TTUAC: Um Debi? Sycophants Don’t Help People Grow

To Train Up A Child, chapter 21, part 1

Today we turn to chapter 21, in which Debi Pearl writes a letter to her daughters. Remember, chapter 20 was a long letter written by Michael to his sons. It included information about choosing a wife, making sure she parents correctly, and raising children (including how to direct their education, particularly for sons). Next to Michael’s letter, Debi’s is comparatively short. 

Rebekah, Shalom and Shoshanna,

Life is full of choices. There are choices you will make while you are still young that will help fashion your life as well as that of your children. Preparing you to make wise decisions has been our goal.

God said of Abraham, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him (Gen. 18:19).” Preachers have often pondered why God chose Abraham to be the father of the Jewish nation. God knew Abraham would “command his children (teach them to walk uprightly).”

When the time comes for you to consider marriage, think about this. Can this young man be trusted with God’s heritage? It is not only your life he will touch, but the lives of your children and your children’s children. Abraham, through his example and teaching, caused his teenage son Isaac to have such confidence in his father as to submit to becoming the sacrifice. Again, Isaac had confidence in his father’s judgment when Abraham sent a servant to his kindred to choose a wife for him. Abraham knew it took a chosen woman for the chosen man to continue the lineage.

See at this point I’m a little confused.

Let me get one thing out of the way first. It’s absolutely a good idea, if you want kids, to consider what kind of parent someone you are considering marrying will be (as well as, importantly, whether they want kids, and if so how many). But in Debi’s telling, this appears to be the only thing a woman should consider when evaluating a potential marriage partner. Notice what is missing. Does he treat you well? Does he make you happy? Does he handle conflict and disagreement well? All of this is absent.

In Debi’s hands, marriage isn’t about having a life partner. It’s about creating godly progeny.

But I find myself wondering whether Debi has actually read the Bible stories she references. For one thing, neither Sarah nor Rebecca is the perfect woman. I mean gracious sakes, Rebecca, the woman Abraham chose for his son, Isaac, convinced Jacob, the younger of their twin sons to impersonate Esau, the older, in order to get the blessing his father intended for the other twin.

When Esau found out what Jacob had done (on Rebecca’s advice), he vowed to kill him, and Jacob had to flee the region for his own safety. He didn’t return until after his father was dead. Meanwhile, Esau married two Hittite women, which went against God’s dictate against marrying foreign women and greatly upset Isaac and Rebecca.

These aren’t the only shenanigans that go down in this family. I mean good gracious, Abraham lied and told the Egyptians that Sarah was his sister, because he was afraid that if they knew she was his wife, they’d kill him and take her for her beauty. Instead, thinking her unmarried, they simply took her. The Egyptians didn’t return her until after God struck them with a plague.

And then there’s the whole thing with Jacob, while in exile, getting tricked into marrying Leah rather than Rachel (really, how did he miss that), and then tricking his father-in-law in turn with some animal breeding gimmick. Oh and then Rachel, when they were leaving with most of her father’s herds, stole her father’s idols and lied about it when he came after them for the idols.

Oh and then there was the whole thing with Abraham taking his maidservant to bed because he thought Sarah would never get pregnant, and later turning her and her son out at Sarah’s request. And there was also the whole bit where, before this, Sarah laughed at Abraham in front of the angel that had come to tell him he would have a son.

I have never read the story of the patriarchs and come away with the feeling that, boy, that Abraham, he really knew how to teach his children to walk uprightly. But apparently that’s what Debi got from the story? Like I said, I’m a little confused. I always came away from readings of these stories struck by how profoundly human these individuals were. Their lives were messy. It made me feel a little bit better about mine, to be honest—if God could use them, with all their foibles, surely he could use me!

Debi next turns to, well, this bit:

Remember to be a “hidden woman.” Stand behind your man with prayer, encouragement and trust. Honor him, bless him, and serve him as unto the Lord. He will thrive before God in this environment. As he grows, your children will grow and your cup will be so full it will overflow into the lives of others.

Serve him as unto the Lord. Basically, treat your husband as God. Debi is pretty consistent in this command. Serve him like he is God, because in your life, he is. He will thrive before God in this environment, she says. What in the world does that actually mean? Being worshiped and catered to in this way isn’t healthy, and there’s a decent chance of that going to a man’s head and him becoming, well, a self-centered bully.

Throughout To Train Up a Child, Michael insists that parents must teach their children that they are not the center of the universe. Cater to them and their every need and wish, he says, and you will have a selfish, self-centered brat on your hands. You need to teach them that you won’t drop everything and come running every time they cry. Why, then, does the opposite advice apply to grown men? Cater to them. Jump at their every whim. Make them the center of your universe. Can they not see the contradiction?

To a very real extent, Michael and Debi advise their followers to treat babies like grown men (they can’t expect someone to always come running!), and grown men like babies (jump to fulfill their every need, quick now!).

Note that Debi acknowledges that a woman’s husband will still have growth to do. “As he grows,” she writes, “you’re children will grown and your cup will be so full it will overflow into the lives of others.” So let me ask this—if you are catering to his every whim, what is to make him grow? I like to say that my husband and I knocked a lot of rough edges off of each other—we have grown over the course of our marriage, but that wouldn’t have happened if one of us had been the other’s yes-man.

And Debi’s next section doesn’t help at all:

When you are peeved with him for some silly offense, remember you are cutting off the prayer line. Don’t allow hurt feelings to fester and disease you. Be cheerful, thankful and ready to forgive. Your children will watch you. If you show disregard, disapproval, anger, irritation or dishonor to your husband, it will open the door for them to do the same–not only to their father, but, in a greater degree, to you. In Proverbs it speaks of this very thing: “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands (Prov. 14:1).”

I don’t know about you, but here’s how I’d put it: “Don’t allow hurt feelings to fester and disease you (well, I might use different language there, but bear with me). Talk to your spouse about why you’re upset and try to work out better patterns going forward through communication and listening.” But Debi instead follows that first sentence with: “Be cheerful, thankful and ready to forgive.” Whatever you do—or they do—paste on that smile!

Do you see what I’m saying about there being no opportunities for growth? You cannot help your spouse grow if you perpetually fake happy and cheerful, and never bring up anything that frustrates you.

As to the bit about children watching? My husband’s parents never fought around him—which is great! But they also never disagreed around him at all. He never once got to see them disagree, talk about it, and then work out a compromise. They always did that in private. That left him without examples. As much as fighting around your children is not healthy, never modeling disagreement and resolution in front of them means they will not have the opportunity to learn from your example.

Even more than this though, Debi doesn’t say not to show disregard, disapproval, anger, or irritation in front of the children, it says never to show those at all or your children will see it. And I again—having a sycophant never made anyone a better person.

Debi follows this by displaying an utter lack of knowledge of child psychology:

Begin training your children early; don’t wait until there is a problem. A one-year-old baby who hesitates before obeying is developing a habit that will bring grief as he gets older. What that child is at two, he will be at thirteen, only magnified many times over. “Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right (Prov. 20:11).” Don’t expect your child to suddenly grow into a God fearing adult. The adult will be what the child is.

This is utter nonsense. “What a child is at two,” Debi says, “he will be at thirteen, only magnified many times over.” I remember when I found this logic appealing. If a child of two is not trained out of having tantrums, the logic went, he will still be having tantrums when he is thirteen. This ignores the reality that children of two have tantrums because they are two. That is where they are, developmentally—they have wants but haven’t learned to communicate, or to regulate their own emotions.

Sure, a child who is only ever catered to and never given boundaries is going to end up having problems (as is a man who is only ever catered to and never given boundaries). But there are simply some behaviors that are developmentally appropriate, that children will honestly and truly grow out of, and tantrums is one of them. You don’t need to treat tantrums as some special rebellion to be overcome. All you need to do is ride them out and know this stage won’t last forever.

But who said you need to know anything about child psychology before publishing a book on “child training”?

Don’t let the cares of the family, the church and the world steal the time needed to maintain holy matrimony. The time spent being a husband and wife is the deep root that nourishes the whole plant. Have a sanctuary where no child is allowed. There is time when being a good mother means teaching the children that, “This is OUR time, and you had better find something to occupy you elsewhere.”

I would feel better about this section if I didn’t have the sinking suspicion that this part is only about sex—and if Debi had actually made clear that you should marry someone you like and actually enjoy spending time with. In the absence of any suggestion that the person you marry should be someone you actually like or are attracted to, this bit honestly feels very, very weird.

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