Sparing the Child the Rod

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Parent Caroline Langston explains her decision not to spank her child.


Commentator Caroline Langston is the mother of three-year-old. She's been following the debate about spanking in California and explains her own decision not to spank her son, Alex.

CAROLINE LANGSTON: Talk about a clash of civilizations. Already, the two sides have hardened themselves into position. Over here, the liberals, speaking truth to power, decrying spanking as yet another example of the endemic American culture of violence. Over there, voices crying in the wilderness, the conservatives, convinced that parental authority venerated for centuries is about to be mowed down by a bunch of social scientists.

With a background as an evangelical Christian, over the years, I have known many people who spank their children, and I am here to report that none of them fits the standard liberal stereotype of the vengeful disciplinarian.

My secular, northeastern psychotherapist, meanwhile, while she doesn't advocate spanking, says that if you're going to do it, you must be careful to remain consistent and unemotional.

It would be logical to expect then that when I became a mother, I would be open to spanking my son. I'm a still a traditional Christian, though I'm Greek Orthodox now. And like people on all sides of the debate, I am disturbed by the disrespectful behavior on the part of many children I see out on public, as well as their parents.

But my husband and I have decided we will not spank our son. Oh, I've done it, once when he was two, when he was about to run into a busy street, I picked him up and gave a swift swat on the behind. I was acting from maternal impulse, deeper than ethics. It was not child abuse and I don't apologize.

There are two reasons I will not spank. Remember my therapist's stipulation that any spanking must be consistent and unemotional? I know plenty of people who seem capable of employing such methods, but I am not one of them.

Which brings me to the second reason, my commitment as a Christian to traditional mystical theology. And it is here where the rationale in favor of spanking espoused by many Christians begins to falter.

Whereas spanking teaches children to focus on external boundaries, the goal of Christian mysticism is the development of internal self control, the deep interior silence that real respect for others and contemplation of God requires. This goal was very different, by the way, from the permissive parenting and do your own thing that conservatives stereotype liberals for having.

We must teach children words in the same way we teach them to pray. And as everything else, our focus as parents should be on our own motives or removing the log from our eyes before we attack the speck in our children's. So when my son throws a fit or talks back, he sits for time out in one corner of the room, while I calm myself down in another. Each of us together, trying to perform the hard labor of transformation.

BLOCK: Caroline Langston lives in Cheverly, Maryland. She's working on a memoir about balancing her passion for the secular world, including the band The Sex Pistols, with a life of traditional faith.

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