My four-year-old got her first official spanking today (I smacked her hand once when she was one, and quickly realised that she had no idea what it meant to be naughty, and so I was effectively just being cruel — I felt terrible). Her favourite game is ‘making mixtures’, which has recently involved raids of the baking cupboard. The first warning came after half a tub of custard powder, which she then escalated to flour and cocoa powder, and now the mess involved a medium bowl of oil.
I’m not especially in favour of spanking as first choice punishment. I don’t oppose it per se, as long as it’s within certain limits. Too often people hit because they’re angry, and of course it’s a small step after that to child abuse. I don’t think that it should be anyone’s default punishment. Nevertheless, my daughter’s ears haven’t been listening, so I hope that her bottom might.
Having to dish out a spanking taught me two things quite starkly.
Firstly, Hebrews 12 tells us that the Lord disciplines those he loves, and it uses parental discipline as the model. A parent who doesn’t discipline his child treats his child like an orphan, it implies. What I noticed about spanking my daughter is that it was more traumatic for me than for her (I guess I erred on the side of underdoing it). Discipline is something that it is easier not to do, because it is unpleasant for everyone. The reason why it is loving to hand out hard punishments is that it is a personal sacrifice to pain or displease one that you love, and yet without doing so, you set that person up for greater pain as a result of indiscipline. Avoiding being the ‘bad guy’ to your child makes you feel better, but it is an opportunity missed for desperately needed training, and it means the harm of your child in the long run.
How much more then should we rejoice in our own trials, because as Hebrews says, we know that by them God himself addresses us as sons and daughters. Trials are for our training and growth (and sometimes our punishment too), and so while they might be painful, there is some solace in the privilege that lies behind them.
Furthermore, it seems fair to say that punishing those that he loves must be painful and sacrificial for God too. In fact, it serves (hopelessly inadequately) to illustrate just how dreadful it must have been for God to punish his own Son on our behalf that day on the hill.
The second thing that I learned is that my daughter has done the same thing (in increasing measure) three times, ignoring our warnings and previous punishments, and wilfully disobeying us. It makes me very angry when she doesn’t listen, especially when she ignores me to my face. However, for all my indignation, I am prompted to remember that I express my weaknesses in repeated wilful disobedience towards God all the time, knowing as I do that my sins are committed in plain sight of him — to his face, if you like.
So, in my daughter’s disobedience to me, I see my own reflected back. Perhaps disciplining my daughter is occasion again to chastise myself.