Browsing Tag

spanking

Social Issues

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 212-241

To be honest, if Tim had stopped writing the chapter on how to help your depressed child at page 216, I wouldn’t have a single problem with anything he says in this single, solitary chapter. His first bits of advice are:

  1. Give your children a lot of love and affection.
  2. Accept them.
  3. Avoid anger in the home.

Those are things I can absolutely get behind, and I’m actually surprised that Tim included “accept your children” here– acceptance isn’t something conservative Christians usually talk about in regards to raising children. But then he does a complete about face with the rest of his advice, which is focused on “discipline,” which he makes clear is “the rod.” He says that “The Bible makes it very clear that if you spare the rod, you will spoil the child” (217), and I’d like to take this moment to point out that this isn’t actually a Bible verse. It’s a quote from a satirical poem by Samuel Butler that mockingly suggests that spanking your romantic interest will make them love you.

Also, for an alternative interpretation on all those “rod” passages in Proverbs, I recommend reading this. Many Christians believe that those metaphors in Proverbs are supposed to be taken literally as a command to physically abuse their children, but I, and many other Christians, believe that is a grossly inaccurate interpretation.

Tim also takes the time to make sure his reader knows not to discipline his children “in anger,” and I want sit on that for a moment. A recent study revealed that the way my parents were taught to spank me– be calm during, and then be extremely affectionate and warm after– can actually make anxiety worse. The lead researcher suggests this might be because it’s “simply too confusing and unnerving for a child to be hit hard and loved warmly all in the same home.”

There’s also evidence linking the sort of spanking that Tim advocates to depression, anxiety, other mood disorders, and substance abuse later in the child’s life, which completely unravels his argument that children need to be physically abused in order to have the depression literally beat out of them. Other studies suggest that spanking can cause cognitive impairment and increase aggression. Couple that with the fact that many parents are likely to underestimate how hard they are hitting their child as well as how often they spank, it should be obvious to all of us that spanking is actively harmful, ineffectual, and not something even the most loving parent can practice responsibly.

Tim claims that spanking “assures the child of his parent’s love” (218), but I can think of few claims more preposterous. How in the world is hitting a child supposed to communicate “I love you”? I believed that spanking was a moral imperative for most of my life, and I never connected it to how much my parent’s loved me. I believed it was necessary, but that was completely separate from how much my parents loved me. The closest word to describe what I felt after a beating would be rage. It was humiliating and excruciating, and having to look at my parent and mumble something about loving them made me so angry I could choke.

Oh, it temporarily “fixed” my behavior. I usually managed to slap on the “thankful attitude” that Tim thinks parents should spank their children into (221), but it was a lie. It was something I pretended out of some sort of survival mechanism. Spanking “works” because of fear, not love.

~~~~~~~~~

“How to Help a Depressed Friend” wasn’t too terrible; his only real piece of advice in this chapter is not to be “too cheerful,” mostly because he thinks that depressed people find it annoying. That’s not true in my experience– I find overly cheery people annoying all of the time. Tim’s obliviousness also comes out a little bit with “Even the depressed will rarely refuse prayer, which they usually recognize as their last hope” (226). I have desperately wanted to say “oh my god, no” many times when someone has offered to pray with me, and the only thing that keeps from me vocalizing it is the fact that would generally be considered fairly rude.

The last two chapters were troubling, since he mostly focuses on biblical figured to communicate the message that depression is a sin. What troubles me is that he chose examples like Jeremiah and his Lamentations. I think it’s a truth (almost) universally acknowledges that white middle-class American Christians have lost the ability to lament. A google search of “Christians need lament” turned up articles from pretty much every significant American Christian movement, from The Gospel Coalition to the Emergents.

One of the things that deeply bothers me about Christian culture is this whole “happy happy joy joy,” “Rejoice in the Lord Always, and again I say rejoice” attitude toward faith and worship is that it ignores reality. Living on planet earth is a catastrophic nightmare sometimes, and if we are robbed of our ability to grieve and lament, then we’ve lost a connection to our humanity. Christianity is not about being happy, but sometimes I get the feeling that’s what it’s been reduced to. Our theology needs room for shit just happens, and “Rejoice in the Lord!” doesn’t cover it.

All the way through this book, Tim has advocated a position that being thankful for everything, including the awful, terrible, no-good stuff, is the only way to avoid depression, but I think all that really does is turn us into Stepford-level automatons. We’re people, and part of being human means being sad.

In the end, that’s the biggest mistake Tim has made in How to Win Over Depression. He doesn’t understand what depression actually is– he confuses it with sadness, with grief (227), and then tells all of us that experiencing those emotions is sinful. He robs us all of our humanity.

Social Issues

burning down the woodshed

woodshed
[photography by Jack]

As my partner can attest to, one of the things that have stuck with me from growing up in the Deep South is my reliance on idiomatic Southern expressions. In my area, “trip to the woodshed” was the most commonly used euphemism for corporal punishment, and while the adults who used this term obviously meant it humorously, hearing it made me feel a little sick. “I’m going to take you out back to the woodshed!” conjured images, for me, of lashings and beatings and screaming boys and girls– but in that old-fashioned Disney way, with the too-red cheeks and too-round eyes and deep furrows in the mother’s brow and the animation sequence of arms flailing up and down repeated on an endless loop. Somehow, the expectation was that we were all supposed to laugh.

Eventually, I did learn to laugh about being spanked. I turned into one of those teenagers that swapped spanking horror stories at camp, and I was proud of the fact that I had a doozy that was the ultimate one-upping story. It never occurred to me that I was probably sitting next to someone that had five thousand versions of my story, every single one much worse.

I grew up, and I turned into a young adult that was proud of being spanked. I even had a conversation with my parents at one point that I’d wished they had spanked me more. I had an argument that made sense to me at the time, but I don’t even remember it now. I was going to spank my children exactly the way I’d been taught– controlled, unemotional, in private, and as a form of training, not punishment. I believed everything I’d been told about being spanked. When I heard some people talk about spanking as if it were wrong, I rolled my eyes at the pansy-ass liberal whose children were probably some of those squalling brats in Wal-Mart that they had to satisfy with bribes. I was convinced that it was people who didn’t spank their children is what was wrong with America today.

And, then, one day, I read this:

“I was spanked as a kid, and I turned out just fine.”

No, no you didn’t. You think hitting a child is ok.

I don’t even remember where I saw that, but it hit me like a ton of bricks full in the face.

This is probably the only thing in my life that I changed my mind on so quickly and so utterly and without any more research. It was like a floodlight had flipped on inside of my head, and the sudden bone-deep knowledge wrecked me.

Spanking is the physical and violent assault of a child.

Spanking is like me, facing someone twelve feet tall and six hundred pounds, beating me. If they were to use a board proportionally the same size as the one my ex-cult-leader used, it would be like a giant hitting me with a cricket bat, and it would not matter how “controlled” they were, or whether or not they were angry, or how many times they hit me, or with what, or where. I became convinced that spanking is evil in a matter of seconds, and after the scales had fallen from my eyes I couldn’t even comprehend what I had believed before. I had gone from believing that corporal punishment was a moral imperative to believing it to be a moral evil, and from that moment forward every time I tried to think back to what it was like to agree with spanking it hurt. It made me sick.

I have a hard time saying that, even now, even after it’s been well over a year. Because my parents loved me. Love me. I have never, not for a single moment in my entire life, ever doubted that. They have always done what they thought was best, and they honestly, truly, believed that hitting me with a belt was in my best interest, that they would be be failing their obligations as parents if they didn’t. I know that the same is true for the overwhelming number of parents who adore their children.

After that moment, I did go looking for more information, and I was shocked at how easy it was to find. There are many, many studies on the effects of physical discipline on children, and none of it is positive. Spanking– defined by most researchers as “striking on the bottom with an open hand”– could lead to cognitive impairment. It increases aggression. It can lead to depression and anxiety in adulthood. I started reading material from Gentle Christian Mothers and Why Not Train a Child that offered a compelling and extraordinarily different understanding of the Bible verses I’d always assumed justified spanking.

At this point I’d been reading Libby Anne‘s blog for a while, but now I started paying more attention to her posts about parenting Sally and Bobby. She’d grown up with all the same exact beliefs that I had, and she had the same fears that I suddenly found staring at me in the middle of the night, because as I grew in this area I realized it wasn’t just my attitude about hitting children that had to change, but how I thought of my relationship with children, and what it means to be a parent, and what my duties and responsibilities would be. I had to struggle to re-imagine what the rest of my life would look like if I became a mother.

We hit our children not only because we’ve been taught by generations of cultural training that it’s the best thing for them, for a good and just society, but the reality is that we also spank our children because we believe they are stupid. We believe that they cannot be reasoned with, that they cannot be taught and persuaded and convinced. We do not accept their reasons for their actions, and dismiss their intentions as inconsequential.

I would say we treat them like animals, but the brutal reality is that we can treat our children worse than we treat our animals. I wouldn’t do to my precious Noel and Elsa what I would have once believed to be totally acceptable to do to a toddler. We read Black Beauty when we’re children and are horrified by the descriptions of horses being whipped, but when a football player takes a switch to his child, leaving bleeding welts, people rush to his defense, saying his actions are more than just normal, they’re good.

Another unfortunate truth is that many of us are just not that patient with our children. Not hitting our children means taking a lot of time to correct a behavior. You have to stop and talk to them, to understand why they took an action, and help them understand why their action was inappropriate for the context or just plain wrong. For many evangelical Christians, this means completely upending everything the Dobsons and the Pearls and the Tripps and the Ezzos have ever told us about “child rearing” and rejecting … well, all of it.

Usually I try to take a somewhat moderated stance when it comes to things that I haven’t personally experienced: I am not a parent, and I might not ever be one. However, in this case, I can’t. I must condemn spanking for what it actually is– and I mean all spanking, not just the sort of spanking I grew up with, but even the milder gentler version of “a couple of swats on the bottom.”

Hitting our children is wrong. Hitting our children is repulsive. Hitting our children is evil.

Social Issues

raised to be a monster

monster
from Pan’s Labyrinth

I sat on the couch in the nursery, playing with some loose threads while I watched Mrs. Grace* entertain the baby on her lap. She’d been playing peekabo for the past few minutes when she suddenly saw the baby, Anna*, notice her necklace. It was an antique pendant watch with delicate scroll work, and Anna seem fascinated by the movement of the hands. Mrs. Grace dangled the pendant in front of her, telling her “it’s ok, you can touch it, go ahead.”

I watched as Anna turned to look at her mother who was sitting across the room. Mrs. Dianna slowly shook her head, pursed her lips, frowned, and made a subtle wagging motion with her index finger. Anna turned back to look at Mrs. Grace and very seriously shook her head.

I sat there, impressed and in awe. Anna was an infant– just a few months old! How had Mrs. Dianna done that? I marveled. It was amazing what consistent discipline could do!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When I was sixteen, I got into an argument with a boy at church. He was a public school student in a church that idolized homeschooling and had been severely mocked for it by most of the kids at church. He’d called homeschoolers uneducated idiots, I’d called public school students homicidal maniacs, and we’d ended up yelling at each other and then not speaking for the rest of the night– or the week.

The next week the ride home from church was dead silent. I could tell that my father was angry about something, but I had no idea what, although I had the sense that it was directed at me in some way. When we got home we went straight to the bedroom and he pulled out a yardstick and told me to bend over. He told me that I was being punished for being cruel to a boy at church, which left me confused and frightened. I had no idea what he was talking about. I protested and tried to explain my confusion, but it didn’t matter. I received a spanking– and, true to the Pearl’s methods, he continued spanking me until I displayed repentance and contrition and all signs of rebellion were gone.

He broke six yardsticks over me, eventually switching to his leather belt. The spanking went on for forever,¬†because¬†I continued to say that I was innocent, and that was rebellion. The next day, I couldn’t sit down, and when I looked in the mirror I saw that I was beginning to bruise– badly. It was the first and only time a spanking had ever left a mark, and it left me with a vague sense of pride that I’d endured so much.

A few days later, when I was sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, at the dinner table, my father grew frustrated. “What are you doing that for? Stop being so melodramatic.”

I calmly explained that I couldn’t sit down normally, and I saw my father’s eyes widen. He told my mother to look at me, and when we emerged from their bathroom, my mom looked at my dad– but I couldn’t read her expression. “I think her tailbone is broken.”

I watched my father’s face as it cracked. Horror burst into his eyes as they filled with tears. He pulled me into a fierce hug, and I could feel him cry into my hair. He apologized, over and over, begging my forgiveness.

I was confused as I stood in his arms, frozen and stiff. He’d done exactly the right thing. He’d done what I’d been trained to believe was the only possible way to “train up a child in the way he should go.” He was only doing the best possible thing for my spiritual well-being.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I can still chase you down and beat you.”

I winced. It’s nothing, Samantha, I told myself. Don’t over-react. It’s just a joke– a joke most parents use at some point. It doesn’t mean anything. I felt my knee start bouncing and tried to calm myself. He doesn’t actually mean “beat.” He’d never do that.

As the sermon continued that Sunday morning, my mind kept flicking back to that moment. And I kept reminding myself that “beat,” in my culture, is a euphemism. It doesn’t actually mean beat for most people. Hardly anyone would do anything substantially more than a swat or two.

And, then, suddenly, he started talking about a couple of new parents bringing their baby to church, and man, don’t you just wish you could spank that baby? And then he laughed, and said “of course I’m being facetious. No one would actually do that, that’s crazy.”

But all I could see was Anna’s face, staring at her mother, as it transformed into a mask of fear and terror. Her mother hadn’t had to lift her hand, or yell, or rage, or do anything. She simply pursed her lips and wagged her finger, and that was enough to ensure that Anna was frozen and helpless. I just barely managed to survive getting out of the auditorium. The entire time we made small talk in the lobby, I wanted to vomit. During the drive home I chatted idly with my husband, flinching every time Anna’s face appeared in my memory, her eyes wide and her lip quivering. I made it all the way to lunch– and then I broke down.

“He thinks it’s funny because he doesn’t think anyone would do that, but I’ve known people who not only do that, they think it’s biblical. Oh, God, I was one of those people. I thought that there wasn’t anything wrong with spanking a baby. I believed that it was biblical and right to spank a baby. I was one of those monsters!”

And my husband held me as I sobbed.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I’ve told that story about Anna and the pendant countless times since that day. I’ve expounded on all the marvelous benefits of child training often an early, and the importance of consistency and, of course, never spanking in anger. I’ve talked about that night when my father broke my tailbone as if it were a funny story– a hilarious anecdote that I shared when a bunch of us homeschool kids got together and started swapping impressive spanking stories. I was basically repeating, verbatim, the teachings of people like Michael and Debi Pearl, who wrote No Greater Joy and To Train up a Child. One of my mother’s best friends had given her both of those books, and I read them like they were gospel growing up. When I was a mother there would be no screaming. When I was a mother I would house-proof my baby, not baby-proof my house.¬†When I was a mother . . .

Telling these stories, today, however, I’m trying not to cry. Because, looking back, I can see the twisted evil of everything I witnessed and experienced.

What makes it so evil is that what teachings like what’s found in the pages of books like To Train up a Child turn good, amazing, loving, responsible parents into monsters. My parents loved me– they love me so much I can barely understand it at times. They’ve constantly supported me, they’ve stood up for me, they’ve defended me . . . they love me, and they always have. It’s because they loved me that they fell in with these ideas. They desperately wanted to be the best possible parents that they could be– and they believed that what they were being taught was the only way to be good parents. Do this and your children won’t depart from these ways when they are old. They didn’t know better, and they looked around at all the parents who were following these methods, and their kids were so happy, so content, so well behaved.

So, in the name of how much they loved me, they were led to do abusive things.

It has nothing to do with my parents being abusive people. They are not abusers. What is so frightening about these teachings is that they blur the line so badly. They’re insidious, because to parents who have absolutely no desire to harm their children, these teachings, on the surface, seem alright. There seems to be cautious admonishments for parents to have discernment– all the while telling them that if you do not drive rebellion out of their heart you are damning their very soul. And when you’re involved in these sorts of circles, it turns into a downward spiral. The methods escalate, the attitudes become more severe. Parents are sucked into viewing their child as the enemy– you are in a constant, never-ending battle for the fate of your child’s soul, and you cannot give up.

Writing about this is difficult– I’ve been avoiding talking about this for months. Because these sorts of stories– they are not representative of who these people are, especially not my parents. But, with all the stories that have been coming to light in the past month, I felt it was time to speak. I’m not Lydia, or Hana— but most of us aren’t. Most of us have stories like mine– stories of parents who were only trying to do their best.

Feminism

choices and being allowed to make them, part three

child abuse

I realize the claims I’m about to make here are going to upset some. Many of you are going to violently disagree with me, and I’m anticipating that. I’m not accusing the parents who hold to these ideas as abusers– they have no idea that the system they so fervently believe in as “biblical” is abusive. I’m making some very big, very broad claims, and I’m making them without nuance or complexity simply because of time constraints. There is a Polemical nature to what I’m saying, and I’m aware of that.

Shortly before I married Handsome, I was in his childhood home, kicking around with his younger brother. We’d just finished watching a movie, and we’d been discussing all sorts of interesting things– the merits of a Confederacy over a Republic, for example, and the meanings of oligarchy and aristocracy. Smart kid, right? Well, Handsome came downstairs, and I’m not sure how we got around to this, but we started talking about some of their mutual childhood memories; namely, how they were taught to respect their mother. Handsome and his brother started reminiscing about how their mother would “count” in order to get their attention.

When I say “count,” I’m talking about what we see in the grocery store every day: “I’m going to count to three,” and the child has the opportunity to respond within that time frame, or, well, consequences. That is not how their mother practiced it– she used it only as a means of getting attention, with no threat of consequences implied — but that’s the typical perception of “counting,” I think. Hopefully you agree.

When they started talking about this idea, I scoffed. Probably rolled my eyes, too. “We’re not doing that with our children,” I pronounced, quite firmly.

Handsome turned to me, genuinely confused by my obvious hostility to the idea. “Why not?”

“It’s just teaching them that they can disobey however they want to. That I don’t really mean it when I call them.”

He stared at me, clearly not following. “Huh?”

“Children need to obey their parents. They don’t get to define how and when they obey– we do.”

What followed was a rather intense discussion that, in retrospect on my part, didn’t make any sense. I started trying to argue that “counting” was inherently a threat, and I didn’t want to threaten my children, but somehow completely missed that the kind of authoritarian, totalitarian, dictator-style approach to parenting I was advocating was based on threats.

During our conversation, I started feeling very triggered, and I could feel a panic attack coming on, which perplexed me. Why was I reacting this way? Why was I spiraling out of control? I could feel myself start to tremble all over, and I knew I had to leave. I went up to my room, curled up on my bed and cried, completely not understanding why I was panicking, or even what had triggered me. What was going on? What had caused this? Why was I so upset, when Handsome had not done anything remotely triggering?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

At the time I attributed it to stress- it was a week before our wedding, and it had been a somewhat intense, although still friendly and open, conversation.

I know what it is now, although thinking about it is still very muddled. But, it is linked to the idea of instant, cheerful obedience that was advocated by nearly everyone I knew as a child and teenager. All the books we read taught it, and it was practiced by everyone in the community. Every child I knew had been taught since they were infants that they were to obey instantaneously and without question– and not just their parent. All children were required to obey all adults, and we could be punished by any adult immediately and with the direct approval by our parents.

My supposed “pastor”-‘s wife used to summon her children by whistling. She whistled through her teeth, and the sound was distinct, unmistakable, and loud. You could hear it from anywhere inside Wal-Mart, practically. Anytime she whistled, all of her children responded immediately— and in the sense of “immediately” that is the result of programming. Their response was so ingrained, so automatic, when they heard a whistle it was like watching Pavlov’s dogs. For all their talk about the evils of psychology, conservative religious disciplinarians sure jumped on board the behavioral modification and classical conditioning bandwagons.

Personally, I was taught to respond with a cheerful, respectful “yes ma’am,” to any demand, with the rationalization that it’s impossible for a child to say “yes ma’am” and try to fake respect if they’re not actually feeling it. I was required to drop anything I was doing the second I was summoned, because the summons was always more important than anything I was doing.

This continued into adulthood– I was still living with my parents, and had gotten home from an exhausting shift at work. All I wanted to do was curl up on the couch and watch the movie I’d rented when my mother called me into the office.

“Why?” I responded, believing it to be a reasonable response. I didn’t want to move. I was tired. I wanted to watch my movie and then go to bed.

“Just come here!”

“But why? I’m busy.”

“No, you’re not. Come here. I want to show you something.”

“What is it?”

“Just come here!” The frustration in her tone was escalating.

I realized at that point that if I was ever going to watch my movie I’d have to do whatever it was my mother wanted. When it turns out she wanted to show me a map because I’d gotten lost the day before, all I wanted to do was leave. Maps are completely useless to me– they make no sense, and unless I am actually driving on the road with one, all those little lines, squiggly and straight, mean absolutely nothing to me. My sense of direction is abysmal, and yes, it takes me a little while to figure out where I’m going and how to get there. But maps– they are worse than useless. But, they work really well for my mother. And, she was convinced, despite my protestations to the contrary, that if I just stared long and hard enough at the squiggly lines I wouldn’t get lost again.

She was the parent.

I was the child.

What I wanted to do didn’t matter. That I was tired didn’t matter. That I knew myself, my own capabilities and limits, didn’t matter. She knew how to help me, and she wanted to help me right now, no matter if I told her it was a waste of time or I was busy. I didn’t even get to define for myself if I was busy– that was determined by her. I don’t know what’s good for me, but because I’m her child, she does.

This is one of the biggest problems of the “Instant Obedience Doctrine.” No one grows out of it. Not parents, not children. And the children, fed since birth this dogma of absolute, unending, cheerful, complaint obedience to all authority, are implicitly indoctrinated against every outgrowing it.

This is why I believe that the Instant Obedience Doctrine (my term) is inherently abusive.

My parents didn’t abuse me with this doctrine. Our relationship is fine, although we’re having our problems adjusting to me being an independent, autonomous, free-thinking adult. It’s rough, but we’re doing it one day at a time.

The problem with the Instant Obedience Doctrine is that it grooms children to be abused. This is inescapable. Not every child brought up in this doctrine is being abused or will be abused, but it creates an entire system where abuse will be allowed to go unchecked, mainly because the child will have absolutely no concept of abuse. They will not have the ability to think of themselves as autonomous, as free agents, as having rights over their own bodies and what they get to do with them– because this idea is explicitly disavowed. Children do not have any ability to choose in this system– that ability is systematically taken away from them as part of “biblical child-rearing.” We have been taught since infancy that we are never, ever allowed to say “no” to an authority.

Oh, the people who teach this doctrine will pay lip-service to teaching their children about abuse. They’ll say that they’ve taught their children to tell them if someone touches them inappropriately, or if someone does something they don’t like. But the doctrine completely overrules this “stop gap” because the primary, foundational idea in this doctrine is that children are foolish, children are ignorant, and children must be corrected by authorities, usually through physical pain (corporal punishment).

This does unspeakable damage to everyone involved– the parents and the children. Because the children eventually grow up, and if they start asserting independence, like I am now, our relationships can be damaged, because the independence is sudden and unexpected. Expressing my own ideas, disagreeing with my parents can be very emotional, upsetting territory, because the point of the Instant Obedience Doctrine was to raise children who are ideological replicas of the parents. The fact that this doctrine essentially means that parents will never actually get to know who their own children are is completely lost in all the rhetoric.

And for many children brought up in this system, the biggest problem is that they have no access to any concept of being their own, independent person. That idea simply doesn’t exist. They exist to do the bidding of authorities. They are property. These narratives are internalized unconsciously by everyone involved in the process.

Again, not every child brought up in this system is physically or sexually abused by his or her parents, or even by other authority figures in their lives– but they are emotionally and psychologically abused by the fundamental notion that they do not belong to themselves, that they are incapable of making their own choices.