CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tori Wright.
I grew up a homeschooler.
The news this week has made it more salient than ever, even though it’s something I’ve been slowly processing the past couple of months. I’ve been reading a ton of posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous, as well as chatting with a blogger and real life friend who was homeschooled. The resources I’ve found have resonated so deeply with me. I’ve wanted to share now for a while, but writing out what it’s like to be a homeschooler is really not easy. Especially when you have 12 school years full of it.
That’s right. I wasn’t just –a– homeschooler. I was one of –those– homeschoolers. Schooled at home the whole way through.
People ask me all the time if I like it, and I’m close to honest. I say I liked it until high school, and then I was miserable. But the truth is I had moments of misery the whole time.
Being homeschooled especially sucks when you hate being at home.
There’s no way out.
I hated being in 2nd grade for 3 years after my youngest sister was born because my mom was “too tired” to keep us going on our schoolwork. I hated how the neighborhood kids made fun of us for it.
I hated in high school how I had no friends but my sisters. See, along with being homeschooled, our home church was 2 hours away in the small mountain town of Granby, CO. So we really had little access to friends. And then when we did, the church kids thought we were weird and tended to avoid us.
I tried my damndest to not be one of the socially awkward homeschool kids, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re restricted to an apartment all day long.
Oh yeah. We lived in a 900 sq. ft. apartment in Denver, CO. With a family of 6. 3 bedrooms. I shared a room until I was 19.
I got sick of my sisters. I got sick of us getting lumped into the same group all the time at church events. I didn’t hate them, but when you’re with someone so much, it’s hard to want to be with them more. That in itself was annoying, but I dealt. What really sucked about being at home was my dad.
What I saw growing up was not the even more extreme dysfunction I see now. I didn’t realize that his obsession with God giving us 1.7 billion dollars was actually a problem. Nope, what I was focused on in my teen years was his abuse.
My dad was verbally abusive to us from the time I was 5 years old.
I remember little of when it started, but I know it was bad enough my mom wanted to take us to her mom’s house in Nebraska. I’m not sure why she decided to stay. The abuse continued, though, and some of it echoes in my ears. My dad threatening to leave. My dad screaming “I’M THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE!” My mom reading books on submission and slowly fading into silence.
Or the subtle abuse of his anger when we didn’t speak up during our nightly “discussions.” Though these are a typical facet of fundamentalist homeschooling (nightly “devotions”), ours were different. These discussions were reiterations of my dad’s belief that God would give us this astronomical amount of money. He would talk about the “coincidences” of the day and how they were signs pointing to God’s will for us. If we didn’t have any input or anything to share, my dad would get angry. However, if we tried to talk too much, my dad would get angry. And when I say angry, I mean yelling. Sharp remarks. Heavy sighs. Looks of annoyance. Sometimes stomping out of the room.
If we spoke, he was angry. If we were quiet, he was angry.
We couldn’t win.
It was a radically strange combination of fundamentalist teachings such as submission (my dad LOVED John Bevere and his teachings on spiritual authority) and my dad’s delusional beliefs. I have friends who say that my dad created a cult with us, his family. We were forced to buy into his belief about this money: I clearly remember my dad working very hard to convince my twin sister to “just have faith” that this money would appear. He eventually cowed her into “believing” it. If we didn’t buy in, he pleaded with us in this fashion, or got extremely angry and verbally abusive, even threatening to leave us. On top of that, we were isolated from the outside world due to the fact that we were homeschooled with a church so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go out for sports as a teenager or to get a job.
There was only 1 person that I know of outside the family that knew about this money business, and that was our trustee.
Yep, we had a trustee. And 4 empty trusts (one for each of us girls) connected to an umbrella company that my dad formed to be a funnel for “the money” when it came. You can still look it up as a Colorado business: Oversyte Investment Company, LLC. Because of the trusts my dad found us a trustee. He was the only one that heard about my dad’s ideas. I have to wonder now what he thought of the whole thing. But the trustee was young at the time, only 22-23 years old. A kid. He was probably enamored of the whole thing. My dad was good at casting a spell (read: charismatic).
What was honestly weird though was that my dad spent more time asking our trustee about his life than he ever spent asking us about ours.
My dad talked incessantly about “the family” and how important “the family” was. Yet he never really knew any of us. And “the family” really just meant that we fell into line behind him and became part of his missionary force to the rich people of the world.
I never told anyone the dollar amount of my dad’s delusions until I told my ex-husband. I was probably 19-20. After that I didn’t mention it to anyone else until I was 22, and I told my therapist. She was shocked. Her reaction woke me up. Maybe this whole thing really wasn’t normal.
The amount of secrecy I felt I had to hold really rings true to me with this crazy Josh Duggar situation.
I understand family secrets, far far too well.
I clearly remember my dad telling us, “Don’t tell anyone about this money stuff. They’ll think we are crazy.” I kept that pact for somewhere around 10-12 years. A decade.
All this amounts to one thing. I grew up in a fishbowl. A small, small fishbowl nowhere close to the ocean.
I was trapped in an environment where I was abused and ridiculed if I stepped out of line or had my own opinions.
Or, I was ignored. Either/or. I was literally stuck in a small apartment from 1997-2007 – 900 square feet for 3 teenagers and a girl under 10 years old. Mentally and emotionally stuck in a dream world of my dad’s which included weekly trips to the corporate airport, trips so frequent I can still name off dozens of types of corporate jets.
Family secrets have an incredible hold. My dad’s own sister didn’t know any of this until last year (!!) when I finally broke the silence. I’d been terrified to disclose anything to his family before; I don’t know what I was afraid of, other than finally disclosing a “secret.” But when I told her she was remorseful and regretful, saying she would have done something if she’d only known.
I’m telling this story to add it to the other voices now speaking up about homeschooling. I’m telling this story because I think it’s important.
I’m telling this story so maybe someday soon the government or SOMEONE can hold homeschool parents accountable.
Why? Because in a fishbowl, isolated from the ocean, it’s far too easy to keep things secret. Things like 1.7 billion dollar delusions. Or, in the Duggar family, molesting 5 young girls. Accountability is needed.
I’m telling this, too, because it’s time. Because holding this in for so long has hurt, and I’m ready for all of you to know. And honestly, this is just the beginning.