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.


  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    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.

    And your hindbrain was forced to associate Love with Beatings.
    I’m surprised you didn’t end up heavily into BDSM.

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

    AKA your father was more Michael Pearl than Michael Pearl himself. That is just So Far Beyond I have trouble even conceiving of it. It’s like some Radical Islamic type claiming the Taliban wasn’t Islamic enough and to be Truly Muslim you have to out-Taliban the Taliban. Can-You Top-This with violence and cruelty.

  • Yes, we were frequently forced to say “I love you” back to the parents. Especially my father. I still rebel in my mind to “having” to say it back, sometimes, to my boyfriend or grandmother or something.
    When someone says “I love you” I usually respond: “Why?”
    It drove my ex crazy and he hated it.

    My dad felt Peal had gone soft because women weren’t supposed to leave the home. The one Pearl book that was NOT in our house was Rebekah’s Diary. Any freedom/independence of mind or spirit in a woman was Evil(TM). My sister and I agreed that we were too isolated and chafed at it.

  • That is especially why spanking doesn’t work. On top of just being abusive, Clearly it would encourage lying and deciept for fear of punishment.

  • Except for some of the details, I almost thought maybe it was one of my siblings in disguise writing this. I remember how confusing it was as a child trying to figure out the exact right amount to cry during/after a spanking. If I didn’t cry enough, obviously I was not submissive yet, but if I cried too much, then I was being over dramatic and disobedient and would be spanked again.

    • I know this is late to the discussion, but this is exactly what my mother put me and my little brother through. If we didn’t cry, it must not have hurt enough to “get the message across” – 3 more swats with the wooden spoon. If we screamed because the pain was just too much, we were “displaying anger” – 3 more swats. If we struggled because we had been spanked in 3-swat increments for over an hour, over two hours, and we were reaching unmanageable pain levels – 3 more swats on whatever she could reach – thighs, lower back, a protesting hand… Nothing hurts quite like an unexpected blow with a hard wooden spoon, edges down, on the back of your knuckles.
      If we were too slow bringing the spoon down the hall, we got 3 more swats. If we forgot what the hell started the whole thing, or what “reason” the latest 3 swats were for, we got 3 more for “being recalcitrant” or whatever. In between each set, out came my mother’s Bible, and she would read verses about obedience, or god’s standards for children, or whatever she thought applied, and we would be forced to discuss what infraction we’d done, why god was punishing us (because my mother’s hand was undoubtedly “guided by god” *eye roll*), and promise to be good. Afterwards, with everyone exhausted, my brother and I would be forced to “hug and kiss and make up”, my mother would give us hugs we would try not to stiffen and pull away from, for fear of more punishment, and it would be over… for that day, if we were lucky. The days it happened twice or more, I have no real memory of. I lied, and blamed my brother for something once… I couldn’t stand her spanking him over and over, and finally confessed, and I think that moment was probably the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life. That was not a 3-swat session, either… I’m pretty sure she set the initial bar around 50 swats, and went from there. And my guilt over failing to protect my little brother makes me still feel like I almost deserved it…

      I used to sit in the living room or outside on the bank across from the house afterwards, and recite “I hate her” fiercely under my breath like a mantra. I used to imagine how I would get my little brother outside at night, and set the house on fire so the whole place with my parents inside would go up in conflagration. I was 7, and I wanted to murder my parents. :..(

      Thank you, This site, and the brave men and women who post here, have made it okay for me to remember these things.

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