Mary’s story is one of the most horrific yet posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous. I say “one of” because there are others just as bad, and some worse. Growing up, Mary was starved, thrown outside for days at a time in the cold with no coat until she nearly froze to death, and deprived of sleep as a child until she could barely stand. And yet, all those years, no one who knew her family knew any of this was going on.
As for my parents, I can assure you that they were not the “fringe” in homeschooling. My dad has an amazing job and they are very well off financially. Dad served as the president of the home schooling organization in our state for quite a few years. They have volunteered at church since I was little, helped out in AWANA, taught Sunday school, kept the nursery, volunteered at other church events, helped organize and plan the homeschool conference in our state every year, volunteered in debate, teach Good News Clubs, host homeschool events in their home and generally keep their reputation about as squeaky clean as is possible.
. . .
My parents did a masterful job of covering up and to this day are revered and treated as role models by church members that I grew up around. There have been a few people that have believed me and my siblings, but the vast majority of them are convinced that my siblings and I are making everything up to purposely ruin our parents’ lives and are convinced that all of us older ones are living in rebellion and have rejected God and everything else we have been taught.
Sometimes outward appearances lie. This same is true of Chandra’s family—Chandra suffered horrible abuse at the hands of her parents, especially her father, and yet her parents were leaders in their homeschool community—and no one knew any of this was happening. Sometimes outward appearances lie.
I was recently conversing with some friends I’ve made over the internet who were also homeschooled, and the following exchange took place:
Andrea: “My parents did a good job hiding all the shit too. To this day my grandparents won’t recognize how awful it was. And the last part of Mary’s story, where everyone at her parents’ church thinks she’s this heinous daughter—omg, I get that. Same thing happened to me. Same. Exact. Thing. Why do all these stories have to be so alike?
Rebecca: “They are all using the same system. I am the ‘prodigal daughter.’ I was talking with my therapist, who I’ve been educating for three years on my background, and asked her if she homeschooled (she doesn’t talk about herself.) She said she didn’t, but knew people who did. I asked her how their experience was, and she said their experience was great, not like mine. I asked if that was according to the parents or the kids, and she said ‘the parents’. The following week, she told me how much she appreciated me bringing that up, it made her realize that things may not be as they seem, which was actually helping her in some situations.
“She said some of their kids went to the best colleges. I said, ‘I went to Oxford.’ And she looks at me and says, ‘yes, I guess going to a good college doesn’t mean that they are happy with every aspect of their experience.’
“She’s a good person, smart, but she never thought through this before.”
Andrea: “Oh that is such a good point. It needs to be said. People say the same to me because I’m in law school. It makes me want to pull out my hair! I mean, the only ones who can speak out about it now are the ones who have gotten out and most likely gotten an education, because that’s what empowers them to speak! So it’s more likely that the people you hear from, all round, will be well educated.”
Here’s the thing about abusers: They’re often really good at hiding it. They’re also really good at spinning things, especially to the outside world. While the homeschooling family I grew up in was fairly authoritarian, it was not abusive in the way as those of Mary, Chandra, Andrea, and Rebecca. Still, my parents have spun what happened to me when I came of age and our relationship broke down. Their friends from church and in the homeschool community heard a very different version of events from what actually happened. My parents are still viewed in their community as the ideal Christian homeschooling family, and like Mary, Chandra, Andrea, and Rebecca, I am the prodigal daughter.
In some cases, like mine, outward appearances don’t tell the whole truth. In other cases, like those of Mary, Chandra, Andrea, and Rebecca, outward appearances lie completely. I’ll finish with this from Mary’s story:
At church we were the model family. My siblings and I lived in utter terror of what would happen to us if we dared misbehave or say anything that they deemed inappropriate while at church or anywhere else out. Nearly a weekly lecture that we received on the way to church was that anything that happened in our household was not to be talked about and was not anyone else’s business. On Sundays, when we had been made to stay up the entire night before, they would force us to drink coffee so that no one would notice how tired we were.