I Just Want to Be Normal: Alice’s Story


I am the oldest of four.

My three siblings are… an interesting little bunch. I’ve babysat them for the past couple of years while my (recently widowed) mother works a part-time job. As much as I’ve come to appreciate their individual personalities and how they’ve come to help me mature, I’ve struggled to care for them.

The thirteen year old is especially nosey when I’m trying to work on any of my writing. I have no idea if she does this on purpose, but it just happens. The five year old is very attached to me, and while I love it and wouldn’t trade it for the world, it gets exhausting real quick when she wants ice cream and I have to be the one to make it and no the others cannot get it for her because I make it perfectly.

And then there’s my brother.

My brother’s always had a strong-willed personality. It made the first year or two of babysitting him (along with the other two siblings) quite difficult at times. He would constantly ignore my attempts to uphold the rules my mother had previously set up. After a few too many discussions and emotional breakdowns, we decided that he’d have free reign (short of burning down the house or hurting people). Whatever he didn’t do that he was supposed to? That was “taken care of” when Mom got back.

Most of the time, he just gets off with a warning. He rarely get punished like my thirteen year old sister and I do. He can slack for a couple of days (not do jobs and schoolwork), when I get upset over him not being held to the same standards, he perceives it as an attack against him. He was always the victim. Of course, I never know any better. When Mom gets home, it’s hard for me to switch from the “mommy” role to “sister” role. Part of me still needs to make sure that everyone is being obedient. He’s become my focus because he’s the one who slacks off the most, and yes, it eats at me that he’s Mom’s favorite. Hey, have favorites all day long, just don’t let them get away with shitty behavior and admonish the older ones for being upset with it!

Keep in mind that I started this whole “babysitting while she went to work” thing at age thirteen or fourteen.

My dad was still alive then, but he couldn’t do much to help out because he suffered from a physical disability which led him to staying in bed a lot, and he was a really gentle man so he couldn’t really discipline my siblings like my mother did. Then, when he passed away a couple of months ago to a gruesome, debilitating cancer, the role of second parent was placed on me.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t “hate” babysitting my siblings. Despite their conflicting personalities, they can be a hilarious group to be around. (Just as long as they’re not sorely pissed off at each other. They have their mother’s temper for sure.) But even when my dad was around, I struggled (and still sometimes do) with taking care of them “properly.” Being placed in the role of “mother” at fourteen years old for up to eight hours was not the most pleasant of experiences. At that age, my brain wasn’t equipped to deal with the mother-like duties of being the sole caregiver of three children under thirteen.

Even though I was placed in the role of “mother,” I still had to obey and enforce my mom’s rules. Her “don’t answer the door to anyone” rule isn’t the main problem here, nor is the “lock the door behind me” rule.

My problem is that I’m pretty much isolated with three kids (thirteen, ten, and five) inside an 800 square foot house for anywhere from 8-10 hours.

No sunlight, no fresh air unless we turn off the A/C or heater and open the windows. And people get grumpy when they’re kept isolated in such close quarters. We all get the cabin fever from hell. It might not be so bad if I was allowed outside to go get the mail. Being the oldest at sixteen, I figured my mom might extend some privileges to me and allow me to go outside. If not to the mailbox, then at least on the front porch. It’s not like I’m going to go and make out with some boy on the front porch or in my yard, for God’s sakes. I barely have any real life contact with boys as it is, asides from going to youth group once a week and my occasional trip to the store. Heck, I don’t even have any male friends in my life asides from the married Christian adult men. I mean, what she could be worried about? What could I possibly accomplish being outside in my front yard where all the neighbors can see me?

I’m mature enough to babysit three kids for hours on end, but not enough to go outside for a few minutes. Or she’s just paranoid of kidnappers.

It was 2:15 yesterday that everything finally exploded in my poor little brain. Mom had called earlier and said something had come up and she needed to stay a few extra hours at the office if that was okay with me. And of course, I’m gonna say “Yeah, it’s okay with me!” Because what else can I say? It’s not like the kids were misbehaving at that time. Sure, they had the occasional argument, but I expect that. They’re siblings. They’re not going to get along 24/7. Hell, I still fight with them.

But she’d been doing this for a few days now, working until 5:00 and not getting back home until 6:00. It sucked, because staying inside all day was taking its toll on me. I try my best to pay attention to the kids when they need it, but it’s hard to keep my cool when the two younger ones are constantly arguing and the thirteen year old is going through one of her moods again. It’s overwhelming to try and solve the problems of three children, or at least calm them down.

And if I actually manage to do any of that? I’m too brain-fried to even do any of my schoolwork.

I know the moment I sit down, the drama will start again. So I don’t even try any more. Hell, I don’t even try to get the others to do their schoolwork. It’s not like I can force them to do it. And if on the rare occasion they actually do their schoolwork? The five year old will probably need them while I’m in the middle of explaining a math problem.

Mom doesn’t always ask about the school work situation when she gets back home, but when she does, it ticks me off. I just spent eight freaking hours with your kids. I haven’t had the time nor the energy. And wait…what? Now you want to tell me to go do it? Great! So I spent 10-5 with the kids, and now I have to spend 5-9 doing my schoolwork and whoops, would you lookie there? It’s time for bed! Yay, my whole day is gone. Now to go to bed and repeat the exact same thing in the morning.

The fact is, I’m a teenager. Yes, I need to be responsible and help watch the kids while she works, but I want a life. A life where I can have some fun before I go full-blown adult in a couple of years. I don’t want to spent the rest of my teenage years babysitting and doing schoolwork all day.

I want to go out and have fun. I want to meet people. I want to make friends.

I just want a semi-normal life.

I have friends both from the public school and homeschool environments, so I’m able to see how our lifestyles vary. Being in the public school system doesn’t always make life better, and it doesn’t always mean the parents are less controlling. I’ve seen homeschooled teens with parents who have proper boundaries, but aren’t over-emphatic with them. I’ve seen public-schooled teens with parents who…well, to put it nicely, don’t understand that there’s a difference between a sixteen year old and a two year old.

I just want to be normal. I just want to be a good sister, and when I need to, a good mother to my siblings.

I just want to do things right, for once.

A Little Girl’s Screams for Help: LJ Lamb’s Story


Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “LJ Lamb” is the pseudonym chosen by the author.

Content warning: descriptions of physical and sexual sibling abuse.

Mum had these weird beliefs about Christianity. She believed that when you became a Christian you gave up your human rights. I’m going to let you think about that. Stop, re-read that, and let it sink in. My mother believes that no Christian has any human rights. None, zero, zilch, nuda. Feel free to grab your spew bag now.

One of my older brothers had a particular thing for beating, bullying, destroying, and even killing anything and everything he could get his hands on. Everyone younger than him was petrified of him. It only got worse as he got older.

I remember telling one of my younger brothers off – I think for making a mess in the kitchen and not wanting to clean it up. My older brother, hearing the argument between my younger brother and I, suddenly entered the room. He cracked his belt and threatened to whip my younger brother because our fight had disturbed his afternoon nap.

I pleaded with him to let me deal with it and not hurt our younger brother.

Another time he took some things that belonged to me. I ascertained to the family members there that taking something from someone without permission was stealing. Mum agreed, until she heard that it was her little ‘angel’ who did it. Allegedly she prayed about it, and God told her that I needed to learn to give up my rights.

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, when he worked out how to get into my bedroom and my bed so that I couldn’t kick him out without making a fuss to mother (who would of course side with him all my experience told me) despite me feeling desperately frightened and dirty. I was certain I must be displeasing God, but believed with all my heart that if I went to mum she would punish me and turn me over to the wolf.

So I didn’t scream.

I didn’t fight.

I did the best I could. I tried to amuse him every other way under the sun. I knew he wanted sex. I was so frightened of him. What he would do to me if I as much made a peep. I kept putting my clothes back on. When at the end of the day mum finally came to put me to bed that night and found him in bed with me, his instant reaction was to blame me.

It was my idea. My fault.

By this stage I had already started blocking memories, so I couldn’t even remember what happened earlier that day. I was too frightened to speak. But I felt so dirty. I have no idea what he told my parents later, as I begged out. I pleaded to be smacked instead. After all, we were taught that beating makes atonement for wrong. Beatings were the only way to be worthy of God’s forgiveness. I intended to later get a belt and whip myself or get my younger sister to do it as a favour to me. It still makes me sick to think of it.

I knew what happened that day wasn’t right. I just didn’t realise for years that I had been conditioned to it and groomed for abuse. I didn’t realize it wasn’t my fault. God wasn’t choosing not to forgive me because I was too evil. He didn’t see me as having sinned in the first place. He saw me as the hurt, not the hurter. And He loves the scarred and hurt girls as much as the ones who weren’t abused.

Several weeks after that, the family was at the beach (minus dad). My brother tried to murder me by drowning me when no-one was looking. I couldn’t understand his behaviour and asked him why he was doing this to me. I will never forget the dark look in his eyes when he told me he was going to kill me, because he hated me.

I desperately tried to swim away, but I was quite young still, and couldn’t swim very well. In moments he was on top of me again, holding me under, willing me to drown.

I wasn’t sure why he let go.

Maybe I struggled too much at first. Maybe the waves knocked him about, because it was choppy. But I remember looking up at one stage realising the shore was too far away, and there was no way I could get back in because I was losing my strength to fight. And when I went back I can still hear that little girl’s desperate screams for help, realising she was about to drown at the hands of her own brother, and no-one would know why.

Then there was the terrible moment when I realised that nobody heard, because the wind dragged my voice away.

We were too far from the shore. Nobody saw us, and in my heart I knew that nobody was coming to my rescue.

My brother again grabbed me and held me under (over 8 times now), but this time something happened. Mum suddenly saw what happened, and called for him to come to her. (I didn’t see this of course, I heard about it afterward.) All I knew was that he let go of me, as a waves went over me, and I popped up into glorious air. And he was somewhere else, out of reach of me, and mum was calling him. He was in big trouble. I was much closer to shore than I was before he pushed me under the last time and I was able to catch a wave in.

He ended up being barely punished for the incident, because mother felt sorry for him. I should have told her what happened, but I didn’t. She wouldn’t have believed me over him. She never did.

It was only recently I was able to go back and unpack that memory in counselling. One thing it confirmed for me was that God did hear that little girl’s screams for help, and He didn’t abandon me in my darkest moment. As petrifying as it was to go back, I was comforted by that. Because God still loved me and was looking out for me, even then.

To this day I know the only reason I am still alive is because God spared my life that day.

A Sister, Not a Parent: Sage Lynn’s Story


Pseudonym note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sage Lynn” is the pseudonym chosen by the author.

I absolutely love being a big sister. In the darkest times of my life, thinking of my siblings kept me going. I would do anything in the world for them, and they know it.

However, my relationship with my siblings is also complicated. 

When, as a kid, I expressed concern that I didn’t get to hang out with kids my own age and wouldn’t know how to do that when I went to college, my mom quickly told me that “if you can get along with your siblings, you can get along with anyone.” Naively believing this, I struggled with the guilt of wishing I had perfect, loving relationships with my siblings (“Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends,” anyone?) and the reality that we just didn’t get along all the time, even though we loved each other fiercely.

As the oldest of eight siblings—a small family by the standards of the church I grew up in—I grew up with mega responsibility. Early on, I learned that my role was to take care of younger siblings. I babysat, cooked, sewed, cleaned, taught, and filled dozens of other parental roles. My younger siblings would accidentally call me mom, something that landed me in the middle of a fury storm as my mom raged at me for usurping her place before retreating back to her room to try to deal with the depression she refused to seek help for. I was proud that I could run the household.

Luckily, schoolwork was incredibly easy for me (even though the material was comparable to a standard traditional school education), so I managed to get a great education even though my time was full with chores and housework. I would often get installed in the kitchen, doing schoolwork at the table while I watched several of the youngest children so my mom could teach the middle ones. From the age of seven, I took on making breakfast and lunch every day—by the time I was nine, I was making dinner as well. I have a knack for involving kids in whatever activity I happened to be doing, something that was honed in my years at home. Some of my happiest sibling memories involve making meals in the kitchen. My mom never had much patience with them, but I loved nothing better than to find something for them to do and have some company while I worked.

Our bond was not always nurtured under such happy circumstances, though.

My mom had anger issues and could flare up at short notice. My dad’s way of dealing with it was to ignore it, leaving for work early and coming home late. We had an unspoken rule of covering for each other as much as we could. Any animosity we felt was laid aside in the event of an anger outburst.

Walking on eggshells is the best way to describe what our life felt like.

When my mom was fine, our normal sibling arguments and jealousies sprang up. We loved each other, and we also fought; this was when life felt the most normal. When my mom was angry, though, we worked like a well-oiled machine. Each older child took a younger one under their wing, and even the babies seemed to realize they needed to be quiet and keep sweet. We came to look forward to when my mom would leave the house for hours or days on end—although we never knew if she was ok or not, we were able to have fun. We didn’t have to worry that any laughter would be shushed and any argument would incur violent punishment. We’d clean the house, make meals, and care for our younger siblings under and unspoken agreement that delegated certain jobs to each of us. It worked, and it provided the most security and schedule we ever had.

Sure, we were acting more like adults than kids, but we also got to tease each other and come up with goofy rituals that made the chores seem easier. For example, my next older siblings and I often cleaned up dinner together. We split the jobs into three main parts and each took one. While we cleaned, we’d tell jokes, sing songs, have arm wrestling matches, and talk about our days. When my mom was home, however, we were expected to do our work in silence.

It was easier with my younger siblings. I left home for college out of state when they were still fairly young. While it tore my heart apart to leave them, since I was their surrogate mom, it was the best thing for me and them. I still have good relationships with them—I feel more like I’m their aunt than their big sister. When I’m at home, we will do activities, go out to eat, and have fun. My parents have loosened up some with them, and I am no longer afraid of my parents, so things go much better. Even though I still have a lot of anxiety about leaving them and feel more responsibility than most older siblings probably do, I know that I am no longer responsible for them.

I also know that I don’t have to get along with any of my siblings perfectly.

In fact, socialization is an entirely different thing altogether. My older siblings still believe a great deal of the fundamentalist teachings we grew up with, but they are also all still living at home. When I’m at home, I walk the fine line of not disagreeing with my parents’ worldview, principles, and positions in front of my siblings while simultaneously believing that their attitudes are often dangerous and harmful. If I want to continue to interact with my siblings, I have to keep up this balancing act. At the same time, as my siblings get older, I hope that they see me as a safe person who will accept them for whoever they are and whatever they believe.

Gradually, perhaps, they will see that the girls have other options than being wives and mothers, although that is perfectly fine if that is what they truly want. They may see that women and men are inherently equal, and that neither needs to conform to traditional expectations of gender from any source.

I will always love being a big sister. For most of my life, though, I did not know what being a sister meant.

Today, I am truly a sister, not a parent. And I love it. 

Their Happiness Does Not Depend on Me: Asenath’s Story


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

Since my siblings were my main source of “friends” during my K-12 homeschool experience, I didn’t learn much about how to choose friends or how to maintain a friendship. Maintaining a relationship with a sibling who lives with you 24/7 and cannot leave is very different from maintaining a friendship with someone whom you may have to make an effort to get together or stay in touch with and who can leave if they don’t like the way you are treating them. Also, some friendships are temporary and in my adult life I have tended to be far more loyal to friends than they have been to me and far more crushed by losing friends because I didn’t learn at a younger age that it can be normal to move on from certain friendships.

I have spent a great deal of my adult life being very lonely because I expected friends to come to me and didn’t take responsibility for developing my social life and doing the work of leaving my house and meeting new people and developing friendships. At 31 yrs. old, I am finally realizing that there is not a shortage of friends and that I can go out and make and choose friends rather than grasping at the few people I already know, hoping they won’t leave me.

Since I didn’t have peers in my homeschool experience, I went through my childhood constantly comparing myself to my sister who was two years older than me.

She and I were often grouped together for classes like history and science, and I would be working one to two grade levels above the normal grade for my age, so that my sister and I could work together. I was in college before I finally realized that I was in fact smart. I had pretty much concluded that I was dumb because my sister had usually out-performed me, and I had never taken into account the advantage she had in being two whole developmental years older than me.

My next sister, who is two years younger than me, is extremely smart. She is a lightning fast reader and also talented at math. While I was trying to keep up with my older sister, I was also very motivated to stay ahead of my younger sister, and I would get very discouraged whenever she out-performed me.

There was a strong sense of sibling hierarchy in my family, which I am still coming to terms with.

When my older sister left for college, I was sixteen. Losing her was devastating to me, and I went into a depression in which I felt like I was walking through a dark mist and might fall off a cliff at any moment. I didn’t know how to live without a big sister because my entire strategy for living was based around watching her and imitating her successes while avoiding her mistakes. When I turned eighteen, I didn’t go to college because I was still so depressed about losing my sister that I thought I would surely die if I left the rest of my family. I didn’t really have any plans for after high school, so I spent two years in limbo, staying at home and helping my mother before I finally went out and found a job.

I have three younger sisters and seven younger brothers, and I felt pressured to provide parenting for them from a very young age. I was also spanked into compliance at a very young age, so I never resisted and in fact actively participated in trying to please my parents by parenting my younger siblings. I also spanked some of my younger siblings, which is the biggest regret I have about my whole life. Today, I don’t believe in spanking. No one has the right to hit me and no one ever did. I do believe that there are peaceful and non-violent ways to set and maintain appropriate limits for children and to teach children how to behave and make good moral decisions.

As an adult, I am still in the beginning stages of developing separate relationships with each of my siblings. However, I am not close to most of my siblings because I am afraid to let them know who I am today and the ways in which my beliefs differ from those I grew up with. I have also really struggled with being able to interact with my siblings while resisting any pressure I still feel to parent them. It helps me to remember that each of my siblings is smart, capable, able-bodied and of sound mind. If they need help, they can identify what help they need or want from me and ask for it directly.

Their happiness does not depend on me.

I am not loving them (or myself) when I act as though I think it does.

Home for the Holidays: Salome’s Story


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

Dear Homeschoolers Anonymous,

First, thank you so much for giving us a voice. It’s so important that we speak — and are heard. Just telling our stories has value, and you’ve done a phenomenal job. We are watching. We are listening. We are learning. And we are healing.

I’ve tossed around the idea of telling you my story for some time now — but I couldn’t figure out how, and I’m such a goddamn private person that writing about my childhood is like prying my teeth out with a crowbar. I’m finally writing because I don’t often get the chance to brag safely about my brother, and I think it’d be foolish not to take the chance.

We’re all home for the holidays, and I find myself struggling to reconcile the emotional manipulation, patriarchal ideas (which BTW have completely screwed my life up — I can’t even get married, because I can’t seem to shake my patriarchal conditioning — so thank you for speaking up about patriarchalism too), and sometimes simple cruelty that I remember as a kid and the relatively stable family who jokes around (at my father’s expense — which would have been heresy when I was a kid), allows my teenage sister to wear normal clothes, and practically force-feeds me some weird herbal goop my mother concocted to soothe my raw throat.

IDK what changed. 

I can’t forget all of the horrible things they said and did (I’m still keeping my recent decision that I don’t think I can be a Christian anymore, as well as the surrounding circumstances, from them, just in case). I can’t forget the constant friction that comes from being the oldest child in a cookie-cutter family whose inner rot was concealed beneath our conditioned responses. We were punished when we made our parents look bad, not when we actually did bad things. The incongruity was hardest on me — and I tried hardest to conform for awhile, until I set out on a campaign to break my father’s heart when I got into high school.

That made me target #1.

My brother bucked their rules from a very early age. Let’s be clear: he is objectively a good man, and was a good kid then. No drugs, no sex, no porn (that I know of… Mom did put a lock on the computer pretty inexplicably once, and gave me the password with instructions not to give it to my brother, so I guess it’s possible). Both my brother and I developed an appreciation for heavy metal (the raw honesty speaks to me), and have anger issues (I have a host of other emotional issues, but I haven’t talked to him about it, so I don’t know if he shares any more of them), but considering what we went through, I think we’re justified. Mom was convinced he was a terrible person, not a Christian, morally lax – the list goes on.

I apologize for the long and garbled introduction.

The point I was leading up to was this: my brother and I fought like the world was gonna end if the other person got their way, but we also stuck together.

We warned each other in hushed tones when our mother was in a particularly vicious mood, and helped each other skulk around outside her sight. We spent long hours outside, because she was likely to forget us if we were out there, but in the times that she did remember us and screamed our names in that tone of voice that said we were in for a rough day, we gave each other looks of pity as we walked back to meet our fate. We didn’t tattle on each other. In the times that the emotional abuse turned into physical abuse, after my brother got bigger and stronger than both my parents, he stepped in.

When our little sister came along, we made an unspoken pact to protect her too.

I’m a little jealous of her sometimes, honestly. She missed the worst of it, and we shielded her from much of the rest. She joined me in my campaign to break Dad’s heart — and succeeded to a degree I could not. Our joint efforts may have something to do with the change in my family, actually. I hope so. That call to protect my siblings has affected me hugely — I still find myself staying in dangerous situations just to protect the people who are still too naive to protect themselves.

Sacrificing my safety for theirs comes naturally. I’ve always done it. 

One incident is firmly lodged in my mind. My parents had decided that it was a good day to sit me down and lecture me (more like screaming cherry-picked Bible verses at me and telling me I was worthless) — for hours (I don’t remember just how long. It may have been anywhere from 2-4 hours). It had something to do with my campaign, although it quickly spread to include anything and everything my mom could think of, whether it was true or not.

Think Communist China Cultural Revolution-era denunciation meetings.

I was an emotional wreck, because I had been trying to ease into a closer relationship, which meant that my normal policy of emotional numbness was not in effect. I was crying, they were screaming, and then my brother swooped in to my rescue. He said, “Stop. Just stop. Can’t you see what you’re doing to her? Stop.” When they turned their ire on him, he explained further — he was intervening because he loved me. I didn’t stick around much longer — he had given me an out, and I spent the rest of the day outside (this time beyond earshot). That day remains both one of my best memories and worst memories — it was one of the only times I can remember my stereotypically strong and silent brother telling me he loves me without any coaxing.

I’ll never forget that.

I’m sure there’s more I could say, but sifting through all of these memories, trying to remain true to the story, while leaving out the shit I’m not ready to deal with, is kind of exhausting and painful. I feel bad criticizing the people who are showering me with love and gifts, but I’ve got to deal with at least some of the memories rattling around in my mind.

Thank you for listening. That’s more than can be said about most.

My Regret: Phoenix’s Story


HA note: Phoenix blogs at The Eighth and Final Square.

Content warning: descriptions of infant spanking.

Two years old. Rebellious. Self-willed. Wicked. Too young to like or dislike anything. Too young to have opinions.


Uhh yeah, that’s my parents for you.

They don’t believe in the “terrible twos”…they believe in “terrible hearts”.

You know, the verse in Proverbs that says foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of correction will drive it from him. And the verse that the heart is wicked and who can know it. So the first problem is, they don’t come to parenting with the view that these are people. They come to parenting with the view that these are wicked little sinners who need a radical change, whose thoughts and feelings and opinions and likes and dislikes don’t matter because it is all selfish willfulness.

Cue the dinner table. There’s a very small child in the high chair, whom dad is feeding. This child is a baby, really…crawling, maybe walking; can’t even say real words yet.

“Open up!” dad says, moving the spoon towards her.

She accepts that bite, but doesn’t like the food, and spits it back out.

“No, you eat it,” dad says, scooping it back up and attempting to give it to her again.

She makes a disgusted face and turns her head. We all laugh at the cute little shudder she makes.

“Don’t laugh, it encourages her,” dad says, still trying to force the bite with the slightly more stern command “Open”. He presses the spoon against her soft mouth, trying to force it open.

When she continues resisting, he moves her head to face him and commands sternly, “Open.”

She may open her mouth at that point, or she may not; in which case he takes the tray off the chair and gives her a few loud swats, sets her back down, and resumes with the “open” stuff.

Meanwhile the rest of us try to ignore it and eat our dinners.

If she still doesn’t open her mouth, again with the swats, and she sits there crying, looking at him with terror in her eyes, her nose running all over the place. If her mouth is open from crying, he shoves it in. If she tries to spit it out, he doesn’t let her, and she accepts that she has to keep it in her mouth.

Then comes the battle to get her to swallow.

What one-year-old do you know who knows the meaning of the word “swallow”, let alone “open”? Most one-year-olds are lucky to know the word “no”.

I’m sitting there, dying inside, longing to take her in my arms, wipe her tears, blow her nose, and cuddle her safe in my arms.

Nobody, not even mom, was allowed to give her any comfort. Not even dad did, until she did whatever he wanted. And if he got tired of spanking her, he sent her to bed…and when she got up she had to eat the same thing she disliked. Because her likes and dislikes didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that she obeyed the first time, every time.

My only regret is that I didn’t stick up for her, for them, every time it happened with I don’t know how many of them, probably all, at one time or another.

The last time it happened when I was there, I was so close to exploding that had he spanked her one more time, I would have done something. I just wish I had…that I had stood up long before.

And that is my regret.

Paper Swords: Mahalath’s Story


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

I have one precious little sister. Let’s call her Susannah.

When I was nine, I decided I’d had enough of my parent’s rules, belittling, and humiliations. It was time for a rebellion. In my childish ignorance, I fashioned a sword and shield out of paper to fight them. My isolated little brain convinced me that these were effective weapons. At nine years old, I had no real concept of reality because I’d never seen it.

My little sister Susannah came along and saw what I was doing. Seven at the time, she wanted to help her older sister out. So I made her her own sword and shield, coloring with red markers along the edges of the blade. “That’s blood. So they’ll be afraid of us,” I explained. She nodded solemnly.

Our eight o’clock bedtime was deemed the perfect time for our small coup. When summoned upstairs for our mandated bedtime prayers, we charged up to our bedroom with weaponry at hand. Our parents watched us approach with a sort of bored amusement. But I meant business, and I said so: “This is a revolution! You have to do what we say or we’ll kill you!” Pointing my flimsy sword at their noses, I gave them fearsome glares.

My dear, darling little sister was unfazed by all of this. She ran up to our mother and sat in her lap. “See, Mommy! I have a sword! See all of the blood!”

“Susannah,” I shrieked, “get back here! We’re rebelling!”

Fortunately for us, our parents saw this display as a cute little historical reenactment and laughed it off and put us to bed. Indeed, as I look back on the incident, I find it sort of funny. But I was serious at the time. I was deadly serious.

My sister Susannah was sometimes my greatest enemy, sometimes my only friend.

At times we helped each other survive the isolating, emotionally abusive environment that was our home. Yet at other times we turned on each other, every girl for herself, and used the other as a tool to gain at least a little sanity. But she will always be my sister, and I will always love her.

I whispered her stories at night that I made up myself to help her fall asleep. We created word games and did shadow puppets, always listening for the footsteps at the door so we could duck under the covers and pretend we were asleep.

When our parents demanded confessions for real or imagined offenses, we’d whisper in our room again, this time to decide who would take the fall. Often I would bear the burden as the oldest, but both of us sacrificed months of television and rare social events so that the other would walk free.

When my parents would fight, my sister Susannah would run to me. She would sob and I would rub her back. I’d tell her it was all okay when it all was horribly wrong. When they came with their fake apologies and forced grins, I’d wrap my arms around her and have to be pried off.

I taught her how to sneak food from the fridge when we were hungry and steal answer keys when our mother refused to give us help with our schoolwork. We sneak-watched forbidden TV shows and cracked computer passwords to search the internet. When I got a job and was denied access to my money, I figured out a way to sneak money out. I’d ride to the gas station just outside our subdivision on my bike when my parents were at work and buy sweets. We’d eat them in secret and hide the wrappers. I’d also visit the library box in the next subdivision over and obtain precious books. Books that didn’t have the swear words whited out, books with magic, books with African American protagonists. We’d devour them eagerly and then hide them in a secret drawer.

It wasn’t always smiles and games, however. It was true that we knew each other’s secrets, but they were often used as blackmail material in our spats. That I had read Harry Potter in secret, Susannah had a crush, I was cheating my way through French and she through science: these were often whispered in each other’s ears to get our way. But we never told these secrets, because we knew if one of us let a precious secret out, our own would be forfeit.

It was an endless stalemate.

We were both very good at manipulation. I would threaten her dolls if she didn’t let me copy off her history, she would call me names and poisonous insults for a turn at the forbidden cable show while I kept watch. I remember both of us hitting, damaging possessions, and stealing money from each other at ages when we should have known better. She went through a phase in her teen years where she enjoyed biting me. Later she switched to having me lie down and jumping on my back. I yelled at her, “forgot” to include her in hidden pleasures, and gave her the wrong answers for geography on purpose.

Today we are on good terms. I love her, and have come to a greater knowledge of this since moving across the country for college (and to get away from home). She, in turn, loves me in a sort of distant way. I fear a lot of the good feelings she has toward me are due to the presents I send in copious amounts and the valuable cultural information I pass on. (I can hardly blame her. I had that survival mindset, too!) But she does love me for more than that. I know it.

Many times at night I lie awake and worry. Is she okay? What does she do when our parents are fighting? Does she remember to change the channel to where it previously was before our parents return home? Can she make it through her science course? Will she even get out of there (I barely managed, and it was a huge fight.) ? Someday, will I have to rescue her?

Someday, my dear Susannah will be free. Whether she breaks out on her own or not, she’ll get to taste the real world, and I’m excited for that day. I’ll do whatever it takes to help her. I’m not going to wave paper swords around, but I will let her live with me if she wants, help her find a job, teach her how to make it in the world.

Susannah, if you ever read manage to read this, take heart. It gets better.

Dear Big Sister: E’s Story


HA note: E shared this open letter with HA and said, “I wanted to offer a contribution to the Siblings series regarding what I can only call emotional incest.”

Dear Big Sister,

You were my first and often my only friend.  In the early days of our lives it was just you and me.  Homeschooling was new in our community, there were few other children for us to play with and we lived in the country with acres of woods and pastures all to ourselves.  We built castles in the trees, picked mulberries behind the house, blazed trails through the weeds, gathered up our skirts and waded through creeks, climbed, fell, scraped, bruised, laughed, ran, and lived together.  We were dinosaurs, runaways, horses, lions, detectives, unicorns, secret agents.  We were always together, every day, every hour.

Sometimes I wonder if that togetherness is what hurt you.  Sometimes I wonder if that’s why you never learned to let go.

We grew up.  Still, we were together.  Grandpa said that we were amazing because we never fought.  That was not completely true, but fights were rare.  We were very different people but sometimes I think we forgot that.  Our personailties, our interests, our feelings were different, but people rarely saw that.  We were still “the girls” we still mostly went to the same activities and were in the same places.  Now we had more opportunities and friends to be with, but still, apart from a few hours each week, we were always together.  Always, always together.

And then you went to college.  Yes, it was hard for me at first.  You had always been there.  Now you rarely called, you rarely came home, you had new friends and a new life.  But I adapted, I had my own friends and I developed my own interests and I learned to be with myself.  Two years later, I went across the country to my own college and I realized I was happy for you that you had your own life, that I had my own life, that we could be apart and still be close.  It was okay.  We didn’t have to be together all the time.  Right?

Isn’t that right?

I don’t know when your grip on me started to tighten.  I can’t put my finger on when you changed or if you had always been this way.  It seemed to start slowly.  I would call you and you would be angry with me for not calling you sooner.  I was confused; we were both busy with our own lives.  If you had wanted to talk why hadn’t you called?  How was I to know that you were expecting me to call more often?  You brushed my confusion aside, demanded an apology.  I gave it.  I was sorry.  I hadn’t meant to hurt you.

But it didn’t end there.  It happened again.  And again.  And then it started to spread.  When I would come home, you would demand my time.  Talking to anyone else, spending time with anyone else made you angry.  You needed to be included in absolutely everything.  Time with just friends, personal outings, none of that was allowed.  My dates with my boyfriend even became a point of contention… you wanted to be invited along.  Again and again, apologies were demanded.  I was being callous, cruel, insulting for living a life that didn’t involve you at every second.  That wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

I was confused, but I apologized.  I was an unsocialized homeschooled dweeb.  What did I know about social etiquette?  Surely I was in the wrong.

Soon, you were angry with me for even having a phone conversation with my significant other without conferencing you in.  You were angry with me for inviting you to an outing with friends because I hadn’t allowed you to pick the activity.  You were angry with me for accepting invitations to social events from friends that hadn’t included you.  You were angry with me for not hanging up on my significant other immediately when you decided you wanted to go do something with me.  And you were always, always angry with me for initiating contact with you by email or over the phone because it was never soon enough, it was never good enough, it was never the specific way that you had wanted me to contact you.

And you demanded your apologies over and over.  And I tried to explain myself over and over, but nothing would satisfy you.  So I would abase myself, I would apologize, I would wonder why I could never do things right.

Sister, I love you, but we are not the same person.  Our lives are separate.  Our personalities are separate.  We are not two isolated, lonely homeschooled children anymore.

When I came out as gay to you, I had hoped to find an ally.  I knew our parents would not accept it, but you had long been questioning the morals of our upbringing.  I hoped that I could trust you.  And at first, you seemed open, accepting, welcoming.  You encouraged me, you told me that you would protect my secret.

I wonder if it was your jealousy and your possessiveness that led you to change your mind.  When you changed, it was sudden and vicious.  Your possession of me escalated as you found an ultimate enemy in my same-sex partner.  You tried everything to prevent me from spending time with her or even mentioning her around you.  Open hostility, passive-aggressive behavior, the cold shoulder, emotional manipulation, shouting, lying, poisoning friends and family against me, and spiritual abuse were your tactics.  At the time, I thought it was about morality and homosexuality.  I no longer think it was.

I think, in your opposition to my same-sex relationship, you found what you believed to be a moral high-ground and a justification for your possessive, destructive behavior.  Suddenly, your controlling tendencies were applauded and supported by your family and the community around you.  Even today, you say that homosexuality “isn’t that big of a deal.”  At first that confused me.  It seemed like a complete reversal of your opinion.  But no, I don’t think this was ever really about me being gay.  It wasn’t about me at all.  I think it is about you and how you never learned to let go.

But Sister, I finally learned to be wise.  I finally realized that our relationship was not normal, not healthy, and not my fault.  I stopped apologizing.  I stopped abasing myself.  I stopped playing your game.  And oh, how angry that made you.  Every phone call, every attempt to talk to you, to have a relationship resulted in shouting, anger, and emotional abuse.  You lashed out at me when I drove across state lines to see your Masters degree graduation because I did not agree to stay overnight at your apartment.  You lashed out at me when I invited you to my wedding, not because you were opposed to the gender of my partner, but because I had not previously demonstrated enough devotion to you for you to want to attend.

You are the reason that there is only silence between us now.

I don’t know what made you the way you are.  I don’t know if it could have been different.  I don’t know if you would have been healthier and happier if we had been able to grow up with a little more separation and distance between us.  I can only speculate.

But I want you to know, I’m not that lonely, dependent little girl anymore, who was attached to your hip, who followed you everywhere, who was always with you.

I love you, Sister. But we can’t be together anymore.

Love, E

I Still Blame Myself: Shyla’s Story


Content warning: descriptions of sibling physical abuse, sibling sexual abuse, and corporal punishment.

My 2 brothers and 4 sisters and I were homeschooled from k thru 12.

I have a brother that is a year and a half older than me. We were not exactly close growing up and have very little contact now, even though he has apologized profusely. My parents believed firmly in spanking, they spanked each one of us until we left home. I was 20 when I finally got married and moved out . The spankings were always done in the living room with the whole family watching, which could be very embarrassing.

Out of the seven kids I was probably the worst at taking the spankings to be honest.

I have always had a very low threshold for pain. My brother who I mentioned earlier (I will call Andrew) noticed this. One day when I was 8 and he was around 10 he overheard me and a friend talking and using foul language. He waited until my friend went home and he told me he was going to tell our parents that I was using foul language. I begged him not to tell.

He said that he wouldn’t tell if he would be the one to spank me.

I was very scared of my parents and allowed him to do it. We lived in a rural area and went out to the large area of trees past our backyard. He found a tree stump and sat down and told me he was going to do this like mom and dad did. He made me take my pants down and bend over his lap. He spanked me with his hand.

It hurt and was embarrassing, but not nearly as painful as mom and dad doing it.

Little did I know that this would go on for 7 more years. Typically once or twice a month he would catch me in a “sin” and we would have a secret session in the woods again. Some of these sessions became more brutal as I matured.

He frequently started using a switch along with his hand.

When I was almost 16 I got tired of being hit by him and started telling him I didn’t care if he told Mom and Dad anymore. I threatened to tell on him and he became very nice all of a sudden. I did end up confiding in my grandmother and she told my parents even though she told me she wouldn’t.

My brother was in a lot of trouble and got a severe beating. But I got also got in trouble for letting my brother see me with my pants down.

I was shamed quite a lot and spanked as well.

My brother has tried over the years to apologize and make amends. My parents are also trying to heal the rift between us. I feel he took advantage of me and derived some type of sick pleasure from spanking me. He used my fear to coerce me into some very humiliating situations.

I still blame myself for not being strong enough to stand up to him.

An Open Letter to My Siblings (And Other Kids Like Us): Summer’s Thoughts


HA note: Summer shared this open letter with us and said, “I wrote this open letter to my siblings, and other kids like us, months ago but when I saw your posting for your series on siblings, I felt it was applicable. I hope to write more on the subject, as my siblings are a place of great hope for me.”

To my siblings and the kids like us:

Well done, you brave soul.

You have warred your entire life and you’re still here. No one could have blamed you for giving up, I know I have thought about it many times. We have warred against our parents, against each other, and against ourselves.

You were ignored at an early point. Disappointed at every corner and torn down whenever things looked positive. Lord knows high school was hell as you realized that this isn’t how home is supposed to feel. And the day you realized there was nothing in childhood to feel nostalgic for burned.

Where did we find the courage to keep looking forward?

We are the bravest people I know. As adults we’ve all become different people, not the same kids I argued with for years. We may not see eye-to-eye on much but we are all successful in our own ways. And we are here. And we’re still moving forward.

That is something to be acknowledged.

So. To the only people who share my demons and understand my scars, well done.