Trapped By Homeschooling: Chris’ Story

CC image courtesy of PixabayWokandapix.

Trigger Warning: Discussions of emotional abuse, and descriptions of suicide and suicidal ideation.

Some stories here have recounted the experiences of people who were abused by sadistic parents or brought up in a cult. My own homeschooling narrative is much less severe. There was never any physical or sexual abuse. Religion was not used as a tool to dominate me. What adversity I faced mostly involved being homeschooled for five years by my emotionally unstable mother. She had grown up in poverty and never graduated from college, yet grasped on to homeschooling as a way to join a community and gain some meaning for her isolated life.

My mother wasn’t an evil person.

She and her older sister were raised in a series of apartment complexes by their severely depressed and emotionally abusive alcoholic single mother (my scumbag grandfather had abandoned them to start a new family). Her childhood was unstable, with several new step-fathers coming and going, and one serious suicide attempt by my grandmother. It was in her teenage years that my mother began her history of suicide attempts.

Desperate to leave her broken home, she completed her GED around ages 15-16, and went on to college, where at age 17 she met my father. They married immediately after her 18th birthday. He was several years older than her and not particularly bright or emotionally mature, but he offered the opportunity to escape life with her mother.

Predictably, marriage did not solve her problems.

My parents had totally different personalities and values, and spent the majority of their 20 years of marriage repeating the same fights over and over. But no matter how bad things got, she never considered divorce because their marriage was all she had. She was an emotional dependent.

At age 21 my mother had a stroke after mixing some medication with alcohol, and developed Tourettes syndrome. Crippling anxiety consumed her soon after, isolating her further. The suicide attempts of her adolescence resumed in her mid-20s.

After nine years of marriage I was finally conceived. My mother believed parenthood would be the solution to her problems. For the first three to four years, she seemed to have enjoyed parenting. But by age five I started to become too headstrong for her to manage easily.

My parents constantly disagreed over disciplinary measures.

This led to frequent fights. My father disagreed with her strict parenting. My mother was frustrated over his lack of any real involvement or contribution to parenting beyond criticizing her. After one argument (I must have been seven or eight) she said she was done and left. She came back the next morning.

Anxiety over her Tourettes syndrome finally began to break my mother and she quit her job to start parenting full-time. My younger sister was born almost five years after me. Mom started homeschooling my sister after her fifth birthday. That same year, just starting the 4th grade, I was pulled out of the private catholic school I attended (we were poor, but my paternal grandparents were willing to pay for my tuition). One of the students had ‘stabbed’ (probably poked) another with a pencil and a few mothers,
including mine, overreacted by pulling their children out of the school.

The next five years were hell for both of us.

For the first month I wasn’t taught anything. Eventually my mother began to meet and befriend other homeschooling parents, bought several christian textbooks, and put me and my sister into a co-op.

For the majority of my homeschooling education, character building and disciplining took precedence over any actual learning. Lessons were frequently interrupted because she didn’t like a particular tone of voice I used, or because I looked exasperated.

I had developed sleep apnea as a child due to a deviated septum and recessed lower jaw (I had needed braces for an overbite, which my mother decided against getting me). As a result by age ten I began to experience sleep deprivation and social anxiety. Every morning I would wake up and begin my lessons while dealing with congestion and headaches. As you would expect, children with sleep-deficits can be very irritable, and my mother and I began to bicker constantly.

My mother wasn’t perceptive enough to recognize these underlying issues, and instead assumed my problems stemmed from seasonal allergies and personality defects like obstinance or lack of motivation.

She referred to any display of irritability as ‘attitude’ for which I received consistently ineffectual punishments (spanking, grounding, loss of privileges). Unable to deter me from what she saw as misbehavior, we often fought until lessons for the day could no longer continue and I had to be sent to my room and grounded.

One time she took away my ‘TV privileges’ for a week after I failed to comply with her demand that I suppress any ‘attitude’ during a lesson. I was still unable to hide my aggravation (meaning my face had an angry expression), and after a couple more bitter exchanges I was banned from watching any TV for a full year.

Sometimes my father tried to negotiate down whatever punishment she had decided on.

But he had never wanted children, and expected my mother to perform all child-rearing duties. At the same time he constantly disagreed with her approach to parenting. Her personality was always much stronger than his, so she usually won these arguments. Neither of them had any communication skills, and they were never able to come to any kind of mutual understanding. These were two people who never should have married, let alone had children.

At age eleven I began to experience suicidal ideation, and openly expressed my desire to kill myself. My mother brought a friend from church to pray over me, but the issue was kept quiet after that and never addressed.

Our hostilities rapidly increased during the last two years of her life.

She developed a tolerance for the antidepressants she had been taking, and became an emotional wreck as a result. We tried to avoid each other as much as possible. From this point on (ages 12-14) I was expected to assume responsibility for my own education, while she would infrequently check how far I had progressed into my mathematics workbook. To avoid having to deal with me too often, she placed me in various athletic and religious programs (including the boy scouts) which filled my schedule for most of the week. Our mutual disposition toward one another remained icy.

Near the end of her life she began to rely on humiliation as a tool to discipline me.

In one instance I was made to attend my swim practice (an instructor offered lessons at a local community center) but sit outside the pool for the duration of the class, a consequence for my having disrespected her in some way. Another time she tried to shame me for my recalcitrant attitude by involving my friend’s parents in my disciplining. As with the ban on TV, none of these punishments were ever effective and only worsened our relationship. Her failure to find an effective way to discipline me only increased her frustration.

She eventually discovered that she could exert a measure of control over me by threatening to place me into a public school. I had become incredibly shy, even compared to many of my other homeschooled peers, and she would often deride me for this. It is probably the greatest shame I hold as a homeschooler that I was terrified at the thought of being sent to a public school and having all of my shortcomings (educational, social, physical) exposed to my more secular peers. But she never attempted to carry out any of these threats.

Another serious contributor to our inability to get along was her belief in the obligation of a child to provide emotional support for her/his parents.

She expected me to be a loyal, loving son and friend. She wanted me to be generous, selfless, and religiously devout. Failing to display these qualities invited her frustration and scorn. Instead of meeting her expectations I often displayed a childish selfishness which reminded her of my grandmother.

I wasn’t surprised to learn in recent years that my mother’s emotional dependence on her children paralleled her own relationship with my grandmother. Mom was able to fulfill the role of supportive daughter to my grandmother, and she expected me to serve her in the same duty. In her eyes my inability to do so reflected my poor character.

She became more explosive and vindictive during her final months, and my father asked me if I wanted them to get a divorce.

I said yes. Unfortunately shortly thereafter my mother’s mental state reached a point where divorce was no longer an option. One day she told me she had had enough and left. She was hospitalized later that night after driving into a tree. She came back from the hospital and told me I had “one more chance”. She was often cryptic like this, and it wasn’t until after her death that I came to realize she had been threatening me with her
suicide for months before she finally succeeded in going through with it.

As was inevitable, I spoke or acted out in someway that offended her, and so she ceased speaking with me for the last few weeks of her life (she did continue educating my younger sibling during this time). One day after her 41st birthday she left the house to make her final suicide attempt, a drug overdose.

Her comatose body was eventually recovered from a distant park.

As she lay in the hospital I remember praying to God, begging him to end her life. I hated her completely. On Sunday, our pastor asked the entire congregation to pray for my mother’s recovery. The following Tuesday, she finally perished after two weeks in a coma. I had only recently turned 14.

Her control over my education finally ended after five years, during which time I had received little to no science, geography, language, or history education. What I was lucky enough to get consisted of badly taught christian math lessons from VHS tapes + worksheets and the literature I was allowed to read while confined to my room.

For several years the gaps in my education had been visible to many in the community.

Most of my other homeschooled friends and their parents had noted and even joked about my ignorance. Little was done about it, no one in the community had suggested my mother give up homeschooling. To them it was a religious vocation, primarily centered on an evangelical moral education. Since in their eyes I was a ‘good christian’ and relatively well-adjusted, my mother must have been performing her duties sufficiently. I suspect she was aware of her failings as an educator, and this likely reinforced her  resolve to commit suicide.

Because of the circumstances of her death, I received little to no support.

No one in the homeschooling community ever acknowledged the cause of her death. My mother’s family (grandmother aunt, cousins) never admitted to her flaws or the harm she did, causing a rift between us. My father’s family were all too preoccupied with their own problems to have any involvement in my life. My widowed father coped by becoming a drug addict.

Mom’s suicide spurred my rapid exit from Christianity. I was an atheist by the end of the year (this was in the mid-2000s when atheism dominated the internet). During this time I lost every friend I had. Most of the people I knew in the homeschooling community disappeared because I left fundamentalist christianity. I compulsively severed relationships with all of my closest friends due to the trauma, shame and isolation I felt over my mother’s suicide. Insecurities relating to my physical appearance, lack of social skills, and failed education also contributed to my sense of alienation. Isolating myself offered me the only sense of control I had ever felt over my own life. There was some irony to this, since my mother’s death had already basically emancipated me from any adult supervision/parenting/guidance.

Somehow I was allowed by my relatives to ‘homeschool’ myself for nearly a year before my local I.S.D. finally discovered my existence and sent someone to my house.

Eventually I was enrolled into the nearest highschool where I was able to complete my diploma. Unfortunately this was an inner-city school, and I was passed through without being adequately prepared for college. During that time I slept 14 hours a day and was too emotionally damaged to form relationships with other people or think seriously about my future.

I enrolled in a local community college with no clear idea of what I wanted to do, or even whether I wanted to go on living. By some fluke I was able to score just high enough on the SAT to avoid the need for remedial classes, despite having been too dysfunctional to do any studying.

It was in college that I discovered just how incomplete my education had been.

I was unaware of several basic rules of algebra and barely passed my math courses (I even had to drop a STEM mathematics course for one less rigorous). My science education suffered immensely as a result. A STEM major was out of the question and I realized I would need to switch to a liberal arts degree to maintain an acceptable GPA. I took summer classes and quickly completed my college degree plan, moving on to university as severely depressed agoraphobe who still had no real purpose or direction in his life.

My depression, traumatic stress, physical insecurities, and previously mentioned sleeping issues eventually became too much for me to bear. I dropped out of university and became trapped in a cycle of depression and suicide attempts for the next 5 years. I am now in my mid-20s with no degree or job.

Reading the other stories here I’ve come to realize how lucky I was.

My parents were only moderately pious by comparison to most of the other homeschooling families I grew up around. I was spared any sexual or physical abuse. Because my mother took her own life I was at least able to acquire a diploma and be freed of her psychological abuse. I have also had plenty of emotional support from my younger sibling, who has gone on to have a meaningful life. Out of guilt my father allowed me to live at home for these past few years, so homelessness was never a risk.

My mother was not mentally fit to be a competent parent, let alone homeschool her children. But thanks to the activism of predominantly wealthy, suburban parents, often organized around ultraconservative religious ideologies, the state I live in (Texas) offers zero oversight to homeschoolers.

It is exactly that oversight which could have protected parents like mine from themselves and guaranteed their children the right to an education.

Had some government mechanism existed to check my educational progress, my mother might have been deterred from taking up homeschooling. This may not have solved all of my problems, but without a doubt it would have immeasurably improved my life today.

Not a Nice Story

Image copyright 2016, Darcy.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on February 19, 2016.

From babyhood they said “You are a dirty sinner, there is nothing good in you, you are destined for hell because of your nature.”

So we, small humans, awoke to a world where toddlers need the sin and foolishness beaten out of them with switches and wooden spoons and belts.

They said “Only with Jesus are you worth anything.”

So as small children we begged Jesus to come into our hearts and make the dirty clean.

They said “Because of your sin, God cannot look at you, Jesus had to die. You killed him.”

So we mourned that we were so sinful that God couldn’t look at us without someone else standing in our place.

They said “You are human, a sinner, you cannot help it, only Jesus can make you worth anything.”

So we felt that we were worthless, that no matter how hard we try, we will never be good enough, while some kept trying anyway and some completely gave up.

They said “If you fall in love with a boy, you are committing emotional fornication.”

So we guarded our hearts lest sin defile us with merely a thought, and when our hearts betrayed us and we fell in love with a boy, we hated ourselves and knew we were worth less than before, we had lost a piece of our hearts we would never get back.

They said “Your body needs to be hidden because it is dangerous and if a man lusts after you because of your clothing or movements, it is your fault”.

So we covered our bodies from head to toe, swathed our femininity in fabric hoping no one would notice the curves, and spent years of our life worrying that we may cause a man to stumble and thus defile our own hearts and his.

They said “Boys only want one thing, so be sure you don’t do anything that makes them think they can take it from you. They can’t help it, this is how God made them, we must help them.”

So we lived in fear of men who God made pigs then placed the responsibility for their pig-ness on us.

They said “If you kiss a boy, you’re like a lolly-pop that’s been licked, a paper heart that’s been torn, you are worth less than before, and you’ve given away a part of you that you can never get back.”

So we spent our days afraid, terrified we would lose our worth and have nothing to give a future spouse.

They said “Virginity and purity give you value, don’t give that away.”

So whether virginity was taken forcefully or given lovingly, we were left worthless, used goods, and told no godly man would want us now.

They said “You cannot hear God for yourself, you must obey your authorities. They know what is best for you.”

So we submitted to things that no human being deserves to suffer, because otherwise God would be angry and not bless our lives. Submitting to unjust treatment was what Jesus did, after all.

They said “You are rebellious. Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”

So we begged God’s forgiveness for the ways we wanted something different than they wanted.

They said “You are a woman, emotional, incapable of leading, easily deceived. You must stay in your place, submit, and only then God will bless you.”

So we felt loathing for our womanhood, wondering why God would make us inferior, and feeling guilty that we dare question the Almighty’s plan, that we are not happy with his decree.

And now… we are told “Why are you depressed? Why do you have anxiety? Why the addictions, the anger, the rage, the self-loathing? Why can’t you just be happy and normal?”

As if no one can connect the dots. As if their actions did not have consequences. As if a child can be raised to hate themselves in the Name of God and suddenly grow into an adult that is healthy. As if a lifetime of emotional trauma and spiritual abuse suddenly vanishes because a person changes their mind about who they are and their place in the world.

That’s not how it works. That is only the beginning of a journey that could take the rest of our lives. A journey we are told not to speak of because it makes people uncomfortable, because they’d rather call us names like “bitter” and “unforgiving” than to look deep into the darkness of our hearts and hear tales of pain and see the rawness of souls taught to hate themselves. Because those stories aren’t nice ones. But we will not change them in order to make others comfortable.

Do not tell us to “forgive”. Forgiveness has nothing to do with it. Do not tell us to “get over it”. One does not “get over” years of trauma and brainwashing and brain-wiring from babyhood just by making a single choice. We do not choose the nightmares. We do not choose the triggers and the gut-level reactions and the panic attacks. We had 18+ years of being taught that we are worthless, that God cannot stand to look at us, that we killed Jesus, that our worth is in our virginity or how well we obey our parents, that who we are is dirty and sinful. Give us at least 18+ years to re-wire our brains and heal those festering wounds and to learn to love ourselves where before there was only self-loathing. Some wounds cannot be healed. They can only be lived with. And scars do not disappear on a whim. But they can tell our stories and make us strong.

And tell our stories we will, and get stronger for the telling. We heal a little more every time we speak out loud what was hidden and decide that we are worth loving and our stories worth the telling.

New Age Neglect: Rabbit’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, andrew and hobbes.

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

I don’t… I don’t know if I’m ready to really talk about all of what happened to me. But I feel like maybe I should say something about my experience with homeschool because it had zero to do with Christianity and I feel alone, and maybe the reason I can’t find any other secular neglect homeschooling stories is because I need to write one. So this is, in brief, my story. Maybe I will write more someday, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be okay talking about it in a language anyone but me and my husband understand.

Now, in 2016, I have discovered the following things about myself, things that I feel should be known, in order to give context to this account: I am an intersex woman with PCOS. I have EDS, a collagen mutation that causes chronic pain. I have been homeless and because of those experiences became a communist. I am a bisexual pagan witch. I am severely disordered, impacted by schizophrenia, autism, and two personality disorders (borderline and dependent) as well as extensive PTSD and anorexia, both of these latter from my childhood abuse and neglect, and the further abuse and neglect they set me up to face.

My mother neglected and emotionally abused me, as did literally every other member of my extended and immediate family, including my younger sister, who was also homeschooled for a time.

When I graduated from a very good and positive Montessori school at the age of eleven (5th grade) my mother put me in yet another private school for 6th grade and then, in the summer after, quit her job and pulled me and my sister out of school. She got a license to homeschool us (or… whatever that is, the registration that keeps the truancy officers showing up).

She bought all the sparkly accessories for homeschooling, made a few desultory efforts, and then got bored (she always got bored) and just started… ignoring our education.

She said, she always told people, that ‘oh, she’s so smart, she reads all the time. I can just leave her alone and she learns by herself!’

When I said I wanted to go to high school, she said ‘ok but you have to be in charge of that’ and then did absolutely nothing, forcing me to ask my friend, another 13yo girl, about how to enroll in her school. We were thirteen!! I had to go through this other friend of mine, on the phone, not even given the internet or anything, and print out the applications on my grandmother’s computer during Christmas.

She continued her sterling record of doing absolutely nothing, not even feeding me adequately or taking me to see a competent doctor when I was very clearly having severe medical problems (other than my orthodontia, because heaven forbid her child have crooked teeth), through the one and a half years I managed to limp along with zero parental help or support in a public (well, charter/magnet) school–the first time I’d ever been to public school.

And then, when I failed out of that school, she acted like I didn’t exist.

Again, she reasoned that she didn’t have to pay attention to me, because I could read and ‘read all the time’. She seemed to dutifully ignore the fact that what I was reading was fiction.

Anyway, later on, when I started talking about homeschooling with other people, I got very confused when they assumed I was Christian, and fundamentalist at that. I simply had never been around that kind of homeschooler–I’d only briefly been around any other homeschoolers, but the ones I’d met were all New Age. Scientologists, Pagans, etc. And all abusive in the same way, similar way to what I’ve read about from Christian survivors, but with that New Age ‘rebel’ twist that makes it hard to… well, rebel against it visibly (how are you supposed to rebel against an atheist or pagan? Go Christian??).

I still feel alone. Whenever I hear about survivors, or meet them (I live with two others–my husband and our roommate), they’re from horrific Christian cults. I feel like the only one that was from a secular or New Age philosophy or cult.

I guess this isn’t a full story so much as a call to others.

Where are my fellow secular survivors, where are they? Please speak up, please let me know I’m not alone. I’m here. You’re not alone.

I found out all of my conditions and illnesses in my adult life–most of them in the past year–and am learning more about how to live with them. My husband and I have been together for 9 years this April. I have been in recovery from anorexia for nine years. I am no longer homeless. I am able to buy items that ease the pain and lack of mobility from my EDS. I have some support cats. I am at a point where I can laugh derisively at my mother and my relatives and their abuse and neglect of me. I am recovering. There is hope.

You–and me–we’re not alone.

I love you. You can do it. We can do it together.

I Can’t Save My Siblings

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Eduardo Sánchez


HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Eleanor Skelton’s blog, The Girl Who Once Lived in a Box. It was originally published on Sept. 1st, 2015.

by Eleanor Skelton, HA editorial team


Growing up homeschooled means you get a lot more time with your siblings than other kids. As an older sibling, it also means you have much more responsibility for them.

My parents told me I didn’t need friends, I had my siblings. They also told me I was the example for them, the prototype.

This set the pattern for some unhealthy dynamics. My first counselor after moving out said my dad’s insisting our only friends being immediate family members was incredibly codependent. Libby Anne writes about being an older child instructed to spank her younger siblings.

Parents expecting more of older siblings is typical in secular culture, but not usually with the same connotations like in fundamentalist homeschooling. As the oldest in my family, I heard things like:

A good older sibling sets the example for their younger brothers and sisters. Even if you don’t think they look up to you, they do. They watch your every move, and often, they’ll try to walk in your footsteps. So it’s important that you behave in ways that set a good example for them. Just like we look to Jesus to be our example, that we look to live how he lived and behave like he behaved, our younger siblings often look to us that way, too. —Taken from Christian Teen About

Statements like this put an excessive amount of pressure on older children.

We’re not just expected to protect younger siblings from danger, we’re responsible for their eternal salvation. And fundamentalist parents often manipulate this idea to check rebellion. To squash any behavior they didn’t like.

I couldn’t get angry if Dad was controlling and demanding, because that wasn’t having a meek and quiet spirit. Suffering without complaint was more like Christ, I was told, and a better example.

If I wore a fitted sweater, I was not being an example of modesty to my sister.

When I asked to have a curfew of midnight instead of 7:30 p.m. in college, I was not demonstrating submission to authority for my siblings.

My mom often said: “What will your little brother and sister think? They are always watching you. You know what Jesus said about those who lead little children astray. It would be better for you to have a millstone tied around your neck.”

So when Dad said things that hurt, when the house felt like a cage, when I thought of running away in the middle of the night, I didn’t. Because of my siblings. I was responsible for them.

When I thought my parents punished my brother and sister unfairly, I’d try to anger them into spanking me instead.

Junior year of college, I moved out because my parents said the alternative would be transferring to Bob Jones University. I went back and forth, uncertain what my decision would mean for my brother and sister. I’d be the first to leave home.

I told my professors that I wanted to be a good example for my siblings, that I didn’t want to run away or rebel if it would hurt them, that I’d go to Bob Jones if I had to, even if it killed me.

They told me that I could be a good example by moving out, that I could show my siblings that freedom was possible.

But I worried. I knew I couldn’t live at home anymore, but I still wanted to be a good big sister. That fall, I struggled to set limits as my parents barraged me with visits and phone calls, begging me to reconsider.

A couple of classmates, both named Cynthia, asked me what was wrong after one of our Saturday writers’ group meetings.

I gave my fears a voice. I didn’t understand taking care of yourself before helping other people. Fundamentalism taught me the reverse: don’t be selfish, sacrifice everything for others. Shouldn’t I just put up with my parents’ behavior for the sake of my siblings?

One of the Cynthias looked at me and the other Cynthia. She said, “Are you familiar with New Life’s teaching about confronting lies that you’ve believed? You identify the lie, you replace it with truth, and you pray against the power of the lie. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself for your siblings. You’re free to make your own choices.”

They each laid hands on me, praying with me that I’d heal and live in freedom.

I can’t save my siblings. All I can do is be a good human.

My little sister is going to BJU, and my little brother is a serious, quiet teenage boy. I lost contact with them for two years after leaving, so I can’t just speak my truth to them openly.

All I can do is be there and listen.

Homeschooled in New Zealand: TheLemur’s Story, Part Four

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Chris Preen.

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


In this seriesPart One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


Content Warning: Depictions of emotional and physical abuse

I’ll now turn to the authoritarian parenting. I should prefix it by saying my mother was subsequently diagnosed with major depression. For a fair proportion of my teenage years she ceased any real parenting or homeschooling. I believe her unstable, neurotic personality portended the impending collapse and joined in a perfect storm with the disciplinarian approach to parenting she had internalized.

I was accustomed to a certain pattern in familial life. Every few months, mum would blow up, ostensibly raging against the accumulating liberties I had taken since the last eruption.

Anything could set her off. One memorable occasion I omitted to say ‘goodbye granny’ upon taking leave of my grandmother earlier that day (I spent ions of time being dragged around doctors waiting rooms, hospitals, and at my grandmother’s house as mum sorted out her endless problems). Mum was obsessed we signed off respectfully, lest granny kicked the bucket and the last thing we said to her wasn’t optimal. To be frank, I grew largely indifferent to my grandmother, including when she died. You can probably detect a somewhat shocking harshness in my tone, but her unintentional, primary effect on my life was negative. That night after dad arrived home from work, she did her war dance and required me role playing saying ‘goodbye granny’. Dad regarded mum, probably out of necessity given her forceful personality, the expert. So he would make a show of playing second fiddle. What most annoyed him wasn’t so much what I’d done, but the fact it had triggered another maelstrom of ‘carry on’ he had to ‘put up with’ after a long day at work.

The worst (and I believe first) of these rages occurred when I was 8. Mum had arranged for a professional photographer to come out and take milestone photos of my brother and me. At the time, I had adopted a silly objection to having my photo taken. I derived considerable satisfaction from thwarting the photographer’s efforts to get a good shot. Mum didn’t say or do anything at the time, but after she left I realized a delayed reaction set in which followed the classic development of a plot. The photography session was the exposition. Later, came rising action. She was distant and somewhat unresponsive. She went for a nature walk with us. On the phone to dad, I heard her saying I had be uncooperative. That was a warning sign. Ringing dad up instead of waiting for him to come home indicated she considered by antics are higher echelon of misdeeds. She then started reading to my brother without calling me, which was unusual – we typically were read to together. Entering the room where that was happening, I was told to leave. I was definitely getting ‘extreme weather’ warning signals. The climax came soon. She had cornered me in the lounge, and proceeded to lash herself into a rage. I can’t remember what was said, but I do remember, indelibly inked in my brain, the climax. ‘YOU CAN GO TO SCHOOL!’ she yelled, beside herself, ‘and sit in a class room all day getting told by a teaching what to do, to draw pictures of ugly Maori tongues poking out! Is that what you want? I think you do want that, because you won’t obey me!’

Bear in mind making this threat played directly on the deep seated fear she had instilled about schools through her attitude and pronouncements.

If you went to school, your life was a failure. Only a lucky few escaped the fate, and that lucky few had better be grateful for it. Manifestly, I was not. I grabbed the phone to call dad. He seemed like the last life line. ‘What do you think you’re doing? You think he’s going to help you?’ She snatched the phone back off me, pushed me out the front door, and instructed me to check myself into the local primary school a few hundred yards down the road. Instead, I hid in the bush outside my front gate. She came out in a few minutes and dragged me back inside. Things are a bit fuzzy after that. I stayed outside and tried to play in the sand pit. Mum came out to tell me how she’d talk to dad, and I would be getting a good whacking when he got home. I was somewhat relieved. The whackings were the ‘falling action’. They signalled the end of the yelling was not so far away. So, dad gets home and does the dance for mum. He’s very disappointed, I’ve rebelled against her, bend over etc. Mum was still running white hot, however and had gained a new lease of life from a new audience. She served up tea, shouting, yelling, berating. Finally, the resolution. For once in his life, dad managed to pry himself out of his lethargic resignation to her tantrums and tell her ‘that’s enough’. The whole incident is one of my most vivid memories from childhood.

Mum wielded the threat of school pretty consistently every time she went from standard mad to full orbital rotation. She often harped on about how I could never survive in school – getting to classes on time, sorting out my books and lunch and so forth. So fond of this line was she it continued on about university.

I can cast my mind back to other major blow ups. At the splinter group church I mentioned earlier, I liked to run around with my friend. It was, after all, the only time I got to play with someone my own age. Mum objected to us running around on a Sunday after church, and so was royally incensed upon discovering mud had found its way onto her home-made ‘good church pants’. She came roaring into my room, absolutely spitting mad. I was reading, propped upon the bed. She started off the discussion by smacking the pants across my face like a whip.

Another one happened after mum visited a Catholic lady whose daughter could read time on an analogue clock.

Mum just assumed I, a homeschooler, at 10 or so years of age would know that.

She twigged I could not read time that afternoon after I asked her to tell it for me. Her awe inspiring crescendo was ‘a three year old, Roman Catholic girl can tell the time, yet you can’t.’ Dad said mum got mad because if I didn’t know something like that, it reflected badly on her. ‘Well, maybe she didn’t do such a bang up job, in this case,’ I thought. Similarly, at an event where a group of children had to write down the contact details, she became angry it took me longest (I’d never had to do it before and didn’t know them).

There was the shower incident too, in which suddenly enraged about something, she came in to the bathroom while I was taking a shower, wooden kitchen spoon at the ready. She opened the door and used it against my bear thighs and calves. ‘I will have respect for your father, I will have respect for me, I will have respect for your brother, and I will have respect for the cat’ was the takeaway message this time, each phrase interspersed with a crack on the leg for my greater edification.

On the day we went into town for our music lessons and mums round, we were supposed to have completed a number of jobs before getting in the car. I didn’t, on one occasion. Mum hauls me inside for six of the best, then sends me back out to the car. What turned this rather run of the mill spanking into a particularly egregious one for me was that she decided the initial six had been insufficient. I was required to submit myself again to the same punishment.

I was 13 when the boy next door and I planned a trip into my Aunt’s horticulture farm. He was bit of an arse really, but when you were short on friends, beggars couldn’t be choosers. Under his influence, I got caught nicking some chocolate coins from the on farm shop. It was an End of the World scenario for my parents. It wasn’t that I had clearly made an error of judgment.

It was simply unthinkable I could be that unrighteous; Mum moped for days and frequently noted how lucky I was I had been allowed to stay in the house.

‘We will not hesitate to kick you out in future’, she said. At 13, she may have been on some shaky legal ground, though. There were more whackings involved here too; I think the last one (for an unrelated offence) was at 15.

My nature diary, where I was supposed to make entries and drawings every month was a constant source of conflict. I hated drawing and the long laborious neat writing. It generated more threats to send me to school than anything else, a place that would make me paint ‘ugly Maori drawings’ instead of beautiful flowers (it was one of her favourite comparison between the ‘righteous’ homeschoolers and ‘evil’ schools).

There are loads of other, lesser instances, but they still serve to illustrate a staggering ability to disregard nearly all facts of a case and solely rely on her initial reaction. I had to be perfect in front of her family in order to demonstrate what a grand success our family was in contrast to them. My aunt was having some ‘do’, and I had been eating cheese and crackers from the sideboard. I’d only had a few pieces, but they were the last ones. My dad strolled up, and my aunt flippantly remarked ‘the kids have eaten all the cheese and left none for their dad’. Mum immediately went Defcon 1, giving me the come hither finger to follow her into the deserted passage. ‘Do you see that?’ she hissed. ‘You’re being observed. And people noticed what you just did.’

The appearance of Godliness – being nicely turned out in what she considered decent, being well behaved while we waited for her and granny in doctor’s, wearing smarter clothes than my friend’s family at church – exercised her mind constantly.

I was said to be guilty of many things I thought unreasonable. I kicked a ball through a window just once in my childhood, quite by accident. Mum insisted dad whack me for it. ‘Do you want them terrified of me when I walk in the room?’ he protested. The whacking went ahead as scheduled. It was discovered I had fallen arches. Without hesitation, mum berated me because it would not have happened if I had worn runners everywhere (the cause is completely genetic). And in one of her most confounding leaps of logic, she proposed dad reading me Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books about ‘adventure’ had somehow influenced my chocolate coin robbery.

For the first few of my teenage years, I used to keep a few hundred dollars stashed in an envelope ‘just in case’.

What really highlighted to me her conduct was abnormal was dad taking my brother and I away for a weekend together. Dad’s natural parenting method, if mum wasn’t goading him, lay at the relaxed end of the spectrum. ‘Now look boys,’ he’d say, ‘I just want a nice, relaxed weekend way, so let’s not have any trouble.’ And we would have precisely that. Drama, conflict, and mistrust between authority and the objects of authority evaporated if mum was removed from the picture.

To be fair, mum has changed her ways a lot and admitted she made many mistakes, and often interacted poorly with her family. She now is attempting to embrace grace in practice as well as theory. Moreover, she did a lot of good things while we grew up. She would put on birthdays for us, bake and decorate fantastic birthday cakes, and do her very best to ensure we had the best possible educational resources. Both parents read to us extensively, and so I came to read extensively, a factor to which I credit my tertiary successes. They paid for us to have private music, and speech and drama lessons. And there were times as a family we all got on well.

The problem is, the bad can cancel out the good easier than the good the bad.

By way of analogy, a stock market can make consistent gains for a decade, then have it wiped out in a single day. Nevertheless, I don’t blame my parents. I realize the real perpetrator was close minded thinking, a system we spontaneously adopt. Our minds are attracted to certainty, however chimerical. For me, it’s enough they recognize the wrong.

You Are Their Child, But You Are NOT Their Property: Rose’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, JosephB.

HA Note: “Rose” is a pseudonym. The following was originally published as “When Generosity Becomes a Bribe” on February 27, 2015 and modified for HA.

I was having a conversation with a, yes a homeschooled-patriarchy-fundamental friend, who I normally can be pretty open with, but I know my boundaries with what I can say and not say. So anyway, we were talking about her getting a job or some kind of income, but being this typical friend, she claimed she was too busy! Bible study, other studies and can any other (ex) homeschoolers guess what else is taking up most of her time. Well if anyone said “help around the house/her parents” then you got it!

I know how manipulative parents can be (whether knowingly or unknowingly), but it doesn’t change a thing. The sub-culture I come from, the Christian homeschool-patriarchy movement, has parents at an advantage, see because they have total control of what their children know/see/hear/do, basically they have total influence over their kids, because of how closed off this sub- culture is. From the start they had the upper hand and us children had the lower ground, as Effie Trinket WOULDN’T say the “odds were NEVER in our favor” and the “odds were ever in their favor.”

What almost all the parents that I know said, including mine, was that “we have no right to complain,” “we have it so good,” “we had nothing to complain about,” “we were being rebellious,” it goes on and on and on, to no end. And since we didn’t have anything to cross reference or cross analyze any of the information our brains were being fed and because we were told that our parents were our sub-ultimate authority, they were always right, they ALWAYS knew best, basically they were God (I feared my parents more than I feared God himself) so we believed it all, every little thing they told us or in some cases what they DIDN’T tell us. And there are some other contingencies, like in some parents cases the need to have control over their children, or the need for people to work for them (as in my dad’s case).

So combine the COMPLETE innocence, being told our life was PERFECT, and the stupidity to believe it all, the control factor, and the result is you’ve got children who are too afraid to do anything outside of what their parents approve of or outside of what their parents need them to do and are too afraid to ask their parents because then they will think we are all ungrateful and rebellious, or they guilt us into thinking we should be happy where we are.

Let me tell you a little of what my experience was growing up:

First off some background. My dad has an anger issue, my mom was totally controlled by fear my entire growing up years. So consider that when I tell my story.

My family didn’t know how to communicate at all, like 0% of the time, so talking about anything of worth was out of the question every time, no matter the subject or topic, thus leaving us children (who had no knowledge or any sense of how to process or think through things, because no one was teaching us) to figure out life and some of the traumatizing things we had been through and all the stuff we didn’t understand on our own. The only talking my family did was when my dad would “preach” as we called it, it’s basically my dad just rambling on (don’t get me wrong, everything I know about politics and well basically my belief system as far as everything but religion goes I got from 20 years of listening to my dad talk) but the “preaching” my dad did only enforced the saying “children should be seen and not heard,” as well as inadvertently hindering our communication/social skills, we grew up listening, NOT talking, so of course communication with other people was extremely hindered and for some of us completely non-existent, which in turn hinders our social skills and then affects our self-esteem. If our self-esteem is impaired and we don’t feel confident with ourselves, then it affects our decisions to do stuff on our own, thus making us more dependent on our parents because we don’t know how to communicate.

Another aspect that plays a part is also a result of the non-existent communication, because we didn’t communicate, the life skills, beliefs, morals, boundaries, etc. weren’t passed down from my parents, we weren’t taught how to figure that stuff out on our own. Which leads me to my next point that plays a part.

My parents believed that part of Bill Gothard’s teachings that children are inherently evil and that they will if given the chance turn away from what you believe or whatever his teaching is. My parents TOLD us what to believe, not how to figure out what to believe, so we only knew it in our heads not our hearts, and since we were told EVERYTHING there was no need to even consider finding out what we personally believed, until someone challenges one of us on what we “believe” so we realize we don’t have the answers, just a bunch of words, that’s when we start questioning what we believe, because if we don’t have answers to questions about what we supposedly have believed for our entire life, we as human beings will start to question our beliefs.

My dad owns his own business, its more like a family business, with the rest of the family being used as “slave labor” as I like to call it. Basically, that means us kids worked for my dad for no pay, most of us didn’t want to be in the business for various reasons, but the connecting common reason was my dad, he gets angry, he has a different work ethic than what I think is right, and does things that don’t make sense to even the most experienced business person. I don’t know where it came from or how he got into doing this but my dad has this manipulative way of getting his way, getting people to do things. I’m a good example, from the time I can remember I always wanted to be a secretary, and I verbally said it, too. What I didn’t know was that I was laying the groundwork for five + years long battle with my dad about working in his business, what I didn’t know at the time was that my mom was encouraging my dad to get me more involved in the business, she helped ruin what potentially could have been a good father/daughter relationship. I’ve always had this strange connection with my dad, it has influenced a lot of my decisions regarding my dad, but most of the time its a blessing but these past years its been more of a curse than anything! I hate hurting my dad, maybe because I’m afraid he conditionally loves me and if I hurt him he won’t love me, idk. but one thing that drives me to do a lot of things is my attempt to measure up to get his approval for him to be proud of me, because I’ve never been able to get anything right with my dad, in business and in life, I’ve never chosen a career path that he agreed with that he approved of, I’ve never been able to understand what he wanted done when I did work for him, therefore never completing anything and that equals failure in my dad’s eyes.

What I’ve realized over the past couple of years is that my dad has these standards that are impossibly high and there is no way in heaven that anyone could possibly meet them (not even God).

And my dad has a specific way he wants things done, he likes them done perfect and his way, I think what I’ve heard him say before is that saying “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” Well, I think maybe my dad could have come up with that saying because he practically lives by it, which makes it hard for those of us who work/live with him because then we are never measuring up never getting it right, and for me with the connection I have with him it’s especially hard and discouraging! Because all I’ve ever wanted was to get one thing, ONE THING right with my dad! But it seems to be an impossible task because I’ve been trying for over a decade now and its only gotten me more discouragement, more self loathing, more self-condemnation, and more reason to run!

I just have one thing to say to YOU. NEVER let someone else’s opinions/views/words affect how you live your life, how you look at people, how you choose to walk that path.

And NEVER let your parents make you feel like crap when you want to do something for yourself, for your future. NEVER let them use you for their benefit while hindering your dreams. NEVER let what your parents say about your life affect your choices, your lifestyle, or your beliefs…..but….remember this is coming from a girl who has lived with controlling, manipulative, judgmental, critical parents, I know that not all parents are this way, but a lot of you homeschoolers (ed) know what I’m talking about, and those of you who are in denial, I hope that someday you accept the reality that your parents aren’t perfect, never were, never will be, that maybe they didn’t get everything right with you growing up, I hope that someday maybe you will accept (if applicable) that your parents may have screwed you over.

My parents used their generosity as a weapon, when it was brought up about us kids not getting paid to work, they would always say “you work for meals, room and board (NO I’m pretty sure that comes with being a parent, that is a requirement when you have children not something the children work for, that the children work for) stuff like that was always said when we brought up injustices or things that weren’t right. AND when parents say stuff like that about the child, like working for room and board or for food, eventually it will make the child feel like they are a burden or that maybe the parents didn’t want them, and in my family’s case (with no communication) this could be a very, very dangerous thing, something that could be deadly.

Not all are as obvious as my case, (even though at the time it wasn’t) there are more subtle ways of parents manipulating and using their kids. It goes like this, they make it (knowingly or unknowingly) so that you are the one choosing to “help out”, choosing to “work for them” willingly helping with the younger ones, willingly helping with cleaning, cooking, shopping, etc, it becomes a crutch that the parents maybe knowingly or unknowingly will use, if you still deny it then ask yourself this question: “what if I left, what would they do?”




When Love is Abuse

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Jackie.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on July 16, 2015.

Love. Love. Love. It seems to be all I hear about.

I was raised in an evangelical home. Between five and ten years ago I went through a time of incredible pain at the hands of my parents. They believed I was bound by God to obey them even as an adult, they freaked out when my beliefs began diverging from theirs, and they cracked down, hard. Their efforts to control and manipulate me can be safely termed emotional abuse. I cried so much during that time. I was still so young, and out on my own for the first time. I needed their love and support, not their rejection and their anger.

But they loved me, you see! They did what they did because they loved me. Or so they told me. And so their church friends told me. Even my boyfriend and my future in-laws told me that my parents loved me, and that they did what they did (misguided as it was) out of love. In the years since then I have watched this same scenario play out in other families, and all with the same narrative. Always there is love.

What good is love if it is not accompanied with kind actions?

I have come to feel that love is a neutral thing, not an automatic good thing as most seem to assume. It is in and of itself neither good nor bad. There is a selfish love, there is a smothering love, there is a love that seeks to control, a love that does not let go. This is not a good love, it is not a kind love, it is an abusive love. And so I find that I care less about whether someone “loves” another person than I do about how they treat them.

Loving someone does not get a person off the hook for treating them horribly—nor does it soften the treatment. Indeed, it makes it worse.

There are many women who stay in abusive relationships because their abusers tell them they love them. Physically and emotionally abusive parents in the population at large usually say they love their children. Some might say that these people do not really love, because if they did they would treat those they love with kindness and respect, but that does not change the fact that many abuse victims stay when they technically could leave. Lovebecomes a prison key.

After all, what is love? No really, what is love?

If someone had told my mother that she did not love me, back during that time of trouble between us, she would have found the idea too ridiculous to countenance. After all, what was that feeling she felt for me but love? I, too, would have rejected the idea that my mother did not feel love for me. I knew her actions were wrong, I knew that it hurt and that I only wanted out and that at some point I didn’t care if I ever saw her again (or so I told myself), but to suggest that my mother did not feel something for me—no. She clearly did, else why go through all that trouble?

At some point I came to realize that my parents did not really love me, but rather the person they imagined me to be, or the person they wanted me to be. I came to this conclusion when I realized they did not really know me. Not only that, they did not care to know me. They refused to listen, truly listen, preferring only to lecture and to deny. And if I did not know me, and did not care to know me, how could they love me? No, what they loved was a mold they created in their own minds, and then sought to press me into.

Years ago my aunt told me that when she became engaged to my uncle her father asked her three questions: Do you love him? Does he love you? Does he treat you right? Note the inclusion of the third question. If love implied good treatment, that question would not be necessary. We make a mistake when we assume that love means right treatment. This is a mistake because too many people end up in abusive relationships, held their by the belief that their partner (or mother, or what have you) loves them. And love must mean right treatment, so if there is love, all must be okay—even when it’s not.

There is little that means less to me than a parent’s statement that they love their child. Do you have any idea how much abuse parents have justified in the name of love? Love serves as a sort of get out of jail free card, as though all that matters is that you love your child, and how you treat your child is irrelevant. I’m sorry, but no. Right treatment matters. There is little I have more anger for than a parent who says they love their child while treating them like shit. What does this do to the mind of a child? Here is this person who says they love you, and yet they’re hurting you. What does that tell the child about love?

Love is overrated. Kindness isn’t.

Parenting Positively Means Much More Than Not Hitting

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Din Jimenez.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on May 11, 2015.

Yesterday as Sally climbed into the car, she knocked over a can with flowers in it, something she’d brought home from school, and in the process spilled water on the seat. Sally began to fret about the water, but I didn’t have a towel or other rag in the car. Since we were about to head home home, I suggested that she sit on the wet spot, soaking up some of the water with her dress, and that she could change when we get home. Sally responded that the water was in a corner of the seat, so she couldn’t.

By this time I’d been out with the kids to the park and elsewhere an hour and a half, and we’d already had to go back to the park because Sally left her backpack there, and I was feeling overwhelmed and annoyed. So when Sally followed her fretting about the water up by saying she couldn’t soak it up with her dress, I was just done.

Fine,” I said. “But if the car rots—”

And there I stopped myself. I’d been about to say “if the car rots, it’s your fault!” But then the entire point of such a statement would be to make Sally feel bad—to use guilt and blame to manipulate her feelings. This is the kind of thing I’m trying very hard not to do! Sally already felt bad that she had spilled the water and was already worried about the car. Why make her feel worse? Why wield her own emotions and feelings as a weapon against her? That’s really not okay.

So when I actually finished the sentence, it looked like this:

Fine. But if the car rots—we’ll deal with it.”

Sally looked relieved as she buckled her seatbelt. “That’s right mom,” she said cheerfully. “We’ll deal with it!” And somehow, just like that, the mood shifted from antagonistic to cooperative.

Giving up corporal punishment was easy. It’s giving up the rest—the myriad ways parents can be punitive and negative in their parenting—that is difficult. Not physically abusing a child is so much easier than not emotionally abusing them.

While I was at the park, before Sally left her backpack and then spilled the water, I observed an interaction between a father and son. My own son Bobby was swinging, as I gave him pushes, when a little boy of about two came up and wanted to use the swing. His father tried to call him away, telling him he should come play on the playground equipment until the swing was open. The boy stepped back and stood by the swings. His father called to him again, from about fifteen feet away, but the boy didn’t move.

“I’m waiting!” the boy explained.

I could hear the boy’s words because he was standing only a few feet away, but his father could not. Instead, all he saw was a boy who wasn’t doing what he said. The father was growing increasingly upset and agitated, and began raise his voice.

Get over here and play like I told you to!” he yelled at his son.

I winced. Who would want to go play when told to do so in such a tone?

The boy’s father did not take the time to come over to his son, get down on his level, and have a conversation with him. If he had, he would have known that the boy understood he would have to wait his turn for the swing, and simply wanted to stand by the swings and wait patiently. If the father, for whatever reason, had still wanted the boy to go play on the playground equipment, he could have explained that to him, and they could have talked about it, and the boy probably would have listened. But he didn’t do any of this. Instead, he yelled at his son in the middle of a park outing.

The thing is, on some level I understood. The father was there alone, without the backup of a parenting partner, and he had a baby under his arm. I used to go to the park on my own with Sally and Bobby when Bobby was a baby too, and it could be very trying. The boy may have spent the drive to the park fretting about something or nagging his father for something, or the father may have had short nerves for other reasons—he may have had a hard day at work, or perhaps things were tight financially.

I know how easy it is to snap, to become frustrated and angry. Raising little people is hard work, and just being an adult in and of itself can be stressful. I’ve raised my voice on occasion too. But just because something is understandable does not make it justified. As parents, we need to call ourselves to extremely high standards, because we hold our children’s hearts in our hands.

We often talk about parenting as though there are abusive parents and good parents—a dichotomy of sorts—but real life isn’t this simple. It’s a continuum. Some abusive parents are more abusive than others, and plenty of parents we wouldn’t term abusive are sometimes unkind to their children or parent in suboptimal ways. For some, this dichotomy may make it easier for bad parenting to go unchecked, because being self-critical of our own parenting can be difficult when the only parenting categories out there are “good” and “abusive.”

In our society today there’s also much more recognition of the problem of physical abuse than there is of the problem of emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can be horrific. I know people whose parents never laid a hand to them who were nevertheless horribly abused. In fact, in my experience, the effects of emotional abuse can last longer and be more severe than the effects of physical abuse. Even parents who are not emotionally abusive overall may do things on the emotional abuse checklist at some point without even realizing it. We are in serious need of awareness raising regarding emotional abuse and children.

I find it helpful to think in terms of practicing healthy relationship skills with my children. Would I have snapped at a friend if she spilled some water in my car, angrily telling her that if the car rots, it’s her fault? No. Would that father in the park have yelled at a friend of his for not coming when called, rather than walking over to him to clarify the plan? No. Sure, adults and children are at different developmental levels and different developmental needs, I get that, but I think remembering that a friend could walk away but your child can’t is incredibly important. We need to get serious about how we treat our children.

While I understood the frustration the father in the park felt—as perhaps will anyone who has been to the park with an infant and toddler—I felt strongly for his son, who was trying to communicate and in response being ignored and yelled at. In the car with Sally, I was only able to stop myself and turn the conversation around because I paused for a moment to step out of my frustration and put myself in my daughter’s shoes. As parents, we need to do that more often.

Parental frustration should be a prompt to be careful about our actions toward our children, not an excuse for bad behavior. A boss taking out his frustration at his impending divorce and the collapse of his home life on his employees may be understandable, but no one would see it as justified. I think we as a society make more allowances for bad parenting than we realize. Because of their dependence—and because they cannot simply walk away—children are incredibly vulnerable, a sort of captive audience. We should see that as a reason to be only more careful about how we treat them.

If you’re a parent, there are probably times you’ve snapped at your children when you shouldn’t have, or times you vented your own frustrations onto your children. I know I have! Some mothers, especially those raised in abusive or dysfunctional families, beat themselves up over their mistakes and wonder whether they are “bad” mothers (there’s that dichotomy again!) or worry that they are becoming their parents. Other mothers glibly point out that “no parent is perfect” and then go on their merry way without a further thought or any intent to do better in the future.

I would call for a different response, one where past mistakes lead not to dwelling on guilt but rather to resolve to do better in the future, and where mistakes aren’t glibly justified as acceptable rather than merely understandable. We may not be able to control actions we took in the past, but we can control our actions in the present. We can also apologize when needed. Our children don’t need to think we’re perfect. There’s no facade we need to uphold—they can see right through it. Being honest and real with our children is important.

Parenting in a healthy and positive way means so much more than just not hitting your child. It’s not something I could achieve immediately or automatically by giving up spanking, though I had once hoped it would be. Instead it’s something I have to keep doing, over and over, every day. It takes intent and commitment, and it sometimes means stopping myself in mid-sentence or pausing to take a step back from a situation and reset my approach. But when my daughter throws her arms around my neck and declares “I love you, mommy,” when she is unafraid to be open with me, when she is comfortable in who she is and in her relationship with me, I know that it is so, so worth it.

Story of a Homeschooler

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Tori Wright.

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laurie Works’ blog Laurie Works. It was originally published on May 25, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

I grew up a homeschooler.

The news this week has made it more salient than ever, even though it’s something I’ve been slowly processing the past couple of months. I’ve been reading a ton of posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous, as well as chatting with a blogger and real life friend who was homeschooled. The resources I’ve found have resonated so deeply with me. I’ve wanted to share now for a while, but writing out what it’s like to be a homeschooler is really not easy. Especially when you have 12 school years full of it.

That’s right. I wasn’t just –a– homeschooler. I was one of –those– homeschoolers. Schooled at home the whole way through.

People ask me all the time if I like it, and I’m close to honest. I say I liked it until high school, and then I was miserable. But the truth is I had moments of misery the whole time.

Being homeschooled especially sucks when you hate being at home.

There’s no way out.

I hated being in 2nd grade for 3 years after my youngest sister was born because my mom was “too tired” to keep us going on our schoolwork. I hated how the neighborhood kids made fun of us for it.

I hated in high school how I had no friends but my sisters. See, along with being homeschooled, our home church was 2 hours away in the small mountain town of Granby, CO. So we really had little access to friends. And then when we did, the church kids thought we were weird and tended to avoid us.

I tried my damndest to not be one of the socially awkward homeschool kids, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re restricted to an apartment all day long.

Oh yeah. We lived in a 900 sq. ft. apartment in Denver, CO. With a family of 6. 3 bedrooms. I shared a room until I was 19.

I got sick of my sisters. I got sick of us getting lumped into the same group all the time at church events. I didn’t hate them, but when you’re with someone so much, it’s hard to want to be with them more. That in itself was annoying, but I dealt. What really sucked about being at home was my dad.

What I saw growing up was not the even more extreme dysfunction I see now. I didn’t realize that his obsession with God giving us 1.7 billion dollars was actually a problem. Nope, what I was focused on in my teen years was his abuse.

My dad was verbally abusive to us from the time I was 5 years old.

I remember little of when it started, but I know it was bad enough my mom wanted to take us to her mom’s house in Nebraska. I’m not sure why she decided to stay. The abuse continued, though, and some of it echoes in my ears. My dad threatening to leave. My dad screaming “I’M THE HEAD OF THIS HOUSE!” My mom reading books on submission and slowly fading into silence.

Or the subtle abuse of his anger when we didn’t speak up during our nightly “discussions.” Though these are a typical facet of fundamentalist homeschooling (nightly “devotions”), ours were different. These discussions were reiterations of my dad’s belief that God would give us this astronomical amount of money. He would talk about the “coincidences” of the day and how they were signs pointing to God’s will for us. If we didn’t have any input or anything to share, my dad would get angry. However, if we tried to talk too much, my dad would get angry. And when I say angry, I mean yelling. Sharp remarks. Heavy sighs. Looks of annoyance. Sometimes stomping out of the room.

If we spoke, he was angry. If we were quiet, he was angry.

We couldn’t win.

It was a radically strange combination of fundamentalist teachings such as submission (my dad LOVED John Bevere and his teachings on spiritual authority) and my dad’s delusional beliefs. I have friends who say that my dad created a cult with us, his family. We were forced to buy into his belief about this money: I clearly remember my dad working very hard to convince my twin sister to “just have faith” that this money would appear. He eventually cowed her into “believing” it. If we didn’t buy in, he pleaded with us in this fashion, or got extremely angry and verbally abusive, even threatening to leave us. On top of that, we were isolated from the outside world due to the fact that we were homeschooled with a church so far away. I wasn’t allowed to go out for sports as a teenager or to get a job.

There was only 1 person that I know of outside the family that knew about this money business, and that was our trustee.

Yep, we had a trustee. And 4 empty trusts (one for each of us girls) connected to an umbrella company that my dad formed to be a funnel for “the money” when it came. You can still look it up as a Colorado business: Oversyte Investment Company, LLC. Because of the trusts my dad found us a trustee. He was the only one that heard about my dad’s ideas. I have to wonder now what he thought of the whole thing. But the trustee was young at the time, only 22-23 years old. A kid. He was probably enamored of the whole thing. My dad was good at casting a spell (read: charismatic).

What was honestly weird though was that my dad spent more time asking our trustee about his life than he ever spent asking us about ours.

My dad talked incessantly about “the family” and how important “the family” was. Yet he never really knew any of us. And “the family” really just meant that we fell into line behind him and became part of his missionary force to the rich people of the world.

I never told anyone the dollar amount of my dad’s delusions until I told my ex-husband. I was probably 19-20. After that I didn’t mention it to anyone else until I was 22, and I told my therapist. She was shocked. Her reaction woke me up. Maybe this whole thing really wasn’t normal.

The amount of secrecy I felt I had to hold really rings true to me with this crazy Josh Duggar situation.

I understand family secrets, far far too well.

I clearly remember my dad telling us, “Don’t tell anyone about this money stuff. They’ll think we are crazy.” I kept that pact for somewhere around 10-12 years. A decade.

All this amounts to one thing. I grew up in a fishbowl. A small, small fishbowl nowhere close to the ocean.

I was trapped in an environment where I was abused and ridiculed if I stepped out of line or had my own opinions.

Or, I was ignored. Either/or. I was literally stuck in a small apartment from 1997-2007 – 900 square feet for 3 teenagers and a girl under 10 years old. Mentally and emotionally stuck in a dream world of my dad’s which included weekly trips to the corporate airport, trips so frequent I can still name off dozens of types of corporate jets.

Family secrets have an incredible hold. My dad’s own sister didn’t know any of this until last year (!!) when I finally broke the silence. I’d been terrified to disclose anything to his family before; I don’t know what I was afraid of, other than finally disclosing a “secret.” But when I told her she was remorseful and regretful, saying she would have done something if she’d only known.
I’m telling this story to add it to the other voices now speaking up about homeschooling. I’m telling this story because I think it’s important.

I’m telling this story so maybe someday soon the government or SOMEONE can hold homeschool parents accountable.

Why? Because in a fishbowl, isolated from the ocean, it’s far too easy to keep things secret. Things like 1.7 billion dollar delusions. Or, in the Duggar family, molesting 5 young girls. Accountability is needed.

I’m telling this, too, because it’s time. Because holding this in for so long has hurt, and I’m ready for all of you to know. And honestly, this is just the beginning.

What About Toxic Parents?

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Michelle Hill’s blog Notes From A Homeschooler. It was originally published on April 10, 2015 and has been slightly modified for HA.

From my research and own personal experience with homeschoolers, I’ve come to realize that there’s a link between homeschooling and toxic, or over-controlling, parents. This control is all too apparent in the homeschool community, especially in conservative Christians and conservative Christian textbooks. With conservative Christians, all too often we hear about how children need to be obedient at all times to their parents. This is good for children learning how to stay safe, such as a parent telling a child not to touch a hot stove or to not cross a busy street (Galli, 2013). However, when the control starts to be too much that is when it is most harmful.

There are many negative impacts of having overly controlling parents in your life. Even throughout adulthood there still may be negative effects. Dan Neuharth, Ph.D. lists:

“Ten Signs Early Unhealthy Control May Still Affect You:

• Feel perfectionistic, driven, or rarely satisfied
• Feel intimidated or easily angered around controlling people
• Lose yourself in relationships by automatically putting others’ needs first
• Find it hard to relax, laugh, or be spontaneous
• Feel as if you are under scrutiny even when no one else is around
• Have an eating disorder or addictive behaviors
• Have trouble finding a spiritual belief that feels right
• Expect others to hurt, judge, or take advantage of you
• Have harsh “inner critics”
• Have trouble asserting yourself or feeling proud of your accomplishments” (Neuharth, 1999)

…just to name a few. A couple of other signs that you may have controlling parents or toxic parents is if you suffer from depression, anxiety, and self-harm yourself. So what if you meet many of these signs? More lists!

“Ten Signs You May Have Had Controlling Parents, when growing up, your parent:

• Over scrutinized your eating, appearance, hobbies, or social life
• Pressured you with perfectionistic expectations or unattainable standards
• Forbade you from questing or disagreeing with them
• Discouraged you from expressing anger, fear, or sadness around them
• Violated your privacy
• Intimidated, manipulated, or overpowered you
• Discouraged your efforts to experiment and think for yourself
• Gave you no say in household rules and responsibilities
• Seemed unaware of the pain they caused you or others
• Seemed unwilling to admit they were wrong” (Neuharth, 1999)

The last list that I identify most with as a child who grew up with controlling parents is Neuharth’s list:

“Ten Signs Your Parents May Still Control You: Even today as an adult, you:

• Feel disloyal when acting or feeling differently than your parents
• Feel easily annoyed or impatient with your parents without knowing why
• Feel confused by parental mixed messages
• Are afraid to express your true feeling around your parents
• Feel intimidated or belittled by your parents
• Worry more about pleasing your parents than being yourself
• Find it hard to emotionally separate from your parents
• Talk to your parents more out of obligation than choice
• Get tense when you think about being around your parents
• Want to temporarily reduce or sever contact with a parent” (Neuharth, 1999)

So maybe you identify with all of these signs and lists or just enough that you now may be thinking, “what if my parents have been controlling me all this time?” Great! Realizing that all this pain you may have might just not be your fault. No one should have to live with a toxic parent, and the best thing you can do for yourself if get some help.

I’m currently going through a journey of realizing that my mother may have been and still is today an over-controlling parent. I’ve talked with my loved ones, friends, my group therapy, and my therapist about my controlling mother and have come to realize that all these negative effects I have had may have stemmed from having such a controlling mother. But what do you do after you know that you have a controlling parent? Being emotionally enmeshed with your parent makes it hard to break free even though you know that’s what you want to do. I know that when I tell my mother I don’t want to come home for whatever reason it’s going to be met with her pushing overwhelming guilt on me and her saying how I must not love them. These are actually some of the ways a controlling parent may keep control over you, not by physical means but by emotionally pulling at your strings to get you to do what they want you to.

I don’t have the answer to everything. I certainly am no expert at homeschool families and parents. However, I do know that if you feel threatened by your parents, that it’s time to get help. Besides having a good support group of friends and a therapist, you can also research controlling and toxic parents. A book I’ve found helpful in this process is: Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Dr. Susan Forward. Some other resources can come from books and online articles.


Galli, M. “Christian Families Should Focus on Grace, Not Control”. The New York Times. Jan. 14, 2013. Web.

Neuharth, D. 1999. If You Had Controlling Parents: How to Make Peace with Your Past and Take Your Place in the World. Harper Perennial. New York, NY.

For More Information:

Website of If You Had Controlling Parents with more resources and links:

A short article to get you started: