A child has been killed, and her older sister hospitalized as a result of their adoptive parents’ application of disciplinary techniques they evidently felt were called for. Presumably the parents believed that they had not “crossed the line” since this form of discipline was carried out over a period of time.
Lydia Schatz, the couples’ adopted 7-year-old went into cardiac arrest following what police say may have been a multi-hour session of ‘discipline’, and her 11 year old sister, also adopted, is in critical condition with kidney failure related to similar ‘discipline’ incurred on previous days. [Chico Enterprise-Record, Feb 10, 2010] The parents face charges of murder, torture and also a lesser charge of cruelty arising from injuries found on their ten-year-old biological son. The district attorney reportedly said that the other children in the family indicated that they, too, had “suffered similiar discipline.” The Christian, homeschooling family had never previously been investigated for child abuse.
As a Christian and former homeschooler myself, this story hits me very hard. I feel like I could know this family, could have rubbed shoulders with them at the Christian homeschooling conferences I attended when I lived in California.
According to news reports, the parents were influenced by folksy husband-and-wife authors/website/conference speakers Debi and Michael Pearl who have an avid following especially among conservative Christian homeschoolers. [Chico Enterprise-Record, Feb 12, 2010, KHSL-TV report, Feb 12, 2010] The plumbing supply line they used to whip their children is one of many possible tools advocated by the Pearls. The Pearls point out on their website that 1/4″ plumbing supply line is cheap enough that you can have a length of it in all the rooms of your house, in your car and even drape a length of it around your neck.
Understandably, the Pearls would say this couple had taken their advice far beyond its intended limits.
However, people with a steady, normal, functional frame of reference regarding family life would say the Pearls’ approach to “training” — their word for studiously nonchalant flickings, whackings and whippings designed to condition young children to obey — is already well past the normal limits.
Normal parents, for example, don’t drape plumbing supply line around their necks to keep it handy for whippings – they just don’t.
Parents who are attracted to their methods in spite of the cruel and bizarre examples and recommendations that pepper the Pearls’ more conventional positions may lack a normal frame of reference by which to evaluate what is over the line.
And frankly, the Pearls’ advocacy of a take-no-prisoners approach to attaining complete control makes this type of tragedy inevitable in the right “perfect storm”.
I am sure the Pearls do not want people killing their children. Their website’s defense of their methods even asks rhetorically, “When is it Abuse?” and the answer attempts to help followers identify whether they may have crossed the line. What a red flag that is! Normal discipline recommendations don’t bring parents anywhere near “the line.” As my husband said sadly, “if you’re wondering when it’s abuse, it’s probably abuse.”
One thing is clear, that portion of their Q & A reveals the Pearls’ awareness that following their recommendations may lead some people close to “the line.”
One risk factor they don’t seem to consider is the effect on children of attachment and trauma issues, such as RAD (reactive attachment disorder) – something sometimes associated with older-child adoptions. It may be no coincidence that these victims were adopted three years ago from a war-torn African country. Children shaped and damaged by a lifetime of trauma and degradation may respond differently to Pearlesque discipline than the rapid, joyful, unconditional surrender depicted by the Pearls.
A friend of mine publicized the recent tragedy on Facebook, and a counselor responded:
While it isn’t the adoption aspect, but the dangerous parenting philosophies as a whole that need to be pointed out to the church, let me say that I don’t think it is coincidence that the children who died were adopted.Children with RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and/or PTSD as a result of a myriad of adoption-related issues often do not feel pain the same way a child w/o issues does. Consequently, when spanked, they tend to be able to ‘take it’ on the surface, and I have seen this lead a parent to spank more and harder, as they try to ‘break thru’ this seemingly extreme defiance. It’s not defiance, and I could write at great lengths about all of the issues, but suffice it to say that the issues of RAD can make a parent go to more extremes than they ordinarily would if they have not been educated on that front.As a counselor who works specifically w/children and adults who have trauma-related issues, I can tell you that parents who are fellow believers are often the more difficult to educate because they have bought so heavily into the church-sanctioned parenting ideals such as Ezzo and the Pearls. Been swimming upstream on this front for decades.Having said that, the abuse, of course, extends to biological children but this doesn’t seem to come under scrutiny as quickly as does the abuse of the adopted children because it is so often easier to accuse the parents of not loving the adopted children as much as a biological child, instead of taking on an entire system of church sanctioned and church promoted abuse.
….the adopted child who has severe RAD and/or PTSD issues will often exhibit behaviors that would drive a saint to drink :-) so, in families who parent and discipline a la Ezzo/Pearl, that line between self-restraint and abuse becomes more and more unbalanced as they deal w/children who, on the surface, are tough nuts to *crack*.
If that is what these parents were dealing with, then imagine them encountering this passage from the Pearls’ website:
How many licks?
There is no number that can be given. It would be better to administer more licks that are less forceful than to administer few licks that hurt severely. It is much more effective to administer chastisement or punishment in a slow thoughtful fashion. Our goal is to cause the child to voluntarily surrender his will. We want to impress upon him the severity of his disobedience. It takes time and thoughtfulness for the child to come to repentance. I have told a child I was going to give him 10 licks. I count out loud as I go. After about three licks, leaving him in his position, I would stop and remind him what this is all about. I would continue slowly, still counting, stop again and tell him that I know it hurts and I wish I didn’t have to do it but that it is for his own good. Then I would continue slowly. Pretending to forget the count, I would again stop at about eight and ask him the number. Have him subtract eight from ten, (a little homeschooling) and continue with the final two licks. Then I would have him stand in front of me and ask him why he got the spanking. If his answer showed that he was rebellious and defiant, he would get several more licks. Again he would be questioned as to his offense. If he showed total submission, we put it all behind us, but if he were still rebellious, we would continue until he gave over his will. …
If you ever have a child who stands his ground of defiance and you let him win, you have lost his heart forever—unless you are able to go back and win a confrontation and keep on winning. If you ever let his rebellion triumph just one time, it makes it much harder to conquer in the future. After he gains the upper hand, one victory on your part will not be sufficient. You will have to persevere in several contests of wills until he is convinced that he can never stand against your authority.
And although this passage –though disturbing in other respects — recommends moderate force, a passage in a newsletter by the Pearls asserts that a proper spanking would leave the child “without breath to complain.”
That phrase, which horrified me when I encountered it in the Pearls’ newsletter, and which I quoted in a letter I wrote some years ago to my regional homeschooling association begging them to cancel their plans to present the Pearls as speakers at their annual conference (to no avail), takes on an even darker aspect when I think of Lydia Schatz who literally stopped breathing.
We all feel angry, saddened and sickened and above all, helpless, when we hear of tragedy like this.
What can we do beyond wringing our hands? What kinds of things can individuals do that will truly be helpful?