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March 18, 2006

Avoiding Millstones

It broke my heart to read this today.

I have seen within the Christian subculture a lot of very well-meaning abuse at the hands of loving parents. Parents who don't want to be and don't intend to be abusive. A lot of what I've seen is due to the emphasis on "being consistent." While the Pearls and others teach that "being consistent" will mean fewer spankings, what the reality is in many families and for many children is that "consistent" spankings results in very freqent, increasingly harder, spankings.

I've been in conversations with mothers, worrying about whether bruises on bottoms would show. If CPS would be called. If a trip to the pediatrician should be changed. And these were loving mothers, who in general were gentle and soft-spoken. But the repeated teachings of spank 'em, and spank 'em harder until they obey did result in what could objectively only be labeled abuse.

Anyway, this whole very sad situation reminds me of an article I once read, and that all those who give advice, write books, or encourage others in Christian parenting should read.

Avoiding Millstones.


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Thanks for bringing attention to this tragedy.

Posted by: BridgetJ at March 18, 2006 12:25 AM

Now *that* was a good article.

Posted by: Megan at March 18, 2006 01:23 AM

I meant the Avoiding Millstones article... I hope that is self-evident, but wanted to clarify just in case...

Posted by: Megan at March 18, 2006 01:25 AM

Oh, no. Thanks for the link to the millstones piece.

Posted by: Jamie at March 18, 2006 08:54 AM

I am constantly amazed at the amount of "Godly" parenting books that have no shred of God's grace portrayed therein. I do not believe that defiance is glorifying to God, but neither do I believe that severely spanking your kid is glorifying either. At some point, I believe it is easy to forget that your child's sin of disobedience is offensive to God; instead it becomes offensive that your child is defying YOUR authority (I'm using "you" collectively, here).

Posted by: Sherri W at March 18, 2006 09:21 AM

I just wept at this story. Thank you for putting this out there.

Posted by: Jennifer at March 18, 2006 10:19 AM

This was very hard to read, I cried for quite a while last night. It is amazing when God reveals your sin this way... I have been so wrong and harsh as a mom. This just shows the extreme or the end of this way of thinking about discipline.

Posted by: Mist at March 18, 2006 11:13 AM

I just read this and wondered if you'd seen it.

It illustrates exactly the problem with these types of teachers. Everyone says "Use common sense!" - but some people just don't. And it's the children who suffer for it.

So sad.

Posted by: sparrow at March 18, 2006 01:46 PM

Wow! What a great article to bring those issues to light! My hubby and I are just getting into discipline with our 18 month old and it is quite controversial in the Christian community...to spank or not to spank? :) I think that this article should be read by all parents to temper whatever their discipline decisions are. Sad that some equate "training up a child in the way he should go" with beating him to death. How tragic. It should be an attitude check for us all in how we spank our children and to what extent!

Posted by: Heather at March 18, 2006 03:40 PM

That is such a sad story.

Posted by: Julana at March 18, 2006 06:51 PM

Hi there - just dropping in to look at your blog, after K sent me your hubby's hilarious page!

that article has stunned me.
many of us know about bruises... worrying about going to the dr... hungry children... wondering if parenting was meant to be so depressing and if we should feel so alone when after all, people have been bringing up children for centuries. when did this nornmal part of life become so technical?

Posted by: soksabay at March 19, 2006 03:54 AM

"It illustrates exactly the problem with these types of teachers. Everyone says "Use common sense!" - but some people just don't. And it's the children who suffer for it."

But even when the parents *do* "use common sense" there is a problem.

Given the personalities of some children and the dynamics of some families, it isn’t hard to apply the Pearls and others teachings “as written and intended, with common sense” and end up with abuse.

When such extreme emphasis is placed on parents making their child submit, breaking the will, parental control, and being “consistent” with the primary tool given being spanking (because they teach it is God’s mandated tool) well. . . it’s not that hard for loving, well-meaning parents to get to abuse. When counsel is given that continued disobedience is a sign that you need to spank more frequently or consistently, or make sure that the spanks communicate “I mean business”–well, it really is instructing a parent to do something that easily becomes abuse.

And sure, a parent needs common sense. But when a parent is nearly promised that their child will obey when the teachings are followed closely (and will have a “brat” if they aren’t) it is easy for a parent to lose objective perspective.

Again, I’m not absolving the parent of responsibility –I just have seen too many people try to absolve the Pearls of their responsibility for the impact their words and teachings have on normal, loving families.

(Not you, btw. . . Just in general. . . )

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 19, 2006 02:06 PM

It's hard to hear "use common sense" coming from the Pearls, Ezzos, etc. to defend themselves when they also tell people to ignore their maternal instincts.

Posted by: kristen at March 19, 2006 03:04 PM

I have two thoughts about this issue. One is why are Christians, specifically homeschoolers (I am a home school mamma of 5) being so stupid. Where is our discernment??

My husband and I were introduced to Ezzo when we first had children and Pearl a few years ago. I tend to want someone to tell me step by step what to do and their material was appealing to me. My hubby studied Michael Pearl and after confronting the elders on teaching them threw our copy away and asked me to unsubscribe to their magazine, which I did reluctantly.

I am so thankful now, I was already believing to much of what was taught, I had tried the hose spraying method of potty training... how sad.. and was spanking literally all day. I was so frustrated. We as Christians need to go back to the Word of God and stop looking to men for answers.

The other thing is that the church needs to question the integrity of men who are their own authority, who answer to themselves only or who have been disciplined by Bible believing churches. My husband pointed out to me the theological errors of the Pearls. We studied their doctrinal statement and saw that they believe a child is sinless until an age of accountability and that we can actually be perfect on this side of eternity. It is strange that a to high view of man can actually make someone more harsh.

But when we have a reformed view of man as utterly depraved and see our own need for Him I think that this enables us to be gracious to others, including our children.

Sorry so long... I have really been heart broken by this story.

Posted by: Mist at March 19, 2006 03:43 PM

I am a Christian parent who believes that spanking is Biblical. I believe that spankings can be given in a controlled, loving manner for the purpose of discipline. Having said that, I do think that the story in that article is horrific. I do not know anything about the Pearls, except what I have read on these GBD sites, but I believe I can say that their recommendation of pipe as a tool for spanking is atrocious.

I also appreciated the second article which did not make extraordinary claims or accusations against spanking, but against real abuse. The end of that article stated that not all spanking is abuse and that is so true.

We have so many tools and options as Christian parents. It is so sad to see these extreme cases where people twist Scripture to justify their sinful expressions of abusive discipline.

Posted by: thebishopswife at March 19, 2006 07:37 PM

Excellent points TG and I agree with you. I gave a quick, lazy comment...you clarified it nicely.

Posted by: sparrow at March 19, 2006 08:26 PM

In the interest of accuracy. . . " but I believe I can say that their recommendation of pipe as a tool for spanking is atrocious."

One of the tools that the Pearls teach is equivalent to a Biblical rod is not a pipe, but ""a light, flexible instrument will sting without bruising or causing internal damage. Many people are using a section of ¼ inch plumber’s supply line as a spanking instrument."

"I also appreciated the second article which did not make extraordinary claims or accusations against spanking, but against real abuse."

I read the "Avoiding Millstones" article several years ago. It impacted me greatly. Whether or not one chooses to use spanking in their family, I strongly believe no teaching about spanking should take place outside of an already established, strong, discipleship relationship.

I have great concern over the "whys and hows" of spanking being taught online, especially. Even when a seemingly wonderful "Titus 2" sort of woman is doing the teaching, she does not have insight into her followers lives, she does not know whether they are struggling with anger or other sins that could lead to abuse, she does not know whether there is abuse in the past that so easily leads to abuse being passed along to the next generation.

Mrs. Prewett said it well, "In light of this, I would also humbly ask those who advocate spanking to consider prayerfully whether they know their audience well enough to instruct them on this topic. . . I would beg you, unless you are fully certain before God that your message about spanking could not possibly be used to justify abuse, that you would consider either altering your message or only teaching it to those whom you know personally. And, even then, we must be careful."

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 19, 2006 08:36 PM

Mist, you bring up some very excellent points. *hug*

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 19, 2006 08:38 PM

Sparrow! I wasn't criticizing or disagreeing with you--just expounding. . . *hug*

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 19, 2006 08:50 PM

The problem may have something to do with parents who spank in anger. The wooden spoon works for us, but we lovingly apply it in cases of deliberate defiance, not "childish" behavior. Then, I use gentle words to explain why he's getting spanked, and love on him afterwards.

About potty training, our older two (13 and 15) were potty trained when they were ready, not a moment sooner. With Ethan, who is 2 years, 5 months, he's not ready. We are still trying to get to the point where he can sense the urge before he goes. Developmentally, he's just not there yet. You can't take a one size fits all approach to many aspects of parenting, especially potty training.

Posted by: Barry K. at March 19, 2006 10:10 PM

While a sickening account, this story cannot be used as some seem to, as any kind of argument against the Biblical responsibilities of parents to punish their children.

Also there seems to be a fundamental disconnect in the understanding of "discipline" with many people concerned about this topic. Spanking or beating is not discipline, although spanking could/should be a facet of discipline. Spanking is punishment. Discipline is teaching/training the child. Teaching children that there is justice to be meted out for rebellion in the form of spanking can be a part of that discipline, but NOT the whole. Too often parents think they are disciplining their children by spanking them and utterly fail to discipline/train/teach them. Then when the child grows up and goes astray they can't understand, "But I disciplined them consistently!" But they never bothered discipling their children, just punishing them. There is a vital difference.

And the concern about anyone seeing bruising these days is real. Even Christians/Churchgoers are willing to turn in responsible parents who spank their children (bruising or none) to pagan "authorities", as though the godless State "authorities" can do a better job after they take the children from the home and put them into an incredibly wicked system where abuse is rampant. But to worry too much about bruising seems to be ignoring the passage reminding you that "Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die". I think this could be taken as comfort to parents who are extremely sensitive. And that perhaps some bruising can occasionally be expected from a whack or two. Not to say that should be the aim by any means! But to not do as the Bible says because of fear of causing any pain or fear of pagan "authorities" is a weakness that needs to be overcome for the good of the child.

After all is said, if not done in love it is just plain wrong. Nobody can honestly defend the kind of beating the child received in this story. This is sin.

Posted by: Dale at March 20, 2006 12:27 AM

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I want you to know that I *do acknowledge that not all Christians agree with the Pearls on their discipline techniques.

While the comments I've read condemning their practices have come from the religious and the secular, ALL of the comments *I have seen defending the Pearls have been from Christians. That is why they are being singled out.

Posted by: BridgetJ at March 20, 2006 12:32 AM

This incident has awakened some people to the problem. The problem isn't the *Pearls*. The problem is that the culture of parenting that has developed around conservative Christian parenting has grown so heavy, icky and punitive that the Pearls don't stand immediately out as extreme. They've been normalized because of the culture of punishment.

There has been a boycott called and other people are talking:


Posted by: Joanne, The Happy Homeschooler at March 20, 2006 08:05 AM

Excellent discussion and thoughts. I especially appreciated the advice to be careful about teaching strangers idea about correction. It is so easy to get misread or misconstrued and apply this as the end all of advice. We have a tendency to "look up" to authors in an unhealthy way. It's sad when the authors do nothing to dampen that. How I wish the Pearls would have answered with at least a comment of sympathy for the child. He is the unintended casualty in this sad story. And yet there isn't even a statement of condolence to the family for their loss.

Posted by: Spunky at March 20, 2006 06:15 PM

I am currently reading the book "Shepherding a Child's Heart" by Tedd Tripp. In it the author shows that it is important for us to shepherd our children and focus our attention on their hearts more than their behavior because their behavior reflects the state of their hearts. The behavior is not neglected, but the heart is the focus. We can speak to our children about their own heart and their need for the Gospel. What I try to remind myself of regularly is that my children (I have four) belong to God. He has given them to me and my husband by His sovereign choice to bring up to fear and to love Him. This story should remind us all that they are not ours to do with as we choose. The fruit of the Spirit (self-contol, gentleness, patience, etc.) should be evident in our lives in our dealings with our children. I was raised with "the parent is in charge" perspective. There's so much more to it than that. Thank you so much for posting this letter.

Posted by: Rebekah at March 20, 2006 11:54 PM

I would think that if any abuse ever took place charges of "abuse" would come from their children who are all grown and happlily married. Not only do they not say that, here is what they have to say on the subject...

Are Michael and Debi Pearl “Guilty as Charged?”

My name is Rebekah Anast, I am the firstborn daughter of Michael and Debi Pearl, the authors of the best-selling book To Train Up a Child.

A handful of angry people have begun an outcry against Michael and Debi Pearl for the child-training principles in this book. These nay-sayers have also struck out against The Old Schoolhouse Magazine for refusing to reject the teaching of “the Pearls.” Along with quoting out of context, verbalized anger, and false assumptions, they have attacked those associated with the Pearl family, and threatened to shake the fragile platform of homeschooling in the UK by going to the media with the sensational story that certain UK homeschool groups are hosting the infamous Michael and Debi Pearl.

In every society there are “movers and shakers,” those people who call the media, make the stories (or the stink, as the case may be) and bring about changes that affect the thousands of ambivalent and, often clueless, masses. Some of these movers and shakers have the good of the masses in mind, others are simply angry, irrational people that need attention and like to make a scene. Unfortunately, the media thrives on these sensation-makers, and is quick to poison the waters of truth if the poison is offered on the silver platter of a “hot story.”

How do we combat the irrational and unfounded sensationalism that would poison the waters of our communities? With truth. If the media wants a story, give them the truth. Let them know that we are very aware of the lies and sensation being spread - but that we’re not afraid of it, because we know the truth.

These sensational story-tellers say that Michael and Debi Pearl teach child abuse, the subjection of women, and general injustice.

I would know (I am their daughter) whether their techniques are violent and unjust, or loving and temperate. I would know if the result is an emotionally damaged and fearful child, or a creative, successful, happy adult. I would know, yes, better than any one of these angry people, whether Michael and Debi Pearl are barbaric child abusers, or loving, successful parents.

Every type of abuse leaves evidence to prove its occurrence, whether it be a mark on the spirit or the body. Let me give you the evidence that is me:

I am 32 years old, married and the mother of three children. I am the happiest person I know, and my life is full of fruit; my own three very happy, balanced children who are completely sound in body and mind.

I have written articles, books, screenplays, and traveled the world for 4 years, meeting new people, eating new food, ministering to those in need, and loving life. I always returned to my favorite place and my favorite people... my family.

I married a wonderful man who is worth every moment of reverence and honor I give him; he is my best friend and only lover.

I have very few bad memories of childhood, all of which I can recall clearly; my dog dying, my hand getting cut on a fresh pine board, my brother being stung by bees, and my father’s grief over a friend’s suffering. That’s all that I can recall.

I remember only one spanking. I remember it because I laughed all the way through it, and so did my Dad. I had played a prank that was dangerous, but funny, and fully deserved a spanking for it, but my parents were unable to spank me without laughing. That is the only spanking I clearly remember. The others were so well-deserved my conscience was able to write off the memory once the deed was paid for.

I was never injured in body or spirit by the training I received. I was never “struck” in anger. I did receive non-injurous spankings on my fully clothed backside with a willow switch when I had clearly transgressed a known “law” of the house. These spankings did not leave bruises or abrasions, or emotional distress.

I learned by the gentlest way possible that foolishness has consequences and wise choices make life comfortable. This training has literally saved my life and I am eternally grateful to both my parents for using a literal rod to train my flesh to make wise choices.

My brothers and sisters were my best friends growing up. We did everything together; swimming, playing, working. We usually got in trouble together too, and when spankings were due, they were due all around. However, trouble was hard to find, as either Mom or Dad was almost always with us, joining in the fun, the projects, and the learning. From dancing in the rain, to building forts, to learning to ride a bike; they were there, so much a part of my life.

A person is innocent until proven guilty. I have proof that Michael and Debi Pearl are wise and loving parents: I am the proof, and every one of my siblings would agree with me.

Almost everything we (my parents) have ever written is available online for FREE on nogreaterjoy.org; and everything else is as inexpensive as possible while still allowing No Greater Joy to operate as a non-profit organization, geared toward helping thousands of parents and children.

A lot of information about the Pearl’s on the internet is simply taken out of context or completely misquoted. Look up the quotes on nogreaterjoy.org for yourself and make sure your source isn’t lying or misconstruing the truth. It’s important to the homeschool movement that we be accountable for our views, instead of blindly following the loudest sensationalist, or giving them credibility of any kind.

Rebekah (Pearl) Anast

I give full permission to reprint or repost this article in it’s entirety in any format.

(Note: This post was edited by TulipGirl to htmlize it to make the quoted article stand out from the poster's text. No conent was changed.)

Posted by: Liz at March 21, 2006 03:46 PM

We read 'sheparding a child's heart' and are tweaking that a bit based on our family's experiences. Philosophically, we want the same hand that disciplines to love so therefore we (my wife and I) are the only ones that discipline our son. There's a bit of controls that we've built into the process (prayer, accountability to each other, reconcillation with us, and a measurable amount of grace; we believe that our children should love grace :)). Spanking > bad, I believe the heart that you come at it with is what makes bad, destructive discipline times; if my heart's not right then it simply won't work. I also believe that my two year old *isn't* going to get it if I spank him harder, but it's more of a time process that it will click in. Sometimes, discipline takes on different forms (time outs, stern talking tos, etc.) to meet the situation and to, in my broken way, show the right path.

For the record, I think the pearls are nut jobs. I think choosing an instrument of discipline is just asking for problems like the one that is in this article. Which, by the way, was awful to read; there's just something about articles about abuse, etc that just hurt my heart as a parent now. :(


Posted by: Pete at March 22, 2006 10:29 AM

Liz and others who read Rebekah Pearl Anast's well-meaning defense of her parents. . .

Just because this adult child looks fondly at her childhood, does not mean that what is being taught by Michael and Debi Pearl is harmless or Biblical.

As katiekind once said, quite eloquently:

"And lastly, and I say this gently, as the parent of grown kids, knowing *insert parenting guru* is also the parent of grown kids: we have wonderful children--he does, I'm sure--and so do I. But without even knowing his children I can know this about them: they are not perfect. They hurt. They make mistakes. They struggle. They are prideful and overly simplistic at times; and crippled by shame and hesitancy at others. Yes--they are beautiful examples of human beings, his children (I assume), and mine (I know.) But they are not perfect. If they were, they would not be human. If it were possible to raise children to perfection, then God would have sent a parenting method, not Jesus. Our marching orders are not to raise our children by a method to be like *insert parenting guru* children. Our marching orders are to be Christians to and with our children."

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 22, 2006 08:57 PM

Interesting letter from Rebekah Anast. How nice to know that her parents didn't follow their own advice.

~ I have no interest in stirring up controversy - but I do think it is time we stopped looking the other way when this kind of teaching (spanking with plastic tubing, etc.) is given. I am glad to see you and others speaking up. I would not hesitate to warn any mother against using TTUAC.

Posted by: sparrow at March 22, 2006 09:52 PM

I am confused if you are an advocate of spanking or not.

Posted by: Leo at March 23, 2006 09:50 AM

Rebekah's article is subjective. We are not arguing that her parents loved her or what kind of home she had. We are arguing that her parents are teaching something harmful, even unbiblical. Anyone can raise obedient kids(superficially), and even Mormons have "good families" (so it seems on the outside). What the "Pearls" are doing is treating children like animals.

God's Word gives us principals, Biblical parenting is relying on God and seeking wisdom from Him. This looks different for each family and each child.

I keep thinking of the children in Palestine who are very obedient as they throw granades, or the children in Japan whose worship for the emperor made them very "obedient" and evil.

What is our goal as parents? It is not how still our kids can sit in public or if they say "yes ma'm" on cue. We should desire, as Tulipgirl has pointed out, to be speaking to the them of the Lord at all times and instilling His truth's to them.

Posted by: Mist at March 24, 2006 12:03 AM

Crud. I was deleting spam and deleted comments by Debra Baker and brian inadvertantly

I'm sorry! Ack!

Got too delete happy. I apologize.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 27, 2006 09:49 AM

Thanks for visiting my blog and your comments. This is more in response to one of your commentors, but this is something else that I DO NOT understand. One of the frequent comments I read by those in favor of the Pearls is, "use common sense." I expect to use that in any material I read, but if I need it especially in regards to this book because the authors appear to have let theirs go a bit, why bother reading it?

When I quoted excerpts to my dad he got a strange look on his face and came directly to the heart of it..."yeah, but they are children, not dogs." Children have a soul and a will. They will be defiant no matter how well "trained."

Looking at their website, they speak of an incident with CPS and being investigated. I do not doubt that CPS would walk away and not prosecute. Their stuff is weird and not bibilcally sound, but so far as I can tell, none of it is actually illegal. But I seriously doubt the investigator gave ANY indication that they would want them training foster parents. Foster parents are not to use corporal punishment at any time for any reason...they would lose their license. And with an object? In this state, hitting with anything other than the hand is considered "abusive" although technically not abuse (that from a caseworker, not necessarily the law or how it reads).

Posted by: Dana at March 28, 2006 06:21 AM

Hi, Dana!

Re: the "use common sense" bit. . . I have seen the general attitude communicated in the writings by Michael and Debi Pearl to infuse an antagonistic mindset, us vs. them, into the parent/child and husband/wife relationships. That, in spite of their "tying heartstrings" insistence.

Combine that with the admonishment that if their ideas aren't "working" in a family, the reason is that the parent isn't being "consistent" enough or striking hard enough. Well, it's not a far journey from "normal" spanking to what I've sadly seen in loving, Christian homes--well-intentioned child abuse.

The "Avoiding Millstones" article I linked to above makes several important points. But I would want to emphasize to *anyone* that encourages parents to spank--that instruction should *only* be given within an intimate, real-life, discipleship relationship. One in which both parties are aware of any struggles with anger, past history of abuse recieved, any family tendency towards alcoholism, any lack of self-control or related issues.

The Pearls book published on the web and handed out like candy at homeschool conventions is irresponsible, at the least, of Michael and Debi Pearl. Their instructions on discipline, as written, lead so easily to abuse. Coupled with their insistence that it is the best way, and to do it "right" means more consistent--it is just another sad story like Sean Paddock's waiting to happen.

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 28, 2006 09:43 AM

I want to thank you for bringing up this subject. I believe, as a Christian, that we are to model the love and grace that
G-d has extended to us through Jesus.

When children are treated to the most extreme forms of legalism,the Gospel is misrepresented to both the children and to the world in general.

It breaks my heart to have people, especially potentially at-risk parents encouraged to become more harsh instead of more grace-full.

I sat under draconian parenting teachings for years and my older children suffered under our stiff necked version of legalism, all the while it never sat well with my own spirit.

Finally, I decided to do my own study of the Bible verses and, lo and behold, they didn't teach us to spank or be harsh to our little ones.

What I needed (oh, heck, still need,)is to be encouraged in love and tolerence, to extend the grace and love and patience I have received. To focus on the child's duties and neglect to remember my own duty to not provoke my children is picking at their splinters with a plank in my own eye.

I can't remember what Tulipgirl deleted (I'm taking it as accidentially,) but this is brewing in my heart and has actually provoked me to start blogging and making said pathetic attempt at a blog public.

Debra Baker

Posted by: Debra Baker at March 28, 2006 08:14 PM

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