I Shall Not Live in Vain: Jael’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Jael” is a pseudonym. Jael blogs at To Not Live in Vain. This piece originally ran on January 15, 2014.

I began home-schooling after a summer of fraught efforts, on my mother’s part, to find me a pre-kindergarten class. Later, she said she took me to forty different schools trying to determine which program would suit me best; I only remember attending two, for no more than a few weeks at each. My experiences were uncomfortable, which led my mother and father to decide that homeschooling was the best option.

My mother home-schooled me from kindergarten until seventh grade. I had some good friends that I saw at a maximum of once or twice a week, and we did some cooperative schooling with parents providing science and language classes as a group. We drifted from charter school to homeschool group, never staying one place more than a few years.

I didn’t understand it at the time, but I realize now, looking back, that these moves were probably caused by my mother’s unaddressed psychiatric issues. 

I got a first-hand look at these issues when I was about eleven. It was the year that I got my first period, in an awkward stage between adolescence and childhood. My mother started experiencing psychiatric symptoms with increasing severity – I won’t go into detail, but she made me actively fear that our family was in mortal danger for a period of several months. My father was emotionally and physically absent, working all the time, and left me entirely in her custody. My mother made sure that I had no support during this time; she separated me from all my social groups because she believed they were haunted by people who wished to harm us. She separated me from my best friend because her mother told my mother (not incorrectly, in retrospect) that my mother was acting crazy

It got to the point where one day she demanded we pack up a suitcase immediately, and we drove for hours aimlessly, going from one cultish bookstore to another, while my mother wept and my grandmother (who my grandfather had convinced to join us for this expedition, presumably to make sure my mother didn’t kill us) sat stony-faced in the front seat.

My mother threatened alternately to kill us by crashing, then to merely leave the state.

She believed our family was being persecuted, and told me so in many ways for many months, treating me as her only confidante (during the times that my father was not around, at least). When my grandparents found out what was happening, they told me that my mother was sick and not to believe her. We lived for them for a month, while they watched over their borderline daughter.

It took me a long time to finally understand that the things that my mother had predicted had not come to pass, and would not come to pass. And it made me angry, because it was difficult to understand, particularly in a family where mental illness (or sexuality, or anything really important) was never discussed. My mother was my only source of information and learning, and when paranoia struck her, and I began to identify that her fears were unrealistic, I felt betrayed. My anger bred, with periodic fights with my mother, where she ignored my legitimate needs and feelings, instead always refocusing any argument on herself. Eventually, we had a fight that had epic consequences.

I have no idea how it started, but I do remember how it ended:

“Do you want to go to public school?” she threatened me. 

I snarled back, “Yes, maybe I do.” 

She deflated, glaring at me like a wounded tiger who was giving up a fight. “Fine,” she said, and that was that. She took it as a personal slight to her ego, that I might want to be educated elsewhere. She told me I would regret it. At that point, making me go to school was the only weapon she had left that could harm me. I no longer loved her, so she could not emotionally manipulate me in the same old ways anymore.

I was really scared, to enter public school, since it had been painted in such a negative light. Entering public school was a culture shock, but at least it was better than being at home, most of the time. Classes were somewhat miserable, with math and chemistry being the worst, but at least I had music to get me through middle school and high school. I found comfort in the two public school teachers who best supported the conservative, Christian perspective I had from my home-schooling years, teachers who prayed before tests and encouraged me to keep strong despite my travails, encouraging me to look towards college when I wouldn’t have to worry about my parents. Reminding me that at least I had parents.

I confided in these teachers about what happened in my family. I did the same with other authority figures that I began to trust. But I never was referred to counseling, a school social worker, or any other services. I know that if I had, at least I would have had that extra support, someone to help me understand that what happened was not related to me, and to help me cope with the realities I experienced every day.

Every time I began to trust an authority figure, I would cry and cry, and tell them what had happened.

This happened at least four times at three separate summer camps, one of which was connected to my school. These summer camp counselors did not know what to do. My teachers did not know what to do. I think I must have been asked once or twice whether or not I wanted a referral to services, and I would insist, no, I didn’t want services.

But I reached out, and reached out, and reached out, over and over and over again, in so much psychic pain. My mother was psychologically and sometimes physically abusive to me when I went home, threatening me with calling the police for talking back at her, threatening me with a knife if I was angry, threatening to take away my lifeline (the internet) constantly, and threatening to kill herself basically every chance she got. So I would retreat and hide in my room, where I would IM friends on the neighbor’s WIFI connection (thank you so much it basically saved my life) and write gothic stories about self-harming girls and roleplay.

I confided in friends about what had happened. One or two offered me books, and I refused them, scared that if my mother would see that I was reading these books, that I would be punished. I appreciated the confidence of these friends, though at the same time my mother tried to dissuade me from pursuing practically any relationship, criticizing any friend that she met that I seemed to be growing fond of.

People assumed that because I was smart, that I was doing okay, and that my issues were normal teenager stuff. Also, I was not very good at advocating for myself – still am not, by the way – and I didn’t know how to articulate the severity of the issues I was facing. At this point, I’m finishing up a graduate degree at an Ivy-league institution. I don’t want to write more than that for fear that either my mother or someone else will find this and identify me and put me in a compromising position. Even today, people presume based on my appearance – white, middle-class, female – that I was raised by a happy family. It pains me because it’s definitely not my experience.

I have lasting psychological issues that impact my life even now as a young adult in my 20s. I have PTSD, paranoid ideation, suicidal ideation, and depression despite the fact that I am no longer in contact with either of my parents.

It was not so much homeschooling that traumatized me as much as my mother’s mental illness. This was hidden by homeschooling, and the pain that damaged me came from the constant exposure to her psychiatric illness.

I feel like someone roasted me over a fire, leaving me with burns to rest the remainder of my life, and I didn’t even know at the time what fire was.

My early education was a shield that kept everyone from seeing who was doing the roasting, and of what. My father and my grandparents did not advocate to separate me from my mother, instead telling me to suck it up until I went to college.

That was the constant refrain. Wait until you’re in college. Everything will be better then.

Well, the short story is that no, it wasn’t better when I got to college, because I went to college in my home state, a quick drive from my hometown. It’s not been better until I cut off all ties from my family.

I should not have had to be in this position, as a child growing up. I had many, many adult mentors in my life – and none of them helped intervene with my family. It has become my purpose in life to help prevent my story from ever happening again – or at least, if I can stop a few more hearts from breaking, I shall not live in vain.

I Just Want to Be Normal: Alice’s Story

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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 Sister, Not a Parent: Sage Lynn’s Story

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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

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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.

How Many More Dead Kids?

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kathryn Brightbill’s blog The Life and Opinions of Kathryn Elizabeth, Person. It was originally published on December 31, 2014.

Leelah Alcorn was 17 years old when she concluded that life was never going to get better for her.

Before she reached the point that she ended her life, Leelah endured years of spiritual abuse from her parents and from Christian counselors. Her parents eventually pulled her out of school to homeschool, keeping her isolated from her friends and support system by taking away her phone and laptop for months on end.

Here are some of her own words describing what she endured:

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

Leelah’s death hits me hard, she wasn’t just an LGBT kid, she was an LGBT homeschool kid, and her parents used homeschooling as a tool to isolate her, to try to turn her into the “perfect little straight Christian boy” they thought she should be. As a one-time homeschool kid, I have a feeling of affinity for other homeschool kids. Leelah was one of us, and now she’s gone.

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Just as surely as the homeschool kids who were beaten or starved by their parents, Leelah Alcorn is one of Homeschooling’s Invisible Children. Leelah’s parents are just as responsible for her death as the parents who beat and starved their kids to death, but even though they drove their child to suicide, they’ll never see the inside of a jail cell. They’ll get sympathy, some will probably pat them on the back and tell them how they were good Christian parents doing all they could for a troubled child. Make no mistake though, Leelah’s death was entirely preventable, and if they had given her love and support instead of disappointment and loneliness, this story would have a different ending.

And to the pastor who told me recently that he was going to continue preaching anti-LGBT sermons because to do otherwise would be to disregard the unchanging Word of God, this is what happens. You have kids who are tormented by their church, by Christian counselors, by their parents, all because theology is more important than people.

Christians, if your theology results in a child stepping in front of a truck because she can’t imagine a world where her life will get anything but worse, then it’s time to reevaluate your theology.

A theology that leads to dead kids is wrong and immoral. Jesus said to let the little children come to Him, that whoever harms one of them should have a millstone put around his neck and be thrown into the sea. You’ve got it backwards, you’re tying the millstone around the child’s neck and calling it “love.”

I’m tired. Tired of the dead homeschool kids. Tired of the dead queer kids. Tired of the fact that the Evangelical world doesn’t care about the lives of either group.

Please, don’t let Leelah’s death be meaningless. Change the world and change yourselves so that there aren’t any more Leelahs. No kid should have to endure what she did.

RIP, Leelah.

*Both images taken from Leelah’s tumblr

It’s Not Just the Religious Homeschoolers: Alianne’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Lee Haywood. Image links to source.
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Lee Haywood. Image links to source.

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

We’re both in our twenties now, but my brother and I were homeschooled from elementary school through high school graduation. To put it simply, the entire experience was an absolute nightmare. However, it didn’t appear that way to other people nor did it appear like that on the surface of the image our mother and father tried to present to everyone.

When I was a child, people would comment on my writing or math skills and would give credit to homeschooling or my parents who happily bragged about it. But the reality was that my mother taught me absolutely nothing. She wasn’t even remotely skilled in either math or essay writing. I taught myself how to be very skilled with math and writing techniques, without any help from my parents whatsoever.

In my older brother’s case, the “education” he received was also absolutely zero and he didn’t fare as well as I did. Our parents rarely tried to help him, and hardly mentioned him or any skills he had to anyone, let alone bragged.

Our mother and father epitomized the braggadocio of homeschool parenting:

Always mention the “good” side that’s beneficial to them, and lie and stretch the truth of anything negative that would prove the opposite of the image they’re trying to present to everyone as truth.

Now that we’re older and we’re more capable of understanding what our mother and father really did to us, we’ve both realized that many of the common phrases and rationalizations that homeschoolers use simply aren’t true. To keep it simple, I’ll only post the main three misconceptions we came to realize:

1. Socialization:

Homeschool parents will use the excuses that their children are socialized because they join groups, have many activities, even have friends from public school, etc. However, parents will often neglect to mention the fact that in many families these activities only happen occasionally or just a few times per week. Many children don’t have any real interaction on a daily basis with other children and are only allowed to interact at the parent’s convenience, not in the way what the children really need.

My main point aside from that, though, is that many children are not being socialized properly or learning how to deal with regular social situations, or aka the “real” world. For example, the majority of the people my brother and I grew up around (we lived in a middle class, nice neighborhood, not a terrible one) had addictions, and were dangerous people who had many issues (although neither of us really recognized that until we were in our teens). Being surrounded by dangerous and unsafe people all day isn’t what I would call a safe, healthy, or normal environment for a child to grow up in, let alone the “real” world. Public school may be bad in some instances, but at least the kids will be surrounded mostly by other children (and also, not all public schools are huge terrible places of bullying or drugs/alcohol/sex, now that I’ve heard the stories of people who actually went to public school, I understand that) and not grown adult men and women coming off drug and alcohol highs first thing in the morning.

2. The parents know their children better than anyone:

No, many parents think they do, but they certainly don’t, and neither did our parents. I had anxiety issues and anxiety attacks all throughout my childhood, and was very shy until my late teens. In my brother’s case, although he was very social, he was bullied in elementary school, and had been a target for other children since the day he started. However, once we both reached late teens/adulthood, our issues went away for the most part. Why? Because we were away from our parents’ influence for longer periods of time than before, so their own anxiety and emotional issues no longer had any effect on us. We were both able to act normally for the first time in our lives.

So while our parents would have said that they knew we both had different issues and that’s why we had to stay at home, our issues came directly from being around them. So their decision to homeschool the two of us did absolutely nothing to benefit our lives. We honestly would have been far better off in public school and with two working parents.

In other words,  forcing the child to become the main focus of the parents doesn’t necessarily help them to grow.

It may temporarily stop the problems and it may even help their education to an extent, but it won’t really help the child to deal with situations on their own terms. How can you have your own terms, when the belief system you have and everything surrounding you is dominated by your mother and father?

To be fair, I’m aware of the fact that public school can have the same negative effects on children. However, I’ve met plenty of people who went to public school and who aren’t monsters, drug/alcohol addicts or terrible people by default. Public school doesn’t force every child on the planet to have issues and problems. There are many kids who go to regular school and turn out perfectly fine, don’t have bullying issues, are extremely intelligent, very self-motivated, etc.

I realize people use those same justifications to homeschool, but what I’m trying to say is this: When a child goes off by themselves and isn’t surrounded by the parents’ influences all the time, they will be exposed to different points of view, not just their parents’ main dominating viewpoint. They’ll also have the opportunity to develop their own selves when they are away from their parents. Thus they have the opportunity to choose by themselves to not do dangerous and unhealthy things. By finally being away from our mother and father, my brother and I were able to make safe and healthy choices and set boundaries with other people by ourselves, finally, and for the first time in our entire lives.

Also, I’ve read horror stories online about children who want nothing more than to be homeschooled because the bullying is so severe. Some of their stories actually sounded very similar to what my brother went through. I’ve also seen firsthand the emotional and physical effects of what he endured from other kids. So I’m not naive regarding what can happen to children in public school systems, or dismissive of what happened to my brother in the slightest. However, I’ve also talked with him about it, and as a grown man in his twenties he completely agrees with me that the homeschooling was a horrible idea that helped neither of us. It was all for our parents’ emotional benefit.

Furthermore, as an adult he’s now perfectly able to stand up for himself and will tell people exactly how he feels about something, even if it’s rude, might incite people, etc. He’s able to do so because as he got older he handled people by himself, without our parents influencing everything 24/7 and learned how to deal with it. Our mother and father were both very weak people emotionally, and that definitely rubbed off on both me and my brother.

3. Homeschooled children are almost always better, more educated, and amazing awesome kids — especially compared to public school children:

No, that’s not even remotely true. There are sites and forums where you can read many of the stories from homeschooled kids who had miserable and dysfunctional childhoods. And to make it clear, I’m not just referring to the religious families. My family was semi-Christian and semi-New Age. My brother and I had never attended a church or sermon a day in our lives. My parents never forced religion on us in the slightest manner.

Also, most of the Homeschool/Unschool blogs you see on the internet are written and promoted by the parents. There aren’t very many positive blogs written by the children, because whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the majority of homeschooled kids aren’t happy or well adjusted in society, so they can’t write something that isn’t true. Yes, I have read stories from graduated homeschooled kids who say they were happy the entire time they were homeschooled. Yes, they might honestly have been.

However, to have the audacity to deny and pretend that there aren’t many, many homeschooled children living and interacting in dysfunctional families is absolutely ridiculous.

Of course, you could say the same for public school, but at least in that situation the children can actually get away from their households. Contrary to popular belief, they aren’t always places where the families get along wonderfully well, or the children are always happy to be around them. Homeschooling may seem to work very well for a young child, but I’ve never in my life met a homeschooled teen who was happy. Some of them would put on a facade and pretend they were, but once I got to know them… Well, I’ll just say drugs/alcohol/having sex at a young age/depression isn’t only for public school kids, not even remotely.

The parents might not be aware, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Many of the blogging parents will exaggerate how awesome the homeschooling is and leave out all of the negative effects, or how the children really feel about everything. In our case, my brother and I were miserable 24/7, but our mother and father never mentioned that to anyone. We didn’t mention it, because we were afraid at how angry our parents would have been if we told the truth about how we really felt. Also, we felt very isolated; we interacted with public school kids too, but for the most part we knew that anything we said would eventually get back to our parents. Having a close knit community, or living where your parents schedule everything doesn’t exactly give a good opportunity to be honest about anything. And for the record, our parents weren’t extremists who did the forms of abuse found in many of the stories on Homeschoolers Anonymous. For the most part, they acted fairly normally and mainly just had social anxiety issues.

Yet my brother and I weren’t more educated in the slightest. The only reason I was able to even graduate highschool was because I used an online school program. My brother wasn’t able to get past highschool level, and so he suffered a lot academically as well. One thing I can’t stand more than anything else I see parents write on the homeschooling blogs, is how homeschooling takes so much effort. That’s not true in every case, and it’s certainly not true by default of being a homeschooling parent.

Both of our parents didn’t put in much effort at all for our education. Our father put in absolutely zero of any kind of effort, and left everything to our mother. She stayed at home, and I can honestly say that she would spend 8-10 hrs of her day watching television, and taught us absolutely nothing. Also, there are many other homeschooled kids with similar stories, who suffered a lot academically due to being homeschooled/unschooled.

On the other hand, I have read stories of successful unschool graduates who made it through college. So, I’m not denying the fact that it can be done. However, my point is that if a child can survive being homeschooled/unschooled and still make out okay, and doesn’t have any severe issues to deal with, then public school would be effortless for them, and in my opinion that’s where they should stay.

Finally, I understand that public school doesn’t work for children with special needs, or who have more extreme issues to deal with. However, I absolutely believe that (aside from children in very complicated situations), homeschooling should only be used very temporarily, and not ever seen as a permanent solution. You can solve some issues with homeschooling, but that doesn’t mean you should just stick to it for the rest of the child’s life. Whatever issues the children have will need to be dealt with eventually.

Hiding them from the world and people for the rest of their childhood doesn’t solve or fix anything.

Public school may not be seen as the “right” environment, but it’s the main environment the majority of people grew up in. So if they haven’t dealt with their issues, when they finally reach the adult world people will still be acting and functioning the same way they were before, so trying to pretend that doesn’t have any impact later on isn’t realistic. Most importantly, it keeps the children away from other opportunities and situations that could have actually been good, and far better than the homeschooling.

Socialization and Psychological Maltreatment: Isolating Children and Teenagers

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on October 3, 2014.

This post deals with parents isolating and controlling their children’s social interactions; of course my parents and many other homeschooling parents have engaged in many other forms of control, but this is one that people don’t seem to realize is a problem. Below, I give some examples of social isolation and control in my own life, and then reference work from Roberta Hibbard, Jane Barlow, and Harriet MacMillan to show how social isolation can be a serious problem for children who are subjected to it.

As I have said in previous posts, many of the people who were involved with my family over the years still don’t really get what the problem was. They will admit that my parents were a bit overprotective. Depending on the day they might even admit that my parents were controlling. But they always cycle back to trying to convince me that my parents were just doing their best, just trying to keep us safe. Then sometimes the same people concede that not everything was perfect but assure me that my father has changed.

I don’t spend much time around people who think they are in a position to re-write my history for me.

Once when I was about 15, I was something like friends with the neighbour girl. She was about 2 years older than me, and very conservative (more so than we were, in some ways – they attended a very conservative Mennonite church). Her parents and my parents ran in the same circles and spent time together talking about fundamentalism (not their word). Her dad had a home business, and one day she called and asked if I wanted to go with her to a little hamlet about 15 minutes away to pick up a part with her for her dad. My dad turned this invitation into a really big deal. He told me I had to ask her if I could call back in a few minutes so we could discuss it. I hadn’t been out of the house for days, and I really wanted to go on this 30 minute adventure with her.

I sat down with my parents, and they went over how they felt I had behaved over the past while, pointing out instances of rebellion and ways I could have tried harder in helping out around the house. In reality, I was a full time mini-mom, I cooked and cleaned and homeschooled my siblings and gardened and changed diapers. I wasn’t being taught anything anymore, although I was still being “homeschooled” I didn’t say any of that to them. I displayed appropriate contriteness and promised to mend my behaviour, and I was allowed to go. They selected several chores I would need to complete before going, and said she could pick me up in an hour. I called her back, very excited, and she reacted with confusion. It was just a short trip to grab something and she just wondered if I wanted to come. Furthermore, it was an errand she needed to run quickly for her father, and she had not planned to wait even the fifteen minutes it had taken for me to call her back, much less another hour. She went and checked with her dad, and he agreed he could wait an hour if that meant I was able to go.

This is the problem: when a teenager is “homeschooled” like that, not really doing school work anymore, and spending most of their time being the assistant mother, it actually costs the parents for the child to do something that doesn’t serve the family. And I want to be clear, although my parents were notably controlling, it wasn’t just them, there are quite a number of girls that I knew at that age that experienced a similar level of control. Every chance I had to get out of the house was treated with exaggerated importance. And then my parents have that added power to exhort even more compliant behavior.

I could give so many more detailed examples of this, like the time I “lost all privileges” (of which there were few) for being a few minutes late getting back when I went with another neighbor Mennonite girl into town to – wait for it – drop off her mother’s homemade quilts to customers. My father decided what a reasonable time was for this errand that had nothing to do with him at all, and I had the girl rush me home in a cold sweat when I realized I would be late. This errand was one that was planned in advance, and I had to earn the privilege to go with days of displaying a perfect attitude, and days of hard work. And being a few minutes late meant I lost the ability to go anywhere for months. My father allotted two hours for the trip, and we were about 20 minutes out of town. That gave us 1 hour and ten minutes to do all her errands for the quilt business.

I know a number of Mennonite teenagers from a certain church when I was 14-15 and my brother and I were invited to their youth groups. We also wanted to attend church with them on Sunday evenings. My parents treated each weekly occurrence of these activities as special privileges that they arbitrarily allowed us to earn sometimes but not others. I often wanted to go to someone’s house after church, or have someone over, but my father would not give advance permission, or even answer me if I asked him after church. He would sometimes turn to me in the van as we were leaving the parking lot and tell me that I could have someone over, or that if someone wanted me over I could go. By then, everyone would already have plans so I sometimes went back to the group and pretended to ask, and that no one was interested. I was too embarrassed to try to make plans at that point. If I refused to go over, he would be upset with me and say that I didn’t really want that privilege and shouldn’t be wasting his time asking.

My parents were able to pass this behaviour off as protective. And technically that is true, I suppose. So what is the problem?

First of all, the way they restricted my social activity, including Sunday night church, really skewed my concept of social interactions.

Social activities were something that I coveted and dreamed about, but experienced so rarely that I didn’t know how to handle myself. I tried to be funny and make people enjoy being my friend, which of course just made me seem odd. I felt envious of others my age that were allowed to have regular social interactions. Those with a more normal social life seemed more well-adjusted then me, and I felt this when I was with them, which increased my feelings of inadequacy. I felt like those with normal privileges were more important than me, because I was sometimes put in the position to try and solicit their attention and invitations. This skewed my sense of value of myself and others.

Because I had to behave so carefully in order to get a chance to take part in a social activity, there was a sense of fear attached to other people, especially other teenagers. It also increased the sense of control that my parents had over me; before I was interested in spending time with other youth, there wasn’t much that I wanted, that my parents could actually provide, that I was motivated to work for, and our family was reaching a point of chaos that meant that there wasn’t much parental approval to work towards. So I was motivated to perform my duties at home purely to get out and see other youth. My parents kept me fearful and off balance by sometimes allowing this and sometimes taking away the privilege with no explanation. My father said that if I didn’t know the privilege was being taken away, maybe I needed to lose more privileges in order to learn to respect him.

The biggest problem I have with this control over social interactions is that it stifles the learning of social lessons.

It is a form of child maltreatment to teach a child to act in an abnormal way, and therefore a form of neglect to not teach them lessons that they will need to function in adult life. I simply didn’t get enough exposure to other people as a child and teenager, and the skewed value of other people and of social interactions meant that I didn’t learn how to be a friend. I didn’t know how long a visit with a friend should last, and I didn’t know how to see that a visit was reaching an end. In fact, it was so hard for me to get out that when I was out, I often overstayed my welcome. It also impacted my ability to build planning and decision making skills.

In their report titled “Psychological Maltreatment” in “Pediatrics”, Hibbard, Barlow, and MacMillan provide a table outlining six different categories of child maltreatment (find it here). According to this table, the simple act of confining a child and restricting their community social interactions is a form of maltreatment likely to result in social maladjustment. Under the heading of exploiting/corrupting, there are two descriptions that my parents fulfilled: “Modeling, permitting, or encouraging antisocial or developmentally inappropriate behavior” by not allowing me to develop appropriate social behavior, and “restricting/undermining psychological autonomy” by not providing opportunities for me to learn to plan and make decisions in social interactions with enough information.

Isolating children and not allowing them to interact with other children and youth is a form of psychological maltreatment. Not allowing children enough opportunities to learn how to behave in social situations and not providing them with opportunities to plan and make decisions in social situations is psychological maltreatment in the exploiting/corrupting category.

“Socialization” was a joke to my parents, as it was and is for many homeschooling apologists, but the different aspects of isolation are easily categorized as psychological maltreatment.

Hibbard, et al, state that psychological maltreatment may result in a child feeling that they are unloved or only valued for what they provide to the parent, even if the parent did not intend to cause harm. They state that the effects of this maltreatment can include problems with adult attachment, including attachment to their own children, and trouble with conflict resolution in adulthood.

If a woman is to have a career and friends of her own, she will need these skills. Even if one ascribes to the school of thought that the purpose of women is to get married and stay at home with children, it should be clear that this type of isolation will not result in girls growing into well-adjusted stay at home mothers. To succeed in such a role, women will need to have social skills, planning and decision making skills, conflict resolution skills, and good attachment in order to have good relationship with their husbands and children. If a woman is to engage in some type of out of home employment before getting married, these skills will vital in that setting as well.

Socialization is not a joke; it provides several essential skills for adult life in various settings. Isolating children and youth is not a joke, it is psychological abuse, and can have serious consequences for those who experience it.

Navigating the Justice System, Part Two: When My Parents Went to Court

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sarah Henderson’s blog Feminist in Spite of Them. It was originally published on her blog on February 2, 2014.

< Part One

This part of Navigating the Justice System deals with a time in my life when my parents went to court and I didn’t, but I am including it in the middle of a three part series since it hinges them together. Here is what happened when my parents went to court:

When I was about 11, we were living in Ontario, where we had moved to get away from the court proceedings in Nova Scotia. However, my parents had been ordered to appear back in court in Nova Scotia. We had been going a conservative church in Ontario, for about a few months to a year. My parents talked to some of their friends in the church, and the decision was made to “farm out” the kids to various families while my parents were away, for about 10 days. I was pretty excited about this, because I was always helping to look after my siblings, and I thought it could be a fun break for me. My parents sent my two close-in-age brothers to stay with a family on a farm, which they didn’t mind too much. They sent my next younger sister to stay with a family with a number of young children, with a daughter that was close to her age.

They didn’t consider that that daughter bullied my sister.

They sent me to an older couple with grown up children, along with the youngest two sisters. They took my youngest brother at the time with them. The two younger girls were very young, so they were not potty-trained and showed some signs of what I now know to be disrupted emotional development. (I would like to note here that these girls have grown up into wonderful young ladies). So the couple agreed to take them for the ten days only if I went there too, so I could change their diapers, and look after them. I suppose this wasn’t that much different from home life, but the lack of supervision at home meant I could make some of my own decisions and revel in some 11 year old laziness. While I was there, I had to do quite a bit of work. I washed their eggs for their egg business, got up before the girls so that I could change them and dress them before they disturbed the family, and usually got the girls their breakfast and did the dishes. I did laundry and other chores also, but I was always responsible for the girls too.

I was expected to keep the girls in the same room all the time and watch them. I don’t know what month it was, but it was some time in the summer, since we went outside at certain times too. The girls weren’t used to that kind of structure, since while my parents were extraordinarily controlling, they also had a notable lack of control in daily life, with no structure, no schedule, and the only rule really was to not upset the parents, and do everything they specifically demanded immediately. I think that this couple disapproved of my siblings’ behavior and my parents’ parenting style and methods, and decided that they could fix it. But it doesn’t work to take an 11 year old or even toddlers and suddenly change everything about how they do life in ten days. They talked to me about how I should behave and what I should be doing in daily life, and to respect my parents, but they also spoke negatively about my parents.

It was very confusing for me as an 11 year old. I knew that my parents were going back to court but I didn’t really understand it.

I kind of hoped that they would go to jail while they were there, but then I was afraid I would be stuck with this couple, raising my two siblings forever.

I had also been extensively isolated so I did not know how to function well around other people all the time, and they made fun of that. I was very awkward. I suppose I also showed signed of disrupted emotional development. My mom and the lady decided that I should keep a diary while I was there, but the lady read what I wrote every day, and then my mom read it when they returned. I felt like I had no privacy, so I only recorded what we ate, and when we went out for groceries.

I do not blame this couple, but it was after I returned home that I started to really experience depression. I didn’t want to go to church anymore, and I didn’t want to have friends. I still was forced to go to church, not that I tried to argue, it wasn’t optional. Being with this family really taught me what other people in the church thought of us, and I knew there was a good chance that everyone talked about us like that.

It also caused a great deal of conflict for me. On one hand, I was angry that they tried to impose so much structure, but on the other hand I realized that if I complied with the structure, it would be peaceful, and that was not how it was at home. Because there were no predictable rules at home, it could never be peaceful. I think as a child I wanted to have the best of both worlds: the comparative freedom of having no supervision at home, the power of being in charge when my parents were gone all the time, but also the peace in the presence of authority figures. The couple we stayed with never hit me or yelled at me or my siblings, just expressed “disappointment” if I didn’t live up to their expectations.

Being around this family 24/7 also really emphasized to me that I was socially awkward, and I felt like my actions and words were on display for constant scrutiny. It wasn’t even that I felt I couldn’t do anything right, but I didn’t even know what the right thing was. I think it was obvious to them that something was wrong in our family, and I wish that the couple had used that knowledge to get us some help, instead of becoming part of the oppression. Every week when we saw them at church after that, I felt exposed, like they knew something bad about me. They were disappointed because they thought I would have some sort of connection with them after I went home, but I didn’t. This experience really reinforced for me that adults had all the power and that no one would help me, and that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. That I was the problem.

My parents were finished with court and didn’t go back to court. I don’t really know what the resolution to that was. I just know that it was a terrifying time for me, and I don’t think it was right that I was put through the knowledge that they were going to court, and that it had to do with parenting, but I wasn’t made privy to the resolution. It also makes me very suspicious about the outcome. I also think it wasn’t right for the church to have that window into our family problems and not do anything about it. I know it should be surprising, as it is very difficult to risk being the whistleblower when surrounded by others who do not seem to recognize the problem.

But if any one of those three families who got glimpses into the mental health status of my siblings and I had chosen to do something, it could have saved us from the six years of suffering that was to come.

Part Three >

Friendship and Parenthood

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on June 27, 2014.

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.

But somehow, although all of those things are true about my two kids, that does not describe my experience.  And I’m forever grateful for that, because increasing my already unbearable feelings of isolation just might have killed me.

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.

Prison: Leah’s Story

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

I would sit and stare out my bedroom window for 20 or 30 minutes? Maybe it was an hour? Time seemed irrelevant, and I certainly wasn’t going anywhere. My home was literally my prison. I had less privacy and freedom than most inmates in any state penitentiary, and unlike many inmates in a normal prison, I was unable to take classes to better myself for when I “got out”.

I was home schooled K-12…

… well, sort of.

I don’t remember my mom actually teaching me anything after the 6th grade. My brother “dropped out” when he was in 10th grade (and by dropped out I mean my mom didn’t know how to teach him algebra so they both just gave up, and he got a job as a waiter in a restaurant). After that my mom pretty much gave up on my sister’s and my education. I think part of it was because she didn’t think (as females) that we really needed an education. I begged her to let me go to school. It was all I had wanted from the time I knew what school was, but she refused.

I on the other hand, refused to go down without a fight, so I taught myself through high school. I made my own schedule according to what I imagined they did in “real” schools and I stuck to it, day in and day out. I would wake up every morning at 6am, get dressed and hit the books. It was difficult, not only because I had no idea what I was doing, but also because my mom and stepdad split up when I was 15. My mom took some odd jobs cleaning and watching kids (and by my mom I mean she accepted and took credit for the jobs but my sister and I did an equal share of the work). She then took a job making sermon recordings at the church, and so the nanny job fell completely to me. I, however, received no compensation for this, of course. I also felt responsible for my younger sister, and tried to teach her what I could.

I had no contact with the outside world, other than church on Sundays. We were never involved with any other home school groups, not even with the other families who home schooled in our church. I felt so terribly alone. I was very depressed and developed an eating disorder, both of which went completely unnoticed by my mom.

I wish I could say that as soon as I turned 18 and walked out the door I was free, but sadly, I cannot. The most agonizing aspect of my experience is that my mind became my prison. I left so inadequate because my education didn’t feel “real”. It felt like I was lying to the world. It didn’t matter that I did well on my SAT’s, or that I made good grades in college (when I finally got up the courage to go, with no help or guidance whatsoever from my parents).

I was utterly terrified of the great big world I knew was out there, but wanted desperately to be a part of it.

I started college when I was 21 and worked my way through, first through community college and then on to a 4 year college where I graduated with a BS. I met and married my husband while I was in school and I now have a 15 month old boy, whom I will not be homeschooling.

I still sometimes struggle with a feeling of inadequacy and like I am somehow missing something that other people are not, but I am very glad that I didn’t give up on myself, even when it seemed like everyone else had. I strongly believe that there should be better rules in place for parents who wish to home school. Some parents are not qualified to be teachers, and they are doing their children a great disservice by not just admitting to this fact. It can often become a form of abuse, and should be regulated like everything else.