passerine: Picture of Jiao Razel from Dykes to Watch Out for (Jiao Razel)
[personal profile] passerine

Seven-year-old Lydia Schatz, it is alleged, died for mispronouncing a word.

Lydia's parents called 911 when they realized that their child was not breathing. Initially, she regained pulse and respiration, but she was later pronounced dead. Her older sister, Zariah, has also been hospitalized for kidney failure caused by severe internal injuries.

According to her siblings and the police officers investigating the case, Lydia's parents had been "chastising" her "for hours" for making a mistake in a homeschool reading lesson taken from one of the Frog and Toad books. The parents also regularly "chastised" Zariah for being a bad influence on her younger siblings. And by "chastising", they mean repeatedly hitting with a 15" piece of flexible plumbing supply line, the kind that people have in, say, their toilet tanks. All of the siblings (there were 9 children in this family, six of them biological and three adopted from Liberia) have stated that they were disciplined in this manner at least "sometimes".

Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of To Train Up a Child and owners of the ministry known as No Greater Joy, recommend plumbing supply line as an ideal "rod of correction" to use on children because it is inexpensive, flexible, and easily left in strategic locations throughout the house or even simply draped around a parent's neck so the child can always see a "rod" and know the consequence of disobeying.

The Pearls have published statements in relation to the Schatz case, saying that they in no way advocate or condone child abuse. Of course, throughout their writings, they make it very clear that their belief is that NOT using "the rod" is a form of serious child abuse. They claim that parents who do not use corporal punishment are unfit parents who do not love their children.

They are also very specific about when, how, and to what extent parents must "switch" or "lick" their children - starting as early as possible (ideally before age one), as soon as possible following any "offense", and until the child responds with "a wounded, submissive whimper." This is a direct quote of their advice to the parent of an "angry child" who did not want to eat what he was served at meals:

If you think it is appropriate and you spank him make sure that it is not a token spanking. Light, swatting spankings, done in anger without courtroom dignity will make children mad because they sense that they have been bullied by an antagonists. A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again. If he is still mad.... He desperately needs an unswayable authority, a cold rock of justice.

I am horrified by what has come of their teachings. I am dismayed that they teach such a practice to begin with, with repeated reassurances that their methods will always work if the parents apply them consistently. To follow their advice, they claim, is to become the proud parent of well-behaved children that you like as well as love, to have a happy marriage and a peaceful home, and to ensure that your children will have eternal salvation. To depart from their methods is to depart from God and to be consigned along with your children to a tortured existence in both this life and the next.

And yet, both a part of and apart from the horror, I cannot help but empathize. Even kids who are "easy" or "good" have off days, and so do parents. I have categorically chosen not to spank (as I've said elsewhere, I believe it is a violation of my faith's commitment to non-violence), but I've been the Screaming Mama. I've muttered "how about a knuckle sandwich?" in response to repeated demands for "JEL-LY SAND-WICH! JEL-LY SAND-WICH! PEEEEEENBUTTER JELLLLLLYYYY!" I've curled up in my bed and cried in the middle of the night while my husband fixed a formula bottle because my entire body was tensing in pain and panic at the thought of another bad breastfeeding latch, and curled up in the bathroom with the door closed and my hands over my ears because two kids can make a ridiculous amount of noise and I just want the noise to STOP.

I've HAD those moments of wishing that something, anything, would work to Make That Kid Obey Me (or at least Make That Kid STFU) - and this is with all my knowledge of child development and all of my understanding of why the ideal of perfect obedience is both impossible and undesirable. I can't say it hasn't crossed my mind to do all sorts of things that I know I would regret, things that would definitely not be acceptable for someone who believes in non-violent solutions. I don't do them, of course, and I know I wouldn't do them, but I also know the long-term repercussions that would be possible from such a moment of anger, and I know that I have a husband who is the actual primary caregiver (and who has FAR more patience, especially with childish noise, than I do), and other people who will step in to watch the girls if both of us need a break. (I ALSO have two children - not nine. That makes considerable difference.) I also don't believe in eternal damnation, and I do believe that we all work out our own "salvation" and our own understanding of $DEITY.

If I were more convinced of the reality of Hell, less aware of the realities of child development, more isolated from meaningful social support, less firmly committed to non-violence, or if I had more children with less day-to-day support from their father...I can see where a simple rulebook approach such as the one taught by the Pearls would be incredibly compelling. The Pearls promise much from the "miracle" of their rod of correction.

Lydia Schatz is without breath to complain of this seductive lie, forever. But I, and other parents like me - mindful of the frustrating reality that the Pearls' ideal preys upon - can break through the isolation we imperfect parents with imperfect kids feel when perfection is demanded of us. We can communicate our own struggles and triumphs, tell our own stories of what worked, laugh at our own mistakes, safe in the knowledge that none of us get it right all the time. We can be in caring community with one another, not separate and smug in our sense of superiority.

And I can sleep at night, glad that my little girl has the breath to complain - and to demand her good-night hugs and kisses, and to say, "I love you, Mommy!"
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