I Stand with Alecia Pennington

I Stand with Alecia Pennington February 11, 2015

I have spent some time reading Alecia Faith Pennington’s story. First, I watched her short video, which you can see below:

For those of you who didn’t watch the video, Alecia explained that she doesn’t have a birth certificate or social security number, and can’t get either because her parents are refusing to cooperate. She further explained that without these documents she can’t get a driver’s license or a job, much less attend college or vote. I’d like to say I’m horrified, but I’m not, because I know people who have gone through similar situations. I know people who have had to work for years to get a birth certificate and social security number even with their parents’ help.

My parents obtained the standard documentation for me, but I had friends for whom this was not the case. The parents of one girl I knew reversed course and got her her social security number when she was seventeen so that she could get a drivers license. I think they must not have realized how much not getting their daughter a social security number would curtail her options as she grew. Another girl I knew had to spend a year after high school getting her social security number, GED, and drivers license, but in her case, I’m pretty sure she started with an actual birth certificate.

After watching Alecia’s video, I went to her mother’s blog. Oh boy.

Alecia is nineteen and is the third of nine homeschooled children. Her two older siblings still live at home with her parents. When she left home last September and moved in with her grandparents, her mother wrote this on her blog:

On Wednesday, September 24th my life was changed forever.  My 18 year old daughter left home.  She gave us no warning, no signs that it was coming.  She didn’t try to talk to us about it or work with us.  She, with the help of my parents, just left.  And with her she took pieces of my heart that had been torn to shreds.  I cried harder that day than I ever knew was possible.  So hard that it scared my little boys and I had to go in my closet and put a pillow over my face to muffle the sobs.

We have spent the past 11 days trying to make head or tails out of what happened.  Why did she leave?  How can we help her?  What will happen next?

We got no real answers.  Only more confusion as some of the circumstances unfolded.  We discovered that my parents had been planning this with her without telling us (as you can imagine, an additional part of my grief is not only the loss of my daughter but the total end of the relationship with my parents).  We also learned that she has been telling exaggerated stories about what is going on inside our home to a godless woman who has been giving her foolish counsel and encouraging her to deceive us and get out.

These decisions our daughter has made are unimaginable to me and completely out of character from the girl I know.

The more I read of Alecia’s mother Lisa’s blog, the more familiar it all felt, down to the line about Alecia’s actions being “completely out of character from the girl I know.” The truth is, my mother thought she knew me, but she didn’t, because she only knew what I showed of myself, which is what she wanted to see. And when I started to stake out for myself who I was, she clung to a me that was gone, sure that it was the real one, unable to see that what she was holding onto was an echo.

The sense of entitlement is there, too. My own mother believed that I was bound to obey my parents even after turning 18, because 18 was a made up number never imbued with any significance in the Bible. And besides, to my mother, “honor” meant “obey.”

I wish I could tell Lisa that it is common for children to move out after they finish high school, and that her expectation that Alecia continue living with her is unreasonable. But then, I don’t think she’d listen. And besides, she likely places more importance on what she considers “godly” than on what is normal—normal is “worldly,” after all.

As I read the comments on Alecia’s youtube video, I noticed a young man defending her parents, arguing that they are willing to give her the documentation she needs to prove citizenship . . . if she is willing to be respectful and cooperative, of course.

Here is an excerpt from a post Lisa wrote last April on teenagers and privacy:

The thing about teens needing privacy is…..it’s bunk.  This is a “rule” of life that the teen just made up.  Then society and psychology feeds it by telling them that they deserve it.  I’m sorry, but it simply isn’t true.

Yes, we all need times that we can be alone with our thoughts to figure out problems or rest or help a friend occasionally.  But the idea that we should be able to keep secrets about what we are doing or planning or that kids should be allowed to hide their texts from their parents is pure craziness.

. . .

I know this seems harsh.  I do think that a responsible, respectful teen should be able to have some private areas, as long as he knows that he is subject to being asked to share those places if a problem arises.  The main point is that YOU decide where privacy is allowed and not.  A young person does not yet have the wisdom, no matter how smart they are, to understand when that is necessary.  They also do not carry the weight of the financial, emotional, legal, physical or spiritual responsibility if something serious happens as a result of their actions.  You have every right to know what they are doing.

As long as my children are doing their work, taking care of their things, being respectful and kind….I give them privacy.  Although what’s funny is they don’t really feel the need for it as much if they aren’t trying to hide anything, which leads to me being happy to give it to them….the beautiful circle of trust.

As I read that post, I got stuck on Lisa’s use of the word “respectful.” What does it mean for a child to be “respectful”? In my parents’ home, it meant to be subservient and obedient. Anything that was interpreted as “backtalk” or “sass” got you in big trouble very quickly, and that meant you had to be careful—and always ready to apologize and admit fault, even if you felt blameless. You get good at lying, because you have to—being honest about your feelings isn’t exactly an option.

And since you’re homeschooled, there isn’t much space away from your parents.

In another post on her blog, Lisa outlined her top parenting tips. They included this:

4. You Are in Charge

Remember, you are the adult and you have wisdom and knowledge that a child does not have.  If you allow them to manipulate you and convince you that they know better, you are doing them no favors.  You are not perfect, but God has given you wisdom and your child needs to learn to trust that.

Proverbs 22:15 “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”

And this:

9. No Arguing

There is no time when arguing is acceptable.  If you tell your child to do something, they should do it.  If you say, “No, you may not buy a candy bar,” then they should accept that completely.  Older children can appeal respectfully, as long as it is not too often.  But begging, whining, complaining, moping, mumbling are all unacceptable.  No exceptions.

Proverbs 1: 8-9 “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.  They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.”

Don’t forget to read the verses listed under each point.

I get that parents have more knowledge and life experience than their children, but this idea that they always know better than them is flat out false. There have been times when Sally tells me I need to stop yelling, or to stop bothering her, or what have you, and she’s been right. You know, those moments where her words prompt me to lift my head above the trees and reevaluate or reset my perspective for a moment. The idea that parents always know better than kids is horribly toxic.

And yes, there are times when I as a parent have to be firm on a given issue—no, we are not going to the ice cream store after the library this time, we haven’t had supper and have to get home—but this idea that children should never be allowed to question something, or to say “I’ll be there in a moment, let me finish what I’m doing”—this idea is so incredibly harmful. As a child, I was very precocious, and not being allowed to speak my mind or at least give input, or explain why I disagreed with something—let’s just say I spent more of my childhood feeling gagged than any child should have to.

And again with the undefined and incredibly loaded word “respectful.”

Lisa says she has no idea why Alecia left home after turning 18. To me, that suggests that she didn’t listen, that she didn’t know Alecia, that she wasn’t open to knowing her. It suggests that she didn’t give Alecia the room she needed to explain, or to be herself, or to breathe. Ironically, in a post about mothers and daughters, Lisa’s number one tip is to listen. But then, all of that listening is to a purpose—preparing daughters for godly womanhood.

While I do teach my four daughters the womanly arts (cooking, sewing, etc.), this is only the tip of the iceberg of womanhood.  To be a godly woman requires understanding submission, being meek, courageous and feminine.

. . .

God gives clear direction in His Word about who women are and we should embrace that.  My girls understand that they can have dreams and visions of their own based on the talent God gave them.  But they also need to be prepared to merge those dreams with a husband’s dreams someday and learn ways to adapt.  Spend time helping your girls learn to serve others and sacrifice their needs without losing hope.

And what if one of her daughters wasn’t content with that? What if one of her daughters didn’t want to embrace submission? What if one of her daughters wasn’t happy embracing the role she was laying out for her? Did Lisa even consider that?

Listening doesn’t do much good when it’s a tool to an end, and not an end in itself.

How is it that women like Lisa, or my own mother, can be so convinced they are showing only love and acceptance—and listening—while children like myself or Alecia feel smothered and unheard? Do they not realize that listening isn’t going to work if they make only one set of feelings and ideas acceptable? Do they really think their daughters will be comfortable voicing dissent from the family line when being “respectful” means being obedient—and being “respectful” is mandatory?

Oh, and there’s something else, too. Lisa claims that she is willing to listen to her daughter, but that Alecia refuses to tell her what’s really going on. I wonder if Lisa realizes, first, that she’s still not actually listening, and second, that it can be difficult to speak your mind after years and years of knowing that disagreeing with the party line will only getting you in trouble. In other words, simply declaring that you are open and listening is not enough. And furthermore, your child is not obligated to speak just because you declare you are listening. In a situation like this, saying you are listening does not de facto give you the high ground.

Indeed, in a situation like this, saying you are listening is often a way to gain sympathy and support from other likeminded parents as you portray yourself as the good, self-sacrificing parent, and your young adult child as wayward and misled. Think Chris Jeub for a moment. The parent’s claims that they are ready and willing to take the child back are often nothing more than a way to grab at that high ground and portray the child as ungrateful and rebellious. In situations like these, being taken back always comes with conditions—and those conditions are rarely, if ever, worth it. And yet, in this way we are portrayed as the unreasonable ones.

But we are not unreasonable. We are free, thank you very much.

Note: The relevant Pennington Point articles appear to be disappearing as we speak. Thank goodness for the wayback machine! Also, it appears that Alecia’s father has bought www.helpmeproveit.com to ensure that she can’t use to raise awareness of her situation. Alecia’s mother commented on a facebook share of her video, claiming that the video was “untrue.” But when other commenters asked her what facts the video had wrong, she failed to respond. 

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