Warning Fairy Lights: Irina’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

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

There never was just one “aha” moment for me as a homeschooler. Maybe it had to do with how deep and how isolated my parents had us. Maybe it had to do with the fact that I was keeping my head down. Maybe it had to do with the fact I was looking for any way out that I’d just tuned out so much. Perhaps.

As a homeschooler, my parents used very conservative materials to school me for six grades.

The first light bulb moment I had was when I was not yet a homeschooler. Teachings from various conservative Christian authors were shared with my parents. Of course, I was very familiar with “Jack Chick”, and many of those “Chick Tracts” were substitutes for comic books when visiting my mom’s parents. We were introduced to teachings by authors such as William Schnoebelen and Caryl Matrisciana, and my mom started to read Frank Perretti novels. You can imagine what followed.

Two years prior to homeschooling, my parents outlawed Easter and Halloween.

We modified Christmas greatly. We did gifts on Christmas Eve, but we were to have “church” on Christmas Day. Easter now no longer had bunnies, eggs, chickens, ducks or anything related to the secular holiday. We no longer did special cakes and whatnot. We still did have ham for a good long time, which I never understood. We also went to sunrise services… it seemed wishy-washy. Halloween was totally verboten. No dressing up. No candy. No scary music and sound effects any longer. We started having “Fall Festivals”. It took a while, but I started questioning it entirely.

At another duty station, I happened upon BJU materials and thumbed through them at one of our pastor’s houses. I don’t remember what all was in it, but I remember recoiling, shaking my head, wrinkling my nose and asking if “this was what my parents planned on teaching us now that they pulled us from school.

My third light bulb moment had to do with the growing infiltration of Bill Gothard’s materials into our church.

It was seemingly small things here and there. The “Umbrella of Authority”, the forbidden music other than Hymns, whispers of people that said “anyone who listened to rock music is seriously backslidden…”, the introduction of some Character songs, Patch the Pirate and so on. We had a new dress code instituted at our church that required dresses or skirts for every female family member of those men in every position of leadership, even at home. My dad turned down a position of leadership due to this new legalism.

We moved twice, and I found myself ever more isolated. Our pastor, at the time, was homeschooling four children and had a fifth on the way. We visited often for various reasons, including the fact that my parents were serving in various offices at the church, at the time.

I started seeing homeschool curricula that taught that Dinosaurs and mankind lived together once upon a time.

This is how we got the mythology about dragons!

Some materials even went so far to say that the dinosaurs we know today in museums were just put together mish-mash by archaeologists because they have never found complete skeletons of some of these creatures. This is why some dinosaurs, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex have impossibly teeny tiny arms and can do nothing with them.

I noticed that my homeschool material was swiftly changing in tenth grade. It went from generalized teachings to segregated “Girls do—” and “Boys do—” and that any mixing in between either set of the other sex’s jobs or enjoying any of those tasks was sinful and to be avoided. I complained again, of course, and my mom said to just answer the materials how they like and she’ll grade it appropriately.

We began attending homeschool youth meetings. and I was being exposed ever more to Vision Forum materials and teachings, Bill Gothard’s ATI/IBLP materials, CBMW (Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood) … and I kept questioning everything everywhere.

I noticed more and more quiverfull families and that the oldest daughter or daughters were always missing meetings or outings with us because they were in charge of watching the babies or toddlers at home. I kept asking my mom and dad, “If it is so biblical to keep having so many children, why can you not take care of them on your own? Why is it that the teenage girls who should be going to college are being told to stay home and that they can’t go anywhere else, they have to stay at home until they get married?” There never was a satisfactory answer to that.

I felt like all my light-bulb moments were snowballing. I started experiencing anxiety, but like everything else, I had to shove it all deep down and follow along unquestioningly.

We moved again, began attending another Non-denominational church that had high influence by the ATI/IBLP, Vision Forum, CBMW and Family Integrated Church model. My dad somehow connected into that group and I balked. I shut down and then found a way out with the youth group. It worked out alright for a while, until I realized I’d never be accepted as a homeschooler, as there was a clique formed at that church. The main clique were the kids who attended the church school The second clique were those who went to local public schools and the third were the homeschool rejects who refused to go to the FIC services, like myself. The more I read the FIC model materials, the more I woke up to the sickness that was patriarchy which seemed to permeate every little bit of my life.

We had two shotgun weddings occur within our local homeschool group. This occurred not long after some parents found out that their courtship model failed with their darling daughters. The girls were found to be pregnant, and since they were extremely pro-life, the logical conclusion to them was that the girls needed to be married off. There would be no baby shower. The girls would be removed from their position of influence, no longer serve in any office in their church, and would apologize publicly to us girls that they let down. I was extremely angry at the injustice of it all.

I questioned a homeschool culture that would basically sell a girl to a boy who either raped her, or at least only had a short-lived fling and shackled her to him while shaming her, removing them both from school and forced them both to care for a child they neither planned nor had means to provide for.

Don’t get me wrong, I was staunchly anti-choice, but pro birth control. I did (and still do!) believe that mothers have a limit to what their health will allow and that parents need to be able to care for their children on their own or with their family, but that children should be children. Yes, they should pitch in and help out, but they definitely shouldn’t be treated like lesser sister wives and Cinderella.

We moved one more time. We attended three different churches, but it seemed like the homeschool umbrella group that was involved in all of them seemed to have a circle that was just like our previous group at my dad’s last duty station. We plugged into a girl’s bible study, which I now recognize as being highly influenced by Debi Pearl, Above Rubies, Vision Forum, Elisabeth Eliot and various affiliated authors. At this point, I shut down for a time.

I had moments where I tucked away information and just secretly questioned it, but for the most part, I was like a secret agent on a mission to not be found out.

My mom fell in love with books by Francine Rivers and teachings by Beth Moore. She began sharing them with me, and ever so quietly, I started research (a little here, a little there) on the internet asking questions about the model “biblical womanhood” in her books. I never could quite put my finger down on what it was that bothered me, but I kept questioning.

It wasn’t until after I had graduated that the big names in purity culture gained prominence and my youngest sister was falling in love with the teachings of Joshua Harris, Stasi and John Eldredge… She started to hand me the books and asked if I would give them a read.

I’ll preface this with this fact: I’m a bibliophile. I love books. I would never do harm to any book, or at least, I thought I never would, until I read those books. I’ve never thrown a book so hard or so far until I had those in my hands.

Every single fault of the relationship was laid at the feet of the woman for whatever squidgy reason. If sex happened before marriage… if the male was tempted…

It was like my brain broke after that. I wasn’t going to take it anymore. But, the cognitive dissonance was so very strong. Inside, I was screaming at it all and hated it. I knew it was wrong. It was upside down. The theology was poor, at best. On the outside, I was dressing more and more like a proper stay at home daughter. I was even trying to be submissive. It was KILLING ME.

I cried almost every single night.

I hated my life, but I had no way out.

I had co-workers who obviously wanted to help, but had no idea how to even reach into my world and give me some sort of scaffolding or support to crawl out.

I never let anyone in or close enough to know what I was living with. I’m sure I harmed some people by things I repeated and didn’t believe in, but felt forced to parrot. I am so very sorry for that.

After leaving, I was so stuck in the mentality I was raised in that I actually could not function very well in the real world.

This was compounded even more with the fact I had moved to a foreign country and was dealing with the very real effects of culture shock, learning a new language, new laws and a completely different political structure from the United States.

It took having my children to see how evil all of it was and how it all just snowballed downhill into one great big pile of irredeemable poo. Everything that has happened to me up until moving out were, themselves, that pivotal light-bulb moment that woke me up to the fact I needed to tear everything down to the foundation and begin building again.

It was not just one light, but a string of little fairy lights that kept blinking at me the entire time I was in the homeschooling movement.

I hope that all of the people I have met who were hammered down by these teachings have also found themselves to be free like I have. I may have had many starts and stops like Rapunzel in the latest Disney film, but thank God, I’m free at last.

6 comments

  • “One great big pile of irredeemable poo.” Yes, indeed. A very apt description!

  • I’m glad for you. No girl should have to live a life like you did, being spoon-fed ‘patriarchy’ and other such bunkum, from such a young age. Feel sorry for everyone still trapped in those legalistic circles, especially the daughters.

  • Books and the internet! Reading everything and having access to www spells death to the gulag for Jeebus life. I am so sorry your parents enjoyed making their children suffer. To me, people like you are heroes of spirit. You kept shaking your head in disbelief and wanting to live. Thank-you for sharing your story. It is so valuable for others to hear….. it’s like a get-out-of-jail-card that can be tucked away for strategic use!

  • I hope writing this was helpful for you. My upbringing was a polar opposite to this, so It’s so interesting to read your point of view. I’m sorry you spent so long pushing those feelings down…it’s just astonishing to me, how someone can write a book with such backwards views on gender roles and it just gets swooped up, so easily, and taught! How do any of us think our opinions are worthy of being taught to others? Yikes.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Of course, I was very familiar with “Jack Chick”, and many of those “Chick Tracts” were substitutes for comic books when visiting my mom’s parents. We were introduced to teachings by authors such as William Schnoebelen and Caryl Matrisciana, and my mom started to read Frank Perretti novels. You can imagine what followed.

    I don’t need to imagine, I know what followed.
    YOUR HEAD GOT VERY MESSED UP.

    (With me it wasn’t William Schobelen, Caryl Matriscana, and Frank Peretti but Hal Lindsay. Add The World Ends Tomorrow (at the Latest) And It’s All Gonna Burn (any minute now) to Jack Chick and you get a very bad combination.)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    It was seemingly small things here and there. The “Umbrella of Authority”, the forbidden music other than Hymns, whispers of people that said “anyone who listened to rock music is seriously backslidden…”,

    “Umbrella of Authority” — Got Hard himself.

    “Take your workbooks and turn with me
    To the chapter on Authority —
    Do you top the Chain of Command?
    Rule your family with an Iron Hand?

    “Because a Good Wife learns to cower
    Beneath the Umbrella of POWER
    Under cover of Heaven’s Gate
    I. MANIPULATE.”
    — Steve Taylor, “I Manipulate”

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