Why do some parents insist on beating their children as a way of disciplining them? Is it a matter of ignorance or is it that the Bible tells us in Proverbs 13:24, ‘He who spares the rod hates his son?’ I am so confused!
You are right, this is a most confusing subject in part because no one can claim to know all the answers to all the issues raised and certainly many years of parenting later, each family finds the best way of bringing up their children. In this journey, we are mostly on our own.
Let me start off with the good news.
As far as I can tell, and even without a manual on how to bring up their children, most parents seem to get it right most of the time, even though some also make some mistakes on the way. Secondly, it seems that children and their parents are very resilient and many different parenting styles seem to work just fine.
It is also worth pointing out that each child born is unique in all ways and that no two children or families are identical, and therefore the forces that impact child growth and development are as many as there are children and families.
To help me make this point, a short story is in order. A few months ago, we saw a young man who had been abusing alcohol for many years. His parents and siblings were all worried because he was the odd one out. He was the biblical black sheep.
Two older siblings had sailed through medical school and were both married and living in the UK and USA with their families. They were the model children and made their parents very proud indeed. They had specialised and came home for summer holidays on a regular basis.
The two younger siblings had, respectively graduated in IT and law and worked with their parents in a thriving manufacturing company. Both had promising careers. No member of the family abused alcohol or any other drug, but all enjoyed a glass of wine or two occasionally.
Our patient was the third and middle child and no explanation could be found for his deviant behaviour. Same parents, same upbringing, different outcome! He had for example dropped out of university and had spent many years wondering from rehab to rehab all without any sign of recovery. His was a tragic story.
The parents had a simple question to us, in a sense, very similar to yours. ‘We are the parents of five children, four have done well and one is now this patient. Where did we go wrong’?
Their question in some respects contained the answer. Their middle child was ‘special’ and therefore was treated as the outcast in the family. In a sense the middle position in the family had made him ‘invisible’ to the rest, as he grew up.
In therapy, he told the surprised parents and siblings how lonely he had felt all his life and how for many years he had felt like he was an accident in the family.
When his older siblings were shining in school and doing well, their parents were younger and full of energy and attended all the school activities.
He remembers as a little boy how he was often left at home with a cruel nanny as the parents zoomed of with their two older children to all manner of places and functions.
Coming back full of laughter. He was put to bed before he could share in the family fun. Later, these two older one, were taken to parties as teenagers and he was told to stay at home to look after two spoilt brats he was told to call siblings! Hell was the other name for home.
He felt that the parents treated him as an extra hand not as one of their children. He was neither old enough to go out and have fun, nor young enough to be treated like the babies.
Then, one day, the penny dropped. He became a rebel, and he got his parents to pay him some attention. This happened only by accident.
One day he got home late after he had been with some friends at a football match. He had had one beer and that night his parents beat him up like there was no tomorrow! He enjoyed the attention so much that he repeated the behaviour one or two weeks later.
Every time he was a bad boy, the parents noticed him. In time he became the centre of attention but only as long he stood out by his drinking behaviour. When he was ‘good’, nobody cared.
This rather simplified version of the story makes the point that the same family can for a variety of reasons, have children with different outcomes and using or not using ‘the rod’ is but one of the many factors that could determine what happens in the life of a child.