The Problem with the Pearls’ One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Tantrums

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Philippe Put.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on November 24, 2015.

I recently came upon an old No Greater Joy post about tantrums. No Greater Joy, as you may remember, is run by Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the fundamentalist Christian childrearing manual To Train Up A Child. I was raised on the Pearls’ childrearing methods, and much of my own parenting journey has been unlearning the toxic parenting structures the Pearls promote. Anyway, this particular post about tantrums was written by Tremaine Ware, one of the Pearls’ assistants.

The relevant text reads as follows:

A tantrum is a manifestation of anger. It is a means of control. This sort of behavior usually comes when a child has had a history of not being consistently denied what he wants (when he pitches a fit). He has only received token swats that were as soft as cotton balls, which only proves to irritate the kid and convince him that authority is of no consequence, making his desires the supreme force. Such behavior in a child can be very provoking to you as a parent, so it is important that you maintain mental and emotional control of yourself. An emotionally out-of-control parent can’t hope to bring emotional control to the child. Children are far more capable than we suppose. We unconsciously know this…which is one reason it “bugs” us so bad when they have a tantrum. We know that it is innate selfishness on their part, not immaturity.

So, when your child of any age starts throwing a tantrum, NEVER, NEVER…I repeat, NEVER give in to their demands. Your denial of their lust, coupled with a good stinging swat or two, will cause the child to see the futility and helplessness of his demands. When your child is convinced by your consistent response of enforcing negative consequences for negative behavior, he will cease his vain and tiresome behavior, employing some other means to achieve pleasure.

Fits are just high-pressure demands falling slightly short of violent action. It is not a stage or something they will grow out of. It must be dealt with decisively.

This reminds me of a recent moment when I did just what Ware says not to do—Bobby threw a tantrum and I gave in and met his demands. I gave in, frankly, because his demands were perfectly reasonable and because I don’t believe in standing my ground just to make a point even when I realize I am in the wrong.

In this particular case, I’d taken Bobby to Steak ‘n’ Shake, and he’d been resistant when it was time to leave, so I’d carried him to the car and he began screaming. This happens sometimes. He’s three, after all, and sometimes he becomes overtired, etc. What I didn’t realize until after we were already on the road was that he was screaming words—barely intelligible words, but words nonetheless. He was completely hysterical because we’d left his cardboard car and coloring sheet. I should have listened more carefully from the get-go, but I was tired and ready to get home and had thought he just didn’t want to leave the restaurant. So I went back and had Sally run in and retrieve his car and coloring sheet. The moment I turned the car around to go back he calmed down and said “thank you,” tears still in his voice.

Ware would have me think that I let Bobby control me, that I gave in to his “lust,” that I should have instead stopped the car and spanked my child to make sure he knows “the futility and helplessness of his demands.” Um, no. I want my child to grow up knowing that I value him, and that his needs and desires and interests matter to me. Now yes, I work to teach him appropriate means of telling me his needs, but he’s three, and that’s something he’s understandably still working on.

Does Bobby always “get his way”? No. Note that I carried him from the restaurant in the first place because staying at the restaurant indefinitely when it was late and we needed to get home was not an option. When, for whatever reason, he can’t have his way, I explain to him why that is, talk through the issue with him, and work to find some sort of compromise we can both live with. Sometimes that simply doesn’t work (and I find myself, say, carrying him from a restaurant), but usually it works and we’re able to cooperate rather than being at odds. Just recently I helped him work through a stage where he was demanding that I buy him everything in any store’s toy section by explaining that we don’t have the room to buy everything and encouraging him to note things he would like for Christmas or his birthday. It worked.

When making parenting decisions, I try to ask two questions:

“Am I treating them with respect as independent people?” 

“Am I helping them gain skills that will be useful in adulthood?” 

I should note that I don’t like the word “tantrum.” In my experience, children usually exhibit “tantrum” behavior when they are overtired, overwhelmed, or otherwise overwrought. I prefer the term “meltdown” because to me it seems much more descriptive of what is actually happening. Ware automatically sees children who exhibit “tantrum” behavior as control-hungry and lust-filled, but this is often not the case at all. In many cases it is possible to recognize the signs of an upcoming meltdown and head it off completely. It’s less about control and more about making sure children don’t reach a breaking point where everything becomes too much and they fall apart. Children have much less experience understanding and handling their own emotions, after all, and it is our job to be attuned to their needs and watch for cues that trouble may be ahead.

This said, I also don’t think it’s wrong for children to attempt to exert some form of control over their surroundings. Yes, we as parents need to teach our children that they are not the only people in existence, and that they need to respect other people’s needs as well. But part of this has to involve teaching them that their needs matter too. And children have so little actual control that it’s no wonder they sometimes try to gain some in whatever means they can, especially when they are being ignored by their parent-people. I find that one way to prevent “tantrum” behavior is to make it clear that I, as their parent, am listening to them and care about their needs. Because they know that I don’t say “no” unless I have a real reason to, they’re more likely to believe that I have a reason when I do say “no.”

I want to finish by noting that every child is different, and that one child’s “tantrums” or “meltdowns” may look very different from those of another child. That’s one problem I have with the way Michael and Debi Pearl go about things on their website and in their newsletter and books. They seem to see parental responses as a one-size-fits all approach, as though children are interchangeable. They pay some lip service to children having differences, but they don’t start by urging parents to try to understand what is going on inside their child, and why they are exhibiting XYZ behavior. Blogs like Aha Parenting, on the other hand, encourage parents to start with an attempt to understand the child and their behavior rather than an assumption that they already know everything they need to know.

Sorry, Michael Pearl, But These Fireworks Are Calling You Out: Lisa Joy’s Thoughts

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lisa Joy” is a pseudonym.

Disclaimer: I have been reading Libby Anne’s reviews of the Pearls’ materials on her “Love, Joy, Feminism” blog as they’re published each week. When I read Michael Pearl’s recent article, “Homeschooling: Success or Failure,” I started wondering what she would say to tear it apart. Then I realized I couldn’t wait to see if/when she’d cover it, so I started writing my version of a rebuttal! So if it sounds like I’m parroting her in some way, I’m not trying to… but I might end up doing so to some extent because I love what she has to say in her book reviews. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or something like that!

“It is such a marvelous pleasure to observe the many young couples coming out of the homeschooling community. They are bright as spring flowers, full of hope and good cheer. Children are springing up like dandelions, without a care in the world, secure in their parents’ love.”

Dandelions… a weed that many people try to kill

Michael Pearl has a nasty habit of dehumanizing people, especially women and children. He compares them to dogs, horses, pick-up trucks (yes, really!), etc. Now we can add weeds to that list.

“There has never been a movement in America that has so consistently produced godly young people and holy marriages.”

Oh, really? Are these marriages “holy,” or are they simply trapped & trying to put on a good face? The latter is my story — married for 13 years to a man I knew was cheating on me and lying to me. But I didn’t dare leave because that wouldn’t be the “godly” thing to do. <sigh> (Don’t worry, when it finally dawned on me that my children were in danger of being molested, I worked up the courage to face all the judgment and criticism from my church and my family, and I left him.)

“These kids—they are in their 20s and 30s but to me they are kids—”

I am 36. I am not a kid. I’ve been a legal adult for 18 years, so I should be an adult twice by now!

My parents still treat me like I’m a rebellious teen-ager, including trying to correct me when I have what they consider a bad attitude, tell me where I should attend church, what I should wear, whom I may date and marry now that I’m divorced, (or as they would prefer, that I am to never marry again, except to my abusive ex!) and even punish me when I stray from their desires for my life. (And no, I’m not currently on speaking terms with them. Enough is enough! When they learn to treat me like the adult I am – twice over – then maybe we can be friends again.)

“are the most emotionally balanced, mentally positive, and hopeful human beings in the world;”

Either that, or they’re really good at faking it and putting on a happy face so that they aren’t a bad testimony. After all, if they and their lives aren’t perfect, they know that it’s their fault because they aren’t spiritual enough.

“and let me tell you something: Even at 68 years old I can see that among them are the prettiest girls ever. There is something about a genuine joyful smile and an inquisitive, positive expression that lights up a healthy female face like sun, moon, stars, and fireworks at the same time.”

Stop and really read this again. Let it sink in. This. Is. Sick. I hope all of you are holding your mouths to keep the vomit from hitting your keyboard or tablet or phone. I know Debi Pearl has her issues, but I feel sorry for her right now. I would be horrified if my 68-year-old husband publicly admitted to admiring women 1/2 or 1/3 his age. Maybe I just have a dirty mind, but for an old man to admit that a pretty face reminds him of “fireworks” is beyond gross. Sick. Sick. Sick.

Michael Pearl says in his “Created to Need a Help Meet” book that when he’s at church luncheons, he wants to be surrounded by pretty ladies! What a sick, dirty-old-man vibe I’m getting from him. <shudder> Even if you’re okay with a 68-year-old having these kinds of thoughts about a 20-year-old “girl,” (really a woman but always a “girl” to Michael Pearl!) remember that he’s married. And he just published this on the Internet and in print. His wife is presumably reading this. Just. Yuck. Nasty. Must. Stop. Thinking. About. This.

“I see young mamas and daddies producing a whole new generation of godly, wholesome kids.”

Or producing a whole new generation of abused, trapped kids who must put on a happy face or they’ll be beaten when they get home for making Mama and Daddy look bad in front of other people?

“If we can’t beat the progressives today, we will beat them tomorrow in the numbers game. While they kill their children and stuff them in a green refuse container bound for the city dump, two of our kids multiply to become eight, ten, or nineteen in about 20 years. Think about that—two million homeschoolers today, ten to sixteen million in twenty years. If you can’t out-vote them today, out-breed them for tomorrow.”

I heard this kind of thing when I was a kid. Homeschooling has been more-or-less legal in America since 1985, when my family started homeschooling. That’s awfully close to 30 years – a generation and a half. So – where are all the thousands and thousands of homeschool graduates who, like me, now have children of their own that are school-age? Oh, wait, that’s the whole reason for this article.

Because these thousands and thousands of homeschool graduates who were going to take over the world haven’t done so yet.

Also, not everyone can have 8, 10, or 19 kids. There’s infertility, serial miscarriages, dangerous pregnancies, painful/uncomfortable pregnancies, financial and practical considerations such as housing and food and clothing, “kids” who are close to 40 and haven’t married yet (thank you, courtship!), and couples who choose not to have kids even though they probably could. And – assuming 2,000,000 is an accurate number, which I kinda doubt coming from Michael Pearl – how many of those 2,000,000 are homeschooling for non-patriarchal reasons? Dad’s (or mom’s) work schedule, convenience of other pursuits (did you know that Ross Lynch of the Disney Channel & the “R5” band is homeschooled? Also the Jonas Brothers?), peanut allergies, disabilities requiring frequent hospital stays and/or constant monitoring, learning disabilities, etc. I don’t think Michael should be counting on a great army of straight (mostly) white Christian conservatives just like him rising up from the ranks of homeschooling to rescue America!

Another point – doesn’t it irk you that if you aren’t following Michael Pearl and similar patriarchal teachers, then of course you’re killing your children & throwing them in dumpsters?! There’s no middle ground. I’ve seen this over and over as I read Libby Anne’s reviews of the Pearl materials. The Pearls see people as all being in one of two extremes – their way, or the way of absolutely horrifyingly evil.

“I know there are a few highly-publicized stories from time to time of homeschooling failures. There is an online militant group of ex-homeschoolers who hate the experience and are actively trying to denigrate us; but anything that grows large will accumulate detractors and dissenters—great enemies even.”

News flash, Michael Pearl – we are the homeschool graduates that were going to take over the world!

Remember us? From your last paragraph? Sure we’re 20 and 30 years older than the generation that you say will end up out-breeding them, but we were told that we would be the ones that would be the mighty army raised up to overwhelm the enemy with our godliness!

I am curious as to which “online militant group of ex-homeschoolers” he’s referring to, because last I checked, there are quite a few of them. There’s the Homeschoolers Anonymous blog. There’s the Recovering Grace blog. There are dozens and dozens of personal blogs that address everything from page-by-page reviews of the Pearl books to personal experiences of de-programming from the cult-like environments (or actual cults!) in which we were raised.

“Satan hates goodness and will find broken people who want everything to be as broken as they are. But we are not moved by their bitterness; we have too much joy and hope to be brought down by someone already way down near the bottom.”

Good thing that you, Michael Pearl, are so godly and perfect that you can so easily ignore the pain that has brought someone “down near the bottom.” What an arrogant – okay, I’ll stop there but you finish it up with your choice of words!

“Not every homeschool experience will be a great success. Some will be total failures; others will be good but not altogether good. In some cases, out of six children a family may lose one or two to the world, but they will have two or three that are exceptional human beings. The Devil is after us. The flesh is still weak. The world has not lost its luster. So there will be casualties. We are saddened by every failure, but we are not daunted or discouraged. The large number of beautiful successes keeps us charging ahead with confidence.”

Again – I heard when I was a kid that I was in the generation that would rise up and change America – and the world – back to godliness. Now Michael is admitting that only about 1/3 or maybe 1/2 of homeschool graduates will be “exceptional human beings.” Another 1/3 to 1/6 will be lost “to the world.” I guess the other 1/3 to 1/2 is just mediocre so they don’t count for either camp? Very convenient, too, that Michael and similar leaders get to designate what is “exceptional” and what is “worldly.” What is good to Michael Pearl may be considered carnal to the Bill Gothard camp. The Doug Phillips followers have yet another definition of what is good and godly. The Amish and the Mennonites and the Independent Fundamental Bible-Believing Baptists have their own definitions. It must be so nice to be a Michael Pearl or a Bill Gothard or a Doug Phillips and get to decide what is godly and what isn’t… that would make life so much easier on me, because I would be the godly one and all of you had better do what I say or you won’t be godly like me!

“It has been our ministry to help parents raise godly children from birth to grandkids. We have addressed every conceivable subject several times from different angles, written over twenty books and thousands of articles, read your letters and answered many of them. We have heard your stories and sought to understand problem areas and the things that make for consistent success. So one more time, I will address the reasons for the few who fail.”

“The few who fail”? I guess if he repeats it often enough, he can convince his followers that the “online militant group of ex-homeschoolers” he mentioned before is in fact just a couple of hotheads. Except that he just said that approximately 1/3 of homeschooled kids go “to the world,” and 1/3 apparently just disappear. That doesn’t sound like “a few” to me. That sounds like 2/3. That’s the majority. Like, 2 out of every 3 homeschooled kids is considered a failure.

If a friend recommended a restaurant that was so delicious and so wonderful and only 2 out of every 3 people got food poisoning… do you think I’d want to eat there?

“How many times have you heard me say, “More is caught than taught,” or, “Your attitude speaks louder than your words”? I have often said, “Children are rooted in the soil of their parents,” and, “You must model what you want your children to become.””

So if Johnny or Susie ends up going bad, it’s your fault, not Michael Pearl’s. Shame on you for being so imperfect.

“It is not enough to teach morals, good character, the Constitution, Creationism, and modesty. Goodness without God is humanism at its finest.”

This is exactly one of my big complaints about the ATI curriculum. It’s a bunch of rules, but with very little to no teaching on having a relationship with Jesus. In fact, Jesus is barely mentioned. The only major teaching I can remember about Jesus was “The Commands of Christ.” Emphasis on the commands. Still no relationship. Most of the Pearl family-related books, such as “To Train Up a Child,” and the “Help Meet” books, throw a few out-of-context Bible verses at you, interpret them for you, then tell you what you need to do in order to raise kids properly, or be a good wife, or keep your wife in line. Again, there is very little emphasis on a relationship with God.

To be fair, I have not read/listened to any of Michael Pearl’s doctrinal teachings, but the family books are by far the most popular of their materials, so that’s what I’m basing my complaint on. They’re just another manual, another to-do list, of what you must do so that you and your family will be godly, as defined by Michael and Debi Pearl.

“Right living without worship is the arrogance of Cain, unacceptable for its lack of faith. Satan can tolerate us being good as long as God does not receive the praise and worship. The world can appreciate and even praise our morals (it makes for good citizenship), but they despise us giving glory to the God of creation, who is the judge of all men.

“Good kids without God are just bait for the sharks of this world. Sometimes the bait in its naïveté wants to be eaten. We can control the family and our environment so as to protect our children from the world—until they get old enough to seek it out, and then the only protection they have is that which is within. If God is not within, they are empty vessels waiting to be filled with folly and fornication. Those who fall from the highest moral standards fall further and land harder, doing more damage.”

Or – maybe those kids grow up, get a taste of the “real world” at their jobs, in their communities, or in their marriages, and realize that the big bad world wasn’t really as awful as our parents thought it was.

“I have observed that most of the failures come from families who did not raise their children in a community of believers.”

Ah, here it is again! The failures aren’t the Pearls’ fault. Nope. Definitely not. The failures aren’t Bill Gothard’s fault. Or Doug Phillips’ fault. Or patriarchy itself’s fault.

It’s because you didn’t take your kids to church.

Except there’s this little thing called “home church,” that the ultra-conservative homeschoolers and/or ultra-controlling homeschoolers like because then there’s no Sunday School, no friends, no youth group to steal the teens’ hearts away, no rock music to invite demons into their souls, no teachers or pastors to offer a different opinion… if another family or two joins your home church, then they’re carefully screened and carefully controlled to make sure that they don’t bring in any worldly influences.

“Few families are completely balanced, able to supply all the needs of their kids.”

Shock – there’s one line in this article that I actually agree with? Kinda. I disagree with the word “few,” because all families are imperfect, because all parents are imperfect, because all people are imperfect. Still, I come within 3 letters of agreeing with this statement. Don’t worry, it won’t last long.

“But in a church of like-minded saints there is balance. The church of Jesus Christ is God’s supply line of ministry to the family. If your family is not part of a Bible-believing congregation of saints, your children are being deprived of God’s method of sanctification and ministry. If there is no church or community of believers within comfortable driving distance, then move to where you can hear the preaching of the word and participate in ministry, and your kids can socialize with other godly youth.”

My parents changed churches 5 times in my growing-up years, and a 6th time since I got married. Yes, that’s 7 different churches within my first 25 years of life. If you’re going to change churches every time you disagree with a church policy (not doctrine, *policy*) or every time they play a taped accompaniment with <gasp> drums with a soloist, then that’s not a very stable environment for your kids to grow up in. Remember that because you follow Michael Pearl, and/or Bill Gothard, and/or Doug Phillips, your family is one of the spiritually superior ones, so chances are, you’re more spiritual than your pastor or fellow church members. It’s difficult for a kid or teen with that mindset to be able to fully engage in and learn from church. Been there, done that.

Also, it’s very easy for Michael Pearl to tell families to “move to where you can hear the preaching of the word.” He’s never had to do that, because he is the preacher of the word. (Whose word, I’m not 100% sure, but I suspect he’s preaching Michael Pearl’s word more than God’s Word. Again, my only exposure to the Pearl philosophy has been through their parenting books, but there’s precious little true Bible in there!) It’s not exactly easy for a family, especially a large family, to just pack up & move to a new place and find a new job for dad that will allow mom to still stay home with the dozen kids, plus how about a house that they can afford debt-free that will fit all those people?

“But when everything else is right, if the husband and wife relationship is not a thing to be envied by the children, you can be sure that you are going to lose some if not all of your children to the world. The last you will hear of them as they look back over their shoulder is, “Hypocrite.” I have heard many say, “If that is what a Christian is, I don’t want anything to do with it.””

Nope. That’s not what turned me away from my parents’ brand of Christianity.

It was actually reading the Bible for myself (gasp… a WOMAN reading the Bible FOR HERSELF?!) and realizing that most of what they taught me IS NOT IN THE BIBLE.

“You need to have a family Proverbs time.”

Conveniently enough, one of the other articles in this newsletter just so happens to be about Proverbs Time! The Pearls are very good at self-promoting their other publications, as you’ll see in a minute.

“You need to “go to church.””

Why is “go to church” in quotes in the original article? You either go to church or you don’t. He doesn’t seem to using a quotation from another source. So these quotes just don’t make sense. Weird.

“You need to involve your family in ministering to others. You need to teach morals, character, and the Bible stories; but most of all, you need to look at your children and smile with delight, and they need to see you looking at your spouse and smiling with appreciation and thanksgiving. It is the difference between success and failure.”

Anyone else notice what this is? IT’S A TO-DO LIST.

If you can check off all these things – Proverbs Time, “go to church,” minister to others, and so on… then your kids will be a success. You can beat them within an inch of their lives (or beyond, as tragically has happened several times) and they will still grow up to love you and admire you and want to be just like you and raise their kids to also be just like you.

“Read again Created to Be His Help Meet and Created to Need a Help Meet. Listen to my FREE Romans messages online, and my series Sin No More, available through the NGJ web store.”

There it is – more self-promotion. Just in case you haven’t bought the “Help Meet” books, or the “Sin No More” series, then hurry your little self over to the No Greater Joy web store and send us money, stat! At least Romans is free… but it still seems a little tacky to be promoting his own materials as the solutions to all your problems! This also reminds me of Bill Gothard, Doug Phillips, and the like. Excellent sales technique – create a problem, then conveniently offer a solution the customer can buy to solve that problem. When that doesn’t work, encourage them to buy more solutions.

This is what I think Michael is saying:

“Yes, some homeschooled kids are failures. It wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t the system’s fault – it was their parents’ fault because they didn’t follow my checklist! Here, buy more of my stuff & listen to me preach & at least your kids will be successful!”

Hana Williams Abuse and Murder Trial Ongoing

Hana-Williams1
Hana Williams.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on August 6, 2013.

Hana Williams died two years ago, in May 2011, of hypothermia after her mother banished her from the house as punishment for being “rebellious.” Hana was already overly-thin from starvation—her parents withheld food as punishment—and she had often been forced to sleep in the barn, use an outdoor port-a-potty, and shower outside.

Hana Williams had been adopted from Ethiopia in 2008 by a conservative Christian homeschooling couple who followed the child training methods of Michael and Debi Pearl.

Her trial is currently taking place, including testimony from some of the children’s seven biological children and Hana’s adopted Ethiopian brother.

I’m going to offer some excerpts from recent articles covering the trial. If you want to see video news reports, click through, as most of these articles include news footage. For what I’ve previously had to say about Hana Williams’ death, read this post from two years ago, written right after the news of Hana’s death surfaced.

Jurors See Before and After Photos of Starved Girl, August 1, 2013

For the first time, jurors saw what Hana Williams looked like as a healthy girl–and her shocking deterioration before her death.

Video taken in 2007 before she left Ethiopia shows Hana smiling as she looks at the camera.  A photo taken closer to her death in 2011 shows her thin teen and shaved head.

Hana’s adopted brother, Immanuel, who is deaf, testified she was always told to stay outside by her adoptive parents, Larry and Carri Williams.

“They didn’t let her into the house to warm up,” said 12-year-old Immanuel, through an interpreter.

Immanuel says he and Hana were treated very differently from the Williams’ own seven children.

Hana’s Adopted Brother Testifies about Abuse, August 1, 2013

During the third day of witness testimony yesterday in the trial of Larry and Carri Williams, a mental health therapist from Seattle Children’s Hospital testified that Hana’s 12-year-old brother suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the abuse he endured under the hands of his adoptive parents.

The mental health expert, Dr. Julia Petersen, said that the boy, who was also adopted from Ethiopia, started meeting with her last winter, when he had been in foster care for more than a year, local media reported. The couple have pleaded not guilty.

Per the Skagit Valley Herald: “Petersen said the boy fit the diagnostic criteria for PTSD based in part on his nightmares about being physically harmed and the fact he was constantly afraid of making mistakes or expressing himself lest he be “punished.” Discipline the boy experienced in the Williams home, plus seeing Hana in pain and dying, is traumatic enough to lead to PTSD, she said.”

Dr Petersen pointed out that the brother’s upbringing in Ethiopia or his stay at foster care in the U.S. do not appear to be the reason for the post-traumatic stress disorder. “Losing his parents caused the boy sadness and grief, but not the same kind of anxiety brought on by what he said happened in the Williams home,” Petersen said.

Latest from the Williams Trial, August 4, 2013

An expert on torture testified Friday in the homicide-by-abuse trial of Larry and Carri Williams who are accused of abusing their two adopted children from Ethiopia, Hana and Immanuel, and causing the death of Hana.

13-year-old Hana Alemu (Hana Williams) was found dead on May 12, 2011 in the family’s backyard in Sedro-Woolley, Washington. She died of hypothermia, which doctors say was hastened by malnutrition and a stomach condition.

“In my judgment, it’s not a close case,” said John Hutson, taking the witness stand on day-six of the trial. The law school professor and dean, who had previously testified before Congress about military prisoner abuse, added: “They both were unquestionably tortured.”

Kids Testify in Abuse and Murder Trial, August 5, 2013

Cara, one of Larry and Carri’s seven children, says Immanuel, a brother, and Hana ate outside and slept in a closet when they broke the rules in the gated, conservative Christian home.

The parents claim they cared for the adopted pair—like shaving Hana’s hair when she had lice. But Cara says Hana’s braids were shaved as punishment.

“Because she was clipping grass around the house and she was clipping it down to an inch instead of leaving a couple of inches,” said Cara.

The Williams could face life in prison and are charged with assaulting Immanuel and abusing Hana to death.

A witness told investigators the couple followed a controversial book called “Train Up A Child”. The author tells parents to use a switch, cold baths, withhold food and force children outside in cold weather as punishment. Cara says her father, a Boeing worker, and her stay-at-home mother hit all of the kids.

“In your family you call the swats and spanking “training” correct?” asked Larry’s attorney, Cassie Trueblood.

“Yes,” said Cara.

But Cara says the adopted children were the only ones who had to shower outside with a garden hose.

“Did you ever take a shower out there?” asked prosecutor Rich Weyrich.

“No,” said Cara.

Prosecutors want jurors to hear from the couple’s oldest sons. But a judge ruled the pair will not testify without immunity—because they are also accused with abusing their adopted siblings. Prosecutors say they are willing to give immunity from any future charges which should clear the way for the boys to testify this week.

It will be interesting to see where things go from here.

I Was An Abusive Homeschooling Mother: Jane Doe’s Story

Lustrous Wooden Cabinet with Regret File Label in Dramatic LIght.

Trigger warning: this story contains a detailed description of physical abuse.

I was an abusive homeschooling mother.

I can’t change that fact by writing about it.

I’m hoping to raise awareness about the higher potential for abuse in a family that homeschooling makes possible and the dangers of the Pearl child raising methods by speaking out about it, as one who has first hand experience. And partly I’m speaking up because I am still trying to recover a sense of myself in the aftermath, which is still unfolding in our lives like a years-long train wreck from which we can’t escape.

My husband and I were fervent Pearl followers, which is strange considering that he was a non-believer.  However he used other arguments to come to the same conclusions.  After a devoutly religious friend sent us some No Greater Joy newsletters we ended up buying and reading, and re-reading, almost all of Michael Pearl’s books concerning child raising.  We also bought his book To Train Up a Child by the box load and gave it away to people at every opportunity.

I was a young and uncertain college student when I met my husband to be. He was 16 years older and had been living alone for many years.  He was set in his ways and could be described, by a generous description, as eccentric. At first it seemed we both wanted the same kind of life: that of being semi-self-sufficient on a small farm.  He had the land and skills to make that life possible.

Most pertinent to this story, he has the soul of a lawyer.  He loves argument more than anything in the world, and spends much of his time devoted to it’s study and practice.  Esoteric disputation, definitions, shades of meaning, debate techniques, and hard-core allegiance to “principles” over relationships is what made it so easy for him to adopt the Pearl techniques, blowing away any objections I, or my mother, might put forth.

I must accept blame however.  I must make clear that I chose, in the face of conflict with my husband, to submit myself to his will in all things.  I made that choice.  No one else made it for me.  I felt that it was a good choice at the time, for I could not stand up to him in argument, and I could not stand conflict.  I wanted to have a real home for the kids, with a real dad, like I never had as a girl.  As time went on I was baptized and accepted that being a submissive wife was my calling from God, as preached by Debi Pearl.  I was determined to make it work and keep my husband happy at whatever the cost.

It turned out that the cost was very, very high.  Accepting his will in everything meant living without electricity or running water while living in a small decrepit single wide trailer, having a baby every two years, not going to the dentist ever or doctor regularly, wearing dresses, not wearing make up, not cutting my hair, doing all the cooking,gardening, food preservation, never buying anything, not celebrating any holidays or birthdays, not leaving the house without permission, and forbidding my mother to come visit on any occasion whatsoever.  I essentially lost contact with the outside world and became completely consumed with the vast number of everyday chores that were my duty.

For the children it meant that they had no birth certificates, no social security number, no vaccinations, and no friends.  It meant being spanked regularly, without mercy, until their “wills were broken”, as the Pearls’ say.  To do anything less would have been to allow “evil” to flourish in their very souls, and what a bad parent one would be then.  When the children got older, it meant they were “homeschooled”, which also became my job.

I loved my children.  Being a housewife with kids on a farm had been my ambition since I was a little girl.  I was never spanked as a child.  I never thought that was a good idea.  Our family’s exposure to the Pearls’ child raising ideas came along when our first child was two years old.  I was appalled.  But my husband, devouring the Pearl’s books, found many arguments to use on me.  Eventually I simply came to the point I always came to with him.  I gave up and let him have his way.

According to the Pearl philosophy however, I could not choose to be an innocent bystander.  No, it would not do to let dad do all the spanking.  The children would notice.  Mom must also do her part so that the children would know there was in essence, no escape.  I too must hit my children with sticks for the slightest disobedience or even tardiness of obedience.

And hit them I did.  The change in parenting hit my poor two year old daughter like a brick wall.  The first spanking was at least an hour long.  She, of course, did not ‘submit’ at all, never having experienced anything like it.

I believe the first command I gave her was over something relatively minor.  The second was to stop crying after her first spanking.  Of course she wasn’t going to stop.  According to the Pearls’, to stop crying was a command I was supposed to be able to give and get obedience.  I am here to tell you, it takes a long time to spank a child until they stop crying.  Their bottom gets red, welts start appearing.  You take breaks and waste your breath on endless explanations between the hitting about how you are not going to stop until they obey.  Eventually, they start trying to hold their breath while they sob, making a sort of hiccuping gasp with moans and gurgling in between, while the demanding parent tried to decide what point really constitutes “stopped crying”.

It is a horrendous thing to witness, to perpetrate.  It makes my blood boil to think of it now.  It was completely mentally and physically and emotionally exhausting at the time.  Both myself and my now ex-husband deserve jail time for what we did.  We really do.  But that really would not take the past back.

The beatings (can I now call them what they really were?) continued almost everyday.  The Pearls’ say that you should be able to spank less and less.  That the children will come to joy and peace and trust through this method, over time.  But this much awaited magic never happened.  Our oldest two children as time went on, became angrier and angrier.  According to the books, this was because I was not being diligent enough in my applying of discipline.  So, we spanked more and more as time went on.

More and more beatings.

More and more screaming.

The oldest girl got spanked over school lessons too, the few we had time to fit in.  It was especially bad in areas of math and Spanish.  Dad would butt into our lessons, and ask her if she understood what he was telling her.  If she said yes she did, but then she could not demonstrate understanding, she was spanked for “lying”, for saying she understood when in fact she had not.  Of course, she wanted to stay out of trouble and was trying to say what she thought he wanted to hear but became trapped in a no-win situation. She was also spanked for not being able to correctly pronounce Spanish words, he said she was simply “not trying”.

To this day, our girl cannot learn math or Spanish due to her emotional block to those subjects which were the setting for some of her worst tortures.

Our second child, a boy, was not so much under my attention where school was concerned.  His dad toted him around with him all the time.  This meant that instead of learning to read and write, he was standing around most of the time with nothing to do, no one to talk to, with frequently not enough warm clothes on and nothing to eat or drink.  His only task was to stay quiet and out of the way.  He had night time sleep walking episodes which involved peeing on the floor, for which he was severely whipped with the belt.

I could go on about the abuses that myself and their dad handed out to them, but it becomes tedious.

Occasionally we would go out as a family.  When in public we were always praised for the good behavior of our children. They were very quiet. They did not make scenes. What good children we had. It makes me sick!  My ex-husband points to these praises as evidence of how righteous our treatment of the kids was back then.  Our friends and neighbors never saw the terror our children were experiencing.

Five years ago I left that whole situation.  I moved into a modern house in a town.  I put the kids in school.  I got them birth certificates, social security numbers and vaccinations.  I stopped hitting them.

He fought me on all these things.  However, he too was forced to stop hitting his children.  He was also forced to put in running water and a septic tank.  After significant and extremely drawn out legal machinations, the oldest two children were given the choice to visit him or not.  They never want to see him, or talk to him, and now live with me full time.  He insists that I am the one who alienated them from him by telling them lies about him.  He cannot forgive me for “taking away his authority”.  He makes no effort whatsoever to contact the older two and seems to have completely given up an them.

When they first went to school, the oldest girl was put in seventh grade, according to her age, the boy in fifth.  Our youngest was two at the time, so she did not go to school.  However our other three children also entered school according to their ages: kindergarten, first grade, and third.  It was a stressful time for all concerned.

The oldest girl spent her first year in school crying because she did not know what to do.  She also got pneumonia and had to be hospitalized.  She repeated seventh grade the next year.  She will probably never be able to do math.  She displays PTSD like symptoms, with constant anxiety, rage, and feelings of low self-worth.  She threatens to commit suicide and goes to therapy regularly.

Despite not being able to read, write or do math when our oldest son first arrived in fifth grade, he was barely promoted to sixth the next year.  Now he has almost caught up to his grade level in his academic subjects, though his hand writing is still horrible and his reading is still slow.  He has anger issues on occasion and can be a bit of a bully.  He is aware of this and really wants to do better.  He spurns his father, yet suffers from a lack of a father.  He is in boy scouts.

In contrast, the younger four kids are making straight ‘A’s and winning writing, art and science awards.  They excel in everything they try.  They do not suffer from low self esteem.  They have friends.

Yet their father still wants to homeschool them, and has told them that homeschooling is better than public schooling, based on the results of studies.  He has got some of the kids convinced that they want to be homeschooled by him by using his powerful arguments.  He and I are going to go to court soon regarding this issue.

He is a member of HSLDA.  I was interested to read from the site of Homeschoolers Anonymous the transcripts of speeches given by [former HSLDA attorney] Doug Phillips at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit.  His vision of having CPS abolished, and homeschooling girls to be housewives instead of considering having a career is truly terrifying, and made me realize that this whole thing is of a scope that goes far beyond my family.  I had previously thought we were strange exceptions.

What happened to me and my children could happen to anyone who becomes isolated and vulnerable, and if homeschooling is allowed to occur with such little oversight.  Unfortunately abusive parents will exploit that opportunity for everything it is worth.

Abusive parents, like me.