Do Christianity and Attachment Parenting go hand in hand? I’m sure we’ve all heard that Jesus was breastfed, and I’m sure we’ve all heard the Christmas story enough to know that Jesus co-slept, at least until the wise men came. But my question is this: What would Jesus think of Gentle Discipline?
I grew up in a practising Christian, church going home, and although I wasn’t routinely beaten, I had my share of hidings. I wouldn’t class my upbringing as abusive, yet there was an implement of torture â€“ the ‘PLAK’ (a leather strap with a hard handle) â€“ that we would be threatened with from time to time. Primarily effectively so. As the oldest, I was sometimes punished for things that weren’t actually my fault. But still, hidings were a part of our culture, our belief and our upbringing. â€œSpare the rod and spoil the childâ€ and all that. Or as Proverbs 13:24 says, â€œHe who spares the rod hates his son: but he that loves him corrects himâ€.
In fact, Solomon went as far, in Proverbs, as saying, â€œWithhold not correction from a child: for if you strike him with the rod, he shall not die. You shall beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)
Logically speaking, I don’t really see how you can beat someone into heaven. The two don’t really strike me as leading from one to another.
I have had discussions, at length, with Christians who question our decision not to smack our child. I guess at almost 14 months, that’s easy to say. She’s not a tantrum filled toddler yet. She’s not a stroppy tween, nor an infuriating teen. But we’ve decided to start as we mean to go on.
I struggle to equate love with pain. Or at least, a healthy, building, underpinning love. Like most, I have had love that has given me pain â€“ or more accurately, it was the withdrawal of love from which the pain came. But I struggle to line up love next to the infliction of pain. I see very little difference between ‘I love my child, so punish with a beating‘ and ‘He beats me, because he loves me‘.
In both, the one being beaten is suffering because of the feelings of the beater, and the one being beaten experiences a succumbing to the obviously more powerful ‘other’. I cannot find a trace of love in this. This is why for us, with our child(ren) we are choosing to disciple with love, not violence. And I guess as the years pass, we’ll see what results.
When the Bible talks of the ‘rod’, as in, â€œThy rod and Thy staff comfort meâ€ it is using the analogy of the shepherd tending his flock. Phillip Keller explains his understanding of the ‘rod’ through his experiences with African shepherds who till this day still use a rod and staff in the fields. He says, â€œThe rod, in fact, was an extension of the owner’s own right arm. It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation.â€
In modern Christianity the focus has always been on the disciplinarian nature of the rod. But I wonder if there wasn’t also a more gentle, peaceful purpose to the rod: to guide, to direct, to point in the right direction. Perhaps when the Bible says, â€œSpare the rod and spoil the childâ€ it is saying, â€œdon’t guide your child, don’t direct him, don’t point him in the right direction and you will spoil, or ruin, the child.â€
Perhaps it’s saying â€œHe who spares the guidance, the direction, the pointing in the ways that are right hates his son: but he that loves him corrects himâ€.
I sure don’t see it saying â€œbut he that loves him beats him.â€
See, the Bible also tells us to ‘Correct your son, and he will give you comfort, He will also delight your soul. (Proverbs 29:17). Correction involves teaching, guiding, providing alternatives, holding back when needed, allowing to go when appropriate. It involves communication.
The Bible tells us not to provoke our children to anger (Ephesians 6:4) â€“ I assure you, undeserved hidings made me plenty angry. It means we should not tease our children beyond what’s playful and we’re BOTH enjoying. It means we must allow them to have opinions, to have feelings and to be free to express those. (How frustrating is it to you or me when we’re just.not.heard?)
Jesus loved children. He still does. And last time I checked, the Bible also told us that love â€œis patient, is kind, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and never fails.â€ (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
So, can a Christian parent practice Gentle Discipline? Yes. I believe so. I believe it is what God intended. I don’t believe He ever intended us to raise our children with violence â€“ sexual, physical or mental â€“ nor do I believe that physical violence towards a child can foster a loving, caring, trusting relationship between a parent and their child in the long term.