TTUAC: Life without Struggle Has No Achievement

To Train Up A Child, chapter 20, part 5

This week we continue looking at the letter to his sons that Michael Pearl included toward the end of his child-training manual. In this week there are a few pieces of good advice—mixed with the bad and the very confusing.

Sometimes I feel like Michael would have benefited form a proof-reader who would point out that certain pieces of his advice are in direct contradiction to each other—or at least need further explanation.

Boys, guide your wives in understanding training and discipline. Don’t take for granted that they are automatically prepared to be mothers. Some mothers don’t have the courage to discipline and will tell the children, “Just wait until your daddy gets home, he will spank you.” When you walk through the door, you will want the kids to all come climbing your legs and pulling on your arms, not cowering in a corner. Three hours of dreading Daddy’s coming home can be devastating programming. Cause your wife to do her own discipline.

Holy patriarchy, Batman!

I’m struck by the phrase “cowering in a corner.” It reads like an admission on Michael’s part that the sort of discipline he advocates results in children cowering in a corner. And it’s not like he objects! His concern here is that he wants the sort of discipline that results in children cowering in a corner to be meted out by the children’s mother, rather than saved for their father’s return.

I do agree with Michael that putting children’s discipline on hold with the “wait till your father gets home” threat is a terrible idea. I just don’t agree with his reasoning. Michael doesn’t want the father to be the bad guy. I don’t think discipline should be set up to be punitive and frightening to begin with.

Notice Michael’s insistence that some mothers are soft and need to be caused (by their husbands) to properly discipline (i.e. spank) their children. Urging parents discipline their children physically more harshly than they are comfortable with is a terrible idea, but that is what Michael is doing.

Check yourself for balance by asking the question, “Do my children view me as a stern and severe disciplinarian or as a cheerful and wonderful companion and guide?” Your judgments and punishments should be lost in the many hours of happy communion.

Um. Okay.

“Do my children view me as a stern and severe disciplinarian,” asks the same man who advises parents administering a whipping that “if the crying turns to a true, wounded, submissive whimper, you have conquered.” You see what I mean about wanting an editor?

It’s almost like Michael can’t decide what he wants—to be the bossest boss ever with submissive, obedient children who jump at his every word because they know they’ll be whipped if they don’t, or to be the fun dad, doing all sorts of projects with laughing, happy, frolicking children. And because he can’t decide, he creates some sort of weird amalgam out of both.

Newsflash: Your kids won’t be able to speak their minds around you if they know that speaking their minds could result in being hit with paddles or plumbing supply line. You can’t be this punitive, and also have a truly open and familiar relationship with your children.

This also strikes me as wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Michael wants children who are completely obedient to his every whim and jump when he says jump—but he also wants to play at being the happy, laughing, friendly dad that all the kids love. Michael’s desire to be loved by children does not fit well with the sadism that is nearly palpable in the sections where he describes beating children.

At this point, Michael changes topic:

Lastly, as your children develop, let them feel a part of the struggles of life. Don’t become so “successful” that you can provide everything they need or want. If you find everything is coming too easy, give it all away and start over under more difficult circumstances.

Several readers have pointed out that there were times in Michael’s career and ministry when money was so tight his children subsisted on almost nothing. Michael doesn’t seem to see that as a problem. Perhaps because he has never met with great financial success, he does not appear to see financial success as a marker of manly success—instead, he seems to see struggling and living on almost nothing as a signifier of true manhood, regardless of what his wife and kids have to go through.

Also, look again at his statement—don’t become so successful that you can provide everything your children need. Not just everything they want.

I am all on board with not giving kids everything they want. I give my children an allowance in large part so that they can learn to save up for the things they want (or wait for a birthday or Christmas), rather than expecting me to jump and buy them anything they ask for. Learning the value of work is important. But Michael is advising parents to never become so successful that they have enough money to provide for all of the things their children need.

Life without struggle has no achievement. If they lose their shoes, let them go without until they can make the money to buy more.

Again, I’m game with having children contribute to replacing things they have lost or destroyed. One of my brother-in-laws had to save money, as a child, to repay his parents for a window he carelessly broke with a baseball. He learned a lesson—that actions have consequences and things aren’t free. But that’s not the same thing as making your kid go without shoes when you have the money to buy new ones.

The Pearls, of course, advocate homeschooling, so a kid raised in this system could still do school even without shoes. But that child couldn’t go anywhere—to the store, a library, etc.—or safely do certain work in the barn or outside without shoes. You can teach the child a lesson by making them save to pay for the replacement shoes without making them wait for the replacement shoes.

This whole section reads like a glorification of poverty, which I suppose it is. I’m sure that those who grew up poor (and I did not) would have a lot to say about Michael’s treatment.

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