Child Labor?

Child Labor? November 20, 2018
Image from Voice of America.org depicting child labor in Afghanistan.

Here’s a piece by Michael and Debi Pearl’s daughter Rebekah Pearl Anast that was published in their No Greater Joy magazine back in 2004. She’s speaking of her daddy asking kids what work they do, and how you have to give your kids many jobs to do. She approves of child labor.

Sounds sweet, not abnormal from how Rebekah is writing this. Citing the Amish, talking of chore around the house. Normal things that no one would have a problem with. Having children of various ages helping around the house for the smooth running and betterment of everyone is a good thing.

It’s important for children to learn in age appropriate ways these things because one day they will be adults. These are the very life skills they will need. Knowing basic cooking skills, how to do your own laundry, clean and sew on a button are all desirable skills.

If you do not assure that they know these things by the time they leave your home it might take them a little time to work it out on their own. I prefer to think that teaching them how to adult benefits society at large too.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here. How many times has Michael Pearl written a screed braying that he has 7 and 8 or younger boys handling tasks and tools no kid should be allowed to handle. Michael believes in working the children in his sphere of influence like mules, like fully grown adults. This is what Rebekah is talking about here.

Later she mentions teaching her under three year old son how to sweep, empty garbage cans and spot clean the kitchen. Sorry. but some of the tasks she talks about assigning this poor child are not age appropriate. At that age if you can get them to pick up toys, or help set the table you’ve done well.

Children were not put on this earth to be support staff for the Pearls. Your goal in starting with tasks like setting the table before moving on to more complex tasks as the child grows is not to make your life easier, it’s to grow fully functioning adults.


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About Suzanne Titkemeyer
Suzanne Titkemeyer went from a childhood in Louisiana to a life lived in the shadow of Washington D.C. For many years she worked in the field of social work, from national licensure to working hands on in a children's residential treatment center. Suzanne has been involved with helping the plights of women and children' in religious bondage. She is a ordained Stephen's Minister with many years of counseling experience. Now she's retired to be a full time beach bum in Tamarindo, Costa Rica with the monkeys and iguanas. She is also a thalassophile. She also left behind years in a Quiverfull church and loves to chronicle the worst abuses of that particular theology. She has been happily married to her best friend for the last 32 years. You can read more about the author here.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jennny

    I admit my 3 children did less chores than some of their peers. I only worked part-time and was delighted they could learn to play musical instruments. I’d longed for piano lessons when I was small but my parents couldn’t afford it, so was happy they began to join orchestras, etc which took up a lot of out-of-school time. They did some chores of course, but when they each went away to university, had the intelligence to work things out. Need to know how to sew on a button/roast a chicken etc etc? Simple internet research shows you….or they phoned home….I don’t think they were scarred for life because I didn’t insist they cleaned bathrooms or mowed the lawn whilst growing up.

  • Saraquill

    This Amish fetishizing and child exploitation makes it sound like Rebekah is closely following her dad’s footsteps. I need a drink.

  • Suzanne Harper Titkemeyer

    Yeah, but your kids knew how to google if nothing else, so it’s all good. I guess I should have made it clear that I was talking about some of the more ridiculous helicopter parents that will not allow the kids any responsibility. Music lessons are important! We had our children enrolled in music too. It’s a skill.

  • Tawreos

    How can you prepare your kids for modern life if you are using the Amish as an example. They have to have everyone working because they have decided not to move forward with the world. You know what, I am being pigheaded and selfish this morning. I think using the Amish as an example is a wonderful idea and I think that all christians should do their best to imitate them in every way. If they do they will really show all of us miserable atheists a thing or two when we go to christian country to see the way things used to be before we got them the hell out of our way and society could really begin to move forward.

  • Mark in Ohio

    Not to mention it will keep them from harassing people in on-line discussions, or posting inane and regressive columns on discussion boards.

  • Friend

    “…a child is a liability to his parents for the first seven years of his life. For the next seven years, a child should be able to hold his own; and for the last seven, he should be productive enough to repay his parents…”

    In the excerpt, “the last seven” refers readers back to “years of his life.” This implies either that Amish offspring die at age 21, or that children should repay their parents during the last seven years of the children’s own lives (an unknowable thing, and impossible if the parents die first). An easy fix would be to write “the last seven years of his youth.”

    Is this just crappy writing, or does life end, in Rebekah’s imagination, when children marry and form their own households?

  • AFo

    Ok, if I saw a toddler and a baby outside in sub-freezing temperatures, I’d be horrified. I don’t care how well bundled up they were, any exposed skin is vulnerable to frostbite. Not to mention that there was no reason for them to be outside, since they were apparently only “watching” their dad do chores. Forcing your kids to stand around outside in the cold to watch you work is the exact opposite of good parenting.

  • Martin Penwald

    My 2 and half year-old nephew like to help in the kitchen when his father is preparing meals, so he sits on the countertop and pushes the blender button when needed, puts salt on water, etc. It’s pretty cute, but he isn’t forced to do it, and his parents supervise everything. That is a healthy familial activity, all the contrary of what the diverse flavors of Pearls are advocating.

  • Martin Penwald

    Forcing your kids to stand around outside in the cold to watch you workWhatever Pearl’s advice is is the exact opposite of good parenting.

    Hey, it works too.

  • SAO

    Yeah, I wondered if Dad was teaching the tots or whether he was babysitting because if you heat your house with wood, you have to split logs. It’s easier to do it in the winter, when the logs have dried some than to do it in the fall when there are chores that can’t wait to be done.

    The Russians bundle up babies and give them fresh air in the winter, but they are VERY bundled.

  • Friend

    I was not sure the boys were really there for training. The mother was busy with dinner (hot oven and all that), so it’s just as plausible that the dad told them to stand there till he finished his chore. Not all that different from riding around in a grocery cart, or holding Mom’s hand in line at the bank. (ETA: danger aside, of course…)

  • Mary Hannah bates

    Fuck them. My great grandfather was killed in a Wyoming mining accident. The owners gave my great grandmother 10 days to pay the rent, quit,or, put my grandfather to work in the mines. My grandfather went into the mines as a 10-year-old head of household and came out of the mines a drunk and a child molester. I ended up in an orphanage.

  • SAO

    She saw what she wanted to see, what she was conditioned to see. I’d guess that Dad was babysitting but still needed to get his chores done. My thought is that Mom was sick or otherwise incapable of looking after the tots. In short, this piece says more about Rebekah than about Amish child-rearing techniques. After all, the tots could have been 2 girls.

  • Samantha Vimes

    Finlanders, too. It comes from when they had wood-heated, poorly ventilated homes and babies kept indoors were likely to suffocate.

  • persephone

    In Sweden they say there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing. I don’t think it’s bad, necessarily, to have bundled up kids running around and playing outside, but I would hesitate to have them out just standing around.

  • persephone

    It’s not like the Pearl kids have had much education, beyond being scared of their dad.

  • persephone

    The Amish are a$$holes. Ignore the quaint, tourist-friendly BS.

  • Friend

    Eternal teaching, that. 🙁

  • smrnda

    Sympathy upvote. I can’t stand it when people glamorize child labor or the ‘good old days’ without thinking about how horrible it really was for people.

  • smrnda

    Kids can join in doing productive work up alongside their parents up to the stage of pre-modern cottage industry. the reason for that is up until then, ‘home’ and ‘work’ weren’t as separate as they have become since the industrial revolution. But if a parent is a nurse, electrician, machinist, teacher, lawyer or accountant, exactly what possible help could a kid be? Does someone hire a lawyer who hands off tasks to their 8 year old kid? Then there’s the problem when people rarely follow their parents’ career paths anymore. Jobs exist now that didn’t 10 years ago. Some jobs decline or even vanish. Kids would do better to attend school and vocational training programs run by qualified adult experts. I mean it isn’t like any of the Pearl kids wound up particularly successful, and Michael Pearl didn’t seem to do so well providing for the family.

    Most ‘chores’ that I recall anyone doing were more laundry, cleaning, and cooking and food prep when safe and age appropriate. Many tasks aren’t really safe for kids, cleaning can use harmful chemicals, kids can slip on wet floors, knives are sharp, stoves are hot, tools are often dangerous. Kids also need time to play and socialize. It’s part of growing up.

  • paganheart

    My romantic ideas about the Amish pretty much ended when I met my late father-in-law. He was an anesthesiologist and worked at a hospital in an area with an Amish population. They tended to avoid hospitals, but occasionally had no choice but to seek mainstream medical treatment. My FIL told of a few occasions when Amish children were brought in with injuries that that their parents claimed were the result of being thrown from a horse, or falling out of a tree they’d climbed, but which FIL and other staff knew were more likely the result of child abuse (including the sort of beatings that would make Mikey proud.) Yet hospital staff were reluctant to contact CPS, and CPS workers themselves were often reluctant to get involved, for fear of stepping on cultural toes or getting involved in a messy “religious freedom” case. Even non-fundie types seem to regard the Amish as some sort of romantic anachronism, but the reality is far different.

  • Hannah

    Cultural sensitivity has a lot to answer for. In recent years there have been several cases of the sexual trafficking of teenage girls, the perps mostly of Pakistani descent, their victims mostly white girls from broken homes or who were in care (although they were abusing girls from their own community.) A lot of the failure to act came down to a fear of being seen as rascist, according to the authorities who should have dealt with it in the first place. Rotherham was the first to come to light, then Oxford, which I found chilling, as I grew up in that area and I was a vulnerable teenager when this was going on (as was my sister, my parents suspect she very nearly became a victim and one of her friends certainly did.) The mother of one of the victims in Oxford knew something was going on and begged social services for help, and they did nothing. Yes, that was a bit of a tangent. It drives me mad that people will overlook child abuse in order to not cause offence.

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/feb/20/rotherham-sexual-abuse-victims-rises-to-1510-operation-stovewood
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_child_sex_abuse_ring

  • zizania

    I pretty much lost all respect for them when I found out about their involvement with puppy mills.

  • Mary Hannah bates

    They are pretty damn hard on horses too.

  • Zeldacat

    I have plenty of issues with some Amish groups and/or traditions within them – but the one thing I respect the hell out of them for is that they aren’t out to convert me to their brand of Christianity. Fine by me, since it’s one of the last things I’d want to do, and the last thing I want to be bugged about.

  • Freodin

    “… for the last seven years, he should be productive enough to repay his parents for the first seven years of their labour for him.”

    Reminds me of another quote, from my favorite author Lous McMaster Bujold.

    “You don’t pay back your parents. You can’t. The debt you owe them gets collected by your children, who hand it down in turn. It’s a sort of entailment. Or if you don’t have children of the body, it’s left as a debt to your common humanity. Or to your God, if you possess or are possessed by one.

    The family economy evades calculation in the gross planetary product. It’s the only deal I know where, when you give more than you get, you aren’t bankrupted – but rather, vastly enriched.”

  • Aloha

    I’d say that child labor should only be allowed for the following reasons:
    1. Education. Spending up to an hour a day watching and helping in order to learn (things like cooking, gardening, and other safe skills)
    2. Self-esteem. Spending up to an hour a day on household chores in order to learn the pride that comes from a clean house /clean room.
    3. Participation. Spending time with mom and dad, or other fun people. Helping them work for a short time.
    4. And about child actors? I dunno. That seems a little problematic. We might need more rules and shorter days for child actors.