Aging Backwards

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on December 2, 2013.

When I was 8, I was expected to be an adult.

I had adult responsibilities (taking care of kids) and was expected to act as mature as an adult – learn all the things, do all the things, cook all the food, wash all the babies. I had to fight for some semblance of my own childhood. My mom wanted me to grow up and grow up fast. I remember her asking me, before I was 10, to stop playing “dogs” with my brother (we’d run around on our hands and knees barking and stuff) because, essentially, it was embarrassing. I don’t remember the exact words she said, but that was the gist.

I just looked at her, and willfully ignored her until I was 11, and by then, I was too busy doing her job that I didn’t really have time to play with my siblings, because if I did, I was quickly ushered to change someones diaper.

Funny, because my mom said that I should be happy I have so many siblings/sisters to play with and that I don’t need friends my own age. But I never had time to play with them even if I wanted to – and honestly, they were so much younger than me, and she had them with such frequency, that I wasn’t even on the playmate list – I was the caretaker, the other kids, they all had each other, but I was quickly forced out, alone, and expected to be happy about it and have no needs.

I wasn’t allowed to have needs. I wasn’t allowed to be a child after I started puberty.

As I aged, I was expected to be more adult – not in like the normal, kids mature way, but in the I-was-8-and-was-expected-to-be-20-and-go-from-there kind of way. By the time I was 13 I’d lost any semblance of childhood that I’d had. I’ve never experienced the care-free years of being a kid or a teenager, because the entire time I was a kid(‘s age), I wasn’t.

I don’t understand teenagers, I don’t understand 18 year olds who don’t look and feel like they’re 40. I don’t understand 16 year olds who still play and aren’t crushed under the weight of grown up responsibility. I don’t understand 22 year olds who act like 22 year olds are supposed to act, and don’t have random existential crises because they feel like their life is over and they’ve accomplished nothing.

I’m 22, but most of the time I feel like I’m so. much. older. and learning how to act my age.

I’m actively trying to become more immature, because I can’t handle the continued weight of having to be more responsible and older than I am, of having to be the parent all the time even though there’s no one around to parent (except myself, which isn’t healthy either).

When I got married, I was 18, but I felt as though I’d lived a lifetime before that even happened. It said 18 on my documentation, but in my head I was in my 40′s, most of my life lived – well, survived, and it was time to do something else. Most people are like, no, you can’t marry at 18, and I agree and feel bad about it until I realize, when I was 18, I wasn’t actually 18. I was much older than that – because I was forced and pushed into growing up well before I even had the ability to understand what everything meant.

When I was 8, until I was 18, I was given all of the responsibility of an adult, with none of the power. I often felt like the only adult in the situation, like I was the actual parent, but I had no ability to change things for myself or for my siblings.

My mom confided in me things that really she should have confided in other adults to – things I didn’t need to know and didn’t understand and had no idea how to respond to. You shouldn’t tell your kid about how you’re mad at their father, or what you do in the bedroom and how it’s sinful (because every sperm is sacred), but you just really don’t want to be pregnant again (and pulling out is SO effective) – bearing in mind, I still thought sex consisted of invisible metal tubes connecting at the belly button of the other person.

When Alex and I started going out, I wasn’t even 17, and they heard wedding bells. They wanted me married right away, it felt like I was being pushed out, which was strange, considering.

My parents wanted everything to move so quickly. They said “but you WANT to get married, right?” and I was like “sure, yeah, but not RIGHT NOW” (because, 16, even I knew that was a bad idea). They didn’t seem to understand the concept of time.  They wanted me to grow up so fast and never experience having grown up.

I never had a relationship with my mom and I think this is largely why.

I was the parent. I was the confidant. I was the one who had all of the responsibility, the consequences, and the anger shoved on to. I bore the brunt of her frustrations and I was the one who was berated for simple mistakes.

In every way, I never had a mother. I was never her daughter, I was only ever her tool.

The only time my mom was ever sweet to me was when she was trying to butter me up and manipulate me.

So when people say they’re so sorry I never had a relationship with the person who made the choice to give birth to me (and then demanded my life in return), I stare at them blankly. I don’t understand why they would say that. It actually hurts, because it’s almost as though they’re blaming me for not having or wanting a mother-daughter relationship – like I’m unjustified in my relief to have finally left her grasp.

I’ve grown in odd patches, with massive gaps where experiences should be, but aren’t. Learning what to do with feelings, and learning what needs are (after not being allowed to have them, because adult…which is BS, actually, my mom had ALL OF THE NEEDS). I feel old, I look young, I have experience and naivety in all the wrong places.

I hate having had to fight for everything – whether it’s for childhood, or autonomy, or myself.

I am tired.

I don’t know what made me think of it – maybe it’s because it’s the holidays and I really want the gingerbread that we used to make, and that reminds me of the fact that holidays were chores and mostly unenjoyable, save christmas morning, and I get tired from the memories and the forced aging.

I feel like Benjamin Button.

This Road I’ve Traveled

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Caleigh Royer’s blog, Profligate TruthIt was originally published on January 20, 2013.

For awhile now, I have been wanting to write a background for everything that I am working through… I want to write about myself, and who I really am.

Exactly two years ago, I found out that one of my dearest friends passed away from two brain aneurysms. Not only that, Phil’s guitar mentor passed away, the day before my friend, from ALS. Two days later, my dad kicked me out of the house. All through this time as well, Phil and I were trying to get married and get my dad’s blessing. This time was the climax of many years of hurt, emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuse, and it was the climax of Phil’s and my relationship.  That January of 2011 was a train wreck for both of us, and since then I have been deconstructing my faith, my past, and my broken heart.

I am the oldest of 9, 10 technically, with 3 sisters and 5 brothers. Being the oldest has given me heavy responsibility and has made me “old” before my time. I half jokingly say at times that I am an old soul in a young body. As with many typical Patriarchal and Quiverfull families, I — as the oldest — got the brunt of the house work. I took care of the children, made almost all of the meals, and all while trying to keep up with my school work for homeschool. I love all of my siblings, and I could never imagine life without them, but I will never have that large of a family. I don’t blame my parents, but when there are major issues that screw up the family, a lot of the love and togetherness that a “normal” family experiences ends up greatly lacking.

I don’t ever want to put my children through what I have been through growing up.

My husband Phil and I recently left Covenant Life Church for the purpose of finding a smaller church. But that wasn’t really my only reason for leaving. I needed to get out of an environment that told me that I had to forget and forgive, I had to not say anything negative, nor could I be angry over something that I should be angry about. For years, all of my life in fact, I have tried to block out, tried to forget, purposefully felt nothing (this didn’t really work though) whenever I saw my dad yell at my siblings, manipulate my mom, or whenever he got mad enough and started throwing things or getting in the kids’ faces. Getting kicked out two years ago, after all of the years I was my siblings’ protector to the best of my ability, all of the years that I have helped raise my youngest siblings, or made dinner consistently to feed the 11 mouths in the house, was the pinnacle of tolerance for me. I knew from a very young age that something wasn’t right in my family, and that something wasn’t right with my dad.

As my family bounced around over the years with dad being in the military, we have been in many different churches. And at each church, we would get a verbal beating from my dad on the way to church, but as soon as we pulled up, all of the fake smiles would go up, and the family would act like nothing was wrong. I could never do this. I could never put the fake smile on and pretend that I hadn’t watched my dad throw the breakfast dishes in the sink that morning because someone dared to speak back to him.

I couldn’t stand by and watch my siblings suffer while no one knew what happened behind the doors of my family’s home.

I don’t remember when my parents got introduced to Bill Gothard’s patriarchy ideas, but I have seen this stuff totally mess up my family, myself, and many other families. One of my biggest griefs with his version of patriarchy is that it enables narcissistic, controlling, manipulative, and abusive men to continue their abuse under the name of “God-given authority as the husband and father to rule over the wife and children.” Fathers who are abusive are enabled through this ideology by basically being “God” for their family.

There is no one above them, and they are the ultimate rulers.

God speaks through them, and never to the wife or children. It’s no wonder that I have seen, read, and watched so many children who were raised under this mindest leave the faith because of the hypocrisy they had seen in their dad.

Bill Gothard’s “patriarchy” says that women are simply baby-making machines who bow down to their husband’s rule, and who aren’t allowed to have a voice. “Patriarchy” says that young women are their father’s property and are to be traded to off to the father-chosen men when the times comes.  ”Patriarchy” seems to have this unspoken rule that even if it is a living hell at home, you don’t tell anyone else. “Patriarchy” told me that when I questioned something dad said, with the purpose of understanding better, I was not honoring him, or respecting him. “Patriarchy” said that when I fell in love with Phil, I was being idolatrous, lustful, and that I wasn’t honoring my dad. “Patriarchy” says that when I talk about the pain, the truth, the real life that I have experienced, I am not being forgiving, I am bitter, I am angry.

Well, “patriarchy,” I am angry.

I am angry that there are so many men out there taking advantage of this so called right to hold abuse over their wives and families and not being held accountable for the pain they inflict. Forgiveness is a difficult animal to deal with. It is not a one time deal, nor is it something I am always dealing with, or never dealing with. Writing these things out are just barely touching the surface. These are the truth, and these are not things I am bitter about, nor are these not forgiven. Patriarchy says that once you forgive, you must go on living life as if nothing happened.

I say hell no, and that is never the case in forgiveness.

When I wrote about reading my bible, and I wrote about how difficult it is for me to open my bible without being triggered, I meant that I can’t open my bible without hearing my dad’s hypocrisy, or without hearing the gut wrenching sobs that I had when my dad told me that he didn’t have time for me, that I was a bad influence on my siblings, that he wanted me to leave as soon as possible, and that he had had enough of me. Even though I have done my best to honor my dad, to initiate time and time again daddy-daughters dates so that we could have an actual father daughter relationship, he tossed all of that out when he told me to leave. I can’t open my bible without hearing the verses that have been thrown at me with the means of showing me how my pain is sin. I can’t open my bible without having flashbacks that start bringing on a panic attack. It’s hard enough opening the app on my phone to look up verses when I do make it out the door to church.

I can’t open my bible without feeling guilty of sin I did not commit and remembering the people who felt obligated to tell me about that so called sin.

The more that I have acknowledged the pain that is hidden in my heart, the harder it’s become to go to church, read my bible, sing worship songs, hear certain phrases, or even speak the lingo. Why? Because in all of those things I have been hurt, I have been burned, I have been broken.

I am eager to get to the place where I can once again enjoy all of those, but I am not there yet.

I am still rifling through the ashes trying to find the burning embers that are still burning me. I will, I promise, be able to open my bible again one day, but the promises that comfort so many of you, bring cries of pain and panic attacks for me right now. I find comfort in knowing that my salvation is never in question, and Jesus is always by my side. Through the uncovering of my broken heart, I am finding peace. But it takes a long time. The number of pieces that my heart has been shattered into time and time again makes it even more difficult to make sure that I have each shard back into place. I don’t think I will ever fully heal, but fully healing is not my goal right now.

My goal is to be able to admit to myself that yes, I have been hurt, and yes, it’s okay to cry.

This I believe is the step I need to take right now towards healing.

My story is an uncomfortable one. It sucks, it hurts, it has made me dissolve into a puddle of tears and totally forget entire weeks at a time because the pain is too great. I have learned great tolerance, compassion, and understanding for those who have been where I have been, and still are.

I can weep with those who are weeping, and I cheer the bold and brave who are finding their voice and stepping forth with their story.

Sibling v. Sibling — Giving the Child the Rod: Libby Anne’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on March 8, 2012.

*****

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.

*****

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but at some point early on my mom handed me the rod. She told me I was to spank my younger siblings if they misbehaved or broke any rules and she was not in the room. The rule was that I could spank any sibling at least five years younger than me. This meant that at ten I could spank my five-year-old sibling, and all those younger than him.

This breaks my heart because now, years and years later, my younger siblings tell me they saw me as a bully, that they resented me, that I “lorded it over them.”

I may have been all that, and I definitely was far from perfect. Perhaps having this sort of power over them brought out the worst in me. But I was ten, twelve, or fourteen, and at the core I did what I did because my parents handed me the rod and told me to do so.

As to why my parents did this, the answer is not that difficult. With so very many children, my parents could not watch and discipline each of us individually. So they did what all Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy parents do: they outsourced.

They outsourced their discipline method to me, and that method was the Pearls.

I was told that loving parents – or, er, siblings – discipline their children, and that the only way to make a child into a happy, healthy adult is to spank him. I was taught that children must have their wills broken and must be forced to submit. I did not generally spank my siblings out of malice (though I’ll admit to my shame that I sometimes did). I spanked them because I had been told to and did not know any better. I did not realize that as I spanked I was building a wall of resentment between me and my younger siblings.

I wish for all the world that I had been allowed to be a normal sister to my younger siblings. Instead I was put up as a second mother, an authority figure, a clone of my parents and their methods. I spent an enormous amount of time watching my younger siblings, both when my mother was in the house but occupied elsewhere and when my parents were away. I was expected to act as parent, not as sister, to my siblings.

*****

Sixteen-month-old Faith reaches for a glass bowl on the coffee table.

Faith, no, don’t touch that.

Faith touches the glass bowl. *pop* I slap her hand. She looks startled.

I said no.

Faith reaches for the glass bowl again. *pop*

No.

Her little hand reaches out once again, her lower lip trembling. *pop*

No.

Faith whimpers and looks like she’s going to cry, and I sigh. I gather her in my arms.

Faith, it’s okay, but I said no, and that means no.

She looks up at the glass bowl with pain and confusion in her face.

*****

This scene repeated over and over and over again.

I learned to never give in to a child’s crying, and that even a baby could rebel. I learned to house proof the baby rather than baby proofing the house. As for slightly older kids, I frequently spanked four, five, or six-year-old siblings for “disobedience” or “insolence.” Obedience was expected to be immediate, completely, and without complaint. Even talking back was to be punished, often with spanking.

*****

Judah, I told you to take this trash bag out.

I don’t want to!

I don’t care. You have to take it out or get a spank and take it out.

But I did it last time!

Alright, that’s it, you’re getting a spanking.

*****

Why was I made to be an authority figure to my siblings instead of a sister?

My heart breaks because I inflicted pain on them. It hurts worse that I never questioned these things, never asked why, never said no. But what did I, at ten, twelve, or fourteen, know? What did I understand? I had never seen anything different from what my parents taught and modeled at home. My parents handed me the rod and told me to spank. And I regret it with all my heart. And now, all I can say is I am so so sorry.

I am today working on repairing my relationships with my siblings, relationships I unwittingly and unintentionally sabotaged all those years ago.

As for the future, I will never, ever put my children in this kind of situation.