But They Look So Happy!

But They Look So Happy! November 10, 2011

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


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!