Giving the Child the Rod

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point early on my mom handed me the rod. She told me I was to spank my younger siblings if they misbehaved or broke any rules and she was not in the room. The rule was that I could spank any sibling at least five years younger than me. This meant that at ten I could spank my five-year-old sibling, and all those younger than him.

Parents, don’t do this to your older kids. Please, please, just don’t. It breaks my heart because now, years and years later, my younger siblings don’t have any pleasant memories of my time with them. They tell me I was a bully, that they resented me, that I “lorded it over them.” I may have been all that, and I definitely was far from perfect. Perhaps having this sort of power over them brought out the worst in me. But I was ten, twelve, or fourteen, and at the core I did what I did because my parents handed me the rod and told me to do so. Now I think of what is lost. When they remember my years at home with them, they remember the bad times before the good ones. I was a bully, they say. They resented me. Why did my parents put me in such a situation? I wish with all my heart that they had not.

As to why my parents did this, the answer is not that difficult. With a dozen or so kids, my parents could not watch and discipline each of us individually. So they did what all Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy parents do: they outsourced. They outsourced their discipline method to me, and that method was the Pearls.

I was told that loving parents – or, er, siblings – discipline their children, and that the only way to make a child into a happy, healthy adult is to spank him. I was taught that children must have their wills broken and must be forced to submit. I did not spank my siblings out of malice. I spanked them because I loved them and because I had been told that it was loving to spank. I did not know any better. I did not realize that as I spanked I was building a wall of resentment between me and my younger siblings.

I wish for all the world that I had been allowed to be a normal sister to my younger siblings. Instead I was put up as a second mother, an authority figure, a clone of my parents and their methods. I spent an enormous amount of time watching my younger siblings, both when my mother was in the house but occupied elsewhere and when my parents were away. I was expected to act as parent, not as sister, to my siblings.


Sixteen-month-old Faith reaches for a glass bowl on the coffee table.

Faith, no, don’t touch that.

Faith touches the glass bowl. *pop* I slap her hand. She looks startled.

I said no.

Faith reaches for the glass bowl again. *pop*


Her little hand reaches out once again, her lower lip trembling. *pop*


Faith whimpers and looks like she’s going to cry, and I sigh. I gather her in my arms.

Faith, it’s okay, but I said no, and that means no.

She looks up at the glass bowl with pain and confusion in her face. I set her down by her toy box, pointing to her toys, and she soon forgets about the glass bowl and is busy with a doll.


This scene repeated over and over and over again. I learned to never give in to a child’s crying, and that even a baby could rebel. I learned to house proof the baby rather than baby proofing the house. As for slightly older kids, I frequently spanked four, five, or six-year-old siblings for “disobedience” or “insolence.” Obedience was expected to be immediate, completely, and without complaint. Even talking back was to be punished, often with spanking.


Judah, I told you to take this trash bag out.

I don’t want to!

I don’t care. You have to take it out or get a spank and take it out.

But I did it last time!

Alright, that’s it, you’re getting a spanking.


Why was I made to be an authority figure to my siblings instead of a sister? My heart breaks because I inflicted pain on them. It hurts worse that I never questioned these things, never asked why, never said no. But what did I, at ten, twelve, or fourteen, know? What did I understand? I had never seen anything different from what my parents taught and modeled at home. My parents handed me the rod and told me to spank. And I regret it with all my heart. And now, all I can say is I am so so sorry.

Reader, even if you have a large family, please, please, don’t outsource the discipline. You risk unintentionally turning your older children into bullies and pitting sibling against sibling. Even if you believe children must be spanked, why do you think a ten or twelve year old is mature enough to do so? Let your older children be siblings to your younger siblings, not authority figures, disciplinarians, or mini parents. If you have too many children to discipline and parent yourselves, you have too many children. I am today working on repairing my relationships with my siblings, relationships I unwittingly and unintentionally sabotaged all those years ago. As for the future, I will never, ever put my children in this kind of situation.

Sometimes All I Can Say Is UGH
The Modesty Rules—Not So Simple, Really
Lesbian Duplex 14: An Open Thread
Yes, I’m a Mom. I Have Also Been a Child.
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    "If you have too many children to discipline and parent yourselves, you have too many children."This is so, so true!My heart breaks for you. I've never heard of parents asking children to discipline for them, but then, my parents got into the movement when I was 14 and there were only 4 children in our family. I don't doubt at all that you weren't the only one that was forced into this kind of sick responsibility. Such a shame.

  • Katy-Anne

    That's one thing I don't understand about QF families. I see how the Duggars and people like them expect the older children to care for the younger children. I'm ok with sometimes babysitting, but I'd either pay my older kids to babysit the younger if their daddy and I want a date night (thus showing them their time is valuable and that a laborer is worthy of his hire) or "trade" with them. Something like "well, you can use the family car on Tuesday night for your date if you will babysit for me on Wednesday night for my date with daddy."As a pro-lifer, I can't bring myself to use birth control, and so will likely end up with a large family (I'm due to birth number 4 any day now). But I see it as MY job and my husband's job to raise those children, not my children's job. I do believe in giving kids chores, just not excessive chores so that they have no time to play etc. And we send ours to public school, in part so that they learn that not everyone believes like mommy and daddy do. I think it's GOOD for kids to know that. I have never understood the concept of having a heap of kids and then expecting the older kids to "buddy" with the younger ones and take care of them. My kids will do dishes, or sweep and mop, or do some laundry, but not all of those things for the same child. In fact I'm going to have them doing their own laundry most likely unless we find something that works better, and alternate who does dishes, including the boys. I won't be dividing chores up between genders. And discipline…don't get me started. That is ALWAYS the parents job…ALWAYS. (And hitting a kid for any reason is messed up…I just had to add that).

  • Anonymous

    This post made me cry. I often spanked my younger siblings and all it did was make them dislike me. Having that "authority" to "discipline" them completely ruined our sibling relationship. It has been repaired to some extent now that we are all adults, but like you, my little sisters and brother remember me as a bully to be feared. Totally agree: if you can't be a parent to the children you already have, it is time to stop having more. It is so not a young teenager's job to be a parent to her little siblings!kateri @ Dandelion Haven

  • Anne —

    In my house, i was a second mother, but I wasn't allowed to spank the younger ones. Sometimes I wished I could, because they would misbehave and my mom would just ignore it, and I would get frustrated because she would rather spank *me*, in my late teens/early 20's, than the little ones. But yeah, now I'm thinking it's a good thing I didn't.

  • Libby Anne

    Kateri – Then it wasn't just me. You had the same experience. That really does make me feel better! Not that I'd wish this experience on anyone, of course… I just can't understand how I didn't see them asking me to spank my siblings as just plain wrong at the time. But I didn't. Erika and Anne – Yes, be glad! Anne, being able to spank might have given some weight to your position as second mother, but it's NOT worth it! The entire situation is so messed up.

  • Anonymous

    It's worth noting that it's an explicit rule that in foster families, children aren't allowed to discipline other children.

  • Young Mom

    I was given that "authority" around the same age, and it sucked. I was often in charge, alone, running the house, and was trained to have the same mentality towards children that you were. Some days I was happy to have that power, because I never would have gotten all the work done. One the other hand, I hated being spanked, and I felt horribly guilty for spanking my siblings, but if I did not get them to listen to me, I would be spanked (until I was almost 17, then my parents decided I was too old to be spanked anymore, but only after I ran away from my mom and locked myself in the only bedroom with a lock). So I often found myself spanking them to avoid being spanked myself. The only other option was tattling on them so that they would get spanked by Mom, which still didn't make me popular among my siblings. NEVER do this to your kids people, My relationship with my siblings was negetively effected by my spanking them. You are the parent, discipline your kids yourself.

  • TealRose

    And .. all of this .. pain .. could be stopped in a single stroke – if parents realised that spanking ANYONE .. is a bad thing. That it isn't right and isn't needed. How on earth anyone expects a 'child' to take on the spanking of another even smaller child confounds me. I was left far too often to look after my sister, 7 years younger than me, for too long, expected to do too much around the house. My father left us when I was just 9. I know we all probably railed against our parents 'I didn't ASK to be here .. YOU made me !' … and actually .. at almost 57 .. I do believe that to be true. You shouldn't be making your older children into mini house slaves and nursemaids just because you go on having babies. There is no quality of life for them or the little ones if there is no time for them. All children need and deserve to play – that is how they learn. As I once said to my mother .. as an adult .. 'What and why did you want children .. when you weren't prepared to be with us, to play and love and enjoy us?' She was always too busy .. cleaning .. making sure the whole house was so spotless .. we couldn't actually 'live' in it. And spanking us was her way of getting us to 'get out of her way' or to do things…. I believe with my heart and soul, that spanking a child is an evil thing…. my heart goes out to anyone who has been spanked… and to those of you forced to spank a sibling …

  • BrianMI6

    While I don't agree with the content of most of this blog, I have to agree that I don't see anywhere in the Bible where delegation of the application of the Rod is either endorsed. Either explicitly or by inference of example.If parents cannot fulfill their responsibilities as parents because of the number of children in the household, then they are having too many children. The number of kids doesn't give you an excuse to abandon, shirk, or twist your responsibilities.

  • Andrea

    I was just talking to my therapist about this. We were forced to be a mommy. But at 12, I wasn't a good mommy. I was a bad mommy and I have so much guilt for punishing my younger sister the same way I was punished. As an adult woman, I don't spank my child. But I came to this decision with maturity and prayer. As a brain-washed 12 year old, things con only go badly.

  • Andrea

    Oh yeah, and then my parents got the golden nugget "If your younger children are misbehaving, it is probably because they have adapted the bad attitude of the older children." So even further blame for my younger sibling's actions was placed on me.

  • skybluskyblue

    Is this "rod" the same "rod" that "comforts" the poet in the 23 psalm? So, why would a shepherd hit the sheep? Makes no sense? The rod is to guide the sheep in place of a border collie IMO. The staff protects the sheep from predators etc. Rod are not meant to be something you hit kids with.