Letter to Our Parents
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Darcy’s blog Darcy’s Heart-Stirrings. It was originally published on Patheos on May 9, 2014.
I’m in several online groups consisting of thousands of the homeschool alumni of my generation, the “Joshua Generation”, the products of the Christian homeschooling pioneers. And one major theme going on in our conversations right now is an overwhelming frustration that we cannot talk to our parents. We cannot be real with you.We want a relationship but don’t know how to get past the mental and emotional walls you have put up to protect yourself, the denial that your choices for us caused pain. Your disapproval of our choices and rejection of how you raised us is thick enough to be cut with a knife, and weighs very heavy on our shoulders. Can we just for a moment sit here together, walls and guards down, and be honest with each other? There’s so much we want to say to you, to help you understand. So much WE want to understand. So this is my attempt to give voice to so many, including myself.
Unless you’re never on the internet, I’m sure you know by now that your kids’ generation isn’t turning out how you’d hoped and planned. How you were assured we would if you only followed the rules. Dissatisfaction, pain, anger, and disillusionment are plastered all over the internet by your children and their cohorts. Story after story written by the adult alumni of the homeschool movement, honest and real and painful. Stories of dysfunction and inability to cope in the real world because of the choices you made for them. Stories of pain suffered, feelings of betrayal, and honest, raw emotions that are probably hard for you to see and hear. Words like “spiritual abuse” everywhere, directed at you and the people you trusted to teach your children how to be godly. “Survivor blogs” are popping up, being written by your adult offspring. That’s gotta hurt. We are walking away from so much that you held dear. We are raising our own kids so differently than you raised us. Even the leaders you followed have turned out to be frauds.
I’ve seen your reactions. Denial. Anger. Verbal lashings. Tears. Disbelief. Shunning. Excuses and justifications. Feelings of betrayal. Guilt. So much pain.
“How dare they!”
“We were just doing what we thought was best.”
“We only wanted to protect you.”
“We were trying to follow God the best way we knew how.”
“We gave you the best we could and you repay us by rejecting it all and plastering your discontent all over the internet?!”
“You are dishonoring us by focusing on the bad!”
“You’re just bitter and need to move on.”
“We loved you and this is how you repay us?”
“It wasn’t that bad.”
I understand the sheer amount of unexpected consequences and the reactions of your children must be overwhelming. You didn’t expect this. You did everything “right” and followed the people who had all the answers, who made promises about how your family would turn out if you did what they told you was “God’s will”. And when it didn’t work, those teachers and their followers blamed you and your “rebellious” children. “You must not have followed the rules correctly.” The broken relationships are like a knife in your heart.
Our rejection of your ways is not personal. It’s not a “reaction”, as we have been accused of ad nauseam. Many of us were taught to “stand alone”, to figure out what was right and then go do it regardless of what everyone else was doing.
Well….that’s what we’re doing.
We have weighed the teachings of our past and found them wanting. We have chosen different paths for our own families, much like you did for yours. We have taken what was good and thrown out what was not, some of us throwing out everything because, honestly, there wasn’t much good left to hold on to. Many of us are lost and dysfunctional, trying to put together pieces of a puzzle, trying to live in a world we were not prepared for because we were told we weren’t part of it. Many of you have taken this as ungratefulness toward what you did for us, but this is not about you. This is about us….our lives, our choices, our own children who we must now make choices for.
Can you please stop making this about our rejection of you and instead see it as our embracing of our own lives?
We are your children yet we are not children anymore, many of us older than you were when you set out to raise your family the way you saw fit. We want to have relationship with you, but not as your children. As your equals. As friends. As fellow human beings. Please stop treating us as rebellious children. Think back to when you chose differently than your parents and remember what that was like before you treat us with the same disdain and disappointment.
For those of you invalidating our stories, saying “it wasn’t that bad”, can I ask you to take a step back for a moment? To gain a broader perspective? Because what may have been only a small part of your life, was our ENTIRE lives. You were adults when you chose to attend that Basic Seminar, when you picked up your first courtship books, when you decided to promote the modesty culture, when you chose to become part of a patriarchal system, when you made the choice to spend your kids’ childhoods sheltered from the world in your own little reality and the culture you created. But us? We were born into it. We were raised our whole lives immersed in it.
We spent the most formative years of our cognitive and emotional development in an alternate religious culture ruled by fear, shame, legalism, and authoritarianism. We had no choice. We knew nothing else. We had no other experience and knowledge and discernment to ground us like you did, to give us perspective, to compare anything to.
For you, this was 10-20 years of your life. For us, it was our whole lives. It was all we knew. Our entire lives have been built upon a time period that was just a small part of your own life. So, yes, it was “that bad”. Our experiences were nothing like yours and you’ll have to see them through our eyes if you want to understand.
You had a different life before this, and a different one after. This homeschooling movement and the resulting culture is all we know. It made us who we are, for better or for worse. Our stories cannot be separated from it. We are the products of that movement. You were the facilitators who got to choose what affected you and what didn’t. We didn’t have the capacity as children to even begin to make that choice. What you only observed and instigated and perpetuated, we lived, felt, internalized, and became.
You keep telling us we’re overreacting. You’re offended because we “don’t appreciate” what you did for us. But this is not about you. How we tell our stories and work through the consequences of your choices for us is not about you. It’s about us. Our lives. Our hearts, souls, minds, marriages, relationships, spiritual journeys, and futures. The things we write about how teachings like emotional purity, the umbrella of authority, modesty, and courtship affected us, how they hurt us, messed us up, how we’re working through the messages we received and internalize….these things are not about you. We aren’t telling our stories to “dishonor” you. We’re telling them because truth sets free and light banishes darkness. Because wounds fester in silence and heal in openness. We can love you, forgive you, and have a relationship with you and still tell our stories. We HAVE to tell them and tell them truthfully. Because sometimes it’s the only way to wade through the muck and the crap and the dysfunction that you inflicted on us and we are leaving behind.
Some of you have regrets. You look back and say “What were we thinking?!” You know you made mistakes, big ones, and you know it hurt us, hurt our relationship with you. Some of you are watching your children struggle to overcome the consequences of your choices for them and hurt for them and are angry at yourself. Can you please just say it? Be as open and honest as we are. You know what I don’t hear in the reactions of our parents that I listed above? “We are so sorry.” Why is that so difficult to say? I know it’s scary to think that the choices you made damaged your children. I’m a parent. I have the same fears that my choices will hurt my kids. But as a parent, I cannot imagine NOT telling them “I’m sorry” when they come to me and lay bare their souls, and explain how I’ve hurt them and how they’re healing. Yes, it hurts. But I guarantee that holding it inside and bearing that burden alone will hurt you and your children far more than being honest with them about your regret.
So many of us get it. We get that you were duped. That you were victims of spiritual abuse yourself, who went on to unwittingly inflict that abuse on your kids. Give us a chance to express that. To openly forgive and to honestly work through the anger and the pain with you. Many of us have forgiven you, but we cannot talk about it with you because you refuse to go there. It’s easier for you to just deny the past, our pain, and your part in it. Keep that up, and the denial and facade will eat out your soul til there’s nothing left, while we move on with our lives without you. We want to have a real relationship with you, to repair what was broken, but you are holding so tightly to your elephants in the room, and we have to stay on the surface and walk on eggshells around you, playing your game of pretending that everything was peachy, trying to live well in the present while denying the past. Meanwhile we are frustrated and wonder how much longer we can keep up your charade.
As scary as it is to face pain you caused, it’s much worse to pretend it never happened. So many of us are ready to start building a real relationship with you, to include you in this conversation. But it’s your move. I can’t promise it’ll be easy or good, that’ everything will turn out the way it is supposed to, but it will be worth it, for yourself and for your family. Honest and human is the only way to live.
I asked some of my friends…your children who are now grown…what they would say to their parents if they could. I’d like to end with their words. Listen to their hearts.
“Can you please stop focusing on the extremely few truly good things there were about the way you raised me and just admit, “I was wrong” with no conditions, qualifiers, buts or brakes? Can you please just admit that you were far too strict on standards which had nothing to do with my relationship with God and only hurt my relationships with others, without inserting qualifiers about how your extremism was justified because ‘there was so much evil in the world?”
“The scars from our past are not the fruit of bitterness, but part of the healing process for us. It would help if you acknowledged our feelings and apologized for the pain you caused us instead of passing the blame to us. We don’t demand any retribution for the hurt in the past, but for our relationship to be fully whole we need to be able to talk through what happened without being made out to be the bad guys.”
“If what you did was perfectly right, why did you change with my younger siblings? And if you were wrong… why don’t you acknowledge it??”
“You rejected how you were brought up, how is it wrong of me to do the same?”
“I know you’ve changed, I know you’re trying to love us as best you can. But can you stop pretending the past was perfect? Can you please just say ‘our choices hurt you and we’re sorry’? I’ve forgiven you. But I’m tired of playing your charade, walking on eggshells, pretending that I wasn’t hurt that I’m not still trying to wade through the mess of my past. Can we just talk about it, really, truly, honestly? You want me to ‘move on’ and I will, with or without you. I’d prefer with you. But we have to go back in order to go forward.”
“You disagree with some of my life choices, but I disagree with some of your life choices as well. That is just everyday life: there are very few people with whom you will ever truly agree 100%. We’re both mature adults and need to learn to respect one another’s choices and learn to have a relationship despite our differences.”
“I would like for my Mom to stop whitewashing the past. Instead I’d like her to acknowledge that she and my dad were controlling and manipulative, that they were abusive and authoritarian, that they didn’t trust me (instead treating me as guilty until proven innocent) and they demanded things from me (like my heart) that was not theirs to demand. A lot of what I’d like to hear them say could be summed up as “I’m sorry”. That would go a long, long way for me. But they can’t even say that, not without 60,000 disclaimers like “We were doing our best” and “We were following God”, or worse “YOU DID x, y, z”. If they could ever acknowledge that they did something wrong without attempting to share blame with me… I’d really, really like that.”
“There are parts of me I hide from you because even though you say you love me, I know they would break your heart and make you want to scream. I know because you’ve told me how you felt about my siblings. Since I can’t share these vital parts of myself without disappointing you, I feel like an adult relationship between us is impossible.”
“Please don’t write off my opposition to Christian patriarchy as ‘an ax to grind’ and attribute all my adult decisions to a reactionary attitude or desire to flip off people who haven’t been a part of my life for years. I make decisions based on what’s best for my mental health. And you have to admit, I’m a lot more balanced and cool-headed than you were at my age. Did you get involved in the fringe movements you did as a reaction against your parents? If you did, please consider that I’ve learned from your mistakes and am not repeating them.”
“Why do you act like I’ve turned my back on my upbringing and my faith, just because I don’t agree completely with you? I still love you very much, and it kills me to avoid so many topics with you because you get upset and sad if I’m not parroting you perfectly. You made completely different life choices from your parents and yet you still love and respect them. Why can’t you see that I’m in exactly the same place?”
“Even if you don’t see anything as wrong in the way you raised me or treated me, please recognize and acknowledge I had a very different experience than you perceive. Acknowledge that I was hurt, deeply, and don’t invalidate my childhood.”
“I feel like I don’t need any retribution for the pain of the past, but it would really help to have our feelings acknowledged. That would make a huge difference in moving forward.”
Please, let us have these difficult, but so necessary, conversations with you.
This is heart rending, it almost reads like a 21st century – polyphonous and therefore very postmodern – version of Kafka’s letter to his father. I myself had a wonderful childhood, a liberal, almost egalitarian upbringing, and have always had the relationship with my parents you so long for. So I can’t possibly fathom what you have been going through, but this letter gives me a glimpse. Thank you for sharing this strong piece of writing (which is even poetic in parts).
I would love that kind of relationship with my parents. But don’t have it. I have given up on even trying. Grew up in a public school home with “Christian’ parents. Never went to church, especially not Christmas and Easter. I was allowed a great amount of freedom and there was a great amount of abuse. Pretty sure my parents never heard of Bill Gothard. am unable to have these types of conversations and they will never admit they were wrong or hurt me:-( Pretty much sucks all around.
I really hope that your parents will come around and you can have the relationship you long for with them. It is a big thing that you are speaking of. These things are hard things. Inside and outside the home school movement. I hope you all can heal and move on even if they cannot not. What you are doing is an important and good work.
I really encourage all of you to see if you can see that the abuse your experience is the same abuse that people outside this movement face. I don’t say this to discourage you, but to expand your thinking.
You know, I don’t think that any of us think for a moment that many of the issues we deal with are exclusive to our sub-culture. Disappointing parents, desire to have an authentic relationship, desire for approval and acceptance from them….these are very universal longings. But we can only speak what we know, and being children of the Movement is what we know and from whence we speak. The religious and cultural nature of those struggles are probably a bit more unique, but still not exclusive to only us.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your writing expresses what so many of us have and are experiencing.
“If what you did was perfectly right, why did you change with my younger siblings? And if you were wrong… why don’t you acknowledge it??”
….ow, my heart. This just… it… nutshell, me, etc. I’m just so blown away right now I can’t even put things into words the way I want. I’m not alone, I’m not alone…
and yet that thought alone hurts so much, because there are so many of us. all the bitter tears that’ve been cried, all the pain and hurt…
may the gods give us peace.
I never bought into the homeschooling or patriarchy, but I was authoritarian and downright mean at times, too. I must apologize to my children. I AM SORRY. Personal conversations to follow.