While my parents drew primarily on the child-rearing advice offered in Michael Pearl‘s To Train Up a Child, they also read James Dobson. There are many differences between Dobson and the Pearls. Dobson is evangelical rather than fundamentalist and is more widely known; Dobson has a degree in psychology, which lends him a aura of credibility; and the language of Dobson’s books is more scientific and thus comes across as more credible. In spite of these differences, I don’t recall my parents ever feeling that there was conflict between the Pearls’ teachings and those of Dobson. Indeed, that what Dobson said was so very similar helped give the Pearls credibility in their eyes.
I say all this because I recently received an email from blogger Victoria Strong.
I was also raised in fundie evangelical Christianity though my parents were not Quiverfull. That said, I really identify with so much of what you write about and have experienced, although I actually was not at all exposed to the Pearls. My parents were James Dobson-ites, I mean they worshiped the guy. I was raised primarily on “The Strong-Willed Child” and it has left me with many, many scars. In an effort to heal, I have started a small blog where I am reviewing the original copy of “The Strong-Willed Child”.
I’ve often had readers make similar comments on my posts about the Pearls, pointing out that James Dobson’s advice is little different from that of the Pearls. It’s easy, I think, to dismiss the Pearls’ advise as that of some sort of isolated extremists while in fact their teachings are echoed in many, many other books. Fellow blogger Kathryn Elizabeth recently attended a homeschool convention where a speaker condemned spanking babies (something the Pearls advise) and then recommended three child-rearing books by other authors . . . each of which in fact also advise spanking babies.
In other words, it is not enough to avoid the Pearls because in fact much of evangelical child-rearing literature hits on the same exact themes and ideas that make the Pearls’ advice so toxic in the first place. I think the Pearls get singled out for a lot of blame because they don’t even attempt to mince words or dress up their advice to sound more acceptable. But it is the themes and ideas that they teach, not the way they teach them, that are the problem. And now Victoria’s reviews give us a chance to examine the similarities and differences in themes and ideas between the Pearls’ books and those of Dobson. I can’t tell you how excited this makes me!
Victoria kindly gave me permission to crosspost her reviews, and I will be crossposting one each week on Sundays. Today we start with the very fist one.
The Strong-Willed Child, dedication
I will be reviewing the original print of this book. I know it has been updated and republished several times over the years (shudder) but my mother read the original, so that is what I will do. I bought this book used for literally 1 cent on Amazon. Upon reading it, I’ve concluded that I paid too much for this drivel. But let’s begin, shall we?
Wow. Perhaps it’s naïve of me to be surprised by this, but the first red flag comes in the book’s dedication. The dedication! I reproduce it for you:
“This book is affectionately dedicated to my own mother, who was blessed with a brilliant understanding of children. She intuitively grasped the meaning of discipline and taught me many of the principles which I’ve described on the following pages. And, of course, she did an incredible job of raising me, as everyone can plainly see.”
Whoa, nelly! Look, it’s fine to love your parents, to think they were great, to think they did a great job raising you. But to say “as everyone can plainly see”? I … I … Ego, much? Holy hubris, Batman! Anyway, moving on…
“But I’ve always been puzzled by one troubling question: why did my fearless mother become such a permissive pushover the moment we made her a grandmother?”
I’m sure he means this to be light-hearted and funny, but as someone who was raised on his toxic books and now sees my own mom as a grandmother, I don’t find this funny. I find it triggering. My own mother has the hugest pair of grandma blinders I’ve ever seen in my life. My nieces and nephew can literally do no wrong. She CONSTANTLY makes excuses for them when they misbehave. “He was tired.” “Her asthma was acting up.” And while I want to make it abundantly clear that I would never in a million years wish what I went through as a child on my nieces and nephew, or any other child for that matter, when she gushes over how good they are, when they behave exactly like I did as a child, it really hits a trigger. I was punished in some form for every tiny little thing I did from about nine months onward, and believe me, NOBODY cared if I was tired or sick.
Stay tuned …