My 9-month-old baby boy is a handful.

It’s Rebecca here on the blog today! And let me tell you–my baby is a bubbly, jiggly, giggly little handful, but he is a handful. He learned how to climb stairs 4 months before he “should,” he figured out how to climb onto the couch before he could even put himself into a sitting position, and he takes two grown adults to change his more challenging diapers because he flails and rolls around so much.

I absolutely adore him. And he is a lot to manage.

Most of my pictures of him look like this because I can’t get him to stop moving for more than 5 seconds:

My baby boy is a handful. And I am loving it.

But something that I realized the other day is that my baby boy–that innocent, happy, giggly boy–is of “spanking” age in many Christian resources. In fact, according to books like To Train Up a Child, I should have been spanking him for 2.5 months already. 

Just listen to some of these excerpts from Christian parenting books (that were used among many in my own social circle growing up). The first, To Train Up a Child, was written by the same family that wrote Created to Be His Helpmeet, that we talked about recently. The second, by Ted Tripp, has sold millions of copies and is quite well-respected:

  • A seven-month-old boy had, upon failing to get his way, stiffened clenched his fists, bared his toothless gums and called down damnation on the whole place. At a time like that, the angry expression on a baby’s face can resemble that of one instigating a riot. The young mother, wanting to do the right thing, stood there in helpless consternation, apologetically shrugged her shoulders and said, “What can I do?” My incredulous nine-year-old whipped back, “Switch him.” The mother responded, “I can’t, he’s too little.” With the wisdom of a veteran who had been on the little end of the switch, my daughter answered, “If he is old enough to pitch a fit, he is old enough to be spanked.” (p. 79)
  • Any spanking, to effectively reinforce instruction, must cause pain, but the most pain is on the surface of bare skin where the nerves are located. A surface sting will cause sufficient pain, with no injury or bruising. Select your instrument according to the child’s size. For the under one year old, a little, ten- to twelve-inch long, willowy branch (striped of any knots that might break the skin) about one-eighth inch diameter is sufficient. Sometimes alternatives have to be sought. A one-foot ruler, or its equivalent in a paddle, is a sufficient alternative. For the larger child, a belt or larger tree branch is effective. (p. 47, 1st edition)
  • On the bare legs or bottom, switch him eight or ten licks; then, while waiting for the pain to subside, speak calm words of rebuke. If the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered; he has submitted his will. If the crying is still defiant, protesting and other than a response to pain, spank him again. (p. 80)
  • She then administers about ten slow, patient licks on his bare legs. He cries in pain. If he continues to show defiance by jerking around and defending himself, or by expressing anger, then she will wait a moment and again lecture him and again spank him. When it is obvious he is totally broken, she will hand him the rag and very calmly say, “Johnny, clean up your mess.” He should very contritely wipe up the water. (p. 62, 17th edition)

To Train Up a Child

(find more damaging quotes at the website Why Not Train Up a Child.)

I hope we would all agree that’s beyond the pale, and that To Train Up a Child is a child abuse manual. But even more mainstream Christian books say very similar things–that you must defeat your child, break them, that your child is evil, etc.

  • The child’s problem is not an information deficit. His problem is that he is a sinner. There are things within the heart of the sweetest little baby that, allowed to blossom and grow to fruition, will bring about eventual destruction……
  • When your child is old enough to resist your directives, he is old enough to be disciplined. When he is resisting you, he is disobeying…. Rebellion can be something as simple as an infant struggling against a diaper change or stiffening out his body when you want him to sit in your lap. (p. 154)
  • “A young child does not give proper weight to words alone. His attention is secured when those words are punctuated by a sound spanking.”
Ted Tripp

Shepherding a Child's Heart

Again, Christian books say that this little baby:

needs to have his spirit broken. If I take the advice of these books, I am to see this beautiful baby boy as a sinful being, with every time he throws a fit, rolls when I’m changing his diaper, or tries to stand when I want him to sit on my lap as further proof that he is damned and controlled by an innately evil spirit.

Take a second again and look at that baby boy. That smiling baby boy with banana on the side of his face. He, apparently, needs to be broken.

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I believe that much of this horrific, evil parenting advice which has caused so many Christian parents to go astray is, at its heart, the result of utter ignorance, pride, and a lust for power. 

When Alex bites me while breastfeeding, he is not trying to cause pain. He’s just trying to soothe his aching gums and he doesn’t understand that his actions affect me. If I beat him with a switch, I may get him to stop biting me. But I would also destroy a part of him by punishing him for something that is developmentally appropriate. What I am telling him is “Who you are is bad/wrong–you can never know when pain is coming (because babies don’t have the ability to understand actions and consequence in a future-thinking capacity yet), but sometimes you will simply get hit because you, at the core of who you are, are bad.”

When Alex pulls my hair too hard he’s not trying to be disobedient, even if I say “no.” He simply doesn’t have the executive functioning capacity to control his impulses yet, and frankly, if I didn’t want my hair pulled I should have been the adult and not let him play with it (it’s just so cute to see how much he likes to pet it!). By hitting him for doing so, I would add so much confusion and betrayal because his mommy, the person who gives him food and love and comfort and on whom he is fully dependent, hurt him and he doesn’t know why. He doesn’t have a choice but to love me; and the person he must love for survival hurts him.

A baby not doing what you want him or her to do is not disobeying, is not sinning, is not disrespecting your authority.

He is being a baby. And being a baby is not wrong.

But I think that many of these parenting false-teachers have substituted a desire for power and control for education in cognitive development. Instead of taking time and humbly asking, “Am I wrong here? Is this normal?” they instead work towards complete domination of their children because of their lust for power. The goal is not actually to have good kids–the goal is to have children who obey.

(As a side note, do you know who are often the most compliant children, so much so that it’s a major red flag teachers look out for? Sexually abused children. Compliance does not mean you have succeeded as a parent.)

But the problem is that they take this lust for domination and dress it up in Christianese so that parents who want to please God get seduced by their holy-sounding teaching and tricked into following them. This is why being a teacher holds so much weight and why we are constantly warned against false teachers in the New Testament; you can permanently alter the course of someone’s life by what you teach. I believe there are many parents who were overly harsh or strict or punitive with their children simply because the advice they were given was wrong, but they didn’t know there was an alternative. If they had read developmentally-appropriate materials, things may have been very different. But the false teachers got to them first, and they sounded the “holiest.” 

And if that is you, I am so sorry. I am so incredibly sorry.

I am sorry you didn’t get to gaze in wonder at your child and simply revel in their innocence and praise God that this is a child that will grow up knowing Jesus at the core of his being.

I am sorry you didn’t get to laugh at all the baby blunders and toddler-isms that are labeled as evil but are simply signs that they are learning.

I am sorry you felt you had to break your child’s spirit, this beautiful soul that you created and nurtured and loved, because fear of failing them was instilled in you to such a degree that you saw your own child’s spirit as a threat to their salvation, not a gift from God to celebrate (even the difficult ones).

I am sorry if you look back now at how you parented and you are filled with regret, or you wish you knew what you know now.

I am sorry that it is not only your child’s innocence that was taken, but also yours.

What if I told you that not all teenagers rebel?

And what if I told you that a lot of typical parenting advice makes rebellion more likely?

I interviewed 25 young adults, trying to figure out what made them rebel or not.

Our children are not spirits to be broken, but hearts to nurture and encourage and love.

Of course kids will misbehave. And of course, discipline is important so that they learn what the boundaries are. But spanking a baby is never OK, spanking a baby is never necessary, and spanking a baby is never beneficial. (In fact, there are many theological perspectives that argue against spanking and modern research is fully against spanking as punishment. Many of my professors in university who work with severe behavioural disorders treated them without ever implementing spanking once. I would argue that if it’s not mandatory in the Bible, if research says it harms more than it helps, and if the worst of the worst behaviours can be curbed without spanking, there is literally no reason to do so.)

I suggest that we, as the body of Christ, denounce the teaching that children’s spirits need to be broken and instead turn to Jesus’s words: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Jesus didn’t think that children were at risk of eternal damnation simply because they were evil to their core and needed to be broken–he says that the kingdom of heaven already belongs to them. Children do not need to be wrangled to follow Christ, they are running towards them and it’s our job to not HINDER them. That is so incredibly different than how books like the ones above see children.

Jesus doesn’t want to break your child’s spirit. Jesus celebrates your child, Jesus is standing there with arms wide open and your job, as a parent, is to foster that joyful running towards Jesus. Not hit your child for standing when you want him to sit. Not spank your child for rolling away during a diaper change. Not switch your child for crawling off a blanket you’d rather he stay on. No, your job is to not hinder your little one as he or she runs towards Christ.

My baby boy is not a spirit to be broken. My baby boy is a gift to be treasured.

Yes, we are working on “no” when he tries to roll off the change table because he’s seriously a risk to himself. And yes, we’re hoping he gains his fear of heights soon so he stops trying to swan dive off the couch. But our son is not a dirty rotten sinner at 9 months old. Instead, here is what I pray over my son every night before he goes to sleep:

May he grow up to be one who defends and protects others as he walks in the light of Christ. May he always know you, love you, and know he is loved and known by you. Thank you, God, for the blessing Alex is to us and for the privilege of being his mommy.

Because it truly is a privilege, even if he pulls my hair.

When we were talking about this post, my mother (Sheila) and I came across Alanis Morisette’s new song, Ablaze. It’s a love song to her three children, the youngest of whom is the same age as my son Alex.

The point of her song?

My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze.

Watch her perform it here with her toddler stealing the show (and watch how she just loves her daughter):

The contrast is stunning:

  1. You must break your child’s spirit.
  2. My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze.

Which sounds more like Jesus?

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Matthew 19:14

May we all as parents strive to keep the light in our children’s eyes ablaze.

What do you think? Why is it that so much Christian parenting literature ignores child development? What can we do? Let’s talk in the comments!

UPDATE: After the furor here and especially on Facebook, we’ve got a follow-up post on what the research says about spanking.

Rebecca Lindenbach

Rebecca Lindenbach

Blog Contributor, Author, and Podcaster

Rebecca Lindenbach is a psychology graduate, Sheila’s daughter, co-author of The Great Sex Rescue, and the author of Why I Didn’t Rebel. Working alongside her husband Connor, she develops websites focusing on building Jesus-centered marriages and families. Living the work-from-home dream, they take turns bouncing their toddler son and baby daughter, and appeasing their curmudgeonly blind rescue Yorkshire terrier, Winston. ENTJ, 9w8. Check out Why I Didn't Rebel, or follow her on Instagram!

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