Making My Own Way: Matthew’s Story, Part Two

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

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In this series: Part One | Part Two

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High School Years

My first year in high school was wonderful for me. Finally, I was out of the house! I made friends and felt like I could finally breathe. I won’t go into great detail about my high school experience, since that isn’t the point of this story. However, I will point out a few things that I noticed over those four years:

• I discovered that I had a real problem with social anxiety. I’m not sure if this is hereditary or caused by my childhood. After reading some of the stories on this site, I’m thinking that it was a little of both.

• I was plagued by feelings of inadequacy. I thought I was not good enough, smart enough, athletic enough, witty enough… none of it. I did come to the realization that there are things that I’m good at, but it took years. In high school, I wound up trying everything since I had no idea where I fit in – I’d never had other kids around for me to gauge my own ability.

• I was plagued by guilt. Even if I hadn’t done anything wrong, I was often overcome by guilt over my (imagined and real) transgressions. This tied a lot into the messages we were receiving at church, which at this point were downright toxic.

• I had little-to-no self-confidence. As a homeschooler, you become so used to your parents’ authority, that you don’t really know how to make your own decisions, or when you do, you constantly second guess yourself.

So while getting out of the house was a welcome relief, I still felt like I was trying to overcome my upbringing.

At Home – Part 2

While I was off enjoying my high school experience, the “shit was hitting the fan” at home… oh, and how! My oldest younger sister had started hanging out with this girl she met at the homeschooling coop, and they decided they weren’t going to let being at home slow them down. I noticed one night that my sister and this girl, who was sleeping over, were acting really strange and goofy. Turns out, they were drunk! But how did they get the alcohol? After all, my parents didn’t drink. I later learned that my 12-year-old, shy-as-can-be sister stole it from a convenience store!

For my little sister, this would kick off what would become a six year blur of cigarettes, alcohol, promiscuous sex, drugs, and whatever else. To this day, I am convinced that the combination of home schooling and extreme Christian Fundamentalism destroyed her confidence. I remember her telling me, at 11, that she had given up and could never live up to the standard — I really think that she cracked under the pressure of that atmosphere.

She got pregnant at 17, got married, moved out, and hasn’t had issues with drugs or alcohol since. She and her husband now have 5 kids, all of whom are in public school, and her oldest daughter (13) is an exemplary student. All of her kids appear to be doing well.

Because of my sister’s meltdowns, I ended up getting away with a lot that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So in a roundabout way, I owe her a “thanks” for taking the pressure off me and humbling our parents. I did take advantage of her recklessness and flew under the radar as I started drinking at 15.

College

The drinking continued on into college. I could never shake the idea that I wasn’t good enough and that I was in a perpetual state of sin, so the alcohol helped me to ease the anxiety and mentally “check out” for long periods of time.

Then I’d get sober, feel horrible, and go cry to my Christian friends about how I was going to hell. My secular friends would shake their heads and wonder why I was so conflicted. This pattern continued until I got sober at about 26 years old.

Other things happened in college as well. My drinking habits combined with my lack of any sort of sex education made me a sitting duck when it came to STDs and unexpected pregnancy.

But despite all that, I managed to graduate.

Adulthood

Today, I don’t harbor any resentment over my upbringing, as I realize it could have been a whole lot worse! There were actually several good things that came out of it:

• Since much of my learning was from reading books and not in the classrooms, I’m very good at figuring things out on my own. This has been a very beneficial skill to have as an IT specialist.

• I don’t mind being alone. This is something I’m starting to see as a blessing. During my four year marriage (yes… I’m divorced) I was miserable most of the time. I always had to come home to a spouse who was either angry with me or trying to drag me to some function that I didn’t really feel like attending. Once I realized that marriage is not for me, I’ve been able to enjoy being a single dad, making my own way. Since as a kid, I often went out and about to do things on my own, it isn’t really much of an adjustment to do things and go places on my own today. I don’t need a large social circle.

• I’ve seen the damage that religious extremism causes and I can spot the warning signs a mile away. While I still attend church, it’s a seeker-sensitive, theology-lite congregation that just loves everyone. I take my kids on the weekends when I have them, but I don’t preach at them. Their faith is between them and God. I expect them to make mistakes and refuse to hold them to a higher standard than the one I hold for myself. I have no idea if God is real or if the Bible is completely true. If he is and his word is true, then I’m sure he’ll get my attention one way or another. But after years of unanswered prayers, a failed marriage, kids from multiple relationships, and alcoholism, I find it hard to believe that he is actively involved in our lives.

• I witnessed first-hand the despair and hopelessness of many disillusioned homeschooling parents. These are people who, by and large, poured their hearts and souls into raising Godly men and women. Seeing this convinced me that it’s best to adopt a “live and let live” parenting model and to love your children unconditionally! Even if my son winds up marching in the local gay pride parade with his boyfriend and my daughter ends up working overtime at the Diamond Club, I will still love them and welcome them in my home with open arms. Life is too short for fallouts over lifestyle choices.

Summary

Homeschooling was really just one piece of the whole dysfunctional puzzle. I’m sure that if other factors had been different, but I was still homeschooled, I might feel differently about it than I do now. That said, it is very encouraging to read accounts from other homeschoolers to confirm that many of my experiences are shared by others.

End of series.

Making My Own Way: Matthew’s Story, Part One

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

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In this series: Part One | Part Two

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I have been reading the posts on Homeschoolers Anonymous with great interest for the past few weeks. After giving it some thought, I decided to share my own experiences. I can identify with much of what has been posted here, even though my story isn’t as traumatic as some of those I’ve read here.

Early Childhood

I was homeschooled from grades K – 8 and in public school for grades 9 – 12. I believe that it was my dad’s idea to send me to high school full-time. I give him credit for this since it left my parents open to criticism from members of the church we attended. Had it been solely up to my mom, I probably would have gone to public school for math and science only and been at home for all other subjects. She typically had her own ways of doing things, and her ways didn’t always line up with conventional wisdom.

My parents started homeschooling me in the early 80’s (I’m 33). If I had to guess, I would say that they were influenced to do this by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family ministry and Mary Pride’s book, The Way Home. Back in the mid-80’s, there weren’t nearly as many groups and organizations for conservative, Christian homeschoolers. However, our family managed to link up with a church that had a few other families that were educating their kids at home, so we would get together with these other families on a weekly basis for a homeschooling coop.

Our curriculum was a hodge-podge of Saxon, Bob Jones, and Abeka. My memory is a little hazy on what curriculums we used for each subject, since my mom typically mixed and matched our text books from year to year. I am certain that my parents’ primary reason for homeschooling my three younger sisters and I was to pass on their religious beliefs. It may have had a little to do with my mom’s belief that she could give us a better education than the local public schools, but the main reasons were definitely religious in nature.

The church we attended started off as a group of charismatic, non-denominational Christians who just loved Jesus. Practically every member was a first generation “believer” and many had really traumatic pasts. There wasn’t too much emphasis on theology or formulating a consistent, Christian worldview, but the members were undoubtedly in love with the Lord. The pastor of this church had a particularly abusive childhood and had accepted Christ in his early 20’s. From there, he just started preaching. I don’t believe that he had a formal education at a seminary, but he was very sincere and spent his life studying the Word.

My early childhood was fairly pleasant. I didn’t mind homeschooling, mainly since I didn’t know any different, and because all my best friends were at church. Things were good up to the age of about 9 or 10. But then, slowly and subtly, the environment at church and at home began to change.

At Church

Our congregation started to get heavily involved in the Pro-Life cause and, in particular, Operation Rescue. We became very active in pickets and protests and even started sitting in front of abortion clinics. For a 10-year-old kid, the scene at these early protests and sit-ins leaves a real impression. On one side, you had the Christians, who were singing praise and worship songs while walking in a slow circle or sitting in front of the clinic. I never witnessed any of them behaving in a confrontational manner (although I did witness how they would go limp when the police would start hauling them into patty wagons).

On the other side were God’s enemies – the feminists, liberals, and atheists. These people would spew all kinds of hate and vulgarities at the Christians. As a kid, the contrast was stark. I couldn’t understand why these people were so angry at the Christians who were just trying to save the babies.

(Getting a little off track here… so back to the story.)

Not too long after getting involved in Operation Rescue, our church split up. About half the members stayed at the original church and the other half planted a new one that began meeting at an elementary school. Soon after the split, a new assistant pastor came on board. The new pastor was staunchly reformed and, within a few years, the church adopted a Reformed, Christian Reconstructionist theology. Christian Reconstructionists are fiercely post-millennial, meaning that they believe Christ will not return until all aspects of culture and government are under his “Lordship.”

What does this look like exactly? The book of Leviticus should give you some idea. The pipe dream of this movement is one where the constitution is replaced by Old Testament case laws. Public executions by stoning, slavery, and extreme patriarchy would be the “norm.” Separation of church and state would become a thing of the past. RJ Rushdooney was the patron saint of this movement.

Once our church adopted this theology, homeschooling became the main method for raising up our nation’s next generation of foot soldiers to usher in a theocratic “utopia.” Suddenly, evangelism was replaced by activism and joy was replaced by anger and paranoia. Rather than serving the community, the members became focused primarily on getting the right candidates elected into office, including a few from within our small church.

For years, my family had been the standard by which other homeschooling families in our community were measured. But then all these new homeschoolers started showing up. These families made my parents look liberal by comparison. They adhered to the courtship model and truly believed that public education was a tool of the devil. I did witness one marriage via courtship between an oldest daughter and one of the men in the church. My parents praised them as a shining example of biblical courtship.

They were divorced within a year.

At Home – Part 1

At about age 10, I started to realize that I was “different.” Kids in the neighborhood started asking me why I didn’t go to school. I’d probably give them some canned answer that my parents told me to recite when asked this question. But it still made me feel like an outsider. It also didn’t help that I had weak hand/eye coordination – I couldn’t hit a baseball! I’m sure if you’re a natural leader and athlete like, say, Tim Tebow, being homeschooled isn’t too bad. But for me, it felt like I was getting a double-whammy.

When you also take into account the fact that I was spending every day, 24/7, with my domineering mother and three younger sisters, well… let’s just say the fact I’m straight makes me living proof that homosexuality is not rooted in one’s upbringing.

Around grade 6, I had some sports-related activities going on at the local Middle School. I got to see kids goofing around, having fun, and just being kids. I was incredibly shy and did not know how to join in, but I really wanted to! I was tired of feeling like an outsider. I wanted to jockey for position in the middle school social hierarchy. I wanted to get teased or get in a fight. I wanted to flirt with girls. I was tired of spending my afternoons and summers cooped up with my mom and sisters. I wanted my own life – one that wouldn’t be under the constant supervision of my parents.

A few days later, I mustered up all the courage I had, and told my parents that I wanted to go to school. I’ll never forget my mom’s response: “NO WAY! OUT OF THE QUESTION! THAT’S FINAL!” I was crushed and cried for a few days. On top of this rejection, her and my dad laid a massive guilt trip on me for even wanting to go to school in the first place. Saying things like, “I can’t believe how ungrateful you are for all the sacrifices we have made so that your mother can stay home with you kids” or explaining to me “how disappointed God must be in me for being so ungrateful.” Then my mom would force out some tears to drive the point home.

Of course, whenever we were around my dad’s work colleagues or anyone else who was skeptical of homeschooling, I was expected to suck it up, be sociable, and tell them how great my homeschooling experience was. And I did… every time.

That rejection and those next two miserable years were the worst of my life. My parents used to be fond of telling us that we “have no idea how good we have it” as kids. But I’ll tell you, nothing I have encountered in adulthood rivaled the misery of 7th and 8th grade. It was like I died a little inside. However, worse than the initial hurt was the fact that the seeds were planted for my distrust and animosity not just of my mom, but of women in general. I really believe that those 13 years spent being micromanaged by a controlling, overbearing mother turned me off to ever wanting to live with a woman full-time again.

To be continued.