I don’t understand. Who tells a child the things that I was told? Who forms a child’s self-concept in the worst way possible on purpose? What kind of person takes a sensitive, kind, loving, feeling child and tells them from birth that they are mean, bully, selfish, and unloving?
What kind of parent does that?
Was I a threat? Did they feel the need to tear me down because I threatened something? Were they afraid of me somehow? Did they look at me and feel fear and thus were driven to squash who I am? Was who I am that scary?
Selfish, unloving, unfeeling, mean, bully, harsh, hostile, angry, unkind, moody, vengeful, unhappy, rebellious. The words fill my head and keep coming, one after the other, all the words I was given as labels. All the words that they might as well have written in ink on my body as they were indelibly printed on my soul. But even permanent ink fades eventually and can be written over.
I am kind and generous. I am an empath. I feel others’ emotions so deeply, like I am experiencing their pain in my own soul. I am a giver, I give til I have nothing left. I love with all that is within me. I am loyal to a fault.
But I am no doormat.
I do not accept what I am told without proof. I am also a warrior. I fight for the people I love, for every person I come across who can’t fight for themselves. I stand up for what is right and that is interpreted as “hostile”. It’s not hostility, it’s righteousness. It’s strength. It’s ferocity. And it is who I am.
I am rebellious. I will claim that label, of all the words they slung at me. Some things are worth rebelling against. Rebelling has saved my life. “There’s something wild in your heart, you need to pray to God to help you.” There was something wild there. There still is. Did that scare them? Does it still?
What kind of person does that to a child? What kind of person teaches another child to do this to their own sibling? What was it about me that scared them so?
Whatever it was, they failed to eradicate it. Because here I am, in all my wild glory, and they can’t do anything about it now, except keep trying to spread their lies and paint their own picture of me that I no longer recognize. Their picture of me looks suspiciously like their own self-portrait.
Was it religion? I fucking hate religion. Religion said I needed my will broken, beaten down, and taken away. Religion said to squash my glory because their pathetic god would be jealous. Religion said they had to take my rights, my ownership, my boundaries, because those things were not from god. Did religion make them try to break a child or did it just justify their own penchant toward insecurity and whatever the hell else was wrong with them? I don’t know. I might never know. Does it even matter? The damage has been done, the healing has long ago begun.
As a parent, I look at my children in all their glory and life and I am completely baffled. The thought of telling them that they are inherently selfish with wicked hearts that need their foolishness driven out by the rod is painful enough to leave me breathless. The idea that I could take such amazing creatures and make sure they know how worthless they are unless they become what I dictate they must be causes physical pain and revulsion in my heart.
What kind of person does that to a child? I have no more excuses for them.
The other day, Homeschoolers Anonymous shared an article on their Facebook page. It was one homeschool alumna’s statement about how her experiences with being homeschooled made her unwilling to homeschool her own children.
As is to be expected, homeschool apologists came out of the woodwork with the belief that her sharing her experiences was somehow an attack against homeschooling as a pedagogical method. I want to address this phenomenon as a fellow homeschool alumna.
The thing nobody seemed to notice in the discussion that happened was that homeschooling wasn’t under attack.
The author wasn’t crying “down with homeschooling!” or “all homeschoolers are evil brainwashed minions!” She was merely telling her story and explaining how it influenced her current choices. But the No True Homeschooler brigade was right on schedule. Which was rather baffling considering that the article itself was just one person’s story and a pretty benign one at that.
Why is it when someone says “here is my story, this is why I’ve made the current choice I have”, so many people feel the need to pick their story apart, try to analyze how the story isn’t correct, then claim their choice is faulty because their story is faulty? No one is judging you for your story and your choices. They’re just telling their own. If you’re threatened by that, perhaps it’s time for some introspection and reevaluating your own story and choices instead of trying to tear down someone else’s to make yourself feel better, feel justified, feel right.
For instance, if someone tells me “I had a horrible time in public school, I’m homeschooling my own kids and we’re doing great”, I don’t try to make them understand that public school wasn’t the problem and thus their current choice to homeschool isn’t valid. I don’t jump to the defense of public school. I nod and show empathy and understanding. I acknowledge that some people had terrible experiences in school.
It’s their story. It doesn’t threaten me. It’s not even about me.
A homeschooler who says “I had a terrible experience so I’m not going to homeschool” is not about YOU, current homeschoolers. Stop trying to make this about you and thus miss the entire point.
Someone tried to tell me that the uproar was because the author said homeschooling was a cultural problem. Actually, she didn’t. Here is what she said in the article:
“But homeschooling is part of a larger cultural problem — it’s the mental equivalent of trench warfare. Instead of engaging on the battlefield, we dig in, draw our lines and refuse to budge. American society is embroiled in conversations of racism and sexism that permeate the fabric of our cultural institutions. Donald Trump, the most polarizing (and arguably sexist) Republican candidate for president is the most popular. Police are shooting and killing black men, women and children at an alarming rate. The problems need to be engaged. Yet, instead of engaging, Americans are choosing to entrench themselves further in their ideologies.”
But people weren’t arguing about this part. They were arguing about her experiences. They were saying her parents just didn’t do it right. They were trying to negate her story and prove that their stories are actually the “right” ones and hers is wrong. They were trying to find any possible hole in her story to prove that this wasn’t True Homeschooling™ and thereby dismiss her. We’ve seen this happen thousands of times as alumni. Someone posts something about their negative experience as a homeschooled child, and the apologists jump down their throats, making all kinds of excuses, and defending homeschooling while dismissing the author’s painful experience as some fluke that shouldn’t be spoken of. With their protests, they show they care more about the reputation of homeschooling than the people that were affected by it. It’s an image to be held up at all costs, even if one of those costs are throwing broken, hurting people to the curb. Honestly, it’s getting old.
By all means, let’s have a reasonable discussion about the rather interesting idea put forth in that part I quoted. About different facets of homeschoolings, the pros and the cons, how to prevent abuse, and how to make the experience better for children and parents. About the authors claim that homeschooling can easily hide abuse. Let’s discuss those things. But people need to stop with the dismissing, the invalidating of others and their stories. If they don’t, they run the risk of being the perfect example of those the author said have dug a trench to defend their ideologies to the detriment of everything else.
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.
• 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
• 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
• 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)
I have yet to meet a religious homeschooler who can’t finish that scripture from memory. If you’re like me, you grew up in a very authoritarian, punitive family environment. Punishment and pain, both physical and emotional, were believed to be the best means to teach a child “the way he should go”. Spanking and instant, cheerful obedience to authority were the norm, with many other kinds of punishments used as retribution for a child’s wrong-doing. Parents were the ultimate authority, and children had no choice but to obey or be punished, sometimes very harshly. I honestly didn’t know there were any other ways to parent. Either you spanked and “trained” your children, or you let them run wild and that meant you didn’t love them.
We were the generation influenced by “child training” teachers like the Pearls, Reb Bradley, Charity Christian Fellowship Churches, James Dobson, and myriads of other Christian authors, all providing materials from within a hierarchical, authoritarian family paradigm. “Break their will”, was a common tenet of “Biblical Parenting”. Spanking was said to be ordained by God. Never let your child win a battle, parents were told. Failure to conform to these tenets would produce perverts and criminals and unbelievers.
But what if they were wrong? What if that’s not the only way to raise strong and wise and good children?
I’ve written elsewhere about my journey from that authoritarian parenting paradigm into non-punitive, or peaceful parenting. Non-punitive parenting is defined as“a style of parenting that breaks the punitive mold by avoiding physical punishment, treating children with respect, and focusing on developing a strong parent-child relationship. It is a method that raises children without spanking, shaming, or yelling, and avoids the punishment-reward cycle of traditional punitive parenting.” Peaceful or gentle parenting is often defined as parenting by connection, relationship, and respect for children as human beings with the innate right to be treated as such. Treated as you would want to be treated. Christian proponents of gentle parenting sometimes call it “Golden Rule Parenting” for this reason.
But no matter the label, the root is the idea that children are people too, and that as people, they can grow and learn and develop best in an atmosphere of peace and connection, not punishment or coercion. We seek to validate our children’s emotions while teaching them how to appropriately express them. Traits that define how peaceful parents interact with their children include empathy, compassion, respect, boundaries, and unconditional love. This philosophy is based in the most recent findings of science, psychology, human development, and sociology. Contrary to popular belief, non-punitive parenting is not permissive parenting. We still set limits and uphold them, we let natural consequences teach life lessons, and above all, we keep a healthy emotional connection with our kids that will be the foundation of everything we do. This is not a “parenting method” with formulas and rules, but more of a philosophy and value set that different parents put into practice in many different ways.
I know that many of us are breaking new ground in parenting our own children. We know that we don’t want to have the antagonistic relationship with them that we we had with our own parents. But often, while we know what not to do, we are lost when it comes to knowing what to do instead. Some of us have yet to find an alternative to punitive parenting. Some of us have discovered the world of non-punitive parenting, yet have no support and are often ridiculed by people that don’t understand our reasons or our methods. Some of us perhaps have never been told “did you know you can raise good kids without spanking them?” and we are longing to hear that we can do differently and succeed.
So I thought I’d put together a resource for those of you who, like me, want to do differently for our kids.
Those of us raised in Homeschool Land have a lot of the same issues, same foundation, and were raised similarly under “Biblical Parenting” rules. I understand the nuances of coming from a parenting framework riddled with fear and control and authoritarianism; the emotional turbulence we have as we try to parent our children and find we are parenting ourselves. This list is by no means exhaustive, and I hope to add to it as more good materials are brought to my attention. I hope it can help in the journeys of those who, like me, just need a little direction and encouragement.
Peace and health to you and your family.
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson The Child-Whisperer, Carol Tuttle Siblings Without Rivalry, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish Liberated Parents, Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish Parenting From the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell No Drama Discipline, Daniel Siegel No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame, Janet Lansbury Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings, Laura Markham The Explosive Child, Dr. Ross Greene (specifically for non-neuro-typical kids, but helpful for everyone)
There is a parenting paradigm I’d like to talk about. It begins with the idea of “parental authority”, which begins with the idea that there is a hierarchical authority structure in life that everyone must fit into and children are at the bottom. I’m the parent, you’re the child. I’m the boss, you have to obey. Everything in this paradigm is based on the idea that some of us have positions of authority and submission to authority is good, right, orderly, and “God’s plan” for all of us.
But what if it isn’t? What if it’s just a model of how we’ve set up our relationships, a pattern to follow, that may or may not work out the best for everyone involved? What if there’s a better model to follow? I mean, in a hierarchical model, with people on top and people on the bottom, it seems that the ones on the bottom get the short end of the stick. And all too often, when applied to parenting in an authoritarian manner, children are the ones that have the most to lose.
It is often taught in conservative circles that parents have to right to require what they want of their children, and children must obey no matter what. It is even encouraged to set up arbitrary “training sessions” to “test” a child’s submission and obedience to authority, for no other reason then to condition them to follow your every command. Children are set up, and if they do well, they pass, but if they succumb to temptation, they get thwacked and punished, thus enforcing the idea that Mom and Dad are the boss and need no other reason to be obeyed other than their perceived authority over the child. If I say jump, I don’t owe you an explanation nor do I need a reason because *I’m the Mom*, you are the child, I have the power over you, you must learn to submit. And all of this is justified by invoking “God’s will for your life”.
In this paradigm or parenting model, children are expected to obey, to suppress their emotions, to never voice their own opinion because all that matters is their obedience to authority. They have no autonomy, their feelings don’t matter, they have no freedom to choose for themselves, and they are at the whim of their parents, their authorities.
But what if children are people too?
What if parenting is less about obedience and more about instilling The Golden Rule?
What if good parenting is about producing adults that know how to make wise choices and respect other people?
What if, instead of seeking ways to prove “I’m the Boss and you will obey me”, I’m instead seeking out ways to teach them how to choose for themselves? To let them learn how to express themselves in a healthy manner? Teaching them that their choices have consequences in life? What if I include them in decisions that will affect them? Teach them their thoughts and feelings matter to me?
What if I even *gasp!* teach them to question authority? To think for themselves? Even if that means questioning me?
I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is this: What is my parenting goal?
Because, for a long time, my goal was incongruent with my parenting methods. My parenting philosophy was contrary to my goals for my children. I just didn’t realize it. I was so focused on the here and now, I forgot to see the big picture…the one where my kids end up as adults and are a product of my parenting.
“Parental authority”, the idea that we are the boss and they must learn to obey without question purely because of our position over them, goes against everything I believe in and desire to instill in my kids. I don’t want to raise little robots! I want to produce smart, thinking people, that can recognize bullshit from a mile away. That stand up to evil and fight for justice, even against “authorities”. Teaching a child to obey “authority” without question is dangerous. Because “authorities” are human and can be evil. Matter of fact, power corrupts and it seems to me that those who are in authority over other people are often the very ones from whom we must protect our children. I *want* my kids to question everything and everyone. What better place to model and teach this than with me, where they are safe and loved and their hearts treasured?
So I give them options. I do what I can to let them make their own choices about their lives. There are going to be times when I have to set boundaries that they can’t have a say in and don’t understand because they are young and immature in many ways. So how much more should I be celebrating the times when they CAN have a say? Seeking them out, even. And those times are much more numerous than I previously thought. For instance, I don’t believe that it is my choice to needlessly and permanently alter my sons’ (or daughters’) bodies by cosmetic circumcision. It’s their body, their choice; not mine. I don’t believe I should be the only one to choose what church we go to and not give heavy consideration to my children’s thoughts and desires; they are part of this family too, after all, and the decision affects them. It’s my job to make sure my kids are dressed appropriately for the occasion and the weather, but the details are always up to them. I think that by letting my children know that they have a voice that will be heard, that I value their input, that I respect their autonomy, that I celebrate their individuality, that they won’t be ignored or brushed off or their ideas considered less important than mine, I will be forming a relationship of mutual trust and respect that will last a lifetime. It helps them to listen better on those times when I need to put my foot down if those times are few and far between. I need to model respect if I want respectful children. I need to honor their personhood and their autonomy.
I think the biggest step is to be able to see our children as people.
It’s a simple as that. “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” Children aren’t our possessions. They aren’t property to do what we want with. They’re people. Little, unfinished people, but still people, with all the thoughts and feelings and desires and conflicts that you and I have.
I have nothing to prove to my children. I don’t need to “show them who’s boss”. That’s not the kind of relationship I desire with them. I desire for them to be wise, independent, compassionate, passionate, lovers of justice and mercy, capable, respectful, and strong. If I want them to value others, I must value them. If I want them to be kind to others, I must be kind to them. If I desire respect, I must show respect. I do not see respect as something I am entitled to because “I’m the mom”, but something I’ve earned because I have shown respect to my children. This seems very simple to me. As simple as “do unto others as you want others to do unto you”.
See your children as people, change the way you look at them and change the way you see yourself in relation to them, and I guarantee you will change the way you parent them.
Look at the end goal and think about whether your parenting philosophy is going to get you there or if it needs some major overhauling.
Many people find the beginning of parenthood marks the sudden decline of their friendships.
Babies are constantly needy and deprive you of sleep, energy, and coherence. Toddlers, when awake, need constant monitoring; and even their sleep must be prioritized in your schedule. Preschoolers are fast and fearless and can disappear in an instant because of a whim. And for all of them, their constant stream of needs and your constant stream of worries, day and night, can completely shut down your ability to think of any other topic.
Somehow, in the haze of new parenthood, I actually connected to a group of other new moms. Maybe it was because they were in a similar haze, and we were all in the trenches together. Crying, worrying, laughing, celebrating together. Just what I had always wanted, for my whole life, but never experienced even once.
And it didn’t stop there. I also began to feel closer to a few other friends that I had always wanted to connect with more. And I began to meet even more people, around the neighborhood, in kid classes, through friends, through preschool. Was it my newly increasing confidence and happiness? Was it the oxytocin boost of motherhood that made me better able to connect?
Whatever it was, I wish that myself as a child could have known that a good future was coming, so that the dark nights didn’t seem quite as cold. However, the coldness of the past makes me value even more the warmth of friendship now. The empty silence of the past, the years of absolutely no conversations with anyone, make me value so much even the broken snippets of conversations that moms have while also monitoring active young children. The lack of attention and lack of empathy from my parents means that I don’t take the attention and empathy of my friends for granted today.
Thank you friends, if you are reading this, for being you and letting me be me.
I wish it weren’t true, but unfortunately my past does still sometimes reach all the way here to my good life today. Sometimes I still struggle with depression. Sometimes another person’s choices or mistakes hit me in an area where I am vulnerable, leaving me shaken and crippled with emotion. Sometimes, when my mind is stretched between sleep deprivation and two active kids, I find I have no bandwidth left to function socially, and then I resent the deficit I have to work with, and the fact that basic social skills and conversational skills that come naturally to many others require so much extra attention for me.
But now I can better fight my way out of those dark moments. Instead of trying to “be better” so I’m not a disappointment to God, now I have the positive motivation of wanting to connect with my husband, connect with my kids, and connect with my friends. Because, now that I know what it feels like to connect with others in a healthy and non-codependent way, there is no way I’m ever letting go of that.
HA note: The following contributor has asked to remain anonymous.
I’ve thought about writing ever since I stumbled upon this site.
I am going to be short, although I could share my thoughts and reflections for hours. I am a college educated capable mom of 58 who has seen my life, and the life of my children, turned upside down as a result of, at least in part, our years in ATI. My husband and I stumbled upon the pilot project of ATIA (as it was known in the early years) during our attendance at an Advanced IBLP Seminar. At the time, we were both somewhat disillusioned with the church world and the way that there seemed to be no real commitment to “walking the talk” among Christians.
Looking back, I can see where we were unconsciously looking for a “formula” that would help us be successful with our precious 2 kids.
Fast forward 20 some odd years… just within the last 5 years have we become aware of how we caused much harm in the lives of our oldest 2 children, especially. They were given a view of God that was so legalistic and formulaic that the whole concept of a God who loves and forgives became problematic for them. We are still working through the damage caused by those many years in ATI. I cannot speak for other families.
But I know that I, at least, have come to really grieve over what happened to our family as a result of our years in ATI.
A friend of mine recently shared with me a post from Cindy Rollins, a homeschooling mother of 9 children who blogs at Ordo Amoris. The post is entitled “Homeschooling and the Fear of Man.” It is circumstantially about Doug Phillips’ resignation and the fallout that resignation caused within the Christian homeschool movement. But more than that, it is about an overwhelming human emotion everyone can relate to:
Fear is a powerful force. When it becomes a motivating factor for our actions, it often leads to control. We try to control our environments — and kids’ environments — because we are afraid. We are afraid of what might happen if we do not control. We are terrified of “the world” and its many “influences” — sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll; secular humanism and evolutionism and all those other spectral -isms.
Having grown up in the Christian homeschool movement and ingested these messages all my life, I really appreciated Cindy’s perspective in her post. Cindy contextualizes Phillips’ resignation within a broader picture of homeschooling “gurus” who peddle their fares among the masses:
Over time gurus age and new ones take their places. Perhaps like viruses the new gurus are stronger than the old ones. They adapt and change to survive… These are men (and women) who make their way into your homes and…lure you because you are afraid. They lure you because you want to be in control of the future. They speak to your worst nightmares and offer you hope and while you are not looking they exchange the gospel for your own lousy efforts and theirs.
I am not a parent myself. But I still understand what she is saying. My parents fought against this trend, but not always successfully. I have seen many other homeschool parents get sucked into this trend and I have seen new parents — homeschool graduates themselves — get sucked in, too. This is the sort of trend that my older brother empathized with yet resisted yesterday: “Living a life without those extra rules can be scary.”
Good, well-meaning parents want the best for their children.
Good, well-meaning Christian parents want their children to thrive in good Christian ways. Rules or formulas give a sense of security. But that desire for security goes haywire when coupled with your worst nightmares, when those nightmares lead you into artificial and stagnant legalism with the false hope of perfect kids.
Furthermore, your worst nightmares — your kid ending up a Satanist or a socialist or 16 and pregnant and twerking — are preyed upon at nearly every homeschool convention and exacerbated in so many parenting books by homeschool “gurus.” People who promise that, if you only follow their system, your kids will be spared from heartache and pain and apostasy.
Cindy minces no words and calls those promises nothing less than “snake oil”:
Even now some homeschool vendors sell their products as if there were spiritual value in them. There are only two words for this type of sales: snake oil. I just keep asking myself why. Why are we so fragile? Why do we fall for this stuff? Why do these people have such power over our minds? The Bible tells us there is no fear in love. Love conquers a multitude of sins. But we fear and we fall over and over again for false hope.
From my interactions with now-grandparents, older and wiser parents, and new parents, I am aware of how significant this struggle is. This is probably one of the most universal concerns parents have: wanting their kids to be ok, to be mature and independent, to be healthy. And if you are Christian, your desire that your kids remain Christians can override all these other concerns. It is Christianity or bust.
The “Christianity or bust” mentality leads to unfortunately-named articles like “How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home.” This mentality leads to false either/or situations like, “Do you teach your kids ‘be good because the Bible tells you to’ or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace?”
This should be a neither/nor.
Parents should want their kids to be loving, compassionate, humble, healthy truth-seekers.
If Christianity is true, then what better sort of kids to have prepared to embrace it? And if Christianity isn’t true, well, hey — you still have loving, compassionate, humble, and healthy kids.
There is no product, no curriculum, no educational option that will guarantee the condition of your child’s soul. I have seen friends raised with every creationist text imaginable become evolutionists. I have seen friends raised with hardly a whiff of creationism become hardcore fundamentalists. There is no guaranteed outcome. Even that stay at home daughter you know, the one who seems perfect and happy — one day her parents will be dead and she will have to figure out life for herself. That is just how life works. The person that today seems to have his or her life together might in two decades be convicted of child abuse. The person who today is doing lines of cocaine in a strip club might in two decades be changing the world. Life happens. There is no guaranteed outcome.
But I can tell you what is constant: kids wishing home was a safe place. Kids wishing their parents loved and accepted them.
That is what you have control over. You have control over whether you show your children love and acceptance, whether you model for them the love you see in Christ — the self-sacrifice, the unconditionality, the grace and forgiveness and patience. When you model that sort of love, you are seeing your children as human beings, as autonomous creatures rather than IKEA furniture. As Cindy says,
At no time should our goal be to make our children into artifacts. There is a difference between a soul and a product.
Even before our daughter was born, people were telling us how to raise her.
Some said we should home school. Others advocated for public school. Then there were those who railed against day care. And vaccines. And infant formula.
To be fair, these people probably only wanted the best for our child, Aria Rose. But my wife and I started to see a dangerous pattern in this type of advice — it was given as Gospel truth. If we home schooled Aria, we weren’t letting her be a “light” in the public schools. If we sent her to public school, we were allowing her to be taught by “godless” teachers. And if my wife wanted to go back to work, we were just letting others “raise” our daughter.
Unfortunately, none of this advice has anything to do with the Gospel. While the Scripture gives general commands about parenting, it has nothing to say about specific forms of schooling, day care, vaccines or formula. And yet, as a former homeschooler, I have seen this type of thinking prevail in some religious subcultures of American Christianity — especially the modern homeschooling movement. Thankfully, I had good parents who taught me well, but look at this quote from the introduction to a K4 A Beka Book:
“The Christian home school is not a school merely for the sake of academics, but for the sake of fulfilling the church’s God-ordained role in carrying out the Christian education mandate … Just as we believe it would be wrong to place a student under the influence of godless teachers, so we believe it would be wrong to place him under the influence of godless, humanistic readers and teaching materials.”
This textbook uses Deuteronomy 6:7, Proverbs 22:6 and 2 Timothy 3:15-17 as proof. But if you look at the context of those passages, the authors are specifically referring to teaching the ancient Scriptures to children — not math or science:
Deuteronomy 6:7: You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise
Proverbs 22:6: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it
2 Timothy 3:15-17: From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work
Of course, this is not the first time a religious subculture has twisted Scripture for its own gain. Jesus himself called out the Pharisees for their narrow-minded interpretations of the law in Matthew 23:
“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat,so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees — hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
In the previous chapter, Jesus summarized the law in two simple commands:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
That’s the true Gospel.
Nothing more. Nothing less. There is no law that states:
Thou shalt home school thy children
Thou shalt not send thy child to day care
Thou shalt not vaccinate thy children
Thou shalt only breast feed
Thou shalt vote Republican
Thou shalt attend a Protestant church
Thou shalt not drink
Thou shalt not smoke
Thou shalt not have oral sex
And thou shalt especially not challenge these laws
The good news is, groups like Homeschoolers Anonymous have been recently challenging these laws — and the hypocrites who enforce them. The community coordinator for HA, my brother R. L. Stollar, recently wrote this in a powerful story called “The Stones You Cast, The Tables You Built”:
“If we threaten your bottom line, if we call your idols into question, if we melt your golden calves and dance like David in their shimmering puddles while we reclaim our lost youth, it’s on you whether you will listen or pick up stones … And we will keep overturning those tables. We will keep overturning the tables made from the stones you cast.”
Jesus himself overturned the tables of hypocrites in the temple so that we might experience freedom grounded in love — not man-made laws. Of course, living a life without those extra rules can be scary. It’s easier to define love by our lists. I’m guilty of that, especially when it comes to raising Aria.
But the beauty of the Gospel is that I don’t have to be a perfect father.
I can fail. I can mess up. And each time I do, my true Father in Heaven is waiting to welcome me back home.
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s blog Becoming Worldly. It was originally published on February 18, 2013. Read Part One of Heather’s story for HA’s To Break Down A Child series here.
Trigger warning for To Break Down a Child series: posts in this series may include detailed descriptions of corporal punishment and physical abuse and violence towards children.
This picture could be anybody’s little sister blindfolded and hitting a piñata at her Dad’s house for another sibling’s birthday.
But it isn’t. It’s my little sister.
She lives in a different world than I did. One with her own bedroom and court-ordered visitation and Christmas presents from a kind stepmother. She has never been homeschooled. She does not remember a time when our family didn’t celebrate birthdays, or was too poor to buy a piñata, or was too “modest” for her favorite summer clothes to be allowed.
She could be using any stick to hit this piñata but she isn’t. She’s using the “red stick,” the most infamous spanking implement our family had.
As far as I know, none of the younger siblings attending this party were ever touched by the red stick and I imagine just a few had been threatened, but the grim knowledge of what it was used for had been passed down.
The red stick had started out as a handle to a child-size broom and then when the broom broke 25 years ago, it became a toy (a walking stick, a bat, a pretend sword) left in the yard until my Dad picked it up off the patio one day, tapped it against his palm a few times and said, “This would make a real good spankin’ stick.”
Then it became something totally new. An object of fear.
It stayed hanging on a nail or propped in a corner in my Dad’s bedroom or office for years except when it was picked up and used to threaten or to leave welts.
“Daddy, please don’t spank me. I’m tender.” No red stick today, only fodder for years of teasing. “Aww, is my little heatherjanes still tender?”
“Do you want a spanking? Don’t make me get the red stick.”
Mom catches one sister padding her underwear with toilet paper in anticipation of a beating. After that, it’s bare bottomed.
“Pull down your pants. Bend over.” Red stick.
Sitting in the “punish chair” corner ’til sundown, hearing the car crunch gravel in the driveway, shaking, hands going cold. Red stick.
“But I don’t want to try and eat a pickled pig lip out of that jar, Dad. It looks just like apig’s lip.” “If you don’t try it, you’ll get the red stick. You’d better eat it and like it.” Tears. Gagging. Spitting chunks of pickled pork into the sink. Red stick.
Pain, shame, anger, fear. Yelling. Red stick.
Running, cursing, slipping, falling, being caught and dragged. Red stick.
Grabbing the red stick tightly, just as tall, if not quite as strong as the woman holding it. “Let go,” Mom says.
“No,” I say, “You’re gonna hit me with it.”
“Yes,” she says.
“Well,” I say, “I’d be an idiot to let it go then, wouldn’t I?”
It strikes me that this photo is the only known picture of the red stick. The only official proof of it ever existing or being used is in a pleasant scenario. As it happens, the red stick finally died that happy day, broke while connecting with the piñata and ended up in the garbage.
A sibling sent me a message informing me that the red stick had met its end and that when Dad was out of range, they had celebrated its demise. I was glad, too: glad it was gone and that it did not die the way I had always imagined it would — splintering into pieces over a child’s behind.
It would never be used to hurt anyone again.
It had broken being used the only way it should have ever been used, in the original spirit it had once had — innocently in child’s play.