Thursday, May 12, 2005

Spare the Rod, Please

There is nothing more certain than a two year old who wants something you will not let her have. I mean, really. Any wobbly new parent--and what new parent is not wobbly? The responsibility for this new human thing you have to take home, keep alive, and raise up to be a law-abiding and loving person is a terrifying thing--will tell you: when you have to face down a toddler who is utterly certain of what she wants, when you yourself are not totally resolute on the topic of, say, another cookie, it's tough. All my "am I worthy" buttons and "question authority" buttons get pushed. Me, I learned to sound more resolute than I felt, and my kids mostly buy it. Not only that, but parenting is a learned behavior, and each time I hold the line I feel a little better about holding the line next time. And watching friends, family and strangers with their kids has convinced me that telling a child not to do something in a wishy-washy voice doesn't get you very far. So I have the Mom voice, and while I may have to say a thing twice (or three times), it works.

At our house we do not spank. We talk a lot, and listen a lot. My kids are talkative, enthusiastic, creative, goony girls. You'd like them, really. When they go someplace without us we get "they're so polite" feedback from people who have to reason to lie. So I can't help but feel that our system works for us.

I mention all this because I have lately been following some blog-conversations about physical discipline, and one of the questions that comes up is why anyone would choose to follow advice in books that counsel parents to "break the will" of their children. For their own good. The only rationale I can come up with, in my auctorial way, is that there are people who are just as uncertain as I am when faced with the terrible certainty of a small child, who feel that if they cannot, through force of Parental Authority, cow the child into obedience, they are failures. This is how a guy like James Dobson becomes an authority, I think: because parents feel there's some lack in themselves and will take the strongest sounding advice they can find.

But Dobson, I'm here to tell you, is a piker. Via Echidne of the Snakes, I have been introduced to Ronald E. Williams, who, God help us, runs a "rehabilitation ministry for troubled teenage girls." Williams wants you to use a rod, see. A good strong one that won't break in an hour or two session of "correction," while you break the will of the child. The rod "is not a pencil, or a ruler , or a pillow. It is far more severe than any of these objects. Nor is the rod a rubber hose or a length of barbed wire! A rod in most cases is probably a wooden paddle used for spanking the buttock." Causing serious pain over that 1-2 hour "session". Pain "delivers, in some mysterious way, the heart of that child from its rebellion, stubbornness, and willfulness." I'll bet it does.

And you should start 'em young. In Williams's household the object has been to break the children's wills before their first birthday.

In Williams's mind, of course, the stakes are no less than saving the child from Hell. And the parent, too, since he provides abundant (and to my mind, entirely wrong-headed) readings of the Bible to support his theories, and a parent who doesn't pummel his child into submission is failing in his duty to God and the child. I cannot, honestly, believe that any child who is raised this way, with God and the Bible used as justification to beat her into submission, will grow up willing to submit herself to the authority of that God and that Bible. When I consider a paddling--probably, from Williams's salacious tone an enthusiastic paddling--going on for an hour my mind reels. It begins to make the floggings in the British Navy of Nelson's day sound positively wholesome.


Blogger C. F. Blog said...

Hey, are you getting any writing done because I want to read your new book!

But, I agree with you about the “brow beating” concepts, I don’t think it’s a helpful teaching tool at all. It truly helps no one.

I think you have to remember that Dr. Dobson makes his money, coming up with new ways for parents to feel inadequate. In truth all those self-purpose-self-helps have to be taken with a grain of salt. The people who write that kind of stuff just want the easy life and also make money. Complaining about how others live is much easier than digging the 2x4 out of their own.

1:07 PM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I agree. And as I said, Williams makes Dobson look middle-of-the-road.

And yes, I'm writing. Honestly. Except when I get distracted by something bright and shiny.

3:43 PM  
Blogger Jonquil said...

One such grew up to be this young lady:

Proud independence is no noble goal for a woman, and the spirit which pursues it is no part of a godly girl's trousseau. Of course, those who exalt independence, denying headship to a husband, will certainly deny it to a father. Thus, they find the idea of courtship offensive. But those who acknowledge that God's way is right (Luke 7:29, 35) find the idea of "authoritative stewardship" quite pleasant!

11:28 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Beating a child for an hour or two?

I can't think of any way that isn't illegal, thank the powers that be.

6:29 AM  
Blogger C. F. Blog said...


I read that "brain wash" self-hypnotism article and now I have to get more coffee because I have a bad taste in my mouth. Some psychologist or marriage counselor will be able to retire with her as their client.

It makes me uncomfortable when people pick and choose different subject and different concepts of the bible and try to make their own soufflé from it. This chick is a fruitloop.

7:21 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

You know, it occured to me (while talking to Deb, a friend, who happens to be a devout Christian) that one definition of of civilization is one in which we all submit to each other. Which is what makes the notion of unilateral submission so creepy, so uncivilized to me.

There's a good deal of inveighing against "moral relativists" in Williams's materials. I'm sure he'd put me in that camp, just as I'm sure he believes I'd damned. I am not a moral relativist--I believe in evil. I think beating a child for an hour or two is evil. I believe abusing your power in order to align yourself with a "higher power" is pretty damned evil.

Deb mentioned a passage in Calossians (3:18, I think) where, after the "wives, submit to your husbands, children, submit to your parents" injunctions, it essentially says, "fathers, don't be too hard on your children lest they despair." Apparently that's not a passage that Williams read.

8:32 AM  
Blogger C. F. Blog said...

It's Ephesians 6:4 "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”. Provoking is a very strong word in describing what not to do. The writings in Greek are much stronger than the English versions. The English Language is more simplistic (that’s why Shakespeare had to make up words :)
Strong aggression and over powering behavior is not a true characteristic of God. People who thrown that kind of stuff in your face are fools.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Colossians, too. My copy of the Bible cross-references the passage in Ephesians to Colossians 3:18 (and you have no idea how amazing it is that I can do this; my brother, who is a devout Christian, would swoon. I, who am devoutly Unitarian Universalist, am sort of impressed with myself). The passage itself is almost exactly the same as Ephesians; I'm not sure what translation Deb uses; mine is the plain vanilla King James's.

3:47 PM  
Anonymous Caryn said...

My gawd, he's a sick puppy. Ask anyone with horses if a broken horse is as good as one who's been gently treated. Holds for people even more so. This turns people into slaves, without the paperwork.

I think I'll go throw up now.

5:08 PM  
Blogger Gregory Feeley said...

Gee, Mad, maybe you should add a link to S.M. Stirling's blog (if he has one). Then discussion of this issue wouldn't be so gosh darn one-sided.

4:39 AM  
Blogger Madeleine Robins said...


9:16 AM  
Blogger Jonquil said...

Non-Prophet visited one of the larger evangelical megachurches, New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

report here

I quote:

And with our children I know it has become fashionable to seek alternative methods, and I know it has become a subject of pressure from the outside, well.... from the secular world, not to practice corporal punishment, that's spanking. But the Bible has some pretty clear things to say. In proverbs 24:13 it says he who spares the rod hates his son, everybody say, "I do not hate my son." (crowd says it) Then don't spare the rod. But he who loves his is careful to discipline him. Not spanking your child, the bible says, not taking the rod to his little booty, is hating him.

He speaks about his friend who gave him a rod of correction, inscribed with proverbs that drove fear of the lord into kids.

if that is true, then our children are born not with a heart of good bound up but with a a heart of folly bound up in their heart. How do you get it out? You spank it out.

(big laughs)

it's not that hard!

It's interesting to point out that nowhere in the proverbs or nowhere else in the bible does it point out that the the timeout chair imparts wisdom.

(more big laughs)

3:07 PM  

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