Finding Peace: Jenna’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Lawrence OP

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

I was homeschooled for my entire schooling from what would have been preschool through “high school”. My parents were mysterious without particularly laying down spiritual rules unless and until the rules were bent. I grew up with only brothers. I was the oldest, but the only girl. I was sheltered more because apparently I was a delicate female flower who needed more protection. It’s hard to start at the beginning of a story whose beginning I don’t really remember. One of the earliest instances that stands out to me as a moment I noticed my family must be different was when a police officer came to take a report about some kid who had slashed the tires on my dad’s car. My brothers went out to get a mini field trip on law enforcement. I wasn’t allowed to go out, and I asked why. “Because you’re a girl, and girls are different and vulnerable.” I shut myself in my room and cried and wished I was a boy.

My mother was a college graduate but at some point had given up entirely on pursuing any benefit from it. She considered college to be a waste of time for everyone regardless of their choice of profession. My father was a simple 9-5 working man with no higher education, and despite the Patriarchal hierarchy of our family, I believe he was at the mercy of my mother’s whims.

My parents had a run in with social services when my oldest brother was about 3. I was 6 or 7 so the details are fuzzy, but I remember some things quite distinctly. My dad had taken my brother out of a restaurant to discipline him and had given him a spanking in the car, when a social worker happened to see it.

Fear became an instant factor in everything we did.

My parents impressed on me that CPS was the Enemy and that we were to hide from them and fear being “taken away” by them. We stayed home like hermits and hid under the beds any time the doorbell rang. My dad and brother had to visit the doctor for an evaluation and go to some meetings. I don’t know what went on. HSLDA made sure we were “safe” and helped and covered. And they made damn sure none of us kids talked to a social worker alone without a parent present. Ugh. Eventually the incident faded and nothing more was heard.

There was mental and physical abuse going on when my dad was at work. My mother most certainly had mental issues, but was vehemently opposed to seeking professional help, due to a misguided belief that demon possession was the root of all mental health issues and that prayer and certain Holy Phrases would banish all problems. My mom would beat our heads against a wall when she was maddened. She spanked (flailed) us with Tupperware spoons that were specifically dedicated as “spankers”. If we did things that put her off temper, she would make us bring her the spoons and stand for the beating. We also weren’t allowed to cry or make a sound. If we made any whimper, she would spank some more until we took it silently. As an adult I am fully opposed to spanking in any form including bare hand swats.

Our schooling was insufficient.

My mom did not believe in grammar and completely eliminated it from our “curriculum”. She used old schoolbooks from library sales to teach math, but she never had the answer keys and she had an over-inflated sense of her own abilities, so math was horrible.  She absolutely did not believe in any published curriculum program. Geometry was sparse, calculus nonexistent. Stress was placed on handwriting and religion above all. She also did not believe in ‘grades’ such as first or second. This made communication with people quite difficult when we were asked as children what grade we were in. We were to answer “We don’t do grades” and of course that required a long embarrassing back story from our parents, complete with anti-public school religious sermon, and full disclosure of the conspiracies and Satanic consequences resulting from the public education system.

Those rules and memorized form responses also extended to other ‘evil’ worldly customs such as Santa Claus (“We don’t do Santa. We celebrate that Jesus came to Earth to die for our sins.”); the Easter Bunny; Halloween; etc.

You name it, it was evil, and we kids had a robotic reply drilled and committed to memory, tailor made to lob at every wicked demon possessed adult who dared to ask us a temptation loaded question.

My parents were un-schoolers and un-churchers for most of the time I remember. There were a few early instances when we regularly attended church, but gradually church became too institutionalised in their eyes, and they abandoned it altogether for “home-churching” which was our family alone in the living room singing off key and reading pure unadulterated Bible passages.

We were allowed minimal TV and only allowed to read approved books, and watch two or three approved movies; there were absolutely no evil computers (or evil microwaves). My mom would take books and using white-out would edit them “for content” and take all the evil things authors said out. She was far more extreme in this than other homeschool parents. She even edited the Little House Books. I however, read anything and everything I could get my hands on, in secret, before it was edited whenever possible.

Sewing, cooking, and being a Proverbs 31 model were supposed to be my life goals.

I was to dress modestly and for Christ. I was never allowed to cut my hair. I was to act in a ladylike manner, and never to date or wear make up. I was not allowed to have a mirror in my bedroom. Because mirrors promote vanity and are ungodly, and my demeanor was “better” without a mirror ever in my line of sight. I was also told that feminism was unacceptable.

We had minimal friends, and absolutely all of them were like-minded homeschoolers. We were almost never allowed to play with school-kids, as if they were some different and harmful species. I can think of only two instances where we did play with school-kids; one time when my mother was visiting an old friend of hers (and then only because I asked if I could play in earshot of the other children after being strictly forbidden to do so in advance. I guess she knew that if I did she would have no choice but to say yes or look like a fool and I called her bluff), and once when our neighbors grandkids were playing in the yard next door and asked us over. I had a friend when I was very little whose parents decided to send her to school after briefly homeschooling. After that I was not allowed to talk to her any more. I had no contact alone with anyone outside of the homeschool community, except one elderly lady next door.

Life was a bore and a chore and a long existence of waking, doing chores, lessons, biblical studies, taking care of my sibs, making meals, doing laundry, and yeah, that’s basically it.

My mother used to sit in her bed for most of the day, ringing a small silver bell whenever she had a task or chore to be done, just like Cinderella’s stepmother. There’s not much to say about my whole life, because it was mostly a boring drudgery of existence with very little constructive activity. Fast forward to age 16. I was naive. Barely if even knew what sex was. Education of a 9 year old, if that. Meek, godly, perfect, sheltered. I did finally get a part time job with a small business although I have no idea why I was permitted. This company ran public weekend fairgrounds type events, so my parents attended the events so they could watch over me. Maybe that’s why they let me work. At home I was still essentially a slave to my mom, during this period cleaning and sorting hoarder amounts of stuff she was buying at estate sales in addition to my regular housework.

I got a notion to enter a profession. My mom found this acceptable because in her mind if I were self-employed I could focus most of my attention on my future family and keep my life in a Godly balance of mostly-wife, some side work. My idea was get me the hell out of home. I went to trade school, and I was permitted to get my drivers license.

After that there was no stopping me. They would have had to tie me up. I got a few part time jobs during the week, and I developed a strategy of telling people I would do things before I told my mother. Because if I told her first, she would forbid it. But she had an image complex whereby if I told other people first, I could threaten her with telling them that she said I couldn’t, and she would concede; the same exact trick I used on her when I asked to play with the other kids. I knew I didn’t need her permission, but it wasn’t worth putting up with her if I didn’t get it, and I didn’t have a way to leave home. Still, most of her communication with me during this period was to rebuke me for betraying and neglecting my housework and my duties in an attempt to guilt me into abandoning most of my career goals to serve home and family. During this time I believe I experienced some depression issues, I did some secret drinking by sneaking liquor out of my mother’s secret hoard, and I often had suicidal thoughts. Since all of these emotional issues are highly frowned upon by the Christian homeschool community, counseling, help and proper diagnoses were entirely out of the question, and I had absolutely no idea where to find them. I leaned heavily on advice and assistance from one particular adult friend, very much to the point of excess. Thankfully, this friend tolerated all of my naive ridiculousness, and guided me on a path toward normalcy.

As I became more independent, I got myself a laptop computer and a USB internet device and I began to explore the world online and fill in the gaps in my education. I was 24 by now. I am embarrassed to admit that at this stage I got my first full understanding of sex from porn. But that’s an example of the level of sheltering that was done.

I began to seek a man, because my mind was still half in and half out of the underworld which taught that a woman’s ultimate and only respectable goal is a family. Fortunately I found someone far from the homeschool lifestyle, and someone I don’t regret finding, even after years of marriage. My earliest conversations with my future husband were just as embarrassing as everything else at this awkward stage in my life, and he was definitely instrumental in helping me move away from my strange upbringing and toward a more normal existence. Everything from there on out was me growing slowly but surely out of the cultish lifestyle I was raised in.

It’s hard to describe to someone with a normal life how the subtle and constant brainwashing and manipulation of these extremely sheltering homeschool parents affects the social, mental, and physical development of the children.

The best way to describe it is that knowledge is power, so by keeping knowledge from the children, the parents render the children completely powerless. I suppose in a sense it could be described as traumatic, but that’s a difficult definition, since it’s all we know, until we learn retroactively that our life was abnormal. It certainly leaves an indelible stamp on the way I view the world, and I definitely have regrets, not about anything I did, but about the opportunities that were kept from me by my parents.

As a mature adult, with real world responsibilities, and a normal life, my past still haunts the recesses of my thoughts. I seek a certain closure that eludes me, because my family if anything is worse than formerly. While I have grown into a successful career woman with a family, they have retreated further into their opposition of worldly behaviours and their repressive interpretations of godliness. One of my brothers wishes to bestow the curse of homeschooling upon his own children, which is a great point of contention between us. Another of my brothers appears to be mentally handicapped as a grown man still living at home, which I find deeply disturbing. In my mind I battle between a sense of duty to my family, and a desire to run away as far and as fast as I can and never look back. This journey of growth is ongoing, and I do not know if or when I will find an inner peace or conclusion to my childhood chapter of life. I am sharing these thoughts to highlight the lasting negative impact that the sheltering lifestyle has had on me, and hopefully to help others who find themselves in similar situations.

Today I identify as an Agnostic Theist and as a political Progressive. All of these things are considered by my parents’ moral standard to be traitorus and blasphemic, but I am a classic example of someone who has used the critical thinking I was supposed to use “for Christ”, instead for debunking everything I was raised to believe. I have shed my old life like an expired snakeskin, and have moved on to a more normal, exciting, relevant, and satisfying existence. And I vehemently oppose homeschooling every chance I get.

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