This roller coaster I was one wouldn’t stop. Me, hesitatingly trying to make a step forward, my parents instantly pushing me back. I bought a little pallet of eye shadow one day – my parents told me I looked like a whore. I bought a skirt with a hemline just at the knee. My parents said I was pushing their standards. I desperately wanted a job. My father sat me down and told me how I was actually losing money by taking a job outside the home….and that my skills were better utilized under his roof.
I finally got the job I so coveted, at the age of almost 21.
I must have looked completely lost, walking into the store that first day in a long skirt, unsure of how to behave or what to say in this unfamiliar environment. Over the next six months, I would meet so many new people that would open my eyes to the oppression that I was living in. I made so much progress in that six months, but my parents could only see the negative influences that the “world” was having on me. I had to lie, sneak around, and pretend to be someone I wasn’t to keep the peace in my household.
One morning when I came down for breakfast wearing my favorite pair of jeans, my father told me that he was ashamed of my immodest clothing, and that I wasn’t allowed to wear those jeans ever again in his house. As a 21 year old woman who’d tasted just enough independence to understand what she was missing, I was livid. I started keeping the jeans at work, and changing into them as soon as I left my parent’s house. My days of quietly obeying my parent’s directives were quickly coming to an end.
I applied for, and miraculously received, a full ride scholarship to a distinguished university completely across the country from my parents. I remember my Dad, sitting on the couch in our living room, telling me he would never approve of one of his daughter’s leaving his home to attend college. That he would never allow it. Would never give his blessing.
I remember crying in the living room, desperate for an escape from my prison.
My friends at work told me I had to go. Those women at my first little retail job were instrumental in helping me ease into the real world, and open my eyes to the fact that I NEEDED to move on with my life. Yes, it would be hard. Yes it was scary, especially without any support from my family. But I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend 4 years across the country from my family, becoming my own person. Because after so many years living my parent’s beliefs and being told what was right and wrong, I didn’t know who I really was.
After an agonizing summer, I went.
My parents, insistent that they would move the family across the country so I could stay under their roof, drove me out to my new college with the promise that they would be there within a semester. I secretly hoped their plans to move would fall through. Thankfully, they did.
I fell in love with dorm life instantly, and loved the absolute freedom I had over my life. My future opened up before me. Endless opportunities and freedom met me at every turn. I met so many wonderful people who were kind, helpful, selfless, and genuine. I marveled when I met folks who weren’t devout fundamentalists and had never heard of patriarchy, and yet were still amazing people. These students – most of them had been to public school, had been raised in normal American culture; and yet they weren’t raging pagans, criminals, and devils in disguise. How could this be? Maybe my parents had been wrong.
Fast forward almost three years to the present day. It’s been a long road.
The first year of college life was incredibly difficult. I couldn’t keep up with any of the conversations my peers were having. Pop culture references went straight over my head. I hadn’t seen any of the movies people talked about; I didn’t get the jokes my friends made. People were shocked when they learned I’d never had a boyfriend and never been kissed; horrified when they learned I’d never gone to high school, played a sport or gone on a sleepover. I didn’t know who the Backstreet Boys were, had never listened to a Michael Jackson song, and didn’t know the Disney Channel even existed. Eventually, I started leaving those details of my life out of conversations. I created a completely new “me”, and many of my friends never even knew of my life before college.
My relationship with my family is rocky these days. I now stand for everything they’ve ever been opposed to….done everything they always wanted to protect me from. They’re convinced that college has corrupted me in a thousand ways. They don’t approve, support, or accept the person that I’ve become over the past 3 years since I left the movement. On the surface, they’re friendly. They feign interest in my activities, and we talk on a regular basis. But deep down, they can’t stand what I’ve become.
My siblings are still at home, lost in the life from which I’ve escaped. Fortunately, one of my brothers decided to leave too, and he’s now traveling around Europe making up for lost time.
I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come. But I have a lot left to go.
While I don’t dwell on my past, it does shape the person that I am today. I still find traces of my upbringing from time to time. My boyfriend is constantly dispelling my twisted views of life, family, relationships, and myself that are still left over from my dysfunctional upbringing.
And it’s overwhelmingly difficult to know that I don’t have the support of my family.
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow.” ~ Thomas Paine
As I’d gotten older, my parents had gotten stricter, more isolated, and more focused on minute details of our lives. We spent our mornings listening to my father read the Bible to us and decry the evils of the world, the culture, and anything he associated with it. We weren’t allowed to watch films in the movie theater. My brothers weren’t allowed to participate in organized sports, or watch football games; it took them away from family time and smacked of worldliness. The only music in our home was hymns or peaceful praise songs. Even Christian radio was out of the question. Dating was completely off the table…my parents were firmly entrenched in the values of courtship, and any potential relationship would be controlled completely by my father.
As time passed, I became less and less content with my life as a home maker in training. I’m not sure what changed. Perhaps it was just the passage of time, or perhaps it was the endless monotony of my days as they ran into each other. Getting up, weeding the garden, fixing breakfast. Washing the endless amounts of dishes, watching my little brothers, putting in laundry. Fixing lunch, lying around most of the afternoon on the internet or reading a book, then sluggishly helping put together dinner and going back to my computer to entertain myself until it was time for lights out. I didn’t have any friends, and nothing with which to break up my days. I didn’t have anything to look forward to, and the glorious prospects of winning the culture war and raising a family of warriors for Christ began to seem a little bleak. I began to envision the reality of the future I had willingly committed to, and it wasn’t a prospect I liked at all.
Yet, in spite of my growing restlessness, I was trapped. No, I wasn’t being forcibly held at home. My family loved me, and I loved them. But I slowly began to see the bars of the invisible prison into which I had unknowingly walked.
I was stuck.
I had no discernible skills. As a home school student, I hadn’t participated in any extra curricular activities, teams, or competitions for fear of being corrupted by worldly influences. I’d never held a job outside of my family, and didn’t have any means of getting one without a vehicle. I’d briefly brought up the prospect of perhaps a part time job at our local library or a little boutique, but my father had quickly shot that down with a reminder about the Biblical role for women, and had placated me by piling on lots of mundane tasks he needed done for his own business. To him, I already had a job.
Without my father’s approval and permission, I wouldn’t be allowed use of the family vehicles to get to a potential job. So that was out of the question. Without a job, I had no income. And without income, I was powerless. The money I did have came from my parents; wages I ‘earned’ for helping out around the house or for balancing my father’s checkbooks each month. I searched for ways to fill the void that wouldn’t clash with my parent’s ideals. I looked for ways to volunteer (online, of course), and tried to start a web based business. I explored the idea of beginning online classes in business; starting my college education was grudgingly allowed as long as I did it from the comfort and safety of my bedroom. And, it was made clear, any post high school education would only be for the purpose of preparing me to be a better home schooling mother and a more helpful and supportive wife. Somehow, this didn’t sound very appealing.
I started blaming my situation on our location. If only we would move to a different place, it would all be better. I would find friends. More importantly, I would find a husband. Prince Charming, my future husband, would be the key to freeing me from my prison. But after years of staunchly backing the patriarchal movement and spewing my legalistic views on Biblical womanhood to everyone who would listen, I felt embarrassed when I started questioning my long held ideals.
This inner turmoil haunted me for over a year and a half. A constant battle between what I knew I “should” believe, and what another part of me was starting to explore. I was curious about the world beyond the four walls of my home. I caught snatches of secular music at the grocery store, and didn’t hate what I heard. I saw commercials for TV shows that were well below my age level, yet I was still captivated with what I saw. I noticed happy college students, books in tow, walking freely along the streets close to the campus of a nearby university, and harbored a quiet jealousy for the opportunities they had.
I started to resent my parents and their rules, and I started to resent myself for having trapped myself into a prison from which I saw no escape. I became angry for the time I had lost, the things I had never experienced, and the life that I saw slipping away from me. I secretly resented my church, religion, and eventually the God I had believed in for so long.
The God who would send me to hell if I didn’t do what he wanted.
Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Reumah” is a pseudonym.
Part One: Return of the Daughters
My parents represented typical suburbia during my early child hood; my Dad with his upper middle class corporate job, and my Mom puttering around the house taking care of us and making our lives happy and healthy. We had the brick three bedroom ranch-style home you see in the magazines; two or three cars in the garage, money in the bank, a good circle of friends, and a cute little church with a steeple we attended religiously on Sunday mornings. Church services were always followed by lazy afternoons where my Dad grilled out on the back porch while we children played in the fading sunlight.
My parents had always been good Christian people. They raised us in the church, took us to Sunday school, taught us about Jesus and the Bible at home. Christianity was a fundamental pillar of my early childhood. It fit comfortably into our lives, right along with everything else we held dear. But sometime around my eleventh birthday, my parents transitioned from mainstream Christianity towards something more radical, conservative, and polarizing.
My parents became exposed to the teachings of organizations and individuals such as Doug Phillips (Vision Forum), Bill Gothard (IBLP), Geoff Botkin (Western Conservatory), and Mike & Debi Pearl (No Greater Joy). On the surface, these people seemed like admirable champions for morality, truth, and wholesome family values. What could be better? My parents wholeheartedly subscribed to their teachings, and eventually steered the direction of our family away from mainstream Christianity and into the ditch of these extreme right wing fundamentalists.
These organizations promised the world if you followed their “Biblical” teachings; perfect families, obedient children, protected daughters, reprieve from all heartbreak, answers to every problem you could imagine. These God-like men fiercely taught the tenets of patriarchy; they eschewed all forms of feminism; paraded the perfection of male authority and total female submission; warned of the great dangers of the world, and lauded those who welcome as many children as humanly possible into their families. After all, we were at war with the culture, and we needed to out-number them.
We left our mainstream church with the friendly steeple and started a “home church” with two or three families who felt the same way as my parents did. Home church consisted of singing hymns at home on our couch, while one of the fathers “preached” on the dangers of the world and how we needed to be protected from it lest we be corrupted. Gender roles were strongly emphasized and the liberal agenda was held up as the devil of our age; something we needed to defeat lest the homosexuals, abortionists, feminists, and the government take over the world.
But my 11 year old mind couldn’t wrap around these concepts. All I knew was that my parents were happy; they’d found the answer to their problems and the solution to all future familial woes. They taught us the principles they believed in, and as children we knew no different.
We took to this new patriarchal fundamentalist culture like bees to honey; it was easy, we knew what the rules were, and it made us feel better than the rest of the lazy Christians our friends talked about.
But little did I know where these teachings and philosophies would lead our family, my parents, and myself. How could I have known? I was just a kid, doing what I was told and learning what I was taught by my well-meaning parents. How could I have foreseen the heartache, the lost time, the lost opportunities, the emotional bondage, and the dreams I would have taken from me before they even had a chance to develop?
Fast forward to 2008 – my excitement was palpable as I unwrapped the most recent birthday gift from my well-meaning parents; Vision Forum’s newest DVD release “Return of the Daughters” promoting Biblical womanhood and a return to the supposed woman’s role in the home. I turned over the shiny DVD and read the beautifully crafted summary on the back;
“This highly-controversial documentary will take viewers into the homes of several young women who have dared to defy today’s anti-family culture in pursuit of a biblical approach to daughter hood, using their in-between years to pioneer a new culture of strength and dignity, and to rebuild Western Civilization, starting with the culture of the home.”
Christian patriarchy taught that the woman’s role was in the home. Her purpose in life was to further the vision of her husband by supporting and obeying him. Women were to be under the protection and authority of their father until they married, and the time after high school graduation didn’t include college or jobs outside the home. These were deadly distractions that would only corrupt our innocent minds and hearts with feminism and the liberal agenda.
To my innocent and sheltered sixteen year old mind, this sounded like the ultimate ideal. Controversial? Check. Counter cultural? Check. Revolutionary? Check. These ideas all sounded so exciting to me, post high school and bored as I was.
After graduating from high school at the age of seventeen, I hadn’t given college a second thought. According to the teachings of Christian patriarchy, college was no place for the Godly woman. Modern day institutions of higher learning, I was taught, were bastions of liberal thought and hatred for God, and no good could ever come of me leaving my father’s protection for such a place. If higher education was to even be considered, online classes in herbalism, nursing, teaching, or other such womanly arts were the only options I had available to me. But I was far from being deprived by my parents – I’d been taught these ideals for so long that I was the one vehemently asserting that I would never attend college.
My place was at home, waiting for Prince Charming to come along and sweep me off my feet.
So, there I was; post home school high school, insanely bored, and more sure of what NOT to do with my life than what TO do with it. The Botkins’ revolutionary documentary Return of the Daughters was just the fanatical fodder I needed to fuel my ever increasing disdain for modern ideals of the woman.
By this time, we’d joined an actual church that sadly subscribed to all the same beliefs as my parents. One Sunday, in lieu of a sermon, this stomach churning documentary was shown in church. Looking back, the thought of all the little girls (and boys) sitting in those pews watching a film teaching them that girls weren’t mean for education, experience, or college life makes me sick to my stomach. But back then, it was the norm. I watched in awe as my female ideals, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, looked into the camera with their poised grown up demeanor and proclaimed their truth; that feminism was all a lie. An evil ploy by secular humanists to destroy the family and take women away from their God given sphere. A Communist plot to chip away at the fabric of Christian society. That by going to college, holding down jobs, and leaving our father’s protection, we were unwittingly playing right into their hands and helping them destroy God’s design for families. And what’s worse, is it all sounded so plausible. So righteous. So moral. And I ate up every word.
As a home schooled sheltered child, I’d never been exposed to anything different. Anything resembling a feminist idea had been quickly removed from our home, and we’d been consistently taught that women were to be in submission to men. That by submitting to our father, we were practicing for the day when we would be submitting to our future husband. According to the Bible, our job was to support and obey our husband. Our sphere was the home; cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and raising the children while our male authority figure went out to do battle with the real world. Anything not directly supporting this God given mission, we were told, was only the world’s attempt to draw our attention away from our purpose in life.
With this background, I had no trouble swallowing what Anna Sophia and Elizabeth Botkin were all too eager to dish out. In their documentary, they portrayed graceful young women in their early twenties busily staying at home helping their mothers, teaching their young siblings, cooking delicious dinners for daddy, and sewing modest clothing just like the Proverbs 31 woman.
They made it all look so important. So purposeful. Godly women were submissive. Godly women were graceful and modest. Godly women respected and revered their fathers. Godly women spent their days being a servant to their family, without thought to their own wants or desires. And one day, if we were Godly enough and obedient enough, we would be rewarded with a husband of our own – the ultimate goal for a stay-at-home daughter.
I embraced my mission in life vehemently. I cooked, cleaned, and ironed with a passion. I crocheted blankets, sewed skirts, baked bread, copied recipes for my own collection, and washed dishes. After all, I didn’t have to worry about where to go to college, or how to survive on my own as an independent woman. I didn’t have to worry about finding a job, or picking a career. Money wasn’t my problem…..I would be provided for by my future husband.
But my personal version of paradise wouldn’t last.
As little girls play with dolls in dollhouses, so Christian fundamentalist parents play house with their daughters, teaching them from a young age that women are to be homemakers- any college degree or job outside the house being considered prideful or sinful. Worse, college degrees for women are not God’s design. This isn’t your average “homemaker in training” evangelical culture, this is an agenda that reaches far beyond training daughters to know traditional life skills. This takes everything you know about conservative Christian womanhood to an extremist level.
I’d like you to meet several people I have met through the years and was in contact with during my time as a stay-at-home-daughter.
“Wendy”, a late 20-something from Idaho, considers her work to be Pinteresting. She tries to pin 400 things each day. When I talked with her, she said she felt called to “inspire” others and give them a hobby of repinning her pins. When we were friends on Facebook, she listed her work as “Editor of Pins at “Wendy’s” Pinterest.” She takes direction from her parents, from getting her father’s approval every morning on what she wears, to waiting for her mother to choose the meal Wendy will make for dinner. Wendy’s mother still ‘screens’ books and movies to make sure they are wholesome before Wendy and her older sister can read or watch them. Wendy does not make many decisions for herself, without first getting an answer or at least plenty of information from her parents about something. Wendy hopes that a man will come along and marry her- a man who would first have to be interviewed with a several hundred question form and approved by her father before she knew anything about his interest in her, typical of courtship culture ingrained in the stay-at-home daughter movement. Last I knew, she claimed her father’s vision was for her to “refrain from work outside the home” -yet she offered no other clue as to what her father said she should do instead.
“Wendy” seems perfectly happy with her life and being happy and content is important. Yet, she does seem to be oblivious to any other choices available to her. She claims that “deep Bible study” for a few minutes each morning is better than any college degree; that her parents are her shelter from the “evil world” and that if she becomes too educated, she may end up choosing a sinful lifestyle – which she defines as “living outside her father’s home as an unmarried woman.”
“If I become too independent,” “Wendy” said once, “I will not only be disobedient to my parents, but to God who desires all unmarried women to remain at home. I don’t want to live in sin.”
“Daughters, by no means, are not to be independent. They’re not to act outside the scope of their father, and then later, their husbands. As long as they’re under the authority of their fathers, fathers have the ability to nullify or not the oaths and the vows. Daughters can’t just go out independently and say, ‘I’m going to do this or marry whoever I want.’ No. The father has the ability to say, ‘No, I’m sorry, that all has to be approved by me.”
You’ve guessed it, stay at home daughters live under the roof of their parents until they marry- even if they never get married because their father couldn’t approve those who asked! Those who follow this lifestyle believe it is sin for a woman to do anything else, thanks to the teachings of Doug Phillips. It should be noted that Doug, an advocate for “strong, godly families” within the conservative homeschooling community was recently exposed for having an affair with a young girl who worked without pay in his home as a nanny. The girl appeared in an interview in the same documentary mentioned above. While his actions do not automatically “nullify” his teachings – sound doctrine does- it does show the rampant hypocrisy and cover-up that occurs in the every day of dominionist and neo-reformed sects.
Generally, stay at home daughters can volunteer outside of the home, as long as they do not go far, work in a family or Christian setting, and are not paid for their work. You will even find them volunteering in local hospitals with siblings or like-minded friends- again without pay and in context and “accountability” of a family.
Steve and Teri Maxwell, fundamentalist homeschooling parents with a number of adult daughters at home, recently posted an article on their family “Titus 2″ blog detailing the ‘benefits’ of adult stay at home daughters. Though they make it clear their daughters stay at home by their own “choice” – I am left wondering if the women know there are other options, and if those options have been presented in an objective manner.
Teri says “Sometimes our girls are asked about their plans for the future. Right now they are 17, 22, and 31. They are all unmarried and living at home.” She does not address the possibility of how she would respond should one of the daughters want a job or desire to attend college. Teri claims her daughters desire the protection and safety of home and will remain there until marriage. This means that they will likely remain at home until they die since Steve and Teri have apparently made legal provisions that the house remains for their use upon their death. Also, the women and their marriages hinge entirely on Steve’s consent and his interviewing an interested young man- of which he has been rumored to have already turned away several. Nicknamed “Stevehovah” by his “homeschool apostate” critics, Steve Maxwell is known for shadowing his daughters wherever they go- from church to speaking at homeschool events and being a middle man between his children and all incoming contact.
Another argument the Maxwells make on their website is that they enjoy having a strong family unit that is inseparable, citing the Ecclesiastical verse “a threefold cord is not easily broken” using the mother and father as 2 cords and the daughters as a single cord. They enjoy seeing their daughters delight and work in their family’s home, making meals together for their parents and enjoying reading out loud to them in the evenings.
“Our culture typically says for young people to leave home when they are eighteen, and often the parents are happy to be free of them,” says Teri in an article. “We love conversations with our adult children. We like doing things with them. We like them to… ask for counsel. They are Steve and I’s best friends, and we are delighted that they want to live in our home! Allowing our adult, unmarried children to live in our home provides accountability for them. Our daughters are not isolated, they have opportunities to attend church and attend ministry events outside of our home with us.”
However, what exactly is this “protection” they are talking about? Is it not possible for Christian adults of age to handle their own lives, while remaining accountable to God? Where does personal responsibility come in? Why does a 31 year old woman need a fatherly chaperone? In Wendy’s case, why must her father approve her outfit each day to make sure it is modest when Wendy is nearing 30? What is so dangerous and unsafe about the natural maturing of your children? And, within the Maxwell family, who or whom exactly made this decision to keep their daughters at home?
The language used by Steve and Teri is loaded with much authoritarian heavy-handedness, making it seem like the family is all about mom and dad’s wishes for the children- and a quick study of the Maxwell family’s belief shows this is explicitly their intent! From parent-centered curriculum for new parents like controversial Ezzo’s “Babywise” to Bill Gothard’s ATI homeschooling curriculum, many Christian homeschoolers, like the Maxwells, believe that children’s lives should be ordered around their parents’ schedules, plans, and wishes.
The voices missing from this discussion, at least in the Maxwell family- are the daughters’ – who have been raised in an isolated sect of the conservative homeschooling community with few social opportunities outside of Christian homeschool conferences where they speak.
I don’t usually write in reaction to or dialogue with other bloggers. Writing about my own life is emotionally vulnerable, but non-controversial. I don’t blog frequently. When I do write, I do so because I need to say something. But I need to say something right now that is both personal, and possibly controversial.
There has recently been a growing awareness of the devastating problems of abuse and oppression in the conservative Christian homeschooling community, thanks to brave people like my friend R.L. Stollar, a Community Coordinator for Homeschoolers Anonymous. The stories on H.A. are blood-chilling to me, because they sound so familiar. I knew these people, or people like them.
As I’ve read these stories, I’ve been thinking about my own upbringing in a conservative Christian home. I am not the perfect picture of mental health. I’ve struggled with depression and self-destructive behaviors. I’ve had (have?) my share of identity and image complexes.
Complexes notwithstanding, however, I launched into college and adult life with a strong education, an intact faith, and an overall positive and grateful outlook on my own homeschooling education. So as I read these articles and think about the people I know personally who had horrible homeschooling experiences, I am trying to figure out what made my story different. I have a few ideas.
I do not imagine this to be a definitive or even generalizable list. I am so aware that I grew up in very, very privileged circumstances. I want to write this gently. I want to write in a spirit of gratitude, not out of pride, authority, or judgment.
I want to lend my voice in support of those who have experienced abuse and hardship from the homeschool community.
But the thing I do best with my voice is to tell my own honest story. So that’s what I’m doing. If you are a homeschool parent or considering homeschooling, let me share a beautiful example of wisdom and responsibility with you. If you are someone who has experienced the unhealthy side of homeschooling, I am sorry. I am so sorry. And my prayers are with you. I hope we can make things better.
Before I begin my list, let me describe my background. I was homeschooled from sixth grade through high school graduation, and attended a private Christian school before that. I wouldn’t go so far as to call my parents hyper-conservative, as I am all too familiar with startling extremes more deserving of that title. My parents weren’t trying to marry off my sisters or me as child brides. However, my upbringing was sheltered enough to shock even many of my friends at my conservative Christian university.
I wasn’t allowed to watch Lion King or Pocahontas as a kid, because of the “New Age stuff.” Until I left for college, the only R-rated film I’d seen was Passion of the Christ. I wasn’t allowed to date in high school, and in fact had to ask for permission to date after I was already 18 and in college. I wasn’t allowed to wear spaghetti strap shirts, and sometimes even my tank tops were considered too revealing. I read “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” repeatedly, not only because I was convinced that dating was evil and that courtship was Jesus’ perfect plan for my love life, but because I thought the cute anecdotes about happily courting couples were romantic and even a bit racy. As in, oh my goodness, this is the part where Joshua Harris talks about kissing. Gasp. Giggle.
That’s where I came from. Yet, somehow, I emerged thankful for my upbringing. Given the choice, I’d do it again.
So here is my list. Here are the ways my mother homeschooled me without screwing up my life.
1) She treated homeschooling like a tool, not an agenda.
My mother decided to homeschool my brother, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, when the school system failed to offer a supportive solution for his high IQ and low social skills. She started homeschooling me when I, socially misfit and academically bored, came home from my private Christian school in tears too many times. My two sisters followed suit a year later. However, when my youngest sister showed signs of wanting more social opportunities, my mother put her back in private school. When my brother needed more classroom experience and study skills, my mom drove him to a charter school a few days a week, homeschooling him the rest of the time so he could continue to thrive academically in the most comfortable environment. In high school, one of my sisters butted heads with my mother on academic decisions. Rather than demand compliance, my mother enrolled her in a public high school. Halfway into her second year in public high school, my sister wrote my parents a letter asking if she could try homeschooling again. And they did.
My mom has told me, “It’s very difficult to homeschool a child—especially a teenager—who doesn’t want to be. High school students want and need more autonomy over their education. Some people think that’s a battle you have to win. But I don’t think it’s worth fighting at the detriment of the relationship.”
Because of this continual reevaluation and adjusting of our educational options, at one point my three siblings and I were being educated in four different ways: one in private school, one in public school, one part time at a charter school and part time homeschooled, and one (me) fully homeschooled. My mother homeschooled us, not because she was interested in pushing homeschooling as the only or best option, but only when she believed that it truly was the best option in practice.
2) She made academics a priority.
Not only is my mother a pediatrician, highly educated in mathematics and science, but she is also very knowledgeable about literature and writing. Because of her educational background, my mother not only provided us with a rigorous and fascinating science and math education, she graciously welcomed other homeschooling families to join our academic endeavors. On a weekly and sometimes daily basis, we had “classmates” from other homeschooling families in our dining room dissecting cow eyes and puzzling over trigonometry problems.
However, in areas where my mother felt she could not provide us with a comparable or better education than the private and public schools, she found help. Since she is not fluent in a second language, she hired Spanish tutors for us (and once again invited other homeschooling families over to our house to join our Spanish class). She purchased computer software and videos to supplement—though not replace—her instruction. We utilized distance and online learning programs. She sought out the best.
My mother also made it clear that we would never use the flexible schedule afforded by homeschooling to make academics secondary to our extra-curricular activities. Like many of our homeschooled friends, my sisters and I competed in a national speech and debate league for homeschooled highschoolers. However, we were never allowed to research until our school work on core subjects was completed for the day (the most we could hope for was to work ahead or bargain away our weekends in order to schedule a full day of uninterrupted research). My mother also cautioned against an overly rigorous tournament schedule when she found we were falling behind in our core subject work as a result of too many long, exhausting debate tourney weekends.
We all were involved in athletics and arts, but never to the detriment of our school work. We were all taught domestic skills and were responsible for household chores, but we weren’t expected to be miniature parents. I’ve sewn a few skirts. I’m a reasonably competent cook. That’s about it. Academics came first.
3) She raised her daughters and son with disabilities to have careers.
My mother kind of vetoed my first desired career of International Singing Sensation. In the same breath, however, she warned against hoping to become a stay-at-home mom without a backup plan. “Everyone woman should have a marketable skill,” was her mantra. “You can’t control when you’ll get married. What if you stay single? What if your husband loses his job? Or dies? What if you can’t support your family on one income? You have to have a marketable skill.”
As a physician who gave up a brilliant and beloved medical career in order to homeschool four children, my mother was certainly a fan of stay-at-home moms. I will be eternally grateful for her sacrifice. However, she was also a fan of being realistic. Just because she, by God’s grace, had the financial means and circumstances to homeschool us never meant we should expect the same privilege. She pointed out examples of women in our lives, married and single, who had chosen wise career paths and were capable of supporting themselves and, if need (or desire) be, their families.
At the age of 26, I have never been in a relationship. I could be single forever. But I have a fulfilling career that I love. I shudder to think how my self-esteem would be currently suffering were I waiting on a husband to give me my purpose in life. I shudder to think how I would be affording an apartment of my own right now, had I pursued International Singing Sensation or Rich Husband as my primary provision in adult life.
My brother, meanwhile, just got his first job wrapping silverware at Red Robin. We are so proud of him.
4) She lived like a whole person.
One of the best things my mother has done for her children has been to live like her children are not her whole life. We certainly take up most of her time, and I like to think that we’re the most awesome part of her life. But we aren’t all of it.
Once I came home from college to discover my mother beating on our kitchen barstools with drumsticks. “I’m taking a Taiko drumming class,” she explained. While still homeschooling my youngest sister, my mother has been taking classes on health and medicine in third world countries to prepare her for medical missions trips. She participates in runs and bike races. She takes dance lessons and cooking classes. She calls me to tell me what she’s learning in her Bible studies. She speaks like her world is still getting bigger and brighter.
I believe she loves me unconditionally and deeply. I believe my mother finds joy and fulfillment in parenting. Her dedication and sacrifices attest to this. My mother, however, is also a doctor, friend, chicken enthusiast, poodle lover, thrift store ninja, gardener, health and fitness nut, dedicated church volunteer, and Bananagrams champion. And I am so glad she is all of these things. She sacrificed much—more than most moms, I think, if such comparison be possible or moral. She homeschooled us. She didn’t lose herself in us. Just when I thought she’d poured all of herself into us, she somehow proved that her soul was still individual and exquisite, working out her own salvation with fear and trembling, defining herself by herself and God and not by us. She has never stopped becoming more awesome.
In addition to her insistence on a viable career, my mother’s dedication to lifelong learning and growth and fun have done wonders for my own self-esteem. By behaving like a whole person while unconditionally loving her children, she taught me by example that there is life beyond being a wife and mother, however sacrosanct those roles may be. They are not the entire definition of womanhood—even Biblical womanhood.
My mother has three daughters. We are all conservative Christian women. But we are all fierce.
5) She picked her battles.
This might seem contradictory to the earlier description of my sheltered upbringing, but the truth is that my mom did not micromanage our preferences or choices in many areas. It’s true that my mother “sheltered” us as kids. However, our dialogues—even when I was young—led me to see that her end goal in doing so was to train our hearts, minds, and habits before entering autonomous adulthood. She didn’t want to control us or turn us into perpetual children. Even when I disagreed with her practices (I remember hours of argument over certain movies or certain boys), her open communication and clear purpose kept me sane. And, true to her word, she recognized and responded to our growing need and merit for more freedom. We not only eventually saw the movie “Lion King,” we saw the live musical as a family.
When discussing my choices, or my siblings’ choices, my mother often said, “If it’s not immoral, dangerous, or illegal, I let it go.” And she did. She has never been the kind of parent who faked superficial approval or “support” when she disagreed with our choices. She’d give advice and make her opinions clear. We’d have long conversations. But she also let go.
When I did end up in a mess because of my choices, she couldn’t be shocked. I could tell her anything, and she never got mad. She never tried to make me feel ashamed. At most, she’d sigh and say to give thanks because things could’ve been worse. And we’d work through it.
Probably the greatest example of my mother’s battle-picking wisdom was when she gave my sister and me the freedom to attend a church of our choice. At one point when I was in high school, my immediate family was spread out over three different churches. Although I knew this was not my mother’s ideal—not only did she dislike the separation in our family, but she had theological and practical issues with the church I was attending—she didn’t insist. She let it go.
Looking back, I realize how untenable her choice might’ve seemed to other conservative families. My mother chose to let us attend a church she didn’t like, recognizing my responsibility for my own soul and placing trust in both God and me to work it out. Far from damaging my spiritual life, her trust—combined with her fervent example of faith and continued encouragement to seek God—prevented me from becoming resentful towards my upbringing and motivated me to earnestly search for truth.
6) She learned, grew, and was willing to change her parenting and teaching practices.
My mother gets excited about learning new things. I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard her say, “I used to think… but I just learned…!!!”
My mother constantly reevaluated our education and family routines, and tried new things. If we complained about a particular curriculum, my mother found something we enjoyed more. If we struggled with a subject, she changed her teaching method. When I was in high school, I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend. My youngest sister, currently in high school, has had two boyfriends. She dates with parent approval and supervision (she cleverly jokes about wanting to write a book called “A Homeschooler’s Guide to Dating: Table for Three, Please!”).
A few years ago, my mother called me and asked, “Your sister says you think that not letting you date in high school causes problems with your dating life, now. Do you really think that’s true?” I explained, no, I didn’t think that—well, not exactly… and we talked about the positive and negative outcomes of being allowed to date at a young age.
I will always remember that phone call, because she was willing to initiate a conversation about her parenting choices, and to hear my answers. As she raises my youngest sister and faces many of the same educational challenges she faced with me, she occasionally will ask what I remember of a particular program or educational experience. While her fundamental values have changed very little, my mother is honest with herself and reflective with us about her parenting and teaching.
7) She balanced doctrine with charity.
When my sister and I participated in homeschool debate, we became very analytic about theology and doctrine. The elevated place of knowledge, competition, and piety in the homeschool community was sometimes a deadly combination. My mother recognized the danger in this and did her best to temper it. Although she did support and encourage us in pursuit of Biblical knowledge—ever valuing education and truth—she also cautioned us.
I find it ironic that, in some ways, I was the grumpy fundamentalist in high school, while my mother was the soft voice of moderation. She did her best to check our bent towards theological correctness with love, Christian practice, and relational devotion to God. When I would come home from church with judgmental comments on the sermon, she would remind me to be a charitable listener and learner. “How can you worship when you’re constantly criticizing?” I remember her asking. She was also very quick to remind us not to criticize people in our eagerness to criticize doctrines. She encouraged us to question the motivation of our critical attitudes. She pointed to holy and loving people with limited theological educations.
The older I got, the more I saw, as she had, how theological correctness was used as a pretext for competition and unnecessary division amongst believers. After high school, it was years before I could stomach another conversation about predestination and freewill. Not only was my mother’s attitude godly and loving, but it kept the peace in our sometimes theologically divided household. I can’t imagine the theological brawls that would have occurred in our home, had my mother demanded agreement on every doctrinal point, or not attempted to reign in our zealous debates.
I’ve seen some of my most doctrinally correct and rigid friends—and their hyper-conservative parents—break when their preconceptions about God and reality smashed against tragedy, better arguments, or simply the wear of time. I’ve been there too—nearly. When I ran out of good arguments, though, I still knew God, still knew love, and so I held on. I’ve believed in predestination. I’ve decried it. I’ve attended many churches trying to figure out what this Christianity thing should look like. But I’ve always believed. If not for my mother’s guidance towards love and relationship with Christ, this might not have been true.
But I’ve always believed.
By the way, I let my mom proof-read this post. Her response? She thinks I gave her too much credit. What was she doing when I emailed her? Trying to catch up on sleep in her car between rounds at a homeschool debate tournament, because she woke up at 4:30am. Typical homeschool mom.
This part of “Ready for Real Life” was devoted to answering listener questions about Christian homeschooling. In the final installment of their webinar series, the Botkins responded to listener questions about family vision, interactions with outsiders, support systems, tensions with relatives, and children’s’ role in the family.
First, in response to a question about what guided his vision for his children, Geoffrey replied that he wanted his children to be “mighty” leaders, not merely surviving or living in “Christian ghettos”. After citing Psalm 127:3-5 (“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth; blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”), he outlined his vision for the Botkin children at the 4:57 mark.
“I want them to be able confront their enemies, the enemies of Jesus Christ at the highest points of the land, the places in the country where decisions are made. The gates of nations happen to be where leadership happens, where decisions are made on law and jurisprudence, medicine, literature, the arts, science, business, agriculture, many of the things we’ve spoken about here on the webinar, military affairs, family culture, politics, public policy. I wanted my children to be able to grow up and stand in the gates, so that guided the kinds of things that we told them, but foundational to all of it was understanding that they needed first to begin with a fear of the Lord and an attitude of respecting and delighting in the Lord’s commands.”
At the 6:08 mark, Geoffrey explained how he warned his children that they must serve God and transcend “worldly success”.
“I wanted them to know they were growing up to serve a living God who had a will for them, an ethical system he wanted the entire world to live by. I wanted them especially to realize if they lived in the United States of America, they could not give their lives to serving wealth, not worldly success, not the traditions of men. And so, we steered them by trying to define for them the Kingdom of God, and then thinking about how to strengthen the Kingdom of God, and said, ‘Children, this is your responsibility. This is what you’ll be doing all your lives. This is what you are called to do in the Great Commission, to to make disciples of the nations.'”
One listener submitted a question about what to teach children about people in the outside world.
Should they be on the lookout for potential threats and ministry opportunities? In response, Geoffrey claimed that he taught his children to recognize other people as “eternal souls” and to help them interpret those they encounter. At the 7:37 mark, he had this to say.
“When we go into the world, let’s say we’re on a trip to Wal-Mart and we’re surrounded by people from many different backgrounds. What are we teaching our children to think about these others that they’re seeing? How do they look at these people who are around them? Well, number one, we teach them theologically that these people are eternal souls. Every single one has an eternal soul. We need to interpret the world for them when we’re talking about people, when they’re looking at people. Many parents say, ‘Well, we homeschooled our kids to keep them away from bad influences and the rabble that are out there, and so we just put little blinders on our children, we march into the store, do our business, and get out.’ Well, we never had that attitude toward people. We wanted to interpret what was going on, and if we saw a guy covered with tattoos, we’d probably talk about it.”
Geoffrey stressed the importance of teaching children to love people, help others, and share truth. At the 8:54 mark, he warned that homeschooled children could grow disdainful of outsiders without good parental guidance.
“If we’re not careful, our children will develop very confused ideas about what they’re seeing in the world, and in fact, if we don’t help them, they will tend to be proud and arrogant and have a naturally contemptuous attitude toward other people because, of course, they’re perfect little homeschool kids who are upright and not like those other people. We don’t want them to have that kind of prideful attitude. We don’t want them to be hostile or disdainful to people.”
Soon thereafter, Geoffrey shared a story about how he responded when his sons met people who were different from them. On a hot day when he and his sons were visiting the University of Monterrey in Mexico, they noticed several young women in “Mexican chic undress”. “They didn’t have many clothes on”, Geoffrey complained. Later, he instructed his sons to pray for the women and their future husbands and children.
“They’re like sheep without shepherds,” Geoffrey told his sons. “They need someone to look after them, to protect them, to lead them.”
The irony was not lost on me. Geoffrey condemned judgmental attitudes toward people who are different, but a few seconds later, he judged women whose clothing choices he disliked. I found it unfortunate that the Botkin sons were taught to see women outside their subculture as lost “sheep” who needed a (presumably male) shepherd to tell them what to do.
Another listener was concerned about those who exhibit outward Christian conduct without inward transformation. In response, Geoffrey lamented the “conformist theology” in many churches that encourage “friendship with the world”, as well as the influence of “America’s materialistic culture”. At the 16:14 mark, he dismissed the idea of going to college, getting a good job, and joining a “comfortable church” in favor of serving God’s law.
“If the entire goal of life is getting a good job and then just affiliating with a comfortable church on Sunday, then life is about pursuing the American Dream and not seeking first the kingdom of God, and so you don’t really need holiness, righteousness, knowledge of the scripture, knowledge of the law of God and the commandments of Jesus Christ … There is a dominant cultural trend in the churches and in the homeschooling movement to get into a worldly college so you can get a bigger salary and then bigger benefits. This will not lead your children into holiness, righteousness, and fruitfulness and fulfillment. This is serving Mammon, and when people pursue security through Mammon, Jesus Christ will be dishonored.”
One listener asked what advice the Botkins would give to homeschooling families without support systems. Geoffrey encourages husbands to encourage and assist their wives. However, he seemed distrustful of support systems outside of the family that could potentially hold different beliefs. He admonished listeners to avoid any homeschooling groups that are (1) overly focused on “trends”, (2) tied to “state organizations”, which he accused of being “humanistically oriented” and obsessed with the “college agenda”, and (3) associated with churches that have strong youth groups with large numbers of public school children.
This insularity, it seemed, was to shield fundamentalist families from outside forces that could introduce undesirable influences.
Victoria offered commentary, explaining that while it is nice to have support from other Christians, homeschooling families shouldn’t lean on other people to support them. With less support, the Botkins were in a better position to monitor the ideas that their children were exposed to, she explained. Also, if the Botkin children wanted friends, they had to be friends with each other and work though sibling quarrels. The family didn’t spent time driving to homeschool activities that weren’t productive, she said, allowing the children to use that time for productive activities.
One listener asked the Botkins for good strategies for encouraging children’s gifts while cultivating a “cohesive family identity”. Geoffrey replied that too many parents feel that they’re obligated to identify children’s gifts and do something special for each child. Over time, this approach causes the “cohesive family identity” to disintegrate because each family member is something different. He reminded listeners that gifts are tools bestowed by God to advance his kingdom, not as sources of personal aggrandizement.
The Botkins had much to say in response to a listener question about how to respond to “hostile” in-laws and relatives. Citing Deuteronomy 13, Geoffrey reminded listeners that no earthly relationship can trump one’s relationship with God, and that believers can’t indulge or “subsidize” a relative’s rebellion against God. Christians can love their relatives, but always on their terms, he explained, adding that Christians must let family members know what the rules are in their home.
At the 41:20 mark, Geoffrey told the audience that they have no moral duty to honor or care for relatives to reject God’s law.
“Don’t surrender your principles. Practically, you don’t have to have any moral responsibility to honor or subsidize relatives, including parents, who reject the law and righteousness of God. Your duty of honoring them would be very different, and you can explore scripture to find out what that would be. You don’t have to care for them and take care of them if they will not submit to the rules of your household.”
Victoria added that believers can still express love and honor to nonbeliever relatives, but from a distance. It’s acceptable to pray for such relatives and send them cards and gifts, even if one cannot spend time with them anymore. By doing so, parents set a good example on how to respond to nonbelievers with love, she said.
Geoffrey turned to family roles, outlining expectations placed on children. For example, fathers must make it clear that their children are never to disobey or dishonor their mothers. If a child disrespects their mother, the father must quickly and firmly defend the mother’s honor. Not only does the Bible command this, but the children need to respect their mother if she is to teach them effectively, he argued. Even a child is a few months old, it will lash out and try to hit its mother, but for an older child “than can become a capital offense”, he said.
What!? I thought. Your talk of children and “capital” offenses is making me very uncomfortable.
To boot, Geoffrey’s insistence on respect for the mother was ironic, given that his teachings and those of the Christian Patriarchy Movement are inherently disrespectful to women. Treating women as men’s subordinates, denying women a voice, and barring women from meaningful life paths are not respectful to women.
Regarding the role of daughters, Geoffreyrelegated girls to subordinate roles.
At the 1:05:34 mark, he instructed parents to train their daughters to help their parents and brothers. He warned that if the men around them do not strive for meaningful lives, girls will reject their helpmeet role.
“What you’re training your daughter for has a lot to do with what you think you are for, okay, and what you think your sons are for. Your daughter’s biggest job is to help you in the direction you set for your whole family, dads … This really is her scriptural, biblical job, to help you dad, helping the family. And she will help her mommy, you know, learning to be a mother by helping her mother, and this helps you and it helps your family. She helps her brothers. As she helps her brothers and learns to respect her brothers, she’s learning the skills and attitudes she’ll need to be a wonderful wife. So, her role will be as big or small as you set it to be, and if your role as a man is to have just a very quiet, insignificant existence, and to be a pew warmer at church and not really do anything for the kingdom, then she’s going to see–what good is a woman if men are not doing anything and there’s nothing to really help a man do, then being a helpmeet hardly even makes any sense. And so they will be exasperated by that, and they’ll be thinking of other things to do. If the men aren’t doing anything, how are we going to reform society? ‘I guess I’ve got to go out there and be prime minister or something!'”
At the 1:06:58 mark, Geoffrey instructed parents to raise sons as leaders and daughters as followers and helpers.
“You should be raising daughters to be the female counterparts of what your training your sons to be. That’s what you need to be doing. Training your sons to be leaders, dominion men, and training your daughters to be helpers of men like that.”
Anna Botkin fielded a listener question on what a girl’s role should look like after high school if she does not marry. Anna asserted that marriage isn’t a given for a woman, and that singleness isn’t outside of God’s plan for women. Women lives include more than wife and mother roles, but can also include serving the church, caring for the poor, and assisting with the home economy.
Elizabeth Botkin fielded a question on whether parents should teach their daughters a trade, or only teach them vocational tasks such as cooking and cleaning. In response, Elizabeth argued that all girls should contribute to the family economy, citing Proverbs 31. While men are responsible for providing for their households, wives who strengthen the household economy are important, she said. At the 1:13:14 mark, she explained how daughters are to balance entrepreneurship with submission to men.
“How does one balance being entrepreneurial and being a submissive daughter who has a family vision? Well, a girl will actually be able to be a much more helpful submissive daughter and be more beneficial to the family vision if she does have an entrepreneurial spirit. The conflict comes when a daughter has her own independent entrepreneurial agenda and that comes first, and is more important to her than helping her family. But if she has the heart of a servant and she has the best interests of her family at heart, and she’s making that making that her top priority, she can cultivate just as much initiative and diligence and creativity and resourcefulness and business savvy as she wants, and it will be nothing but an asset to her family. See, right now, a lot of our fathers are trying to figure out how they can leave the workforce and come work at home, and a lot of our brothers are trying to figure out how do they start off on the right foot instead of getting stuck in a system they don’t want to be stuck in. And I believe that right now, all of we unmarried daughters who are still at home are the secret weapons of this movement to rebuild the home economy. A daughter can be her father’s greatest asset while he’s trying to make his transition from working a job to starting a home business … or maybe she can focus on just helping her brothers get started in whatever businesses they’re trying to start.”
One listener asked how women without college degrees could support themselves after divorce, abandonment, or the death of their husbands. Elizabeth admitted that parents should train their daughters on how to be economically productive in good times as well as bad times. “Doing economically profitable work from home should be part of every woman’s life, obviously more in some seasons than in others,” she said.
Churches often offer support to women facing difficult times, but what if a woman doesn’t have that support system?
Elizabeth dismissed the idea that a woman would need a college degree so that she could get a job in such a situation.
Rather, she claimed that a lone woman without a support system could support herself (and homeschool her children) by working at home. At the 1:16:25 mark, she had this to say.
“In the event that you were stranded as the only breadwinner with a house full of little children, practicing for this kind of situation by spending four years and 40 or $50,000 training exclusively for a job and getting the qualifications for a job that you could only do outside the home would be exactly what you don’t want to do. So instead, if you took that time and used it to learn marketable skills that you could use from home or start a business that you could be running on the side and to invest that $40,000 into some thing else, it would be a much better situation if you were at home and suddenly had a lot of little children that you don’t want to suddenly put in public school so you could go out and get a job.”
The problems with Elizabeth’s approach were numerous. Where would the capital come from? Where would a woman learn the business knowledge and specialized skills she would need for a home enterprise? If her children aren’t in school, day care, or the care of her support network, where would she find time to carry out business tasks, such as production, marketing, and networking with other entrepreneurs? How on earth could a woman make enough money to support a large family and set aside enough time to raise and homeschool her children while running a full-time home business? What if the home business fails?
The Botkins’ ideology makes emergencies harsher than they need to be, and in failing to prepare young women for real life, may precipitate those emergencies in the first place.
Geoffrey Botkin concluded the webinar by quoting Titus 2:11, encouraging listeners to serve God and live godly, sensible lives. At the 1:32:15 mark, he told listeners that if they follow God, they will benefit the surrounding world.
“The grace of God is benefiting even those who are still in darkness. If you are doing what you need to be doing in your family, your community, and in your churches, you are helping bring peace and order and stability to your nation, and other people are benefiting from it because of the grace of God in your lives. This grace of God has appeared, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.”
This part of the “Ready for Real Life” webinar featured the following themes:
Family identity over personal identity: Geoffrey placed great value on “cohesive family identity”, warning that excessive attention to children’s gifts and individual identities could undermine this cohesion.
Vacillation between love and contempt for outsiders: One one hand, the Botkins instructed listeners to show love toward”hostile” relatives and other people outside their belief system. On the other hand, Geoffrey spoke of outsiders (such as scantily-clad women) with condescension, and outright stated that believers have no moral duty to honor or care for relatives who “reject the law and righteousness of God.”
Insularity: The Botkins’ attitudes toward connections outside of the nuclear family were mixed at best. They did not place great value on support networks, and outright rejected support networks (i.e., homeschool groups, relatives) who espoused beliefs that differed from theirs. Girls were encouraged to funnel their talents into the home, rather than seeking university educations or jobs outside of the home.
Unrealistic economic expectations for women and girls: Women and girls were expected to make economic contributions to the family that did not involve employment outside of the home. Elizabeth Botkin encouraged widowed, abandoned, or divorced women to sustain their households with home businesses (all while keeping their kids at home), oblivious to how onerous this task would be without a support system.
Stay tuned for the conclusion, in which I’ll reflect on the webinar series as a whole.
“Libby, you could be an engineer. You have the mind for it.”
My dad made this comment while we were in the car, driving by a factory of some sort. I was probably around sixteen. My dad’s comment was completely offhand, and I didn’t bother to respond. Inside, though, I was baffled.
Why would my dad suggest such a thing?
Didn’t he realize that my lot in life, the lot God had designed for me, was to be a homemaker, raising children, caring for my husband, and tending the home? Couldn’t he see that engineering was not even remotely related to homemaking, and that if I were going to learn a trade it should be something feminine like teaching or nursing?
Why would he even suggest that I could be an engineer? It made no sense!
I wrote recently about something similar regarding my mother. I grew up seeing that Above Rubies magazine on the counter, in mom’s bedroom, or on the stool in the bathroom, and I myself read it voraciously. It was clearly approved reading material, and I never heard my parents contradict it or disagree with it, so I assumed that my parents believed everything in it. I adopted its beliefs myself, and it shaped my conception of myself as a woman and my dreams for my future. And yet, my mother told me several months ago that she had never believed everything in that magazine.
I had had no idea.
Every so often I am reminded of my father’s offhand comment and I am bothered. When I was growing up, I was immersed in the literature of the Christian homeschooling movement and was surrounded by the patriarchal ideas I found there. These ideas shaped my understanding of the world and the trajectory of my life. But did I miss something? Did my father not actually hold all of these beliefs?
Did he honestly think that being an engineer would have been a perfectly legitimate life choice for me?
The mothers and fathers of my parents generation of homeschooling had no idea what it was like to grow up homeschooled in the Christian homeschooling communities they saw as so safe and godly. They may not have realized how deeply we children were imbibing and embracing ideas the that flowed through the Christian homeschooling movement—ideas they may not always have agreed with. Perhaps our parents took many of these things with a grain of salt—but if they did, unless they were vocal about this we had no way of knowing it. And so we believed.
As for my father, I honestly cannot say for sure. When I was in college and things started going haywire, he very clearly expected me to obey him, and very clearly believed that he was my male authority and that I was bound by God to submit to him. But was this perhaps simply the way he responded in his fear of losing me? How deeply did he actually hold those ideas? At the time, I took his reaction as confirmation that he bought into the entire slate of patriarchal beliefs that so characterized the Christian homeschooling world of my childhood and youth.
A fundamentalist Christian family is a hard place for a woman to grow up.
I was taught by my parents (and, more urgently, by all the books available to me) that a woman’s place is in the home. A woman’s highest calling is marriage and child-rearing. All of my talents and abilities and dreams could be met and fulfilled in building a happy home for my family. If (god forbid) I were to end up single, I could be a nurse, like Florence Nightingale, or a missionary, or maybe a teacher. I didn’t know anyone with a career, as far as I knew. There actually were some women at church who had jobs, but they were either single or else I didn’t know that they had jobs. It was just assumed by everyone that the normal pattern was for a woman to marry and give up her job as soon as she had kids, to dedicate herself full-time to taking care of them and, most likely, homeschooling them. After all, Paul wanted women “to be keepers at home.” And what someone wanted for women two thousand years ago is obviously the best thing possible for all women throughout time.
But two women slipped through the cracks and crept into my early image of successful womanhood. Of course later, as my view of the world widened, there would be others, but these two I knew from early on in my childhood, and each holds a place in my heart.
When you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I (not feeling that motherhood right away would be my path) would respond either teacher or nurse, and singer. Singer? What a random career option. This is because we had some old records by Amy Grant, which my mom had recorded onto tapes, which I listened to constantly. She inspired me to enjoy singing, and I wanted so badly to be like her, singing such beautiful songs for a living. I imagined being on a stage, people clapping for me. The dream was squashed by two things. First, when Amy Grant got a divorce, I felt terribly betrayed. I was too young to understand the reasons why it was actually a good thing for her to get out of that marriage, and I had been taught that divorce is a horrible sin. I wouldn’t listen to her music for months afterward. The second dream-squasher was being taught that everything needs to be done for god, not for oneself. This led me to believe that performance was in some way wrong, perhaps not for other people but for a selfish, prideful person like me, it certainly would be.
My other early female inspiration was Captain Kathryn Janeway, from Star Trek: Voyager. The series ran from the time I was five years old until I was eleven, and oh, how I wanted to be Captain Janeway. I recall in particular one birthday party, I couldn’t have been older than six, where we went to a park and played on one of those big playground structures. I ignored all the other kids at the party and ran around the playground structure pretending to be Captain Janeway commanding the starship Voyager. I sucked in my stomach because I thought that made it look like I was a grown-up woman with boobs, lending me more credibility in the character of female spaceship captain.
I have literally no clue how I continued to want to be Captain Janeway alongside being taught harmful patriarchal bullshit about having to be a totally submissive wife and mother with no career or dreams or goals of her own except serving her family. I don’t know how Janeway survived my upbringing, how she remained enshrined in my heart as a totally badass role model, but she did.
Maybe it’s like the way I believed in both evolution and creation at the same time. My Grandpa gave us books about dinosaurs and fossils and I devoured them (as I devoured all books), and somehow held separate in my mind two alternate timelines for the universe. The first timeline was illustrated by the pictures in my bible story books, god creating everything from nothing, the luscious garden scenes, the temptation and fall of mankind, the flood, and then it appeared that everybody lived in the desert for a long time, with camels and stuff. The second timeline was illustrated by the dinosaur books and a couple other books that managed to slip through the cracks. There were volcanoes and organisms crawling out of the water, sea monsters and dinosaurs and cave men. There were magical words like “Jurassic” and “Cretaceous” and “trilobite.” The evolutionary timeline seemed more like a fantasy than the biblical timeline, just because it wasn’t continuously reinforced during every waking moment. But the evolutionary timeline was so taboo I got an almost sexual thrill from thinking about it, reading about it, looking at those strange landscapes and animals, and I thought that it, too, along with the bible taken in a strictly literal sense, was true. There’s no way to reconcile how I was taught the bible with the evolutionary theory, but yet those beliefs coexisted in my mind. In the same way, there’s no way to reconcile the patriarchy I was brought up in with an admiration of Captain Janeway, but I held on to both anyway.
Maybe it’s because, deep down, I liked a world where dinosaurs roamed exotic forests and then millions of years later a woman could captain a starship better than a world that had been around for brief few thousand years of history in which women were always morally obligated to be subjected to men and never aspire further than the home. And maybe it’s because, deep down, I knew as soon as I encountered it what I actually believed, no matter how strenuously I tried to make myself believe what I was being taught.
To any TeenPacter, there are three words that represent ultimate ruling at any event – Teen Pact Appropriate. Oft abbreviated to the acronym TPA, it was bandied about concerning clothing, actions, and topics of discussion. It was the vague final standard that floated over attendees, replacing a popular evangelical choice of WWJD with, “Is that TPA?”
It was easy to tout it as well as ay other… during my first year. TPA was presented as hip, cool, and in to a sect of the population who often made their friends and had the most socialisation at TeenPact. I saw no problem deeming ankle length skirts and blouses a size or two too large as professional attire to wear to the capitol when I started out. I listened intently to the “girl talk” about causing en to lust. I very carefully kept any talk of Lord of the Rings or other such subjects to nothing more than hushed whispers.
My second year, I ran for governor of TeenPact Maine on the slogan “Vote AJK, She’s TPA.” Even so, there were tendrils of doubt forming in my mind. There were rebukes given to women who dared hold the door open instead of waiting–or letting–a man do it. I wondered what really happened during the “guy talk,” and why all the responsibility for men’s lust was being placed on the women. I had spent more time at the capitol between the two state classes, and didn’t understand why pantsuits for women were not allowed — something that came up again later in my TeenPact history. Then, of course, came the comments that shook my faith in my gubernatorial victory: the number of people who remarked that they didn’t know how I could have won, when they all voted for the other candidate.
I tried not to worry about it, but, for an organisation that promotes integrity above all else, there should never be any doubt.
I tried not to let my concerns shake my faith in the organisation, and proud of my newfound determination to prove the equality of women, I set off for my second National Convention on the presidential campaign trail. The historical inauguration of the first female governor of TeenPact Maine was fresh in my memory, and I was determined to make TeenPact history once more. My running mate and I knew we had our work cut out for us as the first girl/girl team, but, we were more than willing to embrace it.
What I was not prepared for ere the incredulous looks on the faces of boys and girls as they stopped by our campaign booth. Riding in a van with Mr. Echols on the way to a church service was not the first time, nor the last, that a fellow TeenPacter asked me how a girl running for president was TPA. After all, women should never be in positions of leadership over men!
The first time I was asked if it was TPA, I was flabbergasted. Still, my answer did not change. If Deborah could do it, so could I. Besides, I was just as capable as every other guy there, at the very least – why shouldn’t I run? In the end, though, I was the one with questions. The popular vote recorded for my state did not match the number of votes from my supporters. I wasn’t the only one with doubts that election, but, who were we running against?
Popular vote doesn’t matter when determining whether someone is TPA enough.
That same year I had an interview for staffing state classes the following year. I was very excited about the chance to do it, and was counting down the time until my interview. Things seemed to go well, up until my interviewer put her pencil down and looked me straight in the face. “How do you reconcile the TeenPact statement of faith with being Orthodox?”
I wasn’t sure if she was concerned because I had been running for president, or she just didn’t know what being an Orthodox Christian meant. The result of the interview was that I could staff the one-day class for 8-13 year olds, but that they weren’t comfortable with me staffing the four-day class.
From there, however, I turned to another side of TeenPact, and the hypocrisy therein: TeenPact Judicial…
TeenPacters Speak Up: A Series by Between Black and White
HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Between Black and White. The following introduction was written specifically for Homeschoolers Anonymous to provide background on TeenPact as an organization.
TeenPact is an organization that teaches students about government, political activism, and christian values. Their website says, “Our mission is to train youth to understand the political process, value their liberty, defend their Christian faith and engage the culture at a time in their lives when, typically, they do not care about such things.”
TeenPact started in 1994, founded by Tim Echols. When I was involved, the slogan was “TeenPact: turning students into statesmen.” TeenPact is currently active in 39 States. Their introduction into the organization takes place at the “State Class” which is four days of training about how-the-government-works (not to say it isn’t saturated with conservative values) and one day of public speaking. After you have attended the State Class you are eligible to attend “alumni events.”
The alumni events they have range from being biblical man/womanhood camps (Venture and Endeavor), to camps specifically tailored to the individual branches of government — Congress, Judicial, and Back to DC which tends to be around the time that the Values Voters Summit takes place (students attend at least one day of the conference as part of the class — or at least did the two years I was there). The two most popular camps are National Convention and Survival.
The goal of every camp, but especially National Convention and Survival, is to “challenge” students’ spiritual walk. Every camp teaches students from an evangelical christian conservative (patriarchal) viewpoint. “Taking the nation back for God” is ultimately what TeenPact hopes its alumni will grow up to do.
For many homeschoolers like myself, TeenPact is one of our only means of socialization — and our only means of socialization outside of our parents’ eyes (because they trust TeenPact, and the group is relatively homogenous). TeenPact offers a seemingly innocent product — a state government class taught by conservative/homeschool-friendly leaders. They offer students an opportunity to meet other people their age, and they help teach students how to think (from their point of view).