“The Jones family is so, so, so, so, so, so dysfunctional,” my mom said to me recently. She spoke of another one of the perfectionistic-Quiverfull homeschool families, now turned divorced family. “When Michael forgot to close the door to the chicken coop, Mrs. Jones made him sleep out there with the chickens.”
I shook my head, trying to grasp my mother’s logic of the oh, so, so, so, so dysfunctional family as I thought of my childhood. My mother locked me out of the house for my disrespectful mouth. And I got sent to my room with nothing but bread and water. She sent me there indefinitely, until my heart softened, until my heart broke, until I could master up the nerve to make a fake apology. By day I was tough and angry; by night I cried over my Bible and pretended I was Elsie Dinsmore, the beloved fictional character (popular in homeschool cirlces) I wanted to be.
Outsiders of Christian Patriarchy might argue that my mom is just dysfunctional, and “regular” home school families would not do this. And in part, I agree; my mother’s dysfunction was her own pain and her own lies swelling up within. But my mother’s story is not merely her own either. My mother got her parenting advice from the kindest (at least outwardly) and most friendly homeschool mom I knew. And she got her advice from families who dressed more normal than us. And she got her advice from families who actually read normal literature books instead of just missionary stories and Elsie Dinsmore. In fact, because she got her advice from “normal” people, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the problem was clearly me.
My parents re-went through To Train Up a Child and Growing Kids God’s Way with a group of church families when I was 13. I am not sure if the young home school moms were looking for my parent’s advice or if my mom was genuinely worried about me, but there they were knee-deep in shamed based parenting again. I was put in charge of babysitting all the little 2 and 4 year olds, one of the ironies of life. At home I was “rebellious,” but at other people’s homes considered “mature” and “wise.” If the children misbehaved, the parents spanked the kids the next day and made the children call me up and apologize. As a teenager, the kids’ consequences bothered me. But today I just cringe that they took the word of a broken and hurting 13 year old whose mother got her parenting advice from them.
In shame based parenting, the goal is to gain the child’s heart by breaking it first.
The scene from Elsie comes to mind. Elsie’s little brother is told to do something — I think fetch the newspaper –and he refuses. And so Mr. Dinsmore, the father, spanks the boy over and over again until the little boy finally submits, all the while the submissive wife sits in her rocking chair and cries.
In our group, parents spanked their four year old until they submitted, and my mother kept me in my room (or just avoided me) until I changed my heart, until I apologized.
I had (and still have) both the Mildred and Elsie dolls my parents bought me through Vision Forum, and we had all of the books. And I read them and read them and pretended I was that submissive, but by day, my mouth fought out every absurd command my mother gave me and every mean look my mother tossed my way, and I was not sorry for it.
I was a kid who just wanted to be loved. But the advice from all the other mothers and all the parenting books said love wasn’t what I needed. In fact, it was the opposite, they said. I needed to be disciplined. I needed consequences. I needed to stay in my room.
When parents tell me they spank their kids for “rebellion” or do this or that for “rebellion,” I cringe and wonder the story of their child’s heart. Perhaps no yelling is thrown the child’s way. Perhaps it’s just consequences. Perhaps this, perhaps that. Yet behind it all, I know and I have lived the truth. These intents never win the child’s heart. It merely breaks it.