To Train Up A Child, pp. 9—11
In this section, Michael finally touches on the topic of “excessive discipline.”
Disciplinary actions can become excessive and oppressive when the tool of training is set aside and one depends on discipline alone to do the training. I have observed proud, stern fathers, ruling their house with a firm hand and making sure everyone knows it. The rod is swift to fall, and especially in the presence of company. The children tremble in his presence, fearing to incur his displeasure. I have often wondered why, if he is so firm and faithful to gain obedience, he has not achieved it before entering the public arena. I am impressed, but not in the way he hopes.
Except where the very smallest children are concerned, training at home almost entirely eliminates the need for discipline—especially public discipline. Yet, should the need arise in public, do a flanking maneuver and administer it; then go home and train so that it never again happens in public.
Michael is playing fast and loose with words and definitions here. He is splitting hairs. These two paragraphs make it sound like “discipline” is what happens in public and “training” is what happens in private. And it seems that’s not far off—here is how Michael has described the distinction before:
Parents should not wait until the child’s behavior becomes unacceptable before they commence training—that would be discipline. Discipline is a part of training but is insufficient in itself to effect proper behavior. Training is the conditioning of the child’s mind before the crisis arises; it is preparation for future, instant, unquestioning obedience.
And then it dawns on me. Michael speaks of “excessive discipline” and not of “excessive training.” I don’t think Michael thinks training can be excessive. He is suggesting that a parent should use private “training” to gain complete control over a child’s mind and will, and that then the child will be perfectly behaved in public and will have no need for “discipline.” It is that public “discipline” that can be excessive, and is a sign of not placing a great enough emphasis on private “training.”
You know what? Lydia Schatz died as a result of “training,” not “discipline.” Lydia mispronounced a word in a homeschool lesson, her parents told her to pronounce it correctly, and she became defiant. According to the Pearls, every such opportunity should be used as an occasion for “training” a child into absolute obedience and complete submission. And that is just what Lydia’s parents did. Again and again Lydia was defiant and refused to submit, and so again and again they applied the rod, “training” her to submit and obey.
And she died.
TRAINING THE ORNERY AMISH BOY
As I sat talking with a local Amish fellow, a typical child training session developed. The father was holding a twelve-month-old boy who suddenly developed a compulsion to slip down onto the floor. Due to the cold floor, the father directed the child to stay in his lap. The child began to stiffen so as to make of himself a missile that would slip through to the floor. The father spoke to him in the German language (which I did not understand) and firmly placed him back in the sitting position. The child began to make dissenting noises and continued the resistant slide. The father then spanked the child and spoke what I assumed to be reproving words. Seeing his mother across the room, the child began to cry and reach for her. This was understandable in any language.
At this point, I became highly interested in the proceedings. Most fathers would have been glad to give up the child to continue their own conversation. It was obvious the child felt there would be more liberty with his mother. If he had been given over to her, the experience would have been counterproductive training. He would have been taught that when he cannot get his way with one, just go around the chain of command. The faithful mother, more concerned for her child’s training than the gratification of being clung to, ignored the child.
Here is what I want to know: Why in the world could the father not have just put the child down? I get that sometimes that’s not an option, but it sure sounds like it was an option in this case. My little boy was 12 months not long ago, and I expected him to get wiggly and want down. Because at this stage in his development, that’s how he’s supposed to be. This is why I’ve said before that the number one piece of parenting advice I would give is to try to see things through the child’s perspective. When I’m holding Bobby and he wants down, I see that as a totally legitimate want. Unless there is some compelling reason, generally involving safety, that I have to hold him, I put him down. There is nothing wrong with a child wanting something, especially something so developmentally natural.
That all said, what Michael describes here is very familiar. My parents didn’t believe in Sunday school or even the church nursery, so even the babies sat through the entire church service with the family. Once a baby was old enough to try to wiggle off of a lap, my father would hold her, and would do just what Michael describes watching. And eventually, they would stop wiggling.
The father then turned the child away from his mother. The determined fellow immediately understood that the battle lines had shifted and expressed his independence by throwing his leg back over to the other side to face his mother. The father spanked the leg that the child turned to the mother and again spoke to him.
Clearly, the lines were drawn. The battle was in array. Someone was going to submit his will and learn his lesson. Either the father would confirm that this one-year-old could rule his parents or the parents would confirm their authority. Everyone’s happiness was at stake, as well as the soul of the child. The father was wise enough to know this was a test of authority. This episode had crossed over from “obedience training” to discipline for attitude.
For the next weary forty-five minutes, fifteen times the child would make his legs move, and the daddy would turn him around and spank his legs. The father was as calm as a lazy porch swing on a Sunday afternoon. There was no hastiness or anger. He did not take the disobedience personally. He had trained many a horse or mule and knew the value of patient perseverance. In the end, the twelve-month-old submitted his will to his father, sat as he was placed, and became content—even cheerful.
Oh my word the militant language! Parenting isn’t supposed to be about going to war with your children! It’s supposed to be about cooperation, communication, mutual understanding, and loving guidance. Parenting isn’t this either/or between the child “ruling” his parents and the parents “confirming” their authority. It can be about cooperation and listening to each other’s needs. Oh, and if you’re more concerned about maintaining your “authority” than you are about your child’s happiness and physical wellbeing, you are the problem. There is just so much wrong here, but to be honest it’s a pretty good example of the mindset the Pearls teach parents to have when they approach their children. And it’s that mindset that got Lydia Schatz killed.
Some will say, “But I couldn’t take it emotionally.” Sometimes it is difficult and trying to set aside your plans for the sake of child training. It does involve emotional sacrifice. Yet, what is love, but giving? When we know it will work to the temporal and eternal good of the child, it is a joy instead of a sacrifice.
Where our motives are not pure, where we suspect anger may be part of our motivation, our pricked conscience causes a reluctance to act. We fear that our discipline is an act of the ego to dominate. We must deal with our own impurities for the sake of the child; for if the child doesn’t receive this kind of training, he will greatly suffer.
I. I just. Wow. Okay, look, again, this is why Lydia Schatz died.
Michael is telling parents to ignore their inner feelings of love and compassion for their children. He is telling them that proper parenting should involve the pain that comes with violating one’s internal sense of what is right and what is wrong. He is telling parents that training their children in this way is a “sacrifice,” a way of “giving” to children and showing them love. (Which is odd, given that Michael has previously boasted about just how convenient children become if you cow them into submission, and how much easier and smoother your life will be, and he’s also indicated that he very much enjoys applying this “training,” leaving me to wonder just what “sacrifice” he is talking about.) Michael says that if you love your child, you must train him to absolute obedience, no matter what it takes. And if you don’t, that child will suffer long-term consequences. So harden your heart, mother, father, and set about brutalizing your children into utter submission.
A quick note on the anger bit. My understanding is that the Schatzes made sure not to discipline in anger the day that Lydia died. They did what they did calmly and calculatingly, not angrily. And Lydia still ended up dead. Being hit calmly doesn’t cause any less pain or physical damage than being hit angrily. Hitting a child angrily isn’t just wrong because it’s done in anger, it’s also wrong because it’s hitting a child. Hitting a child calmly doesn’t make it any less wrong. It just makes it a whole lot creepier.
BE ASSURED OF TWO THINGS:
1. Every small child will have one or two times in his young life when he will decide to take hold of the reins. The stubbornness is profound—amazing—a wonder that one so young could be so dedicated and persevering in rebellion. It is the kind of determination you would expect to find in a hardened revolutionary facing enemy indoctrination classes. Parents who are trained to expect it and are prepared to persevere still stand in awe at the strength of the small child’s will.
2. If you are consistent, this test of authority will come only one, two, or, at the most, three times in each child’s life. If you endure, conquering the child’s will, then in the long run the child wins. If you weaken and let it pass to the victory of the child’s will, then by winning it is a character loss for the child. You must persevere for the both of you. The household cat who, regardless of protest, door barring and foot swinging, is occasionally allowed to stay in the house will take the occasional success as impetus to always try to get in. If he is consistently kept out (100% of the time), he will not come in, even when the door is left open. The cat, allowed to occasionally get its way, is trained, despite your protests, to come into the house. If you kick it hard enough and often enough, it will become sufficiently wary to obey while you remain on guard but will still bolt through the door when it sees the opportunity. On the other hand, dogs, thirty-five times smarter than cats, can be trained either to come in or stay out upon command. The key again is consistency. If the dog learns through conditioning (consistent behavior on the part of the trainer) that he will never be allowed to violate his master’s command, he will always obey. If parents carefully and consistently train up a child, his or her performance will be as consistently satisfying as that rendered by a well trained seeing-eye dog.
This is what got Lydia Schatz killed. Seriously, this, right here. It’s also what came very close to causing one of my little sisters very serious harm. It puts parents in a situation where they can’t give up or back down, where they have to continue their discipline until the child submits, no longer how long it takes or how far it goes. How anyone can’t see that this is a recipe for absolute disaster I do not know. And we know it’s what happened in Lydia’s case. Lydia was still “rebelling” and refusing to give the word she had mispronounced another try. And since the Pearls teach parents to see these conflicts of the will as battles of eternal importance, and also as battles that only come once or twice and will cease once the child has completely submitted her will, the Schatzes continued to spank Lydia, using the plumbing supply line Michael recommends online. Lydia refused to submit, the Schatzes refused to surrender, and Lydia died.
Note that we have moved beyond conditioning here. We’ve moved to the point where a child begins to develop a mind of her own—something Michael views as a bad thing. I remember my mother telling me that the first time I looked at her and said “no” she was convinced that she had failed in raising me, and went to her room and cried, feeling that she had somehow ruined me. I was 18 months old. It just so happens that I feel the opposite. When Sally first said “no” I was delighted that she was learning to know her own mind and have her own opinions. Bobby doesn’t say “no” yet, but he does make his likes and dislikes clear. Children are supposed to assert their wills. It’s feature, not a bug. It’s part of growing up, developing personalities, and moving toward independent adulthood. Training children out of asserting their wills stunts that process.