real encouragement for real homeschool moms

john muir


The story is told of the amazing conservationist and naturalist, John Muir. Raised in the home of a harsh and strict Presbyterian pastor who immigrated to the Unites States from Scotland, young John was forced to memorize Scripture and the catechisms each day, his father beating him with a belt in order to accomplish these tasks. By the time he was an adult, he had committed the entire New Testament and three quarters of the Old Testament to memory. During his young adult years, Muir traveled throughout the United States, eventually settling in California where he worked with President Teddy Roosevelt to see Yosemite established as the first national park. As an adult, Muir rejected Christianity and embraced a form of pantheism, seeing God in the nature he had grown to love and worship. I wonder how much of his rejection of his Christian roots can be attributed to the abuse he endured as a child in the name of “godly” parenting?

19 Responses to the fruits of harsh parenting

  • Granddad says:

    Be careful where this leads. It can easily degenerate into, “it’s your fault I rejected the gospel” which contradicts the first 2+ chapters of Romans.

    I certainly understand the point that you’re trying to make, but my salvation is not dependent upon what my parents did or what they didn’t do. That being said, what you described with John Muir seems to suggest that his father did not understand the gospel and the grace of God as expressed in the Cross.

  • Such a sad story, but we can use it as a reminder of how we present GOD to our children. “Train up a child in the way he should go….” “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, but bring them up in the admonition of the Lord.” It says to bring them up in the “admonition” not by beating the Word into them. Yes, GOD is righteous and just, and HE is even angry(at sin), but the most important thing our children need to understand is that HE is LOVE – HE loved us enough to send HIS ONLY begotten SON to die for us. Why is that we show so little mercy and grace toward our children and turn around and thank GOD for the mercy and grace HE shows us? We are the first glimpse of The Father, so we need to take that seriously.

    That said, Granddad is right. We can’t allow the parenting skills (or lack thereof) to be an excuse for anyone who chooses death over life. Everyone reaches an age of accountability and will have to stand before GOD for their decision. However, as a parent, we are also going to stand before GOD and give an accounting for how we raised these children HE has given us to “babysit”. I use the word “babysit” because in all reality, they are HIS, not ours. HE has given them to us for a time, and HE was even kind enough to give us an instruction manual for the time we have them. Let’s use it with the same amount of love, grace, and mercy HE uses with us.

  • thatmom says:

    “He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

    The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”” ~Luke 17:1-5

  • Anthea says:

    “John was forced to memorize Scripture and the catechisms each day, his father beating him with a belt in order to accomplish these tasks. By the time he was an adult, he had committed the entire New Testament and three quarters of the Old Testament to memory”

    See, this is where I’m going wrong. We do one verse in about 10 days, and I have the children on a tough, relentless programme : 20p if you can say the verse, and after every 5th verse a special reward — so far we have been to a milkshake bar, won some funky stationery, and had bonus payments. For the 25th verse, they are getting electric toothbrushes.

    In comparison with John, they ain’t learning many verses. We are having some fun,though. Do you think that being achievement-focused, rather than process-focused, is a trap into which we can easily fall? Is it not tempting for home educating mothers to be pushing our kids so that we can brag on them and “prove” to the world that home edding “works”? I have to remind myself about why we want our children to learn certain things, so that I don’t force the pace of work or communicate a sense of being panicked. This is the grade-obsessed, sausage-factory education which we rejected in the first place. So should I be introducing it into our home?

    I think that harshness can slip in as a result of our own anxiety and competitive spirit. Thankfully, I am married to a hippy husband who does not care about “keeping up” or “getting ahead”.

  • Leah says:

    This is such a sad story about Muir. Luke 17 came to my mind also. I don’t think this is about letting anyone “off the hook” for their own life choices as much as a sobering reminder of the importance of appropriately representing the character of God to our children. My goal is to introduce them to the person of Jesus Christ and aid them in developing their own relationship with Him.

    Anthea, (the autocorrect on my phone keeps trying to change your name to Anthrax!), I really appreciate your comment above. I struggle with the concept of making my children memorize scripture. On the one hand, I want them to know as much of it as possible (for me, not so much as an achievement but because of the life it brings to me personally). But on the other hand, I don’t want it reduced to another “school” subject, another goal to be met along with memorizing times tables to get a reward. Also, it seems preferable to know the particular verses within their own context, from which single verse memorization often distracts.
    I’d love to hear how you and other parents and seasoned homeschoolers navigate this area.

  • Laura (old OR vintage) says:

    The point was made that we have to be careful not to blame our sin , or whether or not we are saved, on the bad things that others did to us. And I think that is true, but not the whole truth.

    This is just my opinion, but it seems to me that although we are individually accountable to Christ, that others-particularly persons who had control over us in some way- will most certainly be held accountable as well.

    I see it as this: We want to blame one or the other. God sees the whole picture , we don’t. I am distressed at the mantra I hear in Christian circles that no matter what is done to us, we are 100% at fault for our bad choices. Don’t get me wrong- this IS true, but again- not the whole truth. People hurt and wound and damage other people, and not everyone is able to come out of harsh or abusive situations having it all together. It’s like the marriage classes that I have sat through that teach over and over that if your spouse is awful to you, it’s a response to how awful you have been to them. Maybe, and maybe not! People damage other people, and many of us bear scars in this life. Only God can know what is truly in our hearts.

    Thank God that He is a God of compassion, and that His love covers a multitude of sins!

  • Lana says:

    Interesting story. You might be right although reading the Bible as just a story (and no life) in that amount of detail can also lead to agnosticism. The Bible is dark at times, and without a relationship with God, I’d given it up too.

  • Ric says:

    - but do we have clues as to why he chose a different religion, beyond speculation of cause and effect?

  • Ric says:

    - I realize the question was rendered in the blog note, but this seems to be a strawman. Some have replied, rightly, that scripture is valid regardless. Others, rightly too, have suggested we parents have an obligation to not exasperate our children. I would expect that Muir wrote some things about his painful upbringing. Maybe he directly related the impact of that parenting to his appreciation of God who would allow it? But, vice speculation, can anything like that be found?

  • thatmom says:

    Actually Muir himself is the source of the information about the abuse. Will look for the exact quote. It is interesting too because it mirrors then testimony of many counselors today. I have been reading Ross Campbell’s How to Love Your Child and his accounts are the same. Highly recommending the book, bw.

  • thatmom says:

    ““I have seen the results of this approach. Children who were passive, compliant, very quiet, withdrawn, and very easily controlled when they were young, lacked a strong, healthy love-attachment to their parents as adolescents and gradually became defiant, resentful, difficult to control, self-centered, non-giving, nonaffectionate, insensitive, nonforgivng, noncompassionate, resistant to authority, and unkind.” ~ Ross Campbell

  • Ric says:

    thank you, I look forward to the Muir quotes. I wonder too, if those things happened more in those days and beyond due to the roughness of life, in general. But I’m also reminded that sin is sin.

  • Ally says:

    I agree with Ross. I was harsh Christian m and all of my children exhibits those characteristics. I have apologized to them over and over again. My kids are unmotivated, defiant and got in trouble with the law. I don’t know what to do. I am truly sorry and I am carrying so much guilt.

  • thatmom says:

    Ally, I want to encourage you to not give up on your children! It isn’t over until it is over. Keep praying for the Lord to intervene in their lives and to give them hearts that are soft toward you.

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Three Cheers……..
truth from the Word
"Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73: 25-26
Phillip E. Johnson says:
“When pressed in interviews to name my heroes, I have spontaneously responded that they are homeschooling mothers! To me, the heroic mothers who nurture the next generation of faithful Christians are among the leaders of the church.” ~ Phillip E. Johnson
John Stonestreet says:
“C.S. Lewis said that for every new book we read, we ought to read three old ones. But I think for every latest, greatest new homeschooling book you read, go find three old homeschooling moms and ask them what happened and what worked.” ~ John Stonestreet
Oswald Chambers says:
"If we simply preach the effects of redemption in the human life instead of the revealed, divine truth regarding Jesus Himself, the result is not new birth in those who listen. The result is a refined religious lifestyle, and the Spirit of God cannot witness to it because such preaching is in a realm other than His." ~ Oswald Chambers
Carolyn Custis James says:
“The power of our theology comes alive when we take the truth personally. Holding God at arm’s length—no matter how much theology we think we know—will never make us great theologians. We have to learn to write our own names into the plot. God will always be the subject of our theological sentences but our sentences are incomplete until we make ourselves the direct objects of his attributes…..Simply knowing a lot of theological ideas, no matter how orthodox and sound they are, will never turn us into great theologians. Theology isn’t really theology for us until we live it. Not until we learn to make explicit connections between what we know about God and the race we are running will we taste the transforming power of our theology. Fixing our eyes on Jesus means reminding ourselves of all that He is to us now. He brings meaning to our routines and energizes us to tackle the difficult tasks at hand. Fixing our eyes on Jesus gives us hope to offer disheartened husbands and hurting friends, and the wisdom we need to raise children who will fix their eyes on Him, too.” ~ from Carolyn Custis James in When Life and Beliefs Collide
William Carey says:
"Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don't really matter."
Tim Keller says:
"God’s love and forgiveness can pardon and restore any and every kind of sin or wrongdoing. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve deliberately oppressed or even murdered people, or how much you’ve abused yourself… There is no evil that the Father’s love cannot pardon and cover, there is no sin that is a match for his grace." ~ Tim Keller
Tim Keller also says:
“The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.” ! Tim Keller in The Reason for God.
Anne Ortlund says:
“So what do we do to encourage them to grow inwardly, to become resourceful and creative, to think, to meditate, to lay the foundation for growing up well? Don’t push, but affirm them! Give them the sense that all is well, that their rate of progress is acceptable to you, that you like them just the way they are…..Guide them but be delighted in them. Let them know that life is to be reached for and drunk of deeply…..Enthusiastic, that’s how you want them to grow up! The word comes from “en Theo,” or “in God.” Support them with words of faith, hope, and love, and in that framework “in God,” they’ll be ready to tackle everything. Fears and cautions are built in at an early age but so is courage! Tomorrow’s world will be different if your child has been released to experiment, to risk, to lead others, to pursue righteousness, to be an affecter for good in society, to go courageously after God.” ~ Anne Ortlund in Children Are Wet Cement
J.C Ryle says:
"Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys, these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily, these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart." ~ J. C. Ryle in The Upper Room
Kathy Thile says:
"I say this gently, as the parent of grown kids, knowing *insert parenting guru* is also the parent of grown kids: we have wonderful children — he does, I’m sure — and so do I. But without even knowing his children I can know this about them: they are not perfect. They hurt. They make mistakes. They struggle. They are prideful and overly simplistic at times; and crippled by shame and hesitancy at others. Yes — they are beautiful examples of human beings, his children (I assume), and mine (I know.) But they are not perfect. If they were, they would not be human. If it were possible to raise children to perfection, then God would have sent a parenting method, not Jesus. Our marching orders are not to raise our children by a method to be like *insert parenting guru* children. Our marching orders are to be Christians to and with our children." ~ Kathy Thile
Clay Clarkson says:
“Many Christian parents, myself included, tend to speak to children as though they were Pharisees. We can speak harshly and with judgment, implying by our manner that their hearts are hard and resistant. But this attitude is not justified by Scripture. There is no record of Jesus ever speaking to a a child in a harsh tone. When the Gospels record Him speaking to a child, it is always with gentleness. Our children are not our adversaries. Though our children’s hearts are corrupted by sin, they are not hardened sinners who have made conscious choices to reject the Savior. Our children are simply immature and childish. That’s why children need love and compassion, not harshness and guilt.” ~ Clay Clarkson in Heartfelt Discipline
Tim Kimmel says:
“Grace can’t be some abstract concept that you talk about in your home. It has to be a real-time action that ultimately imprints itself in your children’s hearts. To talk about grace, sing about grace, and have our children memorize verses about grace – but not give them specific gifts of grace – is to undermine God’s words of grace in their hearts. Grace means that God not only loves them but that He loves them uniquely and specially. The primary way to give our children grace is to offer it in place of our selfish preferences.” ~ Tim Kimmel in Grace-Based Parenting
Chuck Swindoll says:
"You want to mess up the minds of your children? Here's how - guaranteed! Rear them in a legalistic, tight context of external religion, where performance is more important than reality. Fake your faith. Sneak around and pretend your spirituality. Train your children to do the same. Embrace a long list of do's and don'ts publicly but hypocritically practice them privately...yet never own up to the fact that its hypocrisy. Act one way but live another. And you can count on it - emotional and spiritual damage will occur. "
Anna Quindlen says:
“The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less." ~ Anna Quindlen
Winston Churchill says:
“My education was interrupted only by my schooling." ~ Winston Churchill
John Taylor Gatto says:
"The shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn’t real." ~ John Taylor Gatto
Fred Rogers say:
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” ~ Fred Rogers
thatmom says
"The truth is that the way a marriage becomes truly heavenly is for each husband and each wife to pursue, really pursue, a relationship with Jesus Christ, to commit to obey the Word of God, to set aside each of their own agendas and paradigms, and then as they walk in the Holy Spirit, as they are sanctified, a little at a time each day, they will grow closer to one another. Godly wisdom will manifest itself in purity, peace, gentleness, mercy, a willingness to submit to one another, the fruits of the spirit, and no role-playing (the true meaning of hypocrisy). (James 3:17)" ~ thatmom
thatmom says:
"We need to approach our children not as character projects, but rather, we must see them with hearts of sympathy, with compassion and understanding, and with ears that listen. You see, homeschooling is not about lesson plans and research papers and standardized tests. Homeschooling is about building a relationship with our children, friendships that will last our entire lives on earth and clear into eternity. Homeschooling is merely the tool whereby we build those relationships." ~ thatmom
thatmom knows:
As a homeschooling mom, I have realized that everything, ultimately, is outside of my own control. I have learned that the unique circumstances that happen in my family have occurred because God’s plan is so much bigger than my own. It is knowing this truth about God and in experiencing that truth with those in my home that has enabled us to face past challenges and that will prepare us for all those difficulties that still lie before us.
thatmom says:
"Real books from the library, a tub of art supplies, being read stories rich in vocabulary, a variety of good music, the daily discussion of God’s Word and how it relates to the world around him, and the attention of a loving parent who includes him in all the activities of real life are the secrets to a great learning experience for children." ~ thatmom
thatmom realizes:
If I think about nearly 40 years of marriage, times the number of loads of laundry I have done for 2 parents, 6 children and 1 grandma, I am amazed to know that I have washed, dried, folded, (sometimes ironed) and put away roughly 27,526 loads of laundry. That is over 215,000 socks! Or, in that same amount of time, provided 38,324 meals for a family and sometimes guests. Or that I have overseen nearly 21,500 hours of education of one sort or another during that time. Just thinking of these numbers takes my breath away. ~ thatmom
thatmom says:
"Being a mom is sort of like being all the people who crowd into a basketball arena all at once. Sometimes we are the players, the ones who are responsible for everything that is going on and our presence is front and center. Sometimes we are the coaches, giving comfort and encouragement, instructing with a clipboard in hand. Other times we are the referees, no striped shirts required but whistles are a must to break up the disputes when the game isn’t played as per the rules. Still other times we are the fans, cheering wildly from the stands, shouting from a distance but not from the floor. And then there are the days when we are the cheerleaders, the ones who scream 'Yeah, you can do it.' " ~ thatmom
thatmom says:
“The beauty of homeschooling is building relationships within our families and inspiring our children to become lifelong learners, gently leading them into the truth of Scripture and trusting that the work we have begun will be brought to completion by a sovereign God who has a plan for building His heavenly kingdom.” ~ thatmom
thatmom also says:
“After parenting for 36 years, I have come to realize that all paradigms are basically a list of do’s and don’ts that someone has created. Instead of embracing a list, I have discovered that it is best for me to run all ideas, philosophies, and paradigms through my “one-anothering hopper.” I ask myself if the suggestions or ideas I am hearing will serve to build my relationships or will serve to tear them down; will they reflect the one-anothering commands of Scripture? I ask if they are a picture of Christ and His relationship with me as His needy daughter. If not, I am not interested, no matter how much appeal they might have for any number of reasons.” ~ thatmom
thatmom says this, too:
“The word wisdom is used in Exodus to describe the knowledge that the Lord gave to the skilled artisans so they could make Aaron’s garments for worship. We are told that these workers “were given wisdom and understanding in knowledge and all manner of workmanship.” I have never had to sew any garments for a priest to wear for worship. I have not had to sew any draperies or build any walls or prepare any inner sanctuary as per the Lord’s instructions. But I have been called to give all I can toward the goal of building up children in the faith, preparing children for life outside my home, children whose bodies, we are told, are called the very temple of the Holy Spirit, children whose job it is to worship in spirit and in truth." ~ thatmom
what does thatmom believe?
" What is thy only comfort in life and death? "That I, with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who, with His precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him." ~ Heidelberg Catechism
What does it mean to be a Christian?

1.We must acknowledge that we are all sinners. “For we are all become as one that is unclean, and all our righteousnesses are as a polluted garment: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6) and “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

2.We are all accountable for our own sins before God. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

3.There is only one way to be forgiven of these sins and that is through the blood of Jesus Christ. “Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

4.If we confess our sin to the Lord and repent of it (not allow it to rule in our lives) we can be forgiven and be in right standing with God. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousenss.” (1 John 1:9)

5.Genuine salvation will result in living lives of good works but none of those works contribute in any way to our standing before God which is based solely and completely on the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. (Hebrews 10:12) and “Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5) and “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8)

6.We all, men and women, boys and girls, have direct access to the throne of grace because everyone who is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ is called a “priest and king” in God’s economy. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (I Peter 2:9)

I believe that many of the false teachings within the patriocentric movement are in direct contrast to these Scriptures and I would encourage each of us to first examine what we believe about Jesus and His work on the cross, its implications and its marvelous power.

Secondly, I would challenge anyone reading here to examine your own heart and ask yourself whether you have been trusting in good works….baptism, homeschooling, church attendance, modest dress, the list goes on and on, or if you have placed ALL your faith and hope in Jesus’ blood and righteousness alone.

And finally, I would challenge you to examine the teachings within your own church system, whether it is Protestant, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, etc. Ask yourself what your church teaches about ecclesiastical authority and family authority. Does it line up with the Word of God? It is a top down system that requires certain works in exchange for a relationship with Jesus Christ or do you have the assurance that you are saved for eternity by His death on the cross in your stead? Does it teach that the fruits of the spirit and obedience to all the one anothers is what our lives will demonstrate or is there a list of man made rules?

If you desire to talk with me about this, please send me a note to My desire is that no one who visits this website will leave without knowing the glorious truth that we can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and can enjoy a life filled with His goodness and grace!

Adoration of the Home was painted by regional artist, Grant Wood. The original hangs in the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. Ben Campbell and Lon Eldridge deserve extra cookies for writing, performing, recording, and mixing Mom’s Prairie Song for the podcast intro and outro. Great job, guys. Garrison Keillor would be proud.

Copyright © 2014 ~ ~ Karen Campbell ~ All Rights Reserved.