If I Could Wave a Magic Wand: Arachne’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Arachne” is a pseudonym. Arachne blogs at Past, Present, and Future.

A new year is about to start. I am looking forward to it.

This is a new development. I spent years making suicide plans for New Years Eve. The holidays were the worst time of the year for me. That has changed. I survived. I never thought I would, but I did. The hell is over. Gone. Done. I can look forward now and I can be happy. Breathe, even. I guess all the therapy, psychiatric medications, hard decisions, tearful conversations with friends, and general struggles have finally paid off.

I started praying again.

It doesn’t hurt anymore. Of course, my idea of prayer is now very different from what I was raised with. Not so much with the trying to atone for my innumerable sins and the sins of the world. I feel like I have a relationship and connection to Divinity. I am loved and accepted.

I have plenty of anecdotes I could relate. There was the semi-cult at a super traditional Catholic church with a whole gaggle of denim jumper wearing homeschoolers. There was being the eldest child and being female in a strictly patriarchal large family. There was the father who broke the dining table chairs into pieces when he was angry. An emotionally manipulative and unstable mother overwhelmed with the life she believed God commanded her to live. The leather belt they both used. It goes on, but for me, those days are over and those people are no longer in my life. So what comes next?

I don’t know. There’s no plan. It’s terrifying.

If I could wave a magic wand and erase the past, I would.

Trust me. In a heartbeat.  I think about it over and over. What would I have been like if I’d had a decent education? If I hadn’t been abused and controlled by the people who had total power over me, where would I be? Did I ever have a chance at being “normal”? What the fuck is normal? I will never know. At some point, I have to step away and live my life now while accepting who I am and how I was shaped.

There’s only so much I can leave behind, and I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I doubt I ever truly will. I can’t forget my entire childhood. My body is covered in scars from my struggles with self-injury. Depression and anxiety will likely stick with me, even though they are managed now. Catholic guilt fades but doesn’t seem to ever quite go away. There will be many more times when I break down and cry over the past.

All I can do now is figure out how to work with what I have now, and when I take inventory it feels incredible.

I have two wonderful kids who are being raised totally different from how I was, wonderful people in my life, a brain that has some quirky wiring but that still works pretty well, physical health, a spiritual path that has taken me places I never dreamed of going, and so much more.

I have strength. I have freedom.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

This One’s For The Homeschool Moms: Mercy’s Story

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

Homeschool Moms (Present, Past, and Future), this post is for you.

"Be strong and call it like it is."
“Be strong and call it like it is.”

I’ve thought a lot about how conservative, Christian (in my case, not fundamentalist) homeschooling has shaped my life, but it wasn’t until last year that I took the time to think about how it impacted my mother. My sister had just called home to tell me that her and her husband of a short time were divorcing. I broke the news to my mom before my sister did, to soften the blow a little bit. My mom’s face went grey and she said, “How could this happen to your sister? I did everything right.” There was little consoling her, she thought that she had failed as a parent.

Why would the divorce of a child who married at a young age, in a country with a high divorce rate come as such a shock to a parent? Because the homeschool movement told my mom that they had given her the magic formula to make her children’s lives perfect. They give her a list, and promised her that if she followed the rules that her children would be perfect, Godly, and never experience life’s pain. How could that not be a tempting promise to any parent who cares about their children?

Homeschool moms, I want to tell you that promise is false, and that believing it is going to hurt you. Your child is a sovereign individual, and no matter how carefully and lovingly you arrange every part of their upbringing, education, and socialization, you cannot control their future. You can’t control it because you don’t have total control over your child or other people. If you’re stressing yourself out, afraid you’re doing it wrong, and a constant bundle of nerves, I want you to take a moment and think about whether or not you have set unrealistic expectations for yourself as a parent, and your child as a child. You probably have, and I want to tell you to give yourself a break.

Also, a lot of you have commented on these posts explaining that you’re different from the “crazy” homeschool moms, and I do believe you, but chances are if you’re Christian and homeschooling, you and your kids will be interacting with fundamentalists and you may be gradually sucked into parts or the whole of their ideology over time. These are some warning signs that could cause you to be more susceptible or signal that you’re already being sucked in:

1. You have deep regrets about your past. Perhaps you were raised non-religious like my mother, and then converted later in life, causing you to view your earlier years as sin-filled and in need of atonement. Maybe you were raised in a religious home and just think that you made some stupid, sinful decisions. Either way, if you are feeling guilt about your past, and like you need to make up for it, I want to tell you that homeschooling perfectly isn’t the solution. Don’t let people lead you into thinking that this is your path to forgiveness and the way to prove that you have become good. Additionally, many homeschool conventions, talks, gatherings will involve long lectures and speeches about the evils that your kids are supposed to avoid and that are taking over America (divorce, abortion, pre-martial sex, drinking, drugs, etc…). If these are things in your past, that you have regrets about, I want you to step out of those talks and lectures and stop punishing yourself. By sitting through those demonizing speeches you are tearing yourself down emotionally. You’re forgiven, now move on.

2. You find yourself becoming increasingly judgmental of other’s “walk with God” and parenting choices. Perhaps you were always fairly even keel, easy to get along with, not too judgmental, etc… and then lately you’ve noticed just how few people seem to truly be Christians, and how other parents are not really raising their kids to be Godly enough. Stop right there. You are treading into dangerous water. I remember there was a stage in my mother’s homeschooling where she felt that she was dressing more modestly, using more Christian curriculum, and going to a Godlier church than most other people. My dad sat her down one day and said, “Do you remember where you came from? You look at everyone and judge them, like you’ve forgotten that you’re human, too.” Was my dad harsh? Yes, but it opened up my mom’s eyes to the fact that she, a woman who had always been a fair-minded free spirit, was becoming fundamentalist. My mom dumped her jumpers and added a good dose of charity and compassion to her assessment of other’s (including her children), and her assessment of herself.

3. You find other homeschool moms criticizing you and your children, as “sisters in Christ.” It feels like they’re just being mean, but everyone says that they’re being Godly… True story, they’re probably just being mean. If you are a more relaxed, liberal homeschooler, and you are involved in homeschool activities where you are around fundamentalist homeschoolers, they will judge you and your children. Other homeschool moms were constantly telling my mother about my “slutty” dressing and “immoral” ways. They sought to demonize me, punish me, and slander me because I was not a cookie-cutter Christian homeschooler. My mother always defended me, but what makes me sad is that she never defended herself. I noticed that the longer we were involved in certain homeschool activities populated by more fundamentalist homeschoolers, the more fragile my mom was becoming. She went from outgoing and smiley, to frighteningly quiet, she stopped telling jokes, she got sick almost every time we went to a homeschool gathering, and her head started shaking. It was like all of her bottled up anxiety and hurt couldn’t be kept in, so a barely perceptible shake would start as soon as we pulled up to a homeschooling event. I found out why my mother was acting this way my senior year of high school: other home school parents were bullying her. I overheard them openly confront her about how prideful, how unloving, how assertive, how terrible, and how unchristian she was. My mom never stood up for herself. To any mom who is being treated this way, and is afraid to stand up to it because you either think that a). you deserve this, or b). what’s being done is Godly I want you to be strong and call it like it is. Some homeschool moms are bitches. If they treat you and your kid terribly, tell them that it’s not Godly. It’s rude, and get out of there.

4. You’re told that the answer to parenting/homeschooling is ________________. There is no perfect way to parent. If you’ve come across a group, speaker, pastor, or curriculum that promises that they have the one and only way to good parenting and God then you know you’ve run into a nut job. They may have great success stories, and a bevy of perfectly mannered children at their beck and call to demonstrate their effectiveness, but you shouldn’t fall for it. There is not one way.

5. You feel like other homeschool families are always so much more perfect. You see these glowing, wholesome families who encourage you to homeschool and sell you curriculum, and then when you start homeschooling your kids don’t magically change. They don’t want to do their school, they fight with each other, they back talk, they may even turn into teenagers. And, you get frustrated, mad, tired, and say mean things. You might look at these other families and ask, “What am I missing?” What you’re missing is the whole picture. No family is perfect, nor are their children. Even the most well-mannered exemplars of homeschooling virtues have kids that misbehave and days where they feel frustrated, too. As you can see from this blog, a lot of these kids that may seem so much more virtuous than yours are actually deeply hurting and will eventually turn their parent’s perfect world upside down. So, be patient with yourself and your children, and don’t let other family’s public veneer make you feel like a bad parent.

And, please, please don’t feel like if you try homeschooling, and hate it, that you’re bad and must work through it. If you really hate it, are unhappy, and struggling, then maybe homeschooling isn’t for you and that is just fine. Keep your options flexible and your mind open. You don’t have to homeschool to have happy, well-educated, respectful kids. Look out for them, and look out for yourself. Don’t let other people force you into any lifestyle or belief system that you feel uncomfortable with, and if you feel as though that might be happening, be strong and get out now.

Homeschool Movement and Abuse, An Introduction

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on October 4, 2012.

The lawsuit from my former abusive church has come and gone and I have been doing some deep thinking — trying to figure out what brought us to that particular church — what made that church appealing to us? I had to acknowledge that this church, like other prior churches, was strongly pro-homeschooling. In fact, if you didn’t homeschool, you may not feel very comfortable there. So, it made me go back further, all the way back to the very beginning — before we started homeschooling and were investigating. What I have discovered is alarming:  patriarchal teachings that are often times abusive, parenting styles that are often abusive, and ideas completely outside of mainstream Christianity are going on in the homeschool movement.

My husband and I have been married 27 years and have 7 children from 25 yrs down to our 6-yr old “caboose”.  We have always homeschooled.  We have always believed that this was the best choice for our family.  We have been to many churches due to my husband’s military service and job changes.  Many people have influenced us in our homeschooling, parenting, marriage, and our Christian life journey and right now, I am angry.   I am angry about what I have discovered looking over our marriage, looking at our parenting styles over the years, looking at decisions we have made, looking at people who influenced us — people we trusted to be godly, like-minded and who wanted the best for their children and families.

If you have not been connected with the homeschool movement and click on some of these links, you might say:  ”Um, yea, you drank the Kool-Aid long ago.”  If you’ve been in the homeschool movement, you will probably be nodding along and can reminisce with me. I will take you on a wild journey going back through what I have experienced or seen in the past couple decades as a homeschooling mom.  Here is a sampling, and not in any order, of the kinds of influences, beliefs, philosophies, practices we dealt with or were familiar with among the homeschooling movement over the years:

Why did we have so many children?  How do you know when your quiver is full?  Would we have had this many children if we hadn’t listened to specific teachings?  Who invented the jumper dress?  Why did I sometimes feel guilty if I didn’t wear my denim jumper?  I no longer own a denim jumper.  Who decided Gregg Harris or Michael Farris were the spokesmen for homeschoolers?  Why did so many homeschoolers flock to the articles and books of Mary Pride?

Is it okay to refrain from sex to not get pregnant or is that saying “no” to God’s blessings of children?  Did it really mean one isn’t trusting God if taking measures to prevent pregnancy after cycles returned 6 weeks postpartum (and round-the-clock nursing)?  How many blessings of babies did I prevent by taking matters in my own hands?  Is God mad at me for my “interference” of “His plan”?

What about all of those families who stop having babies after only 4 children or 2 children — are they disobeying God?  Why don’t they want God’s blessings?  Who is targeting the homeschooling community to convince them to pop out babies to overpopulate the world with Christians babies?  Why does this same dude bombard our mailboxes right before Christmas to encourage us to buy Christmas toys (gender specific boy toys for boy and girly girl toys for girls) when their family does not celebrate this “pagan” holiday?

How did I get to the point where I believed that I may be treading dangerously if I was not a member of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Who would protect me if someone from school district came to my door and wanted to find out why my children weren’t attending the evil government school down the block?  How many homeschool families printed out instructions on what to say to government officials  if “they” came unannounced to our door to interrogate?  How many of us had HSLDA phone numbers in a prominent place — just in case? Where did all of this fear come from?

Why was I corrected when I said “public” school instead of their preferred “government” school?  Is there an agenda going on? Who is feeding all of this? Who decided that boys should be owning their own home businesses to support their families?  Who decided that all colleges were bad until Patrick Henry College was founded by popular homeschool leaders in the “movement” and then all of a sudden it became “okay” and even “good” to send our kids away to college?

How did the homeschool movement influence my views as far as who I voted for or how involved I was in politics? How did they convince me that I was eating improperly and I needed to grind my own wheat and make my own bread?  How did the homeschool community have the inside scoop before my traditional-schooled friends from church when it was going to become the end-of-life-as-we knew-it during the Y2K scare?  Who brought that hype to the homeschool community?  Would you like to ask me how many homeschoolers I personally know who are still going through their stockpiles of grains? Seriously!

When did I get to the point where I looked down at my friends who were Christians and either sent their children to public or private schools when “they should” be teaching their own?  How did all of this happen?  Why do so many homeschoolers balk at immunizations? Why are some homeschoolers so proud?  Homeschooled kids were the smartest because they always won the National Spelling Bees, right? Who decided that homeschoolers should be involved with speech and debate? Why are so many families going to their state capitals and involving themselves in politics — because they were going to be the movers and shakers of world in the political arenas?  And why is my husband responsible for my faith and the faith of our children? And why do we have to go through him on spiritual matters?  Does God not speak directly to homeschool kids and wives?

Who told me about modesty and how I should be dressing and how my daughters should be dressing?  What does modesty have to do with homeschooling?  Why do all homeschool boys look alike with similar short haircuts?   Who convinced me that my children could never “date”, but must only “court” and that my husband gets to choose our children’s future spouses?  How did, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” become such a popular book?  Who named the government as “evil” for wanting to know how our children are educated?  Why do homeschoolers assume the worst when they file their “notice to intent” with their local school district?

Why do they assume that the school district secretary doesn’t want to deal with homeschoolers and will instigate more trouble by wanting more information than required by law?  Who made up this purity ring ceremony — and that our teen daughters should wear their purity rings symbolizing their virginity until they replace it with their wedding ring?  Who started this thing where daughters shave their fathers’ beards? Below you will see an invitation to a Father Daughter Tea from Vision Forum. Fast forward to 1:37 to see daughters shaving their fathers. Um, really?

Who decided that boys should have their homes paid for before they get married?   And why are organized sports so wrong?    When did Young Earth creation become a primary issue to be a Christian and that if you didn’t believe it, you might not be Christian?   Why are scientists looked at as if suspect?  Psychology is of the devil.  What’s with all of those pictures of large families with matching clothes on the covers of homeschooling magazines?  Are my children supposed to be wearing matching clothes?  Who decided that was the right way to dress kids?  Who decided that women should only wear dresses?

And what about those who show up at conventions with head coverings — are we bad women if we don’t have them?   Who decided that family-integrated churches were better than traditional churches for our family?  Why is it that homeschoolers brag about their children being able to interact and socialize well, yet you can “pick them out” a mile away because they look and act so “different”?   Who has been instigating the us-vs-them mentality regarding so many of these topics?  Who decided that the only job that we should be teaching our daughters is to be “keepers of the home” and serving their fathers and then serving their future husbands?

Who decided a 1/4-inch plumber’s line was an appropriate tool for spanking?  Who taught us that if we had to repeat a command twice to our children, our children were being disobedient:  First-Time Obedience.   How did we let this group convince us that all infants should be able to go 4 hours between feedings.  What single man decided that fathers were an umbrella of authority over the family below God?  What same man also encouraged men and women to get vasectomies and tubal ligations reversed to allow God to control the size of their families and then paraded post-reversal children in front of the auditorium at conventions?

This is quite a diversion from spiritual abuse in the church, but I need to go there.  I now believe the homeschooling movement made our spiritually abusive church seem appealing to us.  Some of the above is just plain quirky, but other issues go much deeper affecting core spiritual beliefs and agendas.

My daughter, Hannah, is 25 yrs old and she was only homeschooled.  The first traditional school she attended was community college and last spring she became a college graduate. Her peers were from an early generation of the growing homeschool movement. More and more blogs are being published by young adults like my daughter who are “coming out” and sharing their homeschool experiences.  The stories are not pretty.    My daughter has shared some of her story.  And you can read the story I wrote about Hannah’s experience here.  In that story, you can get an idea of the controlling environment in which she lived and how she had to escape – it remains one of the most popular blog posts.

What she experienced at home has probably gone on in many homes.  I bear much responsibility for it.  I went along with it.  I have apologized to my daughter many times for it.   The abusive church we found also aligned with these philosophies of heavy-handed control of children, even adult children.  Hannah was 21 when she moved out.  She was not a child, yet we thought we owned her.

I assumed (yeah, I know about that word), that when we got into homeschooling that it was a safe community — a community where children’s best interest was at heart.  We wanted to have the primary influence in the education of our children.  That’s good, right?

But I have discovered that there is an underlying agenda in the homeschooling community that has been there all along — even years before I started — and it continues to this day. I believe that some of this underlying current — taken to an extreme — could be responsible for breaking up families, causing abuse, wreaking havoc on people’s spiritual life.

I firmly believe that God used the lawsuit in a powerful way to highlight the issue of spiritual abuse in the church.  He was there during the entire time providing amazing support for me.  My life is rich having gone through it.  But now I’m wondering if God is using another experience of my life to share here.

While I have spent countless hours writing blog posts about spiritual abuse in the church, I think there is a setup for spiritual abuse that originates in the homeschool movement. In our abusive church, we felt a “kindred spirit” (and all the homeschool moms just laughed at me with that phrase) in the church because of with like-minded teachings and beliefs. Some of these ideas need to be explored further.

I think it’s important to hear from these young adults who have lived it and are now trying to put the pieces together of their childhood together as they begin their families.