Authoritarian Parenting Is Poison

My parents wanted to be the best parents they could be.  It’s a pity that I barely even speak to them. It’s not really their fault, and I would forgive them immediately if they ever admitted their parenting had been wrong.  But they defend themselves and make excuses and believe that they were doing it all to the glory of God.  And if something is to God’s glory, of course it’s going to be good for every person involved.

But that’s not true at all. I suffer significant psychological and emotional distress to the point of being developmentally stunted in several ways because of my parents’ “god-centered” parenting techniques.

All the books and sermons available to my parents convinced them that their parenting techniques were correct.  Multiple authors and preachers basically bullied my parents and many others like them to completely dominate and break their childrens’ wills, because total obedience was God’s plan for children and if children could not obey their parents, how would they ever know how to obey God?  My parents were convinced that my eternal salvation rested on their success as parents.  If they did everything right, I would follow the Lord and be happy all my days.  Too bad I only started being truly happy after I left home and left the church.

In the interests of doing everything right, my parents chose to homeschool me and my siblings.  This, along with the very tiny church which was our only social interaction, meant my dad’s ideas and will completely dominated every aspect of my life growing up.  He passed it all off as God’s ideas and God’s will, but there was of course only one correct way to think of everything and that was my dad’s interpretation of Christianity.

As a young child, I was happy, imaginative, precocious, friendly, outgoing, intelligent, excited to explore new ideas, devouring books about dinosaurs, about history, and every story I could lay my hands on.  By the time I went to college, I was quiet, depressed, frightened of everything, unable to speak in public, socially awkward to a painful degree, and self-censoring as to what ideas I was willing to even entertain or think about. I channeled my intelligence into proving the few points that I believed were true, and disproving everything else.  My mind wasn’t just closed, it was completely locked down.  It took four long years at college to return me partially to the outgoing, intellectually curious, adventurous personality I had lost.

My parents broke my will.  They wanted to make me follow a prescribed course of life.  They had a particular bundle of beliefs that they wanted me to adopt and take with me forever.  Any flicker of self-interest, self-will, was seen as rebellion and immediately crushed.  Any personal desire contrary to their wishes was deemed sinful, and spanked out of me.  And, I cannot emphasize this enough, I never got away from my parents.  I was always in their home, always dominated by their influence, their thoughts and desires.  I had one channel of freedom, the books I checked out of the library.  But when every other part of my life was controlled so totally, I tended to closely self-censor on what books I would read or how I would interpret them.

The adversarial form of parenting, the one which sees the child’s self as automatically opposed to the parent’s authority, is unbelievably harmful to the parent/child relationship.  It took me a very long time to relate to my mom as a person rather than just an authority figure. I still can’t relate to my dad as a person, his whole being is consumed with his religion, and with trying to prioritize God in his life. He has obsessed for a long time over the fact that he’s the authority figure in the family and everyone needs to honor him, which come to think of it makes me a little worried about his mental health.  He hasn’t realized that it’s wrong to put your ideology before your children.  He doesn’t understand why we barely ever speak to him.

Even hearing about homeschooling families or reading materials written by people in the homeschooling or fundamentalist Christian movement can trigger flashbacks.  I am still working, every day, on reclaiming my self.  I wonder, sometimes, what life might have been like if I had been allowed to develop my own path instead of being forced to follow so closely my parents plan for my ideas and my life.  What might I have accomplished if I hadn’t wasted the first 19 years of my life focusing all my time and energy on matching up to this ideal Christian model held up by my parents.  Perfection was the goal and therefore it took all of my time and energy to try to reach that goal.

I have only just now, at age 23, begun with any kind of seriousness to figure out my place in the world.  Once I realized I had spent the vast majority of my life in a tiny insular principality, ruled by my father, which had very little to do with the rest of the world, I felt completely lost.  And who am I supposed to turn to to figure it out?  My parents? They’re the ones who screwed up my life this badly.  I have to rely on myself, the self that was squashed and harangued and abused almost out of existence.  I’ve survived, and I’ll go on to do something important and real and lasting in this world, but I will never know what could have happened in those years that are lost.

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4 thoughts on “Authoritarian Parenting Is Poison

  1. Oh, and let me say. As a homeschooling mom, my heart breaks for what you sent through. I’m so sorry for the pain that you have gone through and are working through. I caused my old children pain and we’ve had to work through it. My heart really goes out to you.

    • Thank you for your kind words, it’s so encouraging to me as I’m figuring out my life to see the work you’re doing and how you’re moving forward in your life. And the discussion tonight has been great to listen to, you & the other panelists are just having some really awesome discussion.

  2. It makes me so incredibly sad to hear of your experience, Faith. As a veteran of our local homeschool group, I regularly encourage the other women to really SEE each of their kids for the uniquely created people they are and to then encourage them in their God-given gifts and talents. I believe that my actions, in large part, will greatly influence how my kids relate to God Himself. That is a sobering responsibility as I want them to see God as kind, loving, fun, wise etc. It sounds as though you have been abused by religion, which all too often has nothing to do with the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, the Jesus I serve called the religious people of his day out for being rotten internally. There is so much I’d like to say to you, but I will simply end this with: May you find peace first and foremost with the Lover of your soul, your true Creator Jesus Christ–not some man-made dogma. May you find forgiveness and healing within your family–even if that means severing ties for your emotional health. And may you come to a place of accepting and loving who you are regardless of the hard circumstances that have shaped you. Blessings to you, precious woman.

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