Monday, September 7, 2015

Don't make me count to three

by Ginger Hubbard
155 pages / 2003

Soon after my first little one became old enough to articulate her sinful nature ("no" wasn't her first word, but it was the first she learned to shout with conviction) I asked friends who had travelled this route before a very practical question: "How often do you spank your kids?"

I was the youngest in my family and as far as I could remember my dad had spanked me less than a dozen times. Of course I don't remember much of what my life was like before Grade One, so I suspected the true count could have been greater by an exponential factor.

So I asked around. I knew spanking was biblical, but what I didn't know was whether it was something to be used only in the rarest of circumstances, maybe once a month or less? Or was spanking the sort of thing that might occur weekly, daily, or even a few times a day?

I asked around and the response I got was wry grins, shrugged shoulders, and a variety of "I don't really recall" and "All kids are different" answers. No one seemed willing to clue me in.

A few years later and as a seasoned father of three, I think I now understand why – it's because no one talks about spanking. Ever. So no one has any idea of how often other parents spank their kids. In this informational void, who would want to own up to spanking their kids multiple times the previous day if it turns out that all your friends only have to spank their kids a couple times a year?

That's a long way of explaining why I love Ginger Hubbard's Don't Make Me Count to Three! It is a highly practical book that offers all sorts of answers. While she doesn't give an exact number as to how many times a day, week, or month we should spanks our kid, Hubbard does make it clear that spanking is not some nuclear bomb option to be employed only when all else has failed. She makes a clear biblical case that physical discipline should be applied with regularity (and at some points in a child's life he/she may well require multiple spanking in a single day).

Mind you, this is much more than a book on spanking. That's just one of three sections. The first is on “Reaching the heart of your child,” the second on “How to give a biblical reproof,” and it is only in the third that we get to “The biblical use of the rod.”

Reaching for their heart

Hubbard starts things off by showing herself to be a Ted Tripp disciple. Like Tripp she wants us to understand that simply having obedient kids can't be our objective - that's something that any Drill Sergeant could manage. What we want are kids who love the Lord and want to do the right thing to please Him. To do that, we want to speak to their hearts and direct them to God. In this first section, early on, we encounter one of the real strengths of the book: the many sample conversations Hubbard includes. She uses these to contrast how parents might typically talk to their kid with the very different way a heart-seeking, Bible-following parent would address their child. The conversations are believable, and wonderfully instructive. In one example she discusses the common way parents resolve sibling dispute. "Who had it first?" we ask. And when that is discovered, we put the toy in the first child's hands and think we are done - justice is served. But are we really done? After all, we still have a covetous child (two in fact) who cared more about having this toy than about their sibling's happiness. Hubbard shows another way we could address this that speaks to a child's heart:
"Honey, Wesley has that toy right now. Do you think he is enjoying playing with it?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"Do you think it would make him happy or said if you took it away?"
"Would you delight in making your brother sad?"
"No ma'am."
"Do you think that it would be kind or rude for you to try to take away something that he is enjoying?
"That's right Alex, and love is not rude. When Wesley is through with it, and puts it down, then you may ask for it."
The goal is to make them understand their sin, and also understand what God thinks of it. We are training their hearts, teaching them what sin to "put off," but also how best to "put on" (Eph. 4:22-24) love - how best to show love for their siblings.

Spanking is God-ordained

In the final two sections Hubbard addresses what biblical reproof does, and does not look like, and then discusses spanking in some detail. This last topic is clearly the most controversial, even among Christians, but Hubbard makes it clear that for Christ's Church this should be a settled matter. She writes:
The use of the rod according to godly principles is clearly taught in the Scriptures... To say, "I don't believe in spanking," is to say that God's ordained methods for child training are wrong. It's to rejected God's Word. It's to say that you are wiser than God Himself. 
So the question is not whether, but how. Hubbard answers that question over the course of 4 chapters, addressing both when to, and when not to spank. She notes it is about discipline and teaching, not punishment and justice, so spanking must never be done in anger, and only in love. Her answers are biblically grounded, and crystal clear - this will help any parent the moment they start reading it.

Caution and conclusion

It bears mentioning that Hubbard is not Reformed. She subscribes to believer's baptism and it is evident in several passages that she believes Christian parents should view their children as little pagans in need of conversion. This stands in stark contrast to our covenantal understanding, in which we know our children are very much a part of the church, even as infants. But while Hubbard doesn't have our covenantal understanding, the discipline she explains is scriptural and thus in perfect accord with just such an understanding.

I was so encouraged after reading this book. It was challenging, instructive, and offered a good introduction (or refresher) for the fundamentals of godly discipline. I highly recommend it - this would make a wonderful gift to any new parent.

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