This will be a multi-part series about my departure from a stressed out and hyper-controlled child to a cheerful, independent adult.
This series is purely cathartic. I wrote it (thirteen single-spaced pages) a little over a year ago, both as a reflection on my journey to that point and to prevent future gaslighting, lest I soften the horror my parents home inflicted on me as years pass.
Without further ado… the beginning of my story.
Beginning around 11, I realized something was wrong with my family. I didn’t think we were abnormal, I just thought everyone had screwed up families behind the scenes. I wrote a letter to my parents (unfortunately, I don’t have any idea where it is now) that was fraught with Biblical references. I spent over an hour writing and sourcing it, and slipped it under my door after I went to bed, fighting sleep long enough to hear them briefly mention it as, “Some letter she wrote us… it’s long.”
I hoped the letter would open the door for an honest discussion so that my concerns would be alleviated or addressed. However, the next morning, letter was ignored with exception of Mom hugging me, saying I’d understand everything when I grew up.
Fast forward: At 14, I ran the household while my parents worked to get their new business off the ground. My brothers and I were homeschooled, but my brothers were 10 and 12 at the time, so Mom prepped their work, and left a list of chores assigned to each of us. It was my job to wake them up, make breakfast, do all the dishes, make sure both of them satisfactorily completed their chores and school, and complete my own chores and school. When Christian and Joseph didn’t obey (a frequent occurrence, since I had no method of enforcement or discipline), my parents punished me for “allowing” my brothers to play before they’d completed their work instead of disciplining Christian and Joseph when their things weren’t done.
I quickly discovered that seeing through each task on my list was impossible. When I properly oversaw my brothers, ensuring their work was completed accurately, I didn’t have time for my tasks, leading to punishment. I complained that I could not be teacher, mother, student, and maid, but nothing changed. I circumvented discipline for everyone by sending my brothers outside (this happened during summer, when they wanted to play with friends anyway) and doing ALL the housework myself, then doing my schoolwork without anyone disturbing me. Then I’d record myself calling them to remind them about school (they liked to lie and tell my parents I never reminded them, which meant I got grounded instead of them) and go horseback riding before coming back to make dinner.
This fixed my problem, transferring discipline for incomplete school to the correct individuals, but my middle brother usually took the brunt of my parents’ wrath (regardless of whether it was deserved), and was often drug out of his bed and spanked to a point that as an adult, I refer to as physical abuse. His “spankings” were frequently issued in anger, and lasted until my parents’ anger was exhausted. Even at his age, spankings on his bare skin with a belt were frequent, and if he didn’t roll over or get up quickly enough, he was often slapped across the face by Mom, or hit with the belt across the front– anywhere it happened to land. The belt was usually not aimed.
My youngest brother was also spanked, but by the time my parents got to him, they’d usually expended their wrath on my middle brother. Consequently, Joseph’s spankings were usually aimed, limited in nature, and much more like actual discipline for not completing his schoolwork.
Mom and Dad had difficulty working together, so Dad asked her to stay home with us again that fall. She did, but became as disruptive as my brothers had been to my ability to complete schoolwork. She frequently became angry over tiny perceived slights by my brothers and yelled at them. My youngest brother became very good at pointing his finger at my middle brother to remove the target from his own back. My middle brother, who is likely ADHD but was never formally diagnosed or medicated, had a difficult time focusing, and was thus never on task during my mother’s rants, making him an easy scapegoat.
Meanwhile, I’d become more serious about my Christian walk, and the more time I spent in the Bible, and the more I talked with my friends about their families, I realized that what I was witnessing was:
1. Abnormal among my peers at church and our neighbors’ families.
2. Out of line with what I read and had memorized in Scripture about how parents are supposed to treat their children.
Specifically, I realized that the things I’d identified as being wrong at 11 were still wrong, but beyond that, I now knew WHY and how they were wrong.
For example, Mom had a list of house rules she’d written up with Bible references next to them. I concurred with the list, but Mom made herself an exception to them, and I realized that wasn’t how Biblical instruction was supposed to work.
“No name-calling,” because the Bible says “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth…” (Ephesians 4:29) didn’t mean that she could call us stupid, bitches, or idiots, call my middle brother the devil, belittle us, and tell us we were horrible, but that we couldn’t do the same to each other. It meant that none of us should be doing that.
“Don’t raise your voice in anger” didn’t mean that she could scream at us 24/7, and we had to remain quiet, meek, and apologetic for everything she accused us of doing. It meant that she was as wrong to scream at us as we were to yell back at her.
By the end of the year, I’d had enough of it. I tried talking to my dad, but when he got home from work, he was always exhausted. He wanted to sit down, crack a beer, and unwind in front of the TV for an hour or two before bed. After the first couple of times we complained, Dad instituted a rule that Mom couldn’t spank us– he would issue spankings when he got home. Subsequently, Mom did two things:
1. Refused to issue any discipline except yelling (not even grounding, time outs, or temporarily removing whatever was causing the argument).
2. Complained when Dad got home that we never listened to her and didn’t respect her.
For the first couple months, she expected Dad to dole out punishments when he got home. At first, this was a good system, because my dad evaluated both sides of the complaint before issuing judgement and subsequent punishment. During this period, life was good, and punishments were accepted without complaint, even when disagreed with, because we’d at least been given a hearing, and he’d thought about it. Spankings were legitimate, normal, healthy spankings, and became more sparse, replaced with groundings or privileges being removed.
Unfortunately, within three months of this system, Mom would be so irate when Dad came home that he just stopped listening to both sides, or even completely listening to what Mom had to say. He’d come home, ask her who needed to be punished, and would promptly decide on punishments. He usually didn’t even want to hear what he was issuing punishments for, because that would have meant discussion and arguing. Sometimes, after he took us into the bedroom and got the belt, he’d have quiet conversations with us, and after getting the full story, would hit the bed instead of us. Those were few and far between, but those were good nights.
Then it got worse. He and Mom had marriage problems, and Mom accused him of not supporting her parenting.
From my point of view, this is led to a turning point: Dad changed from fighting for us and making an effort to do the right thing, to simply enabling Mom’s insanity.
I don’t blame him for it– your wife threatens to leave you unless you “support” her, but supporting her means hurting your kids. It puts you between a rock and a hard place. While I don’t think he made the right decision, I understand why he made it. If you don’t listen to your kids, or work too much to be home, it’s easy to pretend they really deserve the punishment being meted out.
End of Part 1. To be continued….