CTBHHM: Esther and Her Mother

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 182—183

We’re still in the chapter on loving your children. Remember, Debi has told women to love their children by loving their husbands, and to love their children by not concentrating too much on loving Jesus. Now, for the first time, we actually turn to loving the children themselves.

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

God has honored mothers with the blessed privilege of being the daily trainer of their young children. He did not place this responsibility in Grandma’s hands or with good friends, teachers, or baby-sitters. All of us mothers will stand before God one day and give an account of how we trained our children. To love our children is to devote ourselves fully to their training. If we fail, we fail as a help meet. Husbands go away to work and leave their young children in our care. They trust us to train them up to be all that they can be. If we fail our children, we fail our husband, and we fail God.

Huh. So it’s still being about the husband, and not about the kids. Lovely. Also, this idea that if a mother fails her children, she fails God—it’s toxic. What if you are a woman in this environment, and you do your best, and your children turn out to be gay or atheists? Well, then you’re a failure. This is the problem with putting everything into your children, and not having any other outlets or interests.

Some of the new commercial translations say, “Discipline up a child in the way he should go . . . . ” We will not put that text in bold because it does not deserve status as Scripture. Only someone who knows little about God and the Hebrew language and even less about children would translate what God said in such a way. God said train up, not discipline up. The Hebrew word translated “train up” appears only four other times, and each time it is translated “dedicate.” Parents must train up their children by dedicating themselves, their time, and their children to that which God desires for them to become as an adult. That is not discipline.

So I decided to look up the version that translates the word “discipline.” Honestly, I was just curious. Well, there wasn’t one. So I tried googling it as a quote. None. Not there. There is no Bible translation that translates that word as “discipline.”

This isn’t just stretching the truth. This is lying. No translation renders it “discipline.” Sure, some people do assume it is talking about discipline, but I could not find a single Bible translation that translated it that way, and I did look. Now, Debi is right about one thing—the Hebrew word does mean “dedicate.” In fact, the other times it is used it is used of dedicating buildings.

I’m continually confused by the Pearls differentiation between training and discipline, because in To Train Up A Child there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of difference. There, training is intentionally tempting a child and then punishing her when she goes for the bait. Discipline is punishing her when she disobeys in public. It’s bizarre.

Training up a child means showing them how to: make corn tortillas, pedal a tricycle, make up a bed, put toys away, cook for forty people in one hour, read, demonstrate respect for others, and a thousand other wonderful things. For a mother who loves her children, training is not a chore, it is a full-time all-consuming passion. They are worth every minute of time and trouble to every “dedicated” mother.

See, I generally consider those things teaching, not training. They’re important things, of course, that both parents should be doing for their children. So, Debi gets something right—almost. Note the dig—if you sometimes feel like your children aren’t worth it all the trouble they put you through, or feel discouraged and burnt out, you are not a “dedicated” mother. Being a mother is often incredibly poignant and awe-inspiring, but it can be downright difficult and training at some points, and Debi should admit and affirm that. Otherwise, she’s setting her readers up for failure and self-loathing.

Little Esther

Little Esther is only five years old. She is quite confident and competent in setting the table and folding the clothes. She knows the difference between the applications of cabbage and lettuce, because when she helps make salads and slaw, her mother discusses the whys and wherefores of all that they are doing. When she is asked to wash the broccoli and cauliflower, she knows both how and why.

I’m trying to figure out why this rubs me wrong. I mean, involving your children in your daily chores and making ever moment a teaching experience is really good advice! Sally likes to help fold the towels when we fold laundry (until she gets tired of it). Sally also likes to help me cook and bake (especially cookies!). I think what’s bugging me is that all of the examples Debi is giving are domestic.

Esther helps fold the clothes and put them away. She knows all her colors, because from the earliest age she has helped separate dirty clothes into different color piles. When Esther takes a book off the shelf, she chooses carefully, because she wants books that have words she can read. She can read many words, not because she has been officially schooled, but because her mother has always taken time to read to her, occasionally stopping to point out words and how to say them. All this has been fun. When Esther “starts school,” she will already know how to read many words. Therefore, learning will not be a tense, fearful exercise, but a continuation of her first five years of informal learning. Her mother spends all day stimulating her developing mind with intriguing ideas. 

Intriguing ideas like . . . what kind of soap to use with the laundry? Yeah, it’s the fact that all the examples are domestic that is bothering me. Engaging children is great, and engaging children in domestic activities is great, but in the context of Debi’s sexist and even misogynist views, this bothers me. It reads like she’s emphasizing what a good little wife-in-training Esther is. [A reader pointed out that the reading example isn't domestic, and that in advising her readers to read to their children Debi is giving them really good advice. This is true.]

I would point out that for most children learning to read is not as simple as it is portrayed here. If Esther learned to read as described here, she’s an exceptional child. But what Debi’s doing is giving the impression that it should be that easy for every child. And if it’s not, well, you’re not loving your children as much as Esther’s mom loves Esther.

Esther’s mom has ten children, yet she is not too busy for Esther or her younger brother. Many little children are not so blessed as Esther. Some mothers treat their children as I treat my cows. I make sure they have good things to eat, clean water, and a place to exercise. If they show any signs of sickness, I attend to them immediately. This is good for cows, but if you raise kids like that, you’re going to have a brood of little dummies. Unlike your care of the cows, the training of your children is the deepest expression of your love for them.

Debi’s point about cows is a good one, but what she misses is that the reason some mothers in Debi’s readership may treat their children as Debi does her cows is that they have so many of them that raising them that they can’t effectively raise them as children. Look, I grew up in a family even bigger than Esther’s (assuming Esther is an actual child, which I doubt). My mother worked really hard to give each of us individual time, but there’s only so much you can do when you have that many children. There were plenty of times my mother was too busy for me, or for one of my siblings. Yes, there were other times when she did have time, but Debi makes it sounds like Esther’s mom always has time for her, and unless Esther’s mom is neglecting her other children, she doesn’t.

Also, all that bit earlier about having plenty of time to read to her, and point out the words? Ha. Hahaha. Let me explain to you how this works in families this big. My mother did read to the younger children quite often. This is one thing she did very well, actually, and for which I will always be grateful. However, she was always reading to three or four children at a time. The children were always wiggling, fighting over her lap, trying to get close enough to see the pictures. This idyllic picture Debi painted of Esther and her mother is missing something—her nine siblings.

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.


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