Friday, July 30, 2010

How religion almost ruined it

A few days ago I wrote about how cool my mom was. In that post, I hinted that she hadn't always been so lovely - didn't like black people or Jews until I befriended black and Jewish kids, didn't like gay people until her own daughter was queer, etc. While the fact that she ultimately turned completely around in her views, and the fact that she seemed to do it almost entirely for my sake, is amazing, it would've obviously been a lot better if she hadn't held those not-so-nice views in the first place. I had to grow up hearing them. I had to consciously choose different values from hers in order to feel like a good person.

So here was the icky side to my otherwise sweet mom: She was very Southern, in all the more unpleasant ways, and used the kinds of words very old-fashioned Southerners use, the kind which make liberals like me, who have no problem using "fuck" every five seconds, flinch. She was Southern Baptist, and for those who don't know Southern Baptists, that's one of your more, shall we say, brimstone-oriented churches. I don't remember learning anything in church about how to be kind or how to be a good person. All I remember was the word "saved". Get saved, or go to Hell. Get your friends saved too, or else they go to Hell, and it's all your fault. Get random strangers on the street saved. I was skeptical of this idea from the start, but my mom embraced it. She believed anyone who failed to be "saved" was going to Hell, and that meant they were evil. Now, I'm not against belief in a higher power, by any stretch. I'm not even against adhering to a specific religion for yourself. But I am against such belief being used to shame and control others, and that was the way it was used where I grew up.

She made some effort to try and force me to believe this way, but I resisted every time. I wouldn't read my Bible. Too hard to understand, was my excuse, although I was reading encyclopedias by that age. I argued with her about whether Jews would go to Hell if they were God's chosen people, because that didn't make any sense. And what about people way over in, I dunno, China, who maybe never heard of Jesus at all. They'd go to Hell? Really? Why?

My mom's successes in raising me came from the fact that when I asserted my own ideas, she listened. She took them seriously and discussed them, even when she didn't agree. She did not simply tell me I better do what the Bible says. She liked the fact that I was thinking about it. And when I said something that seemed a bit more, well... kindhearted than what we were learning at church, she tended to recognize that, and sometimes would decide she agreed with me.

Ah, but her failures... Every single one of my mom's failures as a parent came from the times she tried to force her values on me. The time she stole my Dungeons and Dragons manual and hid it because she thought it would somehow get me involved in the Occult, thus ensuring I would forever be secretive about what I was reading. The time I tried to convert to Wicca and she screamed at me that it was "devil-worship", thus ensuring that I would never share any of my religious thoughts or feelings with her ever again. The times she decided the music I was listening to wasn't "Christian" enough and told me to stop - this never lasted more than a few hours, but it ensured I would never again freely share with her the music that I liked.

This paints a pretty different picture from the happy-unschooly post I wrote the other day, huh? The fact is, my family was both. My mom was forever torn between a set of values that said her daughter should be free to make her own choices, and a set of values that said there is some higher power we all must obey, and that that higher power is not very patient or nice. I'd say 90% of the time, that first set of values won. But the second set was bigger and scarier, with a lot more institutional muscle behind it, and so even her kindest, most patient moments were tainted with a sense of "What if I'm sending her on the path to Hell?" It must've been really hard for her.

I see lots of people who want to call themselves unschoolers, even radical unschoolers, but they've got this other set of values hanging over them. Maybe religion, maybe the environment, maybe hardcore feminism, whatever, but it's a set of values that does to them exactly what my mom's religion did to her: It tinges their choices with fear and guilt. I am here to say, from experience, that if you raise your kids this way, it will affect your kids. There's a price to putting your own set of values above what your kids need.

The price you should be worried about isn't that somebody on Always Learning will say "That's not unschooling". There are no unschooling police. Nobody can stop you from calling yourself that. The price you should be worried about is that your kids will stop feeling they can be honest with you. They'll stop sharing their favorite music and books and games with you, they'll stop letting you meet their friends. They won't tell you they'd like to try Wicca or they have a crush on someone of the same sex. They will still DO all of those things, mind you, or at least they'll want to. But when they want someone to confide in about it all, it won't be you. You'll have lost that forever, and more importantly, your kid will have lost having a safe place to turn when they need someone.

That's what you need to be worried about.

9 comments:

~Kimberly said...

Your post is very raw and real. Having grown up in a Catholic household and having had to attend Catholic school, I can relate to your concerns. I have a gay brother,and when he came out of the closet back in the 80's my father went nuts! I moved out to live with my gay brother when I was just 17,and am so thankful that I did....I learned so much about life! Not to mention had a blast!!

I am the complete opposite of my upbringing, but do find that I sometimes have to take a deep breath and pause to remember that I do not want to do the harm that was done to me growing up, with the constant control and mind games.

Thanks again for your honesty and I appreciate your honesty. :)

Kimberly Sharpe-Slage

Snavleys said...

You might be interested in my latest blog post: http://fivefreebirds.blogspot.com/
I too started out as one of those moms. As an unschooling mom I was questioning everything and, although the religion was one of the last things I challenged, I ultimately decided that it was a bunch of fear-driven nonsense, used for manipulation and control. We walked away. Good for you for following your own path. I bet your mom is grateful for what she was able to learn from you along the way.

Ren said...

~~The price you should be worried about is that your kids will stop feeling they can be honest with you.~~

That is worth repeating and repeating. Thank you for the very insightful post. I am also one of those children for whom the religious baggage my parents carried, caused me to hide so many things. Walking away from the family church was one of the most difficult and best things I ever did for myself and my children. Most of them barely remember ever attending. Phew!

debra said...

an eloquent and "right on the mark" post. Thanks

Zenmomma said...

This post is practically perfect in every way! I was brought up in a heavy handed Lutheran home. I had to let go of ALL of that to really listen and connect with my kids.

p.s. bohemian said...

i struggle with this - my faith vs. whatever spiritual path my children may take - but i am also discovering a sense of peace developing around that uncertainity - that whatever path(s) they chose to travel it is the here and now and love and light that we share that ultimately is what matters in our lives - and that is the place i work really hard to stay in.

thankfully, inhabiting that place feels more natural and softer and easier by the day :)

Garden Pheenix said...

I love that you posted the realism of family life - the good AND the bad. Thanks for sharing this too - I take this kind of stuff on board as I raise my wee one.

<3

Cheryl said...

So important. Such a courageous thing to say in this religious world. I think the main value that parents force on their children when they enforce any religion is the "value" of force itself, which is an anti-value when it comes to creating relationship and connection.

Heather said...

"The price you should be worried about is that your kids will stop feeling they can be honest with you. They'll stop sharing their favorite music and books and games with you, they'll stop letting you meet their friends. They won't tell you they'd like to try Wicca or they have a crush on someone of the same sex. They will still DO all of those things, mind you, or at least they'll want to. But when they want someone to confide in about it all, it won't be you. You'll have lost that forever, and more importantly, your kid will have lost having a safe place to turn when they need someone. That's what you need to be worried about."

So, true, so true. That's a sentiment that's universal - not limited to unschoolers. I was raised in a very strict and Southern family as well and experienced many of those exact same outcomes. Now that I have children, my husband and I have had to have conversations with our parents about what can and cannot be discussed with or in front of our children and we've had many, many discussions with our kids about what grandma/grandpa thinks or says that our family doesn't agree with. I may end up creating a trackback to this post.
Very well said.
~h