HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Matthew” is a pseudonym.
In this series: Part One | Part Two
High School Years
My first year in high school was wonderful for me. Finally, I was out of the house! I made friends and felt like I could finally breathe. I won’t go into great detail about my high school experience, since that isn’t the point of this story. However, I will point out a few things that I noticed over those four years:
• I discovered that I had a real problem with social anxiety. I’m not sure if this is hereditary or caused by my childhood. After reading some of the stories on this site, I’m thinking that it was a little of both.
• I was plagued by feelings of inadequacy. I thought I was not good enough, smart enough, athletic enough, witty enough… none of it. I did come to the realization that there are things that I’m good at, but it took years. In high school, I wound up trying everything since I had no idea where I fit in – I’d never had other kids around for me to gauge my own ability.
• I was plagued by guilt. Even if I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was often overcome by guilt over my (imagined and real) transgressions. This tied a lot into the messages we were receiving at church, which at this point were downright toxic.
• I had little-to-no self-confidence. As a homeschooler, you become so used to your parents’ authority, that you don’t really know how to make your own decisions, or when you do, you constantly second guess yourself.
So while getting out of the house was a welcome relief, I still felt like I was trying to overcome my upbringing.
At Home – Part 2
While I was off enjoying my high school experience, the “shit was hitting the fan” at home… oh, and how! My oldest younger sister had started hanging out with this girl she met at the homeschooling coop, and they decided they weren’t going to let being at home slow them down. I noticed one night that my sister and this girl, who was sleeping over, were acting really strange and goofy. Turns out, they were drunk! But how did they get the alcohol? After all, my parents didn’t drink. I later learned that my 12-year-old, shy-as-can-be sister stole it from a convenience store!
For my little sister, this would kick off what would become a six year blur of cigarettes, alcohol, promiscuous sex, drugs, and whatever else. To this day, I am convinced that the combination of home schooling and extreme Christian Fundamentalism destroyed her confidence. I remember her telling me, at 11, that she had given up and could never live up to the standard — I really think that she cracked under the pressure of that atmosphere.
She got pregnant at 17, got married, moved out, and hasn’t had issues with drugs or alcohol since. She and her husband now have 5 kids, all of whom are in public school, and her oldest daughter (13) is an exemplary student. All of her kids appear to be doing well.
Because of my sister’s meltdowns, I ended up getting away with a lot that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So in a roundabout way, I owe her a “thanks” for taking the pressure off me and humbling our parents. I did take advantage of her recklessness and flew under the radar as I started drinking at 15.
The drinking continued on into college. I could never shake the idea that I wasn’t good enough and that I was in a perpetual state of sin, so the alcohol helped me to ease the anxiety and mentally “check out” for long periods of time.
Then I’d get sober, feel horrible, and go cry to my Christian friends about how I was going to hell. My secular friends would shake their heads and wonder why I was so conflicted. This pattern continued until I got sober at about 26 years old.
Other things happened in college as well. My drinking habits combined with my lack of any sort of sex education made me a sitting duck when it came to STDs and unexpected pregnancy.
But despite all that, I managed to graduate.
Today, I don’t harbor any resentment over my upbringing, as I realize it could have been a whole lot worse! There were actually several good things that came out of it:
• Since much of my learning was from reading books and not in the classrooms, I’m very good at figuring things out on my own. This has been a very beneficial skill to have as an IT specialist.
• I don’t mind being alone. This is something I’m starting to see as a blessing. During my four year marriage (yes… I’m divorced) I was miserable most of the time. I always had to come home to a spouse who was either angry with me or trying to drag me to some function that I didn’t really feel like attending. Once I realized that marriage is not for me, I’ve been able to enjoy being a single dad, making my own way. Since as a kid, I often went out and about to do things on my own, it isn’t really much of an adjustment to do things and go places on my own today. I don’t need a large social circle.
• I’ve seen the damage that religious extremism causes and I can spot the warning signs a mile away. While I still attend church, it’s a seeker-sensitive, theology-lite congregation that just loves everyone. I take my kids on the weekends when I have them, but I don’t preach at them. Their faith is between them and God. I expect them to make mistakes and refuse to hold them to a higher standard than the one I hold for myself. I have no idea if God is real or if the Bible is completely true. If he is and his word is true, then I’m sure he’ll get my attention one way or another. But after years of unanswered prayers, a failed marriage, kids from multiple relationships, and alcoholism, I find it hard to believe that he is actively involved in our lives.
• I witnessed first-hand the despair and hopelessness of many disillusioned homeschooling parents. These are people who, by and large, poured their hearts and souls into raising Godly men and women. Seeing this convinced me that it’s best to adopt a “live and let live” parenting model and to love your children unconditionally! Even if my son winds up marching in the local gay pride parade with his boyfriend and my daughter ends up working overtime at the Diamond Club, I will still love them and welcome them in my home with open arms. Life is too short for fallouts over lifestyle choices.
Homeschooling was really just one piece of the whole dysfunctional puzzle. I’m sure that if other factors had been different, but I was still homeschooled, I might feel differently about it than I do now. That said, it is very encouraging to read accounts from other homeschoolers to confirm that many of my experiences are shared by others.
End of series.
I could write a story similar to this one… except that I was public schooled. I am a homeschool parent and my horrific school experience is a big reason why. While there is no excuse for abuse ever and I am completely on board with full accountability there, in response to this article I would like to add that virtually NO ONE has good tween and teen years. They just suck. Even the ones you saw who seemed “cool” or “popular” were miserable on the inside (the ones I’ve talked to anyway). Any type of schooling has its pros and cons and those are particular to each family. The worst of my abuse/ trauma was late elementary and middle school, which this author missed. Like him, I can only try to do better and attempt to give my children a better experience than I had.
Grace, you should read Crosspost: 20 Ways Not to Respond to Homeschool Horror Stories
You hit several of those responses but this one in particular:
9. Say that you/your kid/someone you know had a much worse experience in public school/government school/a hole in the ground and so I should quit bellyaching and overdramatizing my homeschooling experience and instead just be grateful it wasn’t as bad of a story as the one you just told.
Grace, if you take anything home, take the last paragraph home with you. As a home school mom with eyes wide open, I was already noticing the teen pregnancies, divorces, porn addictions and sexual deviance (home school dad trying to pick up a 15 yr old on the internet!) in addition to the misdiagnosed/ignored mental health issues and learning disabilities in my little corner of the Christian home school world. Eyes wide open is a great way to carry on!
And remember this: we came to our faith on our own, without having daily devotions for the first eighteen years of our life, Christian radio, Christian books and fiction, church three times a week, etc. As I type this, I wonder why I didn’t realize then that I was overdosing my children on religion? Well, I did figure it out eventually, but it took years. Those were hard years too, as I felt like such a failure as a Christian parent when my children didn’t turn out like I was expecting.
But now I realize that they are better than what I was expecting! LIke Matthew, I seriously will support and love my children no matter where they wind up or with whom they wind up. Love is the most excellent way. I wish you well on your journey.