A reader recently asked about my feelings towards my parents:
Do you harbor any feelings of *resentment* towards your parents because they indoctrinated you? In previous posts you have used some harsh language to describe your upbringing, how it hurt you emotionally then, how it has hurt you emotionally now. Do you target any feelings of anger back at your parents? Some other atheists and I recently discussed this online, and most of them felt sorry for their parents and a bit disappointed in them as well for not seeing through religion and also indoctrinating them into it, but not so much resented their parents. I do have just a small amount of resentment, but it is really not much at all, especially because my own upbringing did not have anything near the degree of indoctrination you experienced.
The answer is no, I’m not angry at them – and yes, I am.
For a little background (I never know how much any given reader has read of my story or of my previous posts), my parents were originally just your ordinary evangelicals. Then, after they began homeschooling for unrelated reasons, they began to be sucked into the beliefs of the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movement, whose influence in the Christian homeschool movement is strong. As a result they not only taught me that I was always to submit to my male authority (first my father, then my husband), but also expected me to be a clone of their beliefs and lifestyle. When I challenged and eventually rejected these ideas, I went through a very painful period where I essentially had to choose between my family and my freedom.
But my upbringing was in many ways very very happy. My father was always involving us kids in projects and always ready to wrestle or play a board game, and my mother was always ready to whip up a batch of cookies, read aloud to us, or take us to the park. While my parents practiced authoritarian parenting a la Michael Pearl, they almost never spanked us to the point of bruising or disciplined us while angry. The atmosphere in my parents’ house growing up was one of love and carefree childhood.
Therefore, when someone first asked me if I was angry at my parents – this was last summer when I started blogging – I replied in the negative:
I blog because I see problems with my parents’ Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull beliefs that I did not see at the time. But more than that, I blog because these beliefs took an idyllic childhood and destroyed it when I came of age. After I had left for college I began to formulate my own views. And with that, the whole thing fell apart. Everything I thought my parents would never be, they were. Everything I thought my parents would never do, they did. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and couldn’t understand how my wonderful home had turned into a living nightmare.
I’m not bitter at my parents, and I’m not ungrateful for all they did for me. Instead, I’m simply sad that it had to be this way, and I wish with all my heart that my parents had not fallen prey to Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull beliefs. If only they had been okay with their children growing up and choosing their own beliefs and their own paths in life. If they had, my idyllic childhood would not have suddenly collapsed leaving me to look around in bewilderment and wonder what had happened. And this, I think, is a major problem with the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull mindset. What I feel, then, is sadness for what might have been, not bitterness for what was. And that is why I blog.
Much of what I said there is still true. I love my parents. They did so many things right for me. They gave me a love of learning and a curious spirit and a childhood that was generally genuinely happy. I have focused on challenging the ideas that caused my happy, loving family of origin such trouble rather than on being angry with my parents themselves. Because, I insisted, it wasn’t my parents I was angry with – it was the ideas that took them in.
At least, that’s what I told my therapist six months ago. And then she looked me in the face and told me I was lying. Well, she didn’t exactly use those words. But her questions made me realize that I was lying to myself when I said I wasn’t angry. I was deflecting my anger onto the beliefs that had caused the problems in order to exempt my parents’ from responsibility, because something in me couldn’t admit that I was angry at them.
I’m angry at my parents for being gullible. I’m angry at them for being so easily taken in. I’m angry at them for valuing their beliefs over their own daughter, for being so blinded by they beliefs they had accepted that they ceased to be able to see me. I’m angry that they couldn’t listen to what I wanted and could only think about what they wanted. I’m angry that they saw me as clay to be shaped however the liked, and then as broken as soon as I took a single step on my own. Yes, I’m angry.
But I’m still sad. I’m sad for what could have been but wasn’t. I’m sad for who my parents could have been but weren’t. I’m sad for what we could have had but can’t. I’m sad for all the walking on eggshells, all the tense moments, all the pain. I’m sad because I want a relationship with my parents that I can’t have. I’m sad that I haven’t talked with my father about anything but the weather or passing the salt for years and years. I’m sad that I have to view my every interaction with my mother as treading through ground littered with mines. I’m sad because I wish it wasn’t like this, but it is.
I’m sad because I love my parents and have so many thoroughly happy memories with them, so much history, and yet there will always be this wall between us, and things can never again be like the once were. Sure, I’m angry that they were taken in by beliefs that created this wall, that they stood by and let it be built, even contributing to the construction, but it’s not like I can change that. All I can do now is deal with what I have.
And I somehow hope that, by blogging, I can help others avoid what I went through or at least let others who have been through the same thing know they are not alone.