I'm writing this in the hopes that some parents will know that they can put away these books, and other parents will think twice before picking them up in the first place.
In many ways I am still a new Christian. I came to faith in Christ (a true faith, based on more than just being raised in the church) as an adult. And in many ways my walk with Him has been a crawl through the fog on rocky ground. It has been difficult to make the choice to follow Christ, and I have struggled to find ways of being Christian enough. I wanted people to look at me and know me as a woman of faith. In that desire I have sometimes strayed too far to the side of legalism.
My experience with the Pearls started when Piper was a year old. I was pregnant again, with Bridget, and having a hard time with discipline. In every way that Reagan had been easy, Piper was hard. A strong word would cause Reagan to cease bad behavior while that same word would cause Piper to scream at me. She made me feel embarrassed. And I was at a loss as to how to work with her. She seemed much more secure in her ability to be a feisty toddler than I was my ability to parent her. I had ideas about boundaries and consequences but no idea how to implement them.
I needed a plan that would give me back a sense of control in my house. The Pearl's were recommended by a mom whom I respected (and still do), and so I bought To Train Up a Child. I read it in a day or two. Then I read it again. The Pearls spoke with such authority, that I simply accepted that they were authoritative, and began implementing their methods. This is where my failure as a Christian, and as a mother, began.
I used a ruler or a wooden spoon for Reagan, and a pencil or the spoon handle for Piper (as I was unable to find the kind of switch they spoke of in their books, and read that this was an acceptable alternative). The Pearls taught that the switch was appropriate for training and discipline, so I used them for both. I implemented them completely, taking all that they taught to heart. Much to my surprise, it didn't work.
I was stunned. How could God's way not work for me? The Pearl's book was peppered with scripture, surely their way must be correct! I decided that it must have been my fault. So I purchased the No Greater Joy books, read their website, and signed up for their newsletter. Some of my questions were answered. Some were not. I increased our switching, and worked at 100% consistency, which is what the Pearl's said was needed to receive perfect obedience. But it still wasn't working.
In response to my failure, I hardened myself. I defended the Pearl's here on my blog, against the grace based disciplining moms. Grace based discipline sounded permissive at best to my Pearl trained ears. Such things couldn't possibly work! The Pearl's had assured me of it. I became frustrated and angry both at myself (whose fault it surely was) and at my kids, whose continued lack of total obedience only made my failure more obvious. I increased the switching, certain that must be where my problem was. Then fear set in. The harder I became, the more Piper rebelled. Our relationship had turned adversarial. I had to win. We weren't a family team anymore. It was her against me. I was afraid that soon it would cross the line, and turn from a spanking to a beating. I was now in fear of hurting my precious child whom I loved more than anything. With that fear, I sunk deeper into feelings of guilt, doubt, and failure.
I had failed. I had failed as a mother and I had failed to be a Berean testing everything the Pearls said against scripture. After heavy prayer, I found myself humbled before the God who forgives, and who shows grace and mercy to his children. My heart was softened and I began listening to the Pearl objectors with new ears.
I read a lot, and I asked a lot of questions. I went to message boards and asked the grace based discipline parents what it looked like in their home with their methods of parenting. I spent more time in prayer over it, and more time in my Bible. I finally listened to the inner voice that I had silenced, that part of me that bristled with things that the Pearl's had said that had seemed totally counter intuitive to me.
Then I put down the Pearl's books, and put down the switches. I sat my children down and apologized for my parenting experiment gone wrong. I told them that we would not be spanking anymore.
I began something different. I set up house rules, with specific consequences. When someone was misbehaving I offered a warning. I would say what was being done wrong, and what would happen if it continued. That gave them a chance to choose to stop on their own. It also offered them the lessons of choices and consequences. Good consequences were made part of right behavior. I also began reading more about attachment parenting, something which seemed much more right to me.
With the increased connection to my children's hearts and minds, I was able to see more of the motivation for negative behavior. With that knowledge I was able to work on both their heart and their actions. It has allowed us to grow close again, and begin to heal the damage that I did to our relationship. We are again part of the same team. An idea that the Pearl's seemed to believe in, but didn't come naturally out of their methods.
And I stopped worrying about how Christian I am. I am a Christian because I proclaim the Gospel of Christ and because, with His help, I live it out. Not because I do things Michael and Debi Pearl's way. I have learned to question those who proclaim their way as God's.
Michael and Debi Pearl have raised four productive members of society. That makes them experienced parents and not parenting experts, or biblical experts. What they share is their opinion, and their experiences, and should be given only that weight. Against it should be weighed the whole of scripture, and the example of parenting that God gives us in Himself.
I support the boycott of the Pearl's materials, because this is not a private issue. Were these ideas things that the Pearl's believed only personally, then I think it would be appropriate to bring it only to them. But they have made these materials public. They have shared them with many parents all over the country and the world. And I think it is important for those who would be purchasing them to know what concerns other believers have.
Most recently the Pearl's have gone beyond their parenting advice into advising battered women, and wives whose husbands are sexually abusing their children. I believe their advice to be irresponsible and dangerous. People should know these concerns before they look to the Pearl's for help.
I am grateful for the women who answered my questions, respectfully, disagreed with me here on my blog, and prayed for my family. You were God's voice in my ear. And now, this imperfect mother is able to parent her imperfect children with discipline that is tempered by grace and mercy.
I pray that we as sisters and brothers in Christ would continue the dialog with a humble spirit, and led by God. It can only better us as parents, and help our children.
ETA: Please see my post from 2/23/10 Bring Back the Boycott!
Addendum 4/10/11: As I write now, I find myself in a very different place than I was spiritually back in 2006 when I originally wrote this post. Interestingly, while I would write it now with less explicit religious undertones, I still believe in what I wrote. There is a better way to parent than what the Pearl's teach, and I'm so grateful to have found it. We can parent our children with grace, regardless of our faith and have better families for it. Considering these methods have led to the deaths of at least two children that we know of, I believe we must continue to speak out against such abusive child rearing methods, regardless of our religious views.