Parenting & the Super Religious

Parenting & the Super Religious October 6, 2012

by Calulu

Latebloomer from the NLQ Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network has written an excellent series right now based upon reviewing the parenting advice in Reb Bradley’s book ‘Child Training Tips’ 
She’s done an outstanding job on this topic and I have to admit it triggers me just a bit. Triggers some of my experiences back in the old church.

During my years in Fundamentalism Evangelicalism I never encountered Reb Bradley’s book. The one that was pushed upon me constantly was Michael and Debi Pearl’s “To Train Up A Child”. I read through it once, horror-struck by the suggestions in the book, finding it ridiculously harsh and thinking that raising your children like little obeying robots wasn’t going to be doing society any good. Now it would certainly give the kids some horrifying and ridiculous things to tell some therapist one day. The book went against everything I’d learned about child development and child abuse through my job training at the time. After reading it I decided the book was such a bunch of nonsense that I threw it in the trash instead of passing it on to someone else or donating it to Goodwill.

Turns out there’s been a number of cases involving the deaths of children whose parents chose to use the discipline advice of the Pearls. Tragic but not completely unexpected. I still know a number of people from my old church that used the Pearl’s child rearing advice and I can’t say any of their children turned out any better than those that were raised by other methods.

Looking back on all this I have to conclude that the sects that use these extreme child discipline methods don’t value children in any way, treating them more as a nuisance or problem to be handled with no nonsense at all. Birth as many of those kids as possible but start punishing them for being ‘sinners’ early on. Makes me wonder if they remember that Jesus said that you had to be like a little child to inherit the kingdom. Why would He mention little children and say that He wanted those little children to come to Him if they are born so inherently evil?

They seek to quash any creative thinking or learning or personality. Every one of them has to be fitted into the mold even if they don’t fit at all. It does a huge disservice to both child and parent and breaks whatever natural bonds there should be between parent and child. Crushes and breaks spirits.

So why am I being triggered? Because I used to be criticized/scolded/talked too/whatever in my old church about my parenting skills. It started right when we joined the church because of a health crisis with Laura.  At 4 years old Laura contracted ITP and the treatment with biologic medicine led to her developing chemical meningitis. I’d rushed Laura from the doctors office straight to UVA Hospital where they were waiting for us in the ER. I left with nothing, no clothes for either of us, nothing but the clothes on our backs.

I remember that drive, a little more than seventeen years ago. I remember driving through the Virginia Piedmont on a summer day much like this one. Extreme heat and extreme sunshine. I was struggling not to shriek and cry as I drove through the Charlottesville rush hour traffic near the university. I’d been told at our local doctors office that Laura had dangerously low platelets and they didn’t know why but it was highly possible it could be leukemia. The trip took just over an hour but it seemed like it took forever. Looking back I know I shouldn’t have driven I was such an emotional wreck, we should have gone down by ambulance.

We spent a total of nearly two weeks in that hospital and almost lost Laura a few times before it was discovered she had ITP followed by meningitis. Her platelet count was under 4,000. During that two weeks I stayed by her bedside, the only time I left was to go out once to buy her a robe, socks and slippers and a change of clothes plus toothbrush for myself or to grab a sandwich and coffee from the childrens ward pantry.
I guess I should admit that I did a capacious amount of bargaining with God during that time. Begging Him to afflict me if He’d just heal my child. Crazy thoughts, crazy prayers.

Once Laura was out of the hospital I still had to bring her in every week for a platelet count and treatment when it was low. Her health was up and down for a full year that initial bout. As a result of everything we’d been through together Laura ended up being clingy, wanting to be with Mommy all of the time. I felt the same way, I wanted her with me all the time. She was my little shadow for some two or three years after that hospitalization.

And that’s where I started getting gobs of unsolicited parenting advice from those around me at the church. Many times I would be sitting in the pew with Laura; we’d be huddled together listening to the sermon or teaching and I’d see the occasional disapproving glare,  not understanding exactly what that was about. Then later that person would approach and tell me I ‘babied’ or ‘coddled’ or ‘spoiled’ my child and she was manipulating me. At first I shrugged it off, knowing that they had no way of knowing just how scared of being sick again Laura was or how fragile her health was.

Then the copies of “TTUAC” started being handed to me. I still shudder thinking that they thought I should be spanking with a plumbing line a kid with low platelets. I can’t even imagine what the bruising would be like.  Eventually they stopped trying to get me to conform to their parenting standards but I’m sure they all clucked behind my back. I had no intention of harming my kids and none of them realized that I raised my kids using the Love & Logic books, making sure if there was bad behavior then there would be a logical discipline.

Have I been a perfect parent? Oh hell no! I’ve made my share of mistakes, but I think I did an okay job without making my kids terrified of me or physically abusing them.
For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone that loves their kids can possible justify hurting them physically from a young age. I do not get it and I find it reprehensible. I have come to believe in successful families that the parents work out what works to motivate their children to behave acceptably.  It’s not always a one size fits all like patriarchal Christianity would have you believe.


Coming soon! The Parenting Project! Please consider participating in our discussion about parenting, discipline and the issues connected to raising children.

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Read everything by Calulu!

Calulu lives near Washington DC , was raised Catholic in South Louisiana before falling in with a bunch of fallen Catholics whom had formed their own part Fundamentalist, part Evangelical church. After fifteen uncomfortable years drinking that Koolaid she left nearly 6 years ago. Her blog is Calulu – Roadkill on the Internet Superhighway

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

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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



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  • Debbie

    Oh calulu, what an incredible post.
    I too remember days of racing to hospital, not daring to scream because if you did you knew you wouldn’t have been able to stop; nights and days merging together in timeless desperation on hospital wards ……
    ……and then when you thankfully get home, what could be more natural than mother and child clinging close together for as long as it takes? Simply making a little sanctuary of safety in a world that had proven itself so frightening. What was done to you both was just wrong – thank you so much for being prepared to share it.

  • Carol

    It’s so much more rewarding and enjoyable to be a scold rather than compassionate.

  • Good post. I’d like to contribute a link to my own thoughts on this: “Fear Based Parenting.”

  • Beth

    Good post. I think spiritual abuse is completely tragic. I grew up in a minister’s family, and the concept of abuse in the name of God is completely foreign to me. While my parents could be strict at times, I was in a very loving and good environment. What’s sad about spiritual abuse is that it can have dire consequences on a person’s relationship with God. I actually stumbled across this website, and I’m glad it’s here for people who have suffered from toxic and harmful religious hypocrisy.

  • Tammy

    I finally left a church after being scolded numerous times for my “lack of discipline” with my high functioning autistic son. To get him to sit nicely in church with us required some amount of leniency with his behavior. One day we were passing the communion and the pastor, out of the blue, said children should not participate unless they know what it means. We had always allowed our young children to participate to create a legacy of honoring God with the action of honoring the blood of Christ and body of Christ. Our two youngest at the time were about 4 and 6. They knew what communion meant. As the elements reached us, I asked my husband, what should we do? He said, let them participate. Since my high functioning autistic son (6) was used to participating, we risked a meltdown at that point if we told him no as the elements passed by. We allowed him and his younger brother (4) to participate. Afterwards, another church member chewed me up and down for disrespecting the ceremony and not obeying the pastor. I thought I would deflect her criticism by pointing out that I was only obeying my husband’s instructions. She dismissed that outright and kept criticizing me. I pointed out that we always let them participate and to tell my son no risked a meltdown and a disruption to the service. That did not matter to her. “Children should obey their parents.” She kept going on and on. This drove me literally to tears and I cried for three hours. Later I asked my boys if they knew what communion was. Their answers were to show that the blood of Jesus saved us and that Jesus died for us. That’s good enough for me!
    Since I have left that church, I have found out plenty of people had criticized our parenting. Mostly behind our back. We were too strict or we weren’t strict enough. We did not spank enough or we spanked too much. Since then I have purposed to raise my two youngest without spankings (well, very very few and then it’s just a swat on the butt) and would you believe as the youngest two of nine kids, they are the best behaved kids I ever had?

  • “Suffer the little children to be whipped with a plastic pipe”, eh?

    I was well-churched by my mother and grandmother, and actually not half bad by the family church (Anglican) either, but that ain’t the Gospel I read in either place. I chose to walk a Zen path in the end, largely from disgust at what’s been done to Christ’s teachings in the marketplace. These days, any real Christian is scorned out of town if he dares raise his head. Too much anger; too many turf wars. I left.

    But Zen has its own abuse issues. None involving children, thank God (so to speak). Zenners don’t believe in indoctrinating the defenceless; we don’t allow children in our zendos. But plenty of adults have been misused, once they were let in. I’ve come in for a bit myself.

    It’s a human problem. Humans must solve it. That takes courage. I applaud the authors of this site for taking it.

    Rusty Ring: Reflections of an Old-Timey Hermit