Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My take on "Spare the rod, spoil the child"

I have absolutely NO idea why I have decided to tackle this right now. Truthfully, I have wanted to tackle it for a while, but have always felt kind of chicken about it, since its such a hot button topic. Still, I think I have a viewpoint to offer that many don't consider, and I think there is a lot to be gleaned from it. I found the info other places, it didn't just come out of my head, so I am not the only, or the first, person with this take on it. Still, I fear others' opinions a little too much, especially opposing or attacking ones, and though I'm a loud-mouth (loud finger??), I really don't like stepping on toes or offending people. So therein lies all my excuses. But I feel like, if I have something in my head that I've wanted to get out for well over a year or two, and its not fading into obscurity somewhere deep within the backside of my grey matter, then maybe I need to address it so I can move on to other blog topics. So here goes...

First, I need to point out that #1) I am a Bible-believing Christian who tries to follow the instruction of the Word of God, and #2) I do occasionally spank my children. I DO NOT, however, abuse my children, nor do I spank that often. Let's just make all that clear right off the bat.

So here is what bugs me. Being involved in the Christian church for the entire span of my parenthood, and then some, I have come to observe others' actions and words regarding the "spare the rod, spoil the child" verse. And I have come to realize that, at least according to me, a number of Christians view it as a reason to make spanking the end-all-be-all of discipline. The kid sneaks a cookie = a spanking. The kid mouths off = spanking. The kid whines too much = spanking. The kid breaks something valuable = spanking. And so on and so forth.

A few years ago, back when Myspace was all the rage, a friend posted that she was having a hard time disciplining her 2 year old son, and that nothing was working. Being a more veteran mom (I think mine were 6, 4, and in utero at the time), I offered up that for me time-outs or being sent to their rooms worked better with my kids, and that spanking didn't seem to work all that well. A few other Christian moms jumped in with the "spare the rod" verse, to tell me, basically, that my method was wrong. And even the friend who posted kind of poo-pooed me, telling me that I "didn't understand how challenging and strong-willed" her child was and that spanking was the only thing that would work. I hated having my advice/method discredited, but I let it go, figuring I'd do my thing, and they could do theirs.

A few months later, I posted something about having a rough day with my son. One person wrote (and this is probably pretty close to verbatim), "Well, you know, a good spanking always works." After I picked my jaw up off the floor and tried to rid my mind of the disgust I felt toward that statement, I told her I had tried everything, even spanking, and was getting nowhere. Then right behind her came a really condescending remark from another lady, essentially telling me that I needed to be tougher, that I was letting him off too easy, and that I needed to give him "Godly correction," as opposed to...whatever I was doing that she apparently thought wasn't effective. She even went so far as to give me links to Christian parenting books! (And as a side note, all these women had kids younger than my son!)

I know it shouldn't have rattled me, but nobody likes having their parenting OR their Christianity questioned, much less both, and least of all ME, so I began really examining and questioning my own take on parenting, Christianity, and how it related to the whole "spare the rod" verse. I read many a Christian article that said that as a godly parent you HAD to spank, and many a non-Christian article that said spanking was never the answer. So...where did that leave me, as a Christian who didn't really want to spank, especially since it rarely worked for me? Finally, I stumbled onto a series of articles, one of which I found particularly insightful. They are all good articles with at least some good info though, and if you have the time, I suggest you read them all. I'm not going to copy/paste the entire article, but I will highlight the things I feel most important/insightful to mention.

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." (Proverbs 13:24)

To understand this quote one must first understand that the term "rod" is loosely translated. A more accurate word would be "staff" in relation to a shepherd's staff used in sheep herding. In Biblical times, a shepherd's job was of utmost importance. A family's flock of sheep was their means of money, food, and clothing. If the man in charge let even just one sheep get away, he had basically failed in his duties.

In relation to discipline, the shepherd's staff is mentioned in the Bible. How would a shepherd use his staff when herding sheep? Would he strike the sheep to make them move? Would he use it to hurt them if they went astray? No. The shepherd would use it to tap the sheep's sides to guide them in the right direction. If a sheep needed help to get up from a fall, the shepherd would use the crook of his staff to help the animal to stand. The shepherd cared for his flock, and would not cause physical harm to it.

Another of the articles says this:

In no way, shape or form does Solomon profess abusing a child, but instead, shows that failure of the parent to discipline the child and teach the child to follow the law will be the downfall of the child and parent alike. Solomon does not profess that the use of the "rod" is enough. He states that the reproof is necessary to teach the child. Finally, Solomon assures parents that if they will raise their children to be lawful members of the society, they will bring great joy.

....Regardless of religious pursuit, parents are the ones with the responsibility to discipline their children. Parents are also warned that if they fail their children, those children will bring shame upon them. This fact is bared in today's society, as it was in the past. Parents are given options on how to discipline their children. Ultimately, the parents must make the choice.

I looked up in my Strong's Concordance (if you're a Christian and don't have one, GET ONE!) the word "rod" taken straight from the verse, and it defined a rod as:
- a branch
- scion
- stick (for punishing, writing, fighting, ruling, walking, etc.)
- correction
- dart
- rod
- scepter
- staff
- tribe

I delved a little deeper and looked at other passages with the same root word (in the original Hebrew, its the word shebet) so that I could get a good feel for the context and what exactly it meant on a broader scale. I'm far from a Bible scholar, but the gist of what I gleaned was that it is used for striking in many cases, but not all. The rod (or scepter, branch, staff, etc.) is used for many different purposes.

I think too many Christians become too one-sided in their view of the rod, including me "once upon a time." We see it as a striking object, and that is it. But as illustrated by the Hebrew it came from itself, a rod can be many more things than just a giant, hard object for striking things with, and can serve many different purposes, not all of which include pain.

I love the way the "rod" is referred to as, among other things, correction. And under stick, some of the definitions are for ruling, walking, etc. I don't want to look at it purely from a one-sided viewpoint, because I want to be objective, but clearly the rod is not ONLY used for striking, and not in ALL instances. Even Biblically-based, I think its easy to see that the rod's primary purpose is to correct, not to inflict pain. The pain is inflicted as a method to give correction, but correction can also be given without striking with the rod. I think this is something far too many Christian parents miss. There is more to disciplining your child - even in a godly manner - than just striking. The rod is used for correcting, for guiding, and for use along one's walk. I think that brings the bigger picture into fuller focus.

We are called to use our "rods," but we need to use them to reach the longer-term goal. We need to use it carefully and properly. We need to use our rods to correct our children, to guide them, and for them to use along their walk. We cannot limit ourselves to one function of the rod, or we limit our childrens' view of the rod. We can strike with our rods, but if there is no correcting, guiding, and teaching them to use it for walking their walk, then we've missed the point. We need to embrace ALL the rod's functions, and not base our parenting solely around striking.

Personally (uh oh, here I go), I think the verse is way too often misused by Christian parents to justify being overly harsh and heavy-handed with their children. We are supposed to use our rods because we LOVE our children; we are to use them WISELY and CAREFULLY to instruct and correct them. We are to use them to guide our children. Sometimes that correction may come in the form of a spanking, but it can't start and end there. We can't pick up our rods ONLY to hurt or "break" our children. We can't use it ONLY to inflict pain and fear. We can use it to rule over our children (as in a scepter), but not to be fearsome tyrants over them. They need to know that the rod isn't to be feared. Our presence and authority aren't to be feared. But the rod, our authority, is to be respected and revered. The purpose of the rod is to guide, correct, and help our children learn how to navigate their paths, not to break them down by any means necessary.

So let's stop using this verse as an excuse and justification for being too harsh with our children. Let's stop misrepresenting the Word of God to our children, and actually embrace the WHOLE thing, the WHOLE definition, and the WHOLE purpose. Which is bigger, greater, and more long-term than a whack on the butt for every little transgression. Let's use the rod to instruct and teach them, not to harm and humiliate them. Let's teach them to respect the rod, but never to fear it.

And one last thing... NEVER, EVER spank when you're angry!! We are instructed to correct our children out of LOVE, not out of anger. If you need to walk away and cool down, then do it, and come back when you can use your rod lovingly, rather than mercilessly. That only leads to parental regret, guilt, and shame. And being a parent is already hard enough without heaping all that on top, right?!


Laura said...

I appreciate all the research you did in this article to back up your opinions. I agree with you. I wish that I had been better in following Godly discipline with my kids back when I was raising them. I have to admit that I was disciplining out of anger too much of the time. I think I'd be a better parent today with maturity and experience on my side, but we only get one chance. Fortunately, my kids turned out OK inspite of me! Thanks for sharing this important topic, Megan.

Selina said...

Stumbled upon your blog from SDL, and I want to thank you for writing this! You obviously put a lot of time and research into this, and I couldn't agree with you more on your points.
Like you, I believe that I can effectively discipline my children without the need to physical punishment. Sometimes, that may be what it takes. But that's not the automatic go-to choice - far from it.
Thanks for taking the time the put this out there for others to see!