You have been hurt. Badly hurt. Your parents, the people you should have been able to trust the most in life have let you down. Not only have they let you down but they have attempted to fill your mind with twisted ideas and laden you with guilt over things that are innocent and normal. They have embarrassed you, berated you, and sometimes even physically harmed you. And the time of your life that should have been the sweetest, the most trouble free and joyous, was a nightmare.
And you are not alone. As the years progress, your ranks are increasing. Other young people from legalistic homeschool families have experienced similar pain causing you to band together and commiserate over the bizarre teachings, unreasonable restrictions, and harsh punishments that have left you angry and bitter.
I get it.
Because I’ve been there… …both on the receiving and the giving end. And my kids would be a part of your wounded group if not for several God given, life transforming revelations that altered the course of my parenting.
I grew up in an oddly dysfunctional home with one of the freakiest of moms imaginable. My mom had me later in life and always seemed ancient compared to the other kid’s moms. She had grey hair that she wore in one of those old lady styles, teased and hairsprayed to the point of resisting a monsoon. She never wore pants because pants were “ungodly.” She had strong opinions that she often rudely shared, even, to my horror, with the kids in my carpool. She made me wear unfashionable clothes that caused me to be an object of mockery, and she frequently rummaged through my closet while I was at school, taking down all the hems of my dresses so I would meet her standard of modesty. She blasted sermons on the radio practically 24/7, made me go to church services and Sunday school multiple times each week, and every morning while I ate my Captain Crunch cereal she preached to me, invoking the name of Bill Gothard whenever possible. She nagged my dad to within an inch of his life but vehemently insisted that she was a submitted wife. And when she was angry with me, which was quite often, she would chase me around the house with a fly swatter, swatting at any exposed part of my body.
Not surprisingly, once I was grown I rebelled, wanting nothing to do with what I called “organized religion.” I still called myself a Christian and said I believed in the Bible, but because it had always been rammed down my throat I had no real interest in it. Like many of you, my pain and anger at my mother made me want to shun everything she held dear.
At eighteen I started working and became friends with a lot of non-Christians who didn’t have the best value systems, and little by little my standards began to slide until ten years later, I was a broken mess. When I looked in the mirror each morning I felt like I was looking at a stranger.
But our God is a God of mercy, forgiveness and healing and He graciously began to woo me back to Him and to the church. I eventually married a man who sincerely loved the Lord and we started a family. And then it was my turn to be a parent, and my turn to care for and make decisions for my children. Oh, boy.
I quickly learned that I had no idea how to handle a baby. And raising a kid? No clue whatsoever. But I had a friend who seemed very knowledgeable and had incredibly well behaved children, so I listened to her and I read all the books she loaned me, and I determined to whip my kids into shape.
And whip is exactly what I did.
I was incredibly hard on my oldest son. The poor thing couldn’t do anything without being spanked. And I spanked him hard. Far too hard. Like many of my fellow homeschool parents, I read materials that promoted strict discipline and making sure children felt the pain of the rod to ensure the formation of godly character. But now, as I look back on those years, I cringe and I weep. I have gone to my son multiple times asking him to forgive me for my behavior during his early childhood because I was such a harsh, unkind mother. I cared more about outward behavior than about showing him affection and winning his tender heart. And I’ll admit it, I liked people complimenting me on my well-behaved kids. I took pride in my parenting technique and I thought I had it all together. Those other parents whose kids were out of control were raising their kids incorrectly, not me.
But again, God is merciful and He is abundantly gracious, and He sent me my first revelation.
One night when Joshua was about 5, after an extremely trying day with him, I put him in bed, gave him a dutiful kiss, said a rote prayer, and was about to walk away, when I glanced at his sweet face. He looked so sad, and on an impulse I asked him, “Joshua, do you think you are a bad boy?” He looked down and nodded. And then it hit me: he wasn’t a bad boy, he was just a little boy. So I kissed him again, this time with genuine affection, and told him that he wasn’t a bad boy and that I loved him.
That was one of those eye-opening, life-transforming moments. I began to really think through what I was doing with my kids and I realized I had been far too harsh on them, even cruel. So I vowed to change. I purposed to stop the yelling and the berating, and not to spank over every little thing. It didn’t happen overnight, but over a period of time I did change, to the point that my youngest son is surprised when I talk about how terrible I was to Joshua.
Still, despite my many reforms, I was pretty strict and often narrow-minded and I was a sucker for what I term “homeschool theology.” Most of the time we didn’t have television and we limited movies. Video games were pretty much anathema (although I confess that I had a brief love affair with a hand-held version of Scrabble and would probably still be playing it on the sly if the batteries hadn’t died.) We practically lived at our church, reasoning that we were teaching our children about serving the Lord by the many hours we were putting in. I also started getting into patriarchy and the Vision Forum style of living, wearing more skirts and heavily sheltering our kids.
But then we joined a homeschool speech and debate league and another revelation began to unfold, resulting in further changes in my thinking and behavior.
Joining this league was absolutely the best thing we ever did for our kids. They learned critical thinking, argumentation, research techniques, essay writing, interpersonal skills, and public speaking. More importantly, they developed wonderful, lasting, godly friendships. My kids didn’t have many friendships prior to participating in speech and debate because we were so concerned with shielding them from bad influences, but suddenly there were lots of choices for friendships.
As we came to know the people in the league, we saw that there were many differing views within the homeschool speech and debate community and we began to understand that Christians can have more permissive views, and still be solid, upright, passionate believers in Christ. This additional revelation led to a re-evaluation of many of the rules and standards we had set for our family and helped me not to be such an unbending and unreasonable mother. Like my first revelation, the change didn’t happen overnight and we were still viewed as being among the more legalistic families within our league, but we were finally interacting with broader viewpoints and learning to accept differences.
The third revelation occurred with the knowledge that our kids were growing up and they needed to know how to function in the world. Speech and debate had changed us to a certain extent, but we still had a ways to go in preparing them to live effectively in our culture. They still gasped at profanity and rolled their eyes at the mere thought of watching a PG-13 movie. But let’s be real, you can hear a stream of profanity, read about a wide variety of secular and anti-Christian lifestyles, and see an abundance of skin baring apparel just standing in line at Wal-Mart. The world is all around us, and my kids needed to know how to deal with it, without being judgmental and unloving.
So we began to carefully open the door to the world. We became much more mainstream and lightened up on certain issues, recognizing that our kids had the maturity to watch “The Hunger Games,” that wearing a dress that actually came above the knee rather than below the knee didn’t make a girl immodest or wanton, and that hanging out with the opposite sex unchaperoned was not necessarily the pre-cursor to promiscuity. And I fully believe that these changes helped to prevent my kids from developing the rebellion, bitterness, and understandable anger that has occurred in some homeschool families.
But there was one additional revelation that led to a change in my thinking and behavior. When my mom entered her seventies she developed an illness called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. This illness is similar to ALS in that it slowly paralyzes the body. My uncle passed away due to complications from this illness so we knew full well the progression of the disease. As the disease advanced my mom began to slow down but she was still walking with help and able to enjoy simple pleasures. And then something unusual happened.
I was reading my Bible one morning and I felt the Holy Spirit putting something upon my heart. Now if you know me, I am not one of those people who go around saying “The Lord told me.” In fact, I am very skeptical whenever I hear those words. But on this occasion I felt a clear urging of the Holy Spirit to go and apologize to my mother.This was a hard thing for me. All my life I had blamed my mother for my miserable childhood. She had embarrassed me and twisted my thinking and made me resentful and bitter. She had been weird, legalistic, and rude (and still was). Why should I be the one to apologize?
And then I knew.
Because she was my mother, and because I had been disrespectful. Even though she had been difficult and strange, and had humiliated me and made my life unbearable, she was still the person chosen by God to raise me. And one thing I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt: as strange as she was, she loved me. In her own gnarled way she was trying to raise me to be an upright and godly Christian woman. Her methods were peculiar, even wrong at times, but she had tried to do what was right and she had instilled within me the incomparable lesson that God’s word is the ultimate authority in all things.
God didn’t tell me to honor my mother if she was a sweet and kind mother. He didn’t say to honor her if she was reasonable and normal. He just told me to honor her because she was my mother. I wrestled with these feelings for some time and then finally shared them with my husband.
“Go tell her you are sorry and ask for forgiveness right away,” he told me. So despite the fact that every part of me was revolting against the prospect of an apology to my mom, I resolved to go the next day to see her.
But early the following morning I received a call from my sister saying my mom was in the emergency room. I immediately got in the car and drove to the hospital. By the time I arrived my mom was entering a comatose state. Her eyes were still open slightly and she could respond a little to me, so I confessed to her my past wrongs. I don’t know if she understood, but I know I did the right thing in seeking her forgiveness.
My mother died from pneumonia three days later.
Interestingly, this event didn’t occur after all my other revelations. It happened when my oldest child was about ten, but it became a measuring rod for many of my actions. Remembering my relationship with my mother caused me to want something different with my own kids. I wanted to be a sensible mother, a mother that would listen to her children’s budding ideas and opinions and would be fair when making decisions concerning them. I didn’t want them to view me as closed-minded and inflexible, causing them to angrily reject my teaching. I wanted them to grow to be genuine Christians who love God and desire to obey Him without being burdened by unnecessary rules that have no Scriptural foundation, or a stretched Scriptural foundation. I wanted to be a mother that was easy to love and respect because my children knew that I always had their best interest at heart. And I didn’t want my kids to honor me out of a sense of duty but rather because I was good to them and they knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I loved them. It took me a while to figure these things out, but I think, and I hope I’m on the road to achieving my goal.
But unfortunately, not all parents see things this way. Some parents don’t have, or perhaps reject, such revelations. Some parents are difficult. Some parents, like my mom, and maybe like your mom or dad, never see their own errors. They hold on to their rigid, legalistic beliefs for dear life and make their kid’s lives absolutely miserable until, just like me and just like you, their kids emerge angry and bitter.
So to those of you who have experienced similar circumstances and have been hurt, let me just say that I understand. I’ve been there. I know the pain. And I’m so sorry. I’m sorry for your many scars and that your childhood was so unhappy and that you don’t have a loving family to support and comfort you. But please remember, like I finally did, some important concepts.
Remember that parents are human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we fall for messed up ideas, take them to extremes, and you, our children, suffer for it. Sometimes, as humans with feet of clay, we don’t see the effects of what we are doing. We think we are in the right, even though we are not.
Remember that someday you will have your own kids and you will think you are raising them correctly, but you will be wrong at times too, because kids don’t come with an instruction manual. And parenting is tough. Really tough. Much tougher than you can ever imagine.
Remember that despite all the wrong, there were moments of right. It may seem impossible right now, but there will come a time when you have your own revelation that a few of the things your parents taught you were actually true.
Remember the importance of forgiveness. Even if we don’t see our faults, please forgive us. Even if we are unreasonable, please forgive us. Even if we are harsh and unbending and strange and unaffectionate, please forgive us. And don’t compound our sin with your own. Break the cycle. Don’t end your life with the regret of not seeking or giving forgiveness and harboring hate.
And please, please remember that despite what has happened between you and your parents…
…they love you. It may not seem like it sometimes, but believe me…