Escaping Spiritual Abuse: A Survivor’s Tale -Part 2

My father latched onto the teachings of Doug Phillips for awhile. These “truths” were solidified within me at a very early age -so early that I seem to recall acting them out with my doll families.

Girls were to stay home under the authority of their fathers, until their husbands took over at their weddings (sounds like some sort of horse selling deal!) It was also taught that they should not go to college, because women do not need careers outside the home; men could take advantage of them there!

Mothers were never allowed to work outside the home; those who did were considered selfish. I do think there are mothers out there who put careers before their families; but when my parents talked about it, they meant all mothers with no exception. A family is materialistic if they need two incomes, it was preached. The reality is, often both parents work because it is a necessity. They did not believe in such a thing though; they would say that a couple needs to take it on faith, that God will provide because His design is for the mother to be in the home. How ironic that Mom was prohibited from getting a job; yet I remember Dad coming home from work and complaining that he was the only one who worked.  

From a very early age, my parents preached that only courtship would be allowed. The word “dating” was taboo, no kissing was to happen until the wedding day (unless it was on the cheek), we girls were not allowed to ride in a car alone with a boy (even if they knew him really well), Dad had to court the young man before we were allowed to, and we could not go on dates (oops! courts?) alone -only in a group setting. Mom even had us fast-forward the “I am sixteen going on seventeen” scene in The Sound of Music because Liesel sneaked out to see a boy and danced with him.

I was aghast after a homeschool convention where Doug Phillips spoke; it was as if a spell had been cast on my father! We were only there for a couple of days, but on the way home he harshly scolded me for something I said that he would not have had a problem with previously. His manner changed so suddenly to stern seriousness, and I was expected to transform as well with no warning. I remember riding home, not even twelve years old, feeling shock and wondering how he could have morphed like that.  

I despised Doug Phillips, courtship, and the prairie dresses and cheesy smiles that laced Vision Forum catalogs. I loathed the idea of the perfect, quiet, meek ladylike girl who worked on her needlepoint. I detested being under the authority of my father, and my father himself. Like most little girls, I dreamed of my future wedding and liked the idea of finding my prince…yet came to not be a big fan of the whole marriage idea. It sounded controlling, like a prison. All these thoughts in my mind, I believed were from my rebellious nature: resistance toward God’s will.  

If I did not agree with those teachings, I was considered a feminist going against God’s design. The role of a young woman was to serve. A daughter was meant to serve at home: raise her parent’s children, clean the house, cook the meals, and learn to be a proper wife for Mr. Future Suitor. She later could become a wife and do all of the same things -for her husband instead of father, and her own children instead of siblings.

For Christmas one year, my mother gave me two DVDs: The Return of the Daughters and Biblical Womanhood by the Botkin sisters. I remember watching them and feeling angry. *Sigh* – must have been that dreaded rebellious streak of mine at play again! The Return of the Daughters was about how daughters are self-centered for having independent desires and going to college: the worldliness of it all! They taught that a prodigal daughter should drop out of college, quit her selfish ambitions, and return home to work for her father until she is wed. The Botkin sisters even went so far as to say that they tried pleasing their father by wearing colors that he liked. That is downright creepy in my book; they were his daughters -not his wives! They should not have felt the need to be visually pleasing to him.

Kelly and Peter Bradrick were featured as well; these two were like the poster children of courtship. My mother was quite enthralled with them. In the movie, Peter talked of how Kelly wished to become a nurse; he did not believe it was worthwhile for her to pursue this because she would just have to shelve it for motherly duties. Besides, if she went to school, she would forget how to do homemaking tasks! Earlier this year I learned that they are now divorced, amidst rumors of egregious infidelity.

I found this news disturbing, and heartbreaking for Kelly’s sake. It proved that even within the patriarchal definition of “perfect” (no working outside the home, no kissing until the wedding day, the man writing a theological paper to prove his Christianity to the father before courting the daughter), the extreme opposite could take place. A stay-at-home, homeschool, no birth control, patriarchy-movement family can still end up in sin.

This made me think that perhaps it is possible to be a loving wife and mother, yet still leave the house sometimes in order to contribute financially. I had gone back and forth with myself for so long, wondering if it was sinful to pursue other things besides staying at home. I felt a sense of relief when this finally clicked in my mind: Legalism eventually leads to the very sins it condemns. 

Birth control was basically considered a sin in my family. There was a time when my mother told me how it was a personal conviction, implying it was not really a sin; however, their teachings proved otherwise. The topic was brought up on many occasions; it was regarded as an act of selfishness, of trying to control God. “God needs to decide” how many children to have, they said. It was not until adulthood that I realized the reason God gave women menstrual cycles: so they could plan their number of children. 

My parents had the “Quiverfull” mindset and loved to quote Psalm 127:5 to support their beliefs. “Be fruitful and multiply” was also said over and over; they seemed to not realize that command was given when there were hardly any humans in the world and they had to populate it. We asked them, “What if someone does not have enough money to have kids?” The answer: “They need to have faith that God will provide.” “What if they don’t feel ready to have kids?” we said. “Then they aren’t ready to get married,” they answered.

I was nearly eighteen when I got married and did not want to have kids for quite some time; my father made a remark to me that I would probably have kids soon. My sister spoke up and said that I did not want to; he replied, “People don’t think they will right away, but then it just happens. You’ll see.”  Hmm….last I checked, scientifically, pregnancies do not “just happen,” except in the case of the Virgin Mary.

Although sex was obviously important to my parents, considering the number of children they produced, they did not seem to want to talk to us about it. “The Talk” I had with my mother consisted of what happens when you get a period, but no sex. I learned through the internet. While reading a Wikipedia article on cats, I got to the part on how they reproduced; it occurred to me that it must be similar for humans. Then through various websites, I picked up on little things people said, and put two and two together. When I had already learned how it worked, Mom handed me a book that appeared to be written for middle-schoolers.  

When I was sixteen and already in a relationship, my dad said, “You probably already know about the birds and the bees…” My mom even told me that part of the reason for them getting farm animals was so the kids would learn how sex worked. Sorry, but it is bad parenting to throw your teenager a preteen book on sex, buy some rabbits and chickens, and hope your kids will learn about reproduction by seeing some “nature in action.” A responsible, loving parent will have heart-to-heart talks with their children when they are of age, about what sex is and why it is an important and beautiful thing in marriage.  

On the same note, Mom was very much against us knowing and using anatomical terms for our privates. It was a long time before I knew the names of my own body parts. My sister Tiffany begged me to tell her the real words but I refused, for fear of disobeying my mother. Later on, Dad noticed that she bought tampons, and made a snide, passive-aggressive comment about how my sister bought herself sex toys.     

Despite so much talk of courting and having kids, it felt wrong to have a crush. I did not feel guilty in the sense of it being a sin to God, but did not want my mother to hear about me liking a boy because of the way it was presented in our household. When my brother was in his teens, we were teasing him about liking a girl (very normal!); my father overheard and said, “We don’t do that. The so-in-so family talks like that (about who likes whom), but we don’t.”

I felt stunned. This created a feeling of shame over having natural feelings for boys. It then set off an unhealthy psychological mindset that I took with me into marriage, from which I am still recovering. After marriage, I discovered that I would feel ashamed to talk about natural desires, and can only attribute it to the teachings put into my head during my formative years.  

At age sixteen, I brought up the idea of seeing someone to my mother; she told me that I did not need to think of such things unless I planned on getting married around eighteen. I got married two months before my eighteenth birthday. When my husband and I were first in a relationship, I did not even tell Mom. Later someone asked me in front of her if I had a boyfriend. I do not believe in lying, so that is how she found out.

Although my parents did not explain to us the actual mechanics of sex, they talked to us about it in the sense that we were not supposed to do it outside of marriage. My father would preach about the importance of purity, but only direct it at females. He said that if a girl did sexual things, then she would be like a car taken on a test drive; who wants to drive a used car? For some reason, the boys that were driving these “cars” were overlooked. It is also interesting how in the patriarchy movement they focus so much on protecting females from the bad men who are ready to pounce on us; but we are the first ones blamed for not being pure. How can we be the victims and the instigators at the same time?  

My brother and his girlfriend would often go too far in their relationship and act overly physical in front of us, but Dad would focus the blame on her. One time my brother, his girlfriend, and her friend wanted to go to Maine for a weekend. My father found out and called her a “slut.” Even down the line, when he learned of other sexual sin they were up to, he called her a “nymphomaniac,” saying she was the kind of girl that needed to be having sex all the time. In fact, my brother was the sex addict.

I learned early on to feel shame over my body. Modesty was definitely a very important topic in our household. No, we were not those hardcore fundamentalists who were only allowed to wear floor-length, hand-sewn dresses; nonetheless, clothing rules were pretty strict in the early years. When I did get curves, I scrutinized my image in the mirror, trying not to wear things that showed the outline of my shape. When I was older, it finally clicked for me that it is actually disrespectful to God to feel like you need to hide something that is natural. Why should we be ashamed of the shape that He thought was beautiful enough to put on us? On one website that talked about modesty, I found a quote that really helped: “You don’t put a tarp over your flowers for being too pretty, do you?”  

I find it interesting how my parents would drill into us girls that we were to dress a certain way; but just like with the purity topic, they did not drill into the boys that they should respect women and not lust after them. It was mentioned, but not to the extent the modesty issue was for us. My mother even ordered my sister and me some of the most hideous bathing suits ever: shorts that were nearly knee-length with a sarong skirt, and a top with cap sleeves.  

When I was about six or seven, I was wearing a Beauty and the Beast dress that a friend had given me. I was playing outside, and decided to roll the top of the dress off the shoulders just as Belle wore it. I figured that since I was by myself without Mom there to scold me, it was fine. Pretty much the second I arranged the dress that way, my mother shouted from out the window for me to pull the dress back up. I had no idea that was coming and felt shocked, which only helped to reinforce the idea that I should be ashamed of my body.  

When I was eight years old, my older brother (I will call him “Eel”) tattled to Dad that I was wearing immodest shorts. They were normal little girl shorts, nothing “immodest” about them whatsoever. My father inspected my appearance, and told me not to wear shorts any shorter than that. Once I stumbled across my mother’s prayer journal; in it she asked God to help me be more modest. I was still about eight years old: a little girl. I had no womanly figure, knew next to nothing about boys; yet somehow I was considered immodest.

At this same age, my brother Eel (the one who would get on my case for immodesty) began molesting me. He loved pointing out the sin of others (or making up sins in others) when he was doing the same thing. When I finally got him to stop, he went on to do it to my younger sister Tiffany. I may have never ended up telling my parents, if she had not told me what happened to her. I decided we needed to talk to them at that very moment.  

After we told them what happened, they pulled my brother into the room and had a talk with us, which included statements such as, “It’s a good thing this happened in our family instead of you doing this to a girl in a different family; it would be more complicated then,” and “It’s also not a good idea to touch private parts. Did you know they’re dirty?”

I had no idea until then that private parts were “dirty,” but believed so after my mother said that. Whether or not it was true, I certainly felt disgusting when my own brother molested me. After Mom learned of this, she determined not to let her in-laws -our grandparents- find out (of all of the things she should have been worried about), ostensibly because she did not want to look like a bad parent.

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