Spare the Rod…
I’m long past the age where parenting is a part of my day. So I was surprised when I visited a message board and found a parent struggling with her choices and the “spare the rod, spoil the child” quote was thrown in her face. Surprised, because this argument was around when I was parenting. You’d think its legs would have worn off by now. Surprised, because Christian parents are still being
encouraged brainwashed into believing they have to hit their children in order for them to become responsible/normal/loving adults. Surprised, because I wouldn’t think today’s enlightened young adults would entertain the idea for one moment.
The saying is attributed to the Bible, but that isn’t quite true. The attributed verse is found in Proverbs, and in the New International Version it reads like this:
“Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” (Prov 13:24)
Note that it’s not quite the quote we use.
The actual sentence is, instead taken from a poem written in the 1600s by Samuel Butler. It is a mock heroic narrative, and the sentence reads: “Love is a boy by poets stil’d /Then spare the rod and spoil the child. “
Wikepedia states, In the context of Hudibras the phrase is a bawdy metaphor suggesting the best way to curtail amorous passions or, through double entendre, to prevent conception.
Still want to quote it?
Back to Proverbs 13, or the perversion of it, many fundamentalist churches use to encourage spanking (“the rod”) as part of parenting. It’s part of the reason so many people struggle with who God is and what he wants from us. Corporal punishment is difficult to align with grace and love, isn’t it?
And since when does careful to discipline equate to hitting? But I guess I’m getting ahead of myself…
If we’re going to follow Christ, and be Disciples of Christ, we need to approach parenting in a Christ-like manner.
The overriding theme of Proverbs as it relates to parenting might be described as creating a culture of accountability, of culpability. God wants parents to give children the duty, the burden, of being responsible for their actions. Not beat them. Not verbally beat them, either; just teach them to bear the responsibility.
That’s a long way from hitting.
‘The Rod’ Defined
Thing is, the aforementioned “rod” didn’t have anything to do with spanking. A rod, in ancient times, was what a shepherd carried to care for his sheep. The Hebrew word used in Proverbs is “shabat.” A shabat had several purposes: it could be tossed past the errant sheep to startle him back to the flock, it could be used to fend off potential attackers, it was used to count the sheep (as they went under the rod), and it was used physically to pull back the wool in order to look at wounds or other defects on the sheep’s skin.
The rod would be pretty useless for these purposes if it were used as a weapon, wouldn’t it? I don’t think even a sheep would trust the rod being pushed against its wool for examination if it had been beaten with it!
At any rate, the rod is not a weapon, but rather a symbol for discipline. Sue Hille, in The Rod of Guidance, suggests the shabat has 5 symbolic uses in parenting:
Security—the child knows he/she is loved, cared for, accepted; 2) Guidance—the loving parent will teach the child and keep him/her from going astray; 3) Protection—the parent will not let outsiders hurt the child; 4) Evaluation—the child will be ʺcountedʺ and progress will be monitored; 5) Diagnosis—the parent will look for signs of anxiety or pain in the child and seek out treatment and healing.
These are solid principles, and they embrace the Word of God in the sense that they embrace grace and love – and forgiveness. I can’t imagine Christ raising a stick to beat a child, can you? If we’re going to follow Christ, and be Disciples of Christ, we need to approach parenting in a Christ-like manner. The Bible can help us do that.
I admit I did buy into the theory, for a number of years, that children needed to be spanked. You can only teach what you know, and I did come from a family that spanked. I gave fewer spankings than they did, and I really wanted to be able to align my parenting methods with God’s. A swat on a diaper when they ran toward true danger, like a busy road felt okay to me. But spanking didn’t seem to resolve anything, and as mentioned earlier it did not align with my idea of God as a giver of grace and love. Instead I searched for a gentler way…my kids are grown now and don’t seem to have suffered from the few spankings they got, though I am sure they’d tell you different.
Christian communities will suck you in and continually hammer you with what’s “best” for your child. It’s really difficult for new parents who are trying so, SO hard to do the right thing. Depending on your church family, you might be pushed to breastfeed, homeschool, use corporal punishment, and so on. Or you might be pushed in the other direction: bottle feed, use public schools, use time out for punishment. Going against either is like swimming upstream in a hard current. I know; I homeschooled and breastfed (in public – gasp!) and was from the “other” train of thought.
The one thing I know for sure is that God has a plan for you, the exact right plan that’s tailor-made for your child. His plan fits the child who is oversensitive, ADD, an introvert, and extrovert, and more. He already knows which of those labels fits the child, and He’s already worked out what to do. Getting into the Bible and knowing it will help to resolve the problem as well as the pressures that come along with belonging to a group.
By the way, if you started this article knowing that “spare the rod and spoil the child” was a distortion of the Proverb, kudos to you!