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Monday, December 2, 2013

I Was That Parent

Libby Anne, of Love, Joy, Feminism, has been writing a review of Micheal Pearl's book, To Train Up A Child. Today she got to the chapter on "The Rod". And my heart broke all over again. Those words from that chapter...they are like a knife in my heart. I want to forget I ever read them. I want to forget I ever followed them. This is my story, one I haven't shared in all it's details to many people. One I am ashamed of, that makes me angry at myself, at the Pearls, at spiritual abuse and how it invades and takes over every aspect of your life til life itself is choked out.

I was one of those parents convinced by this book that if I didn't spank my child, I didn't love them. I was convinced that I was just emotional and needed to "toughen up" (something Micheal says to mothers throughout the book), that this was what my kids needed to turn into good people.  That if I didn't follow Pearl's advice, my kids would be delinquent perverts. That if I didn't "win" every battle, we'd all lose. But the fact was, we all lost anyway.

I had my first two babies in one year, 11 months apart. Both high-needs, one later diagnosed with ASD. Before I had them, I had read everything the Pearls ever wrote. It made perfect sense to my teenage mind and I was determined to raise my kids this way and reap the promised benefits. Then I actually had kids. And it all went downhill from there. I started to lose my resolve to spank/swat into submission for every infraction when my oldest was around  9-11 months.  She was so young and stubborn and, try as a may, I couldn't completely turn off my conscience. I started to become sporadic with my punishment since it seemed all we did was battle with our baby, and started picking my battles because it didn't seem like I ever won and we were exhausted and I just flat-out didn't think I'd have to spank so much before I had her. The Pearls and others say that if you train early and consistently, then your child will be sweet and submissive at an early age, but it didn't seem to be working. I thought maybe I wasn't doing enough "training sessions" like they say to. I felt so guilty for co-sleeping just so we could sleep and baby-wearing so I could get things done (as opposed to "blanket training" which just seemed pointless to me). I just knew that I was setting us all up for failure for letting my baby control me and not training her better when she was young. But I excused myself because I was pregnant and sick and tired. My resolve was renewed when my 2nd baby was 6-12 months old and I remember with heart broken how I spanked her for not eating her food, thinking I had to or she would be spoiled and I would prove that I'm a wimp and hate my children. (When she was later diagnosed with ASD and SPD, I realized that texture mattered to her and there was no way she would eat certain foods. She is 6 1/2 and still extremely picky, something I came to understand as normal for a child like her, for most kids actually.) I remember not feeding my baby, like they said to, because she wouldn't eat what was offered to her, supposedly teaching her I was in control of her food and pickiness wasn't allowed. Thankfully, mother's intuition kicked in after her 3rd missed meal and I caved and fed her, somehow knowing she would starve herself before she ate something she didn't like. Again, feeling guilty and like a failure. Conflicted because part of me even then was thinking "fuck this shit" as part of me still hung onto it as "God's best way".

Somewhere after that time, around the time my 2nd daughter was 2 1/2 and diagnosed with autism, I gave up. I stopped pouring over the Pearl's books, trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I started researching childhood development and working with therapists and behavior specialists for my daughter. A whole new world opened up to me as a parent. I began to work *with* my children's development instead of against it. And I was appalled I had ever thought the Pearls knew what they were talking about. Everything they advise goes against all common sense and science and child psychology and understanding of childhood development. I was appalled I had been so ignorant, had ever done such things to my children in the name of love, in the name of following God, in the name of good intentions. All the good intentions in the world cannot erase my guilt for those few years. Guilt that has since turned into righteous anger. I went from feeling guilty that I didn't follow their advice to feeling heartbroken that I ever tried.

Much research and a lot of experience later, I am now a complete believer in positive, respectful parenting and a die-hard attachment parent. It's my natural parenting style that I had stifled because I read in those books that it was wrong and worldly and my kids would end up in hell if I followed anything else. Well, if this is hell, bring it. Our family is so much more peaceful and I actually like my kids, and I am free to be the parent I want to be and they are free to be children. Where there was once expectations of perfection and antagonism, there is now only love, grace, mercy, and unfinished parents and children who are walking this journey together, on the same team. And we are all so much happier for it. I'm so glad we gave up on "the only perfect way to raise kids" before they were old enough for much damage to be done. We haven't spanked our children in years, one has never been and never will be, though we were still hanging onto spanking in the back of our heads as something we might use in drastic situations while finding other means to communicate with our kids. About a year ago, we consciously swore off ever hitting our children again. I fully believe that parenting can be done with respect, that children are people too, and that spanking is very damaging, no matter how you do it or how much you love your kids. There are much better ways to raise good people.

And, can I be brutally honest here? Fuck Micheal Pearl and his stupid, destructive books. I despise them with all that is within me. I will not stop speaking out against their damaging advice, telling my story, hoping that other parents and children might be spared. Children have died because their parents followed these methods. And it's not hard at all for me to see why. It could've been my own story. Thank God I couldn't quite stifle my conscience and instinct and natural love enough to follow their advice perfectly for very long.

People who were not raised as I have asked with disdain how anyone could follow such abusive methods. They shake their heads at the horrible parents that would ever practice such things. And I try to explain the ideas of spiritual abuse, brainwashing, and toxic faith in a system that teaches "do what we say, or your kids will go to hell". The control by fear. I cannot justify blindly following someone out of fear, and even now I only blame myself for choosing to follow a method that hurts, but I do understand. I understand that parents who love their kids and have the best intentions can do the worst things and follow bad advice. I understand that many parents think they are loving their children while abusing them. I do not justify them or me, but I get it. I hurt for them. I am angry on their behalf, on my behalf, and for our children.

Libby Anne's conclusion of the matter hit me like a ton of bricks:

"This is toxic. This is how Michael convinces otherwise gentle and loving parents to beat their children with plumbing supply line. I really don’t know what else to say here except that this section is so toxic it takes my breath away. What Michael is doing is telling parents to turn off their consciences and their natural human love for their children, because beat their children they must. We like to think of child abuse as something that is only done by angry, hateful parents. Sadly, because of books like this, that is not true. "

She couldn't have been more agonizingly correct.


  1. ((hugs))

    You know I'm no stranger to parental regret, the choice I made for my son was (still is, at times) devastating, you were the first person to speak with compassion & empathy to me at my lowest point, because you've experienced similar devastation... I've never forgotten that. I think that out of these pretty sour lemons you've made some pretty sweet lemonade. I think you're the kind of person that will change minds... it takes a special person to be so open about their mistakes and to share their story in hopes of helping others. Love you Darcy!

  2. Hi Darcy,

    I just wanted to say that it took a lot of courage to share your early parenting experiences. I am so glad that you came to learn a different way to discipline but I can appreciate how hard it must be at times for you to forgive yourself now. In my Personality class, we recently got into attachment disorders. Co-sleeping is one way to increase the development of secure attachment. It seems like the point of not co-sleeping, etc., is to not build up any feelings of equality in a child. They need to know their inferior place and stick to it. We’ve obviously seen what that kind of “training” does to a person when they become an adult. Instead of suddenly being well-adjusted, they still feel worthless, inferior, and require their own small people to make feel even smaller. When Jesus teaches us how to treat children, it just doesn’t sound like mistreatment or severe “training”/abuse was ever his idea. I know I’m preaching to the choir, and sadly, there are still so many who would come to this blog, and others on this topic, and talk all about the positive outcomes they’ve seen. And they’d be so sadly mistaken that a few OK turnouts don’t make up for the majority that struggle internally and maybe hide their pain, and then go on to abuse others. I work in the child abuse/assault prevention field and what we know about how abuse affects the development of a person is so in depth and unfortunately called psychobabble or “science” by Christians who don’t like hearing truth. Thankfully, the law is backing us up more and more. While it’s still legal to physically abuse your children through spanking in many places, hopefully we will get to the day where we can make it illegal, just like spanking your wife would be domestic violence.

  3. I had a similar experience to you. I somehow though felt guilty because I felt it was wrong what I was doing. I thought I must be somehow going to have brats. My children actually since I have stopped following this method, we have the same issues to deal with, but I am not as frustrated by them. I remember when I met Sally Clarkson and her daughter and realized that people that parented without these methods could turn out great....I was so relieved!!!

  4. Oh, Darcy, I'm so sorry you went through that. I grew up as a firm believer in spanking, and now, with a baby about 5 months, I am not so sure anymore (though I love and respect my parents, who never came near the Pearls' guidelines, I don't think...).

    I've received pressure, sometimes passive-aggressive, to sleep-train my baby (we've coslept and he's just now starting to be transitioned to a crib. I've had scheduled feedings "suggested" multiple times. My husband had someone insinuate or outright state that his stiffening his little body and screeching about going into the car seat, which he hates, was rebellion.

    And I think the only reason we escaped going down the authoritarian/ discipline that sin out of them path is that we got married later and didn't have this baby until roughly the ages of 31 & 32. By that point, I'd observed faith crises in 20 somethings; I'd read...and so on.

    I've read a lot of other things on your blog. You have so many good things to say. I know that the Christian life is a journey for many, and I hope that those who are unloving who may PROFESS Christ haven't completely turned you off. I have to grow in love a lot myself!

    I have a sibling with ASD, and this has come up with friends as well. I wanted to mention that you may enjoy Wendy Horger Alsup's blog, Theology for Women, where she mentions having a son with Asperger's and how spanking made things worse for them. Says it was a good day when she realized it was not commanded by God.

    Regarding the harsher parenting: scheduling, etc.--you may like Bob Bixby's blog, Pensee's. He has a post or 2 on "Growing Kids God's Way: Not Ezzo's."

    It's astonishing how many people will believe that something is "God's way" just because some person says it is.

    Best to you and your family.

  5. I have a friend whose three-year-old may have ASD...she is pretty firm on spanking because the child needs to learn to do things they don't want to do, respect for authority, etc. This breaks my heart because I think there may be other reasons for his resisting besides just "rebelling" (and yes, I know that those with handicaps can manipulate, be selfish, and sin just like any of us, but this is a very young child). Please pray for clarity for them and that they have the freedom to reject the parts of their upbringing that may seem to "work" but don't.

  6. I don't have children of my own yet, but I'm a teacher. I teach high school, but spent some time working as a substitute for a Early Childhood Special Education Classroom. There are so many positive ways to help model and mold children's development that are empowering for the parent and for the child. For example, one little girl with ASD was hungry, but wouldn't eat the cereal or fruit in front of her. An experienced paraprofessional was with me and this lady looked at the Cheerios in front of the girl and swapped it out for colored Fruit Loops. The little girl started picking up the different colors and eventually started eating them .

    The Pearl Method - which should be called "Physically Abusing Your Child: A Handbook" - is emotionally destructive for the parent and child. My mom was had reasonable expectations for us as children and rarely spanked. (I remember being spanked once.) When I told her about problems that a friend was having with a 'rebellious' 5 month old, my mom said, "Well, shoot. Let the kid win. A baby has almost no control in their life. If they are pitching a fit because they don't like that shirt, take the #$&% shirt off the kid. "

  7. Darcy,
    Thank you for your brutal honesty here. This is a message that conservative Christianity needs to here.
    Brianna and I also had a stage where we thought the Pearls made sense. Thankfully, we have never spanked our kids, because I started to have serious misgivings before Vivi got very old. I remember being at Liberty University for school, and a principal from Mississippi said that they still spank at their school. And I thought that there was no way I would let anyone else spank my kids. But I couldn't help but think that I believe in treating my kids like real people, so how in the world could I really spank my kids? It took a little while to convince Brianna, but now we can hardly believe we ever felt that was what we wanted to do. I am more convinced than ever that treating our kids with respect, as real people, is vital for helping them grow up to be compassionate people. I am very grateful that we've been spared the pain that you and others on the journey have had to experience. And it has been cool to see others change, too, as we live out our convictions and share our hearts with those around us.

  8. Hi Darcy,

    Have read your blog over the years - pretty much agree with everything. :-)

    I beg to differ with Libby Anne that Mike P. isn't angry or hateful - I believe that those actions, the ability to treat children that way and tell other parents that it is their duty to do likewise, only comes from anger and hate, from a dysfunctional childhood himself, and maybe even abuse. I really don't know much at all about Mike and Debi's childhoods, but I cannot imagine that they were good, happy and loving childhoods if those two people are the result - two manipulative, abusive parents.

    I know the Pearls and let me tell you, Mike's "credentials", his five kids, are no model for how I want any of my children (I don't have any kids yet, but in the future) to become like, in any way, shape or form. Narcissistic, haughty, manipulative, disconnected lot. They do not have healthy family relationships, not even close. Talk about dysfunction - this family writes the definition for it! But as you may know, anyone who contradicts their teachings is a "lesbian pervert", Mike says, another one of his ways to scare his followers away from questioning him. Sad. On so many levels.

    I so wish their followers would pay closer attention to what you were referring to, "intuition". It would make all the difference in the world and people would begin seeing the truth behind what Mike and Debie are teaching. They are completely off in every aspect of family relationships and have no right to be telling people how to live.

    Thank you, for posting this. It's so good to read of these people who are being freed from guilt that comes with following the Pearl's cultish teachings. Look up the meaning of cult and the people who lead them. Mike and Debie are textbook cases.

  9. I was reading a parenting book by Ezzo at my mother's house when I was pregnant with my first. I flipped to the chapter on spanking because, while I'd always believed fervently that this was the right way to teach/train children, I was suddenly not sure why I thought that.

    The chapter was illogical & incoherent. I commented on it to my mother later, just in a conversational way. She flipped, and after I flew home, she wrote me a letter, telling me it would be better if my child were *dead* than born to a mother who wouldn't spank him.

    The spookiest part of that letter was this: I'd never said I wasn't going to spank. I'd only complained about the writing style of the chapter. I'd only been looking for logical support for what I already believed.

    My oldest is turning 14 today, & I have not raised my children according to the standards laid out in the book I was reading that day. In fact, my mother will no longer speak to me because I refused to "spank" my *babies.*

    I'm so grateful that I was in a place where I could listen to my maternal instinct, conscience, whatever--because I DO understand how people are convinced to abuse their children & babies, & if I'd had a different set of circumstances, lived closer to my mom in the early years, had a different husband...*shudder*

    1. Better if he were dead?! That's really messed up. Good for you for following your heart and mind. So weird when hitting kids is a hill to die on for people. I don't understand that at all.

  10. Just want to add encouragement here for parenting with human respect. Regarding spanking, Jordan Riak has much healthy information on his site and regarding parenting without punishing, look at Norm Lee's free book on the web. Norm was a severely abused child who turned his life around.
    Regarding kids and learning, I really appreciate lifelearningmagazine.
    Darcy, thank-you for this thread, for taking the time and work to say it so well.