Friday, September 19, 2014

Mixed Messages

I have written before about how spankings were used in my family, and how I regret using spanking even in a more limited way on my own children.

In this talk, Robbyn Peters Bennett succinctly explains the damaging side effects of using physical violence to modify children's behavior.

In a 1978 speech, children's author Astrid Lindgren told a story about a little boy whose mother announced her intention to switch him. 
The boy was gone a long time. And when he came back in, he was crying. He said to her, "Mama, I couldn't find a switch, but here's a rock that you can throw at me."
Indeed, when I was a young person, I read this Bible passage of "God's Law" at least once a year, in which parents are enjoined to stone disobedient children as a last resort:
"If a man has a stubborn, rebellious son who will not obey his father or mother, even though they punish him, then his father and mother shall take him before the elders of the city and declare, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious and won’t obey; he is a worthless drunkard.' Then the men of the city shall stone him to death. In this way you shall put away this evil from among you, and all the young men of Israel will hear about what happened and will be afraid."      Deut. 21:18-21 (TLB)

The reason our parents were not obligated by this particular passage was that God himself had had his own perfectly obedient son killed, resulting in a surplus sufficient to cover all of our stubborn rebellion till the end of time. But that was small comfort when the wooden spoon came out and we were ordered to lean over Mom and Dad's mattress for being "disrespectful", "strong-willed", or "a bad example".

Once a month we read aloud, "Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying." My parents took the verse literally, and it was a rare week when one of us did not bear the evidence on thighs or buttocks.

The morality of attacking one's offspring with sticks was not open for debate in our home. Had not God himself said, "If you are not disciplined...then you are not legitimate"? The beloved maternal role model of my childhood was Marmee in Little Women. Her bold declaration, "I don't approve of corporal punishment, especially for girls", made me think I was reading very subversive thoughts indeed!

When a child is struck by those on whom he depends for safety, his young brain struggles to comprehend the mixed signals of danger and love, kindness and abuse, to say nothing of the twisted sexual component. Sometimes the task of untangling those threads lasts far longer than his childhood did.

No comments:

Post a Comment