Wednesday, June 13, 2012

This is Christian Parenting?

As I mentioned in my last post, most parenting decisions are not worth the division they often cause, but I feel there are a few definite exceptions. I have recently been reading about some teachings of “Christian parenting experts” Michael and Debi Pearl that I find deeply disturbing. I have not read their book, To Train Up a Child; I had heard of it before but didn't know much about it. I usually don't like to make judgments about something I haven't read since I don't want to take things out of context. However, after having read a number of direct quotes from the book and website, and I cannot think of any context in which I could consider them acceptable.

For example, in their book the Pearls recommend spanking babies under one year old to train them, giving an example of switching their 4 month old daughter!
At four months she was too unknowing to be punished for disobedience. But for her own good, we attempted to train her not to climb the stairs by coordinating the voice command of “No” with little spats on the bare legs. The switch was a twelve-inch long, one-eighth-inch diameter sprig from a willow tree.
In another particularly disturbing quote related to the philosophy and goal of “training up” your child, the Pearls say:
However, if you are just beginning to institute training on an already rebellious child, who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise.” (Emphasis added)

I find these teachings deeply troubling on many levels. In fact, I felt physically ill as I read. It would be bad enough if these were the teachings of a strange cult, but the Pearls' book has sold over 670,000 copies, and they have a website and magazine publication as well. In 2010 they said on their website that “one out of every 75 Americans have been introduced to our ministry.” Somehow these ideas have been accepted as good Christian parenting.

While I mentioned that we do not plan to spank, I do not think that all spanking is physically or psychologically harmful. I was spanked (though not much) as a child, and I don't think it caused me any  lasting harm. I am just not convinced it is a necessary part of discipline, the best method for our family, or “the Biblical method.” Maybe I will talk more about that later. Fortunately, most of the parents I know who spank (the majority of the parents I know) do not practice the extreme methods as outlined in the Pearls' teachings.

If you do follow their teachings, I'm sure you are offended by my attack. I generally don't like to offend, even through the internet, but in this instance I am very offended by your parenting. I don't believe this falls under the category of “personal differences in parenting;” I believe it is harmful and wrong.

I am ashamed that teachings such as this are equated with Christianity. Not only are they harmful to children, they seem to completely ignore the grace and mercy that God shows toward us in favor of continually reminding children of their sinfulness and their need to earn good standing with their parents and presumably also with God.
“The parent holds in his hand (in the form of a little switch) the power to absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, instruct his spirit, strengthen his resolve, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”
I have been thinking a lot lately about what Biblical parenting actually means. It is clear to me that these teachings are not truth, but what does it mean to parent Biblically?  I plan to write more of my thoughts on this, even though I know I am no expert!  

After reading some of the Pearls' disturbing teachings, I saw these verses in my daily devotional (Daily Light):

* He arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.
* The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him.
* You received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
* You who were once far off have been made near by the blood of Christ. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.
(Luke 15:20; Ps. 103:8-13; Rom. 8:15-16; Eph. 2:13, 19)

What wonderful reminder of the kind of God we serve and the grace that we can reflect in our parenting!


Kristen said...

Ruth, yeah the posts from the Pearls are disturbing and obviously not in line with scripture. I do believe however that the use of spanking can still fall directly in line with Christian parenting and can be done in a way that is not harsh, or angry. When thoughtfully used spanking can be a beautiful reminder of the cross and our need for a Savior. We have read Shepherding a Child's Heart and I will be quick to say that I do not agree with everything presented in that book however the way Tripp describes how he disciplines his children is humbling to read. For example, he always explains why a spanking is going to happen and he makes sure his children understand what they did wrong. He also takes time to set discipline in the context of our calling to obey God which points to the cross and our need for a Savior. Before spanking his children he also tells them how many spankings they will receive so that his children know he is in control of his emotions and that it is not out of anger. Then after the spankings happen he embraces his children reminding them of his love. Now I know spanking is not for everyone but I truly believe it can be done in a way that expresses the love of God. Yes of course God is a God of love but his love sometimes expresses itself in discipline. We are praying through how this will play out in our family. I truly desire the Lord to be glorified in the way we parent and as of now we feel God leading us to use spanking but always in the context of humility, love, and with the ultimate desire to glorify God in everything.

Ruvin said...

Hey Kristen, Thank you for your comment! I don't think spanking is un-Christian or wrong in general. I think it can be done in an edifying way. I am particularly troubled by the Pearls teachings not because they spank but because of the way they advocate using spanking. Spanking babies. Using an approach of shaming and "defeating" your child. I really dislike when the focus of parenting is on the constant "battle" between you and your children - whatever the cost, you must always win! I definitely think that discipline is Biblical and necessary in parenting, and I think it can be done in a loving way. I am still trying to figure out how to handle things as Juliana grows, and a lot of days I feel like, "Akk! I don't know what I'm doing!" Which I guess is what keeps us humble and seeking!

Bethany Morrill said...

I appreciate the thoughtful, deliberate way you both approach this issue. Kristen, we spank in our house and do it much along the lines you described (although I have not read that book). Spankings don't happen during a first "offense," it's always for a direct disobedience right away after having already been corrected verbally. Ruth, I agree - there's no reason in the world to spank a 4 mo old baby. We have only just introduced spanking to Ada (17 mos today) in cases when she is doing something she KNOWS is disobedient (e.g. crawling up on the kitchen table).

I think disciplining in parenting is so hard because we don't always understand how/why we are disciplined by our Father. It's frustrating to create a system of consequences for actions and accountability when our own "adult" system often doesn't make sense. But, as Ruth says, "it keeps us humble and seeking!" :) Wishing you both a great day.

Mama B said...

When punishment is confused for discipline, we get all sorts of defence for spanking, from Christian extremists, like the Pearls, and more moderate parents who still believe the bible condones physically striking children.

We discipline our children. By leading with our own example, by modeling proper behaviour, by redirecting them and reflecting their feelings, by giving them the tools they need to handle their big feelings. We don't punish them.

I would never hit my husband for any perceived slight or misstep on his part. Yes, he's an adult and "should know better," but how much more grace to children who don't know better deserve then?

C.L. Dyck said...

My husband and I are not anti-spanking as such either. But we found out via our homeschooling community that children had actually died at the hands of parents following the Pearl method. (Why Not Train a Child has information on Lydia Schatz and Hana Williams.) So we decided to take a closer look.

We found that Pearl's theology is decidedly unbiblical, and that it underpins the methodology and essentially tells parents that they must continue the spanking till the child's will is subdued, or the child risks eternal judgement. So, when the Pearls teach a method of moderation, they're still teaching a theology of desperation. It's extremely harmful.

llamalluv said...

I agree with MamaB. Spanking is a punishment, not discipline. Discipline is training or teaching. Spanking does not do a thing to teach children what they should or should not be doing.

I also think that A LOT of parents have unrealistically high expectations of what a child (especially a toddler) is capable of doing (or not doing). I also find that many times if I ask a parent why they have a specific rule that they are constantly battling over with their kids, they cannot give me an answer that is related to safety or health or financial reasons.

For example: I once watched, with rising nausea, as a woman threatened to hit her toddler for not eating mustard potato salad that she put on his plate, even though she knew that he didn't like mustard. She forced him under threat of violence to eat a food that she knew he didn't like, and that he didn't ask for, and it was obvious that this was a routine event to make him literally gag down hated foods. All because they have a pointless and arbitrary rule: "Clean Your Plate".

My son, who can not yet walk, is a climber. There is nothing sinful or "bad" about climbing. Instead of spending all day fighting with him about it, we make sure he can climb safely.

CA in texas said...

Found your post through a fb link (can't remember what page tho sorry!) & had to comment. I am completely against spanking PERIOD. There have been too many studies that prove violence begets violence. In addition, hitting ("spank" is just another word for hit or strike) is illegal when it occurs between adults. A boss striking a coworker would be called assault, a husband hitting his wife is abuse yet a parent hitting a child is "discipline"?! Spanking teaches children that it is ok for a bigger person to hit a smaller person & that child may grow up to believe that it is ok to be controlled by someone they believe is an authority figure. That is completely wrong & harmful in my opinion. That being said, making the transition from spanking to not spanking is VERY DIFFICULT. I have chosen to space my children apart (4yrs) because I did not feel that I had developed enough patience for another child & I want to be secure in my role as a non-spanking mother. I had to learn to view my children as CHILDREN and not mini-adults. I have to constantly remind myself that many things they do that annoy me are completely age appropriate & normal! I have to say that I feel that I ENJOY my children much more than other parents that I know. My kids aren't bad, naughty, etc... they are KIDS! & I love them completely!

**I was spanked as a child & to this day (over 20yrs later) I still don't have the best relationship with my parents & when around them I am constantly uncomfortable & wondering if they are going to scold me (verbal "spanking") for something they feel is "wrong". & unfortunately this still happens.

Ruvin said...

Bethany – I am still working out my overall opinion on spanking – and on discipline in general since I'm just getting started. While we don't plan to spank, I think that it can be used in a way that is not harmful. I don't get to see your parenting firsthand, but I have a lot of respect for the parenting ideas you have shared in our mommy's group. I can tell you are a very “thoughtful” parent. I think what you said is true - it is difficult that we want to parent like our Father but there is still a lot we don't understand.

Mama B – It does seem that people often think punishment and discipline are the same, so if you don't punish or spank it also means you don't discipline. Even if punishment is used as part of discipline, there is certainly a lot more to discipline than that. I think it's very important to treat our children with respect, just as we treat others (and want them to treat others) with respect. And helping them learn how handle their feelings, rather than discounting or punishing their feelings (confusing feelings with action), is so important!

C.L. Dyck – I have heard about the several accounts of child abuse from people who were proportedly following the Pearls' methods. While I'm sure the extremes of punishment that were used to cause those deaths are not taught in the book, it does seem like it would be very easy for things to be taken out of hand. I feel some of the methods taught and examples given do seem cruel and extreme, meant to “break” a child. It is really terrible!

Llamalluv – One of my concerns with spanking is that it seems to sometimes be used in place of teaching. Spanking to make sure they don't do it again but not explaining why it is wrong/harmful/etc. I am also bothered to see parents expecting their small children to act like “little adults.” Some things that end up being punished are not “sinful” behaviors; they are just normal childhood behaviors. Our children are still growing mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I also try to think about why I say 'no' or don't allow certain things. Is it really because it is harmful or wrong? Many times it is just an inconvenience or because I am feeling frustrated or even because it's a rule someone else has. I don't want to “fight” about things that aren't really important!

Anna said...

I've read several things from the Pearls and they all sicken me. What they are advocating is nothing less than child abuse (and sometimes I think it's more). I find it beyond my comprehension to even imagine how they could even advocate the things that they do. If I ever have children, I don't intend to spank them anyway, but the extremes that the Pearls go to is horrific.