In which I talk about spanking

The sheer amount of visits I get to this blog simply because I once wrote a (rather ridiculous, off-the-cuff) post about spanking is sobering. (Also, the phrases that include the word “spanking” in my stats tracker can make one fairly certain of an impending apocalypse. Or at the very least, OH MY GAWD, there are some weird people out there!)

Since I get so many visits about spanking, it seemed appropriate to simply write my spanking philosophy out (and prepare for the deluge).

But there is another reason I feel the need to share this. A few weeks ago, I wrote (some think with too much honesty) about my complex relationship with Christianity and church. I always grapple with those issues, those concerns and doubts. That isn’t anything new. But the impetus for my upset in this instance was related to Lydia Schatz, a nine year old girl in the States that was beaten to death by her adoptive parents. Her parents, while clearly at fault, were following a method of teaching common in many evangelical churches by the Pearl family which advocates “training up a child” or “chastisement” and literally preaches the importance of striking one’s children to ensure immediate, unquestioning obedience (in this instance, with a 1/4″ line of plumbing). It also has roots in other teachings surrounding child training, sleep training and other methods of control to be exercised over children.

I hate that people use God as an excuse to hit or control their children.

Full Disclosure

I am an attachment parent. I practice extended exclusive breastfeeding, baby wearing, co-sleeping and vaccine vigilance (sometimes delay, sometimes eschew) among other things. Much of my motivation for this had its roots in how my mother parented us (long before the phrase attachment parenting was bandied about or Dr. Sears was a household name) but it also has much of its roots in my faith journey and my understanding of the Father/Mother heart of God.

I admit that this type of parenting is much more natural for me. (I am not a black-and-white person by any stretch and I recognise that many people that don’t practice these behaviours are wonderful parents with a strong love for their children.) But for me, parenting this way was life-giving, both for me and for my children.

Cognitive Dissonance AKA “Well, that doesn’t make any sense.”

I assumed I would spank. I hadn’t ever thought of any alternatives. I remember mocking parents for trying to “talk things out” with their kids, laughing that the child was the boss of the parent.

After all, who among us is not the perfect parent?...until we have our own children, that is.

Many of the parents around me spanked their children. I even heard many sermons preaching that spanking is right and good and godly. In fact, one pastor taught, we should spank for every single infraction.

As my eldest in particular got older, we were faced with some decisions. It happened the first time Anne hit. I smacked her hand and said sternly, “Don’t hit.”

Got that? To stop her from hitting, I hit her.

My husband and I looked at each. “Well, that makes no sense,” he said.

My motivation for gentle discipline

My motivation is to parent my children the way that I believe God parents me. To me, this mean unconditional love, drawing near to me, seeking transformation not adherence to a law. I want to be a path for them to follow, instead of an obstacle to overcome.

When I think about how God parents me, how Jesus loves me, it’s not behaviour modification focused (just getting me to Behave Right). It’s about my heart. For instance, do I want to be a nicer person by sheer force of will? Or do I want to truly be a more loving person? Why would I want less for my tinies?

Do I want quaking instant obedience? Marionettes of fear? Or do I want the hearts of my children knit to mine, obedience born out of love and understanding, a connection of joy and gentleness, self-control, kindness, wholeness and love? (I wrote here about how we practice “time-in” instead of “time-out.“)

The short list of why I don’t spank

  1. Personally, I believe it’s morally wrong to strike a child. Also, it isn’t Biblical.
  2. Hitting teaches hitting as a solution.
  3. It creates an adversarial relationship between parents and children – Us vs. Them.
  4. It can easily lead to abuse.
  5. It doesn’t work over the long term.
  6. It promotes anger or gives place to anger in both the parent and the child.
  7. It doesn’t teach inner discipline.
  8. It creates a behavioural response out of fear instead of love.

*The majority of this list was compiled from Dr. Sears’ article on Spanking and Elizabeth Panley’s article from Gentle Christian Mothers.

So what do I do if I don’t spank?

Short Answer: It depends. But I believe that respectful, positive and consistent discipline is the key.

Here are some excellent resources for techniques and ideas or methods as alternatives to spanking.

My Recommended Reading on this topic

So there you have it.

I am scared to hit “publish” because my heart isn’t one of judgement or finger-pointing. I don’t know more than you. I don’t have anything about parenting figured out. I am learning something every day. I screw up a lot.

But I want to be honest and share my heart too.

So away I go.

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  • Sarah @ This Heavenly Life

    I want to copy and paste this into my brain so I can pull it up and quote from it when I am questioned for my non-spanking disciplinary habits. Thank you SO much for writing this. My favorite part — the part I identify with the most — is your motivation for gentle discipline. I don’t want cowering followers who fear me, I want respectful little lovers who are connected to me.

    I LOVE this post, and I’m so glad you wrote it.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks, Sarah – I was rather terrified about it so I appreciate that you liked it!

  • Sara

    I knew so much about raising kids before I had one. I miss the old days….

    • Sarah Bessey

      You and me both, sister. I’ve also noticed my mother has gotten noticeably smarter these days.

  • Sarah R.

    We also have evolved into not spanking our children. And received a lot of negative feedback from people around us. We found that it made our boys more aggressive and less teachable. As I have done more reading I have found that spanking can be especially detrimental to boys. Some of the books that have been most helpful for me are “Grace Based Parenting” by Tim Kimmel and “Wild Things” by Stephen James & David Thomas.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, I love “Grace Based Parenting”, too! I haven’t heard of Wild Things so will definitely add that to the library queue. Thanks for the encouragement, Sarah.

  • jewelsntreasures

    I love it! I have spanked in the past. We waffled back and forth on it and even though I don’t like it at all, we have done it. However, we also just recently read Love & Logic parenting and we are now cutting spankings out. Thank you for sharing no matter what people may do or say!!

    • Sarah Bessey

      I haven’t read Love and Logic – sounds good!

      • jewelsntreasures

        It really took me awhile to wrap my head around a different viewpoint than how I was raised. I was raised thinking spankings were biblical and any other way was not biblical. I was also raised to raise my voice and get involved with my emotions. Thus, I tend to parent the same way I was raised, but Love & Logic has made me completely change my thought. It hasn’t been easy, but I am working on it! :)

        • Kamille

          I like Love & Logic as well and what you say #jewelsntreasures. And, I too agree with how you were raised translating into how I raise my children. I have bigger emotions and although I wish I was the parent who never reacted and stayed calm in all things–I’m not. I do think it’s also good to let my kids see my emotions though (not when they’re out of control), but I’m reminded of Jesus in the temple and how his anger was righteous in the way he reacted (my problem of course is overreacting). and I have to be okay and allow Jesus to guide & use my emotions in my parenting. I wanted to reply based on your comment of getting involved with emotions. One side isn’t better than the other, espcially when it’s me trying to be someone I’m not (and I’m not giving myself the right to sin with my emotions though). :)

          • jewelsntreasures

            Thanks for the reply Kamille! Great points! :)

  • Kristin Fickes

    Ah Sarah, thank you once again for helping me to feel not so alone.

  • Mel

    This is such a touchy subject for parents. I have friends that spank and those who don’t. If I choose to spank my child I just don’t want my non-spanking friends to look at me as unloving and abusive because I am still not convinced that spanking isn’t biblical (even after reading books that say it isn’t) My heart isn’t there yet. For those who don’t spank I just ask that you don’t judge those who feel that they are doing the right thing by spanking. Yes there are some dumb parents out there, such as the one you mentioned Sarah, who should have never used spanking as a way to discipline. I have read Pearl’s book and agree with the Philosophy, however think their methods are a bit far too fetched for me. spanking should be used as “A tool”, not, “The tool” for discipline. you also have to take what you read with a grain of salt. No book will ever be 100% correct in what it recommends to its’ readers. Do what yours heart leads you to do always be asking yourself on a daily basis, “How would God handle this?” Only a parent knows the heart of their children. I also agree with not disciplining as to train your child to obey out of fear. Getting to the heart of your child is what is most important. I feel bad for those kids who get spanked for ever single little thing they do wrong! But then I feel bad for the kid who gets away with murder because a parent won’t even give a time out and let their kid bully other children and then scream everytime they don’t get what they want. Those kids are unhappy and need someone to control them and need to be shown some boundries.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thanks for your perspective, Mel. I agree that kids always need boundaries. It’s just that I don’t think that spanking is the best way to create them. To be honest, I”m a pretty strict parent (well, comparatively, I suppose). I don’t think that the correlation between being well-behaved or not hinges on spanking as much as it does on discipline (which is an act of love). I agree with many of your points here though. You’re right on – getting to the heart of the child is what’s important!

      • Mel

        Oh I agree Sarah. I wasn’t trying to say that kids without boundries need to be spanked. They need something though and those of my friends who don’t spank or do time outs don’t really have any consistent form of discipline and their children are terrors and bullies at the young age of 2-3 years old! What do you do to a 2.5 year old that pushes other kids down over and over again? It frustrates me because I have a son and if my son was a bully like that and kept doing it over and over again after I asked him not to 3 times his defiant behavior deserves SOMETHING! I know that you would handle it correctly but so far the parents I know that don’t spank haven’t set good examples for me to believe that it is the better route to take. When my son is old enough for me to discipline him I will probably be writing you for direction on the matter.

        • Sarah Bessey

          The thought of someone looking to me for direction is rather funny – my kids are very small and half the time, I haven’t a clue what I’m doing! But I’m glad we’re on the same page. I agree with you – those kids definitely need some discipline. (Personally, it’s hard to give techniques when you don’t know the situation. But anytime Anne or Joseph do that, I correct them once. Do it again, they’re removed. Period. Even if it means leaving the playground just after we got there! They know I mean business – most of the time. 😉 Joseph is in the “hitting because I love you” stage right now which means I’m doing a lot of removing. But it’s getting better already. He’s learning. )

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with such grace and candor.

    This part of your post was particularly eloquent: “Do I want quaking instant obedience? Marionettes of fear? Or do I want the hearts of my children knit to mine, obedience born out of love and understanding, a connection of joy and gentleness, self-control, kindness, wholeness and love?” I think I may have to use that quote some day. It is beautiful and sums up my perspective quite effectively.

    I also appreciated your bolded line about when people use God “as an excuse to control or hit children.” That drives me crazy as well and saddens my heart.

  • Amber

    Sometimes I miss the days when I was a perfect parent. It was kind of a lovely place to be, in its way. So sure about everything.

    I don’t spank, either. It just doesn’t feel right to me. And, honestly, based on my own parenting experience I don’t believe it would be all that effective, either. So we use gentle discipline, and I feel good about it.

  • Lynne

    I just found this, I wrote about gentle christian parenting and never heard of it until June this year. Weird!!!!! How can the church be teaching us to spank and discipline with the rod when our God is a GOD of LOVE. (the rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to his own brings shame to his father) what does this mean????? the churches have been teaching us this and not what it means to discipline in love. Thanks for helping others find you. I found you from she helped me find you since I was seeking answers. I praise a God of Love.

  • Amy Ellison

    Hi there. Just wanted to let you know I appreciate this post and your honesty. I was raised in a spanking household. When I was a young mother I was given a copy of the Pearl’s book… and well… all my friends were doing it – and it seemed so right. Afterall, their kids were SO well behaved. I didn’t follow it religously, but we definitely spanked my son WAY more than the pre-baby me had ever imagined spanking to be necessary. To say that I regret it is the understatement of the century. As he grew, and I entered my twenties, I realized it wasn’t the way God would parent… My daughter, born later, was spanked far less – and only for very serious or potentially life-threatening actions of hers. But still she was spanked… and again, I regret it.

    Books like Love and Logic, and Getting to Calm, (on parenting tweens and teens) were like fresh air after the toxic book by the Pearl’s….

    Fast forward. I have a 10.5 and 7.5 year old, and if I were to have a baby today I would choose attachment parenting in a heartbeat. While I can never take back the years with my babies, I am determined to build trust and love in our future.

  • Jenn

    Wow Sarah! What don’t you cover on here? This was written so well…..thank you again for so bravely and eloquently saying the things I’m sure many people agree with but are scared to put out their for fear of being judged and sounding judgement. I have a lot of friends who spank, and I don’t….it is definitely the “don’t ask don’t tell” subject in most mommy circles.

  • Mgravesfibers

    This is all so new to me, but resonating so deeply. Thank you! I’m mama to six and feel blessed that God is growing me in this area.

  • Jenna Quentin

    I am the second born of a large family and thought I had child-training all worked out. I was spanked numerous times, in love and anger and everything in between. Now I have a 2 year-old and it’s just not working. He is the brat that every mother fears to take to the grocery stores. He hits and scratches and refuses to do what I ask most of the time. As long as he has what he wants, he’s a sweet little boy who helps with laundry and gives abundant kisses. I keep wondering, should I spank as soon as he does something wrong, or give him a chance to make the right choice? Then should I stop spanking him all together since it seems to not be doing any good? We’re just so frustrated. Thanks for putting up these links – I will look them up…

  • Leanne Penny

    Thank you for this, I had one of those days with my kids where I am digging for resources while I still have brain space.  I smacked my two year olds hand, I yelled, I lost my cool, I wanted to hide from them.  I feel like I have no foothold on my mothering tonight.  I am going to check out these resources and I downloaded books.  I want to do life with my 2 year old and not against her, a day of constant defiance, marker eating, paint throwing and endless “No’s” is not something I want to repeat tomorrow.  Anyhow, thanks for writing and nudging my to a point where I need to claim my own motherhood.

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  • CarolG

    I so wish I had read this when my much older tinies were tiny. This is exactly what I think, but I couldn’t phrase it that way – discipline has caused a lot of tension in my marriage. If I could have spoken it like this, perhaps…

  • Brenda P

    “Got that? To stop her from hitting, I hit her.

    My husband and I looked at each. ‘Well, that makes no sense,’ he said.”

    I’m not a parent, but I’m not a fan of spanking. And I’ve never heard it stated so simply: that it doesn’t make sense. So now I’m feeling all “Ah-ha!” Thank you so much for sharing your heart.

    • Brenda P

      Oh, I just remembered! There’s an episode of Roseanne where DJ (who is not old enough to drive) takes the family car and tries to drive away. Roseanne, in her fear and anger, hits/spanks DJ. After she’s calmed down, they sit in the kitchen talking and eating cookies. She explains that she’s really sorry, because she used to get hit when she was a kid, and she doesn’t want her kids to feel that way. That was always a really powerful portrayal of how things carry from generation to generation and how parents can pass on things to their kids that they never wanted to.

  • Michele Minehart

    Thank you for this! While at a fair this weekend I was judged for NOT spanking my over-tired, sick and frustrated child after she acted out. Tell me how 2 angry people will ever come to a solution! I admit that we have resorted to spanking( “never” is hard for me, as is “always”) but we try to be very careful about the way it is distributed because it becomes far too easy to return to it if not carefully monitored. As hitting has become a bigger issue among the 4 little ones, we have put a moratorium on it for many of the reasons you stated above.

  • Heather

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! So wonderful short, sweet & to the point. I’ve been praying for this to be discussed more in the open, yet it seems no one wants to touch it. Thank you! Gentle Firmness is on my to read list, as I’ve read Grace Based Parenting, L.R. Knost, Alfie Kohn and many more.

  • Gary Ware

    Well stated angles of view. My wife and I were disciplined with “switches” from a tree or bush. We were never punished without jeans or slacks on. School admins used wooden paddles on students. That form was Normal and Appropriate and Lawful during the 1950s – 1970s. Beating was never tolerated, officially, even tho I felt like a being spanked by a person 60 lbs heavier than I, using a boat oar (the way it felt), was a beating.

    Our culture is inherently violent and, in my opinion, the only difference between any form of discipline and PHYSICAL ABUSE is CONTROL. Lose control, and one person WILL damage another (wife, husband, children, co-worker).

    I don’t always agree with you, Sarah, because all too often you provoke me to question myself… Whoops….loosing control…. Chuckle.

    Stay honest and vulnerable, Sarah, it is you at your best, inspiring us to be better. God bless.

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  • Monna Clare Payne

    Love you for writing this, Sarah. I remember when you first published it and I was really struggling with feeling judged for not spanking my kids. I have since gained mounds of courage to discuss this when necessary and stick to my guns as I learn how to work out the hard parenting moments without hitting.

    The times we’re afraid to hit “publish” are often the times we most need to do so.

  • Jenny Foster

    This is great stuff. I have also talked with my husband about how it makes no sense to spank a child if the child hits. I like how you recognized that simple common sense logic too. I was raised in a household where spankings were normal. Yet, as a parent, I have worked through never feeling at peace with this form of discipline and having to work that inclination to do so out of me; when you are raised a certain way, sometimes it takes a while to see things differently. What I have discovered though is that it takes MORE work and time and effort to discipline with a heart that wants to truly mend the situation than it does to simply spank i.e. taking time to talk, spending quality time with the child, mending their heart with our time our words our love…it takes more time to deal with their emotions than it does to simply spank them. From my personal experience, spankings felt like the quick easy way to solve the issue at hand and I started recognize that, it is also the dominating parent over child stance that I just don’t like. I also recognized that nothing about spanking made sense to me, it was only something that seemed to create shame, or anger during the small phase as a young parent when I thought the right way to react was to spank; anger and shame are two things that I don’t want to have a part in creating within my children. I want to create safety and love and peace and wisdom within thier little souls and I want them to know me as a giver of those good qualities towards them. I think that there are many many of us parents that could say that we grew up in families that spanked, and I can vouch that as a child I felt a lot of hateful feelings during those moments towards the person spanking me…why would I ever want to implement those same feelings into my own precious humans. Granted I have a great relationship with my parents today, but I cannot credit that it was the spankings that made me the solid person that I am today. I would account the healthy parts of who I am due to the love and examples that I received throughout life, and absolutely not due to spankings. Anyways, loved this wisdom and I actually miss the “In Which” intros that you used to have… it’s funny, when I first started reading your work after a while I was like what is with this in which stuff… but then after you took it away, I realized it grew on me and I miss it 😉 <3

  • blestpickle

    I don’t think I’ve ever commented here before, but as an older woman with 2 adult children, who chose not to spank (and raised 2 fine adults) I want to tell you how much I support yo in this. When I was a young mum (here in Australia) everyone around me was reading The Strong Willed Child. I started reading it and couldn’t stomach it. There was no internet back then, so I just had to follow my own heart, and “how God parents me” was my principal yardstick

  • Teah Otey

    This is a great article Sarah! I don’t think I’ll ever eliminate spanking. I pattern my discipline after my mom as well. She always took the time to explain what was right and what was wrong. We understood what was expected of us before we were disciplined for disobeying. Many times this meant no spankings but there were times where our unruly behavior had to be nipped in the bud by a spanking. I don’t feel any more angry than the next person and my kids seem knowledgeable and loving in spite of their spankings as well. I don’t think that spanking your child is the only answer to proper discipline but, in my household, adding it into our discipline methods is working.

    Thank you for sharing your methods without judgment. As moms, we don’t have to agree or do the same things but it’s important than we share with each other in love :-)

  • Laura

    Well done for your courage in writing this, and thank you, thank you, thank you, for being a Christian and saying this isn’t okay. Thank you. It’s refreshing.

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