I Was an LDS Homeschooler: Tirzah’s Story, Part One

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Pedro Szekely. Image links to source.

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

I was homeschooled my entire life. As were all my brothers and sisters. I actually don’t mind at all that I was homeschooled. I enjoyed it, a lot. As an educational method I think it can be remarkably effective, giving children an unhindered environment to learn at their own pace and truly develop their own talents.

That being said, I still feel compelled to write and share my story. It’s not as bad or traumatic as some, but not as happy and rosy as others.

A few years ago my mother looked at me with a mournful and wistful look and sadly asked, “What happened to us? You used to trust me and confide in me so much, then when you were about 11 that all changed. Why did you stop trusting me?”

I didn’t know how to answer that at the time.

I was still sorting through my childhood and I genuinely believed that the change our relationship had taken was somehow my fault. I didn’t think it was all my fault, but surely a large portion of it was mine, because my mom loved me, and I was the one who was annoyed by her.

My family is LDS (you know, those controversial Mormons?). As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints we have a doctrine that is distinct and very very different from any evangelical Christian denomination. But for a family that wants to homeschool for religious reasons back in my day there really weren’t any LDS oriented curriculums. So my parents did what many Mormon homeschoolers did: they branched out.

Abeka was the first inclusion I can remember. The books were vaguely creepy to me, with randomly placed Bible verses that had no bearing at all on whatever the subject matter was. Gradually more items worked their way in. Books about Amish and Mennonite children who learned valuable life lessons about greed, vanity, and perfect immediate obedience. They were also creepy, but I loved to read so I read them occasionally out of sheer boredom.

My dad was extremely abusive. He was large, frightening, and he thrived off of intimidating people. Especially us. He kept my mother in a constant state of fear and desperation, so as very small children we were largely unmonitored, my mother desperately cleaning one room after the other as we moved through like a storm of tiny Tasmanian devils. My mother eventually gathered the courage and resources to leave him and she gained full custody of all of us in the divorce. I came out of that experience with some deep rooted trust issues with men. I didn’t want to be left alone near any man.

My mother didn’t help in that matter, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Now a newly single mother my mom faced a lot of pressure to put us in school. She didn’t feel like that would be the right thing, so she figured out ways to make money while staying at home. She also needed to figure out how to undo the years of bad habits we had learned when it came to our cleaning habits. And that is when she discovered the Pearls and their masterpiece of parenting wisdom “To Train Up a Child”. Suddenly her mind was opened- children were like horses who needed guidance and careful training, who needed to learn instant compliance in order to learn obedience to God. If they didn’t receive that training then their souls would be in peril and they would wander off into the lost paths of darkness, and be pulled into the hedonistic world of Babylon.

I got the horse analogy a lot as a child and teen. I was the oldest at home, my older brother having been sent off to live with our father, and as the oldest she not only needed me to be the example, but to also make me the example. So I got lots of switchings. Sometimes it was a switch, others a belt, once a wooden spoon but she broke that on me. Then I was in more trouble because I made her break the spoon.

I had no privacy for my thoughts. “Murmuring” was not tolerated, because Laman and Lemuel murmured (book of Mormon people) and that ended up creating an entire civilization that rejected God. I wasn’t allowed to feel any anger towards her for the sudden changes in my life, and anything but perfect respect and admiration was unacceptable.

My mom didn’t use the spanking philosophy for long, she couldn’t bear to continue to inflict bodily harm on her kids (gee, I wonder why…..) but the attitude and mentality behind it remained. Seemingly overnight I had gone from being decently self sufficient and independent to being unbearably incapable and never to be trusted. The siblings that I had spent my entire life protecting from my father and mentally ill brother suddenly needed to be protected from me. Suddenly I was a pathological liar who bullied and harmed them out of spite and malice. I was never to be believed, because I was older and bigger, and they all told the same story. My younger brother was the perfect and honest one who would never lie to her… Only me. I was the liar, I was too rebellious, too unruly. I was leading my siblings astray.

I was always made to feel self conscious of my body.

My mom once pulled me aside at the public swimming pool to inform me that any time I stepped out of the pool I needed to wrap the towel around my waist because men might think my legs were really sexy. I was only 13, and wasn’t even close to puberty. Once at 17 a boy in my youth group cruelly called me a “corner girl” to hurt me, they all knew that I had never so much as kissed a boy, so that was an especially painful barb. When I told my mother about it, instead of defending me she told me it was because my shirt was too tight and they could see the curve of my breasts. We were always warned about sex, but never taught anything. It would lead us to immoral acts, and if I learned anything about it then I might say something to my siblings and that would cause them to be immoral too. Every decision I made had to be weighed against how it would affect them.

But her lessons on my responsibility as the oldest and the counseling we had received in our abuse survivors group sunk in, and not how she had hoped. I knew that it was my responsibility to teach “the youngers”, as I referred to them, how to move into adulthood in spite of my mom’s desire to go back in time and re-raise us. So I pushed on. I persuaded her to let me get an email account. She was very worried about allowing me on the computer, and told me that I could become addicted to pornography from the junk mail, or kidnapped by a stranger who would try to “get me” from the chat rooms. After establishing some rules I got one. Within a few years the others each has one as well. The same went with phone usage, then cellphone use, then Facebook.

Eventually I decided to serve a mission for our Church. But because it was several years before the age change our church recently had, it meant that I lived at home till I was in my 20’s to save money and prepare for my mission.

It was during that time period that my mom discovered the Christian Patriarchy movement.

She feel in love with the notion of “stay-at-home daughters” carefully protected and guided by their wise and loving parents. My mom had remarried by this time, and desperately wanted to take back the abuse and neglect we had receive from our biological father. What better way to do that then having sah-daughters? Oh she thought it was lovely and refined. But still unreasonably expected us to function as adults. But her vision of adult daughters was one of daughters who were wise enough to submit to their parents.

At the time I went along with it, but with a great deal of reservation. I tried to be humble and submissive and recognized that I was still living in their house so I needed to respect their rules. I worked for my step father and “contributed” to the family. Don’t get me wrong, I had some pretty decent perks as well, lessons in music and other sports that I valued highly, but it was still miserable.

When I went on my mission everything changed.

Part Two >

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