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Parenting for a Peaceful World (Guest post for Parenting Beyond Punishment)

[Guest post for Parenting Beyond Punishment with excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

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Parenting crosses all cultural, ethnic, economic, life-style, and faith boundaries. It connects us as humans in a way that few things are capable of doing. As adults we are, each and every one of us, products of our childhood. Whether good or bad, filled with connection or neglect, characterized by healthy or harmful relationships, we are indelibly marked by the etchings of our past.

When our childhood is filled with safety, joy, and secure attachments, we take the tools of healthy relationships and life choices with us into adulthood. But when our childhood is marred by pain, insecurity, small boy and fear, we not only enter adulthood lacking the tools to create a healthy, happy, successful life, but we also carry a heavy baggage of unresolved anger, confusion, and anxiety with us into the future. We may forgive and heal and move on, but the reality is that the scars we carry, though perhaps faded and forgotten, remain part of who we become.

Recognizing that our perceptions and beliefs about parenting are rooted in our own childhood experiences is a vital step toward parenting from a place of intention rather reaction.  It is in that recognition, as we discover that we are carrying forward practices that will negatively impact our own children, that we become empowered to step back and unpack our childhood baggage in the past where it belongs rather than unloading it onto our children in the present and setting them up carry the negative practices and resultant baggage into their own adulthood.

But what about when destructive parenting practices are carried forward intentionally? What about when parenting practices become generational, passed from parent to child with conscious intent? Why are some parenting choices, even those such as spanking which research has shown to have powerfully negative impacts on children and the adults they will become, carried on from one generation to the next in the vast majority of homes across the planet?

Studies have revealed that in excess of 90% of American parents admit to spanking their children at some point in their childhood, and more than 50% concede that they employ spanking on a regular basis. Worldwide, it is estimated that in excess of 80% of children are spanked, typically in the most vulnerable early developmental years.

While cultural influences and stressors such as economic hardship and family instability and a lack of education are all certainly involved in the continuing high rates of physical punishment of children, one factor that cannot be overlooked in its continuation is the prevalence of punitive parenting guides that promote such practices. These books that instruct parents on the tenets of child-training and behavioral modification often use spanking as the ‘gold standard,’ the ultimate tool for controlling children, and many of these guides intimate or even outright state that parents MUST spank children because, in their view, “the Bible commands it.”

In order to stop the damaging generational cycle of violence against children, we need to take on that pseudo-Biblical viewpoint, disseminate the doctrinal beliefs underpinning it, and make sense of the original texts in the original language of the Bible.

Jesus the Gentle ParentHere is an excerpt from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting that does just that:

Parents worldwide have one thing in common…a deep, heartfelt desire to raise their children ‘right,’ to do their best to raise healthy, responsible, happy people. And, again almost universally, those parents look to others to help guide them on their parenting journey. Sometimes they look to their own family or to close friends, but often they seek out parenting guides, trusting that what they read in a book from a parenting ‘expert’ must be right…right?

What they don’t realize is that anyone can write a parenting book, and it’s often the expertise in marketing rather than in parenting that sells the most books. Here are excerpts and quotes from some of today’s most widely read and trusted self-proclaimed parenting experts:

“After ten acts of stubborn defiance, followed by ten switchings, he surrendered his will to one higher than himself.” (about whipping a 15 month old) …”Don’t wait until they are one year old to start training.  Rebellion and self-will should be broken in the six-month-old when it first appears” …never show mercy. One squeak of a scream gets a switching.” (about whipping a 3-year-old) …“For young children, especially during the first year, the rod is used as a training tool. You use something small and light to get the child’s attention and to reinforce your command. One or two light licks on the bare legs or arms will cause a child to stop in his tracks and regard your commands. A 12-inch piece of weed eater chord(sic) works well as a beginner rod. It will fit in your purse or pocket. Later, a plumber’s supply line is a good spanking tool…A baby needs to be trained all day, everyday.”(Michael Pearl, To Train up a Child)

“Pain is a marvelous purifier…It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely… Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less, but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining… I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears.”(Dr. James Dobson, Dare to Discipline)

“Even at mealtime, be looking for training opportunities in order to avoid retraining. Don’t allow poor eating habits– such as fingers in the mouth, playing with food, and spitting out food–to become a normal pattern of your child’s behavior. It only means correcting the child at a later date” (Ezzo, Babywise II, p. 44) …”Chastisement [spanking] is the price paid to remove the guilt thus free the child from his burden. If the parents do not remove the guilt, the child lives under the weight of sin.” (Gary Ezzo, Growing Kids God’s Way, p. 212 )

“A parent must recognize and see clearly that Biblically beating his child sensitizes that child not only to the fact of sin but also to its ugliness. In addition, the child will see that the penalty must always be paid when we sin…The one who does not Biblically beat his child, in a loving and consistent way, in a very real sense predisposes that child for hell and even has a very direct part in sending him there.”  (Ronald E. Williams, The Correction and Salvation of Children)

“The rod is a parent, in faith toward God and faithfulness toward his or her children, undertaking the responsibility of careful, timely, measured and controlled use of physical punishment to underscore the importance of obeying God…If you fail to spank, you fail to take God’s Word seriously. You are saying you do not believe what the Bible teaches about the import of these issues. You are saying that you do not love your child enough to do the painful things that God has called you to.” (Tedd Tripp, Shepherding a Child’s Heart)

These self-styled parenting ‘experts’ and others mandate strict, unemotional behavioral controls, often enforced punitively, stemming from a shared core ideology that children need to be trained…trained to self-soothe, trained to sleep alone, trained to play independently, trained to instantly obey.

Much of the root of the idea that children need to be trained comes from the Old Testament verse, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

The word translated train up in that verse is the Hebrew word chanak/chanokh which translated literally means ‘to dedicate or to initiate.’To dedicate means to ‘commit to a special use’ and ‘to focus on a specific purpose.’ To initiate means to ‘introduce to, create an appetite or a taste for’ and ‘to set on the path.’ In every other Old Testament usage of chanak/chanokh it is translated ‘to dedicate or to initiate’ except for the ‘train up a child’ verse.

Thus, the verse literally reads…

Train up Introduce a child to/set a child on the path in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

That verse, coupled with a handful of others such as the ‘spare the rod’ verses (see Chapter Eleven of Jesus, the Gentle Parent for a discussion of the original translations and misinterpretations of those verses), has led to an entire parenting paradigm based on Old Testament practices of rigid expectations and harsh consequences, purported to be ‘God’s way.’ (Read more)

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


Grace has a Face…It’s Yours

[Excerpt reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and StagesWhispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]

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“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”
Luke 18:16

toddler girlThe tiny girl stood timidly at the top of the stairs, her small face anxious as she called out in toddler-eze, “Dada, do you comin?”

The man sitting in front of a small group of church leaders gathered in his living room grimaced. “Oops! Forgot I told her I’d be up in five minutes to tuck her in and say her prayers.” He shook his head and glanced around the room with a self-deprecating grin, “I forget my promises more often than not, unfortunately. Hazards of a busy schedule, I guess.” He sighed, “I told her to wait in her bed for me. Now I have to go spank her, poor thing. It’ll be the third time today. I wish parenting was easier.”

An older man stood and gestured to the others in the room to gather around the man. “Let’s pray for strength for our brother to fulfill his fatherly duties unwaveringly and cheerfully.”

As the church leaders joined hands and prayed, the lone woman in the group stood aside. She looked from the tiny face still peering down through the stair railing to the gathering of adults solemnly praying over the little girl’s father, her heart racing as a flood of memories darkened her mind.

The prayer ended, and the father started up the steps.

The woman’s breath caught in her throat as a smile lit the toddler’s face when she saw her daddy approaching, her little hand reaching out trustingly to take his as he led her back to her bedroom. The bedroom door closed and silent moments passed, then muffled thwaps and cries of pain split the silence. A few minutes later the door opened, letting the sound of the small girl’s sobs drift clearly down the stairs before they were muffled again as the father emerged, his own eyes wet with tears, and closed the door softly behind him. The father hastily wiped his eyes, then rejoined the group downstairs.

The church leaders patted the father on the back, reassuring him that everyone made mistakes and forgot things at times, so he shouldn’t feel guilty about forgetting his promise to his child. They offered a few pieces of sage advice about securing a child’s unquestioning obedience with consistent punishment and reminded him to be unwavering in its application.

Then they returned to their meeting, trying to come up with a church program to share the unconditional love and freely given grace of their Heavenly Father with the wounded, the broken, the lost. The woman excused herself, and as she moved toward the front door she heard one man propose that they call the new program, ‘Grace is for Everyone.’

She barely made it to her car before collapsing into soul-shaking sobs.

The woman had been that little girl, once upon a life-time ago. Now she was the wounded, the broken, the lost. Her childhood wounds so often gaped and grasped, sucking any momentary joy from her heart and unexpectedly festering into flashes of anger that shocked her when they suddenly surfaced. Her broken trust shattered her relationship with her heavenly Daddy again and again as she grappled to understand and accept an unconditional love that she had never experienced at the hands of her earthly father. Her way seemed littered with roadblocks and pitfalls as she wandered in the darkness of a lost world, terrified that she would fail and be lost forever.

With a shuddering breath, the woman started her car and drove away, her heart aching for a tiny girl sobbing herself to sleep alone in a dark room and for an adult who would soon be doing the same thing.

*This is a true story. Some details have been changed for confidentiality.

How much different might it have been if the story had gone this way, instead:

The tiny girl stood timidly at the top of the stairs, her small face anxious as she called out in toddler-eze, “Dada, do you comin?”

The man sitting in front of a small group of church leaders gathered in his living room grimaced. “Oops! Forgot I told her I’d be up in five minutes to tuck her in and say her prayers.” He shook his head and glanced around the room with a self-deprecating grin, “I forget my promises more often than not, unfortunately. Hazards of a busy schedule, I guess.” He sighed, “I told her to wait in her bed for me. Now I have to go apologize to her, poor thing. It’ll be the third time I’ve had to apologize for dropping the ball today. I wish parenting was easier.”

An older man grinned and said, “Go take care of your little girl. We can wait.”

The father started up the stairs.

As the church leaders chatted while they waited for the man to return, the lone woman in the group sat silently. She looked at the tiny face still peering down through the stair railing, and her heart raced as a flood of memories darkened her mind.

The woman’s breath caught in her throat as a smile lit the toddler’s face when she saw her daddy approaching, her little hand reaching out trustingly to take his as he led her back to her bedroom. The bedroom door closed and silent moments passed, then muffled giggles wafted through the silence. A few minutes later the door opened, letting the sound of the small girl whispering, “Dood night, Dada!” drift clearly down the stairs as the father emerged, his eyes wet with tears, and closed the door softly behind him. The father hastily wiped his eyes, then rejoined the group downstairs.

As the father sat down, he cleared his throat, a bemused smile lighting his face. “I guess that’s why Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me,’” he said, “because children are so good at Jesus the Gentle Parent final front covergiving unconditional love and forgiving and trusting. No matter how many times I disappoint that little girl, no matter how many promises I break, she always forgives me and trusts me completely.”

The church leaders smiled and nodded, reassuring him that everyone made mistakes and forgot things at times, so he shouldn’t feel guilty about forgetting his promise to his child, after all, he was only human. They offered a few pieces of advice about juggling a busy schedule with children and reminded him that family always comes first.

Then they returned to their meeting, trying to come up with a church program to share the unconditional love and freely given grace of their Heavenly Father with the wounded, the broken, and the lost, both in their church and in their community. One leader mentioned, “I think that beautiful analogy about your daughter you just shared would make a perfect starting point for our program.” As the others in the room nodded their approval, someone proposed that they call the new program, ‘Grace is for Everyone.’

A few minutes later, the meeting broke up and everyone made their way home, but the woman sat in the dark driveway in her car with tears running down her cheeks.

She had been that little girl, once upon a life-time ago, waiting…hoping for a father’s love, but she had never received the compassion and humanity that she had witnessed that evening. Her childhood wounds so often gaped and grasped, sucking any momentary joy from her heart and unexpectedly festering into flashes of anger that shocked her when they suddenly surfaced. Her broken trust shattered her relationship with her heavenly Daddy again and again as she grappled to understand and accept an unconditional love that she had never experienced at the hands of her earthly father. Her way seemed littered with roadblocks and pitfalls as she wandered in the darkness of a lost world, terrified that she would fail and be lost forever.

With a slight smile, the woman started her car and drove away, her heart swelling with the unfamiliar feelings of hope and healing as she thought of a tiny girl peacefully sleeping in the safety of her father’s love and of an adult who might actually be doing the same thing for the first time in as long as she could remember.

Here’s the thing, parents, either grace is sufficient for all or it is sufficient for none. There is no in-between. You are your children’s first taste of God, their first understanding of love, their first vision of grace. How you treat them in that capacity will inevitably affect their relationship with Christ. Choose love, because he is Love in the flesh. Choose gentleness, because he is the Gentle Shepherd. Choose grace, because he died so that you could.

Grace has a face…

It’s yours.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.”
Philippians 4:9

Related posts:

Stealing God’s Gift: Free Will is a Gift to be Nurtured, Not a Curse to be Broken

Spare the Rod: The Heart of the Matter

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting

Tattered Tapestries: Weaving Trust Through the Chaos

Fear Doesn’t Lead to Faith: Becoming Your Child’s Safe Place

Where Did You Learn Love, Child?

Gentle Journeys: A Book Club for a New Generation

Practical, Gentle, Effective Discipline

L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.


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