Uh oh – the dreaded “spanking” post

father son holding hands

The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.

Prov 29.15

We spanked our children. Some more than others, but we did. I’d like to say at all times they deserved it, but I’m sure that’s not entirely true. I’d like to say I never did it in anger, but I know that’s not true. But did I always do it in love and with intentions to train – absolutely. God gave me these little people to raise and cherish, and honour and mold and shape the gift they are to the world. It’s a big deal raising a child. And as such, with the love of a father, discipline included hugs and chats, conversation and listening, but for us it also included spanks, time outs, or squeezes of the hand. 

This stopped for most of my kids by the time they reached school age, but sometimes extended beyond it – up to grade three I think. By those ages, reasoning and other consequences took precedence. Plus, they say up to age five you’ve done 80% of your work in disciplining your children. (Don’t be scared by that statement if it frightens you – it frightened me. I just kept calling on the grace of God and the love of God to cover a multitude of wrongs. Parenting choices included…)

Some people used different things to spank and some didn’t spank at all. We interviewed and observed a lot of families about this. In my own childhood I only remember being threatened with the belt. One time I remember making my mom cry, and when my dad came home from work and found out about it, he chased me up the stairs pulling his belt out of his work pants as he followed me. I still have vivid images of that moment, now with laughter. I’ve never run so fast in my life as that day. I’ve never been more grateful to hear him say, “You better stay in that time out until I come get you” in my life. I welcomed that time out in lieu of belt spanking. But I will say being chased up the stairs in jest by Ali still makes me squirm. But, my dad assures me that I was spanked as a child. I just have no recollection. That just tells me the other experiences far outweigh the memory of those linked to spanks.

For us, I’d say 95% was done with the hand spank or squeezing the hand. It was easier to gauge how much it actually hurt if we felt it too. On a few times did we use a wooden spoon, but that had a more convincing result. A quick, single whack worked wonders. But, Ali didn’t like us using any sort of implement and I agreed for the most part. She recalled an instance from her childhood where she stole the spoon from her mom and used it to whack her back. We peel with laughter now thinking of little Ali trying to “spank” her mom.

We had pretty strict rules about spanking. The most we were ever to give in one instance was three spanks, and that was usually reserved for lying or sometimes willful, repeated disobedience. I admit a few times I spanked 5 times for willful disobedience, but I always got disciplined by Ali afterwards and I would have to go apologize to the children as a result.

But overall, lying was the worst thing you could do in our home, and still is to be honest. No matter what the situation, if you were honest it resulted in leniency. Consequences were measured according to your honesty. Even to this day, I believe our kids are as honest with us as they are because we laid this foundation while they were children.

And to help with honesty, we’d always explain that we expected full disclosure or the consequences would be higher. And it’s also great that kids are horrible liars in general, so the “God gives mommies and daddies special ability to know when their kids are telling the truth and when they’re not” was an easy trump card to play. Our kids thought simple discernment was like a superpower from God to parents. 🙂 So this has allowed trust to grow exponentially in our house (in most situations). But I’ll talk more about disclosure in another entry (Proverbs 20:12).

But back to spanking – each child’s needs differed. With our daughter I just needed to speak sternly to her – I maybe threatened spanks but that was as far as it got. We rarely had to spank her for that reason.

In my own life, I’ve learned how being honest with the Lord because otherwise he allows my circumstances to discipline me until I’m honest with the Lord and honest with myself. Sure, grace and mercy are always available, but when you ask the Lord to refine you, there are some things that God can’t let mercy and grace do the work of in the fire. David had to endure hardship with Saul, Moses had to walk through some tough stuff – all to grow in their honesty with the Lord and with themselves. It made them better leaders. And, once I have been honest with the Lord and with myself, at the point when discipline has been received, he can reason and teach me so much more.

He’s not a bad boy

wheat field_edited

Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul

Prov 29.17

Discipline is an interesting word. It’s from the same root word as disciple. Disciple is not as scary a word as discipline is. Discipline suggests heavy correction, negative consequences to bad choices. But disciple suggests teaching a better way.

With our kids, we were careful to not call them “Bad boy” or “good boy” when we spoke to them about an action they undertook. Their inherent goodness was unrelated to their actions – they were always good children – they just made good or bad choices. Their identity, first and foremost, was that they were good kids. We wanted them to know they were loved and important and a joy to us. But when they did dishonourable things, they made bad choices, we recognized that this was what we were needing to deal with, not who they were to us. WE were disciple-ing their choice-making ability, not who God made them. They are made in His image.

But there were definitely days I struggled with discipling our children. One of them was particularly strong willed and he was a tough nut to crack. He was a biter, a poo-smearer (yuck!), extremely jealous of others – so much so that he’d bop anyone whom he felt encroached in on a close friendship. He was sent home several times from school for bullying behaviour in kindergarten for that very reason. Man that was a tough season.

But we called on the Lord, we asked for help from Him. We sought out families who raised kids who seemed to be tackling life successfully (this is so important to do) and we talked ad nauseum with each other so Ali and I knew we were on the same page (equally important). We attempted to be consistent in our discipline so our child would know cause and effect. It worked well sometimes but to be honest it was exhausting. There were moments, days, weeks that we would want to throw in the towel and just let him do what he wanted.

But, God never gives up on us, and so we didn’t either. Now, there were times when we consequence our son and we saw he was backed into a corner by us and he couldn’t see anyway out. Even though we were consistent and clear in our expectations, he somehow couldn’t break the cycle of behaviour. As a result, we realized we had to have jubilee moments. Jubilee was an old testament term that meant debts were forgiven. Ali and I would see he was unable to get himself out of a predicament he’d gotten himself into. You could see in his eyes that he didn’t know how to break the rebellion. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” was our safeguard in those moments. We’d pull him out of his never-ending time out (he’d cross the line every time he was given a reprieve so back he’d have to go into another time out). We’d sit him down and tell him we loved him and we’re only giving him consequences for his wrong choices and that life would be much easier if he simply honoured us (Exodus 20.12). And, we’d explain that he needs to know how much more enjoyable life is when you listen to your parents’ instruction. Then we’d share about the mercy of Christ in words understandable to a toddler, and tell him we were letting him off because God loves to bring mercy, but also know that our son will continue to struggle and not enjoy this area of his life until he heeds our discipline.

With our kids, we were careful to not call them “Bad boy” or “good boy” when we spoke to them about an action they undertook. Their inherent goodness was unrelated to their actions – they were always good children – they just made good or bad choices.

It was a good reminder for me that God will continue to allow things to happen to me to discipline me. And, until I learn those things, I won’t have let discipline change me. Disciple-ing will continue until I give up and give into God’s love and better way for me.

I’m grateful to say that my son now enjoys much freedom, no longer poo-smears, no longer bites, and loves life. He’s strong and loyal, but in the right ways. He still has issues but life’s like that. Always an opportunity to experience the grace, mercy and love of God.

There’s always a backstory…

“Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord”

Prov 20.12


there’s always a backstory, uncommon ways

Whenever we ask our kids about circumstances and situations that we know they are wrestling with, we’ve found the most effective way to deal with it is through the eyes and ears of the Spirit. What’s the backstory? What’s their body language displaying that we need to observe? What they aren’t saying is often just as important as what they are saying.

The Holy Spirit prays through us in the Spirit because we often get in the way with our words. They are often inadequate or only tell part of the story. So, the same is true when we listen to our kids. Sometimes their words get in the way, wittingly or unwittingly. It’s our job to let their guarded speech to run its course – that’s when the words that really carry meaning follow.

When we do this, through open ended questions, allowing for uncomfortable pauses and silences, we get to the heart of the matter much faster.

Perhaps your child has a real desire to please you; the last thing they will want to admit to something they think will displease you. For example, my daughter might say “I got my test back – a bunch of people failed.” I know she didn’t do well and she’s attempting to cough it with a “it could have been worse.” The test mark isn’t what’s important here – it’s her self-worth and how I want to value her willingness to tell me anything, no matter how she thinks I will feel. Because in 10 years, it won’t be a poor test mark she might be coming to me with. It might be something much more important. So, I’m setting the ground rules now.

allowing for uncomfortable pauses and silences, we get to the heart of the matter much faster.

My response is not one of anger. I may be disappointed and may even tell her so, but I need to take her to a place where she has hope and expectation that next time will be better. Here I would share an experience in my own childhood when I knew I had failed or done poorly, and how disappointed I was in myself. How I knew I could have done better and how I was afraid to let my parents down. I’d speak of learning to be honest. Taking the consequences are second to knowing the better way, the love of my parents that will help me move on.

As I share my experiences and my own feelings, I’m teaching my daughter how to evaluate the circumstance herself – recognize triggers and disappointments. I share experiences with her that her dad – her hero still – survived bad tests, and remind her that parents are people who understand.

That means when she goes through her first break up or her first tough problem, she’ll be more likely to tell me, evaluate it herself in a mature fashion, and get through it that much faster.

There’s always a backstory – our children’s and ours – that the Holy Spirit will lead us to as we open our eyes and ears.

Father, teach me by your Spirit to have ears to hear and eyes to see – help me to embrace those gifts as a parent and allow my children to learn from my example.