I watched a video I shouldn’t have of that Texas judge William Adams beating his 16 year old daughter Hillary. I had to delete and rewrite that sentence a few times since I wasn’t sure whether to use the word “beating” or “spanking.” I ultimately decide to write the word “beating” because I don’t think you can call it a “spanking” anymore when the recipient is a teenager. I don’t really watch videos of child abuse so I don’t have a baseline to compare this with. The stereotype I had in my head about child abusers was of raving lunatics slurring their words and breaking glass.
Maybe it happens like that sometimes but in the brief part that I watched before I had to turn it off, Judge Adams seemed relatively calm about what he was doing. He dropped the F-bomb a few times, but he didn’t seem like he was in a wild rage. I’m not saying this to justify his actions, but it did seem like from his point of view, he was methodically administering good, old-fashioned discipline. Of course the blogosphere has made this video a dig on fundamentalist Christianity (which I’m not sure is fair; fundamentalists don’t use the F-word like Judge Adams was doing).
I feel very conflicted about spanking. I’ve had to do it when my sons’ behavior crossed over into a level of defiance too egregious for time-outs. I imagine that I’ll do it again. But when is it truly necessary? And how do I tell the difference between needing to assert my manhood and providing a necessary correction as a parent that will help my sons grow one day into solid men? I don’t want to have to pay exorbitant psychiatry bills, but I do want my boys to have at least some superego in their heads holding them back. If my father had never been my oppressor (which wasn’t often), I don’t think I would have become a person who demands excellence of himself.
Every time I spank my sons, I make sure I tell them that I love them beforehand and afterwards and explain why I feel it’s necessary. It makes me feel terrible when they cry. I can’t deny that there’s a “You will do what I command you” thought inside of me that comes from a place of sinful pride. At the same time, I really do want them to be capable of doing what they’re told immediately without talking back in certain situations, because that’s what life requires sometimes. I don’t think you can do that unless you’ve been trained how to do it. When I was a high school teacher, I knew many students who had never been taught them how to show respect to an adult and it got them in all sorts of trouble.
But one thing that really bothers me about spanking is the way that it’s become a litmus test in some conservative evangelical circles of whether you follow God’s law or Sigmund Freud. Fundamentalist Christian author Michael Pearl has a ministry called No Greater Joy built upon the promotion of corporal punishment that’s very popular in Christian homeschooling culture. Several children like Sean Paddock, Lydia Schatz, and Hana Grace-Rose Williams have been beaten to death by parents allegedly as a result of the tactics promoted in Pearl’s book To Train Up a Child. It makes me sick to think that spanking is something Christians would use to define themselves. At the same time, I’m offended when people completely conflate spanking with child abuse as though you cannot possibly spank your child out of love. I’m also turned off by the mentality that every childhood problem can be medicated.
In any case, I’m not a proud advocate of spanking or anything. I’m just trying my best to help my sons become strong, sensitive, confident, humble men. There are a lot of tactics I use as a father to that end. Much of it is instinct. I make tons of mistakes. I try to weed out anything I do out of my own emotional insecurity. It’s terrifying to be a father, but God is helping me. What do you think about spanking? Thanks for whatever insights you have to share.