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!