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Butterflies and Backdoors

January 15, 1999

With five children still at home, their friends come in like mosquitoes in Louisiana; you just try to ignore the buzz and hope they don’t eat too much. I spend a lot of time in my office at the rear of the house. Its remoteness shuts out the noise. I especially try to coordinate my withdrawal with the arrival of a swarm. When I get ready to sleep at night, I just open the front door and stand by it until they all take leave. My wife says I am getting older. I think she is implying more than thinning hair and the senior citizen discounts I am increasingly offered. But I still have one weak spot.
The other day I was typing away, ignoring the recent arrivals. After a few minutes, when I had forgotten all about them, I heard the door behind me creak. I turned around and looked through the glass, but there was no one visible. Still the door continued to slowly creak open. Then I heard a cheerful little voice inquire, “Mack Peerle?” No, I haven’t failed to spell my name correctly. That is the way Middle Tennessee hillbillies pronounce my name. You think that’s funny; wait till you see what they do with yours. I again heard my Tennessee name as a little blond head peeped around the bottom corner of the door. She was not a mosquito; she was a butterfly. It was the most beautiful smile I have seen since I accepted my wife’s proposal to marriage. I forgot about the Hypostatic Union, and said, “Here I am!” She came through my door like morning sunshine through the kitchen window. I returned her smile ten times over, ruffled her hair, and tossed her in the air, which is what she expected. We had a little chat, and then she found her way back to the noisy hum. I feel real important when I receive a guest of that caliber.
Now, beyond relating one of the great pleasures of life, that little visit would be of no significance to you unless you knew what occurred just two days earlier. My visitor, Amy, just turned two, has visited us on several occasions. They call it “baby-sitting.” I call it “baby chasing.” She is well above average in her self-control, but still has some rough spots. During the first few visits, I never attempted discipline. My youngest daughter, Shoshanna, had already gained her confidence and respect and does very well commanding her. I took those earlier visits as a time to gain her respect and devotion—to assure her of my delight and interest in her as a person.
On the visit before this welcomed intrusion, Amy ran in and out of the back door about ten times. The frequency, along with the cold air, became annoying. As she started out again, I commanded, “No, Amy, do not go out again.” She continued to open the door and push by me. I applied a little resistance to the door as I repeated the command. She exerted all her force to open the door. Now at this point I could have forced the door shut. At six-foot-four and 240 pounds, all of it pure, aged muscle, I was quite capable of shutting the door. But to do so would not have taught her obedience, quite the opposite. It would have taught her that she could do anything that does not meet with overpowering physical resistance. Forced to comply, she would not have practiced self-control. For the human will to function, circumstances must permit choice. So I allowed her to choose. She forced the door against the little resistance I offered and continued into the sunroom. One more door stood between her and the judgment seat. To make sure she understood, I gave one more command, “Amy, do not go outside.” As she opened the outside door, I took off my belt and surprised my little butterfly with one swat across the calves. She shut the door and looked at me with shock and anger. Her scream was not just of pain, but of defiance.
Now if I had shoved her into the house and left it at that, she would still have failed to learn her lesson. Her will was not yet surrendered. The defiant scream testified that she was still in a resistant state of mind. She was protesting interference with her self-will. She must be caused to recognize the supremacy of government. Her soul depends on it. So I commanded, “Amy, stop crying.” She screamed louder, so I gave her another forceful lick on the legs. She again screamed her defiance.
At this point, if I had become frustrated and shown anger in my expression or actions, it would have poisoned her soul. We would have become adversaries. I would have outwardly conquered, but she would have increased in her rebellion. Everyone hates a bully, and it becomes a matter of principle to resist him or her. Out of fear, one may surrender to a bully, but no one will ever respect the bully. Bullies are angry, self-willed, take offenses personally, exact their due in the pain of compliance, and maintain an attitude of “No one does this to me and gets away with it.” Most parents bully their children.
Here I was with a screaming, defiant two-year-old standing there testing her strength of resolve against mine. I have 53 years of resolve, and it gets calmer every day. Again I gave her one lick on the legs and commanded, “Stop crying, now.” She dried it up like an Arizona wind, then turned and voluntarily walked back into the living room. She was sniffling, but the defiance was all gone. She ran to a corner to sort out her feelings and I left her alone, as did everyone else. In less than five minutes, as I was walking through the house for some other purpose, a little curly headed, blond butterfly flitted across the room and lunged into my arms. Her smile was genuine and her greeting was spontaneous. The former confrontation had not left her feeling isolated. Her spirit was free. A properly administered spanking does not break fellowship.
About two hours later I was in my bedroom reading, when I again heard the door being pushed open. “Mack Peerle, cun I’go ootsidd?” The kids had all gone out on the front porch to attend to the chicken they were cooking on the grill. She was the only one left inside, but she had learned her lesson. I said, “Sure, Amy, you can go out with the others.” She gave me a grateful smile and ran out the front door.
When she left that day, I had not seen any additional signs of rebellion, but I did wonder how she would be when she came to the house again. So, several days later, when the door creaked open and I saw that Amy had come to share smiles with me, I appreciated her parents, and I was thankful that my mother and father taught me how to train up a child.

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6 comments on “Butterflies and Backdoors”

  1. Thank you, Brother and Mrs. Pearl, for your specific and detailed examples of child training. I want so much to train (with my husband)our children right, but it is such a help to get godly, bible-based counsel from someone whose already been through it (successfully)and who can tell me HOW to do this situation, and this situation...etc. The general guidelines are easy to understand, but sometimes applying them to everyday, always-different situations finds me doubting what action I should take and what reaction I should make based on their reactions. My mind is always finding "exceptions" to the "rule" and wondering, "What should I do if/when...?" but your many examples leave very little room for unanswered questions. Thank you for for your counsel, which you've made so easy to find. I can remember that on at least 2 specific occasions, I asked an "old, wise woman" to counsel me (each time a different woman)and both times I left with very little (or nothing) to guide me. There must be many others who are also grateful for your help.

  2. Why are my children so obedient, despite never feeling the need to smack them around like a volleyball? Don't you even wonder why your children flinch each time you pass the salt at the dinner table?

  3. I respect that you leave yourself open to criticism here. I read "Train up a Child" when my first child was less than a year old (and re-read it with each pregnancy!). I took it to heart and did my best. I read "No Greater Joy Volume II" when it came in a military care package after my third (loud and clamorous) child came along. I had much regret that I had not read it first as I had not seen the "joy" side of training when I read "To Train a Child". Now pregnant with #6 and the children aged 8 and under I am beginning to see more and more joy. I am spanking less and less though. I would have considered "time-out" a waste of time before. I reserve the right to use the rod, but I have found that it only escalates the situation for my "clamorous child". If she is out of control, my goal is to get her back under control and time-out does that for her immediately. A "properly administered" spanking sends her into a panic and makes things worse. Most everywhere I go, I receive complements on my children's behavior. My children know that I love to be around them and take them with me everywhere I go. My point is this: I want gentleness and peace, fruits of the spirit, to be the way I relate to my children. If a situation can be handled without spanking, that is my preference. Usually, it can. Even my two year old, when asked,"Are you going to disobey?" will stop whatever she is doing and make the right choice 99% of the time. Telling them what to do, followed by asking what their "choice" will be has prevented so many spankings for us, because it gives them the chance to think about their actions. I respect your perspective and experience, but a friend pointed out to me once (out of frustration) that her children respected the rod, not her voice. It made an impression on me. Again, I am not anti-spanking, I just can't see using it so often and for behavior that any sensible child would choose not to do when it is pointed out to him or her that it is about to lead to trouble. Can you give your thoughts on this?

  4. I have achieved the same results without having to resort to physical violence. To me, if you have to resort to hitting a child, you have lost some of your humanity, regardless of how "self controlled" you may feel.

  5. Disciplining you child with a spanking is not abuse nor is it violent. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ then you are saying that you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. In God's word He says "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is carefull to discipline him. Proverb 12:24

  6. This sounds like a beautiful success story. But there is one flaw in it: it began with an annoyance. He did not act in love; merely "insisted on his own way" which the Bible says is the opposite of love (cf 1 Corinth. 13). The child had an impulsive will to run inside and outside into the cold. He had a will to sit in peace and quiet. In this scene, the two wills are clashing... and the Christian thing for him to do would have been to humbly seek a compromise. The Bible says love does not insist on its own way.

    Also, it is detrimental to a child's emotional development to insist that they stop crying after experiencing pain. "Don't cry," "Don't protest," "Don't express your emotions about what has just been done to you." Perhaps your own children turned out "just fine" - even brilliantly. But not all children are that strong. A lot of them receive the message that they have no right to feel or express pain, even as grown-ups, because you denied them that right as children.

    You feel satisfied because, as a little girl, she sweetly bounded back to you with the resilience of a child. You think this quick forgiveness on her part justifies your actions. No, it simply shows her forgiveness... and her need for adult approval, protection, and hugs. Children will pretend to forget anything just to get that. But deep down, you harmed your little butterfly.

    I hope I was respectful enough in this comment. Blessings.