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!