Corporal Punishment and The End of The Red Stick: Heather Doney’s Story, Part Two

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 7.44.43 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on February 18, 2013. Read Part One of Heather’s story for HA’s To Break Down A Child series here.

*****

Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

*****

This picture could be anybody’s little sister blindfolded and hitting a piñata at her Dad’s house for another sibling’s birthday.

My little sister lives in a different world than I did.
My little sister lives in a different world than I did.

But it isn’t. It’s my little sister.

She lives in a different world than I did. One with her own bedroom and court-ordered visitation and Christmas presents from a kind stepmother. She has never been homeschooled. She does not remember a time when our family didn’t celebrate birthdays, or was too poor to buy a piñata, or was too “modest” for her favorite summer clothes to be allowed.

She could be using any stick to hit this piñata but she isn’t. She’s using the “red stick,” the most infamous spanking implement our family had.

As far as I know, none of the younger siblings attending this party were ever touched by the red stick and I imagine just a few had been threatened, but the grim knowledge of what it was used for had been passed down.

The red stick had started out as a handle to a child-size broom and then when the broom broke 25 years ago, it became a toy (a walking stick, a bat, a pretend sword) left in the yard until my Dad picked it up off the patio one day, tapped it against his palm a few times and said, “This would make a real good spankin’ stick.”

Then it became something totally new. An object of fear.

It stayed hanging on a nail or propped in a corner in my Dad’s bedroom or office for years except when it was picked up and used to threaten or to leave welts.

“Daddy, please don’t spank me. I’m tender.” No red stick today, only fodder for years of teasing. “Aww, is my little heatherjanes still tender?”

“Do you want a spanking? Don’t make me get the red stick.”

Mom catches one sister padding her underwear with toilet paper in anticipation of a beating. After that, it’s bare bottomed.

“Pull down your pants. Bend over.” Red stick.

Sitting in the “punish chair” corner ’til sundown, hearing the car crunch gravel in the driveway, shaking, hands going cold. Red stick.

“But I don’t want to try and eat a pickled pig lip out of that jar, Dad. It looks just like apig’s lip.” “If you don’t try it, you’ll get the red stick. You’d better eat it and like it.” Tears. Gagging. Spitting chunks of pickled pork into the sink. Red stick.

Pain, shame, anger, fear. Yelling. Red stick.

Running, cursing, slipping, falling, being caught and dragged. Red stick.

Grabbing the red stick tightly, just as tall, if not quite as strong as the woman holding it. “Let go,” Mom says.

“No,” I say, “You’re gonna hit me with it.”

“Yes,” she says.

“Well,” I say, “I’d be an idiot to let it go then, wouldn’t I?”

It strikes me that this photo is the only known picture of the red stick. The only official proof of it ever existing or being used is in a pleasant scenario. As it happens, the red stick finally died that happy day, broke while connecting with the piñata and ended up in the garbage.

A sibling sent me a message informing me that the red stick had met its end and that when Dad was out of range, they had celebrated its demise. I was glad, too: glad it was gone and that it did not die the way I had always imagined it would — splintering into pieces over a child’s behind.

It would never be used to hurt anyone again.

It had broken being used the only way it should have ever been used, in the original spirit it had once had — innocently in child’s play.

Being Told “The Child Will Not Die”: Heather Doney’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-09-10 at 7.44.43 PM

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on November 19, 2012.

*****

Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.

*****

Recently my Mom told me something that shook me to my core. She said, “Your father said if you disciplined a child according to the bible, they would not die.” Then she told me she recognized the Pearls’ book “To Train Up A Child.”

It all got brought up because my 10 year old brother likes to give lots of hugs of his own accord, and my Mom and I were talking about how nice that is, how sweet of a boy he is, and she said she wished her older sons, now 25 and 22, were as loving and kind to her as her youngest. This started one heck of a conversation.

I reminded my Mom that her youngest had never been told to pull down his pants and bend over the bed, knowing he’d end up with welts on the behind. He had never known what it was like to get hit with a belt or a wooden stick by his own mother. Also, today she instructs him that if our father says or does anything mean during visitation, he is to tell her right away because that is not allowed.

But she used to tell us kids the opposite.

It was “wait until your father gets home,” then when he arrived, she’d run to the door with a verbal list of our transgressions, expecting him to beat us. I said the older boys likely felt differently about her not because they weren’t as nice, but because they were still responding to the environment and experiences she had helped create, the memories they had. It was the same case with me too, and that’s one reason us older kids have a rocky relationship with our mother.

We didn’t ever have as much trust or respect because of the abuse.

My Mom does not take as much responsibility for what took place as I would like, but she said she was glad that violence wasn’t going on in her home anymore. She regretted it had ever happened. She wished the older boys and I could move on past it now, “be more respectful,” and that I could work to overcome my bitterness.

I said that I thought she shouldn’t be so cavalier about us just getting over it, that she didn’t know what it was like to have to move on past such a thing. She’d only got one spanking in her life as a kid. She said I was right about that part, that she had not been familiar with corporal punishment until she married my father. Dad had told her that spankings were the right kind of discipline required by the bible. At the time she didn’t know anything about them. Then she told me the thing about Dad saying children would not die if they were disciplined by parents following the bible in their use of corporal punishment.

I understood what she meant as I stood there, numbly recalling the effects this perspective had had on my own childhood and on others I knew of in similar situations. The idea was you could beat a child until their will was broken, until they submitted, until they were bruised, bloody, and mentally and physically injured —

— and you could do so feeling confident that the child would not be at risk of dying from this because they were being beaten in a Christian way.

It was a spiritual thing, almost like a belief in miracles. The normal rules of the physical world were suspended. The kind of beating that might kill a child if it was administered by say, an atheist or a Muslim, would simply not have the same effect if done by a bible-believing Christian.

Yeah, unfathomable, right?

I could honestly have just gone and curled up in bed the rest of the afternoon after hearing this, but I said, “Mom, I want to show you something — an interview about a little girl that did die from this.” She said, “Really?” — like she still half-believed my father, or at least wanted to.  We sat down together and I pulled up the Anderson Cooper interview with Michael Pearl about little Lydia Schatz’s beating and murder. Even though watching this stuff with my Mom was so weird and so many more mixed emotions than I’d even expected, I was calm about it until the audio interview with one of the other Schatz daughters, Zariah, came up.

Zariah answered questions about where and how she was beaten in the clear, crisp, enunciated, submissive, and painstakingly polite way Quiverfull girls are generally taught to speak. After all, the beating that resulted in Lydia’s death had supposedly been for mispronouncing a word. The policeman seemed very kind and gentle with Lydia’s sister on each question he asked. The he requested her permission to bring her to the hospital.

She responded by apologetically asking if she could take a pot with her because she might need to throw up.

Her sister had just been beaten to death in her home, in front of her. She herself was covered in welts and marks from regular beatings, and she politely asked for one simple logical thing we all might need in such a situation – a bucket to puke in.

Right then I just started crying. I couldn’t help it, and my Mom started crying too when she saw me cry. She touched my hand and said how terrible it was for those poor girls. Then when the video switched to a close up of Mr. and Mrs. Schatz being found guilty of murder, my Mom caught her breath, kinda stopped short, and said “Oh, she looks like me.” She was talking about Mrs. Schatz, and there was a definite resemblance. Not particularly in the shape of their faces or anything, but the results of the lifestyle. Both are brunettes with kinda lackluster home-cut hair. No makeup. A tired, exhausted, almost empty look from years of stresses, disappointments, fears, frustrations, frugally going without necessities, and the visible emotional weight of internally and externally perceived failure.

Mrs. Schatz sat there, resigned at sentencing, showing no emotions but shame and resignation, possibly dissociation.

I said “Yeah, Mom. She lived like you.” My Mom seemed shocked, not really sure what to do with this, and then said something else that didn’t surprise me as much as I might have expected it would.

She said, “You know, when you asked me before if I’d read that book ‘To Train Up A Child,’ I said I didn’t remember it. Well I think I did read it actually. I remember seeing that picture on the front, the book cover with the carriage. I’d borrowed it from someone, I think.” Then she said that she didn’t really remember the contents of the book, or recall anything that bad in it, so the Schatz family must have just taken it too far. When I told her that there were other accounts of this book being the catalyst for children being abused and even killed, reminded her that the “spankings” in our home were also very bad, she responded that the book itself wasn’t the bible, so “maybe it wasn’t properly based off of the bible and was a misinterpretation or mistake, a perversion of God’s word. That happens more often than it should.”

I said, “Yeah, Mom. I think it was.”

So now my Mom has a scientific experiment in front of her, even though mainstream science has already determined hitting kids is bad for them, and that such so-called “Christian discipline” is unhealthy stuff. She can see from the differences among her own offspring that beating children generally results in fierce anger and mistrust and makes children more prone to lashing out, being sneaky, or making impulsive decisions that hurt other people and themselves. Hitting kids exacerbates “behavioral problems” rather than correcting them. She has seen from personal experience that explaining things and redirecting misbehaving children gently, never threatening violence, will result in a child not only being more likely to happily agree to do what you have asked of them, but a child that likes to hug you, spend time with you, and is comfortable with openly feeling and expressing love for you and closeness with you.

Sometimes I find myself surprised at how much love my younger siblings show my Mom because that simply wasn’t my world at that age.

I loathed her much of the time, even hated her sometimes. Once I hit my teens and got bigger and taller than her, I regularly called her all kinds of names and openly let her know just how much she disgusted me. The younger kids, most now young adults or teens, don’t do that and it doesn’t seem to even cross their minds that often. My relationship with my Mom now is the best it’s ever been and it still isn’t great. She still does a lot of things that I thoroughly disagree with, and it is very easy to find myself impatient or angry with her. But I do notice that she feels grateful to have a chance to be a mother without things being like how they were with us oldest ones.

I am glad that she has had this second chance and that my younger siblings have had a much different upbringing.

My Mom has experienced the pain of what it’s like to have her firstborn children fearing, hating, and despising her at a visible level, and the joy of having her lastborn children write her notes and cards with hearts on them, of their own accord. No wonder she’d dream of sharing that same bond with her older children and no wonder it has not happened to her liking.

Shame on Michael Pearl for calling his collection of books “No Greater Joy Ministries.”

If it was named accurately it would be “No Greater Pain and Fear Ministries.” I’m glad my mother finally saw the error of characterizing these abusive behaviors as “good Christian discipline” methods. I wish my father would too, for my half-brother’s sake. My Dad has supposedly “toned it down” but obviously this doesn’t leave me feeling comfortable or like my brother is safe. He deserves better than to be threatened with a belt or a stick, even if the “spankings” themselves are milder than what I got or perhaps never materialize at all.

I have a hard time believing my Dad really thought children couldn’t die from these things, but perhaps he did, and either way he bought into it on some level and told a horrible lie.

I do not have proof of this, but I am betting it was not his own lie, but a lie commonly passed around in Quiverfull/patriarchal/Christian fundamentalist circles. It just seems to fit in this puzzle too well. So I hope more people will become aware that some parents actually believe or profess to believe such nonsense, and that as the Schatz family case and Lydia’s death can starkly attest, children can and do die from sustained beatings by bible-believing Christian parents, and there are way too many stories eerily similar to hers.

Although my experiences seem like small potatoes compared to the treatment Lydia and the other Schatz siblings endured, I can say from personal experience that being hit and regularly threatened with beatings can and often does seriously injure you. I am fairly healthy overall, but I have a pinched nerve in my back and a knee that painfully pops out of place sometimes. Although this hasn’t been more than a minor inconvenience in my life, both issues have bothered me off and on since my teens. I never played sports as a kid or fell out of trees or got in a bad car accident, and I have trouble remembering the details of what happened during beatings, apparently due to dissociation. It took a friend recently putting two and two together to make me realize that the likely source of these injuries was the violence in my childhood home. I can say with certainty that being hit, and being ordered to submit or chased down and grabbed before the beating, generally leaves you with more emotional injuries than physical ones, forcing you to deal with certain types of self-esteem struggles and anger and aggression problems even if you go on to what looks like a normal or even better-than-average life.

My siblings and I are so lucky though.

Thankfully, even though us older kids lived through the experiences we did and still deal with the after-effects of being subject to this type of abusive and neglectful parenting during our formative years, we have all survived and are doing our best to overcome this. We are doing our best to enjoy our lives and function better as individual people and as a family.

Poor little Lydia Schatz and her family will never have that same chance.

She lost her life in an absolutely horrible and senseless way; her siblings were brutalized and her family torn apart. Her parents learned a little too late that children definitely can die from this stuff no matter how much you pray in between the beatings.

Hopefully the popular outcry against the Pearls’ books and perspective can educate Christian parents and stop this stuff from happening to other children.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Six, Mary’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. “Mary” is a pseudonym. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

Mary has previously shared her story in full on Homeschoolers Anonymous and is the author of the “Home Is Where The Hurt Is” series.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part Six: Mary’s Story

So I’ve been reading the articles this last week about the sister-moms and they have been hitting home.

I am one of those sister-moms.

I am the 2nd oldest of eight and the oldest girl.  Most of the time I felt like the oldest because my older brother wasn’t in the picture much for various reasons.  But anyway, in the Quiverfull movement, there is a world of difference being a boy in the family versus a girl.  I don’t really feel like going into my story in this document, especially as it is already posted on HA.

This is about another frustration that arises from my position in our family.

As I was growing up, I got very used to hearing remarks and jokes about how many children we ourselves would have when we grew up.  Some people would sit down and start doing the “if all 8 of you have 8 children” equations. Then they would start joking about what family reunions would look like.

We didn’t go to a conservative church. In fact, for most of my younger years, we were the only home schooled family. As far as I know there was never another family as large as ours. Because of that, the jokes ran all the time.

My parents relished in the attention and would laugh right along with everyone. 

For me, however, I seemed to be getting some very clear messages: First, everyone expected me to have a large family (and why wouldn’t I when I was “so good with children and would make such a good mother”?). Second, I would be a failure if I didn’t have a big family — but also a joke if I did.  When anyone would ask me while I was in my teens how many kids I wanted, my answer was always what I was taught to say: “as many as God wants.”

I never let on that the jokes and even just the normal comments hurt me deeply. I never let on that I really didn’t want to have a bunch of children.

I wasn’t allowed to. 

One thing I always wanted to scream at people making rude comments was that I had no choice.  I had no choice that my parents wanted to be crazy and follow a cult.  I was just the second one to come out.

I am now a mother and I have 2 amazing children. But I only have 2 and don’t plan on changing that anytime soon — if ever.

The problem is that it seems I will never be able to shake all those jokes and insults from my past.  For example: on my Facebook page on my birthday, there is this one guy that feels the need to always say “Happy birthday” by making some joke about how many more kids I need to “catch up” with my Mom (as if I couldn’t figure that one out on my own).

When I did get pregnant with my oldest, the comments and jokes were merciless. I was working at a Christian bookstore (where I had worked for 5 years) and I knew about 80% of the customers that came in. Many others would recognize me because my family all looks alike and ask if I was a ____ (my family name), notice that I was pregnant and proceed to make a joke.

It hurt.

It hurt very deeply.

I would say the incident that hurt the most was when a lady (who I thought I respected) made a comment to my younger sister about how I was such a failure to my parents and was a rebellious child that obviously never learned a thing from my parents growing up.  Why did she say that?

Because my sister told her that I wasn’t planning on having a bunch of children and that I wasn’t planning on home schooling. 

Never mind that she didn’t have a bunch of children and that she had never home schooled herself.  But somehow because I wasn’t doing it, I was rebellious (at 26 years old at that time and married). I have so many more examples that I can’t forget that I wish I could. As a result of all of that, I fled that church as soon as I could. I fled my hometown, too. Right now am on the other side of the country.

So I guess my point is really aimed at “normal” people. Yes, those jokes hurt. No, we (as the children) didn’t have any choice in those things our parents chose.

Please be mindful of that when you speak.

*****

End of series.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Five, Samantha Field’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part Five was originally published on July 11, 2013. Samantha Field blogs at Defeating the Dragons about her experiences with and life after Christian patriarchy and fundamentalism. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part Five: “Barren,” Samantha Field’s Story

My mother was in labor with me for almost three days, and by the time she finally delivered, she was nearly dead.

If it hadn’t been for my father, she probably would have died. But, in 1987, no one was familiar enough with my mother’s medical condition to tell her what her safe options were. When my sister was born, my mother’s uterus prolapsed. Doctors warned her against getting pregnant again. Within a year, she ended up needing a complete hysterectomy.

My mother used to refer to herself as barren.

However, I never remember hearing her use that word to describe herself until we had been attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Cult (IFB) for a few years. When we first began attending, the Quiverfull teachings weren’t readily apparent. Quiverfull ran underneath the surface of almost anything having to do with women, but not obviously. However, when I was thirteen years old, my cult-leader’s wife became pregnant with twins when she was already past 50 years old.

At that point, Quiverfull ideas jumped to the forefront.

Other members joined, many with large families, and I remember families coming through our church (usually to perform music) that the cult-leader held up and praised. These honored families usually had at least a dozen children, and one family in particular had 20. Women in our church were first encouraged, then compelled, and then ordered by the “word of God” to have as many children as possible, from whence comes their salvation.

One day, when I was fourteen years old, I remember asking my mother if she had ever wanted more children than just me and my sister. Her response was an automatic “of course.” And she cried for the rest of the afternoon.

That was the first time I heard the word barren.

When I was fifteen years old, I sat in a cold doctor’s office, shocked and trying to constrain myself from breaking down in front of my doctor. She was telling me that I had poly cystic ovary syndrome, possibly endometriosis, and it was bad enough that I would probably struggle with having children and I would likely need a hysterectomy before I was 30. She offered what I’m sure she thought were assurances– that women who have hysterectomies today have plenty of options to delay menopause and that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about.

Barren.

I might be barren.

When I was attending a fundamentalist college, I formed a friendship with another young man in my major. At the end of our sophomore year together, when my PCOS was causing me severe enough problems that even the faculty in my department was aware of it, I confessed that I might not be able to have children.

“Oh, Samantha. You’re never going to be able to get married. That’s so sad.”

The sliver of me that had always known this wilted inside. “Wait… what… what do you mean I’ll never be able to get married?”

“No Christian man will want to marry a woman who can’t have children.”

I went back to my dorm room and sobbed.

*****

Growing up in the intensely fundamentalist environment not only taught me that my value — not as a person, but as a woman — was largely based on my ability to bear children. The fact that my anatomy threatened that ability terrified me because becoming a wife and mother had been what I had been trained to do. The only thing that I was allowed to do.

Because the leaders at my church-cult knew that I would not have younger siblings, many of the women took me under their wing. While I was not permitted to baby sit for money — only the cult leader’s daughters had that privilege — I was assigned to work in the nursery during services far more often than any other “young lady” at my church-cult. I was frequently tasked with managing the children in a variety of capacities and at different functions when others were given the freedom to play and roam.

All of this was done in the name of “preparing me for motherhood.”

Everything I did around children was sharply monitored and harshly criticized. Other “young ladies” who had the experience of looking after younger siblings at home were not watched as closely, and were trusted to perform basic tasks like bottle feeding and diaper changing while I was not allowed to do any of those things on my own for months. It was humiliating that I couldn’t be trusted to change a diaper on my own, that I had to do every single task with the utmost perfection or risk a lecture.

I was mocked because I didn’t know how to operate a diaper genie the first time I tried to use one. The first time I burped a baby, the older nursery worked literally held my hand and patted the baby’s back with it. Every experience was degrading because I wasn’t lucky enough to have had younger siblings to look after. I was given the most onerous, tedious tasks. Even when I grew older and other “young ladies” were coming up underneath me, I was still considered their inferior because these young teenage girls were considered more “domestic” than I was. I was not lady like enough. I was not as interested in the feminine arts like everyone else was. I was considered an unfortunate aberration.

The barren daughter of a barren woman.

******

Sometime after I started dating my now-husband, I was kneeling in the middle of my hallway at home, talking with him over the phone. Because of my medical conditions, my periods had steadily grown worse over the years– to the point where now they are almost unendurable.

In the environment I’d been raised in, the very idea of considering a hysterectomy (the only real long-term ‘cure’ for me, although it has its own set of problems that may or may not be better) was anathema, blasphemy.

Heresy.

It was not to be considered.

I would do everything humanly possible to preserve my fertility, and that was it. No other option was available.

It was fertility or ruination.

But, that day, on the phone, talking with the man who I was already becoming certain I would marry, I asked him the question. What would he think if I decided to have a hysterectomy. If we never had children together. If I gave all of that up, all these years of “protecting my fertility” because I couldn’t stand the pain anymore? If I wasn’t willing to do whatever it took?

“You need to do whatever is best for you, beautiful. If we never have kids, we never have kids. I love you and I want to be with you. You matter more to me than anything else. And this is your decision, not mine. It’s your body, and you get to decide what happens.”

My decision. Mine.

He’d made it clear over the course of our relationship that he was open to all the options– childlessness, adoption, fostering, or pursuing fertility treatments if that was what I wanted.

What I wanted.

Not what I was expected to do. Not what I’d been trained to do. Not what I’d been taught was my ultimate and best purpose.

What I wanted. For the first time, that mattered to me. And, for the first time, when I again decided not to pursue a hysterectomy, I made that choice not because it was what I believed was the “only right thing,” but what I decided I wanted. I looked at my husband’s twinkling eyes and mischievous grin, his mop of red hair, his cleverness, motivation, loyalty, and empathy, and decided I wanted to have children with that man. Someday.

After I’ve written a book or two, after we can buy a house . . . when I’m ready.

*****

To be continued.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Four, Electra’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part Four was originally published on July 5, 2013. “Electra” is a pseudonym chosen by the author. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part Four, Electra’s Story

(HA note: Yesterday, we shared the story of Maia, Electra’s older sister.)

My life started out just as my parents’ belief in the quiverfull/patriarchal system began.

I had two older brothers and an older sister, and my parents had just started homeschooling them when I was born. By the time I was 6, I had two younger sisters and another brother. Another younger sister and brother were born by the time I reached 8 years old.

I, being the second oldest daughter, didn’t have quite as many responsibilities as my older sister Maia.

However, I was very aware of her important servant role in our home. She was responsible for meals, taking care of the children, and all the cleaning, as well as getting us to do our endless chores. She was supposed to home school us, as my parents, both unemployed, were either out “somewhere” during the day, or in their bedroom fighting over authority.

She also was in charge of the discipline, and expected to submit to the authority of my older brothers. She would give some of this authority to us younger kids, to delegate some of the responsibility. I had some duties too, I was responsible for making my younger siblings beds, doing all the dishes, sweeping the floor, among other cleaning duties, and being full time baby sitter for my youngest brother, who had medical issues. If he got out of line, I was the one punished.

Our home school, like many others, cannot really be defined as education.

It was more a cover so that my parents could do as they pleased. When my older sister went to high school when I was 12, I was expected to take on her servant role wholeheartedly, and enjoy it. I tried for a while, but I became very ill, with pneumonia.

I have long term respiratory issues because my parents chose not to vaccinate for whooping cough.

I had it when I was five and was ill for months with little to no medical care and as a result have had pneumonia many times, only receiving medical care one time. I was sick in bed for over two months, during which time my parents’ marriage continued to fall apart.

My role as a sister-mom completely failed.

There was a lot of physical abuse in the home, and when my older sister moved out the physical abuse loosened up a bit. The emotional abuse and blame game however, was intensified. It was flavour of the week, and my parents blamed whoever they were most annoyed with for the changes happening to our family.

I rarely talked to my parents at this point, and most of our interactions were them rebuking me for not respecting my role in the house, by having friends they didn’t approve of and hanging out with them behind their backs, and me trying to reason with them. It grew to the point that by the time I got better, I was rarely speaking to my parents, simply doing my duties as a daughter and then disappearing to my room.

Luckily for me, I was enrolled into high school later that year, unknown to my father. My illness and inability to properly mother my siblings was one of the many determining factors in their eventual separation.

Soon after my parents were separated the power struggle at home with my mother trying to maintain control ended with me moving out to a friend’s house. Over the next four years, I worked at getting my high school diploma while moving from couch to couch, living with my mother off and on. Eventually I cut her off altogether along with my father, and am now able to live a life free of power struggles, control, and cloistering.

With a stable job and income, heading to university while living independently I can definitely say, it was difficult to find a life for myself in the normal world after being a sister mom. I worry about my five younger siblings. They are still with my mother, and her rules and problems with neglect have gotten much better, as she is now under close supervision by CPS.

But I sincerely hope they somehow get out of there, and are able to make a life for themselves like I did.

*****

To be continued.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Three, Maia’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part Three was originally published on July 5, 2013. “Maia” is a pseudonym chosen by the author. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part Three, Maia’s Story

My family started out in a pretty normal way.

But where most families stop creating new children and start raising them, my parents forged ahead having more. I don’t know what came first, but my parents got excited about having a lot of children (being Quiverfull, as the Bible says), homeschooling, and being very literal Christians.

I am child #2, the oldest daughter. My daily activities were pretty normal until I was 8. I was asked to do a few chores but not too many. We were somewhat effectively homeschooled until that point, and my parents were ramping up their enthusiasm for radical religion.

Then came child #6. I was 8 years old. 

It was explained to me by my father that my mother had cervical cancer during the pregnancy and was at risk of losing the baby, and therefore I needed to step up and help. She was born in May. As I understand it was a difficult labor. My father’s way of parenting during my mother’s recovery time was to lock us outside to fend for ourselves except for meals.

This was for about several weeks. It is important to note that this is also when my father stopped working.

He interpreted some of the ATI based teachings to mean that it was improper for him to be under a woman’s authority in a workplace.

When we were allowed back, my life was totally different. Overnight I learned how to cook meals for my family and clean bathrooms, etc, under the tutelage of my father.

That was also the end of effective homeschooling.

Child #7 came when I was 9, and child #8 when I was 11. I was present for both these births, one in the hospital and one at home. In that time my parents fled the province to escape from a CAS investigation. #7 and #8 were mine. #8 was born with the cord wrapped around his neck, and did not breath for almost ten minutes after birth. My father was still in hide-from-CAS mode [HA note: CAS are Children’s Aid Societies, similar to CPS).

So he didn’t seek medical care for him until day 3 when he started having seizures. 

So I learned how to administer medication to a baby. I got them dressed and fed them and loved them and rocked them — knew what they liked and didn’t like, and they called me mom. My parents encouraged all of this — except if they heard the boys call me mom. Then I got in trouble (I didn’t discourage them from saying that, it made me happy).

When I was 13 child #9 came along. By then I was very established as a mini-mom. My parents didn’t work but would frequently leave the house in the morning and come back late at night.

To this day I have no idea where they went.

So I would cook, serve and clean up three meals a day, care for an epileptic toddler, care for a new infant, and teach child #6 and #7 the best I could. When they didn’t leave the house they would often lock themselves up in their bedroom and yell at each other. When child #9 was an infant, my mother went to have gall bladder surgery and then went to recuperate a family member’s home.

There was some help in the house through some of these times, but I was still the trophy oldest daughter.

My father was proud of showing other people how much work I did in the home.

One day a young woman who was over was asked by my father if she also fed meals to her younger siblings when they were infants, and she said no. So I didn’t have to do that when we had company anymore, but still in private. I believe that my mother had a lot of health problems and post-partum depression, and that is part of why so much of daily life fell to me to run.

I wouldn’t even mind it so much if it wasn’t that she completely denies that this took place.

She thinks she was home that whole time and cooking, etc. I know for sure that some of what my parents were doing when away from home revolved around conservative ideology and reading parenting books, because one day they came home with a set of dowel rods in various sizes and tried them out on my younger siblings to see what was the most effective size for spanking each child.

I believe this comes from the Pearl parenting books.

Leaving my siblings when I was 17 to go to school and pursue my own life was the hardest thing I ever did. My three youngest siblings still live with my mom to this day and they have no understanding of the feelings I have about them based on what I did when they were infants/toddlers. I pushed so hard to get them into school, coming over at night to confront my father and pressure my mother into signing so my next youngest siblings could go to school, which she eventually did.

When I moved out, sister-mom duties immediately shifted to Electra, the next girl in the family, who is #4.

(HA note: Tomorrow, we will share the story of Electra, Maia’s sister.)

*****

To be continued.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Two, DoaHF’s Story

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part Two was originally published on June 25, 2013. “DoaHF” is a pseudonym chosen by the author. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part Two: DoaHF’s Story

I loved kids and I always wanted to help with the babies that my mom kept having.

I was always “too young” to help out with baby #5, and when baby #6 came along she was fussy and stuck to only my mom or my older sister. She hated anyone else who tried to hold or care for her, and my mom still mentions to this day how I ‘reneged’ on my desire to care for babies when #6 came around.

Why does she mention it? Because her next babies were mine.

When the oldest child in our family (a girl) turned 10, she began caring for baby #5. At 12, she took care of baby #6. When I was 10 and a half years old, baby #7 was born.

I was downstairs with everyone else that January day, trying to focus on doing school work when I got called upstairs to take my mother’s blood pressure. My grandmother and my father were the only ones attending the birth. They had covered her lower half with a sheet. My grandmother’s automated blood pressure cuff could not get a bp reading. I had gotten a stethoscope and a sphygmomanometer for Christmas that year and I had learned how to use it at the local hospital where the nurses all thought I was cute.

I took my mom’s blood pressure and I mumbled out some numbers. They didn’t seem right, so I tried again. It just wasnt making sense or working. I got pushed aside as they readied my in-and-out-of-consciousness mother for a trip to the nearest real hospital for an emergency D&C (we lived outside of the United States at this time).

Somewhere along the way it was decided that the oldest girl would stay at home with the 4 kids. #7 was handed to me and I kept close to my dad and my mom on the mattress. Halfway to the main city, the ambulance broke down. A call was dispatched and the ambulance crew from that city had to be woken up and come to pick us up so we could resume our journey. As we waited and my dad haggled with the locals and I tried to keep the curious hands from touching the new baby and lifting sheets and opening the broken down ambulance doors.

At the hospital my mom was rushed to surgery and I remember sitting in a cold air-conditioned room either sleeping or holding baby #7. At one point I sat beside her as she was recovering from anesthesia. She kept asking me the same questions over and over again.

And that is how baby #7 became mine.

During my mom’s convalescence, I was usually called upon to care for her and she seemed to love being in my arms. When it was bedtime I was always handed her because she fell asleep in my arms so fast. At night when my mom would nurse her and couldn’t get her back to sleep she would wake me up to “deal with her.” I learned how to sing softly, rock in the glider rocker, and manage to lay her in bed without waking her very quickly.

Nights that I couldn’t get her to lay down I would hold her for hours, rocking with one foot while I dozed in and out. I had been changing diapers for a couple years already, so I didn’t have to learn anything new in that department, but I learned how to make do on little sleep, or to do things half-asleep.

My mom loves babies.

She kept having them because the old babies grew into “little brats” all too often.

Well, that and she believed she had to be Quiverfull.

Baby #8 was a similar story. She had a much better delivery (still with complications, but not as severe) and after #8 graduated from the swinging cradle in my parents’ room (about 4 months) he slept in my room. I was almost 13 at the time. Every night I would wake up with him and take him to my mom to nurse. I would wait in the hallway (catching sleep where I could) and then take him back to my room to get him to sleep.

I still have a very angry diary entry at 14 where my mom scolded me for “being irresponsible” and letting him cry till his face was bright red about something. She told me I was bad at taking care of him and I stormed off to my room.

I wrote in all capital letters that he was MY BABY and that she had no right to take him from me.

To this day she disputes my claim to both #7 and #8 especially. She says that I overestimated what I did and that I was being dramatic.

Once our family moved back to the US in 2004 I had to do a lot more housekeeping duties than I had otherwise done. The babies were getting bigger and not in diapers any more, so I spent more time cooking and folding laundry than specifically caring for them.

As a girl, I wasn’t allowed to get a job.

But once I got ‘done’ (unofficially) with high school I spent hours in the garden weeding and planting. I turned our hundreds of tomatoes into tomato sauce and I spent almost all day cleaning up after kids. My younger brothers (#s 4 and 5) seemed to alternate hating my guts passionately. I don’t know if it was because they resented the power I held as a second (or third) mom or if they just were reacting to me ordering them around, but without fail once they hit a certain age they fought with me every second they could.

At one point my mom wouldn’t allow us in the same room without a parent.

The younger siblings were still small enough for me to intimidate/control although it fluctuated. Sometimes I was not allowed to spank/slap them, and other times it passed under the radar. Technically I was never allowed to hit them, but other times I was told to administer discipline.

It was severe cognitive dissonance.

My dad would be out working with the boys, my mom would take #6 with her grocery shopping and I would be left with the other 3 or 4. I would be given a list of duties (usually dinner, clean the rooms, vacuum, dishes, and a certain amount of work from the younger kids).

If I didn’t get everything done I was chastised or disciplined.

Technically the younger kids needed to help since they made all the messes, but when I wasnt allowed/supposed to be disciplining them, I was given a toothless command. I felt like for every room I cleaned, they made a mess of two more. They told on me for spanking them or yelling at them, but at the same time I was under a huge amount of pressure.

I resented them and they resented me.

However, I definitely favored my babies. I called them both “my” babies and they sometimes called themselves that. I would try to protect them from some of the mental and spiritual abuse going on, but I felt helpless myself. I tried to take all of their anger and frustrations myself so that they would not have to deal with the repercussions of having the parents see.

Even so, my baby #8 developed severe anger issues.

By age 5 he was having insane tantrums where he would scream at the top of his lungs and writhe about wildly, hitting things and lashing out.

Once my dad tried to spank it out of him.

Only once that I remember. And that night I wanted to die. My little “shun-shine” #7 developed severe self-acceptance issues, always afraid that she was fat and/or ugly. It was a downward spiral.

I left home at age 20 against the wishes of my parents.

I have not seen the kids again, except for the two older boys who are on good terms with me and call me semi-regularly. I see pictures every now and then and I can’t imagine how their lives are now. They are so much bigger. I get to hear them over the phone every now and then. Baby #8 keeps asking me to come home again to visit him for his birthday. I tell him that I want to desperately, but that situations that he cannot understand keep us apart.

I only hope that someday they can forgive me for abandoning them.

I did it to save myself, and in doing so I left them exposed to every horror my parents might bring down upon them. I wish there had been another way.

When people ask me these days if I want to/plan on having kids I usually say: “Once I get over losing the babies I already had.” Most people look at me strangely, but it is the truth. I cannot be a good mother because I am too afraid of losing my kids once they turn 8 or 10. Until I can clear my conscience with how I treated them, I fear I will not be a fit mother to any biological children I might have.

*****

To be continued.

Voices of Sister-Moms: Part One, Introduction

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part One was originally published  with the title “Quiverfull Sorority of Survivors (QFSOS) & Voices of ‘Sister-Moms'” on June 24, 2013. This is a slightly modified version of the original post. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney

I hosted a guest blog series about the experiences of “sister-Moms” in Quiverfull families.

This was actually the first time I’ve had people do guest posts on Becoming Worldly. I was excited about it  — and really couldn’t think of a better topic to start with!

Before beginning with the first guest post, an account by a young woman who’s going by “DoaHF,” I figured a brief intro about the kinds of issues young women and girls who were raised in these sorts of environments often face would be appropriate. This intro is a generalization. But based on my experiences, research, reading blogs, and conversations with many other Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy daughters, the following troubling patterns and issues for girls emerge:

  • Being a “parental child” and having an adult level of responsibility within the home starting at a young age.
  • Inappropriate and enmeshed relationships with parents, particularly fathers, encouraged by daughter-to-father purity pledges, purity balls, and purity rings and teachings saying that daughters are under their father’s “spiritual covering,” much like a junior wife of sorts, until (and if) they receive permission to marry through a parent-guided or arranged process.
  • Lack of age-appropriate financial, social, emotional, physical, or educational independence during formative years (and often into adulthood).
  • Social isolation and indoctrination as part of a controlled, restricted, and separatist “us v. the ungodly world” perspective.

In May I briefly spoke out about my personal experiences as part of a BBC World Radio Heart & Soul documentary on the Quiverfull movement. The “A Womb Is A Weapon” radio piece is half an hour long, with some adorable British accents and one distinctive New Zealand one. I speak starting at minute 11, and Nancy Campbell totally sounds like a racist Disney villain. Yep…not even kidding!

Within this sort of isolated, dogmatic, and restricted environment where the parents are consumed by what they see as duty to “the Father,” the eldest daughters of Quiverfull families are enlisted as junior mothers to their own siblings. While Quiverfull proponents such as Nancy Campbell often talk about how helpful this system is to mothers of large families and focus on how much these daughters are learning about childcare, the drawbacks of the lifestyle to the daughters doing this constant care are numerous. They are only recently coming to light because, as these daughters ourselves, we speaking are out about them.

That is the focus of this “Voices of Sister-Moms” guest post series.

Note: The rest of these issues apply to daughters of Christian patriarchy as well as Quiverfull daughters. While many in Christian patriarchy families did not have to care for numerous siblings, most still had the rest of the accompanying teachings, rules, and expectations.

The “Dad in charge of everything, particularly guarding his daughter from the interest of young men” is a standard thing in Christian patriarchy (with a watered-down and often more symbolic version of this occurring in mainstream society). But it can become much more extreme when a daughter is homeschooled. Then she literally can be hidden away from all outside men and boys, encouraged to look to Daddy as the manliest of manly examples in her life, and I don’t think I have to get into how very wrong this can sometimes go.

Daughters who do eventually disobey or disagree with their fathers (often by choosing higher education without approval or planning to marry someone he disapproves of) describe a subsequent shunning that takes place by dear old Dad as being “like a bad breakup.”

This, folks, can be referred to by the icky name for what it actually is — emotional incest.

Some young women report not being allowed to work outside the home in their teens and early 20′s, others report being able to do so under heavy monitoring and sometimes then only at certain types of workplaces seen as appropriately “feminine” or gender-segregated enough, and others report being able to only work in or start home-based businesses or do tutoring and childcare. Some report engaging in long hours of unpaid labor for family businesses, others being forced to turn over their earnings to their parents, and others having what they are allowed to spend their savings on tightly controlled by their parents.

Either way, becoming physically and financially independent is often not allowed.

A number of Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy daughters say that they were not permitted to get their diploma, a GED, or their drivers license. Some even did not have social security numbers issued to them due to being the product of an unreported home birth.  Their parents chose to use withholding these things as a way to control them. Some have even said that they were told it would be their future husband’s choice as to whether they eventually got these things, or were simply told that they would not need them for a life of housewifery and motherhood.

For many, a college education is intentionally set out of reach, whether being described as an unbecoming or immoral goal for daughters.

The young woman is repeatedly told she is not intelligent enough or doesn’t have the right aptitudes to obtain higher education. Or her parents might refuse to sign FAFSA paperwork enabling her to be eligible for student financial aid.

Many girls report only being able to socialize with siblings or the daughters of likeminded families, and then only under supervision, steeped in a strong “informant culture” inculcated into the children that generally curtails secret-telling. In addition to often being kept away from peers, most girls report being encouraged or required to wear “modest” dresses that are several sizes too big or more appropriate for someone several years younger or a great deal older, having their Internet and phone conversations closely monitored, and having friendships with boys disallowed or ended for superficial reasons.

Another thing often mentioned by young women who grew up in Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy homes is that very coercive and often both emotionally and physically abusive “discipline methods” were regularly used on them to keep them toeing the parental line. “Spankings” that consist of multiple hard hits with a belt, a piece of plumbing line, or a wooden stick or utensil (sometimes occurring well into their teenage years), “taking of privileges” that may include meals or basic necessities, and being put “on restriction” by being given punishing chores and/or temporarily shunned and shamed by the family for any form of questioning or disobeying.

Often there are threats of having even minimal contact with the outside world removed and replaced with punishments if a girl gives so much as a hint of showing disagreement or displeasure towards her parents, which is referred to as “having a bad attitude.”

As such, smiling and “being joyful” are often the only moods permitted for young women like us and the struggles with depression, guilt, self-harm, and self-esteem that might be expected in such an emotionally repressive environment occur with regularity. In addition, and this is often reported to be one of the most painful of the control techniques, young women raised in Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy families often are told that they are risking their very souls, God’s wrath, and the entrance of demonic and satanic forces into their lives if they do not “honor their mother and father” by cheerfully complying with every parental request. Some parents will also tell their children that the bible permits and may even require rebellious offspring to be put to death.

For most young women who do choose to leave (or are forced to leave) the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy way of life, the outside world can be quite overwhelming and scary in many ways and the transition difficult on many levels. Some initially find shelter in marriage and family, others though university attendance, others through paid employment, and still others through the help of extended family and friends.

A few even manage to find their way to places like Meadowhaven for cult deprogramming.

As we come of age and grow in our understanding of what happened to us and gather to tell our stories, there is a sense of comfort, healing, and solidarity in finally being able to compare and share our experiences, to know that we are not broken, we did not “imagine things,” and we are not alone. Together we can face the truth and recognize (if not come to an in-depth understanding of something seemingly so unfathomable) that the indoctrination that took place in our formative years was indeed done by the same people who brought us into this world and our parents were likely indoctrinated themselves.

While growing up in this lifestyle may seem pretty extreme or foreign to someone looking at it from the outside (or even to someone like me who grew up in it but didn’t really see it through this sort of framework until many years later) there is something important to keep in mind. First, it was normal for us because it was what we knew. Also, although it certainly can bring hardship and pain — after all we never asked or chose to be raised in such an environment — there are many strong, smart, dedicated, and likable young women who have escaped it and “pass for normal” in our society today.

I have so much respect for many of the ones I’ve had the honor of meeting and getting to know and look forward to being introduced to more.

When you choose to move on despite the fear, the hardships, the shouted threats by “leaders” and patriarchs, even while knowing you may face a loss of connection with your own family, you do it because something inside you says you have to be free to live, not because you want to leave your loved ones behind. Despite the unnecessary hardships that many of us have had to overcome (and are still overcoming), today we know that we have both the right and the ability to let ourselves out of the cage that this harsh and harmful lifestyle is.

As more of us come of age, more will continue to do so.

We hope to make it easier for them.

The Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy movement is still young. It’s mostly the “big sisters” who are speaking out right now.

But as time goes on our little sisters will likely join us.

So while these sorts of formative experiences do leave scars, today those of us who are out can choose what directions we would like our lives to go. We can take back these stolen parts of our lives. And as we let others know what happened and how we felt about it, we can find assurance in the knowledge that we are discovering and shedding light on a dark side of human nature. We are also highlighting the resilience of the human spirit and the power of community.

We might have each felt hopelessly alone and silenced while we went through this stuff before, as children, teens, and young women. But we are not alone today.

We now have the words and confidence to share what happened to us, what is still happening to others, and the confidence to ask you to understand and help us do something about it.

*****

To be continued.

Visualizing “The Myth of the Unsocialized Homeschooler”

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on July 7, 2013.

I googled “homeschool” to see what pictures came up. Many of them had to do with socialization and the messages that homeschool parents get and give about it. So I figured I’d talk about homeschooling and the issue of socialization today and use some of the cartoons I found in the process. Some of them are a little disconcerting in the way they point out issues I see, just maybe not quite in the ways the cartoonists intended.

What is This “Socialization Problem” You Speak Of?

So first a bit about what socialization is and how it relates to homeschooling. This diagram explains socialization pretty simply and it comes from a site that talks abut stopping cycles of discrimination that are often passed on intergenerationally.

soc1

I think the site the diagram comes from – Parenting for Social Change – makes an excellent point – that this is generally how socialization is done but socialization can sometimes be bad. You can absolutely be taught harmful things as well as positive things in the course of your socialization and most people are taught a mix. What homeschooling parents often become inclined to do though is try to eliminate or greatly reduce these “bad” things by winnowing their child’s socialization opportunities down to only parentally vetted and approved sources and quite often those approved sources are fellow homeschoolers, religious leaders, highly edited texts and media, other “likeminded families,” and sometimes, when the parent is particularly controlling or inept at socialization themselves, nobody at all except for the immediate family.

Yes, this last one is a real big problem because terrible things can happen when families get isolated like that and it is a big risk factor for all kinds of abuse, neglect, and poor mental and physical health. Thing is, this social isolation problem happens in homeschooling much more frequently than it should. In fact, even in Brian Ray’s wacky (and so methodologically unsound that I am stopping myself from going on a rant about how many problems it has) “Strengths of Their Own” study included something I found interesting about it. See if you can catch it.

soc2

That’s right. The third bar from the bottom. The yellow one. If 87% of the children in Brian Ray’s highly self-selective study play with “people outside the family” (and I will leave you to ponder right along with me as to why this wording is not “other children outside the family”) then that means that 13% of children in Brian Ray’s study do not play with others outside of their own family, which I would most definitely define as a socialization problem. If Brian Ray, excellent fudger, misconstruer, self-quoter, and ideological spit-shiner of homeschool data extraordinaire, has almost 15% of the kids in his rather cherry-picked study having this issue, how common must it actually be in real life and how do people in homeschooling react to this issue? Well, let’s see…

Socialization Sarcasm

This cartoon makes fun of the concept that socialization problems exist in homeschooling. To me it implies that socialization happens so naturally that it simply isn’t something a homeschool Mom could forget. Why? Well, I’m honestly not exactly sure. Socialization is a component that definitely can be ignored or accidentally left out and it has openly (and wrongly) been discounted as being unimportant by many prominent homeschool leaders. Because it has been ignored and dismissed as a necessary part of many homeschool curriculums is the main reason why homeschoolers have gotten the reputation for being unsocialized in the first place.

soc3

Most homeschool kids don’t like being stereotyped as unsocialized or feeling like they are unsocialized (I mean really, who would?). So there’s also some memes and jokes that have been spread by teenage homeschoolers implying how inherently dumb or inappropriate they think it is when people make socialization an issue. Most of these involve poking fun at the “myth” that socialization is a problem in homeschooling. There is this YouTube video by a homeschooled girl who is trying to do this by distinguishing “the homeschooled” from “the homeschoolers” and while I find it funny, I’m quite sure that her pie chart is wrong and she perpetuates elitist stereotypes she has likely heard throughout her homeschooling experience.

This blog had a post by a homeschool graduate complaining about people asking what’s become known as the “socialization question” and in her post she uses a picture I’ve seen fairly often. There’s even t-shirts with this printed on them that you can buy.

soc4

Socialization is Fishy

So what do homeschooling parents think about the socialization issue when theydo actually address it? Let’s start out with this cartoon, as it’s used a lot. It claims that a lack of socialization in homeschooling isn’t just a rare problem, but an outright myth. It implies that homeschool kids are not only actually in diverse environments as part of a natural ecosystem but are thrilled about it. It also implies that children who are socialized in public school are like half-dead sardines in a can rather than the school of likeminded fish they are expected to be.

soc5

This cartoon is a direct dismissal of there being any merit to the “socialization problem” and it is compounded with a public school counter-stereotype. This is unsurprising to me as the argument that homeschool socialization problems are an outright myth is quite often included with something disparaging about public school or insulting to teachers (and this cartoon is no exception). Notwithstanding how insulting it is to imply that most people who go through public school are like dead fish, is this depiction of homeschool versus public school in any way accurate? Well, I imagine for the occasional situation it is, but in general, certainly not.

Oddly this cartoon was actually almost the exact opposite of my experience. In the CHEF homeschoolers group I was in it was all white Christian families and our parents had to sign a statement of faith to join. It was absolutely a school of fish all swimming the same way and because we got together infrequently, I generally felt like that fish in the fishbowl. Also, when I went to public school in 9th grade I was certainly no canned sardine, even if I wasn’t exactly the manic fish thrilled at the ecosystem in the upper righthand corner. The teachers often tried to corral us into all doing things the same way but we didn’t make it altogether easy for them and generally I expect it was a bit like herding cats. We were all individuals, as were the teachers. I had favorite teachers and subjects and ones I didn’t like and I made friends of different races and beliefs and political persuasions, many of whom who are still my friends and acquaintances to this day.

The Dark Knowledge of Teen Degenerates

Here’s another cartoon about homeschool kid socialization from a slightly different angle, and this one does address the idea that kids don’t always do what you want them to do and by invoking the dreaded “peer pressure,” implies that its all bad. Which one is it – are they lobotomized sardines in a can or are they violent and rebellious ingrates? Make up your mind! Also, how realistic is this, do homeschool moms actually think public school kids are like this? Where are the public school kids who are not “at-risk” of being part of the school to prison pipeline? Why aren’t there any of those at the bus stop?

soc6

Also, in this little dystopian cartoon, gang members with knives read books on values (morally relativistic ones, no doubt), evolution, meditation, and “new age” religion (if that isn’t a culture wars, fearmongering buzzword, I don’t know what is) and pregnant girls read about sex ed and still don’t know what made them pregnant. This cartoon is crazy stuff. People don’t drink beer and shoot up heroin (yeah, there’s a needle on the ground in the cartoon) while waiting for the school bus (although some do smoke cigarettes). People who read a lot don’t typically join gangs. People who know about comprehensive sex ed aren’t any more likely to have sex than kids who don’t and they are much less likely to accidentally get knocked up. Honestly, if this is what anyone actually thinks the world is like then they are not fit to educate other human beings and they probably need some mental help themselves.

Sweet Homeschool Girl in the Ghetto

This cartoon is similar to the previous one in that it also indicates that public school socialization is all bad, but it depicts the expected reaction of the homeschool girl in the public school and implies that if your daughter goes to public high school (obviously radiating her feminine purity with a big hair bow and below-the-knee church skirt) that she will soon be shocked and horrified to encounter people dressed immodestly, young people openly dating, tattoos and piercings everywhere, vandalism and crime, blatant teenage rebellion, and big scary black boys that look more like grown men. So obviously the answer is to just have her at home not knowing that people who are different from her exist, and make most of the people her age out to be disgusting, immoral, and scary, right?

soc7

I followed this cartoon to its site, a blog called Heart of Wisdom, trying to get a higher resolution picture. The blog talked about how homeschool kids should only selectively socialize with other Christians and claims this is biblical. Yep, this is just the type of homeschooling “socialization” I am familiar with. It’s a form of social isolation and indoctrination called “sheltering.” This stuff is all about parental fear and desire for control and helicopter parenting to this extreme is very unhealthy for your child. It will mean that in adulthood that they won’t know how to function at an optimal level. You cannot shield your kid from all “bad influences” and indeed there is nothing in the bible that says your kids cannot play with the kids of people who have different beliefs. That is quite a stretch and it is insular, cultish thinking.

My Homeschool Kid is Smarter than Your Honors Student

That same Heart of Wisdom blog had this other cartoon about homeschooling, so I followed that link and it was to a page dedicated specifically to homeschool cartoons. When I see stuff like this cartoon I have to once again ask – is this supposed to be funny? Do these people actually think this is accurate? My main question, though, is why the elitism and negativity? Even if your kid is getting a much better education in homeschooling, why talk trash about children who through no fault of their own don’t have as good of an education? Why make it into a competition, act like homeschool kids in general are “better” than other kids? It shows me some immature and defensive parenting, really. If you revel in it when someone else isn’t doing as good as you it shows you are 1) being a jerk and 2) secretly worried that you’re no good at what you’re doing. Nobody should ever be excited about other kids having a sub-par education, thinking it makes them and their kids look better. That’s just gross.

soc8

As it is, I find that there is a grain of truth in this cartoon but perhaps not quite in the way the cartoonist intended. I’ve known a lot of homeschool kids who do use big words in conversations and they soon realize that it comes across as awkward when they socialize with other non-homeschool kids. Admission: I was that kid myself. I read a lot of classic literature and became familiar with words that simply aren’t used in everyday speech anymore. Trying to use them in peer-to-peer conversations didn’t reflect on me being smarter. It reflected on me not having a modern day frame of reference as to what is appropriate. It reflected on me being socially backwards. Lots of public school kids who are bookworms like I was know many big words. They also know the right words to use for their audience. Context is everything. An unsocialized homeschool kid doesn’t have that context and very well might find that using 18th century literary terms in a conversation about basketball will indeed get people looking at them sideways. If homeschool parents want to be proud of that, think it makes their kid (and by extension them) “better,” it shows they truly don’t understand the issue at hand.

Parental Fear & Social Anxiety

That’s where I think we hit the crux of this whole thing. I think the main issue is parental angst and fearfulness. Too many homeschooling parents socially struggled in school themselves and/or got into drugs or unhealthy sexual relationships. Instead of taking a broader view today, they expect that they need to hide their kid away from these settings or the exact same thing will happen to their kid even though their kid is in a different school district in a different generation and *gasp* a different person. These parents become scared of or hurt by the society we live in, withdraw, and then use homeschooling as an excuse to be separatist, snooty, and helicopter over their kids. These are not positive reasons for homeschooling and these are the exact kind of fearful and overbearing attitudes that lead to socialization problems for homeschool kids.

soc9

Because people with strong views often find themselves in positions of leadership, those with exclusionary, separatist, and elitist attitudes often end up running things and then set this negative and divisive tone for the homeschooling group and the community it serves. It’s so pervasive that even some “second choicers” who start homeschooling simply because the other educational options in the area aren’t up to meeting their child’s particular needs (which is an excellent reason to homeschool, in my opinion), can get sucked into this culture, an “us versus them” mindset where homeschooling represents everything that is pure and good and healthy for children and public school and the people and structures that support it represents everything bad. This creates a parallel society of sorts and then you see people start calling public schools “government schools” in a pejorative sense. All this “us versus them” talk fans the fear that homeschooling parents are vulnerable (although still superior) outsiders who are or soon will be discriminated against and this in turn leads to easy exploitation of these scared people.

Why does widespread homeschool participation in things like the fundamentalist-led HSLDA, which capitalizes on these fears and requires dues money (that then goes into their cultish culture wars arsenal) for unnecessary “legal protection” exist? Because many these people are too freaked out to do anything more than cling onto a protector, ignoring all evidence that their “protector” just wants to use them – financially and for furthering a disturbingly anti-democratic agenda. This fear grows and leads to the kind of mindset that spawns ridiculous cartoons like the one below.

soc10

Put in prison for homeschooling – really? Of course in this cartoon there’s that same (expected) depiction of scary people with piercings, this time instead of a shocked daughter (projecting much?) it’s got a dejected homeschool Mom being shunned by hardened criminals who sarcastically note that her “crime” was homeschooling.

Homeschooling parents who follow these “leaders” (often starting because their local homeschool support group requires or recommends HSLDA membership) hear these divisive messages and become scared to death of being framed, exposed, persecuted, worrying that they will land in jail just for homeschooling. It may be a wacky and unrealistic fear given what’s actually going on, but if people hear it often enough they often come to believe it, along with the bogus stats and stories claiming that homeschooling is as close to perfect an educational option one can get in such a messed up society, and the myth that there is no evidence to the contrary because homeschooling is just so awesome.

soc11

Because homeschoolers test scores aren’t made public and often not even expected, registration isn’t even required in many states, and most people don’t pay much attention to homeschooling unless their kids are being homeschooled. Homeschool movement leaders have been able to get away with exhibiting the cream of the homeschooling crop as representative of all homeschoolers. This has painted an inaccurate picture and hurt the vulnerable kids by leaving them ignored as they fall through the cracks.

Saying “our homeschool kids are socialized but socialization doesn’t matter and in fact it generally sucks if it isn’t coming directly from parents” is a very unhealthy attitude to go into educating with. Responsible homeschooling parents really need to do a bit of soul-searching as to why they tolerate these inaccurate depictions of what socialization is and isn’t, why there is this the across-the-board maligning of all public schools within many homeschool communities, and why so many participate in this ugly (and frankly in my opinion undeserved) elitism, and contribute to such extreme (and inaccurate) stereotyping and putting down of children who have had to attend lower quality inner-city schools, all in order to inflate the merits of homeschooling.

Two big question:

(1) Does this kind of attitude help do anything beyond artificially boosting homeschool egos?

(2) Is there any need for this behavior if homeschooling is really so awesome?

Also, if there is no good data on the problems of homeschooling then instead of celebrating the cobwebs we need to be collecting more data. Every single education method in this world has problems and the places where the problems are denied is where child maltreatment can and does flourish.

The Truth Between “Stereotype” and “Myth”

I get the message that not all homeschoolers are cloistered and don’t know how to talk to people their own age, but the fact is that too many are and we need to recognize that it is a real problem affecting a sizable percentage of homeschool kids. Also, homeschoolers are simply not the most brilliant people in the world or inherently “smarter” than other kids, and as such they shouldn’t need to feel pressured to achieve perfection, perform as child prodigies, or that there’s a black mark on them if they mix up “asocial” and “anti-social” in a conversation.

soc12

This “myth of the unsocialized homeschooler” is an issue in homeschooling but the prevalent idea that the socialization problem is a myth is the real problem, not the legitimate questions and concerns about socialization that homeschool parents keep being asked. Those questions actually need to keep happening because social isolation and ostracism in any setting (including homeschooling) often follows a person into adulthood, and can leave people struggling with social anxiety, a small social network, low levels of social capital, mental health issues, and an unnecessary amount of sad and lonely memories.

The least we can do is stop making fun of people, stop being in denial, stop pointing fingers elsewhere, and acknowledge that it is real, it happens too often and it should be assessed and addressed as the serious problem that it is.

A Disconnected Father’s Day

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on June 16, 2013.

Today lots of people are celebrating “Dad time” but I am not.

Most of the time I just let this holiday go by without too much attention but today I figured I had something to share, even if it’s a bit heavy. I know that a lot of people have less than stellar relationships with their fathers, so my situation is not by any means unique, but sometimes I do feel a little left out of the father-daughter festivities. Fact is I don’t buy anybody neckties or cards for Father’s Day although I do make sure to call Grandpa. This Father’s Day I’m still doing the usual but it seems a little different, a little bit sadder, a little bit more abnormal. I always feel like I’m missing out on something I never had but this year there is another layer to it. This is because just the other day I formally ended the non-relationship I had with my father.

On Wednesday I told my Dad not to contact me again. It wasn’t a decision I came to easily or without cause and it wasn’t a sweeping pronouncement either. It has an escape clause. He can reach out to me if he apologizes for the abuse and the lies. This means that it’s now quite likely that I may never talk to my father, who is not in good health, again. I am sad about it but I reached a point where it felt like I just needed to shut a steel door and leave him on the outside of my life. It’s not a feeling or a decision I wish on anyone and I know its something that too many other Quiverfull daughters have had to do in the interest of their own wellbeing.

This came about, ironically enough, because he had called me out of the blue to try and reconcile, likely in time for Father’s Day. The problem was that his attempts at patching things up involved trying to glibly rewrite the circumstances of our estrangement, retelling and sanitizing the past. I felt myself getting annoyed, feeling triggered. Every lie he told brought up vivid examples of things I didn’t want to think about, particularly while on the phone with him. “I helped you a lot when you were younger, you came to me for advice and assistance with college and all kinds of things and I gave it,” he said. Yeah, in his world not actually homeschooling me as a child, telling me I could drop out when he knew I was struggling in public high school, telling me ‘you don’t need college’ and that he’d be ok with it if I got married instead, telling me the only college he’d help me apply to was the one he went to (so that’s where I went even though I wanted to go to a different one), telling me right before the deadline that he wasn’t going to fill out the FAFSA paperwork (needed in order to be eligible for financial aid) and then watching me squirm and having to tearfully beg my Mom before relenting were “help” and “advice” meaning that today he can totally take some sort of due parental credit for my education, including the fact that I now have a masters degree! I said nothing but he seemed to sense it was time to move on to other topics.

I was grateful for a change of subject and listened to him talk about politics, education, and social justice, and it was almost soothing (I hadn’t heard his voice in some time) except I knew this choice of subject matter meant he was now trying to compete, co-opt, be the expert on the things he knows that I’m working on and interested in. He does this often, finding someone’s area of expertise or interest and then “informing” them about it using a tone and style my sister once labeled as “out-lawyering the lawyer” and certain feminists have termed “mansplaining.” Other family members mostly brush it off but somehow I can’t. It drives me nuts, feels incredibly invasive and disrespectful. It doesn’t help that I am also the fighter, the war child of my family. Growing up I pushed back and challenged him so that the others didn’t have to and the habit stuck, became part of me. As an adult I have had to learn what “pick your battles” means. As a girl I was inclined to pick all of them, square up to any conflict and charge it like a bull.

My Dad and I’s conversation dragged on. I waited for the point. He seemed unsatisfied, trying different angles, looking for something. I thought about all the other times he’s disowned me and then sought me out again, beat me and then offered me ice cream, tried to reattach the puppet strings and then got disappointed and retaliatory when I pulled a hidden pair of scissors out of my pocket, snipped them and walked away. I felt a knot in my stomach, the beginnings of a tension headache. As usual, he was to once again trying to establish dominance, control, and superiority, not to meaningfully interact. He was barking up the wrong tree though. I’m not a girl he can do that to anymore and I haven’t been for a long time.

“Well,” he said, “I just wanted to say I don’t know where this talk of abuse is coming from Heather. I mean, you’re really exaggerating. I only spanked you maybe four times as a child.” I told him I had to go, that I’d think about what he had to say and call him tomorrow, and then I realized I was feeling a little hypnotized and kind of depleted of energy. That drained feeling where you dizzy-headedly wonder if maybe you were wrong, if maybe you were exaggerating, if maybe you were only spanked four times and just misremembered how bad it was. I’ve since learned that that’s just kinda how it goes when speaking with people who are emotional vampires. In fact, getting some version of “who are you gonna believe – me or your lying eyes?” is a good clue that you’re talking to one.

I sat and thought for a moment about my Dad and I, some of the good things he’d done for me. He’d taught me how to write an essay once (“you hook ‘em, tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em”). He showed me how to catch, clean, gut, and fry up fish. He also told me “a sign of maturity is when you own up to your mistakes.” I really learned a lot from my Dad growing up, despite the fact that I tiptoed around on eggshells and never knew what I was going to get with him, and the fact that he most definitely belonged to the “do as I say, not as I do” school of instruction. I always wanted a good relationship with him but the truth is that for most of my formative years, in between the threats, bullying, and beatings that I simply described in my diary as “Dad got mad,” I thought that being treated like a pawn, or a slave, or some other owned and bossed creature was just what being a daughter and having a Dad was like. Now I know that it is not and that many people experience something quite different, something much better.

My Mom used to say living with my Dad was like living with Jekyll and Hyde, but I’ve since realized that what it is is that when he has his human mask on, when his inner scaly lizard-narcissist skin isn’t showing, he can seem pretty amazingly Dad-like. That isn’t me trying to be mean either, rather just trying to describe what I really see. My Mom had found him so handsome and intelligent when they first met as young people that she quickly fell head over heels and could hardly believe her good fortune at snagging such a good catch. I don’t know if nature or nurture made him into what he was, but 25 years later, post-divorce, stressed over his successful recent bullying of her in family court, creases lining her worn face, my Mom told me “I never even knew men like your father existed.”

My Dad is a former part-time pastor and missionary. Someone who cares for trees and birds and insects, knows their Latin names. He’s also a man who teaches GED classes to prisoners. You’d like him if you met him, think he was a pretty nice guy. The painful thing is that the “nice guy” he comes off as is also exactly the kind of Dad I’d want. I’d be so proud to have a Dad like that. And that’s how people like him work and walk among us, doing what they do. They know how to say the right things, appear like they feel the right things, mirror your emotions, put you at ease, make you feel good, that is until their hooks are in and they decide they’re bored with making you happy, facilitating your every whim, and now they want to see (and feed off of) your other emotions. Screams and tears? Check. Wide eyed shivering fear? Check. Confusion and bewilderment? Check. Self-loathing and a clinging cloying hope? Check.

As it is, back in the day I often felt like I was secretly trying to bake a mud pie into a real cake, thinking that if I added enough cinnamon, vanilla, or cooked it just right that it wouldn’t be wet dirt anymore. I am 30 years old now and have long since abandoned those amateur attempts at alchemy, resigned to the fact that a lead balloon will not become gold. Fact is, people who cannot appreciate you for who you are are not worth your time and you cannot change another person. I recognize that 1.) this man is my father and 2.) if he was a Harry Potter character he’d be a dementor.

For my earliest years my Dad’s meathooks were sunk deep into me, even more so because there was a genetic link, an easy portal for greater control. Not only did I belong to him, his child, his human property, but I seem to have won the veritable genetic lottery. I was near to him on a biological level, a “spitten image” sort of child. He gave me my hair color and eye color and the same freckles that he has. Our similar lips and noses, our bottom teeth crooked in exactly the same spot. We even have almost identical feet, mine the smaller girly version. If we stood in a room together you’d immediately know he was my Dad. I couldn’t be anyone else’s daughter. Our brains even work much the same way, with similar interests and similar skill sets, except (and this is what I have learned is a big exception) I can cry at sad movies and mean it while his empathy switch is broken. He can easily discern others’ emotions and mirror them but his real feelings appear to be quite shallow, stunted, immature, and selfish. This “feelings” issue is the main big difference between us, and it is a chasm leaving us worlds apart.

“So, what’ve you been up to?” my Dad asks, sounding like any other father who wants to be part of his children’s lives. My Dad sure does come across as friendly, smart, a little shy but happy to chat, an ordinary sort of handsome, and enthused to get to know you though. It’s easy to fall for but I can’t. It’s unsafe. He often does these cute bumbling Dad things while trying to be cool, like using slang words wrong or discovering emoticons and then unabashedly peppering his texts with them. It’d be nice to be able to appreciate and lightheartedly laugh over stuff like this but because his interactions are designed for infiltration, not discovery and connection, I don’t really feel like it most of the time. I dodge the question.

I get off the phone and decide that instead of calling my Dad I’ll send him an email instead, just lay out what I have to say in written words. There’s no reason to go easy. There’s no reason to be harsh. Maybe there’s no reason to even try, but I am. It’s my final attempt and is straightforward, unadorned. He responds much like I expected he would and essentially makes the difficult choice for me. Reading what he says takes me on a bit of a trip down memory lane as well. There’s so many ways to say “you’re defective and nobody loves you” and there’s so many variations of it that I’ve heard many times over from him. In his email back to me I clearly see the outline of the monster of my childhood, mask off, skillfully looking for soft fleshy places to dig in his claws.

Here’s my letter with his responses (slightly redacted for privacy) so you can see what I’m talking about:

“Hi Dad,

After I got off the phone with you yesterday I felt drained and a little sad. That’s often how I feel when talking with you.

Drained?? Why? The conversation didn’t seem tough or stressful to me. Maybe you have some underlying guilt?

After our conversation yesterday I though about the idea of giving you another chance to be my Dad. I want to give you another chance because you are my Dad. But I don’t think you want another chance as in a chance to be a better person and show the love you really feel to those you previously mistreated and neglected. Instead, you want to be able to come in and rewrite the story, particularly the story of the past, because that’s what you were trying to do on the phone. While you can certainly go rewrite the story for anyone who wasn’t there (you will likely succeed as you are a first-rate spin-master, better than Bill Clinton) you can’t rewrite the past for me or Mom or the other kids, because we were there and we know the truth.

Hmmm…The truth is what it is. I talked with [your sister] yesterday, and she certainly doesn’t see it the same way that you do and not the way that you described to me. I’m not looking for a “rewrite” as you call it or even another chance. I chance at what? I would be lying to myself if I agreed with you reconstruction of events. Anyway, I am interested a simple father-daughter relationship. That’s all. If that is too difficult for you, then let’s just move on about our lives. There are too many other people in my life who love me and are worthy of my time. You can be one of them, or you can sequester yourself. You decide.

And, no, I don’t see past events the way that you do. You are a very volatile, violent, and negative person. You rudely talk over people and get upset when people do not share your perspective. When you lived at home, many times I had to intervene between you and your siblings. You would resort to violence if your siblings did not do what you wanted them to do. I would often have to tell you, “Keep your hands off of my kids!,” but you had a knee-jerk reaction and continued to bully and abuse them.

When you were kicked out of the house, it was because you were once again hitting on my children. When I verbally confronted you, you physically attacked me. I could have been brutal with you, but I was gentle. I gently let you know that you were not capable of physically confronting me and being successful in doing so. After that altercation, you were told to leave the home, and your mother supported that decision.

The truth is what I wrote you in the letter I sent you last year, the one you responded to by saying you were done with me. At the time I received it I decided it was for the best. The truth is when you are not in my life things are calmer and better. You mostly bring drama, negativity, and discord in addition to constantly triggering memories of the abusive things you actually did in the past with your perpetual attempts at rewrites.

I learned a long time ago that it is very difficult to convince a mentally-ill person that that person is indeed mentally ill. However, for the record, you have a serious mental illness, the same one I see in your Aunts… They too always want to exaggerate the truth and point blame at others. You rewrite events just as they do, and then after awhile, you believe your own lies. Your siblings have discussed this with me. Again, they don’t see events of the past as you do. I am at peace with all of my children except for you. If your life is so much calmer without me in it, then so be it. I’m not begging to have a relationship with you. If you want to have a pity party and blame me for every negative thing that every happened in your life, that’s your perogative. I’m sure that it wouldn’t be hard to find a sympathetic psychologist who will listen to your single side of the story, agree with you, and take your money. BTW, you’re the one who has brought in the drama, not me.

That’s the thing. You can’t have a rewrite. You can’t have a do-over. You can’t have you not be an abusive Dad. You were an abusive Dad. You were such an abusive Dad that I developed delayed-onset PTSD and was in counseling for two years. That’s right. It’s what soldiers have. Living with you growing up was like living in a war zone. I used to be so terrified of you. I have a pinched nerve in my back and a “bum knee” because of all the times you grabbed me by the hair or face and slammed me into things as a teen. My diaries from when I was a girl have numerous instances of things like you throwing a drink at me and telling me you were done with me, wanted me out. I was 13.

Again, I’m not looking for a rewrite. I’m at peace with myself, and I vehemently disagree with your recollection of events. I NEVER abused you in any way, and if you have PTSD or some other mental ailment, you need to look elsewhere for the source. Also, for some time, I’ve known about your counseling… I know about it because your siblings brought it up to me…some of them are concerned about you. Let’s just go down the list, so that you can be enlightened. [Your sister] told me that you cursed at her and hung the phone up on her the last time you both talked. She tells me that you do that all the time, especially when she does not agree with you POV. [Your brother] doesn’t want to go to the beach trip [that your Mom has planned] next month because you’re going to be there. He finds you to be opinionated and bossy, and thus, not pleasant to be around. Don’t believe me? Ask him! [Your brother] also finds you opinionated and condescending. He can’t stand talking to you either. Don’t believe me? Ask him!

You see Heather, you’re the problem, not everyone else, and not me. You’re obnoxiously rude and loud, and even your own siblings don’t find you a very pleasant or positive person to be around. Don’t believe me? Ask them!

I find your story about having a pinched nerve from abuse from me absolutely ridiculous. You remind me of [my sister]. You hyperbole is soaring above the clouds. You are only kidding yourself and perhaps your psychologist. Those who know you and who grew up in our house know better.

Despite this, I am sad to have to confront you with this stuff. I know it is painful for you. Still, as much as I’d want to have a decent father-daughter relationship, to know what one’s like, I don’t and its because of this. I understand that you might not be in a position where you can admit the level of abuse you caused in our family, the level of selfishness you exhibited over the years, but what I can’t tolerate is someone trying to rewrite what happened. What happened happened and you can’t rewrite it. It is there. It is there if we never speak of it again and it is there if we have some official meeting or go to family counseling and talk about it. But you try to erase it. When I told you a little over a year ago why I wasn’t inviting you to my graduation, this is how you responded. [By saying ‘I’ve had enough of your half-truths, lies, and disrespectful attitude. Let’s not waste each other’s time. I promise not to bother you again. If I see you in person, I will be cordial, but I’m done with you, Heather. Goodbye’].

No, what you share is NOT painful for me at all because none of it is true. There is not even a modicum of truth in it. You were treated well as a child. You just don’t appreciate your parents. You rant against your mother and I with your friends because you like playing the pathetic victim. That is your identity. That is why you did not want me at your graduation. My presence would have been an awkward juxtaposition to the sob story you have told your peers at Brandeis. Keeping me away was your solution. It’s more your loss than mine, and perhaps you will see this one day.

Now your friends have moved on, and where are you at? You’re still in the Boston area with no solid job prospects… It’s always someone else’s fault and never yours? Right, Heather? And, you say things are calmer with me out of the picture? You have my sympathy.

And, just to let you know, I have been there for you… I was there for you when you were debating between going to either Brandeis or Texas A&M. I was there for you when you were registering as a freshman at UNO. Anyway, somehow you always comeback to this supposed ogre when you have a need, and like a good father, I am there for you.

Therefore, YOU decide what you want out of this relationship, if anything. If you don’t want a relationship with me, fine. Your choice. I will respect it. If you do want a relationship, you’re going to have to work a bit harder at being honest, You’re going to have to make an effort. Again, it’s your choice. I have nine other children, and they all appreciate me much more than you do…

When my children come to visit or when I visit them, we all have a good time, and we all get along. Why can’t you be that way? Why are you always at odds with someone, and especially me? You need to do some serious soul searching.

…You talk poorly about me and your mother, yet now you want me to believe that your mother sides with you. She’s a fool if she does, but that’s her perogative. However, I’m not going to let you slide. You’re an adult, so please start acting responsibly by HONESTLY confronting your past. Right now you’re delusional, and everyone in the family see it.

One last thing, your advocacy against homeschooling is akin to Don Quiote [sic] chasing windmills. The paradigm for homeschooling has changed from when you were a child. There are many resources now available for parents and children that were not available when you were school-age. Furthermore, empirical data from the litereature supports the efficacy of homeschooling, so you’re fighting a losing battle. Here’s a bit of advice: Find something worthwhile to advocate. Anti-homeschooling ain’t it.

To read what my Dad had to say, all written down like that, felt as if some deep poison was being drawn out of me, that a painful infection had come to a head. While human beings are thankfully very resilient creatures and wounds often heal in ways that can seem downright miraculous, the emotional marks from child abuse definitely do cut much deeper, last much longer, and leave more hidden shrapnel than the physical ones. It’s hard to explain but emotional abuse often functions rather like a cold sore I think. Once you’re exposed to the virus you’ll always have the latent infection but symptoms likely won’t appear unless you are weakened from stress. In difficult times I still have his voice floating around in the back of my head telling me vicious things, leaving me secretly wondering if nobody really likes me, thinking that I may actually be as substandard as he says I am, deserving of the revulsion, beatings, and shunning he has given me and swears I deserve.

I considered my Dad’s lies, twisted together artfully with bits of arsenic-laden truth, formed into the kind of masterpiece of lashing out and low blows that he is so good at creating. Some of them struck a nerve but all of it was still just disturbingly, blatantly the work of someone with narcissistic tendencies and it made me feel ill. Growing up, I knew of no other way of exercising authority over children in your care than by wielding violence and authoritarianism. I had never seen another method modeled. I did beat up on my siblings and I still feel shame about that today (and have since asked them for forgiveness), but the idea that I was just naturally violent, some “bad seed,” is so incredibly offensive.

There’s this southern saying – “don’t wrestle with pigs because you’ll both get dirty and the pig won’t mind” that I figure explains pretty clearly how I feel about things. As a girl I was stuck in a pigsty so I grew up with pig-wrestling being normal. My Dad taught me well in this department and when I got to a certain age I put those same skills to use in breaking free from him. I didn’t know what caused his empathy problem but I knew what burned him up and so I wielded it like a weapon, fought fire with fire. Hurting him was the best way to cultivate his avoidance, make him withdraw. He might have had the meathooks and the power, but I adapted his skill of finding and exploiting people’s vulnerable areas and I used it against him. There are plenty times our dialogue went something like this:

Dad – “You’re a fat disgusting slob and no man will ever want you.”
Me – “Fuck you Dad, why don’t you go get a job.”

Back then I’d often get beaten but today my Dad’s vitriol is accompanied only by impotent rage rather than patriarchal power. I guess nobody ever taught him that that’s where this stuff would bring him. He thought he owned us. Patriarchy was a lie for him too, after all, selling him on a version of life incompatible with human nature, setting him up for a loss. Even the bible said “provoke not your children to anger.” There’s a reason for that.

Quiverfull parents are constantly talking about “training up your children in a way that is right,” but what about when you train them up in a way that is wrong? It’s not that they will never depart from it. It’s that it’s a heck of a lot of work to do so. My violent tendencies and skills with “verbal artillery” are a bit of an embarrassment today (I was prone to being quite foulmouthed and vicious to anyone who crossed me for a number of years) but I know they are also the way I started to win battles growing up, ultimately escaping my Dad’s clutches as a girl, and helping bust my family out of his little cult of personality. For years I was angry about it though, feeling that in forcing me to fight a fight that no child should have to, that he’d given me a “dark side” that I’d otherwise not have had, compelled me to grow a clunky set of armor that’s since been hard to shed. Still, I’ve found that being a different person today, playing a different role, and learning to navigate the needs of peacetime, while sometimes difficult, is in so many ways such a joy and a relief. I am also so thankful that despite my Dad’s attempts to keep me under his control, reliant on him for everything, education and life experiences bottlenecked in his ham fist, that I managed to get out and the situation has long since changed. Today I’m living my life, working on things that I’m passionate about. I have my education and my siblings are all doing well, engaged in their own versions of the same. I may have hated having to fight for it, but at least I won that war and can move on.

One bible verse I always liked was the one about forging swords into ploughshares. The verbal artillery is that sword, a set of fighting tools, a bag of bombs that I no longer need. So while I could easily have reengaged, gone back and said “actually asshole, Don Quixote is spelled with an “X” and he ’tilted’ at windmills,” knowing it would burn him up and I could say “point for me,” I didn’t. There was no purpose in it. It was a lose/lose sort of conflict from the getgo, a call for more pig wrestling, and because it could never be more than that I chose to cut my losses and quit playing a losing game.

Considering the circumstances, I don’t really know if I had any other viable option than the one I went with, or if I should have seen another way, might have best decided to do something else. It is always a deeply personal choice about what kind of role to give your parents in your adult life, even if you make a decision to cut one out, but too often people don’t see it that way. You get a lot of advice.

I’ve had many people over the years tell me that I should try to “make it right” with my Dad, but the thing is if I’d been able to I would have done so years ago. Today I can’t really tell you whether or not I did the right thing by telling my Dad not to contact me anymore or if there was even a “right thing” to do in such a wrong situation. What I do know is that different people handle abusive parents different ways. For me this was a last-ditch thing and not exactly voluntary, but as I am a grown woman now, it was thankfully an option that I was able to exercise, one that had not been available when I was a vulnerable child, and one that would not be available to me if a Christian Reconstructionist worldview, like my Dad used to dream of, was implemented on a large scale. So I took a deep breath, closed the steel door, and shut him out of my life. The monster is gone. I feel a bit sad and rather relieved. He cannot hurt me anymore but I still have an unspecified “loss of family” feeling, an unfulfilled wish for the Dad I always wanted to have. Sometimes mourning something you never had but still felt a deep need for is the saddest, weirdest kind of loss I guess.

I wrote my Dad a goodbye letter, more for my own closure than for his and now I am moving on, still healing, still learning, still working on the homeschool issues, still speaking out about child abuse and educational neglect, still addressing the toxicity (to men, women, and children) of an extreme patriarchal worldview that some people are still disingenuously or mistakenly pushing as bringing family happiness.

So if you have a Dad that you are estranged from or who is not fully participating in your life today because of being indoctrinated with these sorts of ideas, know that you are not alone and it is also not your fault. We can’t choose our parents and we can’t fix them. You just carry on as best you can.

If you do have a father who loves you for who you are and treats you with care, by all means go give him an ugly necktie, a card, or at least a hug, a phone call, something today.

If I had one I imagine that that’s what I’d be doing.