Demons and the Consequences of Feeding Children’s Fears

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on January 21, 2016.

So, demons. I’ve written on this topic before, but it’s been a while, and when I last wrote on this topic my children were too small to be scared of the dark. When I was a girl, I was taught that demons were real. My dad used to pray a “hedge of protection” around our house, to keep the demons out. My parents told me that there’s an invisible world all around us, in which angels and demons are at war, constantly.

At one point when I was girl, another woman in my parents’ Bible study group told a story about confronting a demon in her hallway late at night. It must have been let in, she said, by some rock music her teenage daughter had been listening to that afternoon. I found that freaking terrifying. I wondered, sometimes, what I might do that might accidentally invite a demon in? I was terrified—utterly petrified—of getting up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

All of this was brought back to my mind when I read Pat Robertson’s recent comments on whether it’s okay to listen to rock music:

It depends on what rock you’re listening to… Some of the stuff is just evil. They used to talk about killing your parents and there were just some evil things. There were odes to Satan. You don’t want that stuff coming into your mind.

There’s some beat that’s out there that, you know, probably isn’t all that bad, although in one Indian context, they were playing rock music, and the person said, “Why are you calling on the demons?,” because that was the kind of music they used to, you know, summon demons.

And it was so much more than just music. At one point my aunt came to visit and stay for a few days, and brought with her a book she was reading. This was a problem, because the book was Harry Potter. My dad made her leave it in the car lest it invite demons into the house. The irony is that, a decade later, they decided that Harry Potter isn’t bad after all, and my mom is now in the process of reading through the series. But at the time, it was incredibly serious.

My parents are college educated, and my dad, especially, is very intellectual. He was always reading new books, learning new things, and taking in new information. I adored him, and I trusted him, and so when he was the one saying these things—talking about keeping demons out of the house, and praying a hedge of protection around our family—I accepted it completely. And I was frightened.

I’m serious when I say that having to get up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night was a serious problem for me. I was so profoundly frightened. I would lay in the bed with the covers over my head and my eyes tight shut, afraid I might see a demon if I opened my eyes. I was terrified. But alas, my bladder was such that I couldn’t fall back asleep when it was full. Eventually, terrified, trembling, I would slip out of bed and make a mad dash for the bathroom, do my business, and then run back into bed and pull the covers back over my head.

My daughter Sally is now six, and somehow that makes all this feel only more relevant. Sally has read books about vampires and zombies, and once when it was time for bed, she was scared and told me she was frightened of vampires. I reminded her that they’re not real, talked with her about it a bit more, and then sent her off to bed feeling much better. And then it struck me—I am dismantling my children’s nightmares, as best I can, while my parents only fed mine. They told me that demons were as real as you and I, and taught me that I had good reason to fear. And fear I did.

And yes, my parents also told me that I had the power to cast demons out, in the name of Jesus. But being the studious child that I was, I knew my Bible well, and I knew that in Acts 19 a demon beat up a group of men who attempted to cast it out in Jesus’ name, because those men were not Christians. “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” the demon asked. I suffered from salvation anxiety—the fear that I wasn’t truly, really saved—and those words terrified me. I imagined myself being confronted by a demon at the foot of my bed, attempting to cast it out in Jesus’ name, and then looking on in horror as it laughed at me.

Now I am very sure that my parents had no idea how afraid I was. When I went to my mom about my salvation anxiety, she told me that if I was worried about whether I was saved, I most certainly was saved. That helped, though it didn’t completely fix the problem. And as for demons, well, the literature they encouraged me to read didn’t help, either. Frank Peretti’s books, which depict the demonic world and its integration with the real world, were particular terrifying. I think they thought it was enough that the good triumphed over evil, but the evil still terrified me—especially because I believed those books were a realistic depiction of our world.

I may need to do a page-by-page review of a Peretti book at some point. They’re terrible, and they very badly need picking apart.

I’m honestly not sure what the solution is. It would be easy enough to say that teaching children that demons are a real and present threat in their lives is misguided at best and abusive at worst, but evangelicals like my parents really and truly believe these things. It’s not as though they set out to terrify me. It’s just that their beliefs were terrifying. If nothing else, I think we need to call attention to the ways religion may affect children in different ways from how it affects adults—and, perhaps, to the fact that some religious ideas are just plain frightening whatever your age.

It’s not just religion, of course. Had I confirmed Sally’s fear of vampires, had I told her I had once encountered one and barely escaped, that could have serious consequences for her mental health as well. I could see Sally always carrying a wooden stake with her at night—she’s well versed in vampire lore—if I were to build up her fears rather than taking them apart. At one point in my childhood I became obsessed with UFOs, and checked out all of the books the library had on them. If my parents had told me that aliens from other planets did indeed roam our back roads looking for humans to kidnap, I imagine I would have been terrified too.

Of course, what they told me about UFOs had its own problems. They said UFOs were illusions created by demons to prepare the way for a mass deception after the rapture—Satan would make those left behind believe that those who had been raptured had simply been kidnapped by aliens, and thus prevent them from gaining true knowledge of what had happened and through it attaining salvation.

But the point I was trying to make before that digression was that I suspect run-of-the-mill UFO enthusiasts could probably easily frighten their children by teaching them to believe all the stories about UFOs and alien kidnappings as literally true. And some probably do. The point I’m trying to make here is that what we teach children matters, and that things don’t always affect children in the way they affect us as adults. We need to remember that.

I mean for goodness sake, when I was in grade school I read a story about a Volcano that grew suddenly in the middle of a field in Mexico, and I spent years having nightmares—nightmares—about a volcano growing in the field behind my house. At least in this case my parents tried to help by explaining that that wasn’t geologically possible, rather than confirming and encouraging my fear.

Kids don’t always process things the way we expect them to, and feeding their fears rather than dismantling them is a terrible idea.

Even Permanent Ink Fades Eventually

Image copyright 2015, Darcy.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on October 18, 2015.

I don’t understand. Who tells a child the things that I was told? Who forms a child’s self-concept in the worst way possible on purpose? What kind of person takes a sensitive, kind, loving, feeling child and tells them from birth that they are mean, bully, selfish, and unloving?

What kind of parent does that?

Was I a threat? Did they feel the need to tear me down because I threatened something? Were they afraid of me somehow? Did they look at me and feel fear and thus were driven to squash who I am? Was who I am that scary?

Selfish, unloving, unfeeling, mean, bully, harsh, hostile, angry, unkind, moody, vengeful, unhappy, rebellious. The words fill my head and keep coming, one after the other, all the words I was given as labels. All the words that they might as well have written in ink on my body as they were indelibly printed on my soul. But even permanent ink fades eventually and can be written over.

I am only recently discovering who I really am. And I am not who they said I was.

I am kind and generous. I am an empath. I feel others’ emotions so deeply, like I am experiencing their pain in my own soul. I am a giver, I give til I have nothing left. I love with all that is within me. I am loyal to a fault.

But I am no doormat.

I do not accept what I am told without proof. I am also a warrior. I fight for the people I love, for every person I come across who can’t fight for themselves. I stand up for what is right and that is interpreted as “hostile”. It’s not hostility, it’s righteousness. It’s strength. It’s ferocity. And it is who I am.

am rebellious. I will claim that label, of all the words they slung at me. Some things are worth rebelling against. Rebelling has saved my life. “There’s something wild in your heart, you need to pray to God to help you.” There was something wild there. There still is. Did that scare them? Does it still?

What kind of person does that to a child? What kind of person teaches another child to do this to their own sibling? What was it about me that scared them so?

Whatever it was, they failed to eradicate it. Because here I am, in all my wild glory, and they can’t do anything about it now, except keep trying to spread their lies and paint their own picture of me that I no longer recognize. Their picture of me looks suspiciously like their own self-portrait.

Was it religion? I fucking hate religion. Religion said I needed my will broken, beaten down, and taken away. Religion said to squash my glory because their pathetic god would be jealous. Religion said they had to take my rights, my ownership, my boundaries, because those things were not from god. Did religion make them try to break a child or did it just justify their own penchant toward insecurity and whatever the hell else was wrong with them? I don’t know. I might never know. Does it even matter? The damage has been done, the healing has long ago begun.

As a parent, I look at my children in all their glory and life and I am completely baffled. The thought of telling them that they are inherently selfish with wicked hearts that need their foolishness driven out by the rod is painful enough to leave me breathless. The idea that I could take such amazing creatures and make sure they know how worthless they are unless they become what I dictate they must be causes physical pain and revulsion in my heart.

What kind of person does that to a child? I have no more excuses for them.

The Problem with the Pearls’ One-Size-Fits-All Approach to Tantrums

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Philippe Put.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog, Love, Joy, Feminism. It was originally published on November 24, 2015.

I recently came upon an old No Greater Joy post about tantrums. No Greater Joy, as you may remember, is run by Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the fundamentalist Christian childrearing manual To Train Up A Child. I was raised on the Pearls’ childrearing methods, and much of my own parenting journey has been unlearning the toxic parenting structures the Pearls promote. Anyway, this particular post about tantrums was written by Tremaine Ware, one of the Pearls’ assistants.

The relevant text reads as follows:

A tantrum is a manifestation of anger. It is a means of control. This sort of behavior usually comes when a child has had a history of not being consistently denied what he wants (when he pitches a fit). He has only received token swats that were as soft as cotton balls, which only proves to irritate the kid and convince him that authority is of no consequence, making his desires the supreme force. Such behavior in a child can be very provoking to you as a parent, so it is important that you maintain mental and emotional control of yourself. An emotionally out-of-control parent can’t hope to bring emotional control to the child. Children are far more capable than we suppose. We unconsciously know this…which is one reason it “bugs” us so bad when they have a tantrum. We know that it is innate selfishness on their part, not immaturity.

So, when your child of any age starts throwing a tantrum, NEVER, NEVER…I repeat, NEVER give in to their demands. Your denial of their lust, coupled with a good stinging swat or two, will cause the child to see the futility and helplessness of his demands. When your child is convinced by your consistent response of enforcing negative consequences for negative behavior, he will cease his vain and tiresome behavior, employing some other means to achieve pleasure.

Fits are just high-pressure demands falling slightly short of violent action. It is not a stage or something they will grow out of. It must be dealt with decisively.

This reminds me of a recent moment when I did just what Ware says not to do—Bobby threw a tantrum and I gave in and met his demands. I gave in, frankly, because his demands were perfectly reasonable and because I don’t believe in standing my ground just to make a point even when I realize I am in the wrong.

In this particular case, I’d taken Bobby to Steak ‘n’ Shake, and he’d been resistant when it was time to leave, so I’d carried him to the car and he began screaming. This happens sometimes. He’s three, after all, and sometimes he becomes overtired, etc. What I didn’t realize until after we were already on the road was that he was screaming words—barely intelligible words, but words nonetheless. He was completely hysterical because we’d left his cardboard car and coloring sheet. I should have listened more carefully from the get-go, but I was tired and ready to get home and had thought he just didn’t want to leave the restaurant. So I went back and had Sally run in and retrieve his car and coloring sheet. The moment I turned the car around to go back he calmed down and said “thank you,” tears still in his voice.

Ware would have me think that I let Bobby control me, that I gave in to his “lust,” that I should have instead stopped the car and spanked my child to make sure he knows “the futility and helplessness of his demands.” Um, no. I want my child to grow up knowing that I value him, and that his needs and desires and interests matter to me. Now yes, I work to teach him appropriate means of telling me his needs, but he’s three, and that’s something he’s understandably still working on.

Does Bobby always “get his way”? No. Note that I carried him from the restaurant in the first place because staying at the restaurant indefinitely when it was late and we needed to get home was not an option. When, for whatever reason, he can’t have his way, I explain to him why that is, talk through the issue with him, and work to find some sort of compromise we can both live with. Sometimes that simply doesn’t work (and I find myself, say, carrying him from a restaurant), but usually it works and we’re able to cooperate rather than being at odds. Just recently I helped him work through a stage where he was demanding that I buy him everything in any store’s toy section by explaining that we don’t have the room to buy everything and encouraging him to note things he would like for Christmas or his birthday. It worked.

When making parenting decisions, I try to ask two questions:

“Am I treating them with respect as independent people?” 

“Am I helping them gain skills that will be useful in adulthood?” 

I should note that I don’t like the word “tantrum.” In my experience, children usually exhibit “tantrum” behavior when they are overtired, overwhelmed, or otherwise overwrought. I prefer the term “meltdown” because to me it seems much more descriptive of what is actually happening. Ware automatically sees children who exhibit “tantrum” behavior as control-hungry and lust-filled, but this is often not the case at all. In many cases it is possible to recognize the signs of an upcoming meltdown and head it off completely. It’s less about control and more about making sure children don’t reach a breaking point where everything becomes too much and they fall apart. Children have much less experience understanding and handling their own emotions, after all, and it is our job to be attuned to their needs and watch for cues that trouble may be ahead.

This said, I also don’t think it’s wrong for children to attempt to exert some form of control over their surroundings. Yes, we as parents need to teach our children that they are not the only people in existence, and that they need to respect other people’s needs as well. But part of this has to involve teaching them that their needs matter too. And children have so little actual control that it’s no wonder they sometimes try to gain some in whatever means they can, especially when they are being ignored by their parent-people. I find that one way to prevent “tantrum” behavior is to make it clear that I, as their parent, am listening to them and care about their needs. Because they know that I don’t say “no” unless I have a real reason to, they’re more likely to believe that I have a reason when I do say “no.”

I want to finish by noting that every child is different, and that one child’s “tantrums” or “meltdowns” may look very different from those of another child. That’s one problem I have with the way Michael and Debi Pearl go about things on their website and in their newsletter and books. They seem to see parental responses as a one-size-fits all approach, as though children are interchangeable. They pay some lip service to children having differences, but they don’t start by urging parents to try to understand what is going on inside their child, and why they are exhibiting XYZ behavior. Blogs like Aha Parenting, on the other hand, encourage parents to start with an attempt to understand the child and their behavior rather than an assumption that they already know everything they need to know.

Parenting Beyond Our Past: A Resource Guide

Simple Things

Photo Credit: Darcy Anne

“Train up a child in the way he should go……”

I have yet to meet a religious homeschooler who can’t finish that scripture from memory. If you’re like me, you grew up in a very authoritarian, punitive family environment. Punishment and pain, both physical and emotional, were believed to be the best means to teach a child “the way he should go”. Spanking and instant, cheerful obedience to authority were the norm, with many other kinds of punishments used as retribution for a child’s wrong-doing. Parents were the ultimate authority, and children had no choice but to obey or be punished, sometimes very harshly. I honestly didn’t know there were any other ways to parent. Either you spanked and “trained” your children, or you let them run wild and that meant you didn’t love them.

We were the generation influenced by “child training” teachers like the Pearls, Reb Bradley, Charity Christian Fellowship Churches, James Dobson, and myriads of other Christian authors, all providing materials from within a hierarchical, authoritarian family paradigm. “Break their will”, was a common tenet of “Biblical Parenting”. Spanking was said to be ordained by God. Never let your child win a battle, parents were told. Failure to conform to these tenets would produce perverts and criminals and unbelievers.

But what if they were wrong? What if that’s not the only way to raise strong and wise and good children?

I’ve written elsewhere about my journey from that authoritarian parenting paradigm into non-punitive, or peaceful parenting. Non-punitive parenting is defined as “a style of parenting that breaks the punitive mold by avoiding physical punishment, treating children with respect, and focusing on developing a strong parent-child relationship. It is a method that raises children without spanking, shaming, or yelling, and avoids the punishment-reward cycle of traditional punitive parenting.” Peaceful or gentle parenting is often defined as parenting by connection, relationship, and respect for children as human beings with the innate right to be treated as such. Treated as you would want to be treated. Christian proponents of gentle parenting sometimes call it “Golden Rule Parenting” for this reason.

But no matter the label, the root is the idea that children are people too, and that as people, they can grow and learn and develop best in an atmosphere of peace and connection, not punishment or coercion. We seek to validate our children’s emotions while teaching them how to appropriately express them. Traits that define how peaceful parents interact with their children include empathy, compassion, respect, boundaries, and unconditional love. This philosophy is based in the most recent findings of science, psychology, human development, and sociology. Contrary to popular belief, non-punitive parenting is not permissive parenting. We still set limits and uphold them, we let natural consequences teach life lessons, and above all, we keep a healthy emotional connection with our kids that will be the foundation of everything we do. This is not a “parenting method” with formulas and rules, but more of a philosophy and value set that different parents put into practice in many different ways.

I know that many of us are breaking new ground in parenting our own children. We know that we don’t want to have the antagonistic relationship with them that we we had with our own parents. But often, while we know what not to do, we are lost when it comes to knowing what to do instead. Some of us have yet to find an alternative to punitive parenting. Some of us have discovered the world of non-punitive parenting, yet have no support and are often ridiculed by people that don’t understand our reasons or our methods. Some of us perhaps have never been told “did you know you can raise good kids without spanking them?” and we are longing to hear that we can do differently and succeed.

So I thought I’d put together a resource for those of you who, like me, want to do differently for our kids.

Those of us raised in Homeschool Land have a lot of the same issues, same foundation, and were raised similarly under “Biblical Parenting” rules. I understand the nuances of coming from a parenting framework riddled with fear and control and authoritarianism; the emotional turbulence we have as we try to parent our children and find we are parenting ourselves. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I hope to add to it as more good materials are brought to my attention. I hope it can help in the journeys of those who, like me, just need a little direction and encouragement.

Peace and health to you and your family.

~Darcy

Parenting books:

How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
The Child-Whisperer, Carol Tuttle
Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Parenting From the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell
No Drama Discipline, Daniel Siegel
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, Janet Lansbury
Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, Laura Markham
The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene (specifically for non-neuro-typical kids, but helpful for everyone)

Websites:

Aha! Parenting
Little Hearts (For Christian parents)
Elevating Childcare- Janet Lansbury
Positive Parents

Individual articles:

The Road to Non-Punitive Parenting
Parenting Without Punishment
Raising Humans
I Was That Parent
Natural Discipline for the Early Years
10 Steps to Guide Children Without Punishment 
Non-Punitive Discipline Does Not Equal Lazy Parenting
Thy Rod and Thy Staff, They Comfort Me, Samuel Martin (from a Christian perspective)

Articles on Spanking and Punishment:

The Case Against Spanking – APA
The Long-Term Effects of Spanking
How Spanking Harms the Brain
Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline?
Study on Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders
Should You Spank Your Child?

Lisa Pennington on Adult Children, Maturity, and Drivers’ Licenses

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.41.13 AM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on February 13, 2015 and has been slightly modified for reprinting here.

Lisa Pennington began deleting posts on her blog, The Pennington Post, after her daughter, Alecia Faith, went public with the message that her parents were preventing her from proving her identity. It seems Lisa has realized that her posts—especially those on parenting adult children—seem rather to corroborate Alecia Faith’s story. Fortunately, we have urls and the wayback machine. To quote a friend of mine, “don’t they know the internet is forever?”

I wanted to take a moment to share one more thing I found on Lisa’s blog:

I didn’t write my regular, fascinating Monday update yesterday because I was driving.

In fact, have been driving for the past 2 days and sadly I am the only driver in this bunch.  Our belief in not letting our kids learn to drive until they are mature and enough to carry that responsibility comes back to bite me when I’m on one of these road trips.  I find myself thinking, “I wonder if I could just plop one of the girls in front of the wheel on a long stretch of nothing and tell her to hit the gas.”

This post is from June 24, 2014, a mere eight months ago, three months before Alecia Faith left home, unannounced.

Alecia Faith’s sister Grace commented on my blog the other day, stating that she is the oldest and is 24. Thus if we are generous, when this post went up last summer, Lisa’s oldest child was 23. Alecia Faith was 18 when she moved out and is now 19, so at the time of this post she would have been 18. Alecia Faith is the fourth child in her family, meaning that there were two more siblings between age 18 and 23.

Lisa says they believe in “not letting” their kids learn to drive until they are “mature . . . enough to carry that responsibility.” You may wonder how Lisa can prevent her adult children from getting their drivers licenses until she believes they are ready. Well, when children don’t have birth certificates or social security numbers (and both Grace and her brother Jacob confirmed that this was the case) they can’t exactly get drivers licenses on their own. When (and if) they could do so rested in their parents’ hands.

Lisa states that they believe in not letting their children learn to drive until they are “mature . . . enough to carry that responsibility,” and given that at this point she hadn’t let any of her adult children get their drivers’ licenses we can assume that she didn’t not believe any of them were mature enough. If you do not believe that your adult children, aged approximately 23, 21, 20, and 18, are mature enough to drive, the problem is not with them, it’s with you. Either you completely messed up in raising them, or you are vastly underestimating their maturity (or vastly overestimating the maturity needed to drive).

Being able to drive is incredibly important. In most of the United States, it is almost impossible to gain any sort of independence without being able to drive. Alecia Faith lists Kerrville, Texas, as her hometown. Kerrville appears to be a fairly rural town of 20,000 with no public transportation.

Not being able to drive in a town like this would be crippling.

Of course, two months later, in August 2014, Lisa speaks of her children borrowing her car and writes that her two oldest children are saving to by a car. In her comment on my blog, Grace says that she and her brother Jacob, who is the second child in the family, both have their drivers licenses. She writes that her parents helped walk both of them through the necessary paperwork. It appears, then, that at some point last summer Lisa determined that her two oldest children, aged 23 and either 21 or 22, were finally mature enough to drive.

Let me think for a moment of the things I did when I was 23. Wow. I’d done a lot by that time! I had been driving for six years and I had graduated from college with honors. I had applied for and been accepted into a graduate program at a good university. I had gotten married and had birthed my first child, with all of the medical bills and documentation that involved. My husband was no older than I, yet we had moved across the state and located an apartment and obtained our own rental insurance and health insurance and life insurance and car insurance.

I understand that Grace has self-published several novels and I don’t want to demean her accomplishments. She also states that she has plans to move out of her parents’ home and live a more normal life, and I am happy for her. But I can’t help but feel that preventing an adult child from getting her driver’s license until she is 23 on the grounds that she is not “mature” enough to drive is something worse than terrible parenting. It is actively holding your child back and squashing her potential. I am glad Grace now has her driver’s license, but she should have had the ability to obtain it years ago.

Grace claimed in her comment that her family is trying to help Alecia Faith by looking for documents to prove her existence, but have not been able to find any. But if Lisa and her husband were able to come up with the documentation to prove Grace and Jacob’s identity, there should be documents to prove Faith’s identity as well. Note that while her parents are saying they are willing to help, they are also saying that they do not have any documents. At this point, it appears that Alecia Faith’s grandparents have signed an affidavit for her, and that only one affidavit is needed, so while her parents claim they are willing to sign an affidavit that is irrelevant at this point. What is needed is other documents—and her parents are saying those don’t exist. But somehow, they existed for Grace and for Jacob. Is it just me, or something weird going on here?

Grace also claims that her parents were trying to help Alecia Faith get her license last summer before she left. I find it a bit strange that Lisa would suddenly decide that three of her children were old enough to drive, and that she would be willing to obtain a driver’s license for her 18 year old after making her oldest child wait until she was 23 before deciding she was mature enough, though people do strange things so this may be true. But Grace seems to use this information as proof that it was unreasonable for Alecia Faith to move out. Nope. It doesn’t work like that. First, Alecia Faith had no guarantee that her parents would actually obtain the license, and second, Alecia had reached the age of majority and was within her rights to move out.

I want to be clear that this isn’t an isolated thing.

When a parent home births and homeschools, they have total control over their children’s documents (including control over the very existence of those documents).

I grew up knowing several homeschooling families that didn’t obtain social security numbers for their children. Even birth certificates were something you could forego if you picked the right midwife. Most homeschoolers obtain both birth certificates and social security numbers for their children—mine did, for example—so don’t think I’m saying this is all that common. What I am saying is that home birthing and homeschooling gives parents the ability to deprive their children of these documents in a way that they could not if they didn’t home birth and homeschool—and some parents, like Alecia Faith’s, take advantage of that.

Children who attend public school can obtain copies of their transcripts years later. Homeschool alumni have to get those from their parents. In most cases this isn’t a problem, but when parents are controlling and manipulative, it can be a huge problem. I know someone who lived at home until she was 23 because her parents kept promising to give her her homeschool diploma and transcript, stringing her along for years. I know someone else whose parents told her they would only give her a diploma and transcript of she agreed to go to the Christian college they had picked out. You can read more stories like this here.

In her own comment on my post, a Christian homeschooling blogger stated this:

You understate how controlling Lisa is. It’s shocking really. I know because we used to be friends. 

This blogger chose to remove this comment, so I am not going to name her here. But to me, this rather confirms what I said earlier—that Alecia Faith would not have left home unannounced if she didn’t have reason for doing so. Her older sister Grace wrote in her comment that she is making plans to move out herself, but then, she is 24 and the move has not yet taken place yet. Besides, I could see Alecia Faith’s parents realizing that they need to loosen up a bit on their older children or they risk losing them as they lost Alecia Faith, so things may be different in the home than they were when Alecia Faith fled.

In summary, any parent willing to actively prevent a child from getting her drivers license until she is 23 on the grounds that she is not “mature” enough to drive is extremely controlling and manipulative.

I am very glad Alecia Faith managed to get out. You go, Alecia Faith!

10 Things Homeschool Parents Try To Explain But Fail

moms

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on January 3, 2015.

There’s an article going around, called “10 Things Homeschool Moms Want You To Know”. Reading her points made me cringe, as it did my homeschooled friends who read it. You see, we were the kids in her article. So our perspective on these things are a little different than hers. Since this post was being passed around and lauded by homeschooling parents, I thought it worth an examination. I took her points and thoughtfully went through them here. Because I think that other homeschooled parents need to know that their perspective on homeschooling is not the only, and perhaps not the most important, one.

“1. Our choice to homeschool is not a judgment on you.”

This was her first point. She goes on to say that others shouldn’t feel bad, she won’t judge you for not homeschooling, don’t judge her for homeschooling, everyone is just doing what’s best for their kids. That’s all well and good and I sincerely hope it’s true for her. However, this was not my experience either as a homeschooled child or as a public school parent. Homeschooling was toted as superior no matter what. And those who didn’t homeschool just didn’t love their kids enough or let “worldly things” get in their way of choosing the best for their kids. We were raised thinking we were superior to public schooled kids, which we learned from the seminars and books and attitudes of the adults in our world. As a mom whose kids are in public school, I can say that this attitude of superiority is still prevalent in my world. It’s been repackaged by the new wave of homeschooling as “the natural, best way to teach children”. But it’s still a superiority complex. I think it’s great if everyone just chooses the best route for their family and leaves others alone unless harm is being done, but that just hasn’t been my experience in this context, then or now.

“2. Our kids are behind in school.”

This one really irks me and I almost think is the most important point:

Educational neglect is a very real travesty among my alumni peers.

It isn’t something to joke about. It isn’t something to be taken lightly. This is not a good thing. The author says that her 13-yr-old daughter can’t spell “were” and her son hasn’t done his math. She then throws up a red herring to distract from these disturbing facts to tell her readers (who are presumably public school parents) that it’s OK because our kids are behind too. Behind in what? Well, life skills! That’s right, she says because her kids can change the brakes in a car and lead a Bible study they’re actually not behind but yours are because they can’t do basic life things, and claims importance is “a matter of perspective”. But from my perspective and that of my friends, having “life skills” and not being equal to our peers in academics means that we are not only behind in school, we are now behind in life. We were taken out of the competition before we even started. Jobs, scholarships, college, all the things that could get us where we want to go in life….we never stood a chance for these. We, with all our “life skills” and “work ethics”, were passed over for kids who weren’t behind in school. You can complain all you like about the way things are and the way things should be, but the way things are means that if you do not have academic skills equal to your peers, you will lose. And you will spend your adult life trying to catch up. Many of my friends are in their 20’s and taking high-school equivalency classes just to get into college. They are a decade behind their peers. Take it from the homeschooled alumni: this is serious and needs to be taken seriously. 

Now about the false dichotomy. Does she really think that public schooled kids can’t change brakes or lead a Bible study? That public schooled kids have only “book learning”? Where you go to school doesn’t make a difference, it’s how you’re parented that provides education in life skills. My kids are in public school. They also spend their free time with animals, art, reading, baking, camping, fishing, going on geological hikes, visiting museums, helping Dad fix things, learning horse care, and myriads of other things that will give them life skills. They are also very much NOT behind in academics. You can have the best of both worlds, and I suggest that if this mother’s children are not getting that, perhaps she needs to rethink her educational methods.

“3. Our kids are weird.”

So, yeah, I was definitely weird. Actually, I felt like a freak as a child. It was tough. Maybe I would’ve still felt that way in public school, maybe not. But she goes on to say “don’t stereotype, we’re not all like that”, which is cool and everything, except for the fact that her entire piece is based on stereotyping both homeschoolers and kids in public school. Huh.

“4. We really aren’t all that patient.”

This one is a little concerning. She says, “We aren’t any more patient than you are. There are days when we scream. There are days when we cry. There are days when we lock ourselves in the bathroom for hours on end. Our kids drive us crazy too.” I’m no perfect parent and I’ve done my share of yelling and losing patience, but, see, screaming is not really normal. Unless your child is about to be run over by a stampede or bit by a snake, screaming at children is not merely “I lost my patience”. It’s more like “I am overwhelmed and taking it out on the first people I see”. And, no, I have never locked myself in the bathroom. If I need some space I go outside and breathe and watch my kids play and soak up some sunshine. I get out of the house and spend time in a book store or on a mountain somewhere by myself.

I take care of myself so I can take care of my kids.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to blow off steam and screaming at your kids is not healthy. Locking yourself in the bathroom is a sign you need help and major self-care. Saying, “See? I’m just like you! I do crazy things that are a cry for help!” is not convincing at all. It’s OK to say you’re in over your head and need help, need to switch things up a bit. Many of us lived daily with parents that were stretched to the max because of homeschooling. Parents that were constantly impatient because they never had time to take care of themselves and therefore they couldn’t rightly care for us. Parents who threw their hands up in the air, declared “school is over today I can’t take anymore” at 10 AM, and locked themselves in their room. This not ok.

As someone who was the child in this author’s scenario, I need parents to know that this is not healthy and does not produce healthy relationships or attitudes in the home. As a parent, I get the need for a break, trust me. My husband is a trucker and I parent 4 kids alone. So take a break! You are not superwoman. But don’t act in unhealthy ways, don’t sacrifice your kids’ education and emotional security for the sake of homeschooling. It isn’t worth it and you aren’t doing them any favors.

And if this was just supposed to be a joke…..it failed miserably. It’s not funny.

“5. We’re just trying to do what’s best for our kids.”

See, here’s my thoughts: many, if not most, parents want what’s best for their kids. I mean, have you ever heard a parent say, “Naw, I don’t really care what’s best for my kids”?  But they’ve been duped into thinking that homeschooling is always The Best Right Way for their kids, so much so, that all the warning signs that it isn’t actually best….like screaming and locking yourself in the bathroom and your kids falling behind…..are completely ignored.  “We were just trying to do what was best!” is something we alumni have heard ad nauseam. When, in reality, they couldn’t see past the picture of The Perfect Family that they so desperately wanted to what really was best. They were so convinced they were right, they let critical thinking fly out the door. They bought a bill of goods hook, line, and sinker, to our detriment. When my best friend’s mom couldn’t figure out how to teach her what she needed to know, she just quit teaching her. No more school. Because public school was so wrong and evil that it couldn’t possibly be better than nothing at all. The warning signs that homeschooling is not “what’s best” are there. There’s a bunch of them in this author’s piece. (Can I just say that if your 13-yr-old can’t spell, and you’re locking yourself in the bathroom, and your kids are unable to operate in the society they were born into, that you are not “Doing what is best” for them OR for you?) But those warning signs will be ignored because Homeschooling is a hill to die on and there can be no failure. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. So many of our parents still insist homeschooling was “best” even in face of educational neglect, emotional abuse, and lifelong struggles due to being homeschooled poorly. So I have a difficult time with parents like this one who claim if it wasn’t best, they wouldn’t do it. They will never be convinced that it isn’t best so the claim is pointless. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, that this parent, this author, is different. But I’m cynical for good reason.

“6. Our kids are not trick ponies.”

From a kids’ perspective, this is totally legit. It was always annoying to be given pop quizzes upon a stranger’s discovery that we were homeschooled. Just leave kids alone, ‘k? They don’t owe you an explanation for their parent’s choices.

“7. Grades don’t reflect character.”

Does anyone think they do?

She then downplays grades as unimportant and character as the most important thing. Another obvious false dichotomy. And from the alumni’s perspective, it would’ve been nice to know what our grades were. That way when we graduated and entered the real world, we would know whether we were good competition for our peers or woefully behind and unable to get scholarships and jobs. Parents liked to say that grades didn’t matter, but I think they should have. Perhaps just to make sure they were teaching us the way we needed to be taught, to make sure we were keeping up and learning, to hold them accountable.

I sometimes think now the whole “grades don’t matter” mantra was really a cop-out for our parents so they didn’t have anyone to judge their competency. For us, it just made everything confusing and made us think we were smarter or dumber than we really were. Trying being 18 and getting to college and realizing for the first time that grades DO matter. On a test, your profs aren’t going to say “Oh, your D doesn’t matter, we know you have great character”.

Once again, the idealism of the homeschoolers doesn’t match the real world that we were thrown into as adults unprepared. 

“8. Our kids are socialized.”

That’s good to know. She says, “People seem to have great concern about whether or not our kids are well-adjusted socially. We would like to assure you, they are doing just fine.” I wonder if she’s thought to ask her kids how they feel about their socialization? Because my parents, and every homeschooled parent I knew, said the same things. “They are well-socialized” actually meant that we were pretty good at talking to adults and playing with small children. But many of us have no idea still how to relate to peers. Peers scare the crap out of us. Some of us still struggle to see ourselves as adults and peers of adults and struggle to relate and socialize with other adults our age. This is the product of most homeschooling socialization. We spent our lives around adults and siblings, and, rarely some of us luckier than others got to be a part of homeschooled co-ops with kids our own ages or sports teams. Not many of us were that lucky though. And some of us were completely isolated from everyone because we were dependent on our parents to offer opportunities to socialize and many parents just didn’t bother. It’s a legit concern and was reality for many in my generation.

“9. We worry.”

Here she says things like, “We really don’t need you to list the “what-ifs” for us. “What if he can’t get into college?” “What if you can’t teach her the proper way to dissect a frog?” “What if a ‘regular’ school was the better way to go?” We worry about all these things and more. We doubt ourselves and hope we haven’t ruined our children. We have the same Mama-guilt as you”.

This was a bit infuriating. You worry? Did you ever stop to think those worries were legit? We worried too. Worried that we’d never teach ourselves to read when you gave up on us. Worried that we were cheating our way through high school math because we didn’t understand it and you couldn’t figure out how to teach it. Worried that we’d never do anything with our lives because we didn’t know the first thing about life. Worried that we’d always be trapped, that we wouldn’t have friends, that we’d be seen as impostors if we ever stepped foot into a college or workplace. Worried that we’d never fit in anywhere. Worried that we wouldn’t know how to live life outside our very small boxes and 4 walls of our house. Some of us worried because our parents hurt us and since we were homeschooled we had no one to turn to and no way to know if their actions were normal or not. You worried?! Try being us. We are the ones that are still paying for your choices to not listen to your own worries. I’m not saying your worries are less important than ours, but, really, making this all about you and your worries and your success or failure is self-absorbed. This is about your children. If you have sincere worries for their future and whether homeschooling is a good idea or not, pay attention to those worries.

“10. Our kids do normal things.”

That’s cool she gives her kids normal kid things. She is an exception.

Most of us have no idea what any of those things are like. Prom? Heh, please. Dancing in our world was like having sex standing up. OMG you’d have to touch a girl!!! Some of us were forced to dress like Laura Ingalls and never allowed to watch TV. But the one line at the bottom really bothers me: “We like being different. We are okay being different, and we hope you can appreciate us for our differences!” Do you think your kids feel the same way? Would they even tell you if they didn’t? Because my mom said the same things. “Yay, us, we’re different! We’re not like all the sheeple!” But the fact was, I hated being different. I hated being weird and the freak. I hated it all and was miserable because of it. So, parents, speak for yourself. Maybe parents get off on being “different”, wear it like a badge, parading their different children around as some mark of….uniqueness? Superiority? I really have no idea.

But the point is that most homeschooled kids don’t get “normal” and we didn’t like being different, though our parents sure seemed to think it was awesome.

If this is the piece that homeschooling parents are passing around to describe homeschooling, they may want to reevaluate that.

It isn’t a flattering picture at all.

Perhaps what homeschooling today needs is a good dose of empathy: put yourself in your child’s shoes and see their world from their perspective.

Parents who were not homeschooled need to stop writing about what it’s like to be homeschooled because really they have no idea. And since it’s our lives that were affected most, and our futures that were gambled, I think that our perspective is important in order to prevent a lot of the mistakes made in our generation of homeschoolers. Education is, after all, supposed to be about the children and the next generation.

In Which Children Are People Too

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Aikawa Ke. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Aikawa Ke. Image links to source.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on December 12, 2012.

There is a parenting paradigm I’d like to talk about. It begins with the idea of “parental authority”, which begins with the idea that there is a hierarchical authority structure in life that everyone must fit into and children are at the bottom. I’m the parent, you’re the child. I’m the boss, you have to obey. Everything in this paradigm is based on the idea that some of us have positions of authority and submission to authority is good, right, orderly, and “God’s plan” for all of us.

But what if it isn’t? What if it’s just a model of how we’ve set up our relationships, a pattern to follow, that may or may not work out the best for everyone involved? What if there’s a better model to follow? I mean, in a hierarchical model, with people on top and people on the bottom, it seems that the ones on the bottom get the short end of the stick. And all too often, when applied to parenting in an authoritarian manner, children are the ones that have the most to lose.

It is often taught in conservative circles that parents have to right to require what they want of their children, and children must obey no matter what. It is even encouraged to set up arbitrary “training sessions” to “test” a child’s submission and obedience to authority, for no other reason then to condition them to follow your every command. Children are set up, and if they do well, they pass, but if they succumb to temptation, they get thwacked and punished, thus enforcing the idea that Mom and Dad are the boss and need no other reason to be obeyed other than their perceived authority over the child. If I say jump, I don’t owe you an explanation nor do I need a reason because *I’m the Mom*, you are the child, I have the power over you, you must learn to submit. And all of this is justified by invoking “God’s will for your life”.

In this paradigm or parenting model, children are expected to obey, to suppress their emotions, to never voice their own opinion because all that matters is their obedience to authority. They have no autonomy, their feelings don’t matter, they have no freedom to choose for themselves, and they are at the whim of their parents, their authorities.

But what if children are people too?

What if parenting is less about obedience and more about instilling The Golden Rule?

What if good parenting is about producing adults that know how to make wise choices and respect other people?

What if, instead of seeking ways to prove “I’m the Boss and you will obey me”, I’m instead seeking out ways to teach them how to choose for themselves? To let them learn how to express themselves in a healthy manner? Teaching them that their choices have consequences in life? What if I include them in decisions that will affect them? Teach them their thoughts and feelings matter to me?

What if I even *gasp!* teach them to question authority? To think for themselves? Even if that means questioning me? 

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is this: What is my parenting goal? 

Because, for a long time, my goal was incongruent with my parenting methods. My parenting philosophy was contrary to my goals for my children. I just didn’t realize it. I was so focused on the here and now, I forgot to see the big picture…the one where my kids end up as adults and are a product of my parenting.

“Parental authority”, the idea that we are the boss and they must learn to obey without question purely because of our position over them, goes against everything I believe in and desire to instill in my kids. I don’t want to raise little robots! I want to produce smart, thinking people, that can recognize bullshit from a mile away. That stand up to evil and fight for justice, even against “authorities”. Teaching a child to obey “authority” without question is dangerous. Because “authorities” are human and can be evil. Matter of fact, power corrupts and it seems to me that those who are in authority over other people are often the very ones from whom we must protect our children. I *want* my kids to question everything and everyone. What better place to model and teach this than with me, where they are safe and loved and their hearts treasured?

So I give them options. I do what I can to let them make their own choices about their lives. There are going to be times when I have to set boundaries that they can’t have a say in and don’t understand because they are young and immature in many ways. So how much more should I be celebrating the times when they CAN have a say? Seeking them out, even. And those times are much more numerous than I previously thought. For instance, I don’t believe that it is my choice to needlessly and permanently alter my sons’ (or daughters’) bodies by cosmetic circumcision. It’s their body, their choice; not mine. I don’t believe I should be the only one to choose what church we go to and not give heavy consideration to my children’s thoughts and desires; they are part of this family too, after all, and the decision affects them. It’s my job to make sure my kids are dressed appropriately for the occasion and the weather, but the details are always up to them. I think that by letting my children know that they have a voice that will be heard, that I value their input, that I respect their autonomy, that I celebrate their individuality, that they won’t be ignored or brushed off or their ideas considered less important than mine, I will be forming a relationship of mutual trust and respect that will last a lifetime. It helps them to listen better on those times when I need to put my foot down if those times are few and far between. I need to model respect if I want respectful children. I need to honor their personhood and their autonomy.

I think the biggest step is to be able to see our children as people.

It’s a simple as that. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Children aren’t our possessions. They aren’t property to do what we want with. They’re people. Little, unfinished people, but still people, with all the thoughts and feelings and desires and conflicts that you and I have.

I have nothing to prove to my children. I don’t need to “show them who’s boss”. That’s not the kind of relationship I desire with them. I desire for them to be wise, independent, compassionate, passionate, lovers of justice and mercy, capable, respectful, and strong. If I want them to value others, I must value them. If I want them to be kind to others, I must be kind to them. If I desire respect, I must show respect. I do not see respect as something I am entitled to because “I’m the mom”, but something I’ve earned because I have shown respect to my children. This seems very simple to me.  As simple as “do unto others as you want others to do unto you”.

See your children as people, change the way you look at them and change the way you see yourself in relation to them, and I guarantee you will change the way you parent them.

Look at the end goal and think about whether your parenting philosophy is going to get you there or if it needs some major overhauling.

Care for the Heart of Your Homeschool Child

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on June 23, 2014.

I read missions blogs. And missions forums. And missions tweets. And missions whatever.

This is always the reoccurring theme:

“CARE FOR THE HEART OF YOUR THIRD CULTURE CHILD.”

Like: the missionaries utter and repeat this, over and over.

And they say:

“PARENTS, YOU MAY. NOT. GET. IT. You may be living in another country, far from the land of your birth, but you are not a third culture kid. You do not know what it is like to be a third culture kid.”

See, these parents at least try to listen. Because Duh, most missionaries are NOT third culture kids. I have no idea what it’s like to not live in the USA until I am 18, then thrown back into the USA to live. Quite frankly, that sounds terrifying.

Thankfully, many missionary parents are listening to this advice instead of throwing out: “Why are you writing this article? THIRD CULTURE LIVING IS PERFECT.”

They get it. Being a third culture kid is kind of wonderful but kind of restless, frightening, and odd at the same time.

What is sad is that homeschool parents cannot give us homeschool kids the same space that third culture kids have.

I half joked the other day about those who tell me to stay in North America because I’m too bitter to plant the church. But in all seriousness, most of my troll comments and emails come from homeschool parents who wish to inform me that NOT ALL HOMESCHOOLERS ARE LIKE THAT and I’M JUST BITTER.

I do not believe homeschooling is evil in itself or that we should pity homeschool kids or burn homeschool parents at stake. Conversely, I know that homeschooling can be an enriching experience, and that it offers more flexibility than public schools. I know first hand the positives of homeschooling, and the negatives of homeschooling.

So my message to the homeschool parents is this: Just bug off. If you’re not a homeschool kid, stop telling our stories.

Instead, I will repeat the advice one missionary parent offered other missionary parents. It’s so applicable to homeschool parents that I offer it back with direct quotes from the missionary parent. I have substituted HK (homeschool kid) for TCK (third culture kid).

1. Cool advice number 1: your homeschool kid’s experience will be different than your homeschool parents experience

Recognize that your [HK]’s experiences will be vastly different from yours. Maybe more positive, maybe more negative. They may not identify with your host culture as much as you do. They may identify with it more than you. Are you ok with that?

When our family drives by the US Embassy and sees the flag flying, my kids feel nothing. When the President visited Phnom Penh and we saw Marine One (the President’s helicopter) flying over the Mekong, I stood there and cried like a baby. My boys looked up at me and said, “OK, can we go eat now?”

Cool advice number 2: If you want to alienate your homeschool kids, tell them they are ungrateful.

One of the quickest ways to damage the heart of a [HK] is to outlaw negative emotions (grief, anger, disappointment, etc.). Tell them they shouldn’t feel something, or that they just need to suck it up, or that their feelings show a lack of gratefulness. Yup, that’ll do it.

But, and this is the great part, allowing a TCK to experience the full range of emotions is one of the most caring things you can do. It’s also one of the healthiest things you can do.

I found this comment from a third culture kid interesting. Sound familiar?

“My parents were often busy, and would give me lines like, ‘Living here is good for you! It’s something few other people ever get to experience. When you get older and look back on this time, you’ll be grateful for what you learned here.’ Their comments were well meant, but they didn’t know the depth of my pain.”

Again, both homeschoolers and third culture kids speak of their positive experiences. Both speak of their negative points. But currently, it’s considered acceptable for third culture kids to speak of both, but NOT for homeschoolers to speak of both.

Although, before I praise these parents too hard, I suspect if missionary kids group together and form a webpage of their own version of Homeschoolers Anonymous, missionary parents will get upset and say they are just bitter and ugly too.

But can we get rid of this defense thing, please? Because:

Cool Advice #3: We are not here to validate our parents ministry, emotions, or ego.

This one’s insidious. And devastating. But tying your validation to your child’s behavior (good or bad) is a socially acceptable form of idolatry. It has nothing to do with walking in obedience, and everything to do with looking outside of the Father for approval and validation.

We are our own person.

Talking To Kids About Social Services, Part II

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 12, 2014.

Part One

I wrote yesterday about the fear of social services I received from my parents and from the wider homeschooling community. Once I grew up I realized that this fear was both irrational and counterproductive. Social services was not the enemy, and social workers do important work protecting children from abuse and neglect. Sure, social services isn’t perfect, and they sometimes make mistakes. But what good does teaching children to be afraid of social services do? Absolutely none at all. When I had children of my own, then, I determined to do things differently.

I wanted Sally and Bobby to see social services not as an enemy but as a friend.

Several months ago we got from a store and Sally refused to get out of the car. She was tired and was comfortable where she was. She was four at the time, and I needed to take her inside and get on with my list of things to accomplish for the day. My options, as I saw them, were to either pick Sally up and carry her into the house or to convince her to come inside voluntarily. I decided to try the later and save the former for last resort.

“I can’t leave you out here,” I told her. “I’m your mom and it’s my job to take care of you.”

“I don’t care about that, mom!” Sally insisted. “I don’t mind if you leave me out here!”

“Okay, let me see if I can explain this,” I said, and I got down on her level. “Kids don’t know everything yet, and sometimes they can get hurt. Kids can get lost or hit by cars or stolen or drown or any manner of things. So parents’ job is to protect their kids and take care of them. That’s me—that’s my job.”

I took a deep breath and considered whether to go on.

I didn’t want to give her my childhood fear of social services, but I wanted her to understand that I really truly and honestly am required by law to take care of her, and that leaving her outside in the car alone is literally not an option. Sally likes understanding how the world works and having reasons for things, and she tends to be fairly mature for her age. So I went on.

“There are laws that require me to take good care of you,” I told her, “and if I don’t take good care of you I will get in trouble. There is an agency called social services that helps make sure children are taken care of. If parents do not take good care of their children, social services will come and tell them they have to take good care of their children. And if parents still do not take good care of their children, social services will find them a new mommy and daddy so that there is someone to take care of them.”

Sally considered for a moment.

“Okay, I’m coming inside, mommy,” she finally said, climbing out of the car. “You have to take good care of me, because that’s your job.” And she looked at me and smiled. “It’s your job to take good care of me!”

Sometime later we were at an outdoor event when Sally asked if it was fine if she go off on her own. I told her that I was okay with her moving around a little bit but that she had to stay close enough that I could see her and would know where she was. I reminded her that it’s my job to protect her and take care of her.

“That’s right mommy, it’s your job to protect me!” she said. “And you can’t protect me if you can’t see me!” And with that, she laughed as though she’d told a joke—and she stayed close enough for me to keep tabs on her throughout the event.

I was glad to see Sally being more understanding of times I had to tell her “no” because what she was asking was not safe. Sally had definitely taken to heart that it was my job to take care of her. But I still worried that she might take the bit about social services finding new mommies and daddies for kids who were not taken care of the wrong way, and end up feeling afraid.

Some time after this I was carrying a load of groceries from the car into the house, and Sally was dawdling and lagging behind.

“Come on Sally!” I called over my shoulder. “Hurry up!”

“I’m coming, mommy!” Sally called out as she picked up per pace and jogged to catch up. “Because you have to take care of me, mom, or they will find me a new mommy and daddy, and I don’t want a new mommy and daddy!”

And there it was. Had I messed up, I wondered?

Was I giving her the same fear I had had? After the groceries were safely on the counter and we were both in the house, I pulled Sally aside.

“Sally, daddy and I try very hard to take good care of you,” I told her. “If social services came here to check on you, they would see that we take good care of you. Social services only takes children away from their parents if their parents are not taking care of them at all, or if their parents are hurting them. Does that make sense?”

Sally paused to think. “Those kids need new mommies and daddies, because they need someone to take care of them!”

“That’s right,” I responded. “Social services comes to check things out if someone calls them and says, ‘that child’s mommy and daddy are not taking care of her, she needs help.’”

“And then they help?” Sally asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “They try to help the family, and they only find kids new mommies and daddies if their parents still refuse to take care of them. If social services ever comes to our house and a social worker wants to talk to you, don’t worry about it, they’re just trying to make sure you’re taken care of and happy. They’re nice people and they want to make sure kids are safe. If that ever happens you can just answer their questions, okay? It is their job to make sure children are taken good care of, and that’s a good thing, because it is good for children to be taken care of and not get hurt. Does that make sense?”

“Oh!” Sally exclaimed, “If they come to our house, they will say, ‘do your mommy and daddy take good care of you?’ And I will say, ‘yes, they do!’” And then they will say, ‘that is good, we like mommies and daddies to take care of their kids!’ Right mommy? Right?”

“Wow, um, yes, that’s absolutely right,” I responded. I’m telling you, you just never know with this kid. She does voices and everything. And with that, our conversation was over and Sally was off to play.

It has been some time now since this second conversation, and Sally has not expressed any fear of social services. Indeed, her comment as she ran to catch up with me—the comment that prompted our second conversation—was less one of fear than one of stating facts. Sally is a very logical and ordered child, and tends to be matter of fact like that.

I have to remind myself not to let my own childhood fear of social services determine my interpretation of Sally’s comments.

That it is my job to take care of her, and that I’m required by law to do so, has continued to help at moments when Sally would really like to be outside alone, or to wander around on her own at an event, and I can’t let her. It means that Sally understands that I don’t let her do those things because it is my job to take care of her and I’m required to do so, and not because I want to kill all of her fun.

Now I’m not saying any of this as a prescription. I don’t know for sure whether I’ve handled this topic correctly, or whether I should have held my tongue and found some other way to coax her out of the car that time several months ago—say, offering her a cookie once we got inside, or emphasizing all the things I had to get done in the house that evening. I do know that I just looked around the internet and couldn’t find a single guide to talking to your children about social services. Perhaps that means most people say nothing, and maybe that’s what I should have done too. But with my background of fear, and my parents in my children’s lives, I think part of me wanted to offer Sally a healthy perspective rather than leaving her with a vacuum.

End.

Talking To Kids About Social Services, Part I

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“I grew up afraid of social services.”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on June 11, 2014.

I grew up afraid of social services.

Social workers were something of a bogeyman in the homeschooling community, and my parents bought into it completely. In fact, in a recent conversation on the topic with my mother, she insisted that social workers today do in fact take children away from their parents for nothing more than homeschooling. That she still says this today says a lot about just how high fear of social workers was in our home when I was a child.

In fact, my parents walked us children step by step through what we should do if a social worker came to the door when they were not home. We were not to let a social worker in the door under any circumstances, and we were to call the Home School Legal Defense Association and get a lawyer on the line immediately. My mom had the phone number on the inside of a cupboard by the phone.

I’ve spoke to others raised in the same background as me who actually had drills that involved them hiding in the attic, or in a basement. While we didn’t do this, I well remember hearing conversations about the horrible things social workers do—strip-searching children to search for bruises or interviewing children without their parents present. The homeschooling literature I read was full of references to the evils of social services.

When I was a teen, I read a novel by Michael Farris titled Anonymous Tip. In it the main character’s daughter is taken away from her based on a false tip called in by a malicious ex. When the social workers realize that the tip was false, they fake evidence to keep the little girl away from her mother. One of the social workers was a Wiccan, and her boyfriend worked for the ACLU.

The novel helped cement my fear and dread of social services.

I think to really get across what we’re talking about here I’m going to have to share a story of a terrifying event that took place when I was about fifteen. In fact, this moment may well be the most scared I’ve ever been in my life.

I was home alone with a few of my siblings while my mom and the others were at a friend’s house. I tried to call the weather phone number to get the forecast, but our phone was old and not all the buttons went through. I had dialed 911 without realizing it. As soon as the 911 operator came on, I hung up because it was a person rather than the weather recording I had expected. And then I realized too late that I had just hung up on the 911 operator.

I called my mother in an absolute panic. I was incredibly afraid. I knew that there was a strong likelihood that a police officer would come to our house to check if everything was alright, and there I was home alone with a few of my siblings. Looking back, my fear was entirely misplaced. My mother assured me that it would be fine, that I should simply tell the officer what had happened. I don’t think she realized the depth of my fear, or where it was coming from. The fear I was given of social services bled over into this experience.

As it happens, everything was fine. Two police cars did make their way up our driveway that morning, and a police officer got out and talked to me at the door. I told him what had happened—that I had dialed 911 on accident and hung up as soon as I realized I had the wrong number—and that was enough. But a police officer coming to the door to ask me questions and check the situation out while my parents were away was too similar to a social worker doing the same for me not to be terrified.

Fear—we’re talking real, visceral fear.

So far, this blog post could well be titled “How Not to Talk to Kids about Social Services.” My parents and the homeschooling community taught me to see social workers as the enemy and to fear social services in such a visceral way that it made my stomach hurt. This is how not to do it. Is social services perfect? No. But social services is set up to protect children from abuse and neglect, and it does a lot of good for a lot of kids. Social services should be seen as an ally, not an enemy, and teaching children to fear an agency set up to help protect them serves to prevent children who really need help from seeking it or speaking out—and result in a lot of unnecessarily frightened children.

Tomorrow I will write about how I talk about social services today with my own children. Is it necessarily to talk to children about social services? Maybe not, but given my background and the fact that my parents are a part of my children’s lives, I would rather give my children a positive foundation for understanding these things than leave them with a vacuum.

Part Two >