I only remember one time when my mother said to me, prior to a spanking, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”
Even though there were tears in her eyes, it made me angry. I just didn’t get it that day.
I understand that the emotional pain a parent experiences when a child disobeys is greater than what any child can feel in a physical punishment. I’ve felt that as a parent myself. Yet a child cannot equate physical pain with emotional pain, especially at the time of a spanking,⊗ so why try to explain something to him that we know he can’t grasp?
I don’t remember how old I was, but I can take you to the place in the bathroom where my mother said those words to me, and I vowed then that I would never, ever say those words to my kids. (There were a lot of other things I vowed never to do to my kids that I certainly reneged on, but this was not one of them!)
As a child, I did not understand how she could experience physical pain from administering the punishment. That’s what I remember. Therefore, I felt betrayed and belittled. I know this was not my mother’s intent! I know she wanted me to understand that disciplining a child was not a fun thing for her to do, and that it wasn’t easy. I knew that she wasn’t flying off the handle, and her discipline was not in anger or revenge. She honestly wanted me to learn and understand that what I had done was wrong, and there were consequences.
There were tears in Mama’s eyes that day, and I felt more guilt from her tears than from the actual spanking. I knew my wrongdoing brought pain enough to bring tears and she was frustrated. Yet I couldn’t connect her emotional pain to my physical pain. Of course, I understand that completely now. I understand why she said that to me, because it really was true for her. At my age, I just couldn’t get it .
What made more of an impression on me was the tears in my mother’s eyes. It’s the only time I remember her crying when she administered a discipline. She didn’t need to tell me; she simply showed me. That’s the part that connected with me. She experienced deep sorrow and, I am sure, she wondered how she was going to accomplish raising us.
No matter how we choose to discipline our children when they are wrong, we need to be able to help them connect the dots. If it doesn’t make sense, they won’t learn and understand what they’ve done is wrong from the experience of discipline or punishment. It might make sense to us, but that doesn’t help them learn if they don’t get it. Oh sure, they might know never to try that again because it’s not worth the consequence, but they need to be able to connect the dots between actions and consequences.
Parenting can be tough. Figuring out the moods and minds of our children can be hard. Finding what works for each individual child takes some sleuthing. Sometimes what works for one child doesn’t work for another.
When we make mistakes or could do things better, we learn. God forgives. Our children forgive.
The best part is that He gives us wisdom if we but ask. Sometimes we can receive wisdom from other parents or from older folks who’ve been that path years before. There are books we can read; there are parenting groups we can join. Most important of all, we should seek help and wisdom from God. If we truly ask for wisdom and if we truly listen, He will give us ideas and help us understand our children.
He will give us the best words to say and the best actions to take if we are willing to ask and then are willing to listen.
Let’s not be afraid to ask!
⊗[On spanking a child: remember that a genuine spanking is not child abuse, nor is it something that is done in anger or to vent frustration; it is part of teaching and training a child. Scripture talks about what happens when a parent spares the rod of discipline. As a foster parent, there are many times I’ve wished I could apply some wisdom to the seat of someone’s understanding because the behavior could have been squelched in shorter order than it took to mete out consequences for weeks at a time. At the same time, there are plenty of ideas out there for discipline if you are opposed to biblical spanking. You can read some of our ideas in the post No More Spankings? 3 Alternatives here.]