Spare the rod, spoil the child…

(DISCLAIMER: This may be a sensitive subject matter for some readers.)

Although most of us contribute these words to the Bible, they aren’t actually in the Bible, but are believed to have been inspired from the Bible verse in Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” In the Bible, the word rod indicates a thin stick or switch that can be used to give a small amount of physical pain with no lasting physical injury.

I grew up in a home with a mother who believed in the philosophy of physical punishment. In fact, there were many times when she would “punish first and ask questions later”. My mother was just 5′ tall, would go on a diet if she reached 120 pounds, and yet she had looks and tone of voice that made each of us feel physically afraid of the coming punishment. And mom didn’t just have a thin stick or switch – she had a 3/4″ thick piece of wood with a handle and her name engraved in it that was made specifically for her (maybe at her request? I’ll never know). It was kept in the junk drawer in the kitchen. The minute she reached for the handle of that drawer, you knew that physical pain was coming.

Her normal pattern was to have us bend over a kitchen chair with our rumps sticking up high in the air, and then she would start swinging. And, my readers, we’re not talking ‘pats’. To see her, you would have thought she was a major-league ball player swinging the bat to hit a ball all the way out of the park. Plus, you never knew how many swings she was going to take until she told you that you could get up and get out of her sight by going to your room.

No matter that we had grown taller and heavier than she was, we all knew that if we tried to get away in any fashion, that was only going to make her angrier and that additional anger would show up in the number of times we were struck with the paddle once she got started.

Bruises and welts were often common. Of course, they were distributed to our butts and the very top of our thighs on occasion – no place where they would be seen by others.

I also remember times when none of the three of us would admit to the wrongdoing, and she threatened that, if the wrongdoer didn’t come forward, she’d paddle each of us. At some point, I’m certain we all admitted to something we hadn’t done to spare our siblings. Well, at least I know I did.

At the time, I believed that she believed that this punishment would make us behave in the future. Maybe we didn’t enact the same negative behavior the next time, but we were kids, and we were going to misbehave from time to time! And, in retrospect, I see that the punishment didn’t always fit the crime. We could accidently break something small and get ten swats or take a dollar from her wallet and get two swats.

In the recent months, while I’ve been wandering down the many lanes of memories in my life, I thought about all of this and understood something I could not have understood at that age. My mother was definitely a Type A person. She worked teaching school at the elementary level. She came home to three children who were normal children. Dad was more often than not away from home – even if he wasn’t traveling, he didn’t get home from working until at least 7 PM each night. She didn’t have the luxury of saying, “Wait until your dad gets home” and let him handle the discipline. She also had a pill bottle on a shelf in the kitchen that we saw her get into regularly. It was a prescription bottle, and we didn’t think anything about it. At some point, we knew that the drug was called “Librium”, but we didn’t know what it was for. As I was thinking about these memories and the potential to share them in a blog, I ‘googled’ it. Librium is used to treat various anxiety disorders.

And in a light bulb moment, I began to see that the corporal punishment that was executed on us might be a way to release some pent-up anxiety and anger that really didn’t have all of that much to actually do with us. If she was feeling anxious and upset about something, then whatever misbehaviors she found out about when she got home from work might well have been the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”!

 Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” I wanted to bring that Bible phrase back into focus here. I am not against punishing a child for misbehaving! But if a rod is a thin stick (according to the Bible) and is used to inflict non-lasting physical pain, I think that wooden paddles and belts and other instruments which are used to create a physical pain that does last past the moment does fall into the idea of corporal punishment. These are modern-day ways in which someone is given similar punishment to caning and flogging. I believe that any pain that exists for more than, oh, a half hour, and which leaves marks of some kind that can last for many days, isn’t what the Bible intended with this verse. Remember, the verse says that the child is supposed to be carefully disciplined. Although I can’t prove it, I believe that the parents of the children who lived next door to us were, at the most, given a swat to the rear with a hand, and those children turned out to be pretty great adults! So, I don’t buy the idea that you have to use physical discipline to teach your children!

As an adult, understanding my mother’s possible reasons for the way in which we were punished is helpful. It doesn’t make what she did any better, and I definitely feel she crossed the line in providing physical punishment. I can’t go back and re-write that history, but I’ve learned from it nonetheless. Would I ever spank a child? I didn’t have any of my own to see if I would have or not, but what I have learned from watching other parents discipline their children, I can’t see me giving more than that single swat on the behind with my hand. I have seen plenty of success where parents were careful to discipline their children, but in a non-physical way. And especially, when today’s kids have so many pieces of modern electronic technology in their possession, I suspect that having those items taken away would be much more drastic to the child than a physical punishment. We just need to be careful and understand that we are disciplining our children in order to teach them an important lesson, which should explain what the child did wrong/why they are being punished and how to keep from having that punishment repeated.

I feel like I could write so much more on this subject, but I’ll try to close it here. If you have lived through a physically abusive childhood in any form, you have my sympathy and I hope this post helps you remember that you are not alone. I do believe that our parents did the best they could with what they knew, and it’s up to us to break the cycle and learn, then teach, better ways of discipling a child.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and/or stories!

9 thoughts on “Spare the rod, spoil the child…

  1. i also had a very challenging mother, and a father who was gone a lot, what i learned from her was not to be like her, in life in general and in how i treated my children. like you, i began to understand the why’s as i became an adult, but it still did not change what happened. ❤

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  2. Struck by a flood of memories here. One, I am absolutely sure I got punished less than you and Mark. Not sure why. Maybe I am just more loveable or maybe after dealing with the two of you she was just too tired to deal with me. But the most vivid memory I have is being woken from my sleep as Mark burst into our bedroom, jumped over my bed, and landed on his. It seems, Mom was planning on paddling him and he took off running. Within a second or so, Mom appeared at the door and threw the paddle at Mark. She missed him but it did take a large chunk out of the wall. I can’t imagine what would have happened to him had she not missed. The chunk out of the wall remained there as a constant reminder. I would say it helped remind me to be on my best behavior, but we both know that is not true. It did, however, teach me that if you are going to try an escape, outside seemed a more viable option.

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  3. My mother used a fly swatter. I remember her saying; “Someday you’ll thank me for this.” I don’t know about thanking her for that or the many other positive things she taught me that I still thank her for. We all turned out well. Fortunately, the fly swatter played only a tiny role in an otherwise stable, loving family.

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  4. I’m sure you got punished less, and I think it was just because she’d gotten older and didn’t have the same level of energy! I don’t remember the story of Mark running away, and I don’t even want to imagine the consequences had she actually hit him with the flying paddle. That certainly validates how much rage her little body could hold! I did try running away from her once when I was already outdoors when she came after me. She chased me for less than a minute, then yelled a reminder to me that unless I was planning to be homeless, I’d eventually have to come into the house sometime, and she was willing to wait….

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  5. Youch! A fly swatter would sure sting, but the pain would not last indefinitely, and there were no bruises or welts left as evidence. I learned pretty early to try and become the invisible child between my brothers, after realizing that we only ever got our parents’ attention when we misbehaved, and I didn’t care for that kind of attention!

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  6. Interesting experiences. My own mother was 5′ 2″ and yet even as a teenager, I never dared disobey an order to bend over her knee for what was invariably, a sound spanking with hand and slipper/hairbrush. But even then I knew the spankings were always well deserved. Never resented her for being such a strict disciplinarian, and it made me respect and lover her even more I believe. What age were the three of you paddled to?

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  7. While it’s not my choice of punishment, a sound spanking may occasionally be required. However, a 1″ thick wooden paddle being struck against buttocks and thighs is more of a beating than a punishment, especially when it continues until the spanker feels enough of a release to stop. Spanking should be done to teach a lesson, not to relieve the spanker’s anger. If my memory is correct, the spankings stopped around 14 to 15.

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  8. Agree with your distinction on a sound spanking and a beating. I believe the former is effective and helpful if proportionate to the misdeed or naughtiness. Your mother should have used a far thinner paddle when tanning your backside, and as you say, merely spanked enough to correct and teach a lesson.

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