Erika Smith grew up in an abusive home in which the parents claimed Christianity. She is still a follower of Jesus in spite of the way she and her siblings were treated by her parents and the casual “forgive and forget” dismissal she has received from churches where she has tried to get help.
Though this post is about children of abusive homeschooling parents—that is, both parents were very abusive and neglectful—this doesn’t mean I think homeschooling is bad; indeed, I homeschooled for 24 years and loved it and took the education of my children very seriously (and not just “character education” that means they will work without complaint). I know that many other homeschoolers have as well.
I’ve slightly edited and abridged this post from the author’s original, which is on her own blog here. Though she gives no details here about the abuse she and her siblings suffered, she does go into great detail about it on a series of posts on Homeschooler’s Anonymous, under an assumed name. If you ask her, she may tell you which posts are hers.
I feel like I abandoned my younger siblings.
As the oldest daughter, I instinctively knew from very early on that I was the protector of my younger siblings. It wasn’t a role that I should have had to play, but one forced on me regardless.
I couldn’t bear to see the younger ones treated as I had been, so if I could take the blame or shift the focus to me, I would. I was stronger physically than my sister, so if a situation arose where I could take the brunt, I did.
By mid-teens I had convinced myself that I had lived it for so long that I was just “used to it” and could take it. If younger siblings were struggling with completing something, I’d jump in to help, often causing my own chores and school to not get finished, and then I’d get in a lot of trouble for it. It was okay though; I was redirecting my parents’ anger and focus away from younger siblings.
My next to youngest brother, J, started his first year of homeschool in what would be my last. My youngest brother, G, didn’t start till at least a year after I was done. When I got my first job right after I “graduated,” I was able to spend more time with them when I was home, helping J with his schoolwork and just being a playmate for G. I also made myself available whenever I was home to help any other the others with their school assignments as well. My thoughts were simply to keep as many of them as clear from my parents’ radar as possible.
I was also doing my best to steer clear of them myself, as they were doing their best to make my existence miserable.
Mom was livid that I had gotten a job. Even at 18 I hadn’t gotten her permission to take a job, and I wasn’t at her disposal all the time anymore. From her point of view, my graduation meant I should have been available to take on full-time homemaking and mom duties so she didn’t have to do any of it.
She talked about how my boss would soon figure out how “lazy” I was, mocked me for not having a plan for my life, told me how unworthy I was as a woman and no man would even want to marry me, and said that if I did “somehow manage to find a husband” he would be an abusive drug addict and I would be miserable.
She constantly reminded me of the whole reaping and sowing thing and how I would end up with terrible and rebellious children because that is what I had been to her. [Blog post about that kind of karma Christianity here.]
When I finally turned 19, I was able to enroll at the tech school without a high school transcript. I took on full-time hours at school and continued to work as much as I could.
But even though it was good for me to be away that much, I always felt guilty leaving my siblings. I couldn’t protect them when I wasn’t there.
Over the next few years as I made tiny step after tiny step that got me farther away from my parents and the miserable situation at home, the guilt only increased. Every step that moved me closer to freedom was another step away from my siblings.
While attending college in a different state, I broke down, both to a roommate and to a work supervisor. When I looked at the pictures of all my younger siblings on the cover of my notebook, I would sometimes start crying.
Eventually I came back home, and things deteriorated even more with my parents. I asked my church college and career leader for help, and I was finally able to get out to live somewhere else.
It was the best thing that could have happened for me at that time, but I still felt like I was abandoning my brothers and sisters.
After Matt and I married, we were able to give my middle three siblings a safe place to live so they could get out. I was thrilled to be able to help them all in that way and would do it again in a heartbeat. But it was hard.
Once we helped my youngest sister spring free, then just the two youngest boys, J and G, were left. They were still so young. When Matt and I got married, G had only just turned 9.
They got the full brunt force of mom and dad’s anger and control . . . and I could not protect them.
After a certain event with my little brothers, I finally reported Mom and Dad to CPS. Two social workers told me to my face that they had enough information on my parents to remove the boys immediately.
But they didn’t.
I was fighting to get custody of them. But I lost them. My parents cut my contact with the boys for over a year. They managed to convince the police that the boys were the problem and were dangerous. Till they each graduated, J especially, my little brothers were treated like criminals.
All I could do was sit, wait, and pray.
J told me later that he was angry at me for what I had done. I could only hope and pray that one day they would understand.
I’ve cried and cried so many times. I’ve rerun the last 8 years over and over, desperately trying to figure out what I could have done differently. How I could have protected them more.
So much guilt for feeling like I abandoned them.
G just finished boot camp with the Marines, and I was able to take him to lunch before he headed out again for another training. It was the first time I’ve been able to really talk to him since he finally got out of our parents’ house. He told me briefly of so many hard struggles he had, and while my head can know that they are not my fault, my heart is yelling something different.
And there in the restaurant I broke down and cried.
So this isn’t a post that I can wrap up nicely. I don’t know how to deal with this guilt. I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know if this is common in older siblings from abusive households. I can’t find anything that helps. Maybe putting this out there will help something turn up . . .
I can always hope.
Right now all I have to offer Erika is to believe her and to be willing to grieve with her the enormity of what she and her siblings have suffered—things that no children should ever have to suffer . . . and to hope with her that there will be redemption and recovery in the Lord Jesus Christ.
I suggested that since I know quite a few oldest daughters of abusive families, some who are still Christians, some of those who have gone through similar agony might have some helpful thoughts for her. I pray that both here and on her own blog, Erika will receive words of hope and encouragement.
Go here to download your free Guide, How to Enjoy the Bible Again (when you’re ready) After Spiritual Abuse (without feeling guilty or getting triggered out of your mind). You’ll receive access to both print and audio versions of the Guide (audio read by me). I’m praying it will be helpful.