I wrote this in a comment in the discussion on parenting over at SI, and I thought I would include it here with a little bit of tweaking.
One day my five year old daughter deliberately defied me and went across the street and then lied about it. I knew I could not spank her hard enough to help her understand the sin (disobedience and lying) and the danger (a street). If I spanked her “hard enough” I would leave bruises and I refuse to do that. I found a “rod” and we went to my office and I stressed what she deserved. I could not spank her hard enough, I said, because I knew it would hurt her too much, so I gave her the stick and told her to strike me.
She gingerly and timidly struck me across the legs, the front of my thighs, and I scolded her by asking, “Patience, do you really, really think that what you did deserves just a little tap like that?” She shook her head and struck a little harder. Again, I told her that was not hard enough. Sin and danger could kill her and she needed to emphasize how bad it was. With my coaching she struck me as hard as she possibly could four times. It was quite painful.
We both cried. I had real pain tears! I explained to her then that though it hurt a lot, it still was not hard enough. The real punishment for her sin was once and for all on the cross. The pain we were feeling now was “grace pain” to train us and help us understand the gravity of our sin and, that day, Daddy was showing grace to Patience by standing in as a substitute for the pain that he felt had to be inflicted. She was only five and, being a very sensitive girl who is very attached to me, was broken-hearted.
She never crossed the street again and she never defied me again.
I don’t punish my kids. I discipline them. And, yes, sometimes there is pain involved, but they are learning that punishment for their sin was on the cross and the deserved pain of our sin and folly has already been absorbed one hundred percent. Sometimes it is God’s loving plan for us that we feel “grace pain” so that we learn to hate our sins and run from danger. Sometimes Daddy can absorb it for them. Sometimes they must feel the pain, but never is it above what they are able to bear.
If obedience is the goal, I think that we do need to remember that it is usually God’s kindness that leads to repentance. Often severity hardens. To think of disciplining our kids in terms of punishing, makes us judges. We have to make the right call every time our we could be unjust. And even the least amount of pain unjustly delivered will never be forgotten. If we are committed to punishment, we have to trust our assessment of our child’s action. But it is possible that there may be a reason for disobedience that we are not aware of. And then the parent is trapped in inequity because the punishment for the lie yesterday was a very hard spanking, but today there was a BIG lie and a defiant attitude. If the punishment doesn’t match in severity what was delivered for the crime yesterday, there is confusion.
Do I think spanking is the right thing to do? Yes, sometimes. I think it is the wrong thing to default to. It is painful and ultimately loses effectiveness as training (the purpose of Heb. 12 discipline) and reduces both parent and child to live under the cloud of punishment day after day.