It was like leaving my own children

Reader Rebecca recently posted a comment I really identify with:

I always say that I was a homeschooler in the most steriotypical kind of way – the denim jumper-wearing, granola-eating, flour-grinding type. And then sometimes I clarify further by mentioning that my parents also didn’t believe in birth control. I dearly wish that, like Latebloomer, that I would come across as normal, but I’m pretty convinced by now, after years of striving to blend in, that I have have some kind of aura about me that smacks of my conservative upbringing – acquaintances are never surprised to find out about background, which bugs me so much! I dress normally, can relate the music and entertainment they discuss, had a boyfriend for a year, never brought up God at all – and yet I stood out. I hate that! Although I don’t think it has bothered others, my bizarre past.

I do remember particularly in college how little my roommates and close friends could relate to my constant anxiety about my family at home, my little siblings, my mother. Several of them were the oldest children, as well, and thought correctly that it was abnormal to fret over the kids like they were my own and be racked with guilt for leaving my mother with so much on her. It wasn’t until my senior year and I discovered the No Longer Quivering website and that there were other girls out there like me that I realized why I felt they way I did about the family. Family unity was the thing my parents cared most about after God, and we were so isolated that of course we siblings were close, and then there were the little brothers that we older girls raised – homeschooled them, dressed them, bathed them, read to them at night – how could we help but have tender maternal feelings towards them and worry now that we had left them?


When I left for college, I experienced a great deal of guilt for leaving my mother with extra work to do – I’d been her right hand, after all. Every time I would come home on work I would work extra hard to help out in order to make up for the guilt I felt at leaving my mother with so much more to do. A big paart of me wanted to stay home and just keep helping out, to spare her the extra work, and I did honestly consider doing so – and if my parents had been more hard core in their embrace of Christianity, this is what I would have done by default.

In addition, tearing myself away from my siblings, some of whom were still babies, was also excruciating. I felt like I was abandoning them. I still experience some guilt today for leaving my siblings, particularly for leaving the little sister I had kind of adopted as my own, caring for her like she was mine from infancy. I think the reason I feel guilt with regards to her is that, well, she felt abandoned. In fact, several years later she asked me flat out why I’d abandoned her, why I’d stopped loving her. I’ve never had the chance to explain to her – to explain that in the first place I had grown up and when people grow up they go out into the world to forge their own way, and in the second place when all the tension happened between me and my parents I didn’t really have much choice and I in part let her go in order not to hurt her by pulling her into the middle of it all. It clearly didn’t work, though.

Finally, my first year or two of college I talked about my siblings constantly, which I think came across as really weird to my knew just-plain-evangelical friends. The truth was, I’d never separated from my family the way normal kids do during their high school years. I only saw my friends two or three times a week, and since we siblings were essentially always together, we were naturally pretty close. The reality is that I went from completely integrated into my family and never away from my younger siblings for more than a couple hours at a time to living in a completely different city, without being able to visit home more than a couple times a semester. It’s not surprising that all I could talk about was my family, really.

And so, to everything Rebecca said up there? Spot on. Me to.

Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
Red Town, Blue Town
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.

  • Noelle

    I’m the oldest of six. At one point, I did have to take on more than a child’s responsibility for running the home. And it made me mean. My mother was diagnosed with cancer at 38, but I remember her being worn down the year before that. It killed her a few months after she turned 40. I’m going to be 37 myself in a couple months, and I can’t imagine feeling so sick and helpless at such a young age. My once vibrant mother was becoming unable to do the things we had always taken for granted. Simple things, like putting away the milk and cereal after breakfast, I’d never even noticed she was doing. And then she wasn’t, and the milk would go bad if I didn’t put it away. Sure, we kids had always taken care of cleaning up after dinner, but the other meals had always gone to mom. The sicker she got, the more that fell on me. And I grew mean and resentful. Now my parents had divorced when I was four. Mom remarried when I was six. But my biological dad was determined to take me and my one full brother if she died. She agreed this was best. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was just in a different state for most of my childhood and didn’t know us well. They did ask my opinion on this, me being 15 at the time. She died 12 days after I turned 16. I could’ve stayed with my step-dad and half-sibs if I really wanted. But I didn’t. I wanted out. I knew I was turning mean and that it was bad for everyone.

    My little sister is 10 years younger than I am. When she was born, I was so excited to have a baby sister. She slept in a crib in my room. And when she cried, I got out of bed and sang her to sleep. For years later, she would hum herself to sleep. She was very sad when I left, and said later that it felt like I’d abandoned them. I’d never told them I was given a choice in the matter. They believed it was a straight-forward custody thing. But I’d left freely of my own accord. I did miss them. My grandparents worked hard to make sure we kids got to see eachother regularly throughout the years. When that sister was in high school and I was in med school, I made sure we drove the 1.5 hours to see her school plays.

    When it was time for me to find a job, I looked in the city where my step-dad and half-sibs were living. And that’s where I still am. My little sister has been unable to have children of her own, but she loves my two monsters. She’s a great babysitter.

  • Ryanne

    I’m the oldest of 7 and I can totally relate to everything said. To this day, despite having lived away from home for several years, being married and having my siblings grow up, I have this mother bear instinct that comes out. An instinct to protect them, to guide them. A guilt for leaving them alone. I remember feeling guilty about leaving them just to go to a friend’s house for a sleepover when I was still living at home.
    All that being said, I LOVE my siblings and we have a stronger, closer bond than most families I know. As I watch my brothers and sisters grow up, I see so much of myself in them in a way I could have never imagined.
    So while I think that in some ways my attachment to my siblings is unhealthy or abnormal, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I think that as we all grow up it will keep us close and help us relate to each other on a level that not all families get to experience.

  • Mictlantecuhtli

    I also relate completely and it has to do with having a lonely mother I had been trained from infancy to feel responsible for. I wasn’t homeschooled but it was important to get home as fast as possible because the moment of the kids coming home was the most important of her day — second only to that of Dad getting home. I am middle aged and still struggling to separate / struggling with the guilt of not having done enough, not having had the personality that would most have entertained her, not having done enough of the kinds of things that would have given her the identity she wanted.

  • Ken

    Sorry, but all I’m reading here is dysfunctional families making the kids become parents to their own siblings and parents. Very sad, but also very wrong. Get therapy. Get away from the social structure that promotes this sick behavior (church, primarily). To quote William Shatner: “Get a life.” Sorry I’m not more sympathetic, but sympathy will not separate these victims from their parasitic families — that will take gumption and confrontation and a lot of needless pain.

    • Azel

      True enough but I believe, and sorry if I misread the comments, that they already left. Thus it is a good thing to be able to talk about their experience, to confront their past.
      Because while it is true they won’t get better brooding without end over their past, nor will they if they hide from it.

  • Sierra

    I didn’t have siblings, but I felt the same responsibility toward my mom and about not being there to pay the bills.

  • Erik

    I think I would need to see more volume or statistic(s) on the way families turn out in different circumstances. If we adopt an evolutionary adaptive model of families in cultures throughout history it would seem that family and extended family with all it’s drama and critical mass was the norm for the longer period of time. It would also seem that compulsory education outside the home and age segregated peer group training by professionals is the late comer on the block. What we call “unhealthy” consequences may be a thinly disguised vendetta against what is perceived in this culture to be “incestuous” authority. But once you get out from under it under the banner of “personal freedom of choice” your choices immediately become subject to the limitations of those choices ( i.e. join the military, go to college, get a job, get married) and ultimately whatever you consider true contentment rests on the ability to respond to the curve balls and situations life throws at you.. And if the basis of your life choices is the emotional focus of those people or institutions that “rent space” in your head and rule from the dark regions you may just have to revisit “submission” in any present circumstance because independence (in any field) is not demanded, it is earned.