I was barely 19 when my eldest sister decided to make a run for it.
Against all my convictions and everything I parroted that my parents believed, I helped her.
I remember her looking over her shoulder at me, washing dishes, as she went downstairs in our split level home, a silent farewell where we couldn’t embrace or pretend anything was going on.
I remember I was still working on the dishes in the sink when my mom found her empty room and sounded the alarm. I remember pretending I had absolutely no idea, and I pretended that i wasn’t crying into the dishwater as I heard my dad called everyone he could call, attempting to intimidate them into helping him scour the countryside for her or cutting off any resources she might have through them, calling her names and predicting her demise.
I was a little over 19 when my parents sent me to ATI’s Journey to the Heart in an attempt to keep me from following her example.
Against all precedents, they sent me alone on a train and in a taxi to the center of the country where I found theological discrepancies between ATI’s material and my parents own branch of personally branded “THE correct way” philosophy. I remember feeling the sting of rejection when the famed seer himself sent me away curtly when he found out I was there on a scholarship and that our family had never been card-carrying members of his organization. I remember the resentment that would not go away no matter how many times I tried to “tear down the stronghold,” and all the years since that week and this one. I remember the thrill of spending my own money, finding my own train connections, walking around a real college campus with an old friend, and experiencing a day of her academic life.
I was halfway through being 19 when I secretly began corresponding with my sister again.
Against all thoughts of self-preservation, I dared to call her and spend time with her during an afternoon event she came to where the siblings and I were performing our homeschooled talents.
I remember the horrible ending to that evening when my father refused to allow her to hold the baby, and seeing, again as if for the first time, how malicious he was by nature. I remember the tortuously long bible studies he forced us to have wherein he would use an example at least every other week of how wicked she was and how she hated her family and her family’s god. I remember how I first followed one of her links to the blog of a book-writer who changed my life.
I was on the verge of 20 when I began spouting dangerous ideologies that put me on my parent’s radar.
Against every spanking I had ever had, I stood up to my father and refused to allow him to confiscate something of mine. I remember the thrill of having a personal possession that did not have to be shared, a laptop purchased with “graduation” gifts from family. It gave me a window into the outside world, it gave me a taste. I remember looking for the author-lady’s article about how Michael Pearl responded to the first and second child killed by his methods. I remember arguing with my parents in tears that this was deadly and that it was paramount that they look into their punishment methods as they sat there with jaws scraping the floor.
I was a month away from being 20 when I refused to back down one more time, and my father grounded me to my room except for bathroom breaks and meals.
Against my JTTH-inspired vow to serve my family another year, I took a cellphone that was snuck in to me and began calling people who would listen to me and offer advice. I remember “Elizabeth” encouraging me to secure my social security card, and I did it despite having to sneak into my parent’s room and rifle through the family folders to find it. I remember staring at the folder and being too afraid to take my expired passport or anything else in case they would notice the diminished size and suspect I was planning something. I remember the final weeks when our elderly neighbor’s and next-door-secular-homeschooling-family read the author’s finished book and put all the pieces together. I remember being rebellious and locking my room door every night, and every morning finding it unlocked and cracked open.
I was a week and a half over 20 when I went to a local Amusement Park with my family for a special vacation on discount tickets purchased with couponing.
Against all common sense my father ordered all us females to wear skirts for modesty, and I protested by wearing my shortest (knee-length) one with capris underneath. I remember almost getting sent back to the car for the whole day because I pointed out several mini-skirt wearing women and commented on their impressive modesty. I remember holding my tongue because I had one last day to spend with my little brother, and I remember being brave enough to whisper to him what I was planning at the end of the day. I remember the blisters on my heels that I didn’t mind because I spent the night petting my cats and begging them to forgive me for abandoning them.
I was 13 days over 20 when I put a note on my dresser along with money for the cats care and I walked two boxes of clothing over to the waiting car that took me into town.
Against all odds I managed to stay in town most of the day until my sister was able to leave work and come get me. I remember people being extraordinarily kind to the naive should-be-an-adult woman who was hiding in fear and watching the door. I remember staring down at my Friendly’s taco-bowl-salad and being unable to swallow because my brother delivered my father’s ultimatum. I would come home by sundown or my cats would be put out at the edge of the road.
I remember my sister facing her demons less than a year after her harrowing escape in order to help me.
I was only two days older when we drove into a driveway 500 miles distant and I first saw the people who were going to be my teachers and helpers for the next half decade.
Against the new backdrop I bought my first two-piece tankini-and-skirt combo and my sister and I shared a sunny afternoon in their community pool. I remember everyone cautioning us about how these people were complete strangers and if “anything feels off” to come back to my sister’s and to figure things out from there. I remember the new landlady buying me a sheet set for my room in a vibrant lime green along with a “husband pillow” and her humor and kindness made me feel right at home. I remember thanking my sister before she left, and being happy, scared, nervous, and tired as I started my new life with a few hundred dollars in my pocket and the knowledge that I was free, and that I would remain free.
They wanted to raise a generation of people who would change the world with our excellence, character, and superior skills, unafraid of doing right and standing alone.
Well, here we are.
All grown up and no longer staying silent about things that matter, no longer children controlled and smiling in a row. We may not be what they expected, but we are exactly what they planned us to be. They just never thought that we’d be standing up, not for their movement, not for their “values” or their mission, but for each other. Hand in hand, reaching down, pulling up, hugging close, fighting demons, speaking out, hearts beating together.
They wanted to create a force to be reckoned with. They accomplished that goal.
What they failed to take into account was that they were raising people not robots. And people are resilient. They are strong. They have minds and thoughts and wills of their own, things that ultimately cannot be controlled forever. Humans are wild cards.
We have found each other, connected, and now stand side-by-side. “Really? Me too!” is the cry of relief and sadness and connection and righteous anger that we hear every day. The letters I get, the comments on my blog, the conversations day in and day out…..they break my heart, they tear at my very soul, they overwhelm, yet they feel strangely familiar and tell me. I’m not a freak and I’m not alone and neither is anyone else like me. This is both terrible and wonderful.
We each bring our own strengths to this struggle. Some are lawyers, some investigators, some the story-tellers, some counselors and healers, all are friends to those who need a friend, a hand to hold onto. I have chosen to bring my passion for soul-healing into the fight, to do all I can to help others have the life and happiness and wholeness that they deserve as human beings, to break the cycle of violence and brokenness. That is my gift and my passion. Others in our midst are the masters of justice. They are the ones that have devoted their time and effort to exposing the abuse and the abusers, of rallying to do what they can for the rights of homeschooled children. And they’re doing a damn good job too.
“Sit down, be quiet, stop talking, how dare you? You’re lying, you’re disrespectful, submit, shut up, be sweet, don’t tell, don’t question, smile, conform, pretend, why can’t you just……” Ah, but that is not who we were raised to be, who we were supposed to be, who we have chosen now to be.
We are the world-changers, the truth-fighters, the culture-warriors.
Isn’t that what they wanted? What they dreamed of? What they planned for?
This exposure of abusers in the world we were children in is not going to end until the abuse ends. We were raised to be the best of the best, to stand alone, to choose righteousness when everyone else chose evil. That is exactly what we are doing. With every brave story, their power crumbles to dust.
I commend my friends for all the months of work they put into this. I know the backlash they will received from a culture of image-worship, a kingdom that is imploding before our very eyes because of years worth of corruption and power-mongering covered up in the name of religion and God and “educational freedom”.
There will be no more silence about things that matter from my generation of homeschooled adults.
If we do not speak up, who will? Obviously not those who laud themselves as the leaders of the Christian homeschool world. I am heartbroken for the victims, those named and those still wounded and hiding. And even more convinced that the way I have chosen and the fight I have chosen and the people I have chosen to stand with is all exactly where I am supposed to be.
We are who we were meant to be. We are the generation that unexpectedly changes the world…..our world. Which is more than enough for us.
Some of the comments I come across regarding human rights issues blow my mind. I’m talking about the things that become a major source of dissension in social media and personal conversations.
A movie about kinky sex.
Discrimination towards the queer community.
Gender inequality. Rape culture and its many representations.
“No,” I protest, trying to kick him off. He stops. “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise… I will gag you.”
An overwhelming theme I see emerging is an attitude of annoyance. Frustration that we’re talking about any of this. That whatever the topic is, will go away and we should stop discussing it because “controversy” is what makes this an issue.
“I have an overwhelming urge to cry, a sad and lonely melancholy grips and tightens round my heart. Dashing back to my bedroom, I close the door and lean against it trying to rationalize my feelings. I can’t. Sliding to the floor, I put my head in my hands as my tears begin to flow.”
Here’s the thing about promoting silence as a solution.
When you believe that talking about something is the problem, and that to stop talking about it takes away the problem, you don’t understand it at all.
You’re speaking from a place of privilege. A place where things like abuse only affect you in your news feed, rather than your daily life. The people affected by abusive situations will still wake up to them tomorrow, and you can’t stand to hear about it.
“All this intense need to shout from the rooftops that this is abuse is crazy.”
Feeling isolated and unheard paralyzes people in unhealthy situations. Say it out loud, “You’re not alone, and you’re not at fault.”
“The more we talk about it the more publicity it gets. I’m personally tired of hearing about it.”
Words are powerful things. You can make a difference with your words for the better.
“It’s a movie. It doesn’t promote a widespread message about anything. Find something else to worry about.”
Education changes lives. Speak about respect and human rights, again and again and again.
“It’s CONTROVERSIAL. Controversy and drama. When people get tired of discussing how evil/wonderful it is it will fade into oblivion.”
Take whatever the current media battle is. Yes, the hype will go away eventually. Yes, the uproar is fed the more people talk about it. Yes, people should use common sense. However, misinformation is damaging, and silencing those who are speaking up against wrong does no one any favors.
I’m glad you’re not personally affected by discrimination or abuse or any of these issues people are dealing with. I plead with you, don’t shame those that are bringing it to light.
By Sarah Dutko, member of the LaQuiere Group (1991-1999). This review was originally posted on Amazon September 2, 2014, revision re-posted on September 9.
I feel that I need to write this review because as someone who knows Mrs. Krueger personally, and lived out the methods she teaches in her book, I feel I need to warn any parents considering buying this book or using her methods. This is the second time I’ve posted this review, because Amazon removed my review the first time, after someone apparently complained about it. I’m not sure why Amazon feels the need to censor negative reviews of Mrs. Krueger’s book, but no matter, I will keep posting it if Amazon removes it again, because I am determined to reach parents who are considering Mrs. Krueger’s methods and tell them the truth.
I not only know Mrs. Krueger, I grew up with her and her children: for 8 years I (and my family) were a part of the same fundamentalist cult that she and her family still belong to. I’d like to provide some valuable perspective on what it is like to grow up under this kind of child “training”, and the kind of damage it does to children.
Mrs. Krueger’s child-training methods are not original to her, or just “common sense”, as she claims: they come directly from a man named Joe LaQuiere who was the leader of our cult up until he died this past year (she mentions him and his wife in her book as a “godly older couple” who gave them advice). This cult to which Mrs. Krueger and her family still belong is an insular, legalistic group with neo-Jewish practices, such as eating no pork products, celebrating the Sabbath (Saturday), condemnation of Christmas trees for being “pagan”, as well as using emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse to control its members. Having lived through it from age 6 to 14, and having family members who are still a part of this cult, gives me a unique insider’s perspective, which will hopefully provide you with enough information about the damaging and evil results of this method of “child-training” that you will help in warning against it, as it has become far too popular in the ultra-conservative, homeschooling movement, which is beginning to see a whole generation of survivors speak up about the abuses they’ve experienced, and give warning to the dangers inherent to the homeschooling community.
I am going to quote here both from Mrs. Krueger’s book, and from an article she wrote at the same time as her book.
Here is the first quote from her book. Mrs. Krueger writes:
“Let me share my experience with my third born…One day we were visiting some close friends and he decided to exert his new found power. He blatantly refused to come to Dad when Dad called him. He ignored Dad and continued playing with our friend’s telephone instead, about six feet from where my husband and I were sitting. The friends we were visiting were excellent parents and offered their advice, which we readily accepted. They coached us to outlast him, instructing Dad to keep calling him. When he didn’t budge, Dad was directed to go over to him, administer a little swat on the bottom (over clothes and a diaper), then return to where he’d been sitting and call him again. We were encouraged to repeat this, pausing appropriately between repeats, until he obeyed us…Finally, after approximately an hour and a half, he began to cry and take a few steps toward us, but he still refused to come all the way. He still did not want to totally give up the power he had enjoyed exerting over us. Each time he took a few steps toward us then stopped, we would replace him back by the phone and call him to come to us again. We devoted the next half hour to making sure he obeyed completely, not just partially…This one outlasting session had a considerable and exciting long-term impact on our child. He clearly learned he was under our authority and must always obey us…The initial two-hour ordeal never needed repeating.”
These “friends” who were “excellent parents” that she refers to are Joe LaQuiere and his wife, her mentors, and they are the people who taught her to use the methods in her book (as well as much more abusive methods which they themselves used on children, including my own siblings). This method of teaching toddlers to obey by spanking them…and then repeating…and repeating…and repeating…for 2 straight hours….or as long as it takes (which is what she means by “outlasting them” – a concept she refers to many times in her book)…is exactly the kind of child-training my family and I experienced in the cult. I’d like to share one more quote, this one from her online article that she wrote at the same time as her book. This article is from “Christian Moms of Many Blessings” (http://www.cmomb.com/child-training/). I quote a portion of what Mrs. Krueger writes:
“Don’t be afraid of a confrontation. It is helpful to set up a confrontational situation in the case of a toliler [my note: I think this is a typo for “toddler”] who is “out of control.” For example, tell him to sit on the couch next to you. When he tries to get down, give him a firm swat on the bottom and say, “No” in an `I mean business’ tone. Continue this every time he tries to get down until he stops trying. If he actually makes it off the couch, tell him to climb back up himself, if he is big enough, or replace him if needed. Don’t restrain him. Don’t give in. Ignore his crying. You are not done until he sits there quietly for as long as you want him to without resisting. Let him fall asleep if he likes. Even after he stops resisting, don’t let him down too soon. Ten or 20 minutes or even an hour is not too long. Once you have done this, continue to expect him to obey everything you tell him to do.”
Both this method and the method described earlier by her in her book were used to train young toddlers, as young as one year old, in our cult. These methods in particular were used on my little brother, Joshua, during one of the “training sessions” that Mrs. Krueger’s mentor, Joe LaQuiere, conducted in order to teach his followers how to train “obedient” children. Joshua was made to sit on my mom or dad’s lap, and spanked every time he tried to get down. He was a bright and happy baby, but very stubborn. He didn’t want to give in, but kept on trying to get down, and getting spanked for it, over, and over, and over, and over. He’d cry and cry, but he wasn’t allowed to be comforted until he “submitted” and gave in. The goal was to get him to “sit there quietly for as long as you want him to without resisting”, as Mrs. Krueger wrote. This “training” session started in the afternoon, and went on…all afternoon…and evening…late into the night. It was 2 or 3 in the morning before Joe LaQuiere okay-ed stopping for the night. At this point they had been “training” him to sit still and not cry for over 6 hours. He was not allowed to nurse during this time, or to see his mother (my mom), because that would “comfort him”, and they wanted him to be miserable until he gave in and obeyed. You may think “a small swat on the bottom” does not sound over-the-top for a small toddler as a way to get them to sit quietly (as if toddlers were created to “sit quietly” – their nature, and their developmental needs, as any child psychologist can tell you, require them to explore, not sit quietly for hours). What about spanking them over…and over…and over…for 6 hours straight? Does that sound abusive? Mrs. Krueger’s methods (really, Joe LaQuiere’s methods) say that you CANNOT GIVE UP until your child (or baby) submits to you and obeys, no matter how long that takes. If it takes all night, so be it. If it takes dozens, or a hundred spankings, so be it. This is not training, this is child abuse. My one-year-old brother Josh was subjected to this “training” day after day, until he finally, sullenly, gave in, and was now a “well-trained” baby, who would sit quietly on demand, and not try to get down and play in normal toddler fashion. In a few short months, he went from a bubbly, laughing one-year-old to a quiet, sullen, baby who rarely smiled. He was mostly silent from then on: he didn’t speak until he was nearly 4. Joe LaQuiere, (who, remember, is Mrs. Krueger’s mentor, and the one who taught her these methods) said Joshua was an exceptionally “rebellious” baby, and it was necessary to discipline the “rebelliousness” out of him until his will was broken.
See, Mrs. Krueger’s book, and her advice, is really the somewhat-milder face of Joe LaQuiere’s teaching: the public face, if you will. She watched more violent abuse occur, and was taught that it was acceptable: babies having their faces stuffed into couch cushions to teach them not to cry – children being beaten mercilessly with “The Paddle”, not once, as she writes in her book, but often 20 or 30 times. Children being dragged by their hair, thrown against walls, or dangled in the air by their throats. My own siblings endured all of these abuses, and I was made to watch.
Mrs. Krueger, whether or not she treated her own children quite this severely, watched this abuse happen to other children, and agreed with it. Her book is merely the milder, public face of private child abuse, because she knows that some of the stricter methods taught by Joe LaQuiere would be too unpalatable to put in print, as well as likely to land her (and him) in trouble with law enforcement. But make no mistake that it occurs. To be fair, Mrs. Krueger and her husband I don’t believe followed every child “training” (abuse) method that Joe LaQuiere taught: she and her family are best friends with him (one of her daughters is even married to one of Joe LaQuiere’s sons), and while their methods differ somewhat in severity, the principle is the same: OBEDIENCE is paramount, and it is of little importance HOW you get your children to obey, or how often you must beat them, as long as the end result is IMMEDIATE, UNQUESTIONING obedience, from children of any age, even through adulthood. THIS is the goal (which is in itself a very bad goal) and the methods used to achieve it, as touted by Joe LaQuiere, through the mouthpiece of Mrs. Krueger, are cruel and damaging.
To this day, I suffer panic attacks and horrible flashbacks to watching my brothers and sisters abused through this method of child-rearing. I grew up emotionally-stunted, being taught that ‘a cheerful face’ was the only acceptable expression, and that any negative emotions I felt, like anger, or sadness, or frustration, were sin, and needed to be corrected. Thus I learned to disassociate myself from my emotions, effectively divorcing them from my conscious mind, which is a process I am still trying, with the help of therapy, to undo. The children, including those in my family, who grew up under these methods, are emotionally unstable; are fearful of and often unable to make their own decisions; are unable to move into independent adulthood without the constant guidance of parents telling them what to do; and worst of all, have a false and damaging picture of who God is, and who they are meant to be.
After leaving the cult that Mrs. Krueger belongs to, I was confused, depressed, and suicidal. I believed that God was an angry God who despised me for not reaching His standards of perfection. I learned nothing about grace through this experience. Thank God, I discovered it after I left, and realized that God does not treat us like Joe LaQuiere and Mrs. Krueger do their children: punishing every crime and dealing out justice until we are perfect. Instead, He already provided the perfect righteousness that we can never achieve through Jesus, and gave us in one fell swoop, a perfect record and status with him, and complete forgiveness of all sins, past and future! He doesn’t demand perfect performance from us to gain His acceptance. We are not “spanked” until we learn to obey Him instantly, with no questions, and with a false smile. Instead, He loves on us, extravagantly, and at great personal cost to Himself, in order to draw us to Himself…by LOVE. LOVE is what calls us to CHOOSE to obey Him – not repeated punishment, or the fear that He will only “enjoy us” as long as we fulfill the letter of His law. THIS is how we need to treat our children: with the same mercy and grace that God showers on us. To follow Mrs. Krueger’s method instead will give our children an outward layer of “goodness”, on which they think their acceptance by God depends, while inwardly they remain full of sin and darkness, needing God’s redeeming love and GRACE to flood in and wash them clean! Mrs. Krueger’s book and methods create little Pharisees: looking pretty good on the outside, but with aching hearts inside, knowing the misery of never being “good enough”. Thank God we don’t HAVE to be “good enough” for Him: we already are, thanks to the sacrifice He made for us!
Please PLEASE do not buy this book, or use these methods on your children!! Try instead something like “Families where Grace is in Place”, or “Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Children with the Love of Jesus” both EXCELLENT books! Leave Mrs. Krueger’s book where it belongs…forgotten, gathering dust in her basement somewhere, while your children flourish in the LOVE and GRACE of God!
If you have any questions, or would like to ask me specifics about why Mrs. Krueger’s methods are so damaging, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I’d love to talk with you 🙂
Some months ago I stated in a blog post that I was becoming increasingly convinced that Christian homeschooling culture is not a safe space for young women and girls. A reader objected in the comments section, misunderstanding I think both what I meant by “Christian homeschooling culture” and “safe space.” Regardless, reading various figures’ responses to the Doug Phillips scandal, and how they discuss Lourdes Torres, Phillips’ victim, has made my assessment only more firm.
But if his attentions were entirely unwelcome to her, and she was freaked out by the creepster, then we have to ask why she wasn’t down the road at the first opportunity — that night or the next morning — with Doug Phillips receiving notification of her opinion of what transpired via the sound of sirens. That’s not what happened, on anyone’s account, and so I don’t think we should identify her as a victim.
For someone who makes his livelihood counseling his parishioners, Wilson shows a stunning lack of understanding of any of the dynamics of abuse. He reiterates his statement in the comments section:
In other words, according to Wilson, if an abuse victim does not get out of the situation at the very first opportunity, she (or he) cannot be identified as a victim. We might as well ask this of every case where a male partner is abusive: “If his abuse was not welcomed by her, then we have to ask why she didn’t leave at the first opportunity, say the first night or the very next morning.” But of course, this is ridiculous. There are a million reasons abused women do not leave the moment their abuse starts. For one thing, it usually begins little by little, and not all at once. But beyond that are plenty of reasons both physical and psychological.
If someone who is a leader and an influential figure in this culture is so clueless as to the dynamics of abuse, how much hope is there that more local leaders will be any less ignorant?
But let’s stop and ask ourselves a question Wilson doesn’t think to ask—what would have happened if Lourdes had come forward about Phillips’ actions? What if she had told other leaders in Phillips’ church, as Wilson would probably prefer, given his propensity for preferring the Matthew 18 approach over civil courts?
First of all, if Lourdes had gone to her church elders they likely would have suspected her of lying. After all, Phillips was a very well respected leader. When the scandal broke several months ago, there were many that had trouble believing it even then. How much more unbelievable would it have been without a paper trail of sorts stretching back for years? Further, Phillips was one of the church elders. These would have been his friends Torres would have been going to. In all likelihood, they would have called him in and asked him what happened, he would have explained it away as nothing, they would have believed him, and that would have been the end of it.
After all, that’s exactly what Gothard did over and over and over again. Someone would say something, some rumor would surface, and Gothard’s board of directors would talk to him about it. He would assure them it was nothing, and they would tell him to be more careful in the future, and everything would go on just as before.
Second, even if Lourdes had gone to her church elders and they had believed that some level of impropriety was going on, they likely would have placed some of the blame on her—even if she went to them immediately. They would have asked her what she had done to lead him on, what she had said or worn or done. They would have asked her if she had fought him off, or if she actually wanted his overtures, and so on. And they very likely would have seen her as tainted herself.
I also have very little faith in the local church authorities Lourdes would have approached had she followed Matthew 18.
After all, we know that the other leaders in Doug Phillips church knew full well what was going on over six months before Phillips issued his public apology, and over six months before the Vision Forum board of directors decided to shut the ministry down. In February of 2013 Phillips was removed from his position as elder at his church because of his actions, but he was allowed to go on speaking and serving as an influential public figure, even though he had in his personal life made a lie of everything he said from his public platform.
In this culture, the criteria for being a victim is very narrow. If you are among the few who fit the criteria, you receive all the support they can give you, and your abuser alone is condemned as guilty. However, if you don’t fit the criteria you stand guilty and implicated in what happened alongside your abuser. What, you didn’t leave him the first time he raped you? And you say you’re a victim?
It is because of these sorts of narratives and beliefs that I said what I did about Christian homeschooling culture not being a safe space for girls and young women. Yes, this very culture claims to care very much about protecting girls and young women, and many leaders find justification for patriarchy in just that. But while their words say one thing, the systems they create and beliefs they embrace create something very different altogether.
And if my saying this upsets readers, they should focus their energies on combatting these narratives, not on expressing their shock that I could say such a thing.
February 6th three years ago marks the day I packed all of my meager belongings and left my family’s house.
It was almost exactly two weeks after my dad had kicked me out. He had walked into my room, told me I wasn’t worth his time anymore, he was tired of dealing with me, then proceeded to blame me for all of the issues he was having with my siblings. After his little speech, he told me I had two weeks to leave, if I needed help finding a place, I could ask, but basically I was on my own. He looked around my room and pointed out the pieces of furniture I could take or what had to stay behind. I was only allowed to take my trunk, my desk, and a dresser I had just happened to buy.
I left that house and never looked back.
I believe my therapist was right in telling me I had cut ties with my family years ago, but leaving that day was the final string. My dad celebrated that night by taking my family out to dinner, a very rare occurrence. I was asked if I wanted to come as if I was already no longer part of the family. My siblings were confused, here was their dad telling them about how much of a rebellious and bad girl I was. I was an extremely bad example all because I had chosen the man I was going to marry and wasn’t going to back down no matter how much my dad abused me and tried to manipulate me.
I was finally standing up to his vicious anger and this was the consequences.
I fought for my siblings, it was me who held them together, only, no one saw that until I was no longer there. My siblings couldn’t see that, they couldn’t see what I had been protecting them from all of those years; the man behind the mask who grew more and more manipulative and abusive as the years passed. I have never really processed the emotions that went with this event.
I often feel burning anger towards my dad and also great sorrow because I can see how blinded and truly sick he is.
She is speaking out about what it was like to grow up, and I am proud of her for standing up to the man whose sperm just happened to be part of creating us kids.
She is calling the bullshit as she’s seen it and she is not skirting around the real issues.
It does my heart so good to see her taking the steps I have taken before her in what will hopefully be a healing journey for her.I am going to stand by her and lift up her words because more of us need to speak out.
It struck me the other day how often the abusers get a free pass.I see the discomfort cross faces when I bring up what my dad has done and how I’m working through it. I hear the sorrow in their voices and see it in their eyes when I say I will not allow my dad to go anywhere near this child of mine. It isn’t sorrow for me so much as it is sorrow that I don’t have the daddy-daughter relationship I’m somehow supposed to have. It’s sorrow and discomfort because my life hasn’t gone the way people would rather have seen it gone. Very very few people I have interacted with in regards to my dad’s abuse has actually had what I consider the right response. Very few people have actually gotten angry, upset because of what he has done.
Abuse is not something to just brush over with “grace” and “pray for your persecutor.”
Abuse in any form is worthy of anger and worthy of being stood up against.
I remember when I first started sharing my story and starting to peel back the layers of pain hardened emotions to find the wound holes. No one seemed to understand why I needed to speak. It was all “hush, hush, you shouldn’t say that, it’s slander.” By keeping silent I was allowing his abuse to continue, I, the victim, was being told my story didn’t matter, it wasn’t appropriate to share.
“Protect the men and their egotistical reputations at all costs!” is apparently the unspoken mantra in the circles I grew up in.
Girls, families, I had spent a lot of time with no longer speak to me, I can’t stand going to reenactments because of running into those people and having to deal with the sad pitying looks they give me because I am the black sheep, I spoke out against the abuse I have suffered, I chose a good, good man to marry and all they saw was a rebellious girl thumbing her nose at the authority “God had placed over her life.”
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel
A friend of mine wrote a post about “Rage and Grace” recently, and I really can relate to her words.
It is difficult to find the balance between not answering the abusers, the tormentors, with how they have approached us, and with being appropriately angry and upset about something we should be upset about. Abuse is never something you should brush off. Yes, the abusers are strong, they are used to getting their way and crushing us.
But just as a little flame can turn into a raging fire, so can our words and our taking stances about abuse, speaking out, and healing from our abuse make a difference.
The day I left was a significant day.
That was the day I stood up and said no more. My mom kept telling me I could appeal to my dad, she seemed desperate to keep me at home. But my heart had already left, this was simply my body making it’s departure from the family I had grown up with.
I will never stop defending my ground as a survivor and continuing to put up healthy boundaries to protect the fragile healing my heart is still undergoing.
I will never stop standing up and doing my best to aid the siblings who come to me for help. It has taken time, but I believe they are starting to see I am not the bad sister my dad has made me out to be. Not talking with my dad is my choice and it is not a sad choice. It is not something worth your sorrow. It is the choice I have made to protect myself, protect my marriage, and to protect my child. He is a dangerous man and it is not worth placing myself back until his toxicity just for the sake of making people feel like I am showing him “grace.”
I am content and very happy with my life, so please be happy for me?
My life is not about my family. My life is about me, Phil, and my little boy.
See those other survivors who are struggling with family relationships and friend relationships? Be happy for them with the life they have chosen. Be willing to set aside your preconceived ideas about what family relationships should look like, and be happy for us when we share an exciting discovery in our healing or our own personal ventures.
We need you to stand beside us and to be angry at the abuse and celebrate the good.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Arachne” is a pseudonym. Arachne blogs at Past, Present, and Future.
A new year is about to start. I am looking forward to it.
This is a new development. I spent years making suicide plans for New Years Eve. The holidays were the worst time of the year for me. That has changed. I survived. I never thought I would, but I did. The hell is over. Gone. Done. I can look forward now and I can be happy. Breathe, even. I guess all the therapy, psychiatric medications, hard decisions, tearful conversations with friends, and general struggles have finally paid off.
I started praying again.
It doesn’t hurt anymore. Of course, my idea of prayer is now very different from what I was raised with. Not so much with the trying to atone for my innumerable sins and the sins of the world. I feel like I have a relationship and connection to Divinity. I am loved and accepted.
I have plenty of anecdotes I could relate. There was the semi-cult at a super traditional Catholic church with a whole gaggle of denim jumper wearing homeschoolers. There was being the eldest child and being female in a strictly patriarchal large family. There was the father who broke the dining table chairs into pieces when he was angry. An emotionally manipulative and unstable mother overwhelmed with the life she believed God commanded her to live. The leather belt they both used. It goes on, but for me, those days are over and those people are no longer in my life. So what comes next?
I don’t know. There’s no plan. It’s terrifying.
If I could wave a magic wand and erase the past, I would.
Trust me. In a heartbeat. I think about it over and over. What would I have been like if I’d had a decent education? If I hadn’t been abused and controlled by the people who had total power over me, where would I be? Did I ever have a chance at being “normal”? What the fuck is normal? I will never know. At some point, I have to step away and live my life now while accepting who I am and how I was shaped.
There’s only so much I can leave behind, and I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I doubt I ever truly will. I can’t forget my entire childhood. My body is covered in scars from my struggles with self-injury. Depression and anxiety will likely stick with me, even though they are managed now. Catholic guilt fades but doesn’t seem to ever quite go away. There will be many more times when I break down and cry over the past.
All I can do now is figure out how to work with what I have now, and when I take inventory it feels incredible.
I have two wonderful kids who are being raised totally different from how I was, wonderful people in my life, a brain that has some quirky wiring but that still works pretty well, physical health, a spiritual path that has taken me places I never dreamed of going, and so much more.
Revelations that Doug Phillips of Vision Forum had a long-term affair, likely with a much younger woman who worked for his family without pay, have revived crucial interest in Christian patriarchy’s attitude toward relationships and consent. Phillips isn’t a mainstream figure; he’s a proponent of the Quiverfull movement who doesn’t think women should vote. He’s also a figurehead of the so-called Stay at Home Daughter Movement, which encourages young women to forsake higher education and careers in order to remain at home, under their fathers’ “protection.”
Obviously, that protection didn’t extend to Phillips’ young victim–and I use “victim” quite deliberately here. I agree with Julie Anne Smith of Spiritual Sounding Board that the Christian patriarchy movement grooms young women for abuse, consciously or not, by brainwashing them into compliance and encouraging them to forgo developing skills necessary for independent lives. There is a very clear power imbalance present, even in relationships between adults of the same age, because of an overwhelming emphasis on male dominion. I believe that Phillips knew exactly what he was doing. I think he sought this woman out at a young age specifically because of her vulnerability.
I think this a.) because that’s how predators work and b.) because the movement idolizes regressive gender roles.
Take the infamous Elsie Dinsmore series. Though they stopped selling the series this year, Vision Forum pushed the books as a wholesome alternative to worldly fiction for girls and formerly ran an essay contest based on the series. Unfortunately, Vision Forum has removed that page from its site and I can only find a cached pdf copy that doesn’t link to the full essays. You’ll have to trust my memory instead. I read the essays while still in college and had to restrain myself from picking up my lumbering school-issued PC and throwing it across the room as I read essay after essay by girls crediting the Dinsmore books for encouraging them to forgo a college education.
The series, which is available on Project Gutenburg if you feel like torturing yourself, stars Elsie Dinsmore and lauds her submission to her physically abusive father and her eventual marriage to one of her father’s friends, Mr. Travilla. Dinsmore is eight in the first book, which also features this stupendous quote from Travilla: “He (Elsie’s father) is not to take you away. I have made a bargain with him to let me keep you . . . call me papa in the future.” And so she did.
This is Vision Forum’s approach to romance. This is what they promote to their stay at home daughters. That’s why I, like Julie Anne, don’t really believe Phillips’ victim consented to the relationship. The environment in which it occurred is intrinsically coercive.
I was not a stay at home daughter. My parents had the sense to encourage me to attend college and pursue a career of my choice. But even their version of soft patriarchy granted my father a position of unreasonable power in our household and condemned me to a lifetime of submission to men.
As a college student, I became the victim of an attempted rape, the culmination of an abusive, controlling relationship.
It’s something I’ve written about before on my blog, and while I don’t enjoy writing about it, I will when I think my experience is relevant. Unfortunately, it’s relevant again. You see, Christian patriarchy–even soft patriarchy– doesn’t talk about consent. It doesn’t talk about relationship abuse. It encourages men to control women, and it expects women to submit to that control. And even though I was a non-theist and a feminist by the time I survived the attack, I blamed myself for what happened. I provoked it. I’d worn pajamas around a man, and just the year before, our student chaplain had warned women that wearing pajamas around men made them think about sex. And instead of going to the police when it happened, I continued to submit.
It’s incredible, really, how even the most absurd beliefs can embed themselves inside your psyche and stay there.
I am not that girl any longer. I’m older, wiser, and a bit tougher. I suppose that’s the up side of surviving something like that. You don’t make it unless you become stronger than you were, and I do not believe I’d submit to that abuse now. I think that’s partially because I know my real enemy: Christian patriarchy, the system that had shaped me and my attacker, too.
If the Christian church is concerned about abuse, it will have to divorce itself from patriarchy in all its incarnations.
It’s too late for me, and for Phillips’ victim, and for many, many others, but it’s not too late to protect the women and girls whose faith compels them to participate in Christian community.
My best memories from high school involve dressing up in suits, sorting through philosophy books and shopping for office supplies for the next speech tournament. It was a dignified, serious existence.
And then there’s this photo — which I will get to.
A lot of this post may seem like it focuses on my parents more than homeschooling per se. However, from what I have seen the homeschooling experience is made or broken by the parents doing the homeschooling. Homeschooling was a lifestyle for our family. Everything — every experience, every family friend, every activity we did and book we read was all centered around my parents work homeschooling us. And they did that work with passion and care.
A Little Bit of Backstory
My homeschooling experience had its ups and downs. I loved the ups: Choir tours (all by my-middle school-self!) with my co-op friends; Highschool trips to Europe to visit the historical sights I’d studied for years; Family weekends at the Scottish Festival; Learning beekeeping… The ups were largely thanks to an amazing peer group that I adored and a good relationship with my parents and siblings.
The downs were mostly usual issues; teen angst, and the occasional tousle with my parents. I never felt like I really fit in with the more conservative majority of our social/church circle. My parents were alright with that. They never really fit in with them either. My parents were reformed, but they rejected heavy handed theology that sidelined women or centralized church authority to squash dissent and learning. Because of this we found ourselves moving often from church to church, even though my parents desire was to be active, participating members of a stable church community.
My family wasn’t perfect. A couple members of my extended family vehemently, sometimes explosively, disagreed with my father’s relatively liberal interpretation of “biblical patriarchy”. My mother, an educator and a passionate advocate of higher education for girls, was sidelined more than once from homeschool conventions for that perspective. My relationship with my father was sometimes rocky, but he has been more than willing to invest time in working through those issues with me.
Today, I value our relationship more than ever.
When my parents’ marriage ended three years ago, I was confronted with a mountain of baggage that was compounded last summer when my mother suddenly passed away to cancer. Now I’m left picking up pieces while building a life for myself in California, and I’m struck by the rich silver lining to all my drama.
My family wasn’t perfect.
But for all its imperfections I think that they got a lot of things right.
My parents home schooled me K-12, not because they thought they had discovered the perfect formula for parenting, but because they loved me and my brother and sister, and wanted to give us the very best of everything. And in the process they gave me, a lot of tools I treasure now that I’m on my own.
And that brings me to explaining the picture at the beginning.
I was a speaker/debater for all of highschool and I loved it. My biggest challenges, and best friends growing up were found there. One of the debate camps I helped coach had a ninja debater theme. Needless to say it was awesome. I believe that this is a carefully staged photo illustrating the mesmerizing power of effective criteria. Through homeschooling my parents inadvertently passed along a plethora of moments like this filled with possibility, wonder and hope, which I have only just begun to mine.
They have helped me sort the other wounds that I have received in the normal course of life.
School in your PJ’s?
Similar to many of you reading this, my education was largely custom built. Both of my parents were college educated, lifetime scholars with a passion for knowledge. My mother worked to bring education to life for us on a daily basis early on so we’d catch the passion too. History lessons about Egypt tied into real-life biology lessons as we dissected and mummified a frog – which we then placed for display in the handmade sarcophagi we’d done in the art lesson that day.
What kid wouldn’t like that?
Or in highschool we volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for their new space exhibit, getting cutting edge lectures from NASA/NOAA scientists and then running cool experiments on a daily basis for the museum patrons. School was a wonderful time for me and my parents did a good job of teaching me not only tons of information, but how to find it and how to love the search for knowledge.
My mother was the primary teacher, but as we got into highschool years my dad took over languages and History. A Russian linguist for many years, he taught me Russian for high school language studies. Now I have a degree in Russian and endless cocktail conversation about my semester abroad in Russia to accompany it.
We also were not limited to classes taught by my parents.
From very early on me and my siblings were involved in classes taught by outside tutors whether it was in a co-op setting early on, or a community college setting later in our schooling career. All three of us graduated highschool with at least a full year worth of credits from the local community college. Those classes were especially helpful for areas that my parent’s weren’t so prepared to teach like upper level math or chemistry.
Silver Screen Dreams
While many of my peers were limited in their consumption of media, my parents encouraged an active dialogue on just about any topic. I remember the awe in my friend’s eyes (and the horror in her mother’s) as 12-year-old me happily announced at lunch one day that I had seen The Matrix the other night.
Granted, my parents watched it with us and they had remote-edited a couple of scenes they didn’t think were totally appropriate.
But the fact remained that I was raised in a really rich creative environment. Movies were a part of my life from early on (I literally can’t remember I time I didn’t have all of the original Star Wars movies memorized). Natural next steps for me were interests in living out these movies somehow.
What started as imagination and play acting turned into a real passion for acting, writing and producing for both film and theater. My parents were delighted with my creative talents and encouraged my theatrical tendencies wherever they could, even though I know my mother in particular was a little worried about what might happen to me were I ever to pursue them professionally. As I grew however, she was willing to work through those concerns as I demonstrated that I was thoughtfully investing in my God given talents.
She knew she had to let her girl fly and she was willing to make that sacrifice even if it meant that she was a little uncomfortable.
That willingness on her part, to let me try things that scared her, was key in building a relationship that allowed me to actually grow up — not just get older under her watch. T
hanks to her encouragement early on I’ve had the tools and the courage to step out on my own now and go beyond just being a productive member of society. I’m chasing dreams out here in California and hopefully you’ll be reading my name in the credits of your favorite summer flick someday soon.
Learning to Speak My Mind
My parents also encouraged debate. But long before the competitive bug bit me, I remember my parents hosting “Soirees” at our house after church; potluck food, and a grab bag of topics to discuss ranging from literature to politics to science. I loved them and felt so grown up when I was included at 11 years old in the adult discussions. We’d invite the most interesting people we could find. My Dad often would actually seek out people with odd views just to have them over so we could have an interesting discussion. “All opinions are welcome here. If you have a problem with that, you can leave.” That was his rule.
Looking back, the group was mostly varying shades of conservative and the occasional communist friend of Daddy’s from the Tattered Cover Bookstore where he worked. (They liked us because we were all a little bit different. He liked them because they knew about Russia — his deepest passion in life.)
But while the opinions weren’t that diverse, those afternoons ingrained in me early on that everyone deserves a voice. Even if you think you don’t agree with them.
That attitude served me well as I emerged from the homeschooling community into a liberal college where I encountered people with actual differences in opinion. They weren’t scary to me. They were just different people – with opinions of their own. And since I knew how to listen, it didn’t take me long to figure out that “the world,” as many christian worldview apologists like to call it, is just made up of people like me; People who have passions, who have loved ones, who have been hurt, who have dreams.
And when the debate is over and the ideas are put to bed, you should still be able to sit down with them over a lovely meal and ask them how their kids are doing.
One of the Boys
I was kind of odd in our circle of girls, because I never got the romantic fascination with marriage and boys and Mr. Darcy. Frankly, if you ask me even now he’d have made a really boring husband.
But, that meant that after about 9 years old, a giant chunk of my good friends growing up were boys. Even in college they were often the most interesting (drama-free) people around. I’m sure that there were mothers who thought that was odd or inappropriate, but my parents were fine with it. They were great guys and I’m proud to say that I’m still good friends with many of them even after almost a decade in some cases and marriage in others.
I love them like brothers — totally inappropriate brothers who would let me rough house with them, who would play stupid games with me, who would match my banter word for word, who would take me swing dancing and who would talk theology, politics, video games and movies with me till dawn. I am deeply grateful for those guys in my life because I truly believe that without them I might not have been able to process the Daddy issues which are inevitable for any girl whose parents divorce.
In those friendships my parents gave me a piece of the external security net that has kept me grounded as I begin to live life as an independent adult.
Learning to Say, “No”
My parents’ marriage was far from perfect.
But, with all their issues, they were a rock of help for several families struggling with abuse. They worked so hard to provide a harbor in the storm. My dad partnered with other men to help mentor a few of the fathers who were struggling. My mother hosted bible studies and invited single moms over to learn how to make jams or study child development. They even included us kids in a limited fashion, asking us (never forcing us) to watch the young toddlers while my parents had coffee or dinner with one or both parents.
I was never really privy to details and for that I am grateful.
But in light of the little I did know, my mother made sure that my sister and I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we never had to stand for abuse whether it was verbal, physical or emotional. It was an especially important lesson to her because of the systematic abuse we observed all around us which was justified under the label of “biblical patriarchal theology.” When seeking help from many churches for their own marriage issues the constant refrain aimed at my mother seemed to be, “If you would just submit better to your husband, your marriage would be fixed.”
With this useless advice ringing in her ears, within our conservative circle there was no one able to help until it was too late.
When my brother was a senior in high school, my sister was finishing her last year of college and I was doing my first year of internships post-college, my parents finally ended their marriage. They had sacrificed much to try to make a home that was healthy for me and my siblings. And when they finally ended their marriage I was witness to another step they were taking, at least in part, for us kids; they had the courage — even in the face of the social stigma in the church against divorces — to walk away from the marriage so that they themselves could heal. Many people would see this result as a total failure. But as I watched both of my parents wrestle through that time, I saw two people emerge with an even greater capacity for grace and forgiveness than ever before.
The divorce was not a failure.
It was the first step towards healing and restoration.
Hindsight, Always 20/20
The area that I look back on with the most pause is just how much I held my parents up as perfect — especially my mother. They were responsible for introducing me to the most fascinating ideas, the most wonderful people and for sheltering me from as much of the junk theology as they could. So their opinion of me, their blessing, their respect was something that I not only wanted, but it was something that I needed on a deep and very unhealthy level.
This was something I didn’t fully register until recent years.
As I hit the later years of high school and throughout my college years I found my opinions shifting as I experienced the world without parental filters. I knew the filters they had applied had been applied in love, but they were filters never the less. My experiences began to show me that perhaps my parents aren’t infallible after all. Especially spending as much time as I did with the theater department at my school my perspective on LGBT issues, sex, drugs, alcohol, democrats, republicans, “world view”…. all of it was shifting in light of my new experiences —
And the thing that tore me up was that I felt I had no tools for telling anyone from my family.
At school I was one person, and at home I became expert at active listening, passive questions, sidestepping issues, or sometimes just lying to avoid telling my parents I’d come to a different conclusion than they had.
The internal dissonance didn’t really come to a head until I met the love of my life. His name is Dylan. We met in Stage Combat learning to sword fight. It was awesome. And really quickly we became fast friends. He was the adventure I’d always hoped for in the moments when I dropped my usual “one-of-the-guys” act. He was kind and smart, better read than anyone I knew, a professional athlete, on a full ride scholarship for acting and passionate about making a positive impact through politics.
But he was also a Democrat, a former player with the ladies, and I had no idea where he really stood on the spectrum of religion but I knew it wasn’t nearly “christian” enough.
I was terrified to bring him home.
I didn’t even tell my family I was dating him for about a month. I knew in my heart that our relationship was healthy, that I was growing and that I trusted him with my life even with our differences. The fact that our friendship was based on a choice to be invested in each other rather than a checklist of intellectual compatibility was freeing. But my parents didn’t know how to handle him. They were shocked by my choice because for about 7 years I’d been hiding behind my silent nods.
They didn’t know me anymore because I had stopped letting them in for fear of losing them.
I had to learn to speak again.
And this is the juncture at which I find myself today. My mother passed away last summer, so I never got to finish letting her back in. But my father and I are watching our relationship slowly heal. I still have the need for approval of people I respect — but I think that’s more me than any homeschooling-bred need for perfection. And I’ve finally been able to be honest about my choices — choices that I make on a daily basis using so many of the tools that my homeschooling experience gave me. I would never give back that experience. The glue that held it all together and kept my parents from being dysfunctional task masters, or chronic busy bodies with a messiah complex was that they loved us kids and wanted the world for us. And they sought every day to live out a faith that convicted them to serve, love and empower.
That is perhaps the greatest example that they left me.
And while I now no longer really identify as a conservative as they did, I carry that passion of theirs with me. And I carry a faith that I have inherited but have also grown to own as mine. In many ways I’m still the crazy kid in the photograph: Obviously not totally put together, but self possessed enough to fake it till I make it — and wise enough to love the journey along the way.
For that, I have my parents and my time homeschooling to thank.
I was fourteen when I was introduced to CFC/NCFCA. The mother of another large home schooling family approached my mom with the “great opportunity” to provide all of the meals for a CFC conference she was coordinating. “If you make all of the meals the conference fees are waived for your family and I thought of you, since you have so many children.”
The conference was terrible. There were very clear expectations of what each attendee should look like and how they should act. The conference was full of bright, happy, perfect home schoolers with impeccable manners. They all looked like they had stepped out of a Lands’ End catalog. (Lands’ End: the modest J. Crew) I was embarrassed to have to re-wear the only two skirts I owned for a full week. I was ashamed to be a “scholarship” kid. I inwardly raged at the attitude that you were a bad Christian if you were not a good speaker. Naturally shy and introverted, I balked at the idea of ending the week by giving a short public speech.
It was very clear to me that I was an outsider. But by the end of the conference my mother was sold: her kids needed to do this NCFCA thing. And by the end of the conference I was hesitantly intrigued by debate: my mother would support me verbally fighting with people? Awesome.
Looking back at the few years I spent in NCFCA, I am struck by the contrast I experienced. On one hand, every organized experience (both in and out-of-state conferences, CFC, and Masters) were terrible. On the other hand, I met people who saved my life.
The first year I partnered will my unenthusiastic older brother. Wisconsin was very new to NCFCA and there was only one in-state tournament. We were warned ahead of time that all of the “community” judges were biased towards the hosting debate club. We were assured that if we lost every single round it was not an indication of our debating ability. We went 2-4 and I was devastated. I saved every ballot and poured over them incessantly, trying to find the key to my failure. For a league that touted Communicating for Christ there was very little grace for the losers.
The next year my brother went to public school. I was partner-less in a rural area with no club. I turned to everyone’s favorite online phorum to find a partner and debate coaching. It was extremely intimidating: apparently I was the only one who had not spent every waking moment since I was 12 obsessed about debate. I began spending upwards of six hours a day researching (I’ll admit, now, often without a clue about what I was looking for.) I found an out-of-state partner and began pushing my parents to let me attend more tournaments. This meant expensive out of state travel; something my mother had not planned on. My birthday present that year was attending a practice tournament in Indiana.
The comments on my ballots that year were evenly split between admonishments of “have more confidence! =)” and “you are too intimidating and forceful, try to be more lady-like.” The capstone was at that year’s aforementioned state tournament. In a semi-final round my partner and I were debating against the tournament coordinator’s son. Before the round began when we all filed into the room to introduce ourselves to the [impartial] judges and shake their hands, one of them leaned over the table to give this guy a hug and mentioned something that happened at church last Sunday. I shook it off; I knew this team relied on smooth talking for the win, but nobody could ignore my heavy box of evidence. They were affirmative and the case was weak. I jumped out of my chair to cross examine him after the 1A. There was a huge hole in the case and I dived right in. He talked around the question. I asked it again. He changed the subject. I rephrased and asked the same question. It got heated.
I doubt I even have to tell you that we lost the round because I was “rude.” The kicker? The timekeeper was the guy’s younger sister. My father was in the room watching the round and said afterward that when it was clear that I “had him,” the girl stopped the clock and called time.
Losing that round prevented me from going to nationals. Knowing my season was finished, I decided to focus on the friendships I had built through the online phorum instead. The phorum became a huge outlet for me. Thinking about this is still hard, and it’s hard to put into words. Looking back, the largest flaw I see in the home school debate world was the propensity to radiate perfection in everything. Because, obviously, if we’re Christians, we’re perfect.
I was envious of those “perfect” debators, and the more popular and perfect they were, the more I hated them, knowing I could never be them. I was fifteen the first time I typed over AIM that I was depressed. It took a long time to type those words because it took a long time to realize them. My closest friend, the one I had chosen to tell, responded by saying he didn’t think depression was a real thing. As my reputation grew on the phorum, I was increasingly known as the crazy girl, the rebel, the one who took things too far. Outwardly I embraced it. Inwardly I was embarrassed and ashamed. That reputation had a bright side, however. Asking questions like “Why do you believe in God?” sparked deep friendships with the girl from a single-parent home, the boy who was bipolar. These were the friends who supported me when I very shockingly announced I would no longer be a part of NCFCA because I was going to public school.
I was assailed with comments like, “you’re going to the dark side!” People were genuinely appalled; some genuinely thought this was a clear indication that I was no longer a Christian. The truth was that being home schooled in a heavily patriarchal home with an abusive father had led to suicidal depression.
The very fact that Homeschoolers Anonymous exists is a testament to the emotional trauma endured by many, and it’s very important that we have an open dialogue to ask why. Home schooling and debate are entwined worlds for many, and the individual answers will vary.
I rarely think back to my years in the NCFCA. For the most part I prefer to forget it ever happened. When I do think back, I regret that façade of perfection we all felt pressured to adopt. Time has taught me that’s all it is: a façade. I wish that teaching us to change the world with our radical communication skills was not NCFCA’s sole focus: there was no space given to teach us to be human.