A couple with eleven children wrote to fundamentalist parenting gurus Mike and Debi Pearl asking for help. Their older children had put them on blast, the couple wrote, and they could not understand why. Where had they gone wrong? Debi responded, and her response lays bare the absolute bankruptcy of the couple’s childrearing teachings. Debi didn’t respond to the letter the couple actually wrote. She responded to the letter she wanted the couple to have written. And that’s not the same thing at all.
Here is the couple’s letter:
I am writing to you about the distress in our family. My husband and I met at Bible college and have now been married for 21 years. We have eleven children, ages 3 – 21 years. There is also a new baby on the way in November. Our main troubles started last year when our oldest daughter left home and went totally away from the way we brought her up. Our home has reached the point where my husband and I feel totally defeated. When we have to correct one of the children, we get blasted from all the older children, and it is always turned around on my husband and me.
At this point, it sounds like the couple needs to rethink their parenting strategy. The Pearls’ childrearing teachings typically work best with a sort of insularity that prevents the children from seeing how things could be different. This insularity seems to have been shattered, perhaps by the oldest daughter’s departure. The older children still living at home appear to share their oldest daughter’s critique of how they are running the household—so yes, the insularity ship has sailed.
While the couple doesn’t share the ages of each child, it’s almost certain that one (possibly two) of the older children still living at home are actually adults. You know how I’d respond to this letter? I’d advise the parents to listen to their kids. The letter writing never even states what the older children’s critique is. Instead, the letter only states that when the parents “have to correct” one of the children—i.e. punish them—they “get blasted” from their older children. What sort of correction are we talking about? What critique is being leveled by their older children?
There is no listening going on here.
The couple’s letter continues as follows:
I truly used to love being a parent, but lately I find no joy in it at all. How can we get back control of our home before this situation ruins our marriage completely? We have been getting your newsletters for the last two years, and they are such an encouragement, but I just don’t know how we can turn things around to get them where they need to be.
Note that the goal voiced here is to “get back control of our home.” I don’t like this framing in general, but I especially don’t like it for parents that have children who are teens and young adults still living in the home. If your goal is “control” you are going to end up seeing your parenting as a battle. And when you lose that control—well. Maybe you shouldn’t have based your parenting so soundly on control that you had nothing else.
My husband and I took a drive yesterday, and we both just wept about the condition of our home and how our children seem to respect us so little.
Was their goal obedience, or respect? These are not the same things.
We truly feel so defeated, but we have been praying desperately that God would somehow show us what we need to do to make our relationship with our children better.
You could start by listening to them.
We still have so many young children in our home. We pray we can turn things around and get them right. If you would be able to help us, we would be very thankful.
This is the sum total that we know from this couple. Their older children disagree with how they correct their younger children, which has created tension in their home; both parents are heartbroken over this.
Here is how Debi responded:
Dear Broken Hearted,
Your letter was truly sad. We receive so many letters similar to yours. We do want to help. I pray that what I say will direct you to healing. I read your letter to my 17-year-old daughter, Shoshanna and to Lora, a visiting 19-year-old girl. I asked them, “What is it that makes some families prosper in the Lord and others crumble when their children get older?” Both girls said that if Mama and Daddy manifest peace, joy, and love in their relationship, all the older kids will respect them and will desire to have the same when they marry.
While the couple’s letter did reference a desire to regain control of the home “before this situation ruins our marriage completely,” there was no other mention of marital problems. Indeed, the letter makes it sound as though the couple are on the same page, and are heartbroken over the situation together. The letter even mentions the couple taking a drive together, sans children, and weeping together. Why the assumption that there are marital problems?
We are all drawn to cheerful, loving people. Mama has to honor Daddy. Daddy needs to respond by growing into a loving husband. This is the soil where the roots of good families develop. When a tomato plant lacks a mineral in the soil, the plant might grow tall and green like it’s counterpart, and the fruit might be large, but, as it ripens, the fruit begins to rot. So many families have the late rot disease. They have kept up the outward appearance all those years as the children grew to be adults, but one day the children got tired of the charades and went out to do what had been in their hearts all along. When a farmer has planted, watered, weeded, fertilized, and cultivated his garden, the sudden appearance of rotten fruit is terribly disappointing. When parents have raised a child and discover rottenness, they feel like complete failures, for they know there will not be a next season.
This metaphor is disgusting. But again, note the suggestion here—the only reason for this couple’s loss of control over their older children that Debi can think of is that the couple has longstanding marital problems. She literally cannot imagine that it could be anything else. The older children are specifically objecting to how the parents are “correcting” the younger children, but no, it must be marital problems. Did Debi even read the letter?
Begin by searching the Scripture concerning a husband and wife. View our husband and wife videos. Learn to abide in a state of good will toward your spouse. Stop picking the gnat from your spouse’s eye, and work on the boulder in your own. Don’t take personal offense. Become one flesh, one mind.
What?? They never said they had marital problems.
Then go to your children and tell them you have failed, that you have missed God’s will as a couple. Tell them that you are rekindling your love. Let them view our husband and wife videos with you. Mother, listen to the “Hidden Woman” tape with your daughters, and let them see your broken heart and your determined, joyful spirit to obey God.
I’m sorry, but if I were an older child in this household and my beef was that my mom and dad kept beating on my kid siblings for any little thing, having my parents respond by approaching me like this would be jaw dropping.
This isn’t about the parents’ marriage. This is about the older children objecting with the way the parents are “correcting” the younger children. And if I don’t miss my guess, they have damn good reasons for objecting.
If you are morally earnest, a new biblical understanding will change your heart and your life. Children are ready to forgive when they see broken, repentant parents. We have sometimes given out questionnaires to the teens in attendance at our seminars. When asked what change they would like to see in their homes, they are nearly unanimous in saying something to the effect, “I want my parents to be happy with each other. I want my mom to treat my dad with respect. I want my dad to stop being so mad. I want my parents to love each other.” Out of the mouth of babes….
You know what, Debi? If you’re hearing that at conferences all the time, you might want to rethink your teachings. Because these aren’t secular families at these conferences, these are Pearl following families. And yet the teens can tell that their parents aren’t happy with each other. Hmm, I wonder why that might be.
It took many years to build your house on sandy ground, it will take a while to get your foundation on the rock. But if you obey God, you will see more than just restoration. In time, when your children come to believe that this is not just a stage you are going through, but that you are really sincere, ask them to listen to our tapes on child training and to help you get control over the habits the younger ones are developing.
What! It is those child training tapes that are the problem!
We will pray for you that God will restore what the locusts have eaten.
My god, Debi.
You know what? I’m damn proud of those older children. They’re standing up for their little siblings—children they’ve helped raise from infancy—and standing against injustice. I only wish I’d had the insight and wherewithal to do what these children did, while I was still in the home. I didn’t. Those older kids are heroes.
And the fact that Debi couldn’t think of a thing to say outside of “fix your marriage” points to how absolutely tone deaf she is, and how limited and one-dimensional her view of parenting is. If something doesn’t fit her specific model of understanding the world—and parenting—she just ignores it. Not cool, Debi. Not cool.
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