Cultural Disconnection

My parents thought they were doing me a favor when they chose to homeschool me and intentionally shelter me from the outside world, but what they didn’t realize is that their decision would leave me culturally disconnected from my peers.

I asked someone who Brittney Spears was some years back, and was rewarded with the most incredulous look I have ever seen. Some years later, I astounded someone else by literally not knowing the name of my state’s prized football team. It happens all the time. Someone mentions this music artist, that actress, or that other sports team, and I respond blankly. Friends start reminiscing about high school and I can only look on mutely. What they had I didn’t. What they knew I didn’t. I suffer from a huge cultural disconnect each and every day in my interactions of my peers. I don’t share the common past that they all share, I don’t know what they know, I don’t have the experiences they have.

But does it really matter if I’ve heard of Brittney Spears or know the name of my state’s football team, you may ask? Yes. It does matter. It matters to me. I don’t like feeling like there is a wall separating me from my peers. I have literally cried over this, numerous times. My parents thought they were doing their best for me, but they have made it so that I do not fit in among anyone except other exes, others who have left the Christian Patriarchy and are, like me, navigating a foreign and strange new world.

And sometimes, not knowing the basic cultural data everyone else knows really does matter. Several weeks ago I was at an academic conference, and one of the speakers mentioned a famous actor (I think) as an example of something he was explaining, but the whole thing went over my head because I had no idea who the person was. So as everyone else nodded understandingly, I wrinkled my brow in confusion and missed the entire point the speaker was trying to make. This sort of thing happens all the time.

I tried to articulate this to a friend several months ago, and she told me she had gone through something very similar. She grew up in Germany and then moved to the United States as a young adult. She told me that what I was feeling was just like the culture shock she experienced when she moved from one continent to the other. I should have been pleased that she understood, but all I could think was, how can I feel this out of place in my own country?At least she can go back to Germany if she gets tired of feeling out of place!I can’t do that, because I’m a foreigner in my own country!


I am missing something everyone else has, and I hate it. Of course, as with everything I post here, my life is not yet over, and as time goes on this sense of cultural disconnection should lesson. It’s like my friend from Germany – the longer she is here, the more she will feel at home here, but a small sense of cultural ennui will always remain. And at the moment the feelings of alienation are still there, and it’s NOT fun.

What Courtship Was for Me
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
What the Ruff, the Spotted Hyena, and the Cuttlefish Taught Me about Gender and Sexuality
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, gosh, I can totally relate to feeling like a stranger in my own country. Sometimes I feel like I am from a whole different world. I don't think it is so much the home schooling that is the problem, it is the total social isolation that conservative fundamentalists force on their chldren in addition to homeschooling that is the huge problem. Kateri

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Great post. I was brought up in a very strict single mom conservative home. We went to public school because Billy Boy G. refused to allow us into ATI because my divorced father was against homeschooling. I didn't know, at the time, that, whatever Gothard's reasoning for it, he actually got something right.Anyway, in public school, we were exposed to the stuff you were kept away from and yet, very little of it. Then, when I escaped at the ripe old age of 19, I would go to Blockbuster Video and rent five or six movies at a time and watch them all night. I studied Hollywood online and read magazines. I sat in front of the television all day and watched every show except the soap operas.After about three months, I was able to begin, keep on track, and finish real life conversations with the best of them around the water cooler.In the end, none of it matters much, but its pretty sweet to be able to not look like an idiot when you are asked a question.Reminds me of the scene in The Sandlot when the protagonist kid says, "Everyone keeps saying that name, Babe Ruth…who is she!!!!!?????"

  • Anne —

    I hate that too!! I've been catching up on all the old animated Disney movies I've never seen. My little siblings-in-law ask me "have you seen (insert movie)?" and I say no and they gape at me…EVERYONE has seen those movies apparently except me!I used to take some sort of weird pride in not knowing anything…when I was still in all that stuff…but now it's just kind of annoying.Something else that's really annoying is sometimes I know of stuff but by different names…so someone will say "have you heard of (insert thing)?" and I'll say "no" and they'll play it for me or show it to me or read it to me and I'll be like "oh, I guess I did know that." Makes me feel stupid all the time.

  • Katy-Anne

    I hate this too, although it's not so bad for me but for my husband. He is learning all this stuff now because he works at a public high school. What bothers me even more is that his parents didn't teach him any social skills. It is very embarrassing to go places with him, and very embarrassing to hang around with his friends. I try to just suck it up because he's my husband and I love him, but he gets mad at me when I try to teach him how to act socially and he likes things the way he does them and doesn't see the problem.

  • Liberty

    Anne – Yes yes, I also used to take a weird pride in not knowing all those things! I guess I felt like it made me somehow…holier, less worldly. After all, Disney movies were demonic and feministic! Ariel was deemed the worst of all, haha. But then when I left Christian Patriarchy and all that it entails, not knowing all that stuff suddenly felt very VERY different.

  • annejisca

    Great posts! I can totally relate, it was me a few years ago. I still have a lot of lacking, yet my husband has taught me a lot, making the gap narrower.

  • Katy-Anne

    I don't think my husband has seen "The Little Mermaid" yet…he's just not that interested now he's an adult. But he wasn't allowed to watch it because she wore a shell bra.

  • Naomi

    So, so true! I've generally blamed my cultural deprivation on growing up Amish Mennonite, but as you point out, non-Amish/Mennonite homeschooled kids can feel the culture gap just as well. It really does feel like being a foreigner in your own country. Unfortunately, we have no idea how many others like us are out there. I wish we had some kind of a symbol by which we could identify each other–like a pin or something–so when we run into each other in real life, we could feel slightly less alone.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Katy-Anne. I actually agree with your husband's parents. As a parent, I don't want my kids to get the idea that wearing a shell bra is a good thing. The problem is the ease of access to the goods beneath. Not to mention that you would be hard pressed to find a nice top that looks good with that type of unforgiving lingerie. Practically, can you imagine trying to nurse with that? The thing would fall down and hit the kid in the head. Sharp edges can cause cuts.Yes, any way you cut it, BAD idea!

  • Liberty

    Naomi – Haha, I love your idea of a symbol! Because when I DO find someone else raised like me, someone else who left and is navigating a brand new world, I feel an instant kinship! That's how it was with my closest friend – she and I understand each other completely, we can read each other's thoughts, feelings, fears, and dreams, not because we grew up together (we met after when we were in our early twenties and both married) but rather because we were both raised the same way and we both left. Also, Incongruous – LOL.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! I have felt this over and over again, but have never really be able to explain it quite the way you have. I too was homeschooled and sheltered from the outside world. I had no tv, no friends, and wasn't allowed to listen to any music other then classical and Integrity/Hosanna praise and worship music growing up. Now in my mid 20s with the freedom and opportunity to make friends, I'm finding it so hard to connect with those around me. You said it so well when you said "I’m a foreigner in my own country!"~L

  • shadowspring

    MKs experience this cultural disconnect as well. They are very much foreigners in their passport country.

  • Libby Anne

    Shadow – I actually had a friend growing up who was an MK, and it was like that for her, so much so that she swore she would never do that to any of her future children.

  • Freedom

    Meh. The trick is to be resourceful! I watched Pocahontas and Anastasia while babysitting (My parents: "tree-spirits and magic? C'mon, those are SOO not biblical! Let's ban any movie with them in it!!") and my kiddos would dance to Hilary Duff and Mandy Moore with me (I loved having my own account at the public library). I can't figure out why those singing chicks were frowned upon by my parents- maybe because they sang about young love? Or wore halter tops? Hmmm, that does seem especially rebellious. LOLMaybe the reason why I'm not having a big, "rebellious" No-Longer-Quivering culture-shock moment is because I didn't let myself quiver. I saw through it almost from the beginning and found ways to help myself to doses of popular culture. Although state-champ football teams? Are totally overrated.

  • Anonymous

    I just found your site, so my apologies for coming so late to this post — which is very insightful.I am sorry you've had to struggle like this, it must be very difficult. I hope, though, that time will help alleviate some of your loss. This is trivial in comparison to what you went through, but in my late 20s, I dropped out of mainstream society, living on the edge in a barrio with no TV, alternative music and pre-Internet. I pretty much missed the 1990s — my lost decade. I don't understand many of the cultural references to this time period, whether it be TV, movies, music and the like.But now that lost decade is just a speed bump in my life. Information is out there to help get me up to speed when/if I need it. And, you know what, unless it's some sort of reunion most people don't reminisce about days of yore. Well, maybe some do, but they get boring pretty quickly.I met the granddaughter of Eleanor Roosevelt a few years back. She was born after FDR had died. One thing I thought interesting was that many people were surprised the granddaughter didn't have many FDR or White House stories to tell. But, as she put it, her grandmother was always looking at today and the future. She wasn't particularly interested in looking back.Your loss is a big one, and I don't want mean to minimize it. You have a lifetime ahead of you to create the reality that works for you … and you are already doing a great job. Best wishes as you look to today and toward your future.–Cheryl

  • Psyence

    I have some of these symptoms. Mostly when it comes to dating. The feeling is very frustrating because I always feel that there are things I should understand and that I don't. The fact I suffer from ADD doesn't help. Although I read that ADD people often tend to develop independent thinking… which may be what helped me get out of the Jehovah Witnesses. My point is, sometimes your problems are also advantages that can go unnoticed.

  • Rilian

    My mom always says she was raised in a bubble. I think because of that, I was inadvertently raised in a bubble too, though a slightly bigger one. There’s all kinds of things I know nothing about that other people have known about since they were 4. Or whatever. Even though I had a million friends, I still somehow missed a lot of things, and maybe that’s because it wasn’t ever mentioned at home? I don’t know. But also, I don’t care. I don’t feel deprived.

  • Emmie

    I know I’m a late commenter but I just found your blog and I’ve spent the last 2 days reading backwards. I wasn’t raised in the same movement as you were but I was raised by fundamentalist from age 8 – 19 in a patriarchal home with me (the only girl and 2nd child) and 3 brothers. I relate to so much of what you talk about and especially to this disconnect. My parents forbade anything but gospel be listened to. While we did watch tv and movies it was never the stuff our peers were watching and the rules about what was appropriate were somewhat arbitrary (such as my dad not letting us watch the Cosby show because he didn’t think Bill Cosby was funny but he let us watch movies with blood and gore because he liked them) I wasn’t allowed to wear pants or fashionable dresses so I really don’t know anything about the styles of the 80s and early 90s when i was in school and now when my friends reminisce about that time period I usually have no idea what music, fashion, tv, or movies they are referencing, and I went to public school. But I wasn’t allowed to have spend significant amounts of unsupervised time with children not from my church.

  • Christine

    And this disconnect is why I’m not entirely sure about our lack of cultural immersion. It’s great for my husband and me – we love it, we can get our media directly from the CD store or order DVD seasons of television we want to watch (think Mythbusters). But I’m a little worried about the cultural disconnect my daughter will have with her peers eventually.

    I know it’s not as much of a problem, because so many people, even parents, these days don’t have TVs (although a lot of them stream shows), and there’s so much more media to consume, so there will be fewer shared experiences. Also, hopefully it won’t hurt as much because my daughter won’t be as disconnected from the real world as you were. But it’s still there in the back of my head.