Sean Paddock was just four years old when he died.
My youngest son is four. As I write this, he’s dressed in his Spiderman costume, showing me how he can climb over the fencing on the porch. He’s jumping from couch to floor. He’s hiding in the Amazon grocery box. His energy never stops.
His energy never stops, but mine does.
A part of me has sympathy for Lynn Paddock, Sean’s adoptive mom who is responsible for his death. Maybe she was exhausted? She was looking for help from a trusted source, and found deadly advice. She wrapped him tightly in blankets to “discipline” him so he couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t breathe. He died. “Disciplined” to death.
Let me be clear — Lynn Paddock was not just a tired mother who “made a mistake.” She was found guilty of felony child abuse and first degree murder.
And while they have not been found to have legal responsibity, moral responsibility for Sean’s death (and that of Lydia and Hana) also lies in the teachings of Michael and Debi Pearl.
When Sean died, we had been back in the U.S. for just under a year. God had worked on my heart in ways that changed my attitude and actions towards my children. By that time I understood that the Christian conventional wisdom about spanking was more a cultural value than mandated in the Bible.
And then Sean Paddock died.
Sean died of child abuse in a Christian home. Died at the hands of a mother who others described as always wanting to do the “right” thing. Died a young four-year-old boy, acting simply as four-year-old boys act.
Why did his mother, who may have been well-intentioned at least at the start, abuse her child to death?
Part of the legal defense points to her own abuse as a child. Another part of the legal defense and the broader investigation point to the influence of Michael and Debi Pearl and their book, “To Train Up A Child.”
Within many churches and home school circles, copies of this self-published book was handed out to every new parent. Fans of the book would buy it discounted by the case. Well-meaning pastors’ wives would hand it out to new members.
I read it in the early ’90s while babysitting for a lovely family, a family I still admire. Just enough sounded good or Biblical to bypass my defenses. Build relationships, “tie heart-strings,” nurture your children. Just enough Bible references are scattered throughout for Christians to lower their guard and buy in to its harmful teachings.
Michael and Debi Perl promise fewer spankings and instant obedience. These promises can lure in loving parents, who are charmed by the Pearls folksy common-sense stories, and deceived by their shiny website with faces of happy families. Some are not only sucked into their false teachings, but promote them actively to others.
But then Sean Paddock died. Slowly the few voices that had warned about the extremism of the Pearls’ teachings grew. I thought it would shock enough Christians that the Church as a whole would stop promoting these teachings. But not everyone was listening. . .
Sean Paddock died.
Then Lydia Schatz died.
Then Hana Williams died.
Stop a moment. Digest that.
Three children died of abuse at the hands of their Christian, adoptive parents.
Perhaps others have also died, but the connection has not been made to TTUAC by the media.
How many hundreds or thousands more children have been abused at the hands of their well-intentioned, loving and Christian parents? I know many of them.
Did you catch that? Physical abuse can happen, even when you love your child and intend to discipline and not abuse.
God have mercy.
February will always be a hard month for me, a month to remember. Writing about Sean, Lydia, and Hana at the anniversary of their deaths is both a ritual of mourning, and a issuance of warning.
“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” – Mark 10:14-16