Notes from a Christian mother, part I

The following pro-spanking article originally circulated in the 1990s and was said to be the work of a prominent figure (unnamed) who had appeared on television and also written for various right-of-centre newspapers. Although her identity was not revealed at the time, it bears the hallmarks of Lynette Burrows, author of the pro-smacking parenting manual Good Children. Mrs Burrows is the sister of another prominent conservative campaigner of the time, Victoria Gillick.

It has been many years since this text has been made widely available. Due to its length, we are serialising it in parts. The first, here, is free for all to read. Subsequent episodes will appear in our Red Bottom Club.

When friends learn that we spank our children, the usual reaction is one of surprise. The surprise comes not just from our doing it, but also from our being prepared to admit it. For the fact is that most parents over the past 30 years have been encouraged to believe that even the most moderate use of corporal punishment is a sign of failure, and, above all, something to feel guilty about.

We have five children – three girls and two boys. They are quite different from one another, but have all been spanked from an early age when this was merited. So far, between them, our three eldest have achieved 15 school prizes, including eight for outstanding effort; and their reports constantly applaud not only their high motivation but also their conscientiousness, their creativity and their friendliness. Of course, there is more to bringing up children than discipline, but I am quite sure that the discipline they have received over the years has contributed enormously to what they are now. And I can already see in my younger children the benefits that arise from firm, loving discipline.

For discipline provides a child with the freedom to grow as an individual, and the determination and self-confidence to do so successfully, while respecting the rights and interests of others.

The idea that discipline provides freedom may seem strange. But any freedom that is going to be useful has to be defined. A child needs to live in a ’country’ that is defined by clear boundaries, rather than be left to wander in a frightening and trackless ’wilderness’; and so limits need to be set that define his freedom of action. Once he is clear what is not permitted, he can then experiment confidently with what is.

But in setting limits to a child’s behaviour, we immediately set up the possibility of conflict. And here again, there is freedom. Freedom to keep within the limits or transgress them. And at this point parents have to make a decision. Do they defend the limits by imposing a penalty, or ignore disobedience and leave the child uncertain of the boundaries that have been set?

I am quite clear that limits, once established, have to be maintained. They were set to help the child and they need to be maintained for that reason. The parent is not exercising his authority against the child but in the child’s best interests. And I am quite clear the best way of doing that is by a spanking. This needs to be painful enough for the child to be made acutely aware of just how serious his disobedience is, and to serve as an encouragement to him in future to choose obedience rather than disobedience.

Spanking is often thought to go hand-in-hand with an autocratic and oppressive upbringing. This belief has, I think, done much to turn people against spanking. But what is wrong with such an upbringing is not the spanking, but the underlying attitude that stifles the children’s development and independence. Enforcing limits by spanking is the exact opposite of that, for it provides the basis for children to discover and develop their potential, and to grow into creative and confident adults.

Limits, firmly enforced, not only define freedom for the child, but also allow the child the possibility of disobeying. The experience of disobeying undoubtedly has an important part to play in a child’s development. In our fallen world, being able to assert oneself, being able to defy what is wrong and to stand firmly for what is right are important qualities. These qualities are borne in the child’s initial opposition to limits set by parents. It is there that he learns to express his innate wilfulness, which his parents, through spanking, can, in time, help to bring under his own control and which he can then direct in ways that are morally desirable.

If parents are wishy-washy about setting and enforcing limits, their children are all too likely to be wishy-washy in their pursuit of what is good and their opposition to what is evil. Spanking, where pain is experienced as a legitimate consequence of wrongdoing, not only reforms the will but also helps the growing child to face less fearfully the sometimes painful consequences of doing what is right.

There are two further points I should like to make by way of introduction. First, some people, I know, are uneasy about the word ‘spanking’ and prefer ’smacking’ instead. However, I am going to stick to the word spanking. This is because it conveys a committed and consistent approach to corporal punishment, whereas ‘smacking’ suggests something altogether more casual. Also, ‘spanking’, as most dictionaries will confirm, means a smacking administered to the child’s bottom; and as I believe that is the right place for smacking, that is the word I am going to use.

Second, my aim is not to instruct but to share my outlook and experience. With spanking coming increasingly under attack, I hope that what I write will encourage others to share their views and experiences too, and enable us to all bring up our children more fully ‘in the fear and nurture of the Lord’.

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