Locking Your Kids in a Tower: The Duggars and “Tangled”

CC image "Rapunzel" courtesy of Flickr, ihave3kids.

CC image “Rapunzel” courtesy of Flickr, ihave3kids.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on October 27, 2014.

Recently one of the girls I once babysat called me on phone. She wanted to talk about something that happened in the past between us. I miss her and her family, but mostly, when I look back, I feel pain.

You see, starting when I was 11 or 12, I was put in the place of authority over her. I had to discipline her and her siblings. If I could not control them, the punishment was only worse when their parents got home. The parents would wake them up to spank them. I was a kid who had to punish a kid. It frightened me.

When she got older, as a young teenager, the girl and I began to fight more, maybe because she resented me and rightly so. But either way, rather than let us work it out ourselves, our parents got involved. They forced us into some dumb get-along-model, and it really broke us both.

The girl is now in college and called to apologize to me for not respecting me and obeying me more. She could not even remember what the fight was about (I do), but there she was on the phone, apologizing.

When she called, I tried to compose myself, but I wanted to weep. And over the phone I stuttered between “please, don’t apologize,” to “girl, we were victims of spiritual abuse.”

But she is still living at home. She could not hear me.

I repeated, “We would not even remember this fight if our parents had not thought it was a huge sin for teenagers to fight.”

And I repeated again. “Your sister got spanked repeatedly because of me. She had to apologize on the phone because me. All I can say is I’m so, so sorry now. I was a kid. There was no right point of view for us. Why was I placed in that position?”

Again, she did not hear me.

I wanted to give her my blog, and tell her about Homeschoolers Anonymous, but there was not much use. She still lives at home.

*****

I wanted to know about the other kids I used to babysit, so I started googling their facebooks. I found the facebook of one of the girls. Her family has the same name theme as the Jeub family. The kids names end with a “uh/ah” sound. I started babysitting for them when her mom was 28, and there was only 7 kids.

Her status messages were preachy. She told her friends how to associate among our “worldy” friends – and she used the word worldly. There was so much judgemental side to it, that I just weeped.

That little girl I used to babysat is now a young adult who is scared of the world.

It hurts.

*****

Last week I went to our university hockey game here in Canada. I talked with friends and made new friends. In the middle of it, I had an existential moment where I needed to leave and compose myself because I realized something. I was with “worldy” friends. I was alone, outside my parents home. I have my own car. I pay my own bills. I have top grades and a promising option to eventually get into a phd program.

I left home nearly a decade ago, but my life is still full of first. And the last year, living in North America far away from my parents, has involved a lot of firsts.

First to go to the mall alone, for example.

First to go to a hockey game, for example.

First year to consistently shop at a grocery store, for example. (Yes, I’m serious. In college I ate a dorm. In Asia I shopped at the market. As a kid, we canned our meat and vegetables, and I rarely went to the store.)

All these firsts, after nearly a decade since I left home.

*****

When I say I worry about the Duggar children, I am accused of being a Duggar hater.

But I’m not a hater. I just want them to be free.

I want them to get in their cars and drive far away from home, to go to hockey game with friends their parents don’t even know, to date and have careers.

I want them to be friends with their siblings with being placed in authority of them.

I want them to know that the world is not scary, nor is it worldly, nor are these so-called worldy people less happy than homeschool families.

I want them to know that people who kiss before marriage are just as happy as them.

I want them to know a life other than being pregnant.

They are like the princess in Tangled, who only sees the world from a tower and from media studio, only in their case, they are not hidden. The whole world is watching and saying, “oh, there is nothing wrong with locking your kid in a tower.”

But if you saw what I saw, you would know better.

If you were put in the position of spanking your siblings, you would know.

If you got the phone call I got from the girl I used to babysit, you would know.

If you went to a hockey game and were sitting there shaking, realizing you knew nothing about the rules and that this was the first time to attend a game with friends, you would know.

You would know that of course, I think the Duggars are people too, with great personalities, and that of course I don’t hate them.

But still, I worry for them, and I hate the TV show for making what they do seem natural, as if locking your kids in a tower is natural.

3 comments

  • I can totally appreciate where you’re coming from. We were totally isolated and led to believe that anything outside our fundamentalist bubble was worldly and sinful. Even now, years after having left, I still catch myself thinking that I am doing something wrong when I listen to the radio or attend a party with people who clearly did not have my upbringing. I feel very sorry for the Duggar girls. I hope that at some point they have a chance to hear other points of view rather than what’s been drilled into their heads from birth. I hope they get a taste of freedom and making their own decisions and never look back. I look at them and shudder at what might have been for me.

  • Whenever someone asks me what emotional abuse is, I first ask them if they’ve seen the movie “Tangled” because it’s an unexpectedly accurate representation of it. (someone at Disney knew what they were talking about, I can tell ya that) I think one important aspect of the movie is that when Rapunzel leaves, not only does she find that the world is a better place than she was told… But she also learns that she herself is much stronger than she was led to believe. She grew up being told that she couldn’t handle being outside of the tower, but she’s able to get by pretty well. Which is such a major aspect of emotional abuse, you keep someone staying with you by convincing them that they’re too weak or stupid or vulnerable to be away.

  • The first time my (grown) sisters and I saw Tangled we immediately joked that it was really a depiction of fundamentalist homeschooling. It is so close to the truth of our childhood and teenage years that it is hard for me to watch parts–even though it is a funny animated movie. The other movie that is eerily familiar is The Village.

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