Dear Munchkin and Peanut,
A few weeks ago, I received a free e-copy of The Christian Parenting Handbook. I had heard about the organization behind it, The National Center for Biblical Parenting, and signed up for free email tips a while ago. I’d found their tips helpful and very much in line with the approach Daddy and I desire to take in raising you. I was thrilled to receive an advance copy of the book.
I quickly grew concerned, though, when I saw there was a chapter titled “To Spank or Not to Spank.” I sincerely hoped the authors would come down firmly on the side of “NOT to spank,” and was dismayed by their equivocal approach to the matter. I realized they were trying to reach a wide range of readers, and the authors may actually believe that such a choice can and should be left up to individual parents. But it ruined the book for me.
I wrote to the authors and head of the publicity campaign, explaining that I would gladly promote the book if the chapter on spanking simply didn’t exist, regardless of what the authors’ beliefs may be. I think the rest of the material is excellent and would be very useful for many parents. But my mother read Dr. James Dobson’s Dare to Discipline when I was a child and attempted to put it into practice. Like the authors of The Christian Parenting Handbook, Dr. Dobson advised parents never to spank while angry, and to “reserve spanking only for outright defiance…and only as a last resort” (The Christian Parenting Handbook, p. 134). My mother claimed to have followed these parameters, but I never made the connection that a spanking was a direct result of defiance. I just learned not to make mom angry.
The experience severely damaged my relationship with my mother. It also made me more aggressive and violent. I have worked very hard during my adult life to learn to restrain myself from lashing out when I become angry or frustrated. I still have to work at it all the time, especially when you two are really pushing my buttons. Because of my experiences, I fear if I ever start, I might lose control and do some serious damage. For this reason, Daddy and I have committed to not use corporal punishment with you.
The authors of The Christian Parenting Handbook do qualify their position by talking about the damaging effects of parental anger on page 133, and they are right in that respect. The problem is not inherent to the method. There are probably parents who are capable of using spanking effectively, without anger and without harming their children physically or emotionally. My mother wasn’t one of them. The problem is that individuals like my mother are often incapable of recognizing that failing in themselves. My mother may have thought she was calm and rational when she delivered spankings, but I knew she was still angry.
Any book calling itself “a Christian approach to parenting” should either completely ignore spanking, or advise against it. It is dangerous to put text allowing spanking “out there” where someone like my mother might read it and try to put it into practice without any other training or supervision to ensure they’re doing it right. Although The National Center for Biblical Parenting offers other resources, including seminars and videos, there is no guarantee any specific individual would avail themselves of the additional offerings. Like my mother, they may have good intentions. Like my mother, they may fail miserably without realizing it. They may be doing their best, but spanking is a slippery slope.
I asked the authors to consider the text of Romans 14:19-21 (NIV):
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
Permission to spank from a book like The Christian Parenting Handbook is a stumbling block for those individuals who are unable to execute the method properly. Furthermore, it puts their children in danger of physical and emotional harm.
But the launch of their publicity campaign was quickly approaching, and copies of the book had already been shipped out. I knew there was little chance of a revision or postponement when I wrote to the authors, yet I was somehow praying for a miracle. I begged them not to allow their book to lead even one more human, imperfect parent to stumble and fall down the slippery slope of spanking.
I was pleased that one of the authors took the time to respond to me, and seemed genuinely sorry that I had such a traumatic experience. I’ll share what he had to say another time. I will say now that I understood his perspective, but I still couldn’t agree with essentially giving permission to spank, under any circumstances. It’s just too dangerous when there is no way to control the audience and ensure proper application of the concept. Ultimately, I decided I wouldn’t post a review to Amazon.com at all.
Although I waited until their publicity campaign ended, I felt I still needed to make my testimony public. At this point, I don’t think it will have any effect on their book sales. But maybe, just maybe, a parent struggling with “To Spank or Not to Spank” will read this and come down firmly on the side of “NOT to spank.”
All my love,