I was spanked as a kid.
Not often. Not hard. It certainly didn’t do any lasting damage. I never felt any mistrust in my parents because of it. I never felt any loss of their love. I certainly never felt abused or psychologically damaged, and I think I can speak for my three siblings that none of them did, either. Spankings were done sparingly in our house, usually with the palm of the hand or a wooden spoon. Like it’s supposed to, it always hurt our feelings more than our bottoms. We were only spanked for grave offenses for which we had been warned.
Okay, so if spanking didn’t hurt or damage me, why do I choose not to spank Ruthie?
The decision not to spank our daughter was a pretty easy one for us to make. Chalupa and I barely discussed it, because when we did, we found ourselves in perfect agreement. There are several reasons we made this decision, though. Some reasons are logical, some emotional, and some visceral.
These are the reasons we choose not to spank our daughter:
1) Ruthie’s personality. Ruthie is just not a kid who should be spanked. So much about parenting is recognizing what kind of parent your child needs and then becoming that parent. Our daughter is an extremely sensitive child, and spanking her would absolutely devastate her. She’s generally compliant and only really gets into trouble when she flips a switch and suddenly has a terrible attitude, but I know that if I were to spank her during one of her bad attitude moments, it would only exacerbate things. I can imagine the look on her poor little face, and the way her crying would intensify. There is no way that spanking her while she’s in a bad place would lead to anything other than an even worse meltdown. Plus, we would never stop hearing about it. She would bring it up constantly for the weeks in the same way that we already hear stories about the time a certain friend at daycare yelled at her or the time she got a really emotional time out. Spanking is supposed to be an immediate, in-the-moment punishment, not one that gets dwelt on for weeks. I haven’t parented any child but Ruthie, so I can’t say for sure how every child would react to spanking, but I know that it wouldn’t be good for her.
2) Research. The research about spanking backs up what seems pretty obvious: spanking may correct short-term behavioral problems, but in the long-term, toddlers who are spanked tend to be more aggressive than children who aren’t. Meta-analysis reveals that some of the risks of physical punishment include: “behavioural problems in adult life, including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, and general psychological maladjustment.” I know there are some objections to these studies–perhaps spanking is too broadly defined, and really they are studying children who have been victims of abuse. Perhaps most kids are spanked end up like me–just fine. But this evidence is damning enough for me to decide that spanking does not seem wise.
3) Occasional spanking so often turns into frequent spanking. While I an logically understand certain arguments in support of the occasional spanking, I see so often that parents who spank occasionally eventually spank frequently. It’s one of those things that, once you do it once, it becomes easier and easier to do it again.Why? Because all things are easier to do once you’ve done them once. Michael and Debi Pearl, two of America’s biggest spanking proponents, even argue that you should keep instruments for spanking on hand at all times, always within arm’s reach, so that spanking can be done immediately. I can’t help but think about the fact that if spanking is done that frequently and that quickly, then it is also being done thoughtlessly–without thought or care. Even if this doesn’t turn into abuse, I do think it turns into futility.
There are two standard approaches to spanking. The first is undeniably abusive: people who hit their kids in anger to punish them and hurt them for their perceived or actual wrongdoing. These are the parents that the occasional spanker thinks are terrible. The second approach is to use spanking as a corrective, attention-getting measure. The problem with this is that it is dependent upon shock value, and that dissipates with use. A kid who responds to spankings at first is bound to become unaffected by them over time, thus needing harder spankings or more frequent spankings. By then, the parent is trained to spank instead of respond with other means. I don’t want to do that. There have been several times when I have felt the urge to spank Ruthie for an offense, and the only thing that has really stopped me in my frustration is the fact that I know that I. Don’t. Spank. Every single time, I have found some other means of disciplining her that has been more successful than spanking her, and she does not know the feeling of being hit–however gently–by an adult.
4) I’m not allowed to hit another adult; why should I be allowed to hit a child? Seriously. If I hit another adult, it’s assault. Even if I’m trying to teach them a lesson or train them to listen to me. If I hit an adult, I am breaking the law. Why is it okay for me to hit my child? My child with this little body. My child is this tiny thing who depends on my body for everything. As an infant, she depended on my body to feed hers. She walked late–at about twenty months–so she needed my body to carry hers everywhere. Even now, she needs me to lift her into her car seat and set her on the toilet and get her coat onto her before we leave. I make her food, pour her milk, rub her back while she falls asleep. I pull her back from the curb when she runs toward the road. I hold her hand as we walk through parking lots. I let her snuggle in my neck before I drop her off with her daycare teachers. I can’t imagine taking the hands I use to love and care for her and using them to hit her.
5) The scriptural support for corporal punishment is disturbing. Because I am active in the local church scene, I do hear people occasionally touting the "Biblical argument" for spanking. The Pearls, whom I mentioned earlier, and their guidebook To Train Up a Child, have been linked to the deaths of multiple children. They deny that the parents whose children were spanked to death or who froze to death from the elements were really following their teachings, but the narrative is almost undeniable: these adults believed the Pearls’ teachings and followed those teachings to a logical extreme, which meant “training” their children to the point of death. All of this is built upon the idea that the Bible requires the physical punishment of children. Not only are there different interpretations of the idea of “the rod” (as in, “spare the rod, spoil the child”) as it appears in the Bible, but I’d like to see any pro-corporal punishment advocate find an example in Jesus Christ that communicates that hitting a child is a way to get them to obey. John Piper may theorize that Jesus would have spanked his children if he had them, but I’m not comfortable following the teaching of a man who says that “children have fat little bottoms so they can be whppped.” FlowerMama does a nice takedown of Piper’s argument on this one, and you can read more about the problems with the Pearls’ teachings at Why Not Train a Child. I’m not willing to join these people on this idea. I’m just not.
The issue of discipline is an emotional one for a lot of people, and I understand that. It’s not my goal here to make anyone who has chosen to spank their children feel bad or attacked. I know lots of good, loving parents who have made that choice, and I don’t want to imply that they are automatically abusive even though I disagree with the decision they’ve made. However, I wanted to share the reasons why Chalupa and I have decided that spanking is not appropriate for our family, and I hope I’ve explained it well.
This article originally appeared on my blog, Liz Boltz Ranfeld, where I write about living and parenting as a liberal feminist Christian.