Corporal Punishment and The End of The Red Stick: Heather Doney’s Story, Part Two

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on February 18, 2013. Read Part One of Heather’s story for HA’s To Break Down A Child series here.


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


This picture could be anybody’s little sister blindfolded and hitting a piñata at her Dad’s house for another sibling’s birthday.

My little sister lives in a different world than I did.
My little sister lives in a different world than I did.

But it isn’t. It’s my little sister.

She lives in a different world than I did. One with her own bedroom and court-ordered visitation and Christmas presents from a kind stepmother. She has never been homeschooled. She does not remember a time when our family didn’t celebrate birthdays, or was too poor to buy a piñata, or was too “modest” for her favorite summer clothes to be allowed.

She could be using any stick to hit this piñata but she isn’t. She’s using the “red stick,” the most infamous spanking implement our family had.

As far as I know, none of the younger siblings attending this party were ever touched by the red stick and I imagine just a few had been threatened, but the grim knowledge of what it was used for had been passed down.

The red stick had started out as a handle to a child-size broom and then when the broom broke 25 years ago, it became a toy (a walking stick, a bat, a pretend sword) left in the yard until my Dad picked it up off the patio one day, tapped it against his palm a few times and said, “This would make a real good spankin’ stick.”

Then it became something totally new. An object of fear.

It stayed hanging on a nail or propped in a corner in my Dad’s bedroom or office for years except when it was picked up and used to threaten or to leave welts.

“Daddy, please don’t spank me. I’m tender.” No red stick today, only fodder for years of teasing. “Aww, is my little heatherjanes still tender?”

“Do you want a spanking? Don’t make me get the red stick.”

Mom catches one sister padding her underwear with toilet paper in anticipation of a beating. After that, it’s bare bottomed.

“Pull down your pants. Bend over.” Red stick.

Sitting in the “punish chair” corner ’til sundown, hearing the car crunch gravel in the driveway, shaking, hands going cold. Red stick.

“But I don’t want to try and eat a pickled pig lip out of that jar, Dad. It looks just like apig’s lip.” “If you don’t try it, you’ll get the red stick. You’d better eat it and like it.” Tears. Gagging. Spitting chunks of pickled pork into the sink. Red stick.

Pain, shame, anger, fear. Yelling. Red stick.

Running, cursing, slipping, falling, being caught and dragged. Red stick.

Grabbing the red stick tightly, just as tall, if not quite as strong as the woman holding it. “Let go,” Mom says.

“No,” I say, “You’re gonna hit me with it.”

“Yes,” she says.

“Well,” I say, “I’d be an idiot to let it go then, wouldn’t I?”

It strikes me that this photo is the only known picture of the red stick. The only official proof of it ever existing or being used is in a pleasant scenario. As it happens, the red stick finally died that happy day, broke while connecting with the piñata and ended up in the garbage.

A sibling sent me a message informing me that the red stick had met its end and that when Dad was out of range, they had celebrated its demise. I was glad, too: glad it was gone and that it did not die the way I had always imagined it would — splintering into pieces over a child’s behind.

It would never be used to hurt anyone again.

It had broken being used the only way it should have ever been used, in the original spirit it had once had — innocently in child’s play.

Public Schools and Home Dictators: Keziah’s Story

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


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


I have half-moons on the sides of my nose. They are actually the third set of bags under my eyes. I didn’t cry all night, or stay up late with a baby. In my mid-thirties, I cannot sleep at night. Once my distractions and duties rest for the day, ghosts play in my dreams and the memories of fears warn me to stay awake. The dark is when bad happens and my parents trained me to fear it.

A lack of light is evil.

Even now, I want to write anything but this. Writing is my life’s work, but this shouldn’t be my story to write. I shake my head, furious that I know this tale, my stomach forcing me hunched over.

I won’t write it – fuck them. Then I remember the other “them,” and write. I sigh. The quiet “them”no one talks about. My being a “them” that no one talks about, that my parents still try to silence.


I remember a tired face, another face of my current age; this face was my face, only on a different person, twenty years ago.

This face stood over a five-year-old me, throwing fists on a starving body, as punishment for adding sugar to cereal or adding pepper to an already perfected meal, thus insulting the cook. I saw this face as I stood shaking every morning as it scowled at the unruliness of my hair, turning my scalp to fire so that it was perfect – a twisted mix of undiagnosed OCD and passion to present perfect children, so the ultimate secret remained so. I turned green every morning and threw up many and that face didn’t care. It showed anger that I was wasting food, wasting hair-fixing time so it could return to bed.

And yes, I was going to school – a public school.

You see, a home dictator doesn’t have to be a homeschool parent, or a religious zealot. A home dictator needs a cause – which can be simply to bury their pain or to feel powerful. My home dictator was mentally ill, and surrounded by enablers: my dad, her siblings, her parents, and once I was old enough, me.

You see, if an outsider catches a glimpse of a home dictator, they recoil – in fear, in disbelief, or with thanks their kids are unaffected.

You see, a child victim’s role in life is to protect the person assigned to protect them who actually fails the most. Any psychological means keeps that victim quiet, even in a public school. The maelstrom of life creates a lack of words for people still learning their words.

If the victim speaks out, that teacher or counselor must act because revealing the fear may happen only once.

You see, an outsider who escapes has little recourse. Often suffering and sometimes still dependent, she gets little help from a state agency – especially once she is no longer a minor. When I contacted CPS for my younger brothers and sisters, the initial phone worker asked little and the investigator saw food in the fridge and left.

American culture (and perhaps others, too) can change this. When I contacted my state’s child services, they wanted to know what they would find. I told them they would find no evidence – only children who believe those workers will take them to a new home, one where they will be raped and beaten, maybe experience the same treatment they do now, only worse, because they will have no parents who love them.

And those children will lie and protect. They will be confused and scared.

You see, there will be no evidence of abuse.

The weltschmerz of these children has inspired action and a weird happiness kept me reading Homeschoolers Anonymous. I fit in, even though I was never homeschooled a day in my life.

This movement that the Internet has enabled, comprised of parents and victims, the growth of psychology and the explanations of science and brain functions the masses can understand and access, this can be the kairos to educate about child abuse.

The identity of “them” is often formed in the name of God, for pride, for the appeasement of elders, for the appearance of good parenting. Homeschooling provides a hidden world, a place of acceptable child abuse.

The same stories happen with “them” in public schools, out in the open, with the same training methods so that children remain silent.

Corpses Don’t Rebel: ExPearlSwine’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Vyckie Garrison’s blog No Longer Quivering. It was a guest post by ExPearlSwine originally published on Patheos on November 2, 2011.


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


The death toll from parents following Michael and Debi Pearl’s teachings continues to mount. Another child is has been “biblically chastened” to death via corporal punishment, and Michael Pearl is defending his teachings in the mainstream media while promoting his new bookGary Tuchman and Anderson Cooper both reported on the death of 13-year-old Hana Williams, whose adoptive parents Larry and Carri Williams subjected her to beatings and neglect while following the teachings of the Pearls.

Michael Pearl defends himself and his teachings during his CNN interviews using two arguments:

First, the presence of his book, To Train Up a Child, and the presence of his other teaching materials on “biblical chastisement,” in the homes of homicidal parents, is purely circumstantial. It makes no more sense, Pearl argues, to blame To Train Up a Child for discipline-turned-abusive-turned-murderous than to blame Alcoholics Anonymous brochures in the home for deaths due to drunk driving, or weight-loss materials in the home for obesity.

As Anderson Cooper pointed out, this defense is illogical.

AA literature says not to drink, especially while driving. Pearl literature emphasizes inflicting physical pain on children in order to break their wills and achieve total obedience to parents. In the Cooper interview, Pearl talks about physically chastising to “get the child’s attention.” What if your child still isn’t paying attention?

Pearl’s second argument comes up every time his teachings are linked to children beaten to death: kids end up abused and killed because parents, despite owning copies of his teachings and trying to follow them, aren’t really following his teachings. They are missing the joy part, the reconciliation part, the praying part, the loving part, or whatever. They discipline in anger instead of in love.

Or—and I suspect this is what Pearl really thinks but can’t say without contradicting his own child-training directions—they should have known when to stop, when they were being cruel and abusive instead of loving, even if the child was still in rebellion and hadn’t budged an inch. At some point, a loving parent with some sense and a conscience will stop inflicting more pain. This is what Pearl believes, or at least one would hope this is what he believes.

This isn’t what he teaches.

I followed the Pearls’ teachings for years, and the children I subjected to “biblical chastisement” are very much the worse off for it. I’m wondering which part of Michael Pearl’s teachings he’d say I was missing:

  1. Get Pearl’s teachings and read every single word and pray. Check.
  2. Start striking infants with objects on the hand or in the buttocks area as soon as they are able to reach for something you don’t want them to touch and ignore your “No.” Check.
  3. Hit them harder if they continue. Check.
  4. When they cry, lovingly console them and “reconcile” them to yourself and God. Check.
  5. Always use physical chastisement on them when they don’t respond to spoken correction. Check. If I didn’t strike them, my husband did.
  6. Believe that they will end up juvenile delinquents and go to hell if you slack off. Check.
  7. Pray and study the Bible some more. Check.
  8. Be joyful about chastising your baby all day. Praise God while you slap a three-month-old’s hand with a ruler and think about how godly he’ll turn out. Half a check. It was hard.
  9. The children will quit rebelling and be wonderful children who sweetly, quietly obey and love you to pieces. . . No check.

This is what I was missing: the part where the Pearls’ teaching worked. Only one child out of the oldest four quietly obeyed in response to chastisement, but she also had signs of severe emotional disturbance. She withdrew into herself and didn’t speak until she was two. The other three oldest children out of my Quiver Full of kids would rebel. And rebel. They would go to the wall rebelling. They would rebel until the cows came home and the bulls came home and calves were born.

The more you hurt them, the more they rebelled.

Michael Pearl has only three methods to deal with continued rebellion in children, since his teachings are straight from the Bible, and therefore infallible:

  1. Blame yourself. You must not be getting my teaching right.
  2. Hit harder. Pain is of the essence.
  3. Blame the kid. What else is left? Other people’s kids give in and act godly.

Oh, and don’t forget to be loving and joyful and kind and patient just like Jesus (only I can’t see Jesus removing the diaper of a baby to inflict any degree of pain on her whatsoever using any object or even his hand, by any stretch of my imagination). Butdon’t give in. Don’t stop chastising, and make sure it hurts. Don’t let the kid (and the devil in the kid) win.

When the Pearls’ methods failed, I got stuck on method a. Blame yourself.

 I re-readTo Train Up a Child. When I knew I had it right, I hit harder. Prayed harder. Did the whole disciplinary routine smiling from ear to ear and cooing like a dove. My babies acted freaked out by my grin (it was a lot like Debi Pearl’s vacuous, huge grin in the Tuchman interview) and were enraged by my efforts to “lovingly reconcile” with them after spankings. They kept up the fight. At this point, I think I would have admitted to myself that something was wrong with this whole child-training method and stopped torturing the toddlers all day to no avail. If you have to be cruel to get the Pearl method to work on some kids, it’s wrong. I had a husband, however, who was firmly convinced that Pearl was right. He went right for the b. and c. options: hit harder and blame the kid.

Options b. and c. are hard to do without getting angry. They are hard to do without leaving bruises, especially since Pearl discipline is cumulative: faced with entrenchedrebellion, you are supposed to hit repeatedly and in the same areas. My ex-husband got angry with the kids for thwarting the Pearl method, but he remained coldly self-controlled. He also left bruises. A lot of bruises.

Why didn’t I stop him? I finally did, but early in my marriage I was paralyzed by fear and brainwashed by bad teaching.

We both feared raising ungodly kids. We were looking for confirmation that some part of this system worked, and my ex-husband began to get results. The children flinched when he even moved. Cowered when he reached for a spanking implement. Had semi-seizures on the carpet following “biblical correction.” We got compliance with our wishes. Eventually, there wasimmediate and unquestioning compliance. My ex-husband had quelled the rebellion in three kids. He had created unfocused, freaked-out little robots who obeyed. The joy and the peace that was supposed to suffuse our home according to Pearl, we thought we could dispense with. Maybe it would come later; the Pearls are a little vague on where the peace and love should come into the process, just as they are a little vague on how you can keep “chastising” repeatedly with progressively increased force in the same places without leaving bruises.

To Train Up a Child is a manual of progressive violence against children.

Not only are there no stopgaps to prevent child abuse, the book is a mandate to use implements to inflict increasingly intense pain in the face of continued disobedience. The part about not causing injury is vague and open to interpretation, but the part about never backing down or shirking your parental duty to spank harder and harder is crystal clear. The Pearls’ teachings will lead, inescapably, to extremely strong-willed kids being abused and sometimes murdered by fundamentalist parents who are determined to “break” those children.  The Pearls’ defenders will say, “Oh, they took it to an extreme and should have known better.” If anyone knows better than to keep inflicting more severe discipline on an intractable child, they can only apply that knowledge by scuttling the Pearls’ sadistic teaching and being more reasonable.

I think Hana Williams was a lot like my oldest three kids, only stronger. I think Lydia Shatz, the other recent Pearl casualty, was a lot like them too. Maybe their iron wills and endurance came from being born in Africa and living under harsh conditions. Perhaps, like some of my children, they had some innate sense that their parents were screwed up and that all their parents’ so-called “Christian love” did not cancel out or justify their own physical suffering. They resented being classified with the demons for daring to disagree, for wanting a relationship with their parents that wasn’t based on changing their behavior, personality, or identity. The pain only stiffened their resistance. They were not going to be broken by people who continually inflicted pain on them.

The only way to break the wills of children like this is to kill them.

The 911 call that Carri Williams made to the police dispatcher says it all.

Operator: What’s the emergency?

Carri Williams: Um, I think my daughter just killed herself.

Operator:  Why do you say that?

Carri Williams, Um, she’s really rebellious, and she’s been outside refusing to come in, and she’s been throwing herself all around, and then she collapsed.

What’s wrong with Hana? “Um, she’s really rebellious.” She won’t do what we say.

No, she’s not, she’s dead. She can’t rebel any more. And you’re blaming her, saying she did it to herself.

Thank God I escaped from thinking like you, Carri Williams. Thank God some of my babies were mothered without pain, once I got away from their father and all the right-wing fundamentalist teachings that had ruined my life, Pearl’s teachings included. Will I ever forget the confusion and pain in the wide baby eyes of the oldest ones, when I first swatted their tiny hands? They were startled, bewildered. And then they opened their mouths and cried the cry of the completely betrayed, the absolutely alone in the world. I was the only person they even recognized yet, and I had hurt them.

To this day, it haunts me, as you will be haunted by your last glimpse of Hana alive, just before she collapsed. Hana’s last stand.

My Regret: Quick Silver Queen’s Story

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HA note: Quick Silver Queen blogs at The Eighth and Final Square. This story is reprinted with her permission. Also by Quick Silver Queen on Homeschoolers Anonymous: “All My Fault, Not Good Enough.”


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


I wish I hadn’t done a lot of things, and wish I could change other things, but basically, I have one regret in my life. One thing that I wish I had done differently. One thing that still angers me to think about, because of the cruelty.

Thanks to a friend of mine who posted the link on facebook, I read an article titled “First time obedience, really?” First-time obedience is something that is extremely important in my family. It pretty much goes along with formula parenting. The example my dad would always use as to the merits of first-time obedience is if one of his very small children ran out into the street (which wouldn’t happen anyway), and a car came, he would say “Stop!” or “Come back!” and they would do it immediately, unlike (again, his example) “your cousins”. (Sorry, uncles and aunts. Don’t feel bad, though…at least your kids still have brains that aren’t being controlled!)

So while seeing the downside to it (which I will elaborate on in a minute), I was also warring inside myself. It would save someone from death, right? So it’s good? But on the other hand, I saw what happened, and it was most certainly not good.

Two years old. Rebellious. Self-willed. Wicked. Too young to like or dislike anything. Too young to have opinions.


Uhh yeah, that’s my parents for you. They don’t believe in the “terrible twos”…they believe in “terrible hearts”.

You know, the verse in Proverbs that says foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it from him. And the verse that the heart is wicked and who can know it. So the first problem is, they don’t come to parenting with the view that these are people. They come to parenting with the view that these are wicked little sinners who need a radical change, whose thoughts and feelings and opinions and likes and dislikes don’t matter because it is all selfish willfulness.

Cue the dinner table. There’s a very small child in the high chair, whom dad is feeding. This child is a baby, really…crawling, maybe walking; can’t even say real words yet.

“Open up!” dad says, moving the spoon towards her.

She accepts that bite, but doesn’t like the food, and spits it back out.

“No, you eat it,” dad says, scooping it back up and attempting to give it to her again.

She makes a disgusted face and turns her head. We all laugh at the cute little shudder she makes.

“Don’t laugh, it encourages her,” dad says, still trying to force the bite with the slightly more stern command “Open”. He presses the spoon against her soft mouth, trying to force it open.

When she continues resisting, he moves her head to face him and commands sternly, “Open.”

She may open her mouth at that point, or she may not; in which case he takes the tray off the chair and gives her a few loud swats, sets her back down, and resumes with the “open” stuff.

Meanwhile the rest of us try to ignore it and eat our dinners.

If she still doesn’t open her mouth, again with the swats, and she sits there crying, looking at him with terror in her eyes, her nose running all over the place. If her mouth is open from crying, he shoves it in. If she tries to spit it out, he doesn’t let her, and she accepts that she has to keep it in her mouth.

Then comes the battle to get her to swallow.

What one- or two-year-old do you know who knows the meaning of the word “swallow”, let alone “open”? Most one- and two-year-olds are lucky to know the word “no”.

I’m sitting there, dying inside, longing to take her in my arms, wipe her tears, blow her nose, and cuddle her safe in my arms.

Nobody, not even mom, was allowed to give her any comfort. Not even dad did, until she did whatever he wanted. And if he got tired of spanking her, he sent her to bed…and when she got up she had to eat the same thing she disliked. Because her likes and dislikes didn’t matter.

Nothing mattered except that she obeyed the first time, every time.

My only regret is that I didn’t stick up for her, for them, every time it happened with I don’t know how many of them, probably all, at one time or another.

The last time it happened when I was there, I was so close to exploding that had he spanked her one more time, I would have done something. I just wish I had…that I had stood up long before.

And that is my regret.

My Father Decried Michael Pearl’s Softness: Warbler’s Story

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Also by Warbler on Homeschoolers Anonymous: “Finding A Reason To Wake Up.”


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


My parents swore by To Train Up a Child.  Any new parents that they met and invited over to the house were shown the book, read passages and encouraged to purchase a copy of their own.

First-time-obedience and spankings were commonplace in our home.

My dad would spank us with his hand, but my mom’s hands were more fragile and after breaking one too many blood-vessels in her hands on our bottoms, she graduated to a paint-stirrer.  When those continued to brake, she had a paint-stirrer custom made out of a 2-by-4 and varnished.

It was solid wood and it hurt intensely.

We got 5 spanks automatically for any infringement of the rules or act of disobedience, or in my case: lies.  Any “rebellion” after that would get more spanks in 5-spank ‘increments’ (for example: crying too much after being spanked, not giving the correct reason as to why we were spanked, refusing to hug afterwards, rolling eyes [this happened to me especially], or anything else that was considered “unbroken”).

We were taken to another room (sometimes the room had to be emptied, sometimes the spanking were “saved” if we were out or if company came over and all rooms were occupied) and the door was closed.  With the parent sitting we were bent over their knees (clothing on generally, except for once or twice when my skirt was thick material and prevented the blows from causing “sufficient” pain) and spanked the expected, pre-ordained amount of times.  We were then stood up, allowed to sniffle for a couple seconds, and then expected to state the reasons for which we were being spanked in parent-approved terms.

For example:

Mom: Now, why did you get spanked?

Me: I stole crackers/was rebellious/didn’t obey you when you said to take out the compost/lied about cheating on my math.

Then, we were given a hug/forced to hug the parent that had just spanked us.

We were regaled with how the spanking was a disappointment to them/it hurt them more than it hurt us/we could avoid spankings by obeying/how much they loved us and wanted us to be better children.

Around the age of 11 for me (older for my brother) the spanking stopped because I was too heavy to be laid over their knees. They figured that more creative punishments were needed to change my heart because the spankings were not working.  The paddle mysteriously disappeared at one point and never ended up being replaced, the younger siblings getting hand-spanked or paint-stirrer spanked occasionally.  For some reason when we older children graduated out of spanking the younger children were not spanked as often either.  Usually we elder ones were held responsible for some of their faults, but (extra) chores were given out as the answer for offenses.

I read To Train Up a Child multiple times growing up because it was out/laying around, it was used as a defense/proof-text for my parents actions, and because it was required reading at one point for school. My parents also signed up for their newsletter/magazine and my mother kept it on hand for reading material for us children as well.

I remember when the “Cloistered Homeschooling Syndrome” articles came out and my father decried Michael Pearl as “becoming soft” about homeschooling issues. 

My older sister and I read them surreptitiously and found a small glimmer of hope through them (whispering between ourselves that we thought he was right–daring to disagree with our authority figure).  My parents were still preaching Pearl as late as 2010 to the latest of their “converts.”  I learned OBEDIENCE or PAIN, CONFORMITY or BEATINGS.

And when my sister and I ran away in the middle of the night, my parents could not imagine why they did not see it coming.

When Hitting Means Love: Rochelle’s Story

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


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


I don’t remember my first spanking. I actually don’t remember all that many specifics about spanking.

I remember dad breaking the plastic spoon on me…and then a switch….and then another switch….and then pulling off his belt and using it on me. I remember the sick feeling that I would get when mum would pull dad aside to tell him about how school went that day. That I didn’t get everything done again.

That I spent the day listlessly looking out the window in tears, trying to process moving again and dealing with depression as a 10 year old.

I remember the welts, the screaming, the bruising, the pain. The battle over my refusal to cry, and finally forcing tears to stop the spanking. I still get a sick feeling in my stomach thinking about my siblings screaming when they got spanked. My two year old sister getting spanked for not eating her food. My 10 year old brother getting spanked for not getting the table set in under 5 minutes. I remember my siblings getting spanked every time they did something wrong.

Sometimes the pipe wasn’t so small.  Sometimes the dowel was so small that it blistered my skin the moment it touched me.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve thought long and hard about spanking: the supposed biblically mandated law of using a rod on the backside of a child. Or as the Pearls suggest, a small pipe. If needed, a belt. Or just a dowel.

Anything to inflict pain, to bring the child under the control of the parent.

I’ve been talking to friends and peers lately about spanking. Some of them have gone as far as to say “shame on you for not wanting to spank your kids, if you ever have them.” Really? What are they basing this off of? A few verses in proverbs. Merriam-Webster defines “proverb” as “a brief popular saying (such as ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’) that gives advice about how people should live or that expresses a belief that is generally thought to be true.” So people are deciding how to treat a child, and condemning people off of a piece of advice?

Spanking doesn’t work.

“I spank you because I love you” is the same thing as “I hit you because I love you.”

Saying this gives children confusing messages about what’s ok and what’s not ok. In fact, more than just abusing the child by hitting them, spanking tells the child that they are worthless and sets them up to more vulnerable to being in abusive situations their whole life, because they don’t know boundaries of abuse.

Spanking is selfish. Minus the very few circumstances that a child does something morally wrong (and even then, I can’t say that spanking is right), the majority of spankings happen because the child did something that the parent didn’t like.  Not that it was wrong, but it just displeased the parent. The Pearls teach to set something tempting in front of the child and then punish the child when it goes for that item. Is a child’s curiosity wrong? No. But since the parent was displeased, the child gets punished.

In my experience, much of the punishing that was done was because of inexperienced decisions, not choosing to do the wrong thing. Spanking is immature. Why does an adult feel the need to resort to hitting a child? Spanking shows that the child isn’t valuable enough for your time to talk to him and help him make better decisions (when he does something that’s actually wrong), but rather that you would hit him on the butt and send him on his way.

Children are small adults in training.

We don’t hit other adults, so why are we hitting children? The ones who need our protection, our love, our care and the safety that we provide? Why are we using physical harm on little people?

Spanking damaged me. Physically, I would be sore for a while after spanking. I’d have to make sure that nobody ever saw the bruises and welts covering my legs, butt and lower back. Mentally, the list doesn’t end. I learned that if I messed up, my parents would hurt me. I learned that I can’t trust adults. I learn to lie about things, to save myself from pain, rather than knowing that I could be honest with my parents. I learned that reacting in an aggressive, physical manner to anger or someone not doing things my way is “ok.”

I learned that it was an each man for himself world, and that if I was going to survive, I’d have to protect myself.

The Pearls emphasize spanking a lot, but they also emphasize the parents being in control, the children being in complete submission to the parents and they don’t value the importance of children. The teachings of the Pearls demanded perfection from children, created an atmosphere of pain, distrust and robbed me of my childhood.

I don’t remember my last spanking, even though I was 14. I still remember the pain though.

Being Told “The Child Will Not Die”: Heather Doney’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on November 19, 2012.


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


Recently my Mom told me something that shook me to my core. She said, “Your father said if you disciplined a child according to the bible, they would not die.” Then she told me she recognized the Pearls’ book “To Train Up A Child.”

It all got brought up because my 10 year old brother likes to give lots of hugs of his own accord, and my Mom and I were talking about how nice that is, how sweet of a boy he is, and she said she wished her older sons, now 25 and 22, were as loving and kind to her as her youngest. This started one heck of a conversation.

I reminded my Mom that her youngest had never been told to pull down his pants and bend over the bed, knowing he’d end up with welts on the behind. He had never known what it was like to get hit with a belt or a wooden stick by his own mother. Also, today she instructs him that if our father says or does anything mean during visitation, he is to tell her right away because that is not allowed.

But she used to tell us kids the opposite.

It was “wait until your father gets home,” then when he arrived, she’d run to the door with a verbal list of our transgressions, expecting him to beat us. I said the older boys likely felt differently about her not because they weren’t as nice, but because they were still responding to the environment and experiences she had helped create, the memories they had. It was the same case with me too, and that’s one reason us older kids have a rocky relationship with our mother.

We didn’t ever have as much trust or respect because of the abuse.

My Mom does not take as much responsibility for what took place as I would like, but she said she was glad that violence wasn’t going on in her home anymore. She regretted it had ever happened. She wished the older boys and I could move on past it now, “be more respectful,” and that I could work to overcome my bitterness.

I said that I thought she shouldn’t be so cavalier about us just getting over it, that she didn’t know what it was like to have to move on past such a thing. She’d only got one spanking in her life as a kid. She said I was right about that part, that she had not been familiar with corporal punishment until she married my father. Dad had told her that spankings were the right kind of discipline required by the bible. At the time she didn’t know anything about them. Then she told me the thing about Dad saying children would not die if they were disciplined by parents following the bible in their use of corporal punishment.

I understood what she meant as I stood there, numbly recalling the effects this perspective had had on my own childhood and on others I knew of in similar situations. The idea was you could beat a child until their will was broken, until they submitted, until they were bruised, bloody, and mentally and physically injured —

— and you could do so feeling confident that the child would not be at risk of dying from this because they were being beaten in a Christian way.

It was a spiritual thing, almost like a belief in miracles. The normal rules of the physical world were suspended. The kind of beating that might kill a child if it was administered by say, an atheist or a Muslim, would simply not have the same effect if done by a bible-believing Christian.

Yeah, unfathomable, right?

I could honestly have just gone and curled up in bed the rest of the afternoon after hearing this, but I said, “Mom, I want to show you something — an interview about a little girl that did die from this.” She said, “Really?” — like she still half-believed my father, or at least wanted to.  We sat down together and I pulled up the Anderson Cooper interview with Michael Pearl about little Lydia Schatz’s beating and murder. Even though watching this stuff with my Mom was so weird and so many more mixed emotions than I’d even expected, I was calm about it until the audio interview with one of the other Schatz daughters, Zariah, came up.

Zariah answered questions about where and how she was beaten in the clear, crisp, enunciated, submissive, and painstakingly polite way Quiverfull girls are generally taught to speak. After all, the beating that resulted in Lydia’s death had supposedly been for mispronouncing a word. The policeman seemed very kind and gentle with Lydia’s sister on each question he asked. The he requested her permission to bring her to the hospital.

She responded by apologetically asking if she could take a pot with her because she might need to throw up.

Her sister had just been beaten to death in her home, in front of her. She herself was covered in welts and marks from regular beatings, and she politely asked for one simple logical thing we all might need in such a situation – a bucket to puke in.

Right then I just started crying. I couldn’t help it, and my Mom started crying too when she saw me cry. She touched my hand and said how terrible it was for those poor girls. Then when the video switched to a close up of Mr. and Mrs. Schatz being found guilty of murder, my Mom caught her breath, kinda stopped short, and said “Oh, she looks like me.” She was talking about Mrs. Schatz, and there was a definite resemblance. Not particularly in the shape of their faces or anything, but the results of the lifestyle. Both are brunettes with kinda lackluster home-cut hair. No makeup. A tired, exhausted, almost empty look from years of stresses, disappointments, fears, frustrations, frugally going without necessities, and the visible emotional weight of internally and externally perceived failure.

Mrs. Schatz sat there, resigned at sentencing, showing no emotions but shame and resignation, possibly dissociation.

I said “Yeah, Mom. She lived like you.” My Mom seemed shocked, not really sure what to do with this, and then said something else that didn’t surprise me as much as I might have expected it would.

She said, “You know, when you asked me before if I’d read that book ‘To Train Up A Child,’ I said I didn’t remember it. Well I think I did read it actually. I remember seeing that picture on the front, the book cover with the carriage. I’d borrowed it from someone, I think.” Then she said that she didn’t really remember the contents of the book, or recall anything that bad in it, so the Schatz family must have just taken it too far. When I told her that there were other accounts of this book being the catalyst for children being abused and even killed, reminded her that the “spankings” in our home were also very bad, she responded that the book itself wasn’t the bible, so “maybe it wasn’t properly based off of the bible and was a misinterpretation or mistake, a perversion of God’s word. That happens more often than it should.”

I said, “Yeah, Mom. I think it was.”

So now my Mom has a scientific experiment in front of her, even though mainstream science has already determined hitting kids is bad for them, and that such so-called “Christian discipline” is unhealthy stuff. She can see from the differences among her own offspring that beating children generally results in fierce anger and mistrust and makes children more prone to lashing out, being sneaky, or making impulsive decisions that hurt other people and themselves. Hitting kids exacerbates “behavioral problems” rather than correcting them. She has seen from personal experience that explaining things and redirecting misbehaving children gently, never threatening violence, will result in a child not only being more likely to happily agree to do what you have asked of them, but a child that likes to hug you, spend time with you, and is comfortable with openly feeling and expressing love for you and closeness with you.

Sometimes I find myself surprised at how much love my younger siblings show my Mom because that simply wasn’t my world at that age.

I loathed her much of the time, even hated her sometimes. Once I hit my teens and got bigger and taller than her, I regularly called her all kinds of names and openly let her know just how much she disgusted me. The younger kids, most now young adults or teens, don’t do that and it doesn’t seem to even cross their minds that often. My relationship with my Mom now is the best it’s ever been and it still isn’t great. She still does a lot of things that I thoroughly disagree with, and it is very easy to find myself impatient or angry with her. But I do notice that she feels grateful to have a chance to be a mother without things being like how they were with us oldest ones.

I am glad that she has had this second chance and that my younger siblings have had a much different upbringing.

My Mom has experienced the pain of what it’s like to have her firstborn children fearing, hating, and despising her at a visible level, and the joy of having her lastborn children write her notes and cards with hearts on them, of their own accord. No wonder she’d dream of sharing that same bond with her older children and no wonder it has not happened to her liking.

Shame on Michael Pearl for calling his collection of books “No Greater Joy Ministries.”

If it was named accurately it would be “No Greater Pain and Fear Ministries.” I’m glad my mother finally saw the error of characterizing these abusive behaviors as “good Christian discipline” methods. I wish my father would too, for my half-brother’s sake. My Dad has supposedly “toned it down” but obviously this doesn’t leave me feeling comfortable or like my brother is safe. He deserves better than to be threatened with a belt or a stick, even if the “spankings” themselves are milder than what I got or perhaps never materialize at all.

I have a hard time believing my Dad really thought children couldn’t die from these things, but perhaps he did, and either way he bought into it on some level and told a horrible lie.

I do not have proof of this, but I am betting it was not his own lie, but a lie commonly passed around in Quiverfull/patriarchal/Christian fundamentalist circles. It just seems to fit in this puzzle too well. So I hope more people will become aware that some parents actually believe or profess to believe such nonsense, and that as the Schatz family case and Lydia’s death can starkly attest, children can and do die from sustained beatings by bible-believing Christian parents, and there are way too many stories eerily similar to hers.

Although my experiences seem like small potatoes compared to the treatment Lydia and the other Schatz siblings endured, I can say from personal experience that being hit and regularly threatened with beatings can and often does seriously injure you. I am fairly healthy overall, but I have a pinched nerve in my back and a knee that painfully pops out of place sometimes. Although this hasn’t been more than a minor inconvenience in my life, both issues have bothered me off and on since my teens. I never played sports as a kid or fell out of trees or got in a bad car accident, and I have trouble remembering the details of what happened during beatings, apparently due to dissociation. It took a friend recently putting two and two together to make me realize that the likely source of these injuries was the violence in my childhood home. I can say with certainty that being hit, and being ordered to submit or chased down and grabbed before the beating, generally leaves you with more emotional injuries than physical ones, forcing you to deal with certain types of self-esteem struggles and anger and aggression problems even if you go on to what looks like a normal or even better-than-average life.

My siblings and I are so lucky though.

Thankfully, even though us older kids lived through the experiences we did and still deal with the after-effects of being subject to this type of abusive and neglectful parenting during our formative years, we have all survived and are doing our best to overcome this. We are doing our best to enjoy our lives and function better as individual people and as a family.

Poor little Lydia Schatz and her family will never have that same chance.

She lost her life in an absolutely horrible and senseless way; her siblings were brutalized and her family torn apart. Her parents learned a little too late that children definitely can die from this stuff no matter how much you pray in between the beatings.

Hopefully the popular outcry against the Pearls’ books and perspective can educate Christian parents and stop this stuff from happening to other children.

Sibling v. Sibling — Giving the Child the Rod: Libby Anne’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on March 8, 2012.


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point early on my mom handed me the rod. She told me I was to spank my younger siblings if they misbehaved or broke any rules and she was not in the room. The rule was that I could spank any sibling at least five years younger than me. This meant that at ten I could spank my five-year-old sibling, and all those younger than him.

This breaks my heart because now, years and years later, my younger siblings tell me they saw me as a bully, that they resented me, that I “lorded it over them.”

I may have been all that, and I definitely was far from perfect. Perhaps having this sort of power over them brought out the worst in me. But I was ten, twelve, or fourteen, and at the core I did what I did because my parents handed me the rod and told me to do so.

As to why my parents did this, the answer is not that difficult. With so very many children, my parents could not watch and discipline each of us individually. So they did what all Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy parents do: they outsourced.

They outsourced their discipline method to me, and that method was the Pearls.

I was told that loving parents – or, er, siblings – discipline their children, and that the only way to make a child into a happy, healthy adult is to spank him. I was taught that children must have their wills broken and must be forced to submit. I did not generally spank my siblings out of malice (though I’ll admit to my shame that I sometimes did). I spanked them because I had been told to and did not know any better. I did not realize that as I spanked I was building a wall of resentment between me and my younger siblings.

I wish for all the world that I had been allowed to be a normal sister to my younger siblings. Instead I was put up as a second mother, an authority figure, a clone of my parents and their methods. I spent an enormous amount of time watching my younger siblings, both when my mother was in the house but occupied elsewhere and when my parents were away. I was expected to act as parent, not as sister, to my siblings.


Sixteen-month-old Faith reaches for a glass bowl on the coffee table.

Faith, no, don’t touch that.

Faith touches the glass bowl. *pop* I slap her hand. She looks startled.

I said no.

Faith reaches for the glass bowl again. *pop*


Her little hand reaches out once again, her lower lip trembling. *pop*


Faith whimpers and looks like she’s going to cry, and I sigh. I gather her in my arms.

Faith, it’s okay, but I said no, and that means no.

She looks up at the glass bowl with pain and confusion in her face.


This scene repeated over and over and over again.

I learned to never give in to a child’s crying, and that even a baby could rebel. I learned to house proof the baby rather than baby proofing the house. As for slightly older kids, I frequently spanked four, five, or six-year-old siblings for “disobedience” or “insolence.” Obedience was expected to be immediate, completely, and without complaint. Even talking back was to be punished, often with spanking.


Judah, I told you to take this trash bag out.

I don’t want to!

I don’t care. You have to take it out or get a spank and take it out.

But I did it last time!

Alright, that’s it, you’re getting a spanking.


Why was I made to be an authority figure to my siblings instead of a sister?

My heart breaks because I inflicted pain on them. It hurts worse that I never questioned these things, never asked why, never said no. But what did I, at ten, twelve, or fourteen, know? What did I understand? I had never seen anything different from what my parents taught and modeled at home. My parents handed me the rod and told me to spank. And I regret it with all my heart. And now, all I can say is I am so so sorry.

I am today working on repairing my relationships with my siblings, relationships I unwittingly and unintentionally sabotaged all those years ago.

As for the future, I will never, ever put my children in this kind of situation.

My Own Son Cringed At My Touch: Michal’s Story

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


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.


I was an abusive mother. 

My kids are my whole life. I adore them and would do anything for them. I can’t tell you how hard it is to admit, in writing, that I hurt them. I hurt the people I would do anything to protect and I have to live with that. 

With many large families, as the oldest girl, I helped parent my younger siblings. So in my young teens, when these books entered our home, I was reading and discussing them with my mom to help “parent”. I was accustomed to lots of spankings with small branches or belts in my early years and so the book was not surprising to me. Instead of the occasional punishments, though, it laid out a horrific system of beating your children under the guise of breaking wills and spiritual reasoning.

“A child is like a dog” is the first thing I took away from the Pearls book, To Train Up a Child.

If your children do something you dislike, you beat them calmly until they won’t do it again. The other concept I took away from that book was that if I wanted to save my child’s soul from hell, I had to make them obey at all costs. If your children can’t obey you, they won’t obey God. I learned that parents who did not spank their children, hated their children’s souls. Once I was a mom. I was “encouraged” by multiple peers and mom, mother-in-law, wives of elders, etc following this book to have times set aside every day for “training”.

“Training” of my poor 6 month old included finding something he wanted to do and spanking him every time he did it instead of heeding my command of “come here”.

I remember so many times of bawling because I was so miserable and my son was in so much pain and it just wasn’t working. I would tell these women that it wasn’t working and they would just say “spank harder” or I would be condemning their soul. Every time. Spank harder. And I did. Even with the glue sticks (the long flexible “bruise-less” instrument used by many) I would leave welts on my baby’s thighs because he would crawl away from me, not towards me on command. I was afraid to take him to the doctor. I started being afraid of asking for people’s help because it wasn’t working. I would make him eat the food I had deemed necessary for the day or he didn’t get other food. Sermons, from our church selling the book, reinforced the discipline and obedience of children. And that damn book said I didn’t love my child’s soul. And then it happened.

I came close to give my 18 month old son a hug and he cringed.

My own son cringed at my touch.

Over time we gladly threw spanking out the window. I tore up the book and threw it away. I stood up to women who told me I needed to just be spanking my children more. I didn’t know that physical abuse was defined as intentional contact to cause feelings of physical pain. I didn’t know that it was illegal to hit your child with an object regardless of whether it was called “spanking” or not. I started reading books on child development and psychology and realized how harmful it was to start my children’s lives out so aggressively. Most of those beatings had to do with my want for control or punishing my children because they embarrassed me, not with caring for my child. And I know that’s true for all the women and men that I watched “train up” their children.  

I’m not joking when I tell people that I plan to pay for my children’s counseling sessions even after they reach adulthood. Even though I changed my views on parenting while they were still young, my children were hurt by me and I can never go back and change that. 

Lacking empathy and nurturing attachment in the parent/child relationship, To Train Up a Child is destructive to the well being of any person, especially children.  

Eggshells: Ava’s Story

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


Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.



Oh no.

I dropped an egg on the floor.

Here we were, my mom and me baking together, and in my imperfection (would it be the sin of carelessness today?) I had made a mess and ruined the idyllic moment.

“I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!”

I was shaking and nearly in tears. My mom, today, didn’t think it was a big deal, but I was too frightened to notice.

“Stop it,” she said, irritated at my fearful apology.

“I’m sorry,” I said — Oh no, I was irritating her now when she wasn’t irritated before.

“Stop, you are not an abused child!” Her voice was harsher now.

“Sorry!” I sobbed.

“Stop crying, you are not an abused child!”

I couldn’t. I tried.


…Because I didn’t obey and stop crying immediately, I got a spanking. I needed to learn to control myself better. To stop crying when Mom said so, to only apologize fearfully when she was already irritated, lest I irritate her. I must learn to be obedient, to be holy, to be self-controlled. Until I did, Mom would never be happy with me. Jesus would never be happy with me.

I must be broken, humbled, so that I would be able to be good.

So I would obey immediately every time; so I would never question my parents and therefore know to never question God. To “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

…When I got yelled at because Dad thought I refused to share my bubblegum with my brother, I sat silent. To interrupt would probably change the lecture to a longer lecture and a spanking. Finally when he stopped, I explained softly that I had already shared with my brother.

Then, instead of apologizing for the false accusation, he praised me for taking his rebuke silently. He was pleased that I was contrite and broken, like Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter. Jesus, my ultimate example. Jesus, who didn’t defend himself.

My dad told the story of me, being Christ-like, any time he had the chance…

My brother once was forced to sit on a stool in the woodshop, watching while Dad cut out a paddle and sanded in finger grips on the handle, to spank him with when he was done. Dad was too angry to spank him right away, so he had to cool down by making a thick paddle first. We all remember the punishment, but the infraction that merited such a violent reaction was quickly forgotten.

Dad later put nails into the large wooden paddle to help lay carpet, and soon afterward, my brother needed another spanking, this time again bad enough to merit Dad using a paddle instead of a bare hand.

My younger brother panicked, screaming, “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill him!”

We both thought the paddle still had nails in it and Dad was going to use it as it was.

An irrational fear in my dad’s eyes, but not to us. Our parents believed they were obligated to break sin out of us at any cost, and there wasn’t too big a difference in our eyes from our naked skin being hit by thick wood, and being hit by thick wood with nails in it. It was all pain, pain to punish us for misbehaving, pain to break our spirits until we were good little children, and people would comment on our wonderful behavior when our nice little family went out.

They didn’t know the chewing out we would get on the way home for any misbehavior.

“Where did we go wrong with you? We have failed as parents. You simply won’t be good. Jesus is so upset with you. You always… you never… you spoiled brats. I don’t like you at all right now. I should make you walk home.”

“You know they used to stone rebellious sons, in the Old Testament times.”

So yeah, we were pretty damn good children.

When I was junior-high aged, I was timid. All the self-confidence spanked and shouted out of me. But now my parents said my timidity was sinful.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.”

My parents threatened to break my glasses and cut off my hair because I was hiding behind them, they said, instead of reflecting the power of Christ.


How could a broken child have power?

How could a child raised harshly have a spirit of love?

How could a child never taught to think through her feelings or listen to them have a sound mind?

Jesus was supposed to take the child they dutifully broke and fill her up with his power, only he never did.

I have instead set about the hard work of healing myself. I find my strength to parent my own children with love, but every once in a while I get stuck back in those memories of walking on eggshells. I go into my room by myself and I wonder in tears:

Why wasn’t I loved with a sweet, gentle love?

Why was I loved with a crushing, spirit-breaking love?

Why didn’t my parents really love me?

All my life I walked on eggshells, so eager to please my parents, so afraid to upset them.

Now I stomp on the eggshells. I refuse to try to please my parents anymore.

Our relationship is broken, like me, like the eggshells I tiptoed on for so long.

But I am free.