hurt others."

"I once told my sister, as we were in our room waiting for our parents to come up with the wooden spoon, not to cry when they spanked her. "If you cry, it means they win," my young self told her. That is the dynamic spanking creates: Us versus Them. Don't let them win. Don't let them break you." 

Here is a telling testimony from as former spanker, Claire. I have included a link to an insightful blog she and a few other women write in, where you will find more stories and thoughts on gentle discipline:

"I smacked my son's hand a number of times before I moved to GD. I would smack him, he would cry, I would cuddle him. When he had calmed down enough he would say, 'Don't hit me Mummy'. Not Sorry I drew on the wall or I won't scratch my sister again. There was no connection in his mind between the offense and the punishment, he just knew he had been violated by someone he should be able to trust 
Also, at other times, he would do the same thing again, experimenting to see if he got the same reaction - it wasn't much of a deterrent even though it was painful. Part of me knew that was normal 2yo behaviour - in fact that sort of determined experimentation is GOOD - and I shouldn't have to hurt my child over and over again for being 2..." 

If you use punishment to train your child, I encourage you to take a long, hard look at your method. Ask your child how spankings make him/her feel, promising that you will not punish him or her for being honest. Look into your child's eyes: Is he afraid of you? Is she angry/hurt/wounded? Ask yourself: am I treating my child the way God treats me?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Lock 'Em Up, Throw Away the Key

I am excited to address in detail some of the topics I touched on in my last post. I think that this true story may give some mommies insight into the impact of spankings on some children. All children are different; some are more sensitive than others. In future posts, I plan to share some testimonies from people with different personalities as to how spankings impacted them inwardly.

Once there was a little girl who very consistently received spankings, ones that even she would've said she deserved. A spanking was the penalty for any infraction, minor or major. The little girl's parents felt that the spankings were highly effective. After all, their little girl was a model of perfect behavior. She was cheerful most of the time, she worked hard to help her mom around the house, she was quick to obey any directive her parents gave her.

The little girl's parents were careful not to spank in anger. They followed a procedure of talking to the little girl before and after each spanking. The little girl always seemed so repentant before the spanking. After the spanking, she appeared to be relieved of a heavy burden of guilt that she had been carrying.

The little girl grew up to be an excellent teenager. She was easy to get along with and quick to please. She was upheld in her church as a model of good behavior for younger girls.

Though on the outside this little girl was a model daughter, on the inside things were different. You see, spankings taught this girl a very important lesson: as long as you conceal all sin and human weakness, including negative emotions, you will be acceptable and valued, and you will escape punishment. 

The little girl's parents understood that all humans are born sinners who are unable to make themselves better. They thought that by spanking the little girl they were teaching her that sin has consequences. They thought that by teaching her to immediately and cheerfully obey all parental directives, they were teaching her to trust and obey God. What they didn't know was that many times, the little girl did wrong because she was impulsive. They didn't know that she longed for the opportunity, time and again, to simply admit her wrong and be forgiven. They thought it was funny when once, she attempted to spank herself hard, in order to avoid punishment. They didn't know that many times, as this little girl was spanked, she felt humiliated and angry. She often wanted to turn around and scream at her parents. At other times, she would spend the entire spanking hating herself, wondering how God could ever love someone as wretched and horrible as she, wondering what she could ever do to make God love her; to get on His good side; after all, look what her parents required of her when she sinned! Yes, she knew about Jesus, but it seemed that she was too horrible for His death to be sufficient for her. The little girl was relieved after the spanking was over, not because the burden of guilt had been lifted, but because she knew that, an hour or so after the spanking, her parents would once again smile at her and accept her; she knew that they would then require no "payment" from her for her sins. Each time she was spanked, she would vow to behave better.

As the little girl grew older, she put her trust in Jesus, believing that He had paid her sin debt. Each time she was spanked or punished, she went running to God with her guilt-feelings. She began to see Him as a refuge, as One who forgave her right away, no payment required. She ran to Him when she felt unacceptable. But she hid her true self from her parents. When she was angry or hurt during a spanking, or when she was angry at watching one of her siblings get spanked, she ran to God with her anger, mentally declaring, "At least YOU love me!" or "Please avenge my sibling!" So, in a sense, spankings drove this girl to God, but in a different way than her parents intended. As an adult, this little girl struggled to reconcile a God who on the one hand was so good, a refuge for the hurting, with a God who required that childish misbehavior be punished although Jesus had already paid these children's sin debt. Sometimes, she did not even want to read her Bible, for fear that God would suddenly turn on her, declaring that she was unacceptable, declaring that she must be punished.

As a teen, this girl hated to be called "sweet" or a "role-model." She knew that in her heart she was imperfect, weak, sinful. She was terrified that those who put her on a pedestal would one day be disappointed in her when they found out she wasn't her they thought she was. She hated herself. She often wanted to rebel to escape from the pressure. 

When the girl entered college, she did not know who she was. She was terrified of any authority figure, whether pastor or professor. She did as she was told without questioning. As she progressed through college, she began to realize that she was an equal to others, that she could indeed question those in "authority" over her. This led her to question many things that she had been taught as a child. She began to feel free as she realized that she was a person, capable of thinking for herself, of standing up for herself.

You see, spankings taught this little girl to hide her true self, to exhibit perfection. They taught her that to be acceptable, she must never be negative, never be disobedient, never question authority. She knew that she must never tell her parents how spankings made her feel. She knew that after a spanking, she should act repentant and remorseful, but she also knew that she shouldn't cry for too long or sound angry when she cried after a spanking, or that would be reason for another round. 

Essentially, the little girl learned to lock up the parts of her that were wrong and messed up. She learned how to act in order to avoid punishment, keeping her inner prison cell locked, the key forever lost. Wouldn't anyone, adult or child, respond this way to punishment? The very purpose of punishment is to create feelings of fear in a child so as to keep them behaving in a certain way. My husband recently told me that dogs who are hit with a stick as a training method often either become excessively compliant, timid, and fearful, or suddenly turn on their owners in anger. 

Is this really what God requires of Christian parents? Is this how He treats His children? In Jesus, He provided a cleanser, a healer, a just escape from the payment we all owe for our sins. He did not want us to have to bear a load of sin and guilt. He did not exact penance from us.

I cuddle my daughter and thank God that I do not have to load her with feelings of guilt and fear as I nurture her into adulthood. I smile when my son cheerfully exclaims, "Thankyou, mommy," or "Okay, mommy," because I know that his words express genuine feelings: these are things I have never forced him to say to me. I am thankful that my son can tell me, "I am sad," or "I don't like it when you say/do that, mommy," or even scream in frustration without fear of reprisal. I welcome any chance to tell my son, "Aydon, Jesus died to pay for your sins. He loves you so very much!" I am convicted that I need to pray without ceasing because I know that it will be God's spirit who woos and convicts my son, not me. 

I read this verse with tears in my eyes, thankful for a compassionate God:

Psalm 103:10-14 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. for as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust

Monday, July 4, 2011

Hodge Podge

My thoughts have been scattered lately. Here are some of them:

Yesterday, I was frustrated by this thought: Many Christian children end up with bruised bottoms after they receive spankings. Sometimes, the bruises turn purple. I remember the use of a switch being touted because it left no marks while inflicting a great deal of pain. The same Christian parents who feel that they are following God's commands when their children are spanked hard enough to leave bruises would be upset if they saw a child in the grocery store or at the park with bruises on their arms, legs or face that appear to have been inflicted by a parent. These parents would call those bruises signs of abuse. What if these bruises were on a child's back? Again, these parents would probably worry that the child with back bruises was abused. Yet, the literal command in the Proverbs is to beat a child (actually, a teenage boy) on his back. Nowhere in the Bible is the bottom advocated as a place to strike a child. (Neither is striking a small child biblical, but that is beside the point here.) I wish Christian parents would wake up and realize that there is no difference between a bruise or a welt on a child's bottom as opposed to a bruise or a welt on a child's arms or legs. It makes no difference whether the parent was spanking in anger or as seemingly justifiable punishment, the results to the child are the same. In fact, children who are spanked because they have done wrong wallow in shame and feelings of self-loathing and self-hatred long after the spanking ends. God is not the author of this treatment!!! Please, parents, study your Bibles! God does not command us to spank our little children.

At the same time as I have been pondering spanking, I have also been pondering permissive parenting. I read a very wise warning recently. In summary: if we let our children act in some manner that we don't approve of, and ignore their behavior, hoping it will just go away, we actually make our children insecure! This is because children are excellent at reading our nonverbal cues (tension, frustration), and they see that while we don't like what they are doing, we are allowing them to continue in that behavior. They leap to the conclusion that we don't like them. This really made sense to me--I have seen many children raised in permissive homes who are incredibly insecure, wondering constantly if their parents love them.

I heard a sermon recently that I disagreed with . The preacher taught that the reason we as Christians should avoid sin is because of the gruesome consequences of said sin. This preacher overlooked the teaching in Romans 6 that we do not sin because we have been crucified with Christ and have a new nature, because we are dead to sin (though we can still choose to live in it). When we as Christians encounter sin, we are to realize that we are dead to sin; sin has no power over us. We are to stand in our co-crucifixion with Christ, and the Holy Spirit will empower our new nature to do right. I was frustrated with the sermon mostly because consequences really only make us avoid outward sin. What about the hidden sins of the heart? Sins that we can cover up and pretend to not have? Sins like murderous anger, greed, jealousy? God's solution to sin was to make us new, to give us the Holy Spirit, to remove sin's power over us. God deals with the heart. I see how Christian parenting has been influenced by wrong thinking about why we don't sin. Christian parents are taught that if they can give their children enough fear of the consequences of sin, then their children won't sin. Children who are raised this way often become prideful because they do not engage in outward sinful behaviors. They often do not see their need for God to work in their hearts, to deal with their inward sins. We need to teach our children right and wrong. When they cannot control themselves, we need to walk beside them and help them to do right, to instill in them that there is a right and a wrong. We need to let God's spirit work on their hearts as they grow older, convicting them of inner as well as outer sin, leading them to a genuine understanding of their need for a Savior!