Dobson’s “Strong-Willed” Children, Broken Spirits

Considering the parental allure of James Dobson’s worldview

Sarah Stankorb
4 min readJan 24, 2023
Photo: Kat Smith

When our son was a newborn, he had a floppy airway. That vital thing was just not yet fully formed and while he was fine and healthy enough to be released home, every once in a while in his sleep, if he inhaled sharply, the change in pressure would collapse the pink tubing of his windpipe enough that our small, entirely dependent boy would make a sharp gasping sound. Euuuhhhhhhhhhhhh.

I’d dart to his bassinette. My own heart was in my mouth, but he was fine. Always fine. His airway would find its shape again, and he’d breathe once more. It didn’t alarm or even wake him if he wasn’t already up. But for me, it underscored just how much this new, small person I loved immediately and with the velocity of a freight train was a creature not yet fully formed. He was a work in progress, and one dependent upon me, and circumstance, and the fortune of a body still coming together. He was so fragile.

I couldn’t imagine consciously choosing to put that at risk at any age.

I can’t imagine hurting him or our daughter (or any child) on purpose.

Yet I’ve interviewed too many people subjected to raised hands, belts, switches, tubing, wooden spoons — you pick — whose parents too…



Sarah Stankorb

Sarah Stankorb, author of Disobedient Women, has published with The Washington Post, Marie Claire, and many others. @sarahstankorb