A reader asks: Am I angry at my parents?

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.

The unBiblical Tea Party Christian
On Being a Prodigal
The Pennington Point on Adult Children, Maturity, and Drivers Licenses
What I Love about My Feminist Husband
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.

  • Gordon

    Beautifully written Libby Anne!

  • http://www.freeratio.org/ Brian63

    Here is that discussion referenced earlier on the subject, and other atheists describing why they are or are not resentful of their parents for their religious indoctrination:



    • Liberated Liberal

      I could have written that post myself, Brian! Except that my mother is a socially liberal Catholic and my father is a non-religious social conservative. Combined they make up your father! Luckily, my mother encouraged critical thinking and this is why she maintains her belief in Jesus/God while rejecting most of the Church itself. This does make me very bitter, however, as I, too, was forced to painfully waste so much of my life in church and CCD. It was torture for me!

  • Rookie Atheist

    When I read a post such as this, a little bit of loneliness is chipped away. Thank you again.
    I shall have to make a copy of those last few paragraphs because they capture quite well my feelings towards my parents (especially my mother). The funny thing is, I don’t think I could really have articulated those feelings on my own. It is as if your words allow my own inner feelings to be let out. Your therapist should be proud of you ;)

  • http://thebrunettesblog.wordpress.com Ginny

    I feel this, and thanks for writing. I’ve been processing through my anger at my parents for the last year or so. Right now it’s the dominant feeling in my thoughts about them, and I think this is a necessary stage: for so long I thought they were near-perfect, bought into the family myth, that my brain needs to swing the other way to fully deprogram. Having read some about this kind of journey from others, I expect and hope that in time my anger will subside and I’ll be able to look at them more charitably, without making excuses for what they did. And I also hope (though “expect” is too strong a word) that they may someday be able to accept my lifestyle and the joys it brings me. But right now, I’m stuck in anger and alienation, and for the time being I think that’s okay.

  • http://www.freeratio.org/ Brian63

    It seems like there is just a strong taboo for saying that you, as an adult, resent your parents for something that happened in your childhood, except in the most extreme cases perhaps of emotional or physical abuse. Otherwise, we are expected to have just grown up out of it and to move on. Especially when it comes to religion, which gets free passes for many harms it inflicts on people, particularly children. Hopefully that is another taboo that will be broken, and people will stop taking religious indoctrination as just a given, a necessary part of childhood. It is something that should be a choice for children to participate in, as much as it is their choice whether or not to participate on a little league team or who to be friends with or what books/music/movies/television to engage in on their own time.


    • camden

      I want to 2nd, 3rd, 4th or whatever number it is that Libby has articulated here something I feel. It took me a long time to be able to articulate it myself and I think it’s a great service that you are doing, Libby, to say things that are very personal so that others know they are not alone. While my parents were not religious (my mom is nominally catholic, my dad reads the bible and feels it’s a good resource for life he is still willing to discuss his views and open to alternative views) my mom still wanted me to be a carbon copy of her and indoctrinated me into her secular, but not healthy, belief system. While I was growing up my dad was largely emotionally absent. While in some ways this makes my childhood very different, I still relate to the resentment, and especially the feeling that while my parent did the best they could, it was still damaging.

  • Kevin Alexander

    I know a sweet young woman who loves her parents but has had to cut off all contact with them because of their terror of not seeing her in heaven.

    She wishes that she could talk about the weather or ask for salt but her father won’t allow it. He desperately needs that she confirm every letter of doctrine that he holds but she……doubts. Not disbelieves it, she just doubts.

    So a family is torn apart. Grandkids never see their grandparents, grandparents pray in desperate tears to a god that won’t succour them.

  • Gordon

    I’m angry at any parents who beat their children, and I’m suspicious of any parents who homeschool.

  • minnie

    You do not find your father to be vile for wanting his daughter to be a slave to a man? I physically hurt my self because of the female submission to men teaching. I wanted to kill my self, it made me hate myself and believe god and my father to be two odious pimps. Your father used your poor mother to breed a slave for a man. I never want to see my vile christian father again, he did not love me and he did not love my mother. Men who pimp sex slaves tell the girls and women to submit to male authority, it is sadomasochistic. Dog trainers tell dog owners their dogs should be submissive to them. Dogs and sex slaves are under mens authority, women and little girls should not be treated like dogs and sex slaves. Women in the quiverfull movement are treated like dogs in puppy mills.

  • http://fallenfromgrace.net Bruce Gerencser

    Thanks for sharing this. I suspect your feelings mirror that of my children. As The parent, all I can do is say I am sorry and be a better parent/grandparent now. I see my 8 grandchildren as an opportunity to be the kind of person with them that I should have been with their parents.

    • Liberated Liberal

      The fact that you’re willing to do so will be so incredible for your children and grandchildren. I’m sure much resentment would melt away if parents apologized.

  • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

    ….which brings to mind Weinberg’s aphorism that religion makes good people do bad things.

  • Petticoat Philosopher

    A very moving, honest post, Libby. I do wonder what the future holds for you and your parents and your other siblings. I wonder if they might relax a little bit or, at the very least, find loopholes in their belief system (people definitely do that) that might allow them to have a less fraught relationship with you in the future. You are the oldest, so the unpleasant role of trailblazer has fallen to you. But you have implied that some of your other siblings question your parents to varying degrees also and it seems inevitable that some will choose somewhat different paths, even if they don’t “stray” as far as you have. Your parents are still in “parenting” mode now, since many of their children are still children and, on some level, they probably still feel like they get to “parent” you–as in, they think that, if they just stay rigid enough, you’ll HAVE to fall into line some time, right? Right? After all, that’s what children and children is still who they’re mostly used to dealing with.

    But at some point, their children won’t be children anymore and they, like all parents, are going to be faced with the fact that they’re not the boss any more and that their kids are not always going to do what they want, how they want it. I think ALL parents probably have some difficulty with that, even if they don’t realize it–I know my parents do in inconsequential but obnoxious ways, even though they were pretty non-authoritarian parents. (Like I still get annoyed at my mom a lot because she’ll start clucking at me over little things like how I clean my own apartment, or what time I wake up on weekends, as if those things are any of her business or affect her in any way anymore. On some level, she still expects my little sister and I, both of whom are in our twenties, to defer to HER idea of The Way Things Ought To Be Done. She’s learning though. :-P)

    Who knows? Maybe having to deal with the fact that they’re NOT in control of their kids lives will force a reconsideration on the part of your parents on how they relate to their children. Things like that do happen. And time can mellow people too. I don’t want to raise false hopes (and I doubt I have the ability to do so anyway!) but I’ve seen some pretty amazing things happen with my gay friends from high school (I did musical theater and GSA lol) and their families. One of my friends got kicked out if his house when he came out senior year. Never thought his mom was going to end up helping him plan his wedding to his husband. :-)

    I hope things get better but, even if they don’t, I’m glad you’re dealing with ALL of your feelings now. That can’t be bad.

  • http://www.subparker.com Neal Edwards

    Are the siblings you have who are still in Patriarchy married with children, and do you feel a responsibility to rescue your nephews/nieces from the same upbringing?

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      I blog anonymously, so I don’t generally talk about where my siblings are now. Suffice it to say that the ones who are adults vary in belief and lifestyle. As for the younger ones, all I can do is be available to them. If I tried to subvert what my parents teach them, I might not be allowed to see them.

  • MadGastronomer

    While my parents practiced authoritarian parenting a la Michael Pearl, they never beat us or even spanked us while angry.

    Libby Anne, have you considered the idea that abuse is still abuse regardless of whether or not the abuser is angry when they commit it? I see you bring it up pretty much every time you mention your parents’ authoritarianism and physical discipline (and really, authoritarianism like that is abusive on its own, even if the physical discipline was not), as if it makes a big difference in what they did, but that the Pearls’ logic, and it has nothing to do with the reality of abuse. Indeed, it’s what the Pearls’ use to claim that abuse is not abuse. I know you can apply this to others’ life, but the way you phrase it makes me wonder every time if you’re still having trouble applying it to your own.

    I mention this because it has taken me more than a decade of therapy to even be able to see the same patterns in my own speech and thought. I’m still finding them and attempting to root them out.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Oh I definitely think all corporal punishment is abuse. It’s just that when the Pearls are mentioned, a lot of people jump to the conclusion that we’re talking about kids getting beaten black and blue, and that’s not how it worked in my family. Abuse? Yes. “That kid needs to be removed from that family for her safety”? No. So I try to differentiate, I guess. Linguistically, how do you think I could better communicate this?

      • Caravelle

        Is “anger” the line between “abuse” and “that kids needs to be removed from that family for her safety” or “beaten black and blue” though ?

        The Pearls themselves speak very strongly on the subject of not punishing in anger, but people following their teachings have still ended up beating children black and blue and even killing them. Was anger involved ? I can’t remember, but you know better than I do that the Pearls do not, as a matter of fact, give that many limits on how harshly one should dispassionately punish a child.

        I’m pretty sure it’s theoretically possible to lovingly kill a child by following their teachings to the letter, whether or not the actual deaths that occurred were examples of that.

      • MadGastronomer

        As Caravelle says, whether or not is was in anger is a very different thing from whether or not a child was beaten black and blue. Yet you still use that phrase.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I still use that phrase because I still think disciplining in anger is a problem, albeit a separate problem from disciplining to the point of physical damage (I’ve never conflated the two, and have been very careful in my posts on the Pearls to point out that disciplining in anger is not necessary to cause lead to “black and blue” or even death). In fact, punishing your child in anger is a separate issue even from physical punishment. If a parent used time-outs or the removal of privileges but always implemented these punishments while angry or yelling at the child, that would be a problem. And again, even though spanking a child without leaving bruises is clearly less of a problem than spanking a child until he or she has severe muscle damage, I do see both as abuse. I would personally like to see spanking outlawed.

      • Anat

        You know, the first time I encountered the advice about not to spank a child in anger – in the context of an internet discussion about disciplinary methods – it weirded me out completely. Because my parents *always*disciplined me in anger (no matter what means they used). The pattern was – I did something they considered wrong, it angered them, they yelled, sometimes also hit. And then came up with any additional consequences if deemed needed. I understood that my behavior (or rather, being caught at my behavior) precipitated my parents’ anger, and anything that came afterwards. I couldn’t imagine a parent not being angry when a child was caught breaking a rule. But beyond that, the thought of being physically disciplined by a calm person seemed to me a lot worse than being hit by an angry one, because the latter was understandable – an angry person letting out steam at the source of anger, an adult temper tantrum, whereas the former seemed to me like something only a sadistic person could do. I guess those promoting the ‘don’t hit in anger’ line are concerned about losing control and causing lasting physical harm, but my intuition was that hitting calmly would be more emotionally damaging.

        Now I don’t no. Both are wrong, but more help (and less criticism) should be available to parents who find whatever advice/method they are following to be ineffective with their particular child.

  • http://potatoesarenotvegetables.blogspot.com Ashton

    Do you see any possibility for your parents ever changing or moderating their beliefs? Could things like seeing how the Pearls teachings have led to deaths make them a little more wary of what they read? Do they see their journey into CP and quiverful the same way that you do? If you ask them about how they came to their beliefs, what do they say?

    I understand how you feel about being angry at your parents for being gullible (although my situation isn’t nearly as extreme as yours). I feel that way in some ways about my parents. They were (and are) so entrenched in their religious culture that they never considered sending us to public or other non-religious schools even though the public schools in our area were amazingly good and offered a lot that our schools didn’t. I mostly wish that I had gone to other schools because I felt rather isolated as a kid who was interested in a lot of topics that conservative people don’t always value. But it could have been good academically too. There are a lot of other examples, but that’s the one that pops into my head at the moment.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Thanks for sharing. I hope one day to have the courage to confront my parents about the traumas they caused me.

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  • Justina

    Hi Libby…

    I am confused at my anger towards my parents too.
    I know 100% that they love me & my siblings. I also grew up in a society & environment where physical punishment for children/youth (Asian society, so irregardless of religion, caning was accepted and even done in schools) is considered normal.

    I wonder is my anger at physical punishment a “learned anger”? I used to think there was nothing wrong with it. After all, all my peers were caned by their parents too and as kids, I had friends whom we could commiserate about the red welts down our legs.

    I only knew for the first time that there were people who considered that all physical punishment was wrong when I joined a game forum frequented by American youth.

    I used to think spanking was such a mild punishment… “western children are such wimps. Their parents are over-indulgent and weak” I thought. It greatly surprised me to learn that they considered the caning I received growing up was equivalent to belting, whipping etc and even if it just left red welts which faded in a week, it was “child abuse”. Paradoxically I thought it “did me good” even as I felt resentful when my parents punished me in anger. I somehow thought that a calm, calculating “5 strokes for XYZ” beating would have been “right” and then to read that some people considered *that* even worse was and still is confusing.

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