TTUAC: Manipulate Your Children’s Affections

To Train Up A Child, chapter 20, part 3

Today we continue the letter Michael Pearl wrote to his sons, published in the end of his child abuse manual in 1996. The first part dealt with choosing a wife, and the second part described “quality time” as irrelevant. Today we talk about manipulating your child’s emotions! Yay!

With your first child, start your father role immediately. Relieve your tired wife for a couple of hours by taking the infant and attending to all his needs. When you are reading or resting, lay the child on your lap. When you boys were only a few days old I would lay you on my chest to sleep out a restless night. I got to where I could sleep soundly with your little puddle on my chest. Your exhausted mother needed a little break.

When I was newly married, I expected my wife to be a super woman. I soon learned that if she were going to last through several more child births, and that in good spirits, she was going to need a lot of support. Treat your wife as a delicate flower and she will have the energy to be a more giving mother.

I was with Michael until he said “delicate flower.” Of course, even without that term, his entire framing is off—he’s instructing his sons to treat their wives as machines that need to be tended so that they don’t break and stop producing for them. He’s not instructing his sons to be considerate of their wives and listen to their wives because their wives are their life partners and they love them.

People have not always approached marriage the same way. Instead, marriage has varied historically, and across cultures. There was a time in the U.S. when married couples did not expect to gain meaning and fulfillment from each other, as we generally do today; instead, their most fulfilling relationships were with friends or relatives of their own gender.

Sometimes it feels as though Michael is hearkening back to previous approaches to marriage—to a time when men sought wives so that they have someone to tend their children and keep their house and women sought husbands because they need someone to provide for them financially. Whether they hit it off together or had a deep, fulfilling relationship was irrelevant. What mattered was that they filled their given roles.

Michael follows up with this:

I am aware you boys don’t need much sleep. However, if every two to three years you experienced a major operation, having a twenty pound tumor removed, you would need more rest also. Allow your wife to sleep a little longer than you do, and she will be more efficient.

Allow your wife to sleep a little longer than you do. Allow.

Though I spent a lot of time with the children when they were young, I always told your mother, “They are yours until they can follow me outside, and then they are mine.” Take your little ones along on many adventures. Explore and discover the world all over again with each one. I would take you rabbit hunting in a back-pack. My rabbit dogs got so conditioned that when they saw a back-pack they thought we were hunting. I think Rebekah was glad when Gabriel came along and displaced her from the rumble seat.

Um, pretty sure kids belong to both parents equally regardless of their age. Actually, pretty sure kids belong to themselves. But with regards to the point I’m trying to make here, both parents should be involved in caring for a child regardless of that child’s age.

Provide lots of junk for your children to be creative–cardboard boxes, wooden blocks, sawdust, sand, sticks, hammers and nails. Avoid store-bought playthings that can stifle creativity by limiting imagination.

To say what I’ve said many times again, I do think that many people have been taken in by the Pearls over the years because they intersperse horrid and abusive advice with things like this. I grew up in the country and was forever building things with leftover wood and bricks, using a variety of tools to create elaborate worlds of play.  I encourage my children to engage in similar forms of play, though the way they do so may look different (for instance, building elaborate worlds on Minecraft.)

Michael then adds this, which may seem at odds with some of his other writing:

An important principle to remember is that the more time you spend doing things together the fewer discipline problems you will have. A child who adores his father will want to above all please him in everything. A child can’t rebel against his best buddy. When they are big enough to look at pictures in a book, spend time turning pages with them. When they are old enough to understand, begin reading or telling Bible stories. Throughout the day, as it is natural, tell them of our heavenly Father. Together, examine nature as the wise creation of a magnificent God.

The problem is that, as with the discussion of helping with the baby so that your wife can have a break, even this is centered on how you, as the patriarchal father, can get the desired results out of your child. I have no problem with Michael’s advice to spend time with your children; I have a problem with it being part of a manipulative line. “A child who adores his father will want to above all please him in everything,” Michael says. “A child can’t rebel against his best buddy,” Michael says.

Well guess what? A best buddy listens. A best buddy values you, not just your obedience. A best buddy is there for you not because he wants you to adore him but because he genuinely enjoys spending time with you and cares about you. If Michael were actually advising parents to interact with their children as friends, he wouldn’t also tell them to beat their children until they are “broken” and utterly submissive (as he advised parents earlier in this book). This is manipulative bullshit, pure and simple.

Here is what I would say: If your children know that you value their thoughts, their ideas, and their opinions, they are more likely to listen to yours. If they know you listen to them, they are more likely to accept your word when you tell them that we really do have to leave the park now, or that they really do need to clean up their rooms, because they will know that they have been heard. It’s not about being manipulative; it’s about building a relationship of trust and respect that goes both ways.

But that is not actually what Michael is advising.

Don’t put off spending time being a daddy. Each day they grow without you is like a tomato plant growing without being staked. It spreads without direction. The weeds come up inside where they cannot be removed. The fruit will be brought forth on the ground where it will rot.

Oh my god, tomato staking.

Tomato staking is a practice within some circles of conservative Christian homeschooling. It involves keeping your children constantly right next to you, either permanently or only when they have transgressed in some way or are showing signs of “attitude.” The basic idea is that by having them right by you 24/7, you can control their behaviors and nip bad habits in the bud. The solution, in other words, is constant and complete surveillance.

When one of my children is misbehaving or upset, I sometimes keep them close to me for a time too—but for a completely different reason. I have found that some amount of acting up, particularly for preschool and young elementary aged children, stems from a desire for attention. So I give them that attention. I make muffins with them, or read books to them, or walk to the hot dog stand with just them. It’s not punitive. It’s not about surveilling them. It’s not about controlling their behavior. It’s about making sure their needs are being met.

That all said, my older child sometimes becomes overwrought and upset and what she needs right then, in that moment, is to be alone. After she has been alone and processed her feelings, she may come out and want some mommy time—but if I were to force her to be right next to me when she was having an emotional meltdown, it would only make things worse. She needs to self sooth, and she does that best alone. It’s not about sulking, or about stewing. I’ve worked with her on learning to understand and manage her emotions.

My parents did not practice tomato staking with me (at least, that I know of—it’s possible they read about it and did it once or twice without formally calling it that). Like my daughter, I sometimes became overwrought and upset—I was very attuned to things I saw as injustices. The idea of being required to stay only and constantly right next to my mother while being emotionally overcharged, even now, makes my skin feel tight. Sometimes children need space. And not, you know, constant surveillance.

But then, my goal is not to raise obedient children.

A father who is “there,” always involved in the child’s life, will know the heartbeat of his children. If you will praise and reward the desired behavior, there will be very little undesirable behavior. You will be speaking fifty times the encouraging word for every rebuke.

Notice, again, the focus on behaviors.

But, don’t fall prey to the modern psychological substitute of neglecting a child and then running in saying something positive. It is artificial, and is flattery. Positive statements that are not warranted by legitimate works are destructive. A child should know that he has earned every praise. Praise not based on deserving works is as unjust as punishment without provocation. It will teach a lie, in that it reverses reality. There is no substitute for real life presence. If your child is not doing anything praiseworthy, then take his hand to walk beside you until he does do something worthy. Neglected children become rejected children. A child must have his father as a plant must have light to grow healthy. A flash bulb approach is not sufficient. A slow steady shining of the father’s presence is what is needed.

I’m pretty sure that’s not what modern psychology recommends, Michael.

Actually, there’s been a lot of talk lately about how to praise children. We parents have been duly told, for instance, not to praise our children for being “smart”—instead, we are to praise our children for hard work, or creative thinking, or for not giving up. And it makes sense! We should praise our children for things they control—thinks they do—and not things they cannot control (or things they will think they cannot control) like how “smart” they are. Children who are praised for working hard tend to show more willingness to keep going when confronted with a difficult problem than children who are praised for being smart.

Maybe Michael wrote the above because it was the 1990s and modern psychology back then did really suggest that making artificial positive comments was a good thing, but I rather suspect he’s completely misconstruing what psychologists were actually saying because he doesn’t like them and he, Michael, knows better than them. Okay then.

Michael also seems to have a very low view of other parents. I’m not all that surprised. Remember that Debi described daycare centers as places where women abandon their children to other women to raise. I’ve heard the same said of public schools, in homeschool circles. There’s this perception that parents who have full-time jobs, whose children go to daycare or attend school during the day, are absent parents—and this wasn’t just a perception in Michael’s community, at the time. There have been periods of general fear about the state of children, often connected to the increasing number of mothers who work outside the home. We’re moving away from that today, but Michael wrote this 20 years ago.

Here’s one last gem for this section:

Don’t ever leave the spiritual training to the mother, no matter how good a job she does, or the children will grow up thinking religion is for women. You put the children to bed in the evening and read and pray with them.


I’ll just leave this here as a taste of what you’ll see more of next week.

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