CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tobias Leeger.
By Eleanor Skelton, HA Editorial Board
Eleanor Skelton blogs at eleanorskelton.com. The following was originally published on Eleanor’s blog on March 2, 2015, and is reprinted with permission.
Stalking is usually applied to a romantic relationship gone bad.
This is why people hesitate to believe me when I say I’ve been stalked by my parents.
After I moved out, my parents showed up unannounced at work or on campus, asking me to reconsider and go to Bob Jones University. The first time it happened, I was walking down the sidewalk to visit a new church since I had no car. A car drove up behind me honking, my family rolled down the windows, shouting, “Just remember, Bob Jones is still available!”
They often bring gifts: sandwiches, keychains, homemade soup. They seem to think this proves they are good parents. They say this is how they show me they love me. The professor who was my supervisor when I tutored on campus saw them do this. He said their behavior was abnormal, intended to wear me down and make me give in.
I’m not the only one. Other homeschool alum have had parents drop off identifying documents at work without asking, another told me her mom found her between classes and gave her a gift card and sent a sheet and towel to her apartment. She hadn’t told her mom her class schedule or her address.
I don’t know what their motivation is.
Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe they think I’ll be brought back into the fold with organic baked goods.
This is how my parents demonstrate that they love me.
My first apartment was unfortunately near the church that shunned me. My parents drove by often to look for my car, texting me “did you sleep at your apartment last night?” I explained my roommate and her boyfriend invited me for a movie night and I slept there. My mom told me it was inappropriate to sleep at a single guy’s place. Never mind that we had a couple of drinks during the movie and I wasn’t safe to drive.
Being honest and open about my decisions only provoked criticism. And they wondered why I stopped telling them things.
In summer 2013, my dad parked outside the nearest stop sign when he knew I would get off work. When I drove by, he jumped out in front of my car so I had to stop. He wanted to change the air filter in my car. He didn’t understand I was startled and angry, that I was afraid I could have hit him.
My parents barged into the middle of a staff meeting for the student newspaper in fall 2013, handing me a parking permit. My dad didn’t wait for me to buy one myself.
I told them I thought their actions were inappropriate in group counseling.
I wrote, “If anyone else who I wasn’t related to followed me around the way you guys do (leaving me random sermon CDs in my bicycle bag when I’m in class, etc), it would be considered really creepy and stalking. Think about it.”
My mom replied, “I do not think it is creepy if we are coming by UCCS from a doctor’s appt., and leave a gift for you in your bicycle sidebag. Sorry you took it that way. We are not checking up on you.”
Last October, my dad showed up at my apartment around 7:30 am, calling me over and over during an exam. He was upset that I didn’t answer right away. He wanted to trade out cars because he was afraid I wouldn’t get maintenance done, even though I’d asked him to let me learn how to take care of my car myself.
And they showed up at my work again last weekend, asked a coworker on his smoke break to bring me a package.
They don’t understand acting like this makes me feel incapacitated.
Fundamentalism doesn’t teach consent, it teaches you to respect authority. Control is normal, so you should be grateful for what they do, even if they don’t respect your wishes.
I don’t feel like an adult when my parents do this. I start to feel like a powerless small child whose parents are always going to check up on her, like all my independence has been taken away from me.
They think this is how to show me that they love me, but I just feel the walls close in.
And I don’t think this is love.
I’ve always thought fundamentalist parents (those who home-school, in particular) have a hard time allowing their children healthy differentiation. It’s as if they were never allowed to differentiate, themselves, as youth. This concept comes from Murray Bowen, considered the father of family systems theory. Bowen said we all must differentiate from our families of origin – or, essentially, die.
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Some of these behaviors by your parents do seem “kind” on the surface. But it is abusive in any relationship to continue with actions that the other person has explicitly stated are not welcome. When I took a parenting class at my church a dozen years ago, I was struck that instead of being taught discipline techniques, we were repeatedly urged not to be too controlling with our children. We were told that the best way to encourage our children in a Christian walk would be to model the Christian faith in our own lives–not ram it down their little throats. I was really surprised that the thrust of the classes was against over-control, but I could see among myself and my own siblings the negative effects of a domineering parent. There is no better way to drive your progeny away from you than to try to control them as they become adults.
That is so true. In my family, there was incredible pressure to date, marry, stay married to – a certain person. It was like if my parents and grandparents could control who we loved, they had us really under their influence. And now I see how very right they were, in a sense. Growing up means learning things our parents don’t/can’t know, loving people they haven’t chosen for us, doing things they would never do.
I feel so much better about the things I did (and sometimes still do) for my college kid – the one who is now in graduate school.
I didn’t cruise by, call the professors or employers, or monitor the call log on the cell phone (I could have though). I did send stamps, gift cards and yes, sent the kid back with the expensive toothpaste and cash for name-brand toilet paper. Plus a AAA membership that was regarded as weird until it was needed!
I hope they back away and give the room to figure out your life.
For what it’s worth, my husband’s parents were not homeschoolers or even particularly religious, but they, too, engaged in these sorts of behaviors when he was in college, up to and including barging into some of his classes to make sure he was showing up, showing up at his dorm room on Friday nights and if he wasn’t there, showing up the next day to give him a ration of crap (they automatically assumed he was out partying and drinking because hey, that’s what irresponsible college kids do) and threatening to cut him off financially unless he majored in what his dad wanted him to. When he changed his major and they followed through on that threat, his mother still continued to call and harass him on a daily basis, trying to get him to change his mind. She somehow found out where he was working, and harassed him there, too, to the point that his boss said he’d have her arrested for trespassing if she showed up again.
All of this happened long before stalking was recognized as a problem and anti-stalking laws were passed. Even after we married, his parents meddled to the point we had to move out of state to get away from them. I hope you don’t have to do the same.
Restraining orders are always in order. Tell them to leave you slone via registred letter, thencsll thenpolice when they show up. All of this stuff is virtually indistinguishable from the things I have read in Reddit’s r/raisedbynarcissists
Thank you, Deborah Cox, for sharing this information about Dr. Murray Bowen and healthy differentiation. I’ve been reading about it this week, and I think your observation has merit.
Eleanor, I’ve been wanting to say Hello to you for a while now, but this is my first time commenting. I’m not stalking, I swear! Just listening, just quietly supporting. I often think about how different the experiences have been for you and for my own homeschooled daughter, Elizabeth Skelton, who is in college now. Because the primary motivation and philosophy for us to homeschool was: autonomy. The opposite of your experience. I wish it were not so different for you, but I applaud your growth and your independence and the mature way you regard your parents’ intentions.