Powerful, Emotional Writings: An Aid to Adult Child Abuse Survivors

Spare the Rod?

When I read in The Dispatch, that October is National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, I wanted to write a column about Domestic Violence. When I write, I write from my heart, which means that I feel things intensely while I write. To do otherwise feels like a waste of time to me. So I approached my “task”, looking for my “entry point” into the issue. However, this time I felt stymied. I just felt sort of flat. What specifically should I write about? Then I read Margie Pizarro’s column in the October 16 issue of the Dispatch. I liked her column, she writes very honestly, and I like that. She mentioned the ancient adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child”.

I cringed inside myself, not from what Margie wrote, but from the misuse of that old adage that many adults use as an excuse for their own out of control behavior towards their children when they misbehave.   In families that experience domestic violence, if there are children, they are affected more than anyone else in the family.   If that violence is directed at a child and rationalized as “punishment”, it is still domestic violence, in fact worse than if directed towards a spouse.

Years ago I was taught two very important things about that Biblical quote.   Both are good examples of what that adage truly means.

Long before the printing press, in early Jewish households, families that were well off enough, had religious scrolls, perhaps a copy of the ten commandments, in a holder above the entranceway to their home.   The “rod” may have been a reference to this scroll in a tube above the doorway.   In that instance, “Spare the rod and spoil the child” might have been an admonition to teach our children to follow the ten commandments.   That makes a lot of sense!

Another explanation that was given to me had to do with a shepherd’s staff.   A good shepherd uses his staff to block any escaping sheep, steering them in the right direction, to keep them safe, and close at hand.   The sheep learn to follow his direction in time, trying to go off on their own less often.   They learn to trust and anticipate him.   He does not beat them with the rod out of his own frustration!   That would be a bad shepherd!

What I have learned is, that many adults confuse the difference between discipline and punishment.   The word “discipline” comes from the Latin root “disciplina” which means to teach, or to lead.   To discipline a child, is to make them a disciple!   A disciple is lead by example, and they want to be like the one they follow!   Discipline is not punishment!

  • The purpose of discipline is to correct and promote positive moral and ethical development.
    The purpose of punishment is to inflict a penalty for an offense, to exact a “pay back” for wrongs.
  • The focus of discipline is positive future behavior.
    The focus of punishment is past misdeeds.
  • The attitude and emotional makeup of the one doing the disciplining is Love.
    The attitude and emotional makeup of the punisher is Anger, or worse, perhaps rage.
  • The reaction of the one being disciplined will be security and trust, and a desire to emulate.
    The reaction of one being punished will be fear, guilt, hostility, or worse, perhaps terror, shame, and rage.

As you can see, both parent and child fare better in discipline than in punishment.   Discipline cannot be commandeered by an out of control parent in order to vent their rage and frustration on their own,  powerless children.  Punishment can.   When it is, we make both more victims, and more perpetrators for a world that already has too many of both.

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