[Trigger warning: spanking, child abuse.]

Someone found my blog recently by searching for “fought back against spanking” and that hit me hard.

Whoever you are, I want to give you a hug. You’re not alone.

The memories triggered by that phrase aren’t pleasant. In some ways, I realize I’m reliving the feelings of utter helplessness, desperate fear, and anger associated with those memories. Things with my ex took a much more stressful turn in June, friendships have been shifting, I moved three times in a month, and lost ground with church being a safe space (not my church’s fault). And I’ve been fighting occasional waves of processing/grieving that last for days and make things like focusing, doing my job well, prepping for the GRE, and being a social person really really hard.  So much of this season is out of my control. So much of what I’ve been through has been dumped in my lap by circumstances, and I’m sitting on a pile of rubble wondering “what now?”

God was supposed to be good. God was supposed to have a plan for me. I played the game I was taught to play by my Christian upbringing. I was the dutiful one who did what she was supposed to. I followed the rules, didn’t pass go, didn’t collect my $200.

And some days when I just want someone to hear me out, when I write pieces like this, or could write pieces like that, I wonder…what happened? When did all the staid-and-true life pieces on which I was supposed to be able to depend go and turn on me? Why? What did I do?

***

I remember, when I was a kid, I’d be somewhere in the house, doing school, and I’d hear someone fighting with a parent. I’d hear voices get louder, someone thump their hand on a counter or a table, and then more yelling until the parent had enough and the child would shriek, and I knew that they were going to get spanked. And you could hear the wailing and crying all over the house.

As far as spankings go, my parents weren’t cruel. There was no reason to call CPS on what was going on. And all of us are strong-willed, loud, creative individuals. [If you’re new here, you should read my disclaimer.]

But there is something fundamentally terrifying about the shift that happens when a parent goes to spank their child, for the child. They have no one else to depend on for food, shelter, direction, comfort. And suddenly something goes wrong (and a child of the age when spankings typically happen usually doesn’t have the reasoning capabilities of the adult doling out the punishment), and it’s hard to say why or what the transgression was (in our house, the loudest person usually got the punishment), but suddenly your comforting, nurturing parent on whom you depend…is hitting you.

I’m not a psychologist, so I’m not qualified to say what exactly this does to the psychological development of a child, but I think it boils down to reinforcing that they are

  1. dependent on a higher authority,
  2. this authority is sometimes nice, so be emotionally vulnerable to them,
  3. but if you make a mistake, this authority will be capricious and hurt you until you comply with their will, and
  4. discussing your side is always secondary and less important than the perspective of the authority.

I have a really hard time seeing God as a caring Father. I have a really hard time seeing God as nurturing.

My last spanking was when I was 16 years old. It was the last spanking because I fought back and screamed at my dad to hear me out, because he didn’t understand the situation and had come into the room to spank whoever was being loud. I don’t remember the details, but I think I sassed my mom right when he walked in. I think I was mimicking her back to herself because I was upset at a double standard. I don’t even remember if I was right or not. I just remember the terror of being yanked into the hall bathroom and being told to lean over the sink for my punishment.

***

I’m not saying that every parent who spanks their kids at any point ever is going to ruin them for life, is going to make them unable to trust God.

But it might make it a whole lot harder.

And if your child might ever have a reason to fight back, or if you ever think of the parenting process in any way as breaking the child’s will to yours, you’re wrong.

Your child isn’t yours. And you will be held accountable.

Listen, talk, work as a team, compromise. Embody grace.

And if they don’t turn out just like you, congratulations. You have succeeded in not perpetuating a cycle of unhealth, and you have nurtured an individual.

***

Want more on this? I recommend reading Melissa’s posts on spanking and gentle parenting, Libby Anne’s posts on parenting, and the Still Crying series by Sarah

Spanking can have adverse effects that damage sexuality and sexual identity, too, but I’m not qualified to comment on that beyond observing that it happens. 


  • Elizabeth Horst

    I grew up in a spanking family and reacted strongly against it; now that I’m a mom, I’ve spent a lot of time searching for alternative methods of raising (and loving) children. I would add to your suggested reading at the end, two really great books: How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, by Faber and Mazlish, and Children: The Challenge, by Rudolf Dreikurs. Neither are Christian books, but both describe, instead of the old, domineering methods that include spanking, some excellent, humane, and gracious ways of training and communicating with children. And I’m convinced both could fit well into a Christian way of thinking.

  • Someone

    Doing that to a sixteen year old is severely messed up, and probably would be considered assault (or sexual assault). If any man tried punishing me that way as an adult, I would punch him in the balls and report him to the police. Your father had absolutely no right whatsoever to do that to you–that was twisted and sick and wrong. I’m glad your fought back.

    I was spanked as a child (certainly not over the age of ten), but it was harmful to my sexual development nevertheless. It’s absolutely inappropriate to treat children that way.

    I’ve experienced quite a bit of grief about my childhood as an adult. Counselling helped a bit. I had to stop making excuses for my parents, and realize that they were completely out of line, and completely wrong to treat a sweet little girl the way they did. Children are to be cared for and protected and given knowledge to help them grow.

    Your disclaimer is a polite way of explaining why what happened to me, happened. But it leaves out the messy parts. Those “choices” our parents made (however we might find a way to empathize with their reasons for doing so) were utterly depraved. My parents could have enjoyed my childhood so much more. They could’ve been less afraid, less crazy. They could’ve gone to counselling. They could’ve gotten help so they could have chosen love, gentleness, patience, kindness, self-control, vulnerability. (Love as described in the Bible.) They didn’t. They chose a lesser path. They chose fear, lies, anger expressed towards small ones who couldn’t handle it.

    Before I could forgive, I had to accept that my parents didn’t love me enough to do their best for me. Sure, they said they did. But constantly yelling at your kid, telling them how bad they are and how they ought to be better, ridiculing them, neglecting to praise them, hitting them, is not loving behaviour. I had to realize that saying you love someone is meaningless, unless it is shown.

    So anyway, yeah. It’s a tough thing to work through. And this idea that Jesus is supposed to somehow miraculously fix this garbage, isn’t realistic at all, at least not in my experience. But there is a way forward. (Don’t ask me how I’m finding it. Ha.)