What Fundamentalism Taught Me About Being a Good Mom: Evie’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

After becoming a new mom, I have been realizing how many bad mom- good mom rules have been thoroughly ingrained into my being because of my fundamentalist upbringing – whether intentionally or unintentionally. While some of these are complete foolishness, I can see the love but misunderstanding that many of these started with.

Yes, I have taken many of them to the extreme to emphasize my point- but I feel like many of the beliefs were extreme, and although very few people actually stated them verbatim the undercurrent of the messages was definitely present. This realization led me to compile the list below.

I’d love to hear what others remember and realized.

GOOD MOM

Looked good/attractive – did not cause her husband to have an affair/use porn
• Always responsive and available for her husband
• Soft, submissive, gentle
• Cooked from scratch as close to nature as possible (i.e. garden, grind wheat for bread)
• Kept house clean
• Dutifully taught kids’ school. If she didn’t know the subject she was teaching, spent her time reading ahead to learn it.
Only needed college education so that she could teach her children better – [and, really, is that a good investment of money?]
• Didn’t spend money on herself or her family [all the way down to groceries] so that she didn’t stress her husband – the sole breadwinner.
• Didn’t cost anything and, instead, found a way to make money while staying at home.
• Got up early and went to bed late to take care of her family.
• Quietly agreed with everything
• Never missed church
Only had one emotion – joy
• Just a tiny bit less intelligent than her husband and never “rubbed it in” [accidentally let it slip that she might know something]
• Did not run for any leadership position – unless it was only females
Was careful to phrase everything she said so that she didn’t accidentally teach a man anything

BAD MOM

• Made her children eat “unhealthy” [not home cooked] because she was lazy.
• Let her body go
• Looked overly feminine
Sent her children to organizations where they would be abused or indoctrinated (i.e. daycare, regular church)
• Did not properly protect her children and let them get abused
• Allowed their daughters to get raped
• Spent money on “expensive” [new/ good quality] clothes.
Was too busy to take “care” [always be in the physical presence] of her children
• Had a dirty house
• Was confident and competent in the workplace
• Worked for any other reason other than her husband left her or died [in which case she would be pitied]
• Had an opinion on anything other than the appropriate church doctrine
• Disagreed
Had personal boundaries
• Became exhausted (because she wasn’t trusting God” – who will give you the strength you need to do what He [aka the men and/or church] needed you to do)
Struggled with depression or mental illness
• Was smarter in anything than her husband
• Sought intelligence (although this was ok as long as she didn’t learn more about anything than husband because this would be prideful)

Why I Chose to Walk Away: Elle Christopherson’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

My mother was the model Christian home educator. She self-reported to the local school board when she wasn’t required to do so. She had me tested every few years for her own peace of mind. She kept journals and records and piles of my work and even paid for a distance-learning program in high school to ensure official transcripts for college. My mother led creative workshops in our co-op, and enrolled me in an animal dissection class taught by a certified biology teacher. She enjoyed teaching, from her own childhood play to leading Sunday school today, she has always loved to teach. Mom was in so many ways the ideal Christian home school parent. We were the envy of the church and even my friends. So why don’t I speak with her today? Why so deep a rift between me and the woman who passionately raised me?

This is the story of my lightbulb moment.

‘Biblically based.’ The core tenet guiding every moment of my life in school and out. My mother converted from Catholicism to Pentecostalism when I was three years old. Unable to afford our church’s private school, mom took inspiration from a visiting missionary couple and began to home school me when I entered Kindergarten.

She had good reason to avoid our local school system, which today is even further financially drained and failing, but so much more than simply avoiding a poor school, she hoped I would embrace God’s word and its relevance to our lives.

I was four the first time I prayed the sinner’s prayer. For months following, at bedtime I silently repeated, “Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus, please be in my heart. Jesus…” until sleep came. I was terrified that He might not know that I really meant it, that if I didn’t wake up I might go to hell and be separated from my Mommy forever.

Mom chose books through Abeka and Hewitt-Moore catalogs.

In history, I learned how the events of the Pentateuch played out into the formation of the societies we have today (Gen 10:32). I learned from science textbooks that ‘the circle of the earth’ (Is 40:22) indicated knowledge of our spherical world well before this discovery, proof of the Bible’s scientific accuracy and divine origins (2 Tim 3:16). In my health book I learned of the US’ abysmal rape statistics, but was encouraged to follow the Bible’s guidelines on modesty (1 Tim 2:9) and trusting God for a mate rather than dating (Ruth 3:10) to prevent unwanted attention. I attended church an average of 4 days a week (Heb 10:25), volunteering in nursery (Prov 22:6) and with the worship team (Col 3:16), church cleaning (1 Pet 4:10) and eventually leading Sunday School (1 Tim 2:2). At fifteen I chose to become my mother’s apprentice (Titus 2:3-5), and took charge of my youngest brother’s schoolwork until I married and moved out. As training for womanhood, I did the majority of housework at that time, and cooked all meals three to four days a week (Prov 31:13-19). We read the Bible together every morning, and individually (Joshua 1:8). I read it cover-to-cover four times and came to the conclusion that I should never wear pants (Deut 22:5).

The first real fight I had with my mother was over a woman’s right to preach in church. I had become convinced that the Bible indicated it was never okay (1 Tim 2:12, 1 Cor 14:34); she insisted God made exceptions like Deborah (Judg 4:4-5) especially in gifts of prophecy (Joel 2:28). At that time she told me that she was eager for my wedding, because she didn’t want me to ‘corrupt’ her children with my ideas (Rom 16:17). This hurt me deeply, because so long as the gospel was being preached, that’s all that mattered to me (Phil 1:18).

I was fearful, lonely, and unhappy, with no real understanding of why.

As far as I could tell, I was doing most things right, and repenting of the rest. This was supposed to bring me fulfillment and happiness unknown to the world! (Gal 5:22-23) But then, my mother always told me the world can ‘enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ (Heb 11:25) That must be why relatives appeared so carefree! Some of my viewpoints changed over time — I stopped wearing dresses (Gal 3) — but I always prayerfully came to these conclusions through scripture… or so I thought. Then I began to research infant circumcision.

The New Testament makes abundantly clear that circumcision is no longer requirement for a relationship with God (Rom 4), and in fact is even insulting to the cross (Gal 5:2). I easily decided it was wrong for a Christian to choose this. I was told that it was ‘cleaner,’ that modern science has shown this as wisdom God gave to the Israelites, and this is why Christians still follow the practice in spite of Biblical admonitions to the contrary. I looked into the science and discovered that it is hardly proven, this notion that amputation of genital tissue is necessary and beneficial for all mankind. That this practice was introduced among Americans only in recent history out of a desire to reduce ‘sinful’ masturbation in children. That over seventy percent of the world’s men have their parts intact, and modification is most common among highly religious people and nations — not the most scientifically advanced. Still, they asserted that the world was missing God’s will. I argued that if anything, science supports the New Testament’s position that it is no longer necessary.

As I delved deeper into the history of genital alteration, I learned of intersex individuals. I had never heard of this before, except in a passing joke. If it was possible to be born with both male and female parts, how was this ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Ps 139:14) individual to find a partner and not be forced to commit the ‘abomination’ of homosexuality (Lev 20:13)? What if it were possible that those with same-sex attraction actually were born with that preference in their biology, since it’s possible to be born with a combination of sexual parts? I began to read more. Maimonides stated that circumcision was intended to curb the adult sexual inclinations of both males and females. Brit B’peh actually gives diseases to children.

The more I read, the more disgusted I became, and the more I found discrepancies between basic human decency and the Bible itself.

We fought for pro-life legislation because of verses that spoke of the value of human life, citing scriptures like Psalm 127:3. It certainly didn’t matter that the babies had unbelieving parents. Yet in just as many verses there are stories of God backing and causing infanticide and forced abortion among the disobedient (1 Sam 15:3, Hosea 13:16 for starters). We abhorred slavery of all kinds, and our Abeka history texts glorified the good Christians who brought slavery to an end in America. Yet there is not even one verse in the entire good book that condemns slavery. No, but there are New Testament admonitions for slaves to obey their masters (Col 3:22). How can one live ‘Biblically’ with a good conscience? By cherry-picking, apparently.

We lived by the verses we liked, explained away the ones we didn’t.

Everything began to crumble.

So it was that simple concern for baby humans which opened my eyes to the extent to which our textbooks (and churches) selectively chose Bible quotations alongside manipulated scientific and historical data to ‘prove’ conservative Christian theory, thus instilling their ‘Biblical Worldview.’ My mother was correctly led to believe that lifelong indoctrination would make departure from the faith extremely difficult. All my siblings still believe what they were taught, to varying degrees of fervor. It was only after marriage and caring for my own firstborn that I finally realized how little love is shown to all mankind’s sons and daughters in the Bible. The claim that God loves us all is constantly challenged within that same ‘good’ book.

I’m still unpacking all the pseudoscientific claims I relied upon as proof of the Bible’s validity.

All my life I heard pastors and home school mothers debating how and why adult children fall away from the faith when the Bible clearly says, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ (Prov 22:6) Now I understand why those fell away, why I have chosen to walk away: the Bible tells me so.

‘And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.’ Mark 9:42

An Isolated Victim In A Red Dress: Alyssa’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

Alyssa Murphy blogs at Hurricane Girl Strikes Again.

In hindsight, the problem was timing.

By autumn 2008, my life was in freefall. A year previously, my family had switched from a homeschool co-op we’d been in for six years and liked to a closer one because my mother wasn’t allowed to drive at that point courtesy of a needlessly paranoid and perfectionistic neurologist. The new co-op was decidedly more conservative and populated by, for the most part, people I’d known since I was a little bug and never gotten on with.

Still not that scary compared to some of the stories I’ve seen since then, but there were a few new rules, the main one being that I was not allowed to discuss what I was reading with anyone.

Ever. Under any circumstances known to humankind.

I’d taught myself to read when I was three. For most of my childhood this was the established reason that myself and my two younger siblings were homeschooled – because gifted programs are nonexistent in southeast Indiana, and my parents, both of whom have advanced degrees in the sciences, thought they could do better. And, for the most part, this arrangement worked. I was more interested in books than people, and I’m sure most of the people we interacted with when I was smaller thought I was a little odd, but I was at least harmless. I liked history books and other things that even the worst of the homeschool mothers couldn’t have too many kittens about, and I was quiet. Odd, but harmless.

This changed when I was ten or eleven and stumbled across the wonderful world of the teen section at the library. My tastes leaned decidedly towards sci-fi and fantasy, but I picked up a particular “realistic” book that had a vague sex scene early on and my mother flipped out. Instead of her usual passive-aggressive way of dealing with anything that might ruin her public image, she drew the line.

Anything I brought home from the library had to be approved by her, and she had a gift for finding the worst scene in anything that looked interesting and making me feel like it was my fault for accidentally picking that stuff up.

This went on for a few years and made absolutely no one happy, but it eased her victim complex so we continued.

Then autumn 2007 happened. As mentioned above, we switched co-ops. And in a fantastic bit of bad timing, that was the exact same time my mother finally decided that I read too fast for her to keep up with. (I had a lot of free time on my hands, no social activities or friends, and one of the libraries we went to didn’t have a limit on how many books you could check out. It was an absolutely perfect storm.) So, suddenly stuck in an environment I already didn’t belong in, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted… so long as I didn’t tell anyone at co-op about it, because my mother’s public image would suffer if I did.

Unfortunately for me – and by extension everyone who had to deal with me during that era – this all happened at the same time that YA dystopias were just beginning to become a trendy thing. The teen section at the main library we went to (which did have an item limit, but we went weekly and I read fast) was a wonderland for a lost girl in need of reassurance that she was not alone, and I stumbled across several of the early trilogies of that genre and found a certain resonance.

I also had the luck of finding one of those “if you liked this, read that” lists for that subcategory. Because this was just slightly before publishers realized they could make a lot of money off of stories of teenage girls in very bad situations, a lot of the books on the list were older both in publication date and age of characters. As desperate as I was for relatable role models, I was interested enough to not care, and I read the classics. Orwell’s 1984 was good but not quite my interest level. I read Huxley’s Brave New World a little later in this project and to this day am unsure why that one is considered a classic. And then I found it, the holy grail of post-apocs and realistic nightmare fuel – Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

I read somewhere a few years later that the true test of whether a dystopian novel is good is how much it scares you. In general, I’m not scared of much, and there’s very little in fiction that can bother me.

The Handmaid’s Tale bothered me because the future it describes – one of religious totalitarianism and the full repression of women – sounded an awful lot like the world most of the people I knew wanted to live in.

I wasn’t a particularly rebellious kid. I knew how to follow the rules of the world I existed, or at least say the right things to not get attention. But I didn’t belong there. Maybe I never did, I don’t know, but it took the right “outside” book at the right time to make me wake up.

That world is still my worst nightmare (or at least an even tie with being buried alive), but I knew too many people who would’ve wanted it or something like it, and seven years later, I’m still feeling the aftershocks.

I guess that’s when I started fighting back – because I was one of the lucky ones. I woke up early. I did not want to exist in that hell.

I still have a voice, and I don’t want to be an isolated victim in a red dress.

Warning Fairy Lights: Irina’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

There never was just one “aha” moment for me as a homeschooler. Maybe it had to do with how deep and how isolated my parents had us. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was keeping my head down. Maybe it had to do with the fact I was looking for any way out that I’d just tuned out so much. Perhaps.

As a homeschooler, my parents used very conservative materials to school me for six grades.

The first light bulb moment I had was when I was not yet a homeschooler. Teachings from various conservative Christian authors were shared with my parents. Of course, I was very familiar with “Jack Chick”, and many of those “Chick Tracts” were substitutes for comic books when visiting my mom’s parents. We were introduced to teachings by authors such as William Schnoebelen and Caryl Matrisciana, and my mom started to read Frank Perretti novels. You can imagine what followed.

Two years prior to homeschooling, my parents outlawed Easter and Halloween.

We modified Christmas greatly. We did gifts on Christmas Eve, but we were to have “church” on Christmas Day. Easter now no longer had bunnies, eggs, chickens, ducks or anything related to the secular holiday. We no longer did special cakes and whatnot. We still did have ham for a good long time, which I never understood. We also went to sunrise services… it seemed wishy-washy. Halloween was totally verboten. No dressing up. No candy. No scary music and sound effects any longer. We started having “Fall Festivals”. It took a while, but I started questioning it entirely.

At another duty station, I happened upon BJU materials and thumbed through them at one of our pastor’s houses. I don’t remember what all was in it, but I remember recoiling, shaking my head, wrinkling my nose and asking if “this was what my parents planned on teaching us now that they pulled us from school.

My third light bulb moment had to do with the growing infiltration of Bill Gothard’s materials into our church.

It was seemingly small things here and there. The “Umbrella of Authority”, the forbidden music other than Hymns, whispers of people that said “anyone who listened to rock music is seriously backslidden…”, the introduction of some Character songs, Patch the Pirate and so on. We had a new dress code instituted at our church that required dresses or skirts for every female family member of those men in every position of leadership, even at home. My dad turned down a position of leadership due to this new legalism.

We moved twice, and I found myself ever more isolated. Our pastor, at the time, was homeschooling four children and had a fifth on the way. We visited often for various reasons, including the fact that my parents were serving in various offices at the church, at the time.

I started seeing homeschool curricula that taught that Dinosaurs and mankind lived together once upon a time.

This is how we got the mythology about dragons!

Some materials even went so far to say that the dinosaurs we know today in museums were just put together mish-mash by archaeologists because they have never found complete skeletons of some of these creatures. This is why some dinosaurs, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex have impossibly teeny tiny arms and can do nothing with them.

I noticed that my homeschool material was swiftly changing in tenth grade. It went from generalized teachings to segregated “Girls do—” and “Boys do—” and that any mixing in between either set of the other sex’s jobs or enjoying any of those tasks was sinful and to be avoided. I complained again, of course, and my mom said to just answer the materials how they like and she’ll grade it appropriately.

We began attending homeschool youth meetings. and I was being exposed ever more to Vision Forum materials and teachings, Bill Gothard’s ATI/IBLP materials, CBMW (Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) … and I kept questioning everything everywhere.

I noticed more and more quiverfull families and that the oldest daughter or daughters were always missing meetings or outings with us because they were in charge of watching the babies or toddlers at home. I kept asking my mom and dad, “If it is so biblical to keep having so many children, why can you not take care of them on your own? Why is it that the teenage girls who should be going to college are being told to stay home and that they can’t go anywhere else, they have to stay at home until they get married?” There never was a satisfactory answer to that.

I felt like all my light-bulb moments were snowballing. I started experiencing anxiety, but like everything else, I had to shove it all deep down and follow along unquestioningly.

We moved again, began attending another Non-denominational church that had high influence by the ATI/IBLP, Vision Forum, CBMW and Family Integrated Church model. My dad somehow connected into that group and I balked. I shut down and then found a way out with the youth group. It worked out alright for a while, until I realized I’d never be accepted as a homeschooler, as there was a clique formed at that church. The main clique were the kids who attended the church school The second clique were those who went to local public schools and the third were the homeschool rejects who refused to go to the FIC services, like myself. The more I read the FIC model materials, the more I woke up to the sickness that was patriarchy which seemed to permeate every little bit of my life.

We had two shotgun weddings occur within our local homeschool group. This occurred not long after some parents found out that their courtship model failed with their darling daughters. The girls were found to be pregnant, and since they were extremely pro-life, the logical conclusion to them was that the girls needed to be married off. There would be no baby shower. The girls would be removed from their position of influence, no longer serve in any office in their church, and would apologize publicly to us girls that they let down. I was extremely angry at the injustice of it all.

I questioned a homeschool culture that would basically sell a girl to a boy who either raped her, or at least only had a short-lived fling and shackled her to him while shaming her, removing them both from school and forced them both to care for a child they neither planned nor had means to provide for.

Don’t get me wrong, I was staunchly anti-choice, but pro birth control. I did (and still do!) believe that mothers have a limit to what their health will allow and that parents need to be able to care for their children on their own or with their family, but that children should be children. Yes, they should pitch in and help out, but they definitely shouldn’t be treated like lesser sister wives and Cinderella.

We moved one more time. We attended three different churches, but it seemed like the homeschool umbrella group that was involved in all of them seemed to have a circle that was just like our previous group at my dad’s last duty station. We plugged into a girl’s bible study, which I now recognize as being highly influenced by Debi Pearl, Above Rubies, Vision Forum, Elisabeth Eliot and various affiliated authors. At this point, I shut down for a time.

I had moments where I tucked away information and just secretly questioned it, but for the most part, I was like a secret agent on a mission to not be found out.

My mom fell in love with books by Francine Rivers and teachings by Beth Moore. She began sharing them with me, and ever so quietly, I started research (a little here, a little there) on the internet asking questions about the model “biblical womanhood” in her books. I never could quite put my finger down on what it was that bothered me, but I kept questioning.

It wasn’t until after I had graduated that the big names in purity culture gained prominence and my youngest sister was falling in love with the teachings of Joshua Harris, Stasi and John Eldredge… She started to hand me the books and asked if I would give them a read.

I’ll preface this with this fact: I’m a bibliophile. I love books. I would never do harm to any book, or at least, I thought I never would, until I read those books. I’ve never thrown a book so hard or so far until I had those in my hands.

Every single fault of the relationship was laid at the feet of the woman for whatever squidgy reason. If sex happened before marriage… if the male was tempted…

It was like my brain broke after that. I wasn’t going to take it anymore. But, the cognitive dissonance was so very strong. Inside, I was screaming at it all and hated it. I knew it was wrong. It was upside down. The theology was poor, at best. On the outside, I was dressing more and more like a proper stay at home daughter. I was even trying to be submissive. It was KILLING ME.

I cried almost every single night.

I hated my life, but I had no way out.

I had co-workers who obviously wanted to help, but had no idea how to even reach into my world and give me some sort of scaffolding or support to crawl out.

I never let anyone in or close enough to know what I was living with. I’m sure I harmed some people by things I repeated and didn’t believe in, but felt forced to parrot. I am so very sorry for that.

After leaving, I was so stuck in the mentality I was raised in that I actually could not function very well in the real world.

This was compounded even more with the fact I had moved to a foreign country and was dealing with the very real effects of culture shock, learning a new language, new laws and a completely different political structure from the United States.

It took having my children to see how evil all of it was and how it all just snowballed downhill into one great big pile of irredeemable poo. Everything that has happened to me up until moving out were, themselves, that pivotal light-bulb moment that woke me up to the fact I needed to tear everything down to the foundation and begin building again.

It was not just one light, but a string of little fairy lights that kept blinking at me the entire time I was in the homeschooling movement.

I hope that all of the people I have met who were hammered down by these teachings have also found themselves to be free like I have. I may have had many starts and stops like Rapunzel in the latest Disney film, but thank God, I’m free at last.

How I Will Redeem My Past: Elisheba’s Thoughts

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Charlotte Astrid.

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

I am understanding why it’s so hard for me to deal with my body, why I’m so hard on myself.

I’ve been on a diet or been strongly encouraged to be on one or felt like I should be on one since I was 12 or 13. I was a little heavy but I was also a kid. Being told that men are visually stimulated and wouldn’t want to marry if you if you were overweight or that you won’t get the best guy, when you are 14 is crushing. Especially when you are raised to believe that marriage is the best, most honorable career a women can have and that everything else is second best.

Now that I am in my 20s, looking back I believe that those 2 messages are two of the most damaging things you could instill in a teenage girl, 1) you are only valuable if are slender and meet society’s “standard” of attractiveness. Don’t teenage girls have enough struggles with that thinking? Why would you reinforce that? 2) Marriage (living your life in complete submission to someone else) is the only way that you will feel fulfilled and be happy. Anything else is society deceiving you into thinking that you are happy. You become one of those poor, blinded, confused women. Again, how is this a good healthy, thing to tell anyone, let alone a teenage girl? She is not and will not be a complete person or her life will not be complete person until she find a man that she can totally lose herself in.

Isn’t that exactly the opposite of the message that we want to send?

As a young teenage girl, I heard these things. I believed them. I also believed that I was messed up because I wanted to have a career before I got married, if I got married (and that was a big if). I also believed I wasn’t attractive because of my weight and that I was ruining my future everyday I didn’t diet, everyday I didn’t lose a pound.

The past year, I’ve been trying to change my thinking patterns. I am not messed up or broken, because I want a career. I deserve to feel pretty and attractive even though I am the heaviest I have ever been (thank you birth control and stress).

It is not an easy change. I’m not anywhere close to being done. I still feel guilty sometimes that I’m not dieting. I count calories in my head all the time. I think I about throwing up anytime I think I ate too much. Sometimes I do. I still believe that an attractive, good guy won’t glance my way twice and if they do, they must be a perv or really desperate, because, I would never be someone’s first choice.

Even now, when I feel pretty good about how I look, it’s such a fragile, delicate, feeling that is so easily crushed. Some people in my life (who I dearly love) still can only see the flaws, if a neckline is slightly low, if my hair isn’t a color they think is good, if something isn’t totally flattering. Some days it makes me cry, some days I couldn’t care less what they think.

If I ever have daughters or young girls in my life, I will make sure they know that they are worth so much more than something to pretty to look at and to be married off so that they can lose themselves in oblivion. I will make sure they know they can do anything and be anything if they work hard and are dedicated. They will know that people do care about more than just looks and that each person is beautiful in their own incredible way.

This is how I will redeem my past and my childhood, by providing hope for the future generation. 

The Story of an Ex-Good Girl: Part Ten

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HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on August 29, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Nine

Part Ten: Wives, Children and Dogs

After we had settled into the routine of belonging to “the group”, as we called it, it was relatively easy to know what was expected of us, as children.  I knew I needed to obey anything and everything my parents (or other adults) told me, with no questions.  I knew I wasn’t allowed to complain about things I didn’t want to do or argue with my parents about anything.

As a child, I was inherently inferior to adults.

I was not their equal.  I learned this through watching Mr. LaQuiere, my parents, and the other adults routinely put down children.  We were taught we were all full of “foolishness”.  We “needed our wills broken”.  We needed to be taught our place.  We needed to learn absolute obedience and submission to authority.

I still remember the exact place I was when Mr. LaQuiere told my parents explicitly what “complete submission” meant.

“If I told my 15-year-old daughter to take off all her clothes, and get down on her hands and knees and bark like a dog, she should obey me instantly,” he said. “That is the kind of obedience children must give their parents.

Absolute obedience, without questioning.”  This level of humiliation had never even occurred to me.  To know that it was possible was a very distressing thought.  Would my parents or Mr. LaQuiere ever order me to humiliate myself like this?  I silently decided that if my dad ever told me to strip naked and bark like a dog, I wouldn’t, no matter how much I was punished.

I didn’t mind the idea of obeying, because I was naturally obedient.  But I hated the “without question” part.  I liked to ask questions.  I liked to know the reasons behind things.  I liked to know the ‘why’, not because I wanted to “challenge my parents’ authority”, as Mr. LaQuiere called it, but because I genuinely wanted to know.  I had an active mind, and it was always probing to get to the bottom of things, to know why they worked the way they did.  I was told this was disrespectful to my authorities, and that they should never be questioned.  I didn’t need to know the reasons.  I was only a child.

I had no right to know.

This absolute, unquestioning obedience did not just apply to small children.  It applied to all children (a label determined not by maturity, but by parentage), regardless of age.  Mr. LaQuiere expected his adult sons and daughters to snap to attention and instantly obey with the same cheerful alacrity that he expected from a 5-year-old.

This system was put in place by God himself, and it was God who said that any child who did not obey was rebellious, and should be stoned to death by his parents, his siblings, his friends, and everyone else as a lesson in how seriously He viewed disobedience.

Obedience was a universally-praised virtue, with the exception of men.  Men didn’t need to obey anybody (except God, that is).  But wives, children, and dogs were all expected to obey.

Dogs and children were often trained with similar methods.

We had a small, fluffy, Maltese puppy named Sasha.  She was friendly and happy, and eager to please.  But just as my parents were told they didn’t know how to train us the right way, Mr. LaQuiere told them they were failing in training our puppy as well.  She needed to learn absolute obedience as well.  She needed to instantly come every time she was called.  She needed to be punished severely for every infraction, whether it was not coming right away, or making an accident on the rug during the process of house-training her.  Any time we found a mess she made, Mr. LaQuiere said, we needed to drag her over to it, rub her nose in the excrement, and tell her “BAD DOG!” in stern, disappointed tones.  He demonstrated this for us multiple times.  I felt bad for her…she looked so forlorn and sad, being reprimanded for making a mistake.  But Mr. LaQuiere said it was the only way to train a dog.  If she didn’t come when she was called, he demonstrated the proper punishment technique – sometimes he would drag her by her collar or the scruff of her neck.  Sometimes he would hit her, not with a rolled-up-newspaper, which he said was useless, but with his hand.  One time when he was correcting her for something, and dangling her in the air by the scruff of her neck, she yipped at him.  I imagine it hurt to be hung in the air by her skin like that.  He responded by throwing her against the wall.  Never allow a dog to challenge your authority like that, he told us.  I still remember how she yelped, and what she looked like in a frightened heap on the floor, her sides heaving in and out.  After Mr. LaQuiere “trained” her in obedience, she did learn to come when called…her tail between her legs, often slinking along the floor, looking guilty and anxious, never knowing if she was going to be smacked across the room, or welcomed.  Poor little Sasha.  She wanted so badly to please us.  I honestly think she didn’t know what she was being punished for most of the time.  My parents might have thought his techniques were more cruel, if it weren’t for the fact that there wasn’t a single one that he didn’t also use on children.

Children, dogs, and wives were taught absolute obedience. In wives, however, it was called “submission”.  Wives were to submit absolutely to their husbands, who were the heads of the family, and their authorities.

This was true not only if the husband was right in what he asked, or if was kind, but also if he was cruel or wrong.

Mr. LaQuiere said God instructed wives to submit, and men to love their wives: and one way to love wives was to teach them to submit.  One Wednesday night, he described how he taught his own wife absolute submission.  He called it “The Story of 11 Mile”.  He and Mrs. LaQuiere were driving somewhere one day, and it was a place they hadn’t been before, so Mrs. LaQuiere was trying to help him find the way there.  They needed to turn on 11 Mile, so as they were driving, she saw it, too late, and said, “Dear, we’ve passed 11 Mile!”  He said she was wrong, he was sure they hadn’t passed it yet.  She disagreed.  He was displeased by her lack of submission.  As they drove on, it quickly became clear to him that they had, in fact, passed 11 Mile.  But this was not important compared to the fact that Mrs. LaQuiere had insisted on contradicting him, showing him disrespect, and refusing to submit to him and agree that he was right.  So to teach her a lesson, he refused to turn around, until she showed submission by saying “You’re right, dear, we didn’t pass 11 Mile.”  Apparently she didn’t want to do this for a while, and he kept right on driving.  Finally she told him, “You’re right, dear.  We haven’t passed 11 Mile.”  Once she submitted to him by accepting that he was right, no matter what, he turned the car around, and they drove on to their destination.

Today I think of this, and I HAVE. NO. WORDS.  What the heck?!  He was wrong, and she merely pointed out that he passed a street, but he couldn’t even allow her to think he might have made a mistake.  His pride, his sense of absolute authority and need for submission was so great that he actually forced his wife to lie to him and tell him he was right, before he would make a simple U-turn.  Poor Mrs. LaQuiere.  I sometimes wonder how she stood it.

Mr. LaQuiere’s worldview was simple: wives, children and dogs were all divinely ordained to be submissive and obedient to him.  He wasn’t being revolutionary – he was just following God’s plan.  It wasn’t his fault that God had made him male, human, and given him offspring.

He knew his place in God’s design, and no one was going to shove him out of his rightful position of superiority.

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

Reflections of a Homeschool Graduate: Part Three

Homeschool

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kallie Culver’s blog Untold Stories. It was originally published on June 20, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Two

Homeschooling: The Fall Out

When we first started homeschooling, we utilized a mixture of curriculum, beginning with Christ Centered Curriculum, Christian Liberty, and Saxon Math. In fifth grade, we switched to a new curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education, or A.C.E. By this point, my parents had been researching and were unhappy with the academic quality of the material that we had been studying. Research in the Christian Homeschooling world led them to settle on the A Beka Video curriculum, one that I know many in our circles considered too rigorous and too expensive. My parents settled on doing Program 2. This program entailed your parents doing all the grading, setting any deadlines, determining the calendar, etc., whereas Program 1 entailed sending all reports, grades, quizzes, tests, etc., into Pensacola Christian Academy to be graded and recorded. With Program 1 you were considered a satellite student and thus allowed to travel to Pensacola to graduate at the end of high school if you wanted to participate. We continued to do Program 2, however, until I graduated six years later. Given that the number of children in our family continued to expand, A Beka gave my mom more freedom to focus on the babies and toddlers, and required less hands-on time spent with us older children in school, as we could watch the videos, do the required work, and come to her only when we needed help.

For me, homeschooling was something that I loved and hated. I was a very self- disciplined child and an avid reader, so I loved the challenge academics posed. I loved learning new things. I loved learning to write. I loved every time I aced a quiz or a test. Most of all, though, I loved reading. I can’t even remember when I couldn’t read. I was the kid who would check out 40 books at a time from the library. I would read in the bathtub, outside in a tree, and under my covers with a flashlight late into the night. Every chance I could possibly find, I was probably somewhere with my nose in a book. History was fascinating to me, and I quickly developed an insatiable love for the historical fiction genre in the library. Granted, my choices were greatly censored to safe children’s versions, or Christian versions, but I didn’t care. I read every single book I was allowed to, and then read them again. If, however, I had to list out what hurt me the most and impacted me negatively through homeschooling, it would be a lack of structure, a lack of personal boundaries, a lack of accountability, a lack of educational opportunity, and a very biased education.

Today I want to focus on the first three.

A Lack of Structure: 

I saw how kids who went to school got to have a set schedule every day. They had teachers available whenever they needed help. They got to socialize with friends every day, play sports, and do extra-curricular activities that I could only dream about doing. So many people like to throw out that homeschool kids aren’t socialized. The problem was not that we weren’t socialized – if your basic meaning of the word entails being around children your own age. We had plenty of friends and people of all ages that we interacted with socially on a daily basis. My parents worked hard at that time to maintain a social life for us kids, which then meant monthly outings with other Homeschool families, where we would go bowling, roller-skating, on a picnic, or to a church hosted pot-luck.

Every few months they might arrange a mini-conference, or an art clinic that we would also participate in. We attended weekly piano, voice, ballet, and tap lessons throughout my junior high years, and continued with piano through high school. We also had an in-ground pool, so we had friends coming over to our house all the time. The problem was we only socialized with people exactly like us. The only diversity I ever really encountered growing up were the extended family members and few friends that I knew who went to public school, most of whom also grew up in a small town in Texas, going to church every week, and living the typical Friday Night Lights life. It just so happened that my bubble of a world was even smaller.

In family as large as ours, there is very little room for an “I,” since for things to work, individual needs are frequently sacrificed for what is best for the family. Sports were out of the question, as it meant a minimum of driving an hour one way for practices and two-hours one-way minimum for home games. Packing up the entire family for that kind of rigorous schedule for just one kid was not an option, much less the cost involved. As far as a schedule, given my father was a pastor and operated a Christian counseling ministry out of our home, the only word for describing my family’s lifestyle growing up is flexibility. My father was also a private investor, for additional family income as well as his own personal business pursuits. With a Father who worked from home and a stay-at-home mom there was no schedule to build our lives around. The schedule could change at a moment’s notice, whether it was a sudden family trip, a decision to go spend the day with some of our closest friends, a homeschool group event, a church event, or a trip to the nearest city – the schedule changed frequently.

In order to allow for this kind of lifestyle, we did school on a calendar year, year-round. As long as we finished out the video curriculum by the return deadline at the end of the year period, it didn’t matter as much how strict our schedule was. This also applied in the daily school schedule, since when you have all day to do it and you are at home anyways with that large of a family – interruptions were frequent and easily found. This often drove my list-loving, black/white, rule-follower personality insane. I would create schedules, chore charts, and lists for my mom, thinking that if I created the perfect one the family would all fall into a system where I could feel a sense of stability and control – but they kept failing again and again. This is where my mom would ironically point out how it was probably great training for life as a military spouse in the Air Force, because if it’s one thing you can’t do in the military life with a husband in the flying world, it’s plan too far ahead or plan on a predictable schedule.

Life has taught me there are two sides to every coin. Flexibility and finding the serenity to let go of controlling every detail of our lives is a challenging quality to develop in a healthy way. I am thankful that I learned from a young age to embrace change quickly, even if I didn’t always like it. However, for a child growing up in that atmosphere, I also learned too easily how to sacrifice my own feelings and needs for the greater good, believing that was the only option.

A Lack of Boundaries:

When I talk about a lack of personal boundaries, homeschooling for me and many other kids I knew meant that an individual child’s needs often suffered or went completely unnoticed for the greater needs of the family. I never learned how to say no or to express an opinion without first validating it by either saying “I feel that God is leading me…” or pointing to someone else and attaching my need to theirs. Personal space in a house with that size of family was also a rare luxury. I didn’t even know what it meant to have healthy personal boundaries, or that it was ok to need and want personal space. I have learned the hard way that for a child to have a healthy development into adulthood, they need to begin learning how to establish and articulate their own likes, dislikes, personal preferences, and wishes at home. This means they have to be able to feel safe to express an opinion, draw a boundary line, or even say no. While it may seem best for a young child to be wholeheartedly compliant, never learning boundaries and never learning how to be an individual within the safe confines of a loving and healthy family environment translate into a lot of heartache later on.

In sharing this, it is not my intention to ever minimize the good that I experienced growing up, because I know that my story could be far different. My parents or siblings never abused me physically or sexually. I was a happy child for the most part, who loved my family, God, and life, and saw everything in life with an undeniable optimism. I have read story after story of others like me who endured far worse, and I would never want to portray my experiences as anything else than what they were. My trials and pain came more after I left the home. Those ingrained traits of selflessness, unquestioning submission, and my desperation to please and be liked—turned into seeds for some of my hardest lessons and greatest nightmares as an adult on my own.

Having little individual development as a young adult coupled with self-hatred, insecurity, and a belief that being a girl severely limited my role in society at large meant I left home with no clue as to who I was, what I wanted, how to say no, how to establish healthy boundaries, how to trust my own decision-making abilities, or how to value myself. I was powerless, having been taught to only be a submissive child and female completely dependent on men. I transferred that submission and unhealthy levels of co- dependency to mentors, to church leadership, and to men that would come into my life – never realizing that for years I would be a walking doormat and frozen at any sight of conflict.

Growing up with the belief that for me to want something on my own was wrong meant that (as a young girl) for years all I knew to do was to want what other girls wanted. When my older sister got a horse, I wanted one, too. When my cousin started playing the violin, I wanted to learn, too. When someone did something different then me, lived differently then me, or pursued an interest different then me – it would only cause me to further buy into the lies of comparison. Who I was and what I wanted on my own was not only not allowed, but also never good enough. This is why I easily fell into the traps of first copying, and if that wasn’t allowed, then judging and mocking. It was easier to criticize and set myself up as better than others than to deal with the ache of wanting to know why I couldn’t be like them.

My parents and I have discussed this at length. I know that, as a parent, it would be hard to realize the messages your children are internalizing, especially when they don’t communicate them to you. I know now that the community and the spiritual teachings we fed on at that time played a large role in making me believe I had no right to voice what I was internalizing. I am sure it also played a role in why my parents never thought to question if I was hiding my true feelings. The entire family structure was often a subject of sermons and teachings, and many of these teachings centered around what proper familial roles entailed. It meant a strict patriarchal and complementarian view of marriage, where the man is the leader of the home and all decisions defer to his wishes and judgment. So, as a daughter, I was raised in an environment that taught me that my wishes were secondary. They were to be subordinate to my parent’s wishes, as it was our role to honor and obey our parents unquestioningly. They were secondary because I was female, and daughters and wives did not question what the father or male leader in their life wanted. They were secondary because I believed there was no time or room for individual wishes with a family so large. Lastly, they were secondary because, as a Christian, personal wishes were highly subject to being classified as selfish and self-serving.

In effect, a message that was perhaps at one time or in certain situations begun on some level as basic consideration for others – I internalized as a far more violating message:

Your opinions do not matter.

Your wishes are selfish and wrong.

You are a girl and thus your voice doesn’t count.

In believing these, I began to try to kill my desires and dreams by telling myself things like:

Your love for school and academic achievement is a source of pride, so not getting to pursue education further is the cross you must bear.

You would probably love your friends and activities too much at school, and thus become selfish and too easily influenced by peer pressure to sin – so not getting what you want is God protecting you.

Your family needs you too much at home, so for you to want to leave them and to secretly wish for things like graduation or a prom is selfish, worldly, and wrong.

So the struggle to hide only grew stronger. The web of comparison, lies, and self-hatred spread everywhere. The harmful reality of these messages, doctrine, and beliefs hung my family out to dry a few years later when my sister’s marriage was destroyed. As I have mentioned in previous posts, for my family, choosing to support her divorce meant losing a community and lifetime of friendships. We never realized how debilitating our doctrines and beliefs concerning women were until they left my sister at the mercy of protecting reputation and enduring abuse for the cause of Christ. The mere fact that those who claim to follow Christ can then twist and use Him as a reason to protect abuse in any situation makes my blood boil to this day.

It has been a journey for all of us to process through, grieve, recover, reexamine, change, and move on. It has now been almost eight years since our world fell apart, and I am so grateful that my siblings today are receiving a completely different childhood experience. I know that not every kid or family gets a second chance.

A Lack of Accountability:

As far as a lack of accountability, given how many children there were and how much my mother had to divide her focus between so many children – homeschooling placed a huge responsibility on me as a teenager to be self-disciplined, self-motivated, and studious. If I had wanted to skip subjects I could have. If I had wanted to look up answers I could have. I often graded my own quizzes and tests. By high school, I was largely on my own when it came to my education. Granted, I actually enjoyed school, and I was a Pharisee about following the rules, so the thought of trying to cheat was contemptible. Yet, I know other siblings of mine, and friends in similar situations, who found ways to work that system and missed foundational parts of their secondary education, if they got a high school-level of education at all. I know girls my age that were lucky enough to get to an eighth grade education level, as college was considered unnecessary and a waste of money for girls. I myself only completed pre-algebra, geometry, and a consumer business math elective in my math high-school classes, and so had to retake several preparatory math classes to be able to complete College Algebra once I got to college.

In high school I remember crying after every local high school graduation ceremony I attended because I knew I would never have one. I carried that pain with me through my college years, and the day I walked across a stage to receive my college diploma felt like someone had given me a pair of wings. College for me was a gift I will treasure forever. It sparked a flame, and I am still not done. Now I am in the midst of obtaining my Master’s Degree, and, knowing how much I love school, it probably isn’t the end.

Education is an investment that will never give a bad return. Through college I have found that I thrive in a classroom setting where there are clear expectations, accessible help, accountability, and competition. I wish I’d had that as a child because I know I would have done well.

As an adult, I have developed a love for running. It makes me feel powerful. It helps me de-stress and produces tangible results I can see in increased strength, discipline, and endurance. I have also found a community, inspiration, and well of encouragement in running with other women. Knowing how good it makes me feel has made me wish, on more than one occasion, that I could have discovered it sooner through something like track or cross-country, as a young girl, with other girls my own age.

I know that many parents today, mine included, find it hard to hear voices like mine point out how homeschooling failed us. For those parents who made this decision with the best of intentions and hearts full of love, I know it’s hard to see something you thought would be so good lead to your child’s confusion, heartache, and pain. However, what must be remembered is that it is equally as important for me, and others like me, to be honest about homeschooling’s failings–even if it means being painfully honest.

Consider how you respond.

Do you automatically reach for conversation stoppers? Consider how, if you respond defensively, refuse to listen, or respond with “but it wasn’t all bad” or some version of “don’t write it off altogether” it comes across dismissive and leaves little room for the conversation to go anywhere. Suddenly, the focus is again on the adult child taking care of your needs, your comfort level, your emotional stability, understanding your decisions, or protecting their relationship with you—instead of it being about honestly communicating what they have experienced and how it has affected them.

Love and healthy relationships grow with truth and vulnerability. It’s not easy to listen to where we have failed each other or how we see, interpret, and experience things differently. It takes courage.

Nathan Pyle, when writing about his relationship with his son and what he has learned about parenting, couldn’t have put it in a more beautiful way when he said,

“No parent gets it perfect. For all of our best intentions and best efforts, we will create wounds in our children. We have a better chance of avoiding paying taxes than we do at not creating a wound, or thirty, in our children. It is going to happen. I’m not beating myself up over this. Nor do I think I am overstating my impact as a parent. I’m just being honest about what is so. I need to tell the truth about this so that I can begin the internal work necessary to hear him tell me about his wounds. The key isn’t to try and become the kind of person who doesn’t create wounds, the key is trying to become the kind of person who helps heal wounds – even the ones we inflict.”

Part Four>

The Story of an Ex- Good Girl: Part Seven

Barn

HA Note: The following is reprinted with permission from Exgoodgirl’s blog The Travels and Travails of an Ex-Good Girl. It was originally published on August 3, 2014 and has been slightly modified for HA.

<Part Six

Part 7: Families That Play Together…Should be Working Instead

One of the ways the LaQuiere family was different was their focus on family-integration.  They did everything as a family, or no one did it at all.  Kids didn’t do “kid activities”, especially not with other kids; they did only whatever their parents were doing.

Viewing children as “just kids” in need of their own specialized activities, or menu, or bedtimes, or anything similar was frowned on as a post-modern perversion of family dynamics.

The idea of playtime was definitely not in favor.  It wasn’t completely outlawed, but it was definitely viewed as an unproductive use of time and not something children ought to be encouraged to do.  Children could learn more from watching adults than by playing, and the primary responsibility of children was to learn to be adults, so why should they waste time on play? In this lifestyle, families were meant to do things together, or not at all, and since the children needed to be integrated into the activities of their parents, that meant mostly work!  For this reason, family businesses were considered the ideal.  The LaQuieres had a family business in real estate, and they all participated.  They built office buildings together, poured concrete together, snowplowed together, and basically did everything else together.

This was Mr. LaQuiere’s ideal family dynamic: not only was he able to keep his children where he could supervise them at all times, but he felt that it taught them responsibility, and most vital of all, avoided the twin dangers of individualism and independence.

The LaQuiere children didn’t need friends: they had their family!  They didn’t need time to themselves, or the space to develop into independent thinkers and persons: their value came from being a cog in the family machine, and providing necessary benefits to the family and their parents.

Mr. LaQuiere stressed to us that anything that placed the needs or wants of the children above those of the parents and the family was not only morally wrong, but would train children to be selfish and irresponsible.  He taught us that we needed to do whatever was necessary to protect our families against a world determined to pull us apart and lure us into spiritual death with its age-segregated “youth groups” and “child entitlement”, and other thin excuses for children to get into trouble, or think they were “owed” anything from their parents or the world.

On the contrary, children owed everything to their parents, and a childhood spent serving their parents was not only a way to pay back a little of the debt, but a spiritual benefit to them as well, which would teach them to develop humility and self-sacrifice.

The responsibility of parents was to provide training to their children; the responsibility of children was to respond with instant obedience and submission at all times.  This was the God-ordained family structure.  Children were “arrows in the hand of a mighty warrior”, Mr. LaQuiere said, and we should never forget that arrows that try to leave the mighty warrior and the bow are nothing more than useless sticks.  Joe LaQuiere raised his own children to know that their needs came secondary to the needs of their parents, and the family, and he taught us to do the same.

Often this meant that all the families spent a lot of time together doing work projects, which was actually quite fun!  We only met officially on Wednesday nights but spent a lot of the week meeting at various home improvement projects, not only to help, but to be around Joe LaQuiere as much as possible so we could absorb his wisdom on daily life situations.  One summer we built additions on three different houses.  My brother B learned how to drive a backhoe.  I learned how to line up shingles on a roof and how to handle a nail gun.  We didn’t exactly raise barns together, but there are pictures of us raising walls for the new additions, looking like a bunch of renegade Amish: boys in high-waisted carpenter jeans with side-parted hair plastered down, and girls in flowered dresses or mom jeans and baggy t-shirts.  The Amish probably wouldn’t have wanted to claim us, but the neighborhood clearly thought that’s where we belonged!  All the men and boys, and a few of the girls worked on the construction.  The other girls (who either didn’t want to or weren’t allowed to help) worked with the women to prepare huge lunches and dinners for dozens of hungry men and kids.

These times working together as a family had a positive side–I think it did teach considerable responsibility, and strengthened family bonds (and let me escape dresses and “girl work” temporarily!)–but it had a darker side.  This “construction phase” was the backdrop to some of my worst memories.  They centered around my younger brother B, whose irreverent joie de vivre had caught the critical eye of our leader-in-chief.  Mr. LaQuiere’s next “training” project was underway.

Part Eight>

photo credit: Joel Dinda via photopin cc

When Siblings Become Swords: Trista’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Søren Niedziella. Image links to source.

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

I grew up in patriarchy. The seeds of powerlessness and fear were sown in me from my earliest years. Having a voice or power in my family was not easy, in fact, it was a constant struggle. However, this system and hierarchy created and maintained by my parents allowed the rivalry and teasing typical of siblings to grow into unhealthy imbalances of power.

There was a distinct hierarchy in my family. Masculinity and age determined your respect within the family unit. My position as a girl and the youngest member of 7 children meant I was the lowest of the low. My position was to toe the family line, get along and agree with those who were ‘above’ me.

There was one sibling I did get along with very well. She (Anne) was two years my senior, and we were joined at the hip since I can remember. In many ways she faced the same trials I did, however, her sweet and caring demeanor made her a more naturally lovable person.

I was told that I should ‘submissively endure suffering as Christ did.’

I was regularly told I was inept, stupid, crazy and extreme. When I was mercilessly teased or abused to the point of tears, my mother would reprimand me for not loving my brothers. She told me stories of how much she desired brothers. It “shocked” her that I could not “endure a little teasing.” She would have traded most anything to have brothers. Teasing was normal and I was “weak,” “like a little girl” to be offended by the rudeness of my siblings.

On several occasions my mother told me the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, saying he loved his enemies and died for Christ. She asked me how he could be so holy and I was complaining about teasing? “Isn’t that silly?”

Minor errors or failures on my part were magnified and viewed as my identity. Once, one of my sisters, roughly 10 years my senior, told me, “You are inept, and incompetent. I know a five year old who knows how to use a key. No wonder mom and dad don’t let you do anything.” This rant was delivered after I accidentally broke her key to the house by turning it the wrong direction in the keyhole. At the time, I was 13 years old I was already insecure. The verbal attacks against my character only made me more angry, hurt and hateful towards myself and those around me.

As a girl it was my duty to ‘support the men’

Although an imbalance of power existed between me and all of my siblings, this imbalance was larger when the sibling was male. As a child I was expected to serve my older brothers without question. If they requested something I was ‘unloving’ if I did not do as I was told. Anne and I were often required to make food for them, clean up after them and in other ways serve them. When they were in college, we were required to make food for guests they had come over and prepare for parties that they were hosting.

My brothers were also heavily involved in sports. My sister and I were told, “You need to support and love your brothers.” When we begged to be involved in activities, sports or anything social, we were told that such things would conflict with our brothers and we “need to love your brothers. Why do you not want to support them?”

Under the patriarchy, it was clear girls did not matter. Our development, desires and needs were entirely subservient to males, because men act, while women are acted upon.

These things caused more anger in my heart. I hated being told I was useless, what I wanted didn’t matter. I would cry out in anger to God, “Why did you make me a woman?? I can’t do anything because I’m a girl and girls are useless.”

I felt a need to punish myself for being crazy

As a child I did not know how to cope with the feelings of helplessness, uselessness, hate and anger. I turned to self-harm at the age of 12 as a means of coping with how horrible I felt about my identity. Being homeschooled posed problems to self-harm. I was constantly watched, and my parents openly mocked the idea of therapy and mental health. They portrayed mental illness as a weakness, something attention seeking individuals contrived to gain pity.

I would find creative ways of hurting myself. I would chew my nails and fingers until they bled. Often my fingers would be raw from excessive chewing and peeling layers of skin off. I would scratch myself, especially my stomach, until I bled. I would ‘cut myself while shaving,’ craving the release I felt when my legs bled. Hiding in my closet I would bang my hands against a pole until they became swollen. One time I even purposefully beat my head against a wall in an effort to give myself a head injury.

I craved affection. I wanted to experience love.

I sincerely believed no one in my family cared about me. Part of the self-harm narrative was an effort on my behalf to gain the love of my family. In my mind I would rationalize, “If I am hurt very badly they won’t be mean to you. They would want to help you, right? See, they really do love you. You need to try harder to really hurt yourself.”

Often I would ponder dark thoughts, sure no one would notice if I were dead. I thought perhaps people would be happy to have the ‘crazy’ girl gone. I wanted to die, but was not sure how. It was something I constantly thought about. I would day dream of being murdered, mutilated and beaten to death. These imaginations served as a mental outlet for my pain.

I was careful not to display my pain to others. Instead, I developed a dual identity. I hated my siblings, but I desperately craved their affection. They were the only people on the planet I interacted with. If they did not love me, I believed myself beyond the love of anyone. In my world, friends were not allowed. Thus, if my own family did not love me, who on God’s green earth would ever see anything lovable in me?

On the outside, I was confident, defiant, strongly defending myself, rebelling in any way I could, actively antagonizing others in an attempt to exact revenge. This was the way my anger reacted.

Other times, my desire for affection would win and I would berate myself and say, I matter and I’m going to earn their respect. When my efforts failed I would oscillate back to hating my siblings and the pain they caused in my life.

Today, I am in my early twenties, a senior in college and headed towards a successful career. Yet when I am around my siblings, I feel like that hopeless, unloved child again. I never felt loved by my siblings. It is hard to feel love from people who hurt me so badly for so long. I still acutely feel the pain inflicted from childhood. It is impossible to negate years of being dismissed as a silly, crazy little girl.

The patriarchy damages its victims in many ways. In my case, it removed the joy of having those I call family.

Silenced Voices, Unspeakable Questions: Lena Baird’s Story, Part One

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lena Baird” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

My junior year at PHC, I was in a small creative writing group. We met every few weeks, and passed around our recent works—short stories, poems, novel excerpts—and wrote comments and critiques in the margins. One week, I wrote a poem in response to a chapel message that had upset me. It was yet another story, from another man, about how something terrible had almost happened—but because of faith in God, disaster was averted at the last moment.

I was sick of hearing those stories. My life experience had been nothing like that, but no one had ever told a story like mine in chapel. So I wrote:

You listen to the story, confident,
knowing the happy ending will arrive,
and leave you satisfied, your mind content,
your questions answered – yes, he did survive:
the usual miracle. But I could tell
a story with another kind of end –
an end of dreams and hopes, a glimpse of hell –
and would you smile, applauding calmly, then?
No, better to keep silent. For till you
have wept for a miracle that did not come,
and found all answers hollow and untrue,
your questions mocked beneath a dying sun –
till you have faced the dark with empty hands –
you will not hear; you cannot understand.

Not a great sonnet, by any means; but it expressed how I felt. The chapel message was not my story. I was struggling to process trauma, and loss, and tragedy. (I was probably clinically depressed, but I didn’t know anything about mental health, because that was another topic no one discussed.) I didn’t feel like I could say this to any of friends. So I said it in a poem, and even that felt like pushing a boundary—saying something people might not accept.

When I got my poem back, with comments, no one seemed to realize I was talking about myself. I don’t have the sheet of paper with comments anymore, but one girl wrote something very similar to this: “This person just doesn’t get it. God is good—someone needs to tell him!”

Not only did she assume that I was writing from the perspective of a fictional character …. she also assumed that the fictional character was male.

I knew all about God. That was the problem. What I knew about God—the narrative of Christian evangelical homeschool culture, the only framework for life I’d been exposed to—did not fit my life, at all.

And even when I dared to speak—obliquely, through creative writing—no one heard my questions.

 

*****

My literature professor liked talking about worldviews. He considered most authors inadequate; their lack of “a Christian worldview” invalidated—or at least diminished—their artistic merits. He talked, frequently, about the need for “a Christian renaissance” in modern literature. From what he said, I got the impression that literature by Christians pretty much stopped with Lewis and Tolkien. Gradually, I realized that this was not accurate. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize while I was at PHC, but I never heard it mentioned in class. I discovered Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Graham Greene outside of PHC. They weren’t mentioned as examples of Christian writers, either—possibly because they were Catholics, and Catholics were suspect, at best. (Tolkien, despite his Catholicism, seemed to be infallible.)

I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to express my faith through my writing; but by my junior year, my faith was more doubt than certainty, more questions than answers. I liked O’Connor and Greene and Percy because they wrestled with doubt; their stories expressed a complicated, conflicted, messy faith.

But there wasn’t room for faith like that in class discussions.

There wasn’t room for my story.

*****

My literature professor also talked a lot about gender roles. He said, “If a wife gets up to pray and have her quiet time at seven in the morning, the husband should get up at six.” As leader of the home, apparently the husband had to outdo his wife in everything. It wasn’t a model of marriage that appealed to me—but it was what most of my fellow students seemed to want. They talked a lot about how men were leaders, and women were supposed to support men in leadership. Almost all my friends thought the husband should lead in marriage. Most of them also thought only men should hold leadership roles in the church.

I found this baffling. One day, in the dining hall, I questioned the logic of male leadership. “What if I’m a good musician,” I said, “and the choice for music leader is between me and a man? What if the man doesn’t know how to read music?”

“It doesn’t matter,” my roommate said. “You should step back, and let him lead.”

There were five or six of us at the table. I was the only one who thought knowledge mattered more than gender. I secretly thought women could be pastors, too, but I was afraid to say that. Instead, I listened while they all explained to me that God created all men as leaders.

Later, in literature class, my professor said: “God calls a man to a vision. He calls a woman to a man.”

What did that mean for my dreams? My visions? Couldn’t a man and a woman both have dreams, and support each other in pursuing them?

He didn’t open the floor for discussion. There wasn’t room for my voice.

*****

Gender roles didn’t just factor into literature class and dining hall discussions—they permeated campus culture. The female professors were all single. The male professors were all married. Only men were invited to give chapel messages. On the rare occasions when a woman spoke, we had “split chapel”: the female students met in one room, and listened to the woman speaker. The male students met elsewhere, and listened to a man.

Only male students were allowed to lead singing in chapel. Female students could accompany singing on the piano, if they wished, or they could back up a male singer with guitar. But they were never permitted to stand at the podium and lead singing—except when we had split chapel. If only women were in the room, a woman could lead singing.

In student elections, the candidates for student body president were always male. At least one female student ran for student body vice president, but she wasn’t elected.

Part Two >