by Nora Woodhouse cross posted from her blog A Heart Like Mine
Let’s all welcome Nora to NLQ’s SASBN! Glad you joined!
They say you can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl. I was a country girl once.
I grew up in rural America among farm fields and livestock. I was in both 4-H and FFA. I attended church, was patriotic and knew how to shoot a gun. My Family was Republican, Evangelical Christian, and I was home schooled due to my families belief the public school system was failing.
Both my parents came from agriculture backgrounds so it seemed natural to pass that on to their children. My life revolved around livestock projects and my families love of horses. I was never as good with horses but I had a myriad of my own animal projects to tend to and was kept quiet busy.
The church we attended was a start up Evangelical church with a small congregation, under two hundred people. I don’t remember my parents specific reasons for choosing the church, but the larger church they had formerly attended had split due to differentiating beliefs. I can no longer recall any joy I might have had going to church. Much of it is marred by the control and abuse of my parents and the difficulties socializing with my own age group. I was bullied and picked on; frankly i was never fast enough or witty enough at comebacks. I was also alienated somewhat due to being home schooled. There were other home school families in the church but despite that there never seemed to be enough common ground between myself and my peers. And it wasn’t just my peers, there were adults, public school teachers who would tease about my education. It didn’t help that I was not diagnosed with ADD until years later, or that I had learning disabilities. I was also under educated by my primary home school parent. So not only was I the odd kid, but the dumb kid.
My thoughts about home school are fairly critical, and rightly so. I had a parent teacher who was unable to provide a good foundation in education. They were also experiencing spousal abuse and were more often than not abusive themselves. This made for a difficult parent/teacher and child relationship. I think home schooling already makes the distinction between those relationships difficult and adding abuse makes for no winners. Teaching is a gift that not everyone possess, and my Parent eventually gave up because I had learning difficulties. Instead of seeking help they left me on my own to educate myself. Thankfully I was eventually enrolled in running start.
My grandparents were occasionally very concerned about my parents home schooling me, but this was met by a defensive wall from my parents who only perceived it as an attack on their choice of home schooling. This is a common problem that can occur in the Christian home school community. Families believe that government agencies will try to take away their rights to teach their children as they see fit. Any criticism of their methods is an attack upon them, their beliefs and rights. Quite often with that being the focus; a child’s needs can become a last priority. And in their defensiveness parents like mine are well armed to deal with opposing opinions. Like with their religious beliefs there were a standard set of arguments memorized to defeat any non believers they encountered. And these are the type of arguments that come with a mindset that anyone opposing is trying to manipulate and convert you to false beliefs. So the defense statements are girded to deflect any truly open conversation and minds are closed.
I was raised in a traditional Evangelical Christian home, two kids and nearly white picked fence. For the sake of my safety, and emotional well being and not being met with any lawsuits over slander I will refer to my parents asVaarsuviusand Other Parent as seen in the order of the stick Comic ( a gender neutral couple).
Other parent wanted the white picket fence dream; barefoot, pregnant, and to be Godly missionaries to the Godless. Vaarsuvius seemed to go along with this fairly willingly. They both deferred to a patriarchal model of Christianity with one of them being the primary household leader and the other submitter (or is that BDSM?)
Unfortunately and as is too often the case, this model of household is the perfect incubator for abuse and is a favored environment for abusers. Adhering to patriarchal Christianity is often a tool used to perpetrate abuse because it assumes that married partners are equal but one more so than the other. It assumes this is because one of the partners is thought to be weaker (even in a gender neutral situation).
Being the weaker of the partnership comes with all kinds of assumptions in Evangelical Christianity (Patriarchal). First accepting the role as secondary partner means that you are not as intelligent. Second this lack of intelligence affects you ability to reason. Third this lack of reasoning means that you are not able to discern things logically only emotionally. Your sole reliance on emotions to direct you means that they can be erratic and unreasonable and therefore should not be trusted by yourself or others around you. This naturally extends to children who are also presumed to be weaker by the nature of childhood. As weaker parts of the family unit your human rights are assigned accordingly. The secondary parent has supreme rights over the children but not over the primary parent. Children have no rights. Children may be given some rights by virtue of proving that they are not bad, compliant, submissive, godly and that the inherent badness they were born with has been adequately stamped out. But these rights are very small.
When it comes to a conservative church and community everyone looks to the primary partner as the individual family leader. These primary partners often become church leaders. They are seen as a pinnacle of Godliness; anyone who tries to contradict this image by presenting issues of abuse is only seen as trying to maliciously tear down a good person. And if it is the secondary parent or children speaking out about abuse please see above section about being unintelligent and only ruled by emotions- why should anyone believe you? Again abusers (Other Parent in my case) will use this traditional and religious structure to their benefit. They are pleasing charmers and shining church leaders who can behave how they will behind closed doors at home. No one else will see the behavior and no one would believe that they are anything than how they present themselves to be to the outside world. No one believed myself or Vaarsuvius that Other Parent was an abuser behind closed doors.
Because of the nature of this structure it allows for further abuse, but this time from the secondary “weaker” partner. Either because they were always somewhat abusive themselves or because the damage they take from the primary partner causes them to lash out and transfer the abuse to those lowest in the hierarchy- the children. Vaarsuvius was often equally abusive in our family unit. Add to that each parent tried to pit myself and Other child against one another; it was chaotic and you couldn’t really decide who was the worst parent. Survival dictated you pick the one that was going to be nice to your for that day or even for that moment. You constantly had to switch sides. It was incredibly confusing.
No one had a clue in our little church about the abuse, or if they did they brushed it aside in disbelief. Partly I also think this was due to the nature of the patriarchal christian structure. It is hard to distinguish between those traditional values and abuse. So what if the primary parent is a little controlling. In this structure that is easily dismissed as part of their God defined role.
These blurred lines occur in how children are raised as well. I was spanked with wooden spoons and horse quirts and my parents believed that I was to be punished until I submitted, my will was to be bent to theirs and Gods. So child abuse or traditional family values? For the record if you hadn’t guessed that is child abuse! Traditional “family values” are also a cover for the parents who take discipline even farther into the abuse spectrum, as is evidenced by the death of children subjected to Michael and Debbie Pearls To Train Up A Child philosophy. Even beloved psychologist, (I say Psychologist in the very loosest sense) Dr. Dobson also advocates similar philosophies. The problem with these philosophies is not that people are wrong for “not wanting to raise bratty children”. Nor is it simply because a minority of abusive parents misuse their teachings. It is the root of those teachings which are inherently problematic. Even when used by non abusive parents these teachings are harmful when applied to children.
Quiverfull home school Christians and Evangelical home school Christians both frequently adhere to a set of beliefs about child rearing and government interference. I have talked about their ready defense of their home school beliefs, but the second part of these beliefs relates to parenting and child abuse. They quite often believe that the government will snatch their children away from them, and that they will be reported to CPS if their child trips and shows up with a bruise. They believe that CPS is anti parent and is out to get good Godly parents because CPS is the devil and hates Parents especially Christian ones. Parents who abuse their children tend to be even more afraid of the big bad wolf CPS, and for obvious reasons. However Parents like mine convinced themselves they were not abusive parents but that it was CPS and the system that were abusive. Children like myself are raised with gnarly fairy tales of children being snatched away and that we had to be careful what we said or the government would take them away and lock them up forever. I received this terrifying lecture once when I had commented out loud about my home environment and that I thought my parents enjoyed spanking me. Other Parent did in fact enjoy doling out punishment.
These lectures were also focused to prepare us for any doctor visits. We were trained what to do, what to say or not say if they doctor said they wanted to talk to us alone. So the very people who might have caught on to abuse issues would be ignorant of what was actually going on. Abusers wield the tool of Christianity well. If if the Secondary partner objects or someone questions their decisions or authority, they can solidly refer to the Bible to back them up. This is of course when spiritual abuse enters the situation, but it’s not made out that way. From a traditional patriarchal christian perspective this is just the natural way of things, and a Godly way of life.
My story; A Heart like Mine continued in a follow up post.
Nora is a member of the SASBN
More about Nora:
I am a former country girl and abuse survivor. I enjoy blogging because I find it personally therapeutic. It also allows me to share my experiences with others, and bring to light issues of abuse. I am a stay at home writer with a husband and house full of furry critters. I write under a pseudonym for my personal safety as well as to negate any potential legal trouble over sharing my story.