More than one person has suggested this week that I'm called The Mule as some sort of reference to a Michael Pearl quote, that his parenting methods are modelled on 'the same principles the Amish use to train their mules'. A few others have wondered if I've got a carrot and stick joke up my sleeve that I'm just waiting for the right moment to tell. And Erik Eckholm of the New York Times started a trend this week by being the first of many journalists to refer to me as a 'conservative Christian parent'. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm afraid none of this is true.
petition, you're a British non-Christian, a million miles away from the American biblical spankers it most directly affects: what's it to you? But the bottom line is, I'm a mother. And when you become a mother, a layer of your skin is metaphorically peeled away, leaving you open and exposed to feel the suffering of others, particularly children, in a new way. You can't read an extract like the following, and then just move on:
If your 10-month-old is pitching a fit because he wants to be picked up, then you must reinforce your command with a few stinging swats. You are not punishing him; you are causing him to associate his negative behavior with negative consequences. Never reward bad behavior with indifference. Tell the baby “No” and give him a swat. If your response is new, he may be offended and scream louder. But continue your normal activities as if you are unaffected. Wait one minute, and then tell the baby to stop crying. If he doesn’t, again swat him on his bare legs. You don’t need to undress him, turn him over, or make a big deal out of it. Just swat him where any skin is exposed. Continue to act as if you don’t notice the fit. Wait two minutes and repeat. Continue until the baby realizes that this is getting worse not better. Most babies will keep it going for 3 or 4 times and then slide to a sitting position and sob it out.This was the quote from the Pearl's website that caused me to write my first blog post on the subject and set up the petition, at the end of August 2011. As a mother of two small girls, the idea of not only treating a baby in this way, but actually having the front to write a book about it, made me feel so appalled that I felt I had to act. At the time I didn't quite realise the full complexity of the debate I was entering - religious fundamentalism, American culture, politics, Biblical translation debates, corporal punishment of children, and more - but perhaps this is just as well, as if I had I might have just powered down and gone to bed.
To the rapidly-becoming-crowded To Train Up A Child table I bring myself, a mother, but also, a psychotherapist who has worked extensively with both adults and children who have survived abuse. From traumatised children in foster care, to addicts, to adults with borderline personality disorder, all of the people with whom I have worked therapeutically had one thing in common: at some point, someone had completely switched off their responses to their humanity. All of these people at some moment in their lives had said, with their voice, or their body, or just the expression on their face, Please stop, your words or your actions are hurting me, and the perpetrator had not listened. I refuse to believe that we should ever stop trying to create a world in which this scenario occurs less and less, or ceases altogether.
This week, I feel optimistic. There have been a crop of responses to the New York Times, including this one featured on the front page of yahoo.com, also linking to the petition, and some excellent commentary, including two from Frank Schaeffer, here and here, another from Lisa Belkin at the wonderful Huffington Post, and the story even made the UK press in the form of the Belfast Telegraph. All of this and much much more publicity has had a wonderful impact on the petition, and the number of signatories has more than doubled to over six thousand. More importantly, much more importantly, the wider issues of the discipline and treatment of children are being debated extensively worldwide.
Michael and Debi Pearl have sent the following email today to the Facebook page To Train up a Child - by Michael and Debi Pearl:
Dear No Greater Joy Supporter,
As you may be aware, NGJ is in the midst of a controversy as the result of a recent article in the New York Times and the subsequent articles and blogs that are using that article as a base, much of which is taken out of context and adding their own inflammatory rhetoric.
The opponents of the traditional, biblical, child training philosophy presented by NGJ are rallying an orchestrated attack to discredit the Pearls and our Ministry. This includes petitioning sales outlets such as Amazon to discontinue selling To Train Up a Child and all other NGJ material. Another tactic is to fill the book review pages on Amazon with negative 1 star reviews and hateful comments. We trust God’s protection but also recognize our responsibility to properly respond and make these circumstances known to our supporters.
The time, energy and expense of this set of circumstances are a burden to our staff that is robbing us of the time and resources needed to operate the ministry. We greatly appreciate all the notes and emails of encouragement that have been received and covet your prayers and support during these difficult times.
You can assist us by making your voices heard. Share your beliefs and leave a comment to all of the online articles that you read. You can also go to the To Train Up a Child page on Amazon and leave your own review and rate the other comments by checking “Yes” for the positive reviews and “No” for negative reviews. You may also make your own comments in response to the other reviews. Click “Create your own review” (located after the last review on the page) to rate To Train Up a Child and add your own review.
We covet your prayers and support and trust that God will be glorified through all of this.
Sincerely,Mike and Debi
P.S. Mike has recorded an interview with Anderson Cooper on Anderson’s daytime talk show that is expected to air during the week of November 14th. Go to the Anderson Cooper website and click “show info” for information on what time of the day it airs in your area. Watch the NGJ website for information on what day Mike’s interview will air.
P.P.S. The article controversy and numerous negative posts on Amazon have had an opposite effect on the results the detractors are hoping for. The sales on Amazon have skyrocketed! In recent days To Train Up a Child has ranked as high as 1,137 out of the over 20 million titles offered on Amazon.It seems like the only people who are remaining silent this week are Amazon themselves. I've been trying hard to get a response from them for a few weeks now, and have called their UK press office every day since Monday, but so far, they have said nothing. Today I was given the email address of Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and added it to the petition. Apparently this means that every time someone signs he will receive an email. Hopefully, this might prompt him to answer the six thousand or more people who are asking, Jeff, why are you stocking a book that advocates the physical abuse of children? Doesn't this contravene your content policy not to carry offensive material? Does it mean that Amazon in some way endorses these methods? Do you spank your own children with rods?! In other words, Jeff, what's it to you?
While we await his answer, please keep signing and sharing the petition, thank you!