Sunday, July 4, 2021

The Battle of Peer Dependency: Chapter Six - Part One


Chapter Six of Marina Sears' parenting book "The Battle of Peer Dependency" teaches her readers far more about how her brain works and what she expects out of life than I expected.  We've seen in other portions of the book how she's very rigid about her personal beliefs and expects her children to join her in being a shining example of God's providence for widows and orphans.   She also frequently denigrates the normal behavior of her two oldest sons by twisting the reactions of her youngest sons to justify keeping her children sheltered and excluded from the rest of the world.  

The first quote begins to explain the paradox that defines Marina's life:

Shortly after marrying Jeff, we joined a bible-believing church where I began to study Scripture, and it soon became my desire to be a woman of faith. I admired the godly heroes of Scriptures, my pastor's wife, Patricia Gentry , and wonderful Christians, like Corrie Ten Boom who was at the top of the list. Since I was in a " classroom of suffering" I had hoped it would be a natural byproduct, but I was wrong.  Just being in a painful situation didn't guarantee that I would glean the wisdom and character that God wanted me to acquire. As I searched Scripture for the formula to success, I found that I, like most people, am looking for something like 1 + 1 =2 . This type of formula was based more on what I could do to help, how I could manipulate, or control the situation, rather than by faith, trust in God. As they continued to search, I discovered there is a formula found in Scripture, but many, wishing for instant results, may be discouraged in the journey. (pg. 79)
Marina Sears is stuck between two mutually exclusive premises.

Premise One: There is no single, formulaic method to achieve success in life.

Premise Two: There is a single, formulaic method to achieve success in life!

All throughout the book, Marina Sears' writing is often scattered and hard to make sense of.  In re-reading this chapter, I realized that one of the reasons for her difficult writing style is that Mrs. Sears is often combining examples of Premise One in the middle of trying to prove Premise Two.   In this sample paragraph, Mrs. Sears explains that suffering alone doesn't automatically give people character or wisdom.  I think that's a fair statement; suffering can lead to character and wisdom or it can lead to brokenness and muddled thinking.  That makes the statement about suffering =/= wisdom and character an example of Premise One: there is no singular formula in life.  

So...the paragraph is chugging along fine when Sears declares that formulas are about controlling and manipulating the situation rather than trusting God.   Surprisingly to her, I would also agree with that statement.  Mrs. Sears throughout the book shows no faith in anyone.   She doesn't trust her sons to be able to handle going to play volleyball because it doesn't serve the family purpose.  She doesn't trust any other adults to be involved in the training or education of her sons.   Most jarringly, she often claims that she trusts God, but she spends so much time trying to manipulate her sons to do whatever she wants that I really doubt she trust God's Leading in her sons' lives at all.

While that's a jarring confession combined with Mrs. Sears' lack of self-awareness, the paragraph has held together with the overarching theme that "there is no one formula for success in life".  

Then the final sentence says "Ha, ha! There actually IS a formula - but you posers are too weak to carry it out!"  

Good Lord, woman!  This entire book is chalked full of Mrs. Sears trying to manipulate her growing sons to stay dependent on her to make decisions - and generally failing miserably.   By some ironic fluke, Chris and Davey are remarkably impervious to Mrs. Sears' attempts to guilt-trip them into living at home forever.  

Here's another great example of an inchoate paragraph caused by trying to force a paradox to work: 
Faith does not believe that if I do certain things God is obligated to bless me and change my child. Faith understands that God, the Creator of my child, has given me a gift. The gift is the child whom He has entrusted to my care, to nurture, love, and train. These are my responsibilities as a parent. What is not my responsibility is whether or not my child will love the Lord his God with all of heart, soul, and might. Understanding and then making application in one's life of this principle is very important in rearing children. For who can change the heart of another individual? Can we, as parents, do things to influence and change another's heart? The answer to that is yes.  Realizing that as we influence our children, God is in control and he does the changing. (pg. 79)
Most of this paragraph follows very basic Christian dogma.   Most Christian groups believe that God is ultimately in control of changing someone's heart and that a person's willingness to have God change their heart helps the process along.   Different denominations and people disagree over how much to emphasize a person's willingness to change compared to God's Grace - but the two ideas do co-exist.

Marina Sears also sticks to a fairly common and uncontroversial application of parenting.  God gives parents the responsibility to raise their children to be good people - but the faith journey of their child is ultimately between God and the child.  Honestly, that makes basic sense from any point of view because faith is a internal attribute of a relationship between God and a person.  I cannot force any two people on Earth to trust each other - and similarly - a person's willingness to trust God is based on the state of their relationship with God which is affected by a myriad of factors that are out of anyone's control.  

In this vein, Mrs. Sears holds to Premise One - "there is no one formula for success" - until the last four sentences of the quote.     Near the end, Mrs. Sears asks a rhetorical question about the ability of one person to change another person's heart.   The standard response to that question is "No, the only person who can change their heart is the person themselves (or God)."   

Something in that question triggers a major shift in Mrs. Sears' thinking.  After having stuck with Premise One for most of a paragraph, she modifies the question to deal with the specific case of parents and children before diving into Premise Two - "there is a formula for success that I know".  

The most bizarre thing for me as a spouse, parent and professional is the fact that Mrs. Sears last paragraph completely ignores any sign of agency in the child regardless of age. In Mrs. Sears' world, a parent controls a child - that's what "influences" is short-hand for - and in return, God makes the kid's heart into the form that the parent wants.   

That's a good recipe for a piece of computer controlled equipment - the user puts in the desired specs and the equipment performs - but it's palpably crazy as a theological concept and devastating as a parenting technique.


  1. It makes me happy to know that, despite her best efforts, Mrs Sears’ oldest sons were still able to individuate successfully. Wherever they are now, I hope they’re doing well and have had some good therapy.

    1. Honestly, I worry less about the oldest two than the youngest two. Chris and David were 7 and 5 when Jeff died. They may not have many clear memories of what life was like when the family was a bit more functional - but I do think some of their rebellion is based on a gut-level understanding that the changes their mom is making is unhealthy.

      The two youngest - Camille and Jeff - were one and unborn respectively when Jeff died. Marina Sears has been the only parent the two of them have had their whole lives; they may think extensive sheltering is as normal as some of the younger Maxwells do.

    2. I agree. In my experience, when children are raised in these kinds of environments their ability to successfully integrate into normal life depends very much on how well they understand what normal life looks like.

    3. That makes a ton of sense. I always think of the Maxwells and how proud Steven Maxwell was that his younger five kids were so sheltered that the kids thought people put up Christmas lights in late October (for Halloween in reality) and then again in December.

      I mean... kudos for achieving nuclear levels of isolation if that's a huge life goal....but I'd be horrified if I managed to hide the existence of a major holiday from my son. I can't imagine being proud of "Oh, my son is completely unaware of Cinco de Mayo or May Day or Ramadan" - despite the fact that my family does nothing major for any of those holidays. I expect my kid as he gets older to be able to ask sensible, curious questions about cultural celebrations that he doesn't know about - and to show respect for different cultures.

      I want to raise him like that because I want him to be a positive agent of change in the world - not a singular bastion of values that were shopworn in the 1950's.

  2. If the book was published in 2001, how old are these kids now? Were they still children when she wrote it?

    1. Near as I can tell, Chris was 21 when the book was written due to a throwaway comment near the end. That would make David ~19, Camille ~15 and Jeff~14 when the book was written.

      So...let's assume Chris was 20 in 2000 which makes him the same age as my husband. That'd mean Chris is now 40-41, David is 38-37, Camille is 34-35 and Jeff is 33-34.