Shrouded in darkness, clothed in a veil and punctured by hints of light. This would adequately describe my childhood if all that had happened to me were the effects of a typically abusive home life. It was however, not a normal childhood that I had lived.
Think of the darkest corner of your mind…that place where all else ceases to exist but pain. Couple that place, in your heart, with feeling like you were in a dank prison cell that has cold cement walls and minimal light fills your day. Perhaps you may witness a flicker of light through the window high overhead, or maybe a friendly word from the guard outside of the iron bars. A visitor would come once in a blue moon, a warm and nourishing meal but seldom. This is the place where my childhood and adolescent years especially, left me. And I wasn’t put in this prison from actions of my own choosing; I was placed there by a lapse in the judicial system, for it wasn’t I who had committed that crime. This is what my life as a child raised in the Homeschooling/Quiverfull Movement felt like and regretfully, its painfully true.
I was considered to be a part of the “Pioneer” homeschooling movement that began in the early 1980’s. My mother had decided to keep me at home after she had come into contact with another homeschooling mother from the rural town that we had moved from. We moved to St. Louis, MO in the fall of 1986, and the main motivator on the part of my mother to homeschool me was fear (you will hear me mostly refer to my mother, because the home in which I came from was mainly a matriarchal one). Fear of ungodly influences, fear of the unknown, and fear of “losing” her daughter to a world that she trusted so very little.
My mother had been a loose partier in her adolescent and college days. She drank, she slept around, she smoked and did drugs. Her lax sexual standards left her feeling cheapened. But rather then seeking out counseling to heal from these wounds, she chose to inflict the pain and the proverbial walls that she had built around herself on her children, and primarily me. She found refuge in religion and became a religious addict, reading her Bible compulsively for numerous hours every day while sitting on the sofa in her royal blue house robe. She would receive a spiritual high that would momentarily drag her out of the prison that she had encompassed herself in. My mother had become a quiet, introspective and fatally critical and judgmental person. And then she began to homeschool, and these traits began to be inflicted on her two children, my younger brother and myself.
My mother had an uncanny ability to attract herself to authority figures within the Homeschooling Movement. Honestly, I believe that her religiosity, fierce loyalty and radical fundamentalism is what attracted them to her. She was a hard worker and stubborn even in the face of truth. She is exactly what The Movement needed at that time. It was characters like hers that allowed The Movement to become so pervasively successful. They were hard workers, believed in the most dogmatic sense that what they were doing was right, and were fundamentally whacked out. This was all wrapped up in a neat little package and tied with the bow of “Christendom.”
Within three years after having first began our homeschooling journey, my parents had become good friends with the Grandparents and writers of Missouri’s state homeschooling law, Jim and Laura Rogers; best friends with the couple that would later take our state homeschooling organization to the next level, Jon and Candy Summers; and became leaders serving directly underneath this same couple. Quite astonishing really. My parents were no longer doing this simply because they wanted to raise Holy Roller children. They were doing this because they believed in perpetrating religious dogmatism onto the next generation. They believed, with our whole heart and mind, that the homeschoolers were “God’s chosen people, His remnant, His choice to save and reclaim America.” This mantra was recited far more times than I care to remember at every single homeschooling function or support group meeting. The support group meetings, over the course of time, came to resemble worship services where the people of God could go and become stirred up and motivated to go out of the doors and militantly take over the world through having more children and homeschooling them. In many senses, the homeschooling movement mimics radical Islam and their views on populating the earth and militantly reclaiming it for Ala. Homeschool conferences and conventions around the nation encourage militia sign-ups, hoarding of illegal weapons, and survival and world-collapse techniques and survival methods.
So that is a brief description of my mother and a teensy background as to how we got so involved in the leadership of this movement. By the time that I graduated from high school, my parents were co-leaders of Missouri’s state organization, and leaders of the largest support group in the state of Missouri, numbering well over 500 families. You would have thought that with all of the activity and leadership capacities that I found myself in, that I would have had a fairly happy and social life, even if I was homeschooled. And granted there were a few support group leaders whose children were very active and they were relatively well socialized (but if you knew me in person, you would know just what a stretch that is for me to say even that!). It was not the case with me, and most of my friends today, would say generally the same things. It was lonely, miserable, and very, very, very poor academic preparation for college. You were subjected day after day to spiritual abuse of some kind, and everything that you did was under the direct watch of your mother. From what time you woke up, what you ate, what you listened to, what you wore, when you showered, even how long your finger nails were kept…every single minute detail of your life was micromanaged and controlled implicitly by your mother, judged in the light of right or wrong and reinforced with the Holy Bible. Most of the time our fathers were completely impervious to hear the complaints of the children at the end of the day, for mother had father tightly controlled too. It was a miserable existence.
I mentioned earlier that my mother’s main motivation in homeschooling me was fear. That was true. There is also another element, that the more I am in cyberspace, the more I find that what I thought was unique to me is actually far more commonplace than it ought to be. My mother was fearful that her husband’s dirty little secrets would come tumbling out. I was little, and in just very recent history, I have been working through some very disturbing memories that I have kept withheld for well over 25 years. I never knew what to make of them before, and the thought of discussing them with my mother was off-limits. My mother, due to her loose past sexual history, had developed into a prude. To even mention the word “sex” would send her shooting off quills like a rabid porcupine. Childhood sexual abuse and domestic violence in families is such a devastating thing for the victims, and sadly, it often goes unreported thereby allowing these damaging generational patterns to be perpetrated on the next generation of unknowing and innocent children. I have come to the conclusion that my father sexually abused me on several different occasions, before the age of seven. This explains much about my parents and their overall view of me from a toddler until I fled the home at 19. I was a problem that had to be dealt with, swiftly and severely. They knew then, what I am just coming to realize, that I had a powerful personality that desired to expose the truth. And truth, my dear readers, is not always pleasant or delicious as it settles on the soul.
So I was homeschooled, my parents would say, for religious reasons. I believe that I was homeschooled to keep from telling the truth. The truth about my father, the truth about the movement, the truth about the abuse and neglect that is sadly a way of life for the vast majority of homeschooled children. It has become my passion and God-ordained mission to expose The Movement to tell my story with the world to help other victims with understanding that they are not unique in their struggles and also to raise awareness so that more oversight can be achieved for homeschoolers so that the issues of neglect and abuse are eradicated. With the innumerable people that our family served in the homeschooling movement, it gave my observant eye much validation that what I experienced, others were also experiencing in varying degrees. It gave me a passion to tell my story… of betrayal into the hands of the leaders of The Movement, of never being godly enough, of talking with yourself before a looking glass for hours simply to have a soul to talk with, of sinking into clinical depression which led to a horrifyingly scary night of a failed suicide attempt, of being medically neglected and left to die at home while battling pneumonia as my mother went about promoting The Movement, and of fleeing the house at 19 with no education, and meeting a group of girls and a man who would show me that this world is not the scary place that I was taught to believe. It also made me desirous to tell those who would listen of the tremendous pitfalls to a child that the current homeschooling movement is inflicting on this generation. I hope that you will stay tuned for next week’s installment as I discuss some of the darkest years of my life.
Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Chandra blogs at Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Homeschool Cult
Chandra Hawkins-Bernat, was homeschooled K-12 (1986-1999), and is currently enrolled to get her Bachelor’s Degrees in Secondary and Art Education. She is also authoring her autobiography, Dispelled: One Girl’s Journey in a Home School Cult and is seeking to have it published in the near future. She is happily married to her best friend and is also the proud mother of three sons, two of which have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.