While there are moms in both schools of thought, there is no debate that these parents went too far.
Kate Tuttle: Children die every year at the hands of parents who go a bit overboard in the discipline department. And every parent who reads about one of these deaths -- no matter where she or he stands on the spanking spectrum -- is sickened by the loss and wonders just how it could happen.
Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz, a couple raising nine kids in Paradise, Calif., were apparently following the advice of fundamentalist Christian childcare authors Debi and Michael Pearl when they chose to beat their adopted daughter Lydia with a quarter-inch plumbing-supply line. Described in the Pearls' website as a "great tool to get a child's attention," the inexpensive weapon -- apparently used for several hours the day before Lydia's death -- allegedly led to the 7-year-old's total organ failure. (Another daughter, Zariah, was hospitalized in critical condition.) The Schatzes were charged with murdering Lydia and torturing her sister.
Although it's unlikely that the Pearls will face any legal consequences for their role in inspiring the Schatzes' choice of spanking instrument, their connection to the Schatz case -- as well as an earlier death of a child whose parents followed the Pearls' "No Greater Joy" ministry -- has roiled the Christian-parenting world.
The Pearls defend their teachings, claiming that they recommend only non-abusive spanking (albeit with rubber hoses and tree switches). They defend physical forms of discipline as being Biblically inspired, quoting Proverbs 13:24, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son, but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes."
Among the Pearls' most ardent Christian critics are Paul and Laurie Mathers, a couple who knew the Schatzes. In a post about Lydia's death, Laurie Mathers wrote of the Pearls, "...They claim to be a Christian organization, and yet offer no grace and NO mercy. They actually teach parents to show no mercy to their children."
It's only natural that parents seek inspiration and advice as they grapple with the world's toughest job. For those who consider themselves Christian, it makes sense to explore whether spanking (or any other parenting choice) really fits with one's deepest beliefs. No matter what, though, blindly following teachings that involve going to Home Depot and buying tools with which to hit your child doesn't feel very loving -- or very Christian -- to me.
|Kate Tuttle is a writer living outside Boston with her husband and two children. Her work has appeared in Babble, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.|