some more thoughts on the Pearls and authoritarian parenting

More thoughts this morning on the teachings of the Pearls from Elizabeth Esther:

“This is an extremely difficult post for me to write because my radical fundamentalist church ordered their books by the boxful. I saw first-hand how these “child-training” methods were implemented. I can tell you that while Mike Pearl might justify his methods as “limited” and “controlled,” the reality is that babies and toddlers are subjected to systematic, repetitive, hard spankings…..Practically speaking, a child is spanked into submission.

I had childhood friends who were given 25-100 swats per day. I sat through many meals where a child was removed from the table and spanked repeatedly for not eating his supper. Sometimes the child was taken away three or four times and swatted 3-5 times per incident.

I observed so much harsh spanking in my childhood and teen years (their first book was published in 1994 when I was a junior in high school) that I refused to implement the Pearl methodology on my own children.”

And this article has much insight into the authoritarian view of family life.
I have repeatedly heard moms say how shamed they have felt by others who tried to manipulate them into being more harsh with their children. I can remember one instance in my own life when this happened. I had been sharing with a mom how the Lord had shown me, after parenting for many years, that one anothering and grace filled relationship building with my children was really important. She began to admonish me otherwise, insisting that I needed to go back to the “old paths.” She had used the shame-based approach and I can still feel the sting of it! Here is one quote that talks about the effect these teachings have on moms and dads:

“Authoritarians not only promote shaming children, but their teachings also have a shaming tone toward parents. If a parent does not teach a child to obey the first time a command is given, the child may be hit
by a car or be bitten by a poisonous spider. This fear tactic insults both parent and child, who understand the difference of importance and tone between “Time for bed” and “STOP!” (The Pearls advocate no change in voice tones or emotion for different commands.) Now, the point is well taken that parents often give too many warnings, but this authoritarian approach becomes manipulation of another sort, where every command is a crisis by definition.

The Pearls also tell parents, “Fail to use the rod on [a disobedient, bullying child] and you are creating a ‘Nazi.’” Fear of producing a Nazi may compel parents to use a “rod” even when their intuition tells them there is a better option in a particular situation. The Dedricks shame parents with, “It is disgraceful to hear a grown man putting on his ‘I’m afraid you’re not going to like me’ voice when negotiating with a two-year-old.” They also state, “The parent who neglects or refuses to discipline his child [according to their idea of discipline] is himself undisciplined and disobedient to God.”

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  1. Stephanie says

    It would be so helpful to those of us with young families if you could recommend some parenting resources that teach a balanced method. I think the appeal to the Pearl method is that young parents see so many frazzled families with permissive parents and children out of control, that they jump on a method that promises them some structure and control. Any thoughts on where to get insight into healthy parenting? Have you written anything about this before?

  2. says

    I have been following your blog for a while and really am blessed by your thoughts and encouragement. As a mother of a precocious three year old boy I understand the struggle of discipline. How much is too much? Will he be spoiled if I let him get away with not obeying immediately? When is he ‘just being three’ vs. naughty?…. It is a struggle.
    I cannot ever imagine continuously having to spank/swat for every “infraction”! I don’t want to see his spirit broken. I want him to have spunk but to have it somewhat respectfully. The kind of ‘discipline’ that the Pearls and other are advocating breeds anger and rebellion. It might make a child submit but some day when he/she is old enough to think and react for themselves the relationship will be damaged.

    A while back the Pearls book “Created to be his helpmeet” was loaned to me by my cousin. My aunt who I love dearly had given it to her daughters as an encouragement. I got about 3/4 of the way through and just felt sick to my stomach! One of the examples that was used made me cringe. I ended up reading it to my hubby and he confirmed that this wasn’t a healthy outlook on marriage, Christianity or life. Thank goodness I was able to see through the seemingly sweet and helpful facade down to the manipulative and legalistic core.
    Satan loves to confuse God’s children and turn them from the Grace that is so freely given to us. It breaks my heart hearing about the children, men and women who’s lives are ravaged by this false teaching.

  3. says

    Check out the book reviews at the top of the page. Here is the list of ones I most often recommend:

    Heartfelt Discipline by Clay Clarkson

    Grace Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel

    Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderan

    I would also encourage you to read through the New Testament with a notebook in hand and write down your thoughts every time to read about how Jesus interacted with others. Then take note of every one anothering command. Think about how you could put those commands into practice within your home, with your husband and with your children. If they are old enough, engage them in doing this with you. Make some personal lists of ways you purpose to obey these commands. For example, how can you serve one another? Maybe greeting Daddy at the door in the evening with a glass of iced tea and a cookie or whatever he would like. As you demonstrate the serving command, your children learn to do it as well. How can you show hospitality to your children? Pretend that, for one evening, they are the dinner guests and serve them things they would love. Another night maybe Daddy and the kids can do that for you. When you correct them, explain that the Bible commands us to admonish one another. Etc.

    I personally do not believe that all children should never be spanked. But I also do not believe that Scripture commands us to spank our children. However, we are to train them and teach them and correct them. Some children are more challenging and determined but I soon learned that those who push the limits are really leaders in the making.

    I will be putting together a series of articles about this in a week or so since I think there are so many things a mom needs to know that are outside this paradigm. In the initial post on child abuse in the name of Jesus, I wrote a long comment about anger etc. You might want to read that, as well,

    Stephanie, I am glad you are asking for discussion on this. I think it is am important conversation that we all need to have!

  4. says

    Gretchen, thanks for your kind words.

    I agree that breaking the spirit is not a goal to have. We wanted our children to have that same spunk. I also don’t see it as my job to break their will. I keep coming back to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of children. I believe we have to trust the God who made them will faithfully complete His work in their hearts, minds, and lives.

    I also agree about the spanking for every infraction. I had one child that I absolutely thought would break me, I really did. And he was impervious to spanking. My husband used to say that he felt like the man in the yellow hat from Curious George. This child’s curiosity knew no bounds. And he was so aggressive, always trying to conquer everything. It wasn’t until later we realized that he had learning disabilities and so much of his energy was spent doing things he COULD do to release the frustration of not being able to do other things. It was that great quote from Miss Stacy in Anne of Green Gables that I claimed as my own: “Tomorrow is fresh with no mistakes” because I often felt so defeated at the end of the day. But I also discovered that God’s grace is sufficient for each and every day. So today was rough and horrible and there were too many tears, usually my own. But God always gave us the next day. I am thankful every single day that the Lord put our son in THIS family because believing that you have license to spank with a piece of plumbing line could have brought about his death. Thankfully, when we read Richard Fugate, my husband said there was no way we would ever do what that man suggested and we had the same response when we read the Pearls.

    One of the reasons I repeatedly talk about grace and mercy on this blog is that without God’s grace and mercy in my own life, I would be lost. How true this is for each child. I keep thinking about the Pearls’ suggestion of tying a rod around your neck for quick access. This is what Proverbs 3:3 says: “Do not let mercy and truth leave you. Fasten them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart.”

  5. says

    Stephanie, you might also want to check out “You Can Have A Family Where Everybody Wins: Christian Perspectives on Parent Effectiveness Training” by Rev. Earl Gaulke.


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