Category Archives: family

A Sister, Not a Parent

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Here’s my re:siblings story that went up on Homeschoolers Anonymous today. I am honored that they published it. 

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.

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torn

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Nothing’s fine, I’m torn

I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor

Illusion never changed
Into something real
I’m wide awake and I can see
The perfect sky is torn
You’re a little late, I’m already torn

My grandparents are still in my old church; they, however, are in slightly more liberal branches of the denomination. A few days ago, my grandfather passed away and I went out to my old church for his funeral. Funerals in my old church are huge affairs–my grandpa was not a super wealthy man, and he was extremely soft-spoken, but somehow everyone in the community seemed to know him, and over 300 people came to the funeral. The funeral was at the church, so I had to sit through a sermon and talk to hundreds of people that I don’t really know but who know me as one of my dad’s kids who left the church. They’re really sweet people, but it’s an awkward situation all the same.

My old church is almost Amish or Mennonite in many ways. They wear head coverings, never let women speak in church, have strong family and church ties, often farm (it’s considered the most holy occupation…although not said in so many words), adhere to strict gender roles, eschew LGBT* folks and secular therapy. Baseball games and movies are forbidden, along with, in many cases, Facebook and internet. There is no music except ancient hymns, and any kind of musical instruments are forbidden in church. Marriages are arranged and things like a “holy kiss of greeting” are pulled from passages in the Bible with no regard to context or anything.

And yet, they’re really good at some things. They came together and brought food for my grandma and my family all week. They left work and school on a Thursday morning to attend a funeral and make a huge meal at the church to feed everyone who came. People in the church can travel across the US and find others in the church who will welcome them into their homes for the night without a second thought, even though they may have never met them. There’s a sense of community unmatched in what I’ve found outside of the church. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do, and you know your salvation is safe if you follow the rules (and repent after every sin). You don’t have to make many guesses because you just follow what you’re supposed to do. And they care for the elderly really well. I work as a nurse tech in a nursing home and I know how rare this is.

It’s not been easy leaving. There’s really great days, yes. Days I love. I am making plans and dreaming of a life I’d never have gotten to have in the church. But sometimes it’s overwhelming. After being back in my old church this weekend for just a few hours, all my insecurities and questions and that feeling of being utterly, completely, totally lost in a foreign country I don’t understand came rushing back. I almost couldn’t breathe. It was so strong. Part of me wants to go back. I know there’s problems, and I know I could never fully agree with them on many things, but I could fake it through the entrance process and then I’d have that security and unambiguity that I long for. Change has never been easy for me, even if the status quo was miserable. And the thing is, I keep telling myself that maybe the misery would be worth the benefits. I could probably settle down into being a wife and mom. I practically raised my seven siblings, and I can keep a house with the best of them. I could pretend to be ok with that, and get by. I could settle down and quiet my fears and anxieties and be reasonably happy.

But deep down, I don’t know if this would ever work. And I know I would probably regret some of it for the rest of my life. Being that fake to myself would be hard. It would get easier, but it would kill a tiny part of me too. I know I’m probably romanticizing it a lot, because…I know there’s issues there too. It’s so hard, so lonely, sometimes. I want to curl up in a ball and cry. Can I really make it? Am I strong enough to walk away from the cult and build a new life outside of it? I don’t know. Some days, I just don’t know.

when you never have enough

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I grew up in a home where we ALWAYS had enough. And more than enough. My dad had an amazing job which both allowed him lots of flexibility and garnered a more than ample income. We never lacked for clothes, shoes, food, a roof over our heads–or the optional things like gifts, vacations, tuition for tutorials, musical instruments. Despite all of this, I have grown up with a scarcity mentality, and it bothers me greatly. I mean, after all of that, I shouldn’t have a pervasive scarcity mentality. But I do.

Lately I have had some troubles at one of my jobs. The management and staffing are deplorable, we don’t have enough supplies, and several of my male coworkers have made sexually disparaging comments about and toward me. Additionally, I found out that we have several registered sex offenders in our facility, and one night I had my first experience (after a year in healthcare) with a coding patient. Needless to say, it has been stressful. I recently reentered the world of long-term care after taking a year long hiatus in which I nannied and worked in childcare. I’ve had my misgivings. As a result, I decided to apply at a home health care agency and see what happened. Which was a perfectly reasonable and logical move.

Except. I am currently working three regular jobs, and while none of them are full time I still end up with 45-50 hours a week on top of being a full time student. I’m on a full ride academic scholarship at my university, so I have only a few incidental expenses to cover since my scholarship covers room and board as well as books, fees and tuition. I don’t NEED three jobs to make ends meet. Some of my coworkers do, and I have the utmost admiration for them and the amazingly hard amount of work they do. But for me, I don’t need to do it, and it’s almost a little insane that I keep doing it. I didn’t need to apply for a new job, or if I did I needed to look at the very real decision to quit at least one of the jobs I currently have and focus more on one job.

I quickly got three call backs from the agencies I applied to. I went in for an interview at one, and they seemed likely to offer me the job. However, they weren’t open to working with my schedule because of school, and that was a no go. I had to withdraw my application, and I started freaking out because that likely meant they would never hire me. Reality was, it’s not in my field, it isn’t a job I will likely ever apply to again, they weren’t willing to work with my schedule, they didn’t pay great, I would have to drive and would not get gas compensation, and if I wanted to work in that field the demand is so high and supply so low that I would not have a problem getting a job with another agency down the road. But I was still freaking out.

After talking to a friend, I realized that I live my life like this. I stockpile food and snacks. I often have food go bad because I don’t eat it in time. I have enough soap and shampoo to last for the rest of my life, I think. At least several years. I collect books and paper, notebooks and pencils, pens, gloves from work, magazines and newspapers. I’m so afraid of not having enough that I always get more than I need.

I thought back to my childhood, and even though we always had enough, I remember my mom constantly holding the possibility of my dad losing his job over our heads. Then what would we do? she’d say. In reality, there wasn’t much of a chance of this, but we didn’t know better. We constantly heard stories of people not having enough to eat and how we should be grateful. My parents didn’t shy away from telling us stories of people who lost their homes or didn’t have food in the cupboards. They believed in exposing us to the more grisly side of life unnecessarily, for reasons I don’t know if I’ll ever quite understand (we also heard in depth accounts of torture and death of Christians for their faith, but that deserves its own post).

I grew up trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that comes from being told on one hand that if you work hard and are responsible, you will be ahead of every other non-Christian in the world who doesn’t (yeah, bs) and on the other worrying that your extremely hardworking father will lose his job at any moment. And that has left me with an insane fear that I can never work enough, never be busy enough, never be make enough money, to feel secure. I always feel like I could be/should be doing more.

Each day I am working to undo this dangerous and problematic mindset, although it’s been a hard road. I have to remind myself that people and mental health are more important than a padded bank account. I have to set aside time to take care of myself and tell myself that taking time out to read, walk, go out to eat or watch a movie (heaven forbid I spend money on myself) is not a crime or a sin. And for today, I think I need to quit a job.

I’m not a weapon

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As a homeschooled child/adult/person, I’m really tired of being called a weapon. Last week I read an article that compared homeschooled students to “firearms in private hands.” I grew up hearing that I was an “arrow” in a “quiver” (Psalm 127:4), that I was a culture warrior being “equipped to positively influence the politics of tomorrow.” Look, people! I’m not a rifle or a pistol or an AK-47 or anything like that. The difference pertinent to this article is that I have a brain. All the programming in the world is not going to turn me into one, either.

Unfortunately, the idea of your children being culture-changers is inbred in Christian fundamentalism homeschooling circles. It’s everywhere. Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism writes about it frequently. It’s considered good practice, and often the reason that parents keep kids home. My parents kept us at home partly because they wanted to give us a firm foundation (read teach us to think exactly what they thought and be able to reason and argue and defend that mindset). They thought that this was their duty, encouraged by the likes of Michael Farris and others. Raise your children in a Christian home, teach them Biblical principles, have them memorize entire books of scripture, homeschool them, shelter them from any outside influence possible, and teach them that their role in life (secondary to their complementarian gender roles) is to propagate those beliefs in the world. If you do this, your kids will become perfect little clones of you, and they will “withstand the devil’s fiery darts.” It’s like a math equation.

There are so. many. problems. with this. It harms everyone. It hurts parents–they feel like they have not done something right. The gurus of their community promised perfect little clones, but now their kids are rejecting the values that they tried so hard to instill. They are thinking for themselves and choosing their own political standpoints. They may not go to church all the time, they may not be gender binary, they may associate with people from all areas of life and value their beliefs, and they may not homeschool their kids. Parents (like mine) end up feeling like they have failed at raising their kids. Unfortunately, this often morphs into anger directed at said children. I was extremely lucky that my parents did not cut me out of my family, even though they think I am probably not saved. Others, like Cynthia Jeub and her sisters, are not so lucky. Expecting your human children to actually be robots hurts parents.

It also hurts kids. Obviously. Now, while I totally believe that parents cannot turn their kids into robots, they can permanently scar them by treating them like cloned automatons or putting too much responsibility on them. Expecting children to be able to parrot arguments for pro-life and pro-traditional-marriage and other pet views of the parents only hurts kids. It only leads to cognitive dissonance when said children grow up and start to want to think on their own. While you can’t totally control your kids’ brains, you can screw them up pretty royally and give them what amounts to a diminished version of Stockholm syndrome by trying to control them.

I was trained to be a perfect evangelical Christian fundamental quiverfull culture warrior. I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes my parents did. I was going to change the world because I knew what was right (the Christian far right, of course) and I was prepare to defend it.

Only I’m not. And even as I have broken free from my parents domineering control, I struggle with the PTSD-like brain memories whenever I try to do something differently. I struggle with guilt because I’m not in church every Sunday, even though going to church is pure torture to me and not something that I am convinced is necessary or good for me. I have frequent crises of doubt when I realize that my more and more left-leaning views are only going farther and farther. What if I’m going to be eternally damned because I don’t believe abortion is sin? Or that all LGBTQI individuals are going to hell? I’m weighed down with guilt and shame, constantly reminding myself that I don’t believe that stuff anymore, but not yet able to freely move from under it.

I am not a weapon. While I know this, and am learning to live with more freedom from those expectations, it still haunts me. I hurt for the many still being raised this way, who don’t know that they have every right to an opinion and their own beliefs. For the sake of our children, quit treating them like robots.

mythbusters: socialization

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Last night as I was falling asleep I heard my roommate in the next room with her best friend, talking and laughing with abandon. I curled up and pushed away the longing that tugged at my soul, telling myself I needed sleep and I was an introvert so I was ok with not having someone to chum with at the end of a long day. In reality, I want that as much as anyone else. Unfortunately, I missed 12 years of practice in it, and it’s still a struggle to interact with other people around my age.

I was raised in almost complete social isolation. When I finally started realizing that other kids got to hang out with peers in settings other than twice a week at church (and always next to their parents, because heaven forbid you let your children away from your side when you are at church!), I was already so far gone into the fundamentalist mindset to really object to my parents’ methods. Once, I brought it up with my mom, who told me that if I could learn to get along with my siblings I would be able to socialize with anyone. I quickly grasped this as a goal to attain and started working really hard to get along with my siblings. I wanted to be prepared when I got the chance to have a friend, and I didn’t know how else to do it. I also bought into the myth that “socialization” included being able to get along with people from every age group—older than me, younger than me. What I didn’t seem to realize was that while I have always been pretty good at that, I never could get along with people my own age—something that continues to follow me.

Now, I’m not well-versed in personality theories, but I am an intense introvert. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t like people, but that being around people takes an incredible amount of energy from me and I have to plan it carefully. I think that this started kicking in as I got older, and when we finally left the fundamentalist church I grew up in for the slightly less fundamentalist church my parents now attend (when I was about 16), I discovered that combined with my introversion, my practical ignorance of how to form relationships with others was a veritable isolation fence. Even though I wanted to be able to talk to other my age, I didn’t have the skills. And while, if I had been an extrovert, I might have pushed through and tried to make friends, as an introvert I just couldn’t do it. It took all my brain space to adjust to life outside of the cult, and suddenly trying to figure out how to develop personal relationships as an introvert was too much. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand any of this at the time, and simply assumed I was a big social flop and that people didn’t like me because of sin in my life. Or something like that.

I spent the next two years desperately wanting to have friends, but having no clue how to go about that. I would vary between not talking to anyone and taking refuge in books to clinging desperately to anyone who so much as said hello to me. I didn’t know about boundaries, never having had any set with me. I was insecure, needy, frightened, and an inveterate people-pleaser—and people rightly ran the other direction when they saw me coming. A few tried to stick around, but I was a mess. My mental health was collapsing around the same time, and I was a master manipulator. I’m amazed that there were even one or two who didn’t run.

College and four years of mental health treatment (including a stint in treatment for an eating disorder) taught me a lot about myself. Newsflash: being able to get along with your siblings or your mom’s friends does not make you “well-socialized.” HA! Even though I can set excellent boundaries, understand myself as an introvert and can factor that into my social life, (am coming to) believe that I am inherently worthy and loveable, and don’t debate people on theological or moral issues every time I meet them, socialization is still DAMN HARD. Being able to socialize with people older than me and younger than me and my siblings did NOT prepare me for life in the real world. I still feel the effects of it today, and it hurts.

The socialization “myth” is one of the things that the most upsets me in the realm of legitimate-concerns-that-homeschoolers-make-fun-of. It’s especially rife in fundamentalism, with the concept that the family structure can be an isolated and independent unit. To quote John Donne, “No man [family, student, parent] is an island.” When parents homeschool in order to isolate their children, there is a whole host of problems attendant.

Apparently this

seen the village

is a thing, so I’ll end with my response to it: “I grew up outside the village and it wasn’t all so great either.”