A Life With No Future: Rebecca’s Story
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Rebecca” is a pseudonym.
Trigger warnings: abuse and mentions of suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
My homeschooling story has similar themes to many of the others on Homeschoolers Anonymous: religious indoctrination, abusive dynamics, and educational neglect. Overall I feel like homeschooling inadequately prepared me for adulthood.
I was fourth in a family of six kids and I was homeschooled for every grade except kindergarten. We used the Christian Liberty Academy Satellite Schools curriculum for most of my education but had changed to Switched-On Schoolhouse (Alpha and Omega) for the later grades. I had a couple of friends and acquaintances in the local homeschool group, I attended church, and sometimes took community classes such as gymnastics and swimming. Still, my primary friends were my siblings.
Our family was not impoverished but we were lower class. Having enough money was a continual concern and a source of household stress. My parents spent a lot of time working to make ends meet and maybe it was because of this that they didn’t really interact with me much or supervise my education closely. The usual routine was that I would wake up, do the assignments in my workbooks by myself, and spend the rest of the day left to my own devices. Most days I only needed help for spelling tests. Despite the religious slant to the books, I did learn a lot from them and I’m glad that at least I had the basics of spelling, math, history, and so on drilled into me.
The teen years were when I started running into educational problems. I had done all right in math so far–I needed help sometimes, but I could do the workbooks more or less on my own– until I hit Algebra 1 and I could no longer make sense of it without help. I had Saxon Math, which had been working for me until that point, but it was just not clicking anymore. Unfortunately my mom was burnt out by all the working and homeschooling and she didn’t prioritize my education very highly.
By that point I was perhaps several grades behind in assorted other subjects. I wasn’t doing that badly at most of them but I had been lazy about finishing the work on a schedule, my parents never put the heat on me to learn, and gradually I stopped bothering with the schoolwork.
My formal learning ended with a whimper. There was no graduation or diploma, we just gave up. As far as I can remember, I never got past the equivalent of Junior year. I am not sure though, since I was often clueless as to what grade I was supposed to be in.
My parents were converted to Christianity at the time of the hippie-led Jesus Movement, and they brought their relatively relaxed approach to life to our upbringing. Unlike many Christian homeschool families, we were not an authoritarian household. Since we were fundamentalist/evangelical Christians, there were definitely lots of little red flags you had to look out for (Harry Potter? Bad. Secular music? Bad. Spaghetti strap tank tops? Bad), but for the most part our parents let us have freedom. I was allowed to dress in punk clothing. We could listen to any style of music as long as it was Christian. We could be friends with whoever we wanted. Our parents tended to trust our judgment in these things even during the dreaded teen years. I’m glad that we were allowed to be individuals, and that the homeschooling gave us lots of free time to play and read.
The problem was that this undisciplined parenting approach was at times neglectful, not only for my education but also my physical and mental health. I think I was undernourished as a little girl. I had chronic stomach pains that went unaddressed, and my parents were aware of my continual depression but didn’t do anything about it. My older siblings were the ones who most often paid attention to me, comforted me when my stomach hurt, and tried to help me cheer up. When they got jobs, they were the ones buying half my meals and I finally caught up to a normal weight level.
There was a pressing problem with my mother.
She had major personal/mental health problems that did not get treated adequately. Sometimes she would go into fits of rage and terrorize me and my siblings, or threaten to kill herself or my dad. When she was at her best, she was a laughing, curious person who loved to explore the world with her kids. When she was at her worst, I thought of ways to run away from home or kill myself to escape from her. Sometimes I did run away from home and self-harm. Rarely, the abuse was physical, but she only needed to sigh rudely for my heart to start pounding. I wish she had gotten help for her problems, and I wish she had not taken them out on us.
It has taken me a long time to realize how fucked up it was.
My major issue with my homeschooling experience is the fact that it didn’t seem to be progressing towards anything. My parents didn’t seem to realize that they were supposed to raise us to become adults, not just Christians. Instead my life seemed to exist in a warped kind of Never-Never Land in which I was rocketing towards adulthood equipped with only a child’s skill set.
I knew little or nothing about household maintenance, how to hold onto a job, how to work hard or make myself useful, fix a car or drive one, how to handle a romantic relationship, take public transport, talk to adults, or how to get a scholarship or apply to a college or even exactly what college was. It’s tough to raise kids on a shoestring budget, but there was no reason my parents shouldn’t have taught me this kind of stuff or helped me see a life beyond the four walls of our house. I was told on one occasion by my parents that they didn’t care what my future ended up looking like as long as I was Christian. That was the only time they gave me any guidance about my future. (I am now an atheist, incidentally.)
When I was a little girl I would talk about all the things I would grow up to be, but that stopped before long. There was a misogynist stigma in our family that women who had careers were evil (a job to make ends meet was one thing, but being a Career Woman was another). I did not have a good experience with the food-service job I briefly held when I was 14 and I have not been able to handle even entry-level jobs since. I get severe anxiety. In my teenaged years, I was aware of no way out of my parents’ house except to get married to someone with a job.
College was not on the table, since there was just no way for 6 kids from a low-class family to make it unless we paid for it ourselves (which only one of my siblings has managed to accomplish so far). There was also a sort of contempt for higher learning that I picked up on. Part of me wonders if this I-don’t-need-no-fancy-education attitude was based on a sense of inadequacy, like if it was out of our reach, we would pretend we were too good for it. When my friends graduated they all went on to college to broaden their horizons, leaving me in a small town with nobody to hang out with. I deeply resented and envied them because I was acutely aware that my life was going nowhere. I feel like if I had been public schooled, there is a chance that a teacher or counselor might have been able to help me see a bigger picture of my life. Instead the only option I thought I had was getting married. At 20, that’s what I did, and I moved out.
To this day, I still feel as if I’m 10 years behind my peers.
I’m 27 and only now exploring college options and figuring out how to get a diploma equivalent, which is something most other people are starting to look at when they’re still teenagers. I think this experience is familiar to some homeschoolers as well as some people who grew up disadvantaged, and I was both. My future is in my own hands now, and my success or failure depends on me, but I don’t believe I was given the best possible shot at life. I feel inadequate when people ask where I went to college, or what my career is.
The truth is, I don’t know how to explain that I was set up to have no future.
If you set out to educate 6 kids at home, you have to follow through all the way to adulthood with each and every one of them. You have to admit when you’re in over your head and put the kids first and not your ideology. I wish my parents had done that.
Now it’s up to me to pick up the pieces and make my life into something worthwhile.