Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com, is the news editor of the UCCS student newspaper, and is majoring in English and Chemistry. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on January 17, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.
The morning I moved out, I texted my research professor who was helping me leave that my parents weren’t letting me take the heirloom violin, but left me an old laundry basket, a case of canned green beans, and a pot they didn’t like.
She replied, “That sounds like Harry’s birthday presents from the Dursleys.” Yep. The crazy relatives who made Harry Potter live in the cupboard under the stairs.
Sometimes my parents act like the Dursleys. Or even Miss Minchin in A Little Princess. It’s easy to compare my parents to fairy tale bad guys. And even helpful sometimes in predicting their behavior.
But villainizing anyone denies the psychological complexity at work.
My parents are more like the mature antagonists in classical literature. They’re more similar to Javert in Les Miserables, whose sense of justice and punishment for lawbreakers overrides any compassion, rendering him incapable of giving or accepting mercy.
And the pastor at my old church isn’t a villain either.
Sometimes I feel like fundamentalism was like living in Wise Blood, one of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic novels. The story is riddled with variations of extreme street preachers proclaiming damnation, but unable to uphold their own rigid moral standards.
My parents paid tuition for the A Beka Academy video curriculum, which was more than other families at our church could afford and made sure I graduated with an accredited high school diploma so I didn’t have to take the GED like my other homeschooled friends.
In 3rd grade when I was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin and a depressant, my mom saw how unbalanced I was. She told the doctors she’d make our home quiet so I could focus. She copied my long division problems lengthwise on lined notebook paper so I’d keep the columns straight.
My parents noticed I wasn’t on the growth percentile charts at the pediatrician’s office. They appealed for insurance coverage for my growth hormone therapy when I was 12 to 16. Female growth plates between bones fuse around menarche, so my parents worked with my endocrinologist for an experimental combined treatment that delayed puberty and gave me more growing time.
My dad was even going to sell our more expensive car to afford a year of treatment without insurance.
If not for the daily Nutropin and monthly Lupron injections, today I’d be a real-life dwarf. I wouldn’t be able to drive a regular car or reach dishes in kitchen cabinets.
And they did pay for my first three years of college. My dad always said he wanted to give me “every advantage in life.”
I know deep down my parents love me.
Even if they don’t believe I am an adult yet. Even if they try to control what I believe and what I do.
Their beliefs dictate that they should shun me because I don’t measure up to what they think God wants.
Back in high school, the pastor at my old church talked me through why the King James Version isn’t an inspired translation or the only valid Bible to read. It was one of the first conversations that helped me to recognize the fear and control inherent in legalism.
And now he too believes I should be ostracized.
The summer I moved out, I borrowed the graphic novel Watchmen from my punk friend Kat. It’s about the second generation of a group of superheros blended into American history. But the first generation wasn’t as perfect as the press advertised.
“Who watches the Watchmen?” the book asks over and over. Who makes sure the good guys don’t become bad guys? What happens when authority is corrupted?
And (SPOILER) at the end the “villain” is one of their own. Disaster is sort of averted, they save the planet, but there is no real hero, either. Life just continues.
It’s not black and white.
Like Cynthia Jeub wrote, of course it wasn’t all bad.
My parents did many good things. And many hurtful things. I’m not obligated to give into their demands, I don’t have to lose my freedom. The bad doesn’t void the good and the good doesn’t cancel out the bad.
But if I don’t recognize their human complexity, then I am refusing to see the raw reality. And I will blind myself from the truth.
End of series.
I’m glad you are able to see the good intentions and love your parents had even while acknowledging what was wrong and not livable. I feel that way a lot, myself, because my parents undoubtedly loved me even while having me live in that crazy, warped world.
I can so relate to your last few lines. I’ve often felt recently that my mother has been both my greatest support and my biggest obstacle in life. At times simultaneously. Life is easier in black and white, but it’s not truly real.
I wondered why you had Rohrshach up top. I remember the big stir Watchmen made in comics fandom when it first came out. Alan Moore is one weird guy.
I love this line, “But if I don’t recognize their human complexity, then I am refusing to see the raw reality. And I will blind myself from the truth.”
All parents, home school or not, Christian or not are ultimately doing the best they can. OK maybe not all, but most. Most of us went through a period where we deeply question our upbringing and what we believe and why.
I grew up in a non Christian home. My parents divorced. My mom, Dad and step mom worked. Which left me home for hours and hours alone. I was lonely. I was the youngest of 3 but my siblings we a lot older then me. My parents were basically uninvited in my life. When I became a Christian at 14 they went between mad and thinking it was just a stage.
There is a period of your life you question everything. In my 20’s I rejected my parents upbringing methods. In my 30’s I developed my own and was able to have compassion and understanding on my parents and in my 40’s I am really hoping not to ruin my own kids:-0
Life has seasons and it is very complicated. Rule books may promise comfort, but they never deliver the peace and order they promise.
I hope the names of those involved have been changed to protect their identity and their privacy.
I really feel for you Eleanor! I also have a collection of anxiety- and guilt-inducing letters from my parents after I moved away and it became apparent that I wanted nothing to do with the fundamentalism they had indoctrinated me with. It’s heartbreaking to give up on having the kind of relationship that I want with them. But it’s better to be content and successful on my own terms than spend the rest of my life jumping through hoops and telling half-truths in an effort to maybe, hopefully, get the love that I want from them.
You are brave for questioning the beliefs you were raised with and you are brave for setting boundaries with your parents.