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Wooden Spoons and Christians


I come from a loving, atheist home that was completely absent of all corporal punishment. Not everyone is so lucky…

This week I’ve been reading stories from adult survivors of traumatic childhood discipline from Christian families and it’s made me think hard of some of the things I witnessed as a child growing up in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

It’s really difficult to take off my 2014 goggles. In today’s world, corporal punishment of children has been scientifically proven to be counterproductive as well as abhorrent. But a couple of decades ago, parents didn’t know better, right?

Right??? Um… I think???

The more I ponder, the more I realize that my childhood memories of what I witnessed happening to other kids are confusing and hard to process.

Which of these juveniles were being abused, and which were being lovingly disciplined?

  • The 8 year-old who had belt marks on her back that showed while changing into her swim suit
  • The teenager whose mother locked her in the bathroom in front of family and friends to humiliate and contain her
  • The 6 year-old whose mom gave him a bloody nose when she slapped him
  • The teenage daughter whose mother slapped her for talking back
  • The children whose mother brought a wooden spoon to our house to use for intimidation and discipline
  • The father who belted his teenage son

That was a trick question. I don’t know the answer. But with my 2014 goggles, it’s hard not to judge.

As a child, I had no idea. I thought that was all normal behavior in families that spanked. Plus many of those kids came from Evangelical, go-to-church-multiple-times-a-week homes. Their families prided themselves on being good Christians.

Now, I’m left wondering. Were the parents reading precursors to books like To Train up a Child? Were worse things happening that I wasn’t aware of?

I’ll never know.

Proverbs 13: 24 says “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (NIV)


Psalm 23: 4 says “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (NIV)

I’m not a Biblical school, but to me it seems that “the rod” is most likely a shepherds hook that you would use to keep your sheep safe–not beat them with.

There are so many better ways to discipline a child than with physical violence.

I hope that my childhood friends who grew up with corporal punishment are able to break the cycle.

I hope they have 2014 goggles on too.


  1. michele says:

    Unfortunately, corporal punishment is still alive and well even here in the Puget Sound. In my little group of friends I know for certain of two families that use this form of discipline on their children, all of whom are under the age of five years old. Both families are Christian and go to church regularly, and they firmly believe in “spare the rod spoil the child.” From what I can tell corporal punishment does not result in better behaved children on the contrary I think it results in violent behavior from said children.

    I myself am now an atheist, but I grew up in an abusive Christian household. After one disciplinary “session” in the early 80s when a wire clothes hanger left me with huge welts up and down my six year old buttocks and thighs my mother made me tell my swim class that I had fallen into a rose bush. Needless to say, I know first-hand the long term effects corporal punishment can have on children, and have chosen not to follow this path with my own child who is now five.

    With all of the evidence now out there showing the adverse effects of corporal punishment, it shocks and saddens me to see that many families still believe in it, and to see how quickly the “discipline” can and does escalate. You are right that there are so many better ways to discipline a child. I only wish more people believed this to be true.

  2. Debbie says:

    As a Christian, I see the examples that you gave as clear Child abuse. I grew up with spanking being used on a very rare (probably not even 10 times in my life) occasion, but certainly nothing that left marks or was traumatizing. (I personally found time-out much more emotionally traumatizing, and am glad that that was rarer than spanking in our home.).
    You are so correct that “spare the rod” is referring to a Shepherd’s staff, and that is how it has been taught in churches I have attended. Spanking was still common, but none of it resembled the examples you posted. (It was always pretty clear that anything beyond a swat on a child’s bottom by an adult who was emotionally calm, was unacceptable)
    Sadly there are some extreme groups who follow things like “to Train up a Child”. I have read parts of it and agree it is horrifying. The more extreme of these are actually rejected by most Christians that I know, and many tend to consider them a cult type group.
    I enjoy your blog 🙂

    • thanks for your comment, Debbie. what’s interesting is that I have now in fact read to train up a child for a future column about the death of Hana Williams. the pearls come out against locking a child in a closet (and in favor of a lot of other horrible stuff.) it makes me wish I had the chance to confront the adults I knew who did all of that to my friends and relations.

  3. […] believe that parents and especially Christian parents need to speak out against corporal punishment. We are living in a society were there are 660,000 […]

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