I write a lot here on the blog about Debi Pearl’s Created To Be His Help Meet and Michael Pearl’s To Train Up A Child. I think it’s important to remember that there are people who wholeheartedly believe and follow both books. This isn’t some abstract thing. For these individuals and families, this is real life. And the things the Pearls say—things that are, I might add, actually quite widespread in fundamentalist Christian circles far beyond the Pearls themselves—shape the directions of people’s lives and the way they raise their children. I was reminded this by two recent blog posts.
***Trigger warning for spousal abuse and child abuse.***
In the first blog post, Dulce writes about a friend of hers:
Her eyes are blank and there is a pool of blood spreading around her face on the floor. I wake up wanting to vomit and check her Facebook page repeatedly until I see a post. The relief is incomplete because she and I both know that one day it might not be a dream. Her children’s faces—so close in ages to mine—rise in my heart, and I pray.**************************
Something in her voice was off. “Well, it couldn’t really be rape. After all, they were married. She knew when she married him that sex was part of it.” It seemed like we were discussing a newspaper case at the time. But years later I can still remember the oddness in her voice and I wonder.***************************
It’s the kids, you see. She can protect them just a bit right now, deflect his rages, and watch that he doesn’t go too far with them. If she left, who would be there to get between them?***************************
“God hates divorce.” Heaviness and resignation in her voice, she asks what the church congregation would think if the pastor’s wife left. “It would be like a slap in the face to God. I just need to be more submissive and try harder. If I can just praise and affirm him more, and show him that I respect him…men need that, you know…”***************************
Everyone else at the table shifts uncomfortably at his “joke” that is yet another jab at her. She doesn’t seem to notice and gets up to refill his drink again.
And in the second blog post, Samantha writes about her own childhood:
I sat on the couch in the nursery, playing with some loose threads while I watched Mrs. Grace* entertain the baby on her lap. She’d been playing peekabo for the past few minutes when she suddenly saw the baby, Anna*, notice her necklace. It was an antique pendant watch with delicate scroll work, and Anna seem fascinated by the movement of the hands. Mrs. Grace dangled the pendant in front of her, telling her “it’s ok, you can touch it, go ahead.”
I watched as Anna turned to look at her mother who was sitting across the room. Mrs. Dianna slowly shook her head, pursed her lips, frowned, and made a subtle wagging motion with her index finger. Anna turned back to look at Mrs. Grace and very seriously shook her head.I sat there, impressed and in awe. Anna was an infant– just a few months old! How had Mrs. Dianna done that? I marveled. It was amazing what consistent discipline could do!
When I was sixteen, I got into an argument with a boy at church. He was a public school student in a church that idolized homeschooling and had been severely mocked for it by most of the kids at church. He’d called homeschoolers uneducated idiots, I’d called public school students homicidal maniacs, and we’d ended up yelling at each other and then not speaking for the rest of the night—or the week.
The next week the ride home from church was dead silent. I could tell that my father was angry about something, but I had no idea what, although I had the sense that it was directed at me in some way. When we got home we went straight to the bedroom and he pulled out a yardstick and told me to bend over. He told me that I was being punished for being cruel to a boy at church, which left me confused and frightened. I had no idea what he was talking about. I protested and tried to explain my confusion, but it didn’t matter. I received a spanking—and, true to the Pearl’s methods, he continued spanking me until I displayed repentance and contrition and all signs of rebellion were gone.
He broke six yardsticks over me, eventually switching to his leather belt. The spanking went on for forever, because I continued to say that I was innocent, and that was rebellion. The next day, I couldn’t sit down, and when I looked in the mirror I saw that I was beginning to bruise– badly. It was the first and only time a spanking had ever left a mark, and it left me with a vague sense of pride that I’d endured so much.
A few days later, when I was sitting on the edge of my seat, leaning forward, at the dinner table, my father grew frustrated. “What are you doing that for? Stop being so melodramatic.”
I calmly explained that I couldn’t sit down normally, and I saw my father’s eyes widen. He told my mother to look at me, and when we emerged from their bathroom, my mom looked at my dad– but I couldn’t read her expression. “I think her tailbone is broken.”
I watched my father’s face as it cracked. Horror burst into his eyes as they filled with tears. He pulled me into a fierce hug, and I could feel him cry into my hair. He apologized, over and over, begging my forgiveness.
I was confused as I stood in his arms, frozen and stiff. He’d done exactly the right thing. He’d done what I’d been trained to believe was the only possible way to “train up a child in the way he should go.” He was only doing the best possible thing for my spiritual well-being.
As Samantha goes on to say:
Telling these stories, today, however, I’m trying not to cry. Because, looking back, I can see the twisted evil of everything I witnessed and experienced.
Real people. Real lives.