So much of my life and my choices had been informed by the belief that I was selfish and full of sin, or the desire to sin, and that God had to use the circumstances of my life to remove that selfishness and sin. A happy, easy life wouldn’t work to help remove selfishness and sin. I had to go through fire. I had to experience pain. I had to suffer. I had no right to ask for my suffering to cease, because then I would be asking God to stop helping me be a better person.
My own parenting, and my own experience with being spanked as a child, had encouraged me to start moving away from spanking as a tool for modifying behavior. I’d really begun to question hierarchy and power and whether or not it was good, or useful, or ethical, or Christian.
Spanking carried a special hypocrisy. We told children not to strike anyone else, but then we struck them. They were the weakest and least powerful people, unable to fight back or defend themselves properly. When someone uses physical force against someone weaker to get what they want and force that person to behave the way they want… well, that sure looks an awful lot like bullying, doesn’t it? Did I want to be my children’s bully?
My oldest child had started throwing massive temper tantrums around age 2. He would lose control so completely that he would throw himself into walls or headboards. Because of how I’d been raised, I tried spanking, first, and noticed this only made him angrier. I stopped. For the next three years I was left distraught over this behavior, with no idea how I could fix things. I tried to avert a crisis if I saw one coming, but he could go from 0-60 emotionally in seconds. I started holding him down during these tantrums so that at least I could prevent him from throwing himself into a wall or otherwise hurting himself.
By age 5, these temper tantrums started to fade away. When he got extremely angry they could still happen, but he didn’t get extremely angry nearly as often. I had done nothing to bring him to this point. His brain had simply developed enough that he could start progressing past that behavior. He’s almost 15 now, and I doubt anyone would ever guess that ten years ago he might have been found flailing and screaming and throwing himself at walls and beds.
These temper tantrums didn’t happen because my son was a sinner. They didn’t happen out of malice or rebellion. They happened because his brain was overwhelmed with stimulus that he did not understand and could not process properly and he was just reacting to that.
Growing up, my parents were taught to use spanking by people that thought it should be used on children that were still babies. I could remember my 18 month old sister being spanked in order to teach her ‘instant obedience.’ The memory is seared into my mind – my sister, still with that clumsy stance of a toddler that hasn’t been walking very long, standing between my parents. One of them would call her, and if she didn’t walk to them, they would spank her. They repeated this process over and over while tears streamed down my sister’s face. She had no idea what was going on.
The justification for teaching parents to spank their babies was that if you didn’t teach them instant obedience as soon as possible, they wouldn’t learn to give God instant obedience, and then their soul would be in danger of Hell. But I could find no evidence anywhere in the Bible of God demanding instant obedience from anyone. Even at his meanest, God displayed more patience with grown adults than these Christians displayed towards babies.
I spanked less and less until I stopped, altogether.
I didn’t think pain, punishment and suffering were the best tool to use on my children.
Why did I think they were the best tool for God to use on me?