But They Look So Happy!

Excerpted from Dulce De Leche:

All of the recent news about the Duggar’s newest baby spawned a number of online arguments.  One of the most frequent comments was about how cheerful their family is, especially the children.  How Michelle is a great mom who doesn’t yell.  It must be working for them, because the kids are well behaved and look happy.  Sounds reasonable, right?

I might believe it, if I didn’t know what I know of Gothard/ATI and the Pearls.  The Duggars are deeply enmeshed in ATI, and ATI takes allegiance very seriously.  It isn’t a vague Statement of Beliefs that you sign so your kids can take the courses.  It is several pages of in depth info that covers what kind of music you can listen to (no Christian rock), the kind of TV you watch (mainly Christian DVDs), the way you dress (those jumpers are about modesty), the kind of punishments the parents use (spankings), and more.  It isn’t just a curriculum–it is a lifestyle that delves into family finances, child planning and every other detail.

There has long been a lot of speculation about whether the Duggars use the controversial punishment methods taught by Michael and Debi Pearl in To Train Up a Child.  Things like the blanket training, certain phrases that are used, and the general popularity within that subculture have fueled that, as well as many people who claim that it was recommended previously on the website.  I can’t prove that they follow TTUAC, but as of yesterday, the Duggar’s website included it in their Amazon links along with a glowing recommendation.  Considering that some of the other recommendations list personal details about how the materials were used by the family, I cannot believe that it was randomly included on their site without their approval.

One of the creepiest things about Gothard and the Pearls is that they teach that happy is the only acceptable emotion.  If you do not have a joyful countenance, you are publicly shaming your authorities.  In other words, if the kid looks unhappy, it is a personal offense against the parents.  Pearl also has nauseating quotes and anecdotes about how any time his kids expressed unhappiness or anger they were hit even harder and longer until they were cheerful.  How twisted is that?  Children are taught from babyhood to always be cheerful, or else they deserve a spanking.  As they grow older, it is not just the fear of a spanking that causes them to keep smiling.  It is the sincere belief that they are sinning with ingratitude, rebellion and more if they don’t present a happy face.

You know the whole fake it till you make it idea?  It is pretty effective.  I am sure that there are plenty of times where the kids are genuinely happy.  There are many good things in their lives, and I do believe that the kids are loved.  I am not saying that it is all a sham.  I *do* strongly suspect that the habit of “joyfulness” is so deeply ingrained that denying “ungodly emotions” such as anger (which comes from not yielding your rights in Gothardspeak) and unhappiness (which is a sinful lack of gratitude) is automatic by now.

For many people who follow Gothard and the Pearls, appearance is everything.  As long as you appear happy, then you must be.  There is also strong pressure to be a salesperson witness.  Your countenance is your sales pitch testimony, and if you present an ugly picture to the world, it is a public shaming of your parents and ultimately your God.  Are you going to be the cause of people in the world turning from Christ?  I have heard women who are part of this mindset justify staying in abusive relationships because “it would look so bad for a Christian to divorce”.  Because, you know, God would rather you live a damaging lie and deceive others than expose the truth that even families who claim Him are not perfect.  (Shhhh.  He won’t know that your marriage is really broken as long as you don’t sign divorce papers!)  Sorry.  I get sarcastic when I am frustrated.  Please check out Families Where Grace is In Place or Grace Based Living to read more about getting free from curse-filled relationships.

And, lest we forget, there is plenty of editing that goes into a TV show.

So when I hear someone say, “But they look so happy!”  I can’t help but think, “Of course they do.  They know that happy is the only acceptable emotion in their world.  But is it really happiness when you aren’t allowed to express anything else?”

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.

This post was originally published at Dulce De Leche – crossposted by permission.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

  • nolongerquivering

    I was unaware that the Duggars actually promote To Train Up a Child on their website until I saw Dulce’s post this morning and followed the link. It is my hope that in publicizing this news, we may stir up enough of an outcry that they will remove this evil book from their listings. :) At least – we can always hope.

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  • Brianna

    Wow. I grew up in ATI and did/followed everything you mentioned. I was really into it…went to more “basics” than I can count, same with the Knoxville retreats, and went to several training seminars for extended periods of time…and all my brothers were trained in ALERT and more…extensively. Let me just say…you nailed it. Nailed it right on the head. Thank you. More people should know how fake everything was…we weren’t real living souls…we were trained walking robots…and yes I do mean in a creepy way. We were trained to shut down any emotion we weren’t given permission to have…and convert other people to do the same. The fake smiles, the fake happiness, the fake contentment, the fake submission, the many many many fake “commitment agreements” we were make to sign in order to be allowed to do anything! Makes me so mad on one hand and so sad on the other that my and other’s lives were put through all that. God is helping me to break free from the teaching of all those years and the self condemnation. I hope millions read your post and understand that it is a false cult that feeds off of a pyramid of controlling others and convincing them that they must follow a certain method in order to to be “valued” by God in any way. Same goes for the Pearls and all they’re teaching (I grew up with that too). It’s so sad that people are still following such horrible lies.

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  • http://www.dulcefamily.blogspot.com Dulce

    Brianna, thank you so much for sharing your experiences! I am so glad that you are breaking free from the condemnation–that is awesome! <3

  • Sibyl

    I’m from Germany where the Quiverfull lifestyle couldn’t be done in full because of our laws (we have here something what’s called “Allgemeine Schulpflicht”. It says that every child must go to a school approved by the authorities. Besides our law explicitly forbids to spank children) and though I’m a preacher’s daughter, I find myself sitting here totally flabbergasted. What do people think who confront their kids with such methods? Happiness by order, denying women their (human) rights? It sounds incredibly strange to me and so “far, far away” it’s hard to believe that it happens in a country like America.

  • elenor

    Sibyl, while you are right, that homeschooling is not allowed in germany (and I think this is cutting down parents rights) there are fundamentalist circles that practice quiverfull (no birth control). Above mentioned book “to train up a child” by M. Pearl is translated in german and is widely spread in those circles… there are people living this lifestyle in germany. I personally know families who do.

  • Faith

    I do not understand why people have such an issue with this book? Is it because you all are raising children in such a way that they are not even semi obedient, and lack far more then half the skills as the Dugger children. These families are free to live as they please. They rely on no welfare system to sustain them. They have religious rights. We all need to not worry so much about people like these and worry more about the child molesters, and druggies and other various scum of this earth that have no conviction and are ruining our world!

  • Rachelle

    I understand that people can & do take things to the extreme. It is unfortunate. I too was in ATI, went to the Knoxville seminar, lots of Basics, along with other trainings. I on the other hand had a overall great experience. My parents I guess didn’t follow it rigidly, though I will say, I did see families take it to the extreme & it really did upset me, that is one reason I asked my parents when I was a senior to go with another curriculum. Like anything, you have to sift through, take the good & throw out the bad. There are so many great principles I learned that I still use today. My husband went to the Basic just before we got married & it helped him so much dealing with issues in his life. I think the Dugger’s kids are genuinely happy, you can see it in their eyes. Hard to fake it in your eyes!!
    I’m sorry Brianna that you went through that, I pray you get completely whole!

  • http://www.pancakesgoneawry.blogspot.com Patty

    Just because I think spanking is wrong does not mean I have disobedient children. I just think there are far more effective ways of disciplining, like using natural consequences. Why would I hit my child when I am trying to teach him not to hit others? I haven’t read the book, but the things I have heard are very disturbing. Seriously, hit a kid with a plastic tube? Why would that ever be necessary?

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  • http://homebrewindustrialrevolution.wordpress.com Kevin Carson

    That whole “be a cheerful Stepford Wife or I’ll take a belt to you” thing sounds a lot like the Fish! Philosophy and Studer Group scripting where I work. Of course we’ve got an HR director whose voicemail says “Have a blessed day” (typing one-handed with a finger down my throat), so go figure.

  • susan

    Interesting, I work with children and I never really think of “obedience” at all. In fact, most people with kids I know, though they do want their children to be things like considerate, polite, or kind. Obedient is very different. The notion of being “considerate or polite” is to cultivate a habit of spontaneous behavior towards others. It’s internally motived.

    A parent who stresses “obedience” is going to raise their children in a very different way, one where there is a right or wrong way to do everything. Plenty of people I know have kids who are reasonably well-behaved. Their houses aren’t totally orderly, but neither is mine. If you want to make 100 rules for kids to follow and insist they do it, I just see that as a tremendous waste.

    I think the focus on “obedience” kills spontaneity. I am happy my parents let me grow up doing things my own way unless there was an actual issue of real harm. It taught me to make my own decisions and taught me to be tolerant of people who were different from me, since I was allowed to “deviate” from family routine (or are family routine permitted a degree of autonomy from everybody.)

    As for skills, I have no doubt that families like the Duggar’s have plenty of “little home on the prairie” type self-reliance skills, but how well informed are they of people who aren’t like them? I’m sure they read but how informed are they on world literature? Do they know trends in this history of ideas, or only ones that passed the censors? Do the Duggar kids know about people of other religious faiths, do they know what those people believe and why?

    Girls from families like this get severely stunted educations, as they are discouraged from learning anything but homemaking skills. Not that those aren’t important beyond a certain point you get diminishing returns. To me, making your own bread is a fun novelty activity, not something you do every day.

  • AMP

    You know what rights trump those of religion? The rights which involve protecting children from abuse, regardless of whether or not they are recipients of welfare. Methods like what TTUAC advocate make children *more* susceptible to being victimized and going down these same roads. You want to protect the world from child molesters and druggies? Then start by protecting children from violence in the home!

  • Lady Lelouch

    Why do people have such a problem with that book? Because it teaches people that it’s okay to beat your child with piping.

  • Ona

    Of course they look happy, they have no choice because anything else is unacceptable, that is my gut reaction as well. Even today at the ripe age of 40, the parents who raised me find any criticism of their parenting “techniques” aka spanking and shame or alternate lifestyle choices on my part aka not being a fundamentalist christian as rebelliousness. Imagine if you will the effect that has on a child who is 6, or 9, or 15, who is grossly outnumbered and needs– for the sake of their personal development– to be able to trust that their parents will say the truth and do what is right for them.

  • Katrina

    The Duggars have two girls who are volunteer firefighters, and another who wants to be a nurse that I know of. They support education and don’t encourage only homemaking skills.
    I have never seen them shy away from talking about people of other faiths as well. They don’t live in their own bubble like some other families that take their faith to the extreme.

  • Katrina

    I agree with what Richalle said. While I was not raised in this teaching, there are groups in any religion or teaching that take it to the extreme. After reading the Duggar’s book and watching the show, I really don’t believe that they follow these teachings to the extreme. Like I said in a previous comment, they have girls who want to do something other than just be housewives, and they are fine with that. I’ve seen the boys help with cleaning and laundry too… they all have chores, not just the girls. I still think they are a great family, and I do think they are happy. Just because you live with certain rules in your life doesn’t mean you are restricted and unhappy. I am a christian, and there are a lot of things I choose not to do, but that doesn’t make me unhappy…. quite the opposite in fact.

  • Annie

    How can any of the Duggars be happy if they have nothing else to compare it to? And when Michelle Duggar hits menopause, she will need something a lot stronger than Jim Bob’s support to make it through hot flashes in Arkansas while wearing a denim jumper and sporting about 18 inches of hot, long, wavy hair. Seriously, it’s miserable.

  • http://www.virtuousgirlhood.com RJ

    They look happy because they are. I know because I am the oldest of 8. First off let me say that my family isn’t your typical homeschooling family. I’m the oldest of 8 and my parents work as a TEAM. We all do. We live in rural IL on a farm and have multiple home business’s and we all work together. My dad works and my mom stays home and homeschool’s us and EVERYONE even the youngest kids have chores. My mom doesn’t do everything and neither do I.

    I’ve been homeschooled my entire life and can I just say that I wouldn’t have anything different? I don’t know why people are so anti-homeschooling.

    I’m a Christian by my own choosing. Not my parents. They let me make that choice. And I’m so glad that I did.

    My parents don’t keep my locked in the basement. While I dress modestly I do wear jeans. In fact I’m in pants 95% of the time.

    I don’t have a boyfriend because I’m CHOOSING not to have one. I don’t know any guys that I want to date anyways. I get hit on all the time by guys and I ignore them because I don’t want someone who just wants me for my body. That’s not what I want at all. I’m looking for a gentlemen.

    I’m planning on finishing up high school, taking some college courses, and then becoming a photographer. And guess what? My parents are behind me 100%!!!!!! They don’t force me to stay at home and make candles.

    Anyhow, that’s my take. No, my parents didn’t tell me to write this comment, I wrote it on my own. :)
    ~RJ

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  • Ellen

    A little late to the party, but perhaps people are anti-homeschooling, because they are so disappointed when they see apostrophes misused. Or, of course, in Mrs. Duggar’s case, her numerous grammatical errors.

  • Judy L.

    Ellen, you made me smile. Proper punctuation and grammar is actually not an easy thing to teach, and people make errors even when they know what’s right (you’ve got a little comma splice in your first sentence there). I think the biggest concern that a lot of people have for children who are home-schooled for religious and fear of “the worldly” reasons is that they’re not taught proper science or history or how to think critically or analyze information, and are in fact taught lies and misinformation about the world, and encouraged to blindly accept and submit to authority.

  • Candice

    Are you guys retarded? People are anti-homeschooling because it makes the kids SOCIAL RETARDS. DUH. I’ve met/worked with several teenagers who were homeschooled and they were all really, really, really weird. It’s not grammar anyone’s worried about because you should be able to figure that out from spellcheck. It’s freaking basic social skills – when someone says “hi!” you’re supposed to say “hi!” back, and not give a creepy smile and look at the ceiling like you have asperger’s. I mean for serious they totes probs don’t even know how to talk like teens or what a freaking frat is. Oh and “don’t dress like a man” – Jesus wore a dress dumbasses.

  • Candice

    Can I just say that the Duggar kids are f-ing weirdos and no teenagers want to hang out with them? I’m almost Josh’s age and if he ever talked to me I’d just laugh. He’s a little douche that think’s he’s a man – well if you can’t listen to Lady Gaga in your own house because your Dad says so (you’re over 18 get some balls), you shouldn’t get married or have kids cause you’re not half a man. I don’t know if it’s brainwashing or all the kids are damn pussies, but eventually at least one of those weird kids has to have the chutzpah to tell their parents to GTFO and just run away.

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  • Leigha

    I have no problem with homeschooling in theory, but it should only be done if the parents are fully capable of teaching the material and/or there are resources available to help them (such as online schooling, which is becoming more popular in the US). Information-wise, most adults should be capable of teaching elementary school material (I would hope), but most would NOT be capable of teaching high school courses and should not be allowed to do so if they can’t. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they need to have a degree, but they should have to take the same tests you have to take to become a certified teacher (which varies by state in the US; I have no idea what the requirements are in other countries) and should only be allowed to teach things they’ve passed the tests for.

    Why? Because every child should have access to a proper education, and if they’re being homeschooled by someone who doesn’t know everything the kids should be learning (and I assume most adults have forgotten a lot of it), the kids won’t learn as much as they should.

    I do know, however, that where I live, homeschooling is usually done with cooperation from the local school (and homeschooled kids are allowed to participate in extracurriculars at the school they would be attending if they weren’t homeschooled, as are kids from the area who go to a private school that doesn’t have that particular activity). That’s not as good as taking a test, but it’s a good start.

  • Leigha

    The false dichotomy between spanking children and not disciplining your children at all is one of my biggest pet peeves. Even aside from the fact that this book advocates a far stricter form of punishment than normal spanking, one of the first things you learn in psychology classes pertaining to learning is that spanking (or any form of “positive punishment,” which means applying something–like spanking–to deter a child or animal from repeating an action in the future) is the least effective form of discipline. You also learn that authoritarian parenting is considered to be far less effective than authoritative (authoritation: parent’s word is law and kids should never question or expect explanation, authoritative: children are expected to listen to their parents but are also talked to with respect and treated as people). You can EASILY raise children who listen to what their parents say and learn to make good decisions, without ever raising a hand to them. In fact, in many cases, it’s EASIER to do so without spanking them.

    What most people who advocate authoritarian-style parenting seem to forget is that children are people. True, they don’t have the full capacity to reason or to anticipate consequences that an adult would have, but they are still people. The absolute best way (in most cases; there are always exceptions) to get children to do what you want AND teach them to make their own decisions is to communicate with them. Don’t just tell them what to do and what not to do, explain why. When they ask questions, answer them. Also, let them know that you are human, too. You don’t need to appear infallible to be a parent. Let your kids know when you make a mistake. If you punish them for something that you later find out they didn’t do, apologize. If you tell them they can’t do something and when they ask why you can’t think of a good reason, or (if they’re older) they can present a logical reason why they should be allowed to, take it into consideration and be willing to change your mind. That’s not “giving in,” it’s being reasonable. Showing them that you aren’t perfect and that you make mistakes, but are willing to own up to them, and that you’re not so set in your ways that even logic can’t persuade you, you’ll set a good example for them on how to deal with their own mistakes and how to compromise with others.

    In short, treat them with respect and remember that you and they are both people, and that you can be wrong sometimes and right sometimes (not just you being right and the kid being wrong all the time).


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