Finding Myself in the Ashes: Aisling’s Story

Editorial note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Aisling” is a pseudonym. 

The heavy wooden door to my dorm room closed with a definitive click behind my parents. I exhaled the weight of eighteen years spent wrestling for control, for individuality, for personhood.

I was free.

I imagined this moment often, with ever-increasing fervor as the end of my homeschooling approached. Some people who grew up like me, children of conservative Christian homeschooled parents, were not allowed to go to college. But the proudly educated tradition of my family would not allow for depriving my sisters and I of higher learning. My mother was the first person in her family to go on to college after high school. It was expected.

It was my ticket out.

I chose a school not far from home, but far enough that my busy parents would be too busy to come visit often. I chose a big state school, with enough room for me to roam and spread out my roots and grow tall like the oak trees all over campus.

I imagined the freedom, the ability to do what I wanted without asking permission, to spend my days and nights as I pleased without being fussed at for staying up on my computer until 2:00 in the morning. I didn’t expect the overwhelming weight of overstimulation, social anxiety and drastic personal revelation that occurs when you spend every waking moment trying to suppress who you are and play a role.

I played the part of devoted Christian, loving and virtuous daughter, for so long. Once I had a chance to find out who was really hiding inside, I almost tore myself apart on my way out.

The last couple of years before high school “graduation,” I spent most of every day alone in my parents’ house. Dorm life, with my roommate’s near constant presence across our tiny room and shared hall bathrooms, was at once liberating and meltdown-inducing. I began quietly panicking inside as my daily hours spent in isolation suddenly gave way to never being alone. For someone who considered herself an extrovert, it was confusing. I had craved social contact but I got more than I bargained for, certainly more than I could handle.

I was also lost trying to keep up with academic pursuits far beyond anything I’d undertaken before, thanks to a barely-supervised home education that left me with no math skills to speak of and no idea of how to study successfully. My ADHD, which my mother called laziness and procrastination, made it even harder. I cried in secret frustration many times because everyone else knew things instinctively, like labeling every paper with your name and the date in two neat rows at the top left corner of the page.

From when I began homeschooling at age 6 right up until the speech at my makeshift graduation ceremony, adults told me I was the cream of the crop. Homeschoolers were supposed to be stellar academics, with fantastic test scores and great grades. Those grand speeches were little comfort to me as I struggled in a biology class I was failing because I never learned about genetics.

I hid the fact that I was homeschooled for as long as possible, only letting in a few people here and there. I was overwhelmingly met with, “I couldn’t tell! You’re so…normal.” It made me feel proud and also terrified: was I playing a part again? I definitely was very far behind on pop culture, videogames and “throwback” music, and I spent a lot of time faking it until I could catch up.

But I also found real friends. One of my first close friends was a staunch atheist, and she patiently listened to me as I parroted all the Right Words You Say To Atheists per evangelical Christianity. Through her and others like her, I began to reconsider everything I knew and formulate my own ideas about what I believed.

I made many mistakes due to ignorance. I abused alcohol, lubricating my existential crisis with cheap booze to forget the realization that everything I told myself was true might actually be wrong. But as the fog lifted, I realized there was a freedom for me to be the bold, fearless woman I’d tried to hide in fear of the countless reprimands for being too forward and opinionated.

Without the restraints of the beliefs I was taught, I was afraid I wouldn’t have any kind of moral compass. From the ashes of the beliefs I’d clung to out of fear and ignorance, I was able to rise into a person I could live with, a person I actually wanted to be.

My experience has taught me a few important things: children need freedom. Children need a safe place to make mistakes. They need to be adequately prepared for life outside the bubble of home and church. Children need socialization and adequate education. They don’t just need these things, they deserve them and have a right to them.

To the homeschooled graduates heading to college: if you are struggling personally or academically unprepared, don’t be afraid to take care of your mental health and seek extra help. Be prepared to question everything you think and know. Relish it and embrace it, because the only things worth believing will withstand the test. Don’t be afraid to burn it all down and start over if you have to, because you’ll find someone to be proud of in the ashes.

Dealing with Culture Shock: Latebloomer’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

There was always an expectation in my family that I would go to college. Both of my parents had a college education and saw its value, and they didn’t cave to the general attitude at our homeschooling cult church that higher education wasn’t appropriate or necessary for girls. Even though my parents’ expectation was for me to attend an extremely fundamentalist Christian college simply to get a skill to “supplement my future husband’s income, if necessary,” that expectation was more than what many of my female peers at church had, and I’m grateful for it. And, unlike many homeschooling families in our circles, my mom also put in the necessary work to make sure I wouldn’t encounter any roadblocks on my way from homeschool high school to college–she made a very professional-looking and detailed high school transcript that included my GPA, she signed me up for the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) so that I could have a legal high school diploma, and she made sure that I took the SAT.

Still, it took me three years after graduating from homeschool high school before I began to pursue higher education. Years and years of severe isolation had not emotionally or socially prepared me to deal with the world outside my home. Years of listening to sermons about the evils of the outside world had left me terrified to leave the “shelter” of my home, even though my home life consisted of nothing more than broken family relationships and debilitating depression during those years. Years of heightened spiritual sensitivity had also paralyzed me with no sense of direction in life, waiting for a sign from God about what to do with my life, terrified of making a mistake.

With no end in sight, the darkness of those years gradually increased my sense of desperation until it was finally enough to overcome my inertia. I decided to be a moving vehicle that God could steer, and I would simply make the best decisions I could until I heard from him. I started taking a full load of classes at my local community college a few months later.

I entered my classes confident in my academic ability. Thanks to my mom’s willingness to administer yearly standardized tests and my scores from the SAT, I knew that I was an above-average student. As I expected, I performed well on tests and got great grades.  But I had other college struggles that caught me off guard. For instance, I was used to simply reading textbooks for the info I needed, so I had no idea how to take good notes in class, and my handwriting and rushed spelling looked like a child’s. In class, I’d get distracted occasionally by hearing the pronunciation of words that I had only ever seen on paper and had been saying wrong in my head for years. I sometimes had questions, but no idea about the etiquette of asking questions during the lecture.  Additionally, my teachers were surprisingly fond of group work, something that I had no experience with, and I was at a loss as to how to collaborate or give/receive feedback.

But for me, the worst thing of all was my discomfort with myself, my body, my existence. While everyone around me seemed to just plop down easily on any available floor space or chair in order to study and eat and chat, I simply couldn’t do it. I could never relax and be at ease where there was even a chance I might be seen by another person, and attempts to talk with others left me breathless and sweaty, with my heart racing.  At this time in my life, I couldn’t even eat in front of another person–not because of an eating disorder, but because of anxiety. The pressure of eating and chatting at the same time made me physically shake, because I had only really experienced eating silently together with my family, and we never had people over for meals. Because of these issues, I couldn’t handle being on campus for a second longer than necessary. For breaks between classes, I would sit in my car or drive home and come back just in time for the next class. The stress of being in public and being surrounded by people was too much.

But over time, my continued practice and effort started to have positive effects. As I went into my second semester in community college, I wasn’t constantly teetering on the edge of panic, and I started to notice positive things happening despite my social stress. People around me didn’t seem bothered by me. People sat by me in class. People smiled at me. People tried to talk to me. I started to feel a spark of human connection and see that people could be kind and decent even when they didn’t share my beliefs and even when they had no agenda and nothing to gain from it. It confused me because it didn’t fit the narrative I grew up with, but it also gave me a vague sense of hope about the life I might be able have as an adult out on my own.

Meanwhile, I was ramping up to transfer to a conservative Christian university far from home, in a place where I didn’t know a single person. It sounds like a big deal, except that I really had almost nothing that I was leaving behind–really, just one close friend that I had made several years before and that I’d been able to confide in, a person who was similarly sheltered and homeschooled. The thought of a fresh start somewhere was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I figured that the culture of the Christian university campus would feel at least a little familiar, and that having my own room on campus to hide in would be a welcome relief. I made sure to request an international roommate so that my weirdness–my odd clothing style, my poor conversational ability, and my nearly-total ignorance of my peer group’s slang, movies, music, etc.–wouldn’t be as obvious.

In the environment of gender-segregated dorms, no alcohol, no sex, no drugs, and no dancing, there wasn’t too much around me to shock me at my Christian university. Instead, it was the little things that made life challenging. One of my daily challenges was dealing with the shared dorm bathroom, where there were always at least a couple other people milling around. Even though it was set up so that there was no need for public nudity, I didn’t have any idea how to pee or shower in a shared space. I couldn’t stand around casually wrapped in a towel doing my hair and makeup and chatting with the other girls, not a chance. I couldn’t even pee while other people were listening.  This was a completely foreign experience to me and one that took me months to get used to.

For the first semester, my life on campus consisted of going to class, doing homework in my room, and hanging out in my room, which was luckily often empty since my Chinese roommate, despite having just arrived in the country, already had a life and friends. It sounds like a recipe for homesickness, but this is something that I never experienced the whole time I was in college. Instead, I was the happiest I’d ever been (really, it was just that I was less severely depressed, but at the time it felt like happiness in comparison to the previous years). Even though I had no idea about how to connect with the other girls in my dorm and was too anxious to really try, I saw that they were nice people and I felt like the future was full of possibilities.

Things started to change after a few months, thanks to a couple good dorm events that brought me out of my room. This proved to be just enough for one of the outgoing girls in the dorm to seek me out later and start to pry into my little closed-clam-shell of a life. Friendship with just one outgoing person in the dorm served as a bridge to making more connections and boosted my confidence to attend other school events. Although at first I just drifted along trying not to cause anyone any trouble by having opinions or problems, during the next few years I was able to start figuring out more about who I was, what my interests were, and where my place in the social scene of life was.

Figuring out my place in life turned out to be much more complicated than simply getting past the worst of my anxiety though. Even though I was several years older than my dormmates and classmates, I had years of catching up to do, learning about things like cliques, gossip, power dynamics, the art of self-deprecation/teasing/complimenting, and how people seem to group themselves based on life habits, clothing choices, and hobbies. It’s hard to explain, but I simultaneously felt I was decades older than my peers, and also much much younger, which meant that I either felt like I was taking someone under my wing or basking in their glory. I had no idea how to connect to someone as an equal, and I didn’t even start to learn that until I was about to graduate from college.

Looking back now at my transition from homeschool to college life over a decade ago, I feel a sense of pride in how much I grew and changed in a few short years. I finished college able to relax in class and chat comfortably with friends. I no longer hid away in my room all the time. I stretched myself. I attended dorm events. I cheered with enthusiasm at sports games. I worked out at the school gym. I went to parties. I dated. I asked out a guy. I got away with breaking the campus rules about gender segregation and alcohol. Years of pushing through my anxiety paid off, and I finished college feeling ready to tackle life and live on my own as a working adult.

Given my set of issues, I can’t imagine how I would have transitioned to adulthood any other way. The most important things I learned in college were not academic, but instead life and social skills that paved the way for me to have a satisfying life today.

Living with a Schedule: Karen Poole’s Story

Stepping onto a college campus for the first time was not a big deal for me. I was ready to leave home. Tired of the monotony, drudgery of my daily life at home, I was excited to move on to bigger and better things.

Thankfully, my parents had never encouraged me to believe the typical mantras that many of our homeschooling friends encouraged, that 1) I shouldn’t go to college and have a career, or 2) women can go to college, but their main priority should be to find a husband.

I wasn’t fazed by the dorm life. I had grown up with 8 younger siblings, after all. Crazy and hectic was the norm. I wasn’t even concerned about the fact that I had 5 roommates in a small room my freshman year. We all shared growing up. That was normal life for me.

The atmosphere of the college wasn’t an issue. My parents both happened to be alumni, so I was familiar with the campus and the overall feel of the small Christian liberal arts college. I wasn’t even really concerned about not knowing a soul. I wasn’t overt or outgoing, but I was comfortable meeting new people and developing new friendships. Our close relationship with many of our “secular” neighbor friends growing up had provided a good background for that.

The classes weren’t really that big of a deal. I actually found them to be much easier than most of my peers, and didn’t have to work extremely hard to do fairly well. I graduated with a 3.64 GPA. None of these factors bothered me that much. NO, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the schedule. As an education major with a music minor, I had about 160 credits to cram into the shortest time possible. My family didn’t have very much money, and I didn’t have access to a job that would allow me to take the sometimes 6 years that many people allow themselves to graduate with an education major. This meant that I was constantly tired, always on the run, had many credits each semester plus the music electives and performing groups to fulfill my requirements for my minor. It was insane.

I went from the doldrums and lazy days of being homeschooled, where I could set my own schedule as long as I completed my assignments in a timely manner, to sometimes 8-10 hours of classes per day. Don’t get me wrong, college is exhausting for everyone. However, not having a structured routine or going through the high school experience, I did not have a clue as to what I was getting myself into schedule-wise. I ended up sleeping through classes and feeling guilty about it, going back to my dorm if I had more than a 45 minute creak to take a 20 minute nap, falling asleep in the library, etc., etc.

The routine was so different than my entire school experience, that it was almost mental overload. I wasn’t an organized person, and certainly wasn’t used to having to micro-manage my time to accomplish everything that needed to be done. However, I soldiered through. I didn’t quit. I drank 64 oz. sodas to keep me awake to finish projects and papers. I persevered.

And although I think my homeschool background failed to prepare me for that aspect of college, another trait got me through – flexibility.

Because, even though the overall experience could have knocked me out and I could have run away with my tail between my legs sobbing because I just couldn’t do it anymore, homeschooling taught me that it’s ok to be flexible. It’s normal for things not to go exactly the way that you planned them. Constant changes in plans – Dad has business colleagues over today so we have to clean the house instead of doing school this morning, or it just snowed 6 inches and we need to go shovel our elderly neighbor’s driveway – taught me that my life will never be just the way I want it, and that I need to adjust to what it is, make the best of it, and keep on going.

“My Daughters Are Not Going Off to College”: When Homeschooled Girls Are Trapped

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on October 12, 2013 with the title “Homeschooled Adult Daughters Held Captive at Home, Prevented from Getting College Education.”


“There are too many homeschooled girls who need help overcoming the legal obstacles their parents put in their path to a college education. It also bothers me that the leaders of the Christian homeschooling movement preach that young girls shouldn’t get a ‘regular’ education – that they should only be trained in domestic arts and ‘female’ tasks.”

~ Nick Ducote, “Reflections on Malala, Patriarchy, and Homeschool Advocacy”


In an effort to “raise up a child in the way they should go,” some Christian homeschool parents are essentially kidnapping their daughters, only teaching “homemaking” skills, even denying and preventing them from getting a college education.

The father is involved in all aspects of his adult daughter’s lives until marriage.

Earlier this week, my young friend, Nicholas Ducote, co-founder of Homeschoolers Anonymous, wrote something that resonated with me.  It hit me hard because this was a path our family was heading down.  He was writing about the plight he has seen among a number of young ladies who are part of the “Homeschool Movement,” the subculture of fundamentalist Christians who adhere to the Patriarchal lifestyle in which the father is very involved in all aspects of his adult daughters’ lives, even through adulthood until they are married — married to a husband approved by the father.

Nick, a former homeschool student, has earned his Master’s degree.  He knows the challenges he faced in getting his degrees. But it struck me how Nick was clearly upset about the injustices he saw facing his female homeschool peers.

In the Homeschool Movement, this educational imbalance among the sexes is not perceived as an injustice whatsoever. In fact, to even think of sending an adult daughter “off to school,” is to some, heretical.  As recent as a month ago, a homeschool mom and friend of mine posted on Facebook that her adult daughters would not be going to college — that she and her husband “just don’t believe in that.”

It makes me wonder: did her parents make all of her decisions when she became an adult?  Probably not.

Here is a screenshot I saved from a homeschool wives group on Facebook several months ago and you can see the similar mindset:


I used to believe this way.  

In the Homeschool Movement, I was taught to believe that if we sent our daughters off to college, they would want to use that education, get a job, might even earn more money than their husbands.  This was “not right” because husbands were supposed to be the breadwinners and mothers were to be busy at home with the children.   They claimed this was all the work of feminists and the feminist influence on society was breaking up families and demeaning men.

Feminism was the cause of the moral decay in society.

I’ve been a homemaker for nearly 27 years.  I have loved staying home with the children.  It is wonderful for mom to stay home with her children.  But is it the only way?  Is it always possible?  Is it really all that black and white as “they” portray it to be?  Can we have decent families in which a mom works part-time?

Leaders in the Homeschool Movement spend an exorbitant amount of time selling their rhetoric in words and in materials (books, videos, blog articles) sharing what they believe to be the ultimate role of women as homemaker:  how to be respectful and submissive wives, how to cook, sew, how to raise children, etc.

If you are a young girl raised in this environment, your know your lot in life is:  get married to your approved husband, have many children, teach your children at home, and hopefully, your children will do the same.

It is important to note the basis of this ideology. The ultimate goal in the Homeschool Movement is to be fruitful and multiply and “take dominion” of the world.  Dominionism and Reconstructionism are foundational roots from which everything in the movement is cultivated.

Nick then discussed a young lady who has been in the spotlight lately, Malala.  If you are unfamiliar with Malala, I encourage you to read about this courageous young lady who is making her voice be heard in a country where women’s voices are squelched.

“Malala Yousafzai is a Pakistani school pupil and education activist from the town of Mingora in the Swat District of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. She is known for her activism for rights to education and for women, especially in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban had at times banned girls from attending school. (Source)

Here is a video Nick included of Malala.  The Taliban tried to assassinate this young lady because of her powerful voice and she survived and her voice is even stronger and now has international attention.   Please listen to this amazing interview.

Nick writes:

What is especially disturbing is when you hear Malala talk about how the Taliban in the Swat Valley of Pakistan wants to take education away from girls. You would hope, in the 21st century, young women would have basic access to education.

I will be loud and proud about my homeschooling advocacy because my heart is broken on a regular basis when homeschooled teenagers trapped in fundamentalism contact me trapped, struggling to assert themselves and pursue the future they want. Sometimes parents deny FAFSA signatures, or they edit their transcript if they apply to an “unapproved” school. I have talked to homeschooled girls who were literally trafficked (for sex and for labor).

Some homeschooled adult daughters fare no better than Pakistani young ladies when it comes to education.

Nick is right.  We expect this kind of thing in Pakistan, but not in the US.  Some of these young ladies who have officially graduated from their homeschool high school are not allowed to even choose whether they go to college or not. College is simply not allowed. They are destined to be a “stay-at-home-daughter,” serving parents, helping with the remaining children at home, help with cooking, cleaning around the house, etc.

In the United States of America, we have young female adults — I said adults — who are living at the home of their Christian homeschooling parents, unable to make adult decisions of where they can live, where they can go to school, who they can be friends with, where they go on the internet, etc.  They are essentially forced to follow the path of their parents.  They are cut off from the outside because their internet use, cell phone use is highly monitored.

Now some of these young ladies go along with this without any dissension. This is the only life they’ve ever known. They have been sheltered from the “world” or society.  Their friends are people from church, from homeschool groups, etc.

This is their norm.

Some may do fine with this. They will allow their parents to help select a husband for them, get married, have babies and continue living the legacy their parents planned for them.

However, there are other young ladies who want to explore life outside of the life and rule of their parents.  They want the opportunity to go to school and further their education. But they are not allowed this opportunity. They are prevented.  How can this be? In this day and age?

These parents hold the keys to their adult daughters’ freedom. They are the ones who decide whether they will turn over their signed homeschool high school transcript. They are the ones who must sign and turn over info for FAFSA documentation for financial aid. They decide whether their daughters can get a driver’s license, work outside the home, etc.

In the United States of America, there are young ladies held against their will in their parents’ homes and they are trapped.

They don’t know where to go. They don’t know how to escape. They don’t know how to get schooling. They are completely isolated.

This is happening in our country — the USA.