Before I had children I assumed, naturally, that I was going to spank, because all Christians spank, don’t they? It’s the biblical thing to spank, right? I grew up in a conservative Christian culture that said the Bible teaches that the Christian thing to do is for parents to spank their children to “discipline” them, and it was a given for me that I would follow along with what I had been taught.
After I had my first baby (over 16 years ago), I was shocked at how much she cried. She cried if I set her down, she cried if I tried to make her wait to nurse, she cried when I tried to get her to sleep. . . Why did she need to nurse so much? Why wouldn’t she let me put her down? Why wouldn’t she sleep at night? I felt bewildered. It was so much more work than I expected!
I realized as time went by that she was much happier if I parented her responsively. And that makes sense. We all appreciate it when others respond to us and acknowledge our feelings and needs. Haven’t most of us experienced ourselves that being ignored hurts and creates distrust? It’s the same for babies. And the opposite is true, too — responsively meeting their needs helps build trust.
I decided I wanted to build connection and trust with my baby, and so I began to make a conscious choice to parent her in ways that would build her trust and build the connection between me and my daughter.
And then consider the idea of spanking — is it something that helps build connection and trust? I was responsively meeting my little one’s needs to the best of my ability, not perfectly by any means!, but I was trying so hard. And the idea of taking my hand and striking her with it on purpose to give her pain so that she could learn what I wanted her to learn didn’t fit at all with those goals. Hitting doesn’t nurture trust and connection, it breaks it down.
I began searching the Bible to see if it really taught that parents should spank their children, and I met other Christian parents online asking the same question. We did a word study, and I wish I still had my study! but I remember coming to an indefinite conclusion at that time, but I felt very hopeful. I did not clearly see the Bible telling parents to spank, and I felt God leading me not to spank my child.
There was a man in the online group I was part of who felt that he had found some really good things in the Bible about this topic, and he was going to write a book about it. I think his name was Clay. . . and many years later I was excited when I realized that the man named “Clay” in the group was likely the same Clay Clarkson who wrote the wonderful book Heartfelt Discipline. The book is out of print, but the last I heard was that a new version should come out by August/September. It’s the first day of October, so hopefully it’ll be soon. I’m really looking forward to it.
I’ve become very sure since that study long ago that the Bible clearly does not command parents to spank. People hold very strong culturally-derived views on spanking, but the Bible is really silent on the issue. Christian parents who believe we are to spank often get that idea from verses in Proverbs, but when interpreting the verses in Proverbs it’s important to remember that they are neither commands or promises, and the context of each verse should to be taken into consideration. Plus Proverbs is poetic and often uses hyperbole to make a point. Furthermore, there are leaps in logic that need to be made in order to come to the conclusion that the verses in Proverbs are even talking about spanking children.
My husband believed in spanking at first, but early in our parenting journey God spoke to his heart as well on this issue. We have four children now, and our oldest is 16. There are all sorts of scary things that people say happen if you don’t spank your children, and we just haven’t found them to be true. Our children are normal, imperfect, learning, growing, wonderful, unique human beings made in God’s image. They are learning to think for themselves, learning how to set healthy boundaries, and learning how to respect others.
If you are a Christian parent and you feel sad thinking about spanking your children or are feeling a pull from the Lord not to spank, though in Christian circles the pressure to spank can be huge, I’d encourage you to to look into it for yourself. There are honestly many Christians, good and loving and God-honoring, Bible loving, Christians who desire to honor and glorify God, who do not spank. Pray and read the Bible anew on this issue, trying to lay aside your pre-conceived notions. I’ve found word studies can provide a helpful starting point. For an example, here is a link to one mama’s word study: The Rod or Shebet: An Indepth Examination.
I and my husband are so grateful that God doesn’t treat us the way that many Christian parenting “experts” say is the “biblical” way to raise children! We are blessed to be recipients of His mercy and grace, and want to extend that to our children as well.