pearls of wisdom, sort of

November 9, 2011

I recently read this NY Times article: Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate. There isn't really much to say about it that it doesn't say for itself. The Pearls' self-published a book, “To Train Up a Child,” which has been lauded in some Christian and homeschooling communities for its enthusiastic return to an era of parental control, the kind of 'parental control' that at some point offers advice on which types of pipe are best to used to administer "discipline" to children (and also fold up for convenient hiding in a pocket! Delightful!). There have been deaths, not directly attributed to the Pearls' per say, but inflicted by parents who were admittedly deeply influenced by their teachings. Regardless of how you feel about spanking there is no acceptable excuse in my mind to beat a child with a length of flexible pipe and that's that.

What struck me however, was this, "Mr. Pearl describes child-rearing as a zero-sum test of wills. If a verbal warning does not work, he said, 'you have the seeds of self-destruction.'"

Living with a toddler I can't help but relate to the description of "a test of wills." It certainly feels that way, when I'm dying to get him to sit cooperatively in his car seat and he's doing everything in his power to thwart me. It certainly feels that way when all I want to do is get him dressed and he fights me kicking and screaming.

So I can relate to it, this mythical test of wills. It's everything fallible in us as parents– I'm busy, I'm in a hurry, I'm impatient. It's easy to see these exchanges as destructive to how things are supposed to happen in perfect adult worldwhat the Pearls' would term disobedience. There are times when I'm frustrated beyond measure and the idea of JUST DO EXACTLY AS I SAY would be nice. Not beat my kid with a pipe appealing, but you know, nice all the same.

The major difference is that I don't think disobedience is a signal of apocalyptic impending evil. In fact I believe that my kid is a person, maybe not a fully equipped or rational one, but an independent one all the same. It has caused me to repeatedly reconsider my attitude. Is he really being disobedient or does he just need more transition time before we get in the car? He's not trying to start shit just to make me mad, he's having a hard time. Why? And what can I do to help?

Rather than it being an all-out battle of my will vs his, where only one contender can remain, he has a voice that wants to be heard too. (I can only promise heard, because sorry kid, you still have to change your pants occasionally. Tough break. But I hear you about how much it sucks. Empathy, I have it.)

The Pearls' and I have critically different views on raising children, obviously, and one that I'm happy to be on the other side of. Their idea that kids should be held to a different standard than adults is one that I fundamentally disagree with. I believe that kids need rules/boundaries and they certainly need our guidance. Full stop. But it goes against my gut that they aren't also deserving of the respect and compassion we would show another adult human being. The side effects can be sometimes LOUD and inconvenient (and not all that obedient) but it's the balance that I hope will produce an independent and critical adult– not a more manageable child.

Other interesting reads this week:
On marriage: The last word: He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
On parenting: Restricting Children's Free Play May Harm Development
On the funnies: 6 Most Badass Self-Inflicted Medical Experiments
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