Have you ever heard your mom say that she has eyes in the back of her head? On one fateful day when I was little I found that to be painfully true. I was sitting in the living room when I fully understood that I should be upstairs getting ready to go somewhere. Mom had already told me once that I needed to be getting dressed and this was now her second trip into the living room because of my stubbornness. I didn’t want to go wherever we happened to be heading and after she turned and headed off across the house the idea popped into my head that I should do something I had recently learned. I still don’t know who designated the middle finger as an inappropriate appendage to stand alone but I let it fly. As I defiantly held my finger up in opposition to the parental regime requiring my compliance my mother did an immediate about face. As she started her turn I immediately put my hand down but I’m pretty sure that I had a horrified look on my face at the likelihood that she knew what I had done. Sure enough, she did. To this day I don’t know how she knew, although I’m betting that my reflection on a window or perhaps the glass door on the China cabinet was the key to my undoing. I don’t remember where we were going or why I was being so stubborn or even how she caught me but what I do know for sure is the penalty for my crime. I don’t remember being spanked much as a kid, much less why I got spanked, apart from this particular occasion. I don’t even remember how bad the spanking hurt because the entire time I was being spanked I was asking myself, “How did she know? How did she see me?” An inquiring mind wanted to know.
In light of the Adrian Peterson situation and since I recently wrote a blogpost on obedience as followers of Christ I feel that this parenting topic is of particular importance and worth writing about. If you haven’t read my post entitled “The Heart of Obedience” I’d recommend that you read it first because what I will say here in regards to nurturing obedience in your children flows out of what I discuss there, namely the relationship between love and obedience. You can find my previous post here:
Let me first state that I in no way feel like I was traumatized as a child because I was spanked. I don’t think that spanking should automatically be considered abusive. I do consider what Adrian Peterson did to be more than just a spanking, or a whooping, or whatever term you prefer using. By all accounts, and by virtue of the graphic photos, what he did was extreme and abusive. I have plenty of scars by virtue of being a boy doing stupid things but none of my scars come from a beating or from trying to avoid a beating. What he did was wrong and many times the discussion of spankings get turned into discussions about whether or not they are right or wrong. What I want to talk about here is not about whether spankings are right or wrong but whether or not they are the best way to raise a child.
If you were to ask a Christian parent if they wanted to raise their child to be like a Pharisee or a follower of Jesus Christ they would unanimously agree that they want to raise their child to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Here’s the thing about Pharisees: They were extremely obedient. In regard to the law they were about as faultless as you could get and yet they were far from the kind of people Jesus wanted them to be. Jesus desired an obedience from his followers that flowed out of their love for him.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”—John 14:23-24
The path of obedience for Jesus’ followers is rooted in the love of Jesus. The Pharisees were on a very different path of obedience. They loved the law itself, not Jesus, and their obedience to the law resulted in a very different lifestyle than that of Jesus and his followers. These are two very different paths of obedience.
I think the same holds true when it comes to raising obedient children. There are various paths to raising obedient children but they don’t all bear the same fruit in the same way that the Pharisees and disciples of Jesus bore very different fruit. As a parent, would you rather your child obey you because they love you or because they don’t want to be punished by you? On days when patience may be wearing thin you probably just want obedience in any way that you can get it and that, it seems to me, speaks to the heart of the problem. If the goal is any kind of obedience as long as it is immediate obedience then spanking works. You get your desired results and you’ve gotten obedience from your child. However, the discussion here is not whether it is right or wrong but whether this is the best way and I don’t think that it is. The problem with rule loving, follow my laws right now, parenting is that you end up with a bunch of Pharisees. They learn the rules of how far they can go (or how slowly you can count to 3) before they will get into trouble. Doesn’t this remind you an awful lot like Pharisees arguing over how far you can walk on the Sabbath? It does to me! Somewhere along the line someone got in trouble for doing something on the Sabbath and it became the new rule to enforce on others.
Another problem with this discipline approach is that the behaviors are maintained only as long as there is an enforcer and punisher present. When a child grows up and can no longer be punished by their parent for the things they grudgingly couldn’t do when they were younger they are now free to do those things spanking free. Far too often we see kids leaving the homes of their parents only to break every single ‘rule’ they had lived by for years. There are a variety of factors involved in that but I’m confident that one of them is that kids get raised to follow rules because they have to, not because they want to. With the possibility of parental punishment removed we see that their obedience wasn’t anything lasting.
Above all, parents want their kids to have a lasting obedience to something that will bear fruit throughout their lives. That obedience is the fruit of a different path but what does the other path look like? There are plenty of more qualified people who could answer that question and I would love to hear how ‘non-spanking’ parents navigate through their particular discipline and behavioral issues. Instead of offering up specific non-spanking approaches to behavior issues what I would like to draw your attention to are some of the roadblocks to this better and more fruitful path.
Your kids don’t misbehave in convenient places. There are reasons that meltdowns happen with an audience and it is in those moments that the desire for immediate obedience overrides the desire for lasting obedience. The options in these inconvenient places boil down to bribery or a spanking preceded by the slowest counting to 3 ever. Neither of these will get you the best results in the long run.
You don’t want a conversation. You want them to listen to you the first time. You don’t need to give a reason. The reason is simply that you told them to do, or not do, what you told them to do, or not do. The problem with this approach is the fact that conversation leads to understanding. Want to know why college kids ditch many of the rules they followed as young kids? They were never given legitimate reasons for those rules in the first place. They may have followed them previously but not because they understood or agreed with them. Understanding and agreements happen in the adult world because of conversations. This is something our government could learn a little bit about. In this parenting context, however, it gets tricky. Explaining thing to kids can be challenging. Using words that very little kids can grasp onto can be ridiculously difficult. Conversations also take much more time than the usual exchange of spanking threats and immediate obedience. However, if you’re wanting the kind of obedience bears fruit past the age of 18 you’re going to have to invest more time in the parenting conversations you have with your kids.
I don’t know any other way. I get it. I’ve already said that spanking works. I never flipped my mom off after my spanking. I did learn something. While spanking is fast acting, it isn’t long lasting. If you’re wanting to find something that is longer lasting then you’re going to have to find other ways to discipline your children. This involves creativity, and unfortunately, also usually involves more time as you have to spend time considering what those options are and what works best with your kid(s). All kids are different and what works with your older child will probably not work with your youngest. How you discipline your child should be molded to each child if you want the best results. If you aren’t creative or struggle for time I would suggest you seek out people who have already found helpful alternative methods. You can probably find something on Pinterest.
Spanking isn’t the ‘one size fits all’ as it has been described by some. For every person saying it made them better there is another person saying it has destroyed them. The question here is about whether or not there are better and more lasting ways to go about disciplining children. I think there are better ways but it’s going to require your time and I know you are busy. Fast acting methods are blatantly tempting but I want you to invest in parenting patterns that are longer lasting. You may not see the fruit until years down the road but such is life. My prayer is that the fruit produced later on would be attributed to the time and attention paid by a parent who desired much more than strict obedience. That happens, I believe, when obedience is rooted in the path of love.