A Reformed Spanker Reveals Why She Wishes She Would Have Spared the Rod

By Michelle Bond

Spare the rod, spoil the child.  I’ve been hearing that Bible quote since the moment I became a parent.  Elders in the church would recite it to me as if they were speaking in code like it was some kind of verbal wink summonsing me to get my belt out and commence to “un-spoiling” my child.

I started following the “spare the rod” code when my son was a toddler, around the time he began hitting other toddlers. I would pop his hand and tell him No! But I felt like such a hypocrite hitting him while I was telling him not to strike others.  The mixed messages this sent to him had to be puzzling.

As my son grew older, I tossed out more quotes to justify the hitting, most notably one I heard on the radio: What you do not hear, you will feel. Translation: “You don’t listen to me and  basically you bring the beat down on yourself.” I even collected tips from other moms who would give their kids the “You Told Harpo To Beat Me” beat downs; one friend shared that when she spanked her child, the number of strikes her son received was equal to his age. It seemed like a good plan at the time, particularly since her son was well-behaved surely a sign that this was a bit of wisdom I should adapt.

It's fair to say that spankings were never my first choice. Initial consequences varied from making him go to bed early, to putting him on restriction, to my saying no” to whatever event was happening over the weekend.  Spankings were the last resort.  Still, in my mind, my belt a.k.a. “the rod” was supposed to spare me much more than a spoiled child. After all, spoiled little Black boys do not have freedom or longevity in this world.  I had no option.  The beat downs were for his own good. Or so I reasoned.

Thing is, the hitting didn’t seem to change my son’s behavior. During his pre-school and elementary school years, I would receive countless calls to come pick him up. This often resulted in me leaving work early. Being the sole provider for my son, it only added to the day's frustrations to have to leave my job because of disciplinary issues. On those occasions when I spanked him, the spankings were controlled; I’m confident my son won’t grow up and write a “tell all” book rivaling the “Mommy Dearest” tome that chronicled Joan Crawford’s child abuse. I acknowledge, though, that the spankings were meted out of frustration.  Why did you curse out the teacher? Why did you hit the other student?  Why were you throwing items out the bus window? Why? Why? Why?!

My son would eventually be diagnosed with ADHD as well as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), which, on one hand, allowed me a non-curse word-laden description to help articulate what was going on. Still, it did little to ease the stress, as he would be kicked off the school bus or suspended from school time after time after time. My child was blessed with a beautiful personality, but let me tell you : impulsivity is a beast!  It removes all logic from their little minds, giving them no time to factor in potential consequences. Which made the ADHD plus the ODD a one-two punch of daily chaos and confusion.

As my child got older and continued to get into trouble, some might say that I didn't spank him enough.  They would see him act out and wonder why I wasn’t popping him upside the head to command the respect they felt he should be displaying. Some would even boast that they could raise my son better than me: Leave him with me for a week, and you'll have no more trouble out of him!

But at the risk of repeating this message in every column I write, it bears repeating:  You cannot BEAT mental illness out of a child.

This is not about preaching to other parents that they should or should not spank their children. That's a personal choice each parent has to make and find his or her peace with. What I am confessing is that as I face my own truth, I know that if I had it to do all over again, I never would have spanked my son.

If I dare to be completely transparent, I would go one step further and say that what I did to him sickens me.  Maybe it's the “Flower Child” in me, but today, the thought of striking another human being turns my stomach and makes my emotions cringe in shame, especially when people who know about my son’s behavior issues celebrate when I admit to having spanked my kid. It's the one act of parenting that I felt I had unanimous community support in.

I know my view may not be popular, especially in the African American community, where we laugh and spit at the idea of time out. And there's a strong chance that had I raised my son in a spank-free environment, I would be sitting here today wondering, “what if?” The tricky thing about regret is that it gives birth to an infinite number of what ifs?

My son is a spirit, a soul, a wonderful human being on this earth. And his mind is a wonderland at times. To discipline him by causing physical pain does not heal him or help him emotionally, neurologically, or spiritually.  As he continues to grow and find his way, I will continue to discipline him as artistically and creatively as possible. 100% “rod-free.”

Michelle Bond is a writer. A mother. A Flower Child. All of these things… not necessarily in that order. She’s written for Today’s Black Woman and regional publications. Visit her at CoffeeBreakDMV.

(Image: Flickr member InExtremiss licensed for use by Creative Commons.)

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Denene Millner

Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.


  1. This is a very moving piece about an issue that still drives me crazy in the black community. I can’t count how many arguments I have gotten in with black people who strut around boasting about how frequently and how thoroughly they beat the hell out of their children, as if there is some kind of child abuse trophy we are all competing for. I nod my head as I hear the beat-down tales, but the question I am always left with is: Then why the hell is your kid still so damn bad? If black parents are such superior disciplinarians, then why are so many black children so undisciplined? It’s easy to get a five-year-old to stop playing with matches by beating the hell out of him, but when he’s 15, I don’t think the physical abuse is going to get him to spend an extra half hour studying for that math test, get him to sit in the front of the classroom in Algebra class and show the teacher how smart he is, get him to walk away when his homeboys are planning to cut school. By then you needed to have developed many more tools in your parenting arsenal than the simple and unthinking beat-down. Michelle, your case is an extreme example of the futility of beatings, but it serves as a cautionary tale that we should all be mindful of.

    • Nick, I hear you my brother, but the problem today is that many of our “KID’S are raising KID’S” …… I’m almost 40yrs old and I count on one hand the amount of spankings my parent’s gave me, I understand that the sister said that her child was diagnosed with ADHD and I will reserve my comments on that because I don’t know enough about ADHD, However I’m amazed by the large number of our population that are being over medicated and misdiagnosed… My Father always told me why i was getting spanked and if i could come up with a reason that would justify him not spanking me to let him know… I’m proud to say that my dad was my hero, best friend and my ROCK… You bring up the issue about kid’s still acting bad and they are getting the “Rod” / “Belt”…. It really comes down to parenting skills if your child does not have some type of mental illness….

      I’m not going to debate if you should or should not spank your child, I must admit that it disturbs me from time to time when i see a parent letting their child act out like they’re crazy or something…. I’m just glad that you guy’s are having honest dialogue in a positive way on this site…

      Peace & Blessing’s


  2. Despite the fact that it sounds like you regularly emphasize this, I’ve never heard it before and it blew me away: “You cannot BEAT mental illness out of a child.” Wow, wow. I was on the other side wondering if using a little physical punishment would’ve been helpful with my child but that thought puts it all in perspective. Some kids have ADHD, some have anxiety, some have depression, some have underlying/undiagnosed physical problems that are the root cause of behavioral problems. A one-size-fits-all approach to discipline (i.e., not sparing the rod) does not take all of the other factors into consideration. Thank you for a wise and wonderful post.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. You are brave. We have long spanked in the Black community and it isn’t helping our children. Prisons and gangs are full of neglected and/or beaten children NOT children who were lovingly disciplined (discipled – shown the way by teaching and example), hugged and kissed. Culture is so obsessed with getting children to be “independent” and “strong” when we really want INTER-dependent, loving, creative, self-confident adults who care about others in a healthy way. Thanks for exposing yourself and your child in such a vulnerable way. You are a courageous mother.

  4. I have a question: Is ADHD and ODD a mental ilness or mental disorder

  5. Wow, this is a powerful post! I’m a new mom to a 15 month of black boy, and I constantly worry about how I am going to discipline my child. It’s nice to see another perspective on the issue.

  6. I’m older and wiser. My children are wonderful and very forgiving. I’m not sure how I feel about spankings. I do know if a person cannot spank a child without going overboard for whatever reason(s) they should refrain from such disinclination. I was one of those parents, therefore, I had to find other means of disciplining my children, but that didn’t work either, because I was angry about life issues, and found it easy for me to take it out on my children when they crossed lines, and my new way of correcting bad behavior just became another avenue for abuse. Other words, anything even loving a child too much can become abusive. One must learn what works for them and their child when correcting bad behaviors and try to keep the pendulum in the middle of it all.

  7. I can’t thank you enough for opening up and sharing your personal experience. I have a very hyper and “spirited” 19-month old who wears me out almost every day. I get advised to spank her from family members and friends, but I suspect her issue is deeper than just misbehaving. It has forced me to dig deeper and come up with alternate solutions like watching for cues that she is tired or hungry, making sure not to spend too many hours running errands, to give her time to wind down before naps and bedtime, to give her my undivided time and attention when she needs it, and to really listen to her because she has a voice too. I can understand why our grandparents spanked to an extent since being a mouthy or unruly little black boy or girl could get you in serious trouble with the law or even lynched back in the day. But in these times, I think spanking is just a convenient (and even lazy) way to discipline. It’s time to stop passing that torch.

  8. Wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing. I don’t believe in hitting my child either, but I confess that I have on a few occasions. Not proud of it, in fact, ashamed of it, but in weaker moments I found myself at a loss for how to handle the situation. I know that being unapologetically spanked myself did not have my parents’ intended outcome, rather I believe it impacted my self-esteem in negative ways. But, it was what they knew to do. In the end, though, it didn’t stop me from being the independent, sassy, authority-challenging child that I was by nature. It just made me feel wrong about being who I was…something I haven’t been able to change in 4 decades…not the essential me. So, I want to do it differently even at the expense of being considered a poor disciplinarian as I figure it out. I realize that so many of the things that we sometimes want to control in our children are actually just part of who they are. And, too much of what we make wrong in our children just isn’t. It just isn’t fully developed…at least that’s my take. Thank you for sharing.

  9. Thank you so much for saying this out loud. My son has been diagnosed with Aspergers and ADHD. I choose not to spank because I realized that it only served to satisfy my own angst. Spiritually I felt worse after.
    It takes a lot to let that fire die inside of you. It takes a lot to be humbled before a child. It takes a lot to stoop down below eye level and TALK as opposed to just hailing off and whacking a kid.
    After it is all said and done, how one chooses to discipline speaks to the way one deals with life.

  10. Thank you for your story. I’m not for abuse but I can’t say that I would take spanking off the table for me and mine. It’s a last resort but it will still be an option. There is no one size fits all discipline tactic for every family or every kid in one family. Just have to learn your child and what does or doesn’t work for them.

  11. Great Piece Michelle… I applaud you for writing about this issue as it speaks to your particular journey with parental discipline. You did what worked for you. You are correct, it can be interesting all of the advice one can receive about disciplining children.

    The spanking issue is a big one in our community. I’m all for exploring/revisiting/amending how we may have been parented. I don’t know where we draw the line, but I would never not spank a child. As you intimated, spanking was a last resort- as I think it is with most parents. There are indeed other ways to impart discipline lessons besides spanking. Obviously, its incumbent upon the parents to find those.

  12. Michelle,how ironic,I am Michelle,the mother of a boy,who has ADHD/ODD. THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!! THANK YOU!!!! I cried as I read this!! I have tried spanking my son and it really “hit home” with me when you said”you cannot beat mental illness out of a child.” I am sickened also that I have resorted to spanking him. From this day forward,to my son:I will not spank you,ever again. I will artistically,creatively,and lovingly figure out different ways to deal with the issues we face daily. I will stop,think,listen and make sure that I put myself in your place before I react. I will love you for who you are,not who I or anyone else wants you be. You are my son,my pride and joy,my best friend,my one true love,and you do not deserve punishment. You deserve to be you,intelligent,warm,loving,caring,inquisitive,onry(sometimes),a boy,with a the mind of his own!! I love you son!! I PROMISE!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH MICHELLE,for opening my eyes,for letting me know,I am not alone!! God bless you!!

  13. My mom had the “novel” idea of not spanking me or my sister in the 80s. I still joke about how I would have rather been spanked. Instead she clocked what I liked to do and took that away when I acted a fool. If I couldn’t act right in the store, then the next 2 to 3 times she and my sister (who [hiss!] was just insanely well-behaved) went w/o me. One of my earliest memories was fuming, just sure that I was missing out on all sorts of fun as I was stuck in the house by myself — kids got left home alone a lot earlier back then. Later on, if I couldn’t keep my grades up then I couldn’t do extracurricular activities. The result of this insane “no spanking” upbringing? For the most part, both my sister and I stayed out of trouble throughout school, got into great schools and today enjoy careers that we love. I have no intentions of hitting my children, not just b/c I’m a pacifist, but also b/c I know it will make life harder for me in the long run as far as them not acting a fool when they’re out of my sight. I say train them to self-soothe and self-regulate through non-violent means, so that when conflicts come up at school, they won’t even consider the violence option.

    Still, a few of my relatives tell me that I’m spoiling my daughter rotten by not hitting her. From what a few of them say, you’d think that she was just going to be ruined b/c she hasn’t been beaten down. I was raised to be polite under even the most trying of circumstances, so I don’t answer out loud, just think to myself, “You mean spoiled like my chemical engineer sister and me? Oh, I’ll totally take that.”

    To anyone who is thinking of taking a non-spanking approach, consider this: because of the way my mother raised me, I do not spank my child. And she in turn will probably not spank her child. You have it within your power to spare future generations spankings, to give your children good alternative ideas for raising their own children. It can all start with you. Give serious consideration to taking that challenge.

  14. Hello Michelle,
    I was very touched by what you wrote and how genuinely honest you were in your writing. You have definetly made me see spanking in a different light. Thanks for sharing.

  15. I loved the article and comments

  16. Definitely needed to read this tonight. I’m a product of spanking – and deep in the Church – so my last resort is to pop my Little Dude. He’s 2. I need to do better. I will do better. 100% rod-free.

  17. Josie. No Pussycats

    Thank you, Michelle. Your essay is honest and inspiring, and I like that you challenge what many parents in our community do simply because “that’s how black people raise our kids.” And that would be okay, I suppose, if that worked. I agree with you that many prisons are filled with men and women whose parents and other family members tried to beat some sense into them. Did it work? No. In my opinion, parental involvement has to be more than just discipline–whether that discipline involves spanking or not. Our main job as parents is to show our children that they are loved unconditionally and without limits. A close second is guiding them towards being responsible, mature, and loving people. Doing one without the other creates imbalanced children–and adults.

  18. ItisAboutTime

    I pray that your blog’s wisdom spreads like wildfire through the black american community. IT IS TIME to STOP beating our children. It took the love of a White man, who disciplined his children through love, and positive reinforcement to make me know how wrong it is. He raised two wonderful children without ever raising his hand. His disappointment/disapproval in their poor behavior was enough to correct their actions.

    Many parents dont understand that as children grow it is normal and right for them to think for themselves, rather than follow their every command. If a child is not using his own mind, he is not developing mentally.

    We really need for entertainers like Steve Harvey to stop encouraging his listeners to answer all of life’s problems with violence, and to stop creating violence over every little slight. Violence is the biggest facilitation into the criminal justice system.

    Keep up your good work with this blog.

  19. ItisAboutTime

    I still feel enormous guilt over beating my child just ONCE with an extension cord. A comedian claimed his mother did it, and it made him a better person. Well anyway, after about 5 licks, with that ext cord my child was screaming so loud, I decided to hit my own leg with the cord to gauge the impact, and the pain was excruciating – like barbed wire cutting into my flesh. I will never get over the guilt I feel for doing that to my baby. I never did it again.

  20. Thank you so much for writing this article. It was not until I was an adult that I realized that beating a child with a belt or an object was wrong and potentially psychologically harmful. Growing up I thought that everyone was beaten that way. Now that I am a mother, because of my experiences with physical discipline, I made the decision not to spank my daughter. She is only 6 and a relatively good child. But if I had a dollar for every time I hear, “just wait until she gets older and starts challenging you. You will change your tune.” Maybe I won’t. Maybe I am stronger than that and more determined to stick to my guns. Maybe the foundation of love and respect I built with my child will pay off. I know many parents who were able to raise successful, successful children without physical discipline but so many Blacks seemingly REFUSE to believe that is possible. It is disheartening.

  21. I would like to recommended a book to any parent who has a child or children who has ADD, ADHD, autism, dyslexia. Its called Left Brained Kids in a Right Brained World. After reading this book I took my children off of their medication and apologize to them for ever putting them on medication. You will be amazed at how smart gifted, and talented these children are. I thank God for letting me stumble across this book so my children could be taking off the medications that were depriving the them of being themselves. I promise you will be amazed by what you learn.

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