Casting the Pearls back to the Swine

It is a strange reality that Michael and Debi Pearls’ child training methods were driven into me so firmly as a child that I didn’t even think to question them when I left Christian Patriarchy behind. I still believed that children must be trained to obey their parents unquestioningly, that children should be spanked starting as young as six or nine months, and that if parents did not break their children’s wills those children would grow up to be miserable, spoiled brats. Therefore, when I gave birth to my daughter, a full two years after I first defied my parents, I fully intended to use the Pearls’ methods on her.

When my daughter first became mobile, she was fascinated by the garden we had growing in pots on our coffee table. She would crawl over, pull herself to standing, and reach her fingers into the dirt. And so of course I did what I had been trained to do: I said “no” and slapped her hand every time she reached for it. I had been taught, after all, that children should be trained not to touch things you don’t want them touching, and that training starts early.

And then I realized something. I was punishing my daughter for exhibiting natural curiosity.
What the hell was I doing? Wasn’t curiosity something I should be fostering? What was I doing to my child?

I immediately got on the Internet and typed the words “Michael and Debi Pearl” into google. Was there something about them that I did not know? I quickly learned that, outside of Christian Patriarchy, the Pearls’ methods are universally condemned. I suddenly saw the Pearls’ methods for what they were: abuse.

But where did that leave me and my precious little daughter? How was I to train her? How could I be sure I wouldn’t ruin her? Having grown up as I did, spanking children was second nature. What was the alternative?

I began doing research on other child training methods, and soon learned about Attachment Parenting. I liked what I read. I decided that I would focus on forging a relationship with my daughter, on mutual understanding and respect, rather than on training her for blind obedience. At that moment, my entire approach toward my daughter changed. She was not an adversary to be defeated: she was a little girl to love and bond with.

In my home, I never say “no” without a really good reason. Is she getting into the trash can? What curious fourteen-month-old wouldn’t! So long as there is nothing dangerous in it, is there any reason she shouldn’t pull the trash out and throw it all over the floor? So it inconveniences me! Who cares! She wants to spill dry beans on the floor and move them around with her hands? Why not! She wants to color with chalk instead of going to bed? Why not! She wants to draw on the walls with markers? Why not!

My daughter and I are teammates, allies, friends. Sure, there are still rules – I’m the mom, after all, and she’s the little girl – but I listen to what she wants and we compromise. She can play with the dry beans on the floor, but she needs to help pick them up afterwards. She can color with chalk for five more minutes, but then it really is time for bed. And someday, when we move out of this apartment, she will help me repaint all the walls white.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • dulce de leche

    Loved this post! I grew up on as a Gothardite (not ATI, though, thankfully) and fully intended to spank my kids. Then our pediatrician (!!!) gave us a copy of TTUAC at my daughter's 6 month WBC because he "could tell she was strong-willed". I got so sick as I read it that I began to look for alternatives. My little girl is 7 now, and I am so grateful for the loving, grace-filled non-punitive mamas who have helped us develop the relationship we have now! <3

  • Young Mom

    Love the title! The Pearls aren't worth keeping. I hadn't broken out of patriarchy yet when we had our first baby, it took me 2 1/2 years to quit parenting that way, and when I did my whole world changed. Thanks for speaking out on this topic.

  • shadowspring

    I had to chuckle at this. EVERY child eventually draws on the walls- the smart ones do it behind the couch, only to be discovered later. LOLMy daughter wrote all over the walls of her bedroom when she was in her mid-teens. I didn't care, as long as she was willing to repaint it when we moved. I was really surprised at how many parents (secular as well) thought I was a bad mom for allowing her such freedom.Well, the verdict is in. She turned out just fine. People worry about all the wrong things when it comes to parenting.

  • Katy-Anne

    I want to say that I'm enjoying this blog so far, and that I added you to my blog roll. I agree with the main points of this post. I also feel, however, that some of the examples you used are exactly why parents like me who choose not to spank are labeled as permissive parents with bratty kids. I can think of VERY good reasons not to let baby play in the trash. It's trash, playing with it could make them sick. What if they "play" with it and then put day old food scraps in their mouth and get food poisoning? And well, how is drawing on walls an acceptable practice? I tell my children that paper is for drawing on. I don't want someone else's kids coming to my house and drawing on my walls. If you let your kid do it at your house, they are likely going to think they can do it at mine. Maybe you have the money to be able to afford to repaint, but I don't. The point is, it's not saying "no" that is the problem. Having standards that are too high are a problem, but it's also a problem to have standards that are too low. I don't expect first time obedience, but I don't let my children play in trash, either. I don't expect they will understand everything I tell them, but they sure aren't going to draw on my walls. I don't want wild, feral children. I want well adjusted children that are normal but who know how to behave. Like I said I agree with the main point but some of the examples you used were horrifying to me. I didn't know there were parents that actually thought that kids playing with trash out of the trash can and drawing on walls was actually ok behavior.Good on you though for wanting to build a good relationship with your daughter, and staying away from child abuse that you were taught!

  • E. A. H.

    Reading this, I'm realizing for the first time how different my children would be if I had stayed in the patriarchy mindset of parenting. Before my children were born, I read a lot of Douglas Wilson's books on marriage and child-rearing. I had plans to homeschool and mold their characters with firm, consistent discipline. And then I had kids. :-) I think never being able to leave the house and feeling trapped in my "God-given calling" of mothering and homemaking was the true cause of my postpartum depression. In hindsight, it was probably for the best, because it caused me to question the whole mindset, and I finally rejected it. My children are now 8 and 10, and I parent them with the assumption that they will be able to make better choices if they are armed with information. They go to a public school, and I'd rather they learn about "big issues" from me than from their classmates on the playground. We've discussed sex and reproduction in detail. We've talked about different beliefs in God. We've talked about war, violence, bullying, pornography, swearing, and so forth. Of course I keep it age appropriate, but they know they can ask me anything, and I won't be shocked or angry with them. My 10-year-old and I recently had a discussion about homosexuality and transgender identity due to some questions he was asking. If it's something I think they are too young to deal with, then I give them as much information as possible and an explanation that we will discuss it more in-depth when they are a bit older. This is VERY different from how I was raised and how I initially thought I'd go about this. But looking back, I realize almost every bad decision I made in life, I made without knowing all the information. We want to protect and shelter our kids, but we do them a disservice when we keep them in the dark.Wow, off my soapbox now! :-)

  • Liberty

    Katy-Anne – You are right that choosing not to spank does not mean you cannot keep your child from coloring on the walls or playing in the trash! When I said "I never say no without good reason" I should have clarified what a "good reason" was! If something she is doing (a) could hurt her or (b) would seriously inconvenience me, I do say no. However, if it's a trashcan I know has sharp objects in it or a special vase I don't want to break, I move it rather than expecting her to be able to look at that fascinating object and not play with it. That said, I seriously don't mind her playing in the trash can (so long as nothing in it will hurt her) or drawing on the walls (we can repaint them when we move in a few years, and until then, I don't mind having them colored on). Yes, that makes me a fairly permissive mother, but I don't think that that means my daughter will be a spoiled brat. The way I see it, that is where my efforts to forge a relationship of love and trust with her come in.Thanks to all for commenting!

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Wow. I'm working through these myself. Thank you.We were always taught that childproofing a house was as evil as Cabbage Patch Dolls, which were as evil as medical doctors, which were as evil as loving money, blah blah blah.All out the window baby! I love my kids too much to pretend to them that me hitting them is somehow different than them hitting each other. What a crock of bull.

  • Katy-Anne

    Liberty, what happens when your daughter goes to someone elses house and draws on their walls because she has not been taught that that is not acceptable behavior? Are you going to refuse to pay to have it painted because at your house that's acceptable? I guess my main point was that people accuse people like me who don't spank of being "permissive" because people like you allow children to draw on walls and they see that and think that all of us therefore allow our children to indulge in unacceptable behaviors. How does letting your daughter draw on walls, something which is socially unacceptable, help with your relationship with her, or her relationships with anyone else? Wouldn't it possibly ruin a relationship if she did it elsewhere? All relationships have boundaries. Boundaries are healthy.I might be just missing the point but I have no idea how this example in particular helps with your relationship. My kids really like having some kind of boundaries, and I'm more permissive than a lot of parents I know.

  • Liberty

    Katy-Anne – My daughter knows not to draw on the walls at other people's houses because I've told her not to. She knows when she's at other's houses she may draw on paper and on herself, but not on anything else. I think you are thinking of the drawing on the wall issue as a boundary issue, when I used the example to prove a totally different point. Sorry to confuse!My point was that after leaving the Pearls, every time I have had the urge to say "no," I have stopped and asked myself why I was saying that. Because of all the Pearls' BS, I have had to rethink my assumptions. After being told no about EVERYTHING as a child, I'm working on letting my toddler be a toddler, and not forcing her to meet some higher standard. Does it matter if she colors on my walls? No, ultimately it doesn't matter. And it makes sense that drawing on the walls would be incredibly fascinating to a toddler. Why not let her enjoy it? And if having white walls was REALLY important to me, I wouldn't let her – but it's not. I'm not saying everyone has to do that, I'm just saying that I'm not going to impose rules on my daughter without having a good reason for doing so. Now, my definition of a "good reason" is going to be different from others definitions, but then, I would argue that there is no one size fits all child rearing method. And really, that's part of the problem with the Pearls. If you're interested, I have been influenced by the philosophy of unschooling in addition to attachment parenting. That may explain some of our differences on this issue. Now when it comes to unschooling, I'm not going to go all the way with it, and eschew formal schooling for my children entirely, but I think it makes some really good points. (See

  • Anonymous

    God gave me a wake up call when my oldest was two years old a long time ago. We were "taught" that children should obey unconditionally and spankings were necessary to force them to do so. We put her in her crib for a nap. She climbed out. We spanked. This happened over and over for three hours. We were taught that submitting to our will must happen no matter how long it takes. But after three hours, God gave me an epiphany. At two years old, she is literally incapable of controlling herself. As adults with the Holy Spirit, we sometimes have weakness of will and give in to whatever. How can I expect a two year old to have such enormous self control? And she doesn't even have the Holy Spirit to help her! She sees the bars of the crib and her nature tells her: CLIMB! She CANNOT NOT do it. So I said to my husband, "let's take out the mattress and put it on the floor. Let's remove the temptation from her rather than make her obey." We put it on the floor, she laid down and was asleep in minutes. From then on, I purposed to never place my kids in places of temptation. I let my kids make messes as long as it wasn't dangerous or too hard to clean up. And as to drawing on the walls, my 19 year old son just painted his room with chalkboard paint on one wall, and whiteboard paint on another, and he and his friends can color at will!

  • Liberty

    Anonymous – "Let's remove the temptation from her rather than make her obey." This is exactly how I feel too! If I don't want her breaking my vase, I simply move the vase out of her reach! She's a toddler, why should I expect her to act like an adult? I shouldn't! You're right on, Anonymous, and I'm glad you saw this same problem!

  • Anonymous

    Did I mention this was 25 years ago? LOL And she was the first of 9?

  • Young Mom

    Yes! Kids gradually gain the ability to resist temptation rationally. Spanking makes them afraid to do anything for fear of retaliation by their parent, but it doesn't really teach them to resist temptation, that just takes time. I remember when my first baby was 1 year old, she would walk over to the garbage can and reach out towards it and whisper "no" to herself, and then touch it anyways. I smacked her hand religiously for that, thinking that she "knew" that she wasn't supposed to touch it and did anyways. Eventually I got tired of fighting the battle and moved the garbage can, she was too young to physically keep herself from touching the garbage can. Since then I have just re-directed my toddlers when they have an interest in the garbage, and believe it or not, it only takes a few different times to get them used to the idea that the garbage is not an option. I think that spanking her so much actually made the garbage harder to stay away from, it was like a focal point in the room because I was always hitting her by it.

  • Jennifer L

    For parents who are struggling with disciplinary issues, you may be able to find free or low-cost parenting classes at your local library, through your public school system, or through some other community organization such as the YMCA. These courses typically go through the ages and stages of child development and show parents what is appropriate for each stage. I think these kinds of courses would be especially helpful for young parents who are at the point where they realize they don't want to follow in the Pearls' footsteps, but they aren't sure about the alternatives.

  • Freedom

    This is one post on which I agree with you completely! Childhood is far too fleeting to be spent being punishing our children for possessing one of the best personality traits of all time- curiosity. A healthy sense of curiosity is behind every single one of the great inventions of the world! Naturally, children should be kept from activities that would harm them- but that's about it. Yes, cleaning up split peas from the floor where they were happily spilled is inconvenient to us, but what makes our desires so much more important than our childrens'? Remember play-pens? *shudder* Nothing more than a jail cell for active toddlers. Thank GOD they are not still in vogue! Repressing natural curiosity only frustrates and confuses children. (Have fun watching me eat these words when I have my own 2-year-old and life gets hectic…)

  • Samuel Martin

    "My daughter and I are teammates, allies, friends."Beautifully stated and theologically powerful. John 15:15Samuel

  • Wendy Kelly

    I just thought I'd pop in to say that my boys are now 14, 12 (almost) 9 and 7 — as I grew into motherhood, I became more and more "permissive," and really modeled my motherhood on "what would Jesus do?"I started out parenting "by the book" and trying to filter how I was raised (being yelled at and hit) with what I felt in my heart — my mom gave me books like "Baby Wise" and encouraged me to let my babies "cry it out" Through a slow process, I changed my heart so much that my youngest son has never heard me raise my voice at him, let alone yell at him. I parent by example. One huge change came when my second son was having some huge behavioral issues. I went to a few therapists, and one suggested that he needed "consequences" It suddenly dawned on me…he didn't need consequences, he needed grace…I'm Christian, after all, and it is all about grace.We homeschool, so we are together a lot, which I think helps us develop our relationship. I adore them.Now: they are a bit older than the kids mentioned so far, so my point is this: the are well adjusted, very polite, bright, loving compassionate children. They are active, have lots of good friends, and parents **like** my kids to be in their homes because they are so well behaved : )I don't usually brag so much about my kids — but I think it is important to know that you don't even need to raise your voice — and you can be as loving and patient and kind as Jesus : ) (well, in theory : ) ) and your kids will turn out beautifully. Attachment parenting and "permissive" parenting are not the same thing.I guess I just want to encourage you to stay patient and loving!!Good luck : )

  • Anonymous

    I'll add that you can let them explore and then let them clean the mess they made. I got really tired of scrubbing crayon off the wall and now my 2 year old does it and enjoys it.. he's also been coloring the walls way less than before.