Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Spanking in anger--what does it matter?



Whenever someone speaks out against spanking, there is instantly a chorus of pro-spankers who claim that the problem is only spanking in anger.  They sincerely believe that spanking is a good thing as long as it is done the right way--without anger.  Really?  What difference does it really make whether the spanking is done calmly or in anger?

The argument with the most merit is that a parent not spanking in anger is in control and less likely to cause lasting physical damage.  Obviously, a person who is out of control with rage has no business hitting anyone, least of all a small child who is particularly vulnerable to injury.  Does that really even need to be said?

Anger is a little more insidious than that, though.  There is quite a continuum of anger.  Even more, the outward manifestation may not always match up with the heart.  I have seen people bluster with surface anger that wasn't especially damaging.  I have also seen a cold, intense anger that looked calm on the surface, but was seething underneath.  Furthermore, I have seen people struggling with depression and other issues who were not always able to accurately gauge the intensity of their emotions.   So if even the parent can't always tell whether they are spanking in anger, how can the child or anyone else evaluate what is in the parent's heart?

Most parents that I know have a very hard time detaching themselves enough from their emotions to avoid spanking in anger.  And I think that is a good thing.  For the parents to detach themselves to the extent that they feel no anger over the offense that resulted in the spanking is eerily reminiscent of Nazi-like behavior.  They had so effectively detached themselves that they couldn't see their actions as being cruel.  They are unlikely to experience compassion for their children, or to be able to tell if they are crossing the line into abuse.

From a child's perspective, spanking done calmly is no better than a spanking done in anger.  Either way, they are hurt.  In fact, many people who have experienced both found spanking in anger less damaging.  They can recognize a distinction between their responsibility and their parent's reaction.  Spanking calmly may be more emotionally damaging, because it is much more effective at teaching the children that they deserve to be hit by those who love them.  Think about this: if someone you love were to say something that hurt you in a moment of anger, or to say the same thing with the intent to hurt you when they were completely calm, which would be more damaging?  For most of us, the latter would be far worse.

 
Most people have no idea where the formulas for "correct" spanking come from.  They certainly don't come from the Bible.  Christian spankers frequently use the Proverbs to justify spanking.  (Jews do not.  Spanking children is illegal in Israel).  In Hebrew, it is very clear that those passages do NOT refer to spanking, but even if you are trying to take a literal version of the English translations, it is pretty clear that it does not follow the formula.  They never mention spanking in anger.  Why not?  If these verses are the basis for instruction, then why isn't such a crucial part of "correct" spankings mentioned?

The unspoken recognition behind spanking in anger is that you can go too far, despite the verse in Proverbs that claims (in most translations) that if you beat your child with the rod, he will not die (Note: despite the claim by many spankers that they just take the verses literally, this does not say that if you give a couple of swats on a covered bottom without anger, he will not die.  If you want to take the Proverbs verses at face value in English, you are most definitely beating, not "popping", and it is the back, not the bottom that should be hit, you are using a branch closer to a baseball bat than a twig, your emotional state is irrelevant, and you cannot go too far.)  However, reality shows us that children have died from being beaten with the rod.  Face-value interpretations from an English translation with our cultural baggage are a clear lie.  We must dig deeper.

Grace-based discipline can never be taken too far.  (Extreme permissiveness, which is neglect, is not a part of grace-based parenting).  You cannot teach (discipline) you child with love and grace too much.  You can spank too much or too hard, regardless of whether you are angry or not.  Consider, is your goal really to get as close as possible to abuse without crossing the line?  Why even go near it at all?

I believe that the whole issue of spanking in anger has become a cop out.  It is a way for pro-spankers to avoid acknowledging the reality of the problems that spanking can cause.  They can dismiss any account of damage by assuming that it was done in anger, and therefore would have been fine had the parent only been calm.  And since most parents do spank in anger, at least some of the time, they can ignore warning signs in their own home about the damage from spanking by assuming that the problem is only their occasional lapse in attitude, never the spanking itself.

Finally, the origin of the "never spank in anger" directive is actually based in domestic spankings--the Spencer Spanking Plan.  Yes, it was meant to describe husbands never spanking their wives in anger.  The instructions are very specific: 1. Explain what actions will merit a spanking. 2. Be careful not to cause injury or leave welts or bruises.  It should only cause just enough pain to be effective.  3.  It must never be done in anger.  4. After the spanking, the wife will kiss her husband and thank him.  Her offense is now forgiven and friendly relations are re-established.  Sound familiar?  It comes right out of S and M.  Is that really what you want to base your child's discipline on?  There is a reason why googling spanking will turn up as many porn/fetish sites as it does parenting sites.

Certainly, spanking in anger is harmful.  But spanking calmly is not benign.  It is still striking a child with the goal of causing pain and fear.  The solution is discipline without spanking.  It is not just about avoiding "spanking in anger".  There is no good spanking.

17 comments:

Megan @ Purple Dancing Dahlias said...

This is so good! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish I could carry you in my back pocket, lol.

Hippie Housewife said...

What a wonderfully thorough explanation. Will be sharing.

Young Mom said...

Yes! My family had that "never spank in anger" thing, and it was creepy. Calm business like non-emotional. And we were not allowed to show anger or "rebellion" either, my sister wrote about it here. Enigma: Childhood Memories:

Mike and Christie said...

You are so right. I can think of a family that is in jail now, 22 years for one and 13 for the other.... they were not spanking in anger. They were systematically torturing their children, and it never dawned upon them that they would die.

Vickie said...

Thanks for this. It's really good. I don't think there are many absolutes when it comes to parenting, but this is one of them. I agree that there is no way to spank that won't be harmful to a child.

melissa said...

Good post. I'm not an anti spanker, but I have never thought spanking was a GOOD discipline technique that needed defending! I think of it similar to other things that have been long done without thinking, and then suddenly people realize, hey! That's not so healthy. Why don't we try other things instead?

I am aware that you don't share this opinion, but I wanted to be honest. I also wanted to say that this:

Grace-based discipline can never be taken too far. (Extreme permissiveness, which is neglect, is not a part of grace-based parenting). You cannot teach (discipline) you child with love and grace too much. You can spank too much or too hard, regardless of whether you are angry or not. Consider, is your goal really to get as close as possible to abuse without crossing the line? Why even go near it at all?

Is one of the best arguments I've ever heard in favour of gentle discipline. I don't consider spanking to be abuse, but I don't think it is a good parenting tool. Its archaic. It doesn't make sense that the littlest people in society are the only ones it is still allowable to hit. But it also doesn't make any sense to me that all spanking is damaging or abusive, so I tend to hope parents will grow away from spanking in a positive way, rather than a condemning one.

This comment is becoming a novel, sorry. I mostly wanted to say thanks for the great argument, above! I will link you on my own blog...

[fwiw, I also have always thought the cold emotionless spanking was creepy, too]

dulce de leche said...

Melissa, thank you so very much! That was a beautiful comment, and what you said about growing away from spanking in a positive way rather than a condemning one is so very powerful. Sometimes get caught up in the negatives and probably come across as very condemning. I appreciate your giving me a lot to think about with that! <3

dulce de leche said...

Thank you all so, so much. My heart has been so heavy since posting the letter from M.C. I have heard from so many people who told me that spanking had the same results in them.

Young Mom, thank you so much for thr link It is difficukt to read, but so important that it be heard.

I am so grateful to each of you for your encouragement and for helping me and others to be intentional and aware as we parent. You are awesome! :)

Rosemary said...

"If someone you love were to say something that hurt you in a moment of anger, or to say the same thing with the intent to hurt you when they were completely calm, which would be more damaging?" Huge lightbulb moment for me. Such a good point. Thank you for putting it that way.

Pippi said...

This is so true. That's interesting that Jews don't promote spanking. I had my husband's step-father tell me once that Proverbs does tell us when we beat them with the rod, they will not die. In the context of the conversation it seemed he was saying this was license to hit for as long and as hard as the parent sees fit. Shocked, I said that I didn't think that meant the child should actually believe they might die. He disagreed.
I think my mom would have broken away from it if it was jus her and my dad. I look back and realize that my dad was not comfortable with the amount of corporal punishment in our house; but being a new convert, and my mom already under the control of people who believed that only the rod of correction could drive away the evil born into every child, he took a back seat. My mom often cried openly when she spanked us, and would say that it hurt her as much as it did us. Of course that wasn't true; but I do think it hurt her. Sadly she was convinced that if the spankings didn't work, it was her fault and we would go to hell because of her neglect.
I'm not just mounting a defense for her. I had conversations as an adult with the woman who hammered this crap into her, and was shocked at the anger and contempt this woman displayed towards children in general, and towards my mom for her supposed failures as the religious leader of - get this - MY IN-LAWS HOUSEHOLD! Because they came to church with us for 8 years. That was when I realized that this woman saw us as merely her private cult, woth my mmother as her local enforcer, and none of us were ever really equals in her mind. Even my mom. She talked about having "allowed" my mother to help her with God's work, and that her faith in my mom had been misplaced when it came to my in-laws. Most of my anger towards my mother subsided after that, and was rerouted to the main culprit.

dulce de leche said...

@Rosemary, thank you so much! I love your blog! <3

@Pippi, thank you for sharing your experiences. <3 It is really scary and so horribly sad when people who might otherwise see things clearly get caught up in cultish patterns. So many of them feel so much shame and pain, yet are so deeply enmeshed that they just keep trying hard and harder to please their leaders. :(

truthcanprevail said...

My friend Jim Talbot has this to say:
http://truthcanprevail.wordpress.com/2011/09/14/victims-of-sociopathic-or-sadistic-acts/

Kathleen | Becoming Peculiar said...

So good, Dulce. I loved this. SO much wisdom. I thought this was most poignant: "So if even the parent can't always tell whether they are spanking in anger, how can the child or anyone else evaluate what is in the parent's heart?" Exactly.

stopspanking.org said...

Thank you for your article on spanking and shedding light on what it really is. I wanted to share with you and your community a project that I am working on to raise awareness of the destructive effects of spanking.

Here are some recent posts:
What Researchers Say About Spanking
http://stopspanking.org/2012/12/05/what-researchers-say-about-spanking/

I was Spanked, and I'm OK
http://stopspanking.org/2012/11/27/i-was-spanked-and-i-turned-out-ok-did-you-2/

Check us out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/protectchildrenfromviolence?ref=hl

Robbyn Peters Bennett
StopSpanking.org

Robbyn Peters Bennett said...

Thank you for your article on spanking and shedding light on what it really is. I wanted to share with you and your community a project that I am working on to raise awareness of the destructive effects of spanking.

Here are some recent posts:
What Researchers Say About Spanking
http://stopspanking.org/2012/12/05/what-researchers-say-about-spanking/

I was Spanked, and I'm OK
http://stopspanking.org/2012/11/27/i-was-spanked-and-i-turned-out-ok-did-you-2/

Check us out on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/protectchildrenfromviolence?ref=hl

Robbyn Peters Bennett
StopSpanking.org

Anonymous said...

Spencer spanking plan is a hoax. It is NOT in the library of Congress. It was created on the internet.

dulce de leche said...

Their site covers that: http://www.spencerplanspanking.com/planhistory.html