Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Trailer

Let me tell you about the trailer. My family got the trailer from another family, I remember them, but I don't know why we got the trailer. I was very young - a few years old probably.

The trailer was a little camper trailer - it used to be white - with a table in the middle that became a bed, a bed on each end, and a little kitchen set up across from the table and a little bathroom. It was fun at first to go camping, it had a green awning but it broke. It had two little steps that pulled out. We went camping in the trailer in Ontario, it was near my fifth birthday and I think we were travelling to Nova Scotia but I'm not sure. There were four kids then.

When we moved to Nova Scotia we lived in the camper in a camp ground at first. Then we lived in a rented house and my started homeschooling, I think with something called ace or a beka. Then we lived in the trailer in a little sandlot for a summer

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

An Open Letter to My Former Highschool Teachers

Dear Teachers,                                                                                            October 15, 2013

When I came to the high school at age 17, I had absolutely no idea how to be a student.  Many of you know by now that I had didn't know what a teacher-student dynamic was. I hope you understand that up to that point I had been around adults who mostly made stuff up as they went along, and expected respect from authority that was derived simply from being bigger and older, not from legitimate accomplishment. To a scared 17 year old, it looked the same at first, because of the authority aspect. In the three years I went to high school, I learned to respect you for the knowledge and expertise you represent. I think I was supposed to respect you simply for being teachers, adults, and authority figures, but instead I respected the time and effort it took to become teachers, and the skill and patience that kept you there.

    I remember sitting in my first class, which was a grade nine math class. That was a difficult thing for me, to enter a class with people three years younger than I was. But to the teacher who taught that class, and the

Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Psychological Cost of not Being Provided For

Children not getting what they want certainly does not constitute child maltreatment, and historically isn't uncommon. The societal construct of childhood has changed several times in last few centuries, with ebbs and flows in the level of freedoms, rights, and responsibilities children have at various ages.Children have not always had childhoods. However, children have always depended on their parents to provide for them. Sometimes children who are not cared for are removed from their parents, and historically some children who were not cared for died. Children who are not provided for, know. It is a painful realization that through choices made by parents of their own free will, a child was not given what was needed.

My siblings and I had more responsibilities and less rights than is considered typical in current society. Part of this including not really having our own possessions, and not being given new belongings except for a few
notable occasions. We were not entitled to our own space, in fact having a right to possessions and space was contraindicated because of my parents' belief that having too many rights would make a child feel entitled and cause corruption.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Differentiation and Emotional Cut-offs

Murray Bowen's theories on differentiation of self, and emotional cut-offs provide an excellent lens for viewing the complex relationships that exist between family members who were raised in quiverfull and Christian patriarchal families, where the family roles are artificially skewed by religious influence and the necessity for sibling-parenting due to sheer numbers in the family.

Bowen's theory on differentiation of self describes how people are inherently dependent on each other, but how each individual needs to balance how much to conform to a group for acceptance which is a universal need, and to what extent to be emotionally independent in order to deal with unavoidable conflict without having to take sides or dissolve emotionally (you can read more about Bowen's theory here:

Bowen's theory of emotional cutoff describes how sometimes people with complex relationships in their families may choose to create distance from family members or declare a permanent separation from them. The theory explains that this is not always a good solution because there are patterns of relationships that are formed in childhood that dictate how the individual relates to new people in life, because they may look to new people to fill emotional roles that are inappropriate to the relationship.

I left my quiverfull family when I was 17. I was the oldest daughter (second child) of nine. For a while I remained in contact with many of the people who contributed to the safety of the patriarchal environment, including my father and leaders of the church he attended. Acceptance in a group is a universal need, but the problem arises when the cost is too great. I had not really found a new group yet at this point, but the cost of acceptance in the former group was to return home and submit to my father. That was not an option for me.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Psychobiography 2010

The following is an essay I wrote in 2010 for a school project. I find it very interesting to read what thoughts and beliefs have changed since then, and what has remained the same.

My name is Sarah Henderson. I am 22 years old. I was born in Saskatchewan, and from there moved to Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and finally back to Ontario again. I was homeschooled to about Grade 7 or 8, and then at 17 I went to high school and finished in three years. I have one older brother, four younger brothers, and four younger sisters, who were born in various provinces as we migrated.
   I am married to a 25 year old man. We own a house and a car, and we go to church on Sundays. We volunteer a great deal, helping out with the youth program at our church, as well as volunteering for Family and Children’s Services. We also volunteer a lot for other church and community events. I am a full-time student, and my husband works full-time nights. We have a decently clean house and entertaining is very important to us.
    My family of origin is very conservative and religious, with very specific beliefs about family, the church, and the world. Many of these ideas are still in my head, and even though I do not want to subscribe to most of these ideas, I occasionally feel a twinge of discomfort when I do not follow them. These ideas include the censure of homosexuals, and conservative ideals about modes of dress and the order of authority in the home, as they believe that the male is in charge of the female in almost every situation.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Self Preservation and Mental Health

In my last post, I made a brief mention of how living in a state of survival affected my mental health. I thought it would be a good idea to expand on this issue, because in my opinion it is the crux of why having quiverfull families and homeschooling in chaos is abusive to the children involved.

As I have mentioned before, doing something that causes harm to your child is abusive regardless of your intentions or religious justification. Children are do not become raised in a vacuum. Children do not have the ability to protect their own interests, and as I have shown in a previous post, in fact unfortunately do not have the right to do so ( Therefore it is a parent's job to try to protect their children from harm as much as possible - no perfection required - and to introduce good things and reduce negative influences as much as possible. It is my belief that that most parents would not argue with this assertion, because most parents have their children's best interests in mind.

When a child is raised a quiverfull family, there is core belief involved that stipulates that older children should help raise their younger siblings. This is commonly known to those outside the quiverfull movement as the "buddy system", but survivors sometimes call this "sister-moms". The use of older siblings to care for younger siblings can cause various levels of neglect depending on how organized the family is and whether there is homeschooling involved. It is typically simply impossible for a mother of 6 or more children to recover from childbirth and unending pregnancies at the same time as being able to provide adequate care to that many children, provide adequate schooling for that many different grades, cook nutritious meals, do laundry, and keep house. Don't get me wrong, I do not object to children having chores. I do object to a ten year old child being responsible for a whole department of parenting or housekeeping, such as all cooking, or all laundry or all cleaning or all child care.

Monday, 2 September 2013

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

About The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network was started by Vyckie Garrison and Libby Anne, from No Longer Quiverfull. There are quite a few excellent blogs listed in the Network, and I would like to have mine added as well.

If you are enjoying reading my blog, you may also be interested in reading blogs by other survivors of spiritual abuse. Here is the link to a list of other bloggers:

These blogs are written by people who have all experienced spiritual abuse, and are partly for processing and partly for raising awareness about spiritual abuse. I have noticed that many young girls do not realize that they are being oppressed and spiritually abused because they do not know what it is. They are taught that what they are experiencing is normal.

There is no dictionary definition for spiritual abuse, but from my experience I can tell you that spiritual abuse is when leaders or parents use fear and coercion to force compliance with the religious beliefs of the leader or parent. There are many other ways of exploring this issue, and I hope you will read about them in these other blogs :)

How I Left My Parents' Home

Several people have asked me about actually leaving my parents. It's kind of hard to explain exactly what happened, because there was not one day when I decided to leave.

When I was 16, I was still attending a conservative church with my parents. In my family we were still expected to wear head coverings all the time, but the church we attended only expected them in churches. So in December of 2004 (when I was 16) I decided to stop wearing one at all - to me you either follow that verse 100% or not at all, and I wasn't going to be the only one. I also secretly purchased jeans and changed into them on rare occasions when I was allowed out with church friends.

The summer of 2005 around my 17th birthday, I went for a week to visit my very secular grandparents in another province. They asked me some questions about what I wanted to do for a career. I had not been asked that question, as my destiny was to get married and be a homeschooling mom even though I didn't want that. My grandparents mentioned that I couldn't go to university without a high school diploma, and explained that I probably couldn't even get a GED with how little schooling I'd had. This was news to me since I'd always been told our way was the best way to do anything, but it had the ring of truth. 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Oh Daughters of Fundamentalism, Take Upon Yourselves the Cloak of Self-deception

I recently witnessed a young girl who is struggling a bit who expressed that she was a bit unhappy with her life, being told that she just needs to take it one day at a time, and be happy with it. To me it is shameful to express to a child or a teenager that their discomfort or unhappiness with a difficult situation stems from their own inability to cope. What message is being given to girls when they are told that although they are not the creators of the bad situation, they must be the authors of the solution, but the solution must only be to swallow their feelings and smile.

This is a relatively common comment made to daughters in conservative families. The basic idea stems from the idea if you are unhappy with your life, it is important to change your attitude about your life. Girls are not taught that they can cause change in their own lives. Of course this serves the purpose of preventing girls from making plans to get out. If they are responsible for their own happiness, and they do not get to make their own choices, fundamentalism is able to produce a new generation of women who not only do not fight back and fall in line with whatever rules and tasks are assigned to them, in the ideal scenario they will actually start to enjoy the fact that they are fulfilling their purpose, and own their own oppression.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The deliberate spread of misinformation

When my siblings and I were children, my parents deliberately misinformed us about the world. I am still not sure what the overall goal was. Some of it makes sense. The ideological nonsense that contributed to psychological control makes sense, such as the misinformation about lust, reproduction, and consequences, but some of it really doesn't make sense. 

Why were we misinformed about the healthiness of foods? Why were we misinformed about women's periods? Why were we misinformed about the lactose content of butter? My parents also gave us this information in a way that made us afraid to double check, and there was certainly no ability to find out correct information and take it back to our parents. As isolated as we already were, there was always the fear that we could be isolated further if our lifestyle allowed for too much knowledge seeking. 

My parents taught us some strange theories about food, which I believe contributed to a lot of food and weight issues in our family. They told us that calories were a lie, and that potatoes and rice were vegetables. They didn't teach us to have a treat or two and then healthy food, to make choices. They didn't teach us that you could have a certain amount and maintain, lose or gain weight. They taught us that when food was available to eat it. There was always food, but sometimes it was just rice, for breakfast lunch and supper. So when there was tasty food available, we really wanted it. We weren't taught moderation and we were taught that there was only ever starvation or overindulgence. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

My Actual Life Path vs. Life Planned by my Parents

I've been thinking about how my life would be different if I followed the path set out for me by my parents, an alternate reality if you will. My parents had plans for us to emulate them with the second generation. The idea was that we would remain under my father's ultimate authority forever, but also for the daughters to come under the secondary authority of husbands, and for the sons to bring wives into the family who would also be under the authority of my father and my brothers.

If I had followed this plan, my life would be very different. Right now, I am married to a man who practices equality, we own a house and two cars, I have two university degrees and a great job. I am not well known in the community, but I am mostly respected by people who do know me. We have two cats. We visit friends and have a few drinks sometimes on weekends. We go on great vacations together. We own lots of nice things, I have enough clothes to go about a week without doing laundry. I enjoy cooking and baking, so I do these activities for enjoyment, but I cook gourmet meals and experiment with international cuisine because I can and we have the money.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

My Parents' Belief System

These are my parents' beliefs, as I was taught as a child.

My parents believed in the bible. They believed it was the divine word of god, and that it was infallible. They believed that bible verses should be taken literally. 

They believed in six days of creation and that god created Eve for Adam. They believed that Eve caused the Fall. They believed in the flood and that god chose one special family to be saved, because that family followed god more closely than other people and this exposed the other people as the wicked beings they were. 

They embraced the stories of Abraham and Isaac - he was willing to stab his son, Jephthah and his daughter - he sacrificed her to thank god for a battle victory, and the Deuteronomy instructions for the procedure to stone your rebellious children, which demonstrate the power a parent has over the lives of their children. 

They took a literal lesson from Leviticus 27, which values adult men at 50 shekels of silver, but women at 30 shekels. Boys are worth 5, and girls 3. They believed in the added value of not only a son, but a first born son, and spent a great deal of effort on building up my older brother's pride in being the first born, which led to a bit of a disappointment when he learned that not only was he getting a double inheritance of nothing, my father had a secret illegitimate son from a previous relationship. 

Monday, 5 August 2013

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - Do children have rights?

I have become very interested in what rights children have. Here is the link to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child:

The CRC says that: 
  • Childhood is entitled to special care and assistance
  • Convinced that the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community - the family, the natural environment for the growth and well-being of children, should be afforded the protection and assistance to assume its responsibilities (emphasis mine)
  • Recognizing that the child, for the full and harmonious development of his or her personality, should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding
  • Considering that the child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and brought up in the spirit of the ideals proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, and in particular in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity
  • the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Homeschooling as Abuse - The Reality

Authors note: I am not specifically against homeschooling, I am against abusive homeschooling, and references to homeschooling below refer to isolating religious abusive homeschooling, although I caution readers that it may not be easy to see the difference. 

I wrote before about trying to explain to my mother why homeschooling can be abusive, especially if combined with patriarchal quiverfull religion.

It might be helpful to know the past. In the past I was homeschooled, in a manner of speaking. My parents believed in homeschooling, and therefore kept us all home instead of sending us to school. This meant that we did not get to socialize with other children. What is written below was my own family's experience over the years, but it is a typical experience in one particular homeschool group we were part of for some time.

There was an effort made to be involved with other homeschooled children. This is a very ineffective method of socialization. Other homeschooled children are typically in the same position: parentalized children, who don't know how to play with other children, who are taught that they are too smart/special/unique/precious/fragile for school. Homeschool groups are filled with children who respond to the abnormal stimulus in their lives in one of two ways: they tend to either absorb the message that they are not as good as other people and are in the world to serve others, or they absorb the message that they are the best at whatever it is they excel at, and are the big fish in the little pond. Homeschooled children bully each other in these groups, but it is not recognized because the stronger children feel that they are occupying their rightful place in the world, and the bullied children also feel they are occupying their rightful place in the world. Placing a child in a situation where they must either bully or be bullied is abuse.

Homeschool parents often seem proud of the isolated circle that exists in a homeschooled family. The children get up, do chores, eat breakfast, and if they are lucky -and many many are not- they do school work. Then at the end of the day, they do more chores, eat dinner, spend more time with their families, and go to bed. They do it again the next day. This does not teach children to adapt to change, except the added hardship of additional children. Children may learn how to act in a community by going shopping with their mothers, but as the number of children grows, they not only become an oddity or curiosity for others to observe when in town, but usually more of the children get left at home because it is simply impractical to bring that many people to town. If children are left at home, they are then babysat by a parentified child, or they all still go but a parentified child takes on some of the parenting in the community. Making a child into a spectacle for others is abuse. Making a child take on a parental role is abuse. Not teaching children to adapt to change is abuse.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Forgiveness and Power

Over the course of my life I have been instructed to forgive so many times. Ironically, the people who were telling me to forgive were also the people who spent a good deal of time telling me that in reality there was nothing to forgive, or that no wrong doing had occurred. Technically I think this means I am off the hook anyways. But in reality, there was wrong doing from people in my life who were supposed to protect me.
       I now believe that forgiveness is a religious concept. I believe it was created to control people who have been wronged, by investing them with an equal amount of responsibility for the relationship, so that if they do not choose to forgive and rebuild, they have at least half the blame. After all, if you are a person in power, you can do anything. All you need to do is make sure the recipient of wrong doing feels guilt if they do not choose to trust you again.
      I think this can come in so handy for rogue religious leaders and fathers in isolated families. A fear can be fostered over decades that the recipient needs to be open to the idea of allowing similar offences over and over again in the name of forgiveness. The recipient can be handled as many times as needed to allow the cycle to continue.
     There is definitely something to gain if you are already in a position of power. The person in power is already in a position to justify their own actions based on whatever act of god or man put them in power in the first place. I am speaking of power in the small scale, but when a person is in this type of power position, it is easy for them to lose sight of their own place in the world. They can become the king of their own little castle, as it were. They need the concept of forgiveness to exist, so that when they violate the rights of those they control, they can keep that control by inflicting guilt on the recipient.
     I do think that there is some freedom in moving forward, which is often confused with forgiveness. It is a totally different concept in my opinion. In my opinion, moving forward is more about recognizing that those who violate your rights are choosing to do so, and have no reason to change in a vacuum. A recipient of wrong doing does not incur responsibility, but if they are going to take any kind of action, ending the ability of the person in power to retain the cycle of control is not a bad idea.
     Sometimes the only way to break the cycle is to end the relationship. People often seem so horrified by this idea, but why should someone stick around and allow their rights to be violated over and over again in the name of a religious concept that only benefits the wrong-doer? If someone has been traumatized by their own parents, the options are not simply to stick around and try to maintain the relationship or else live in a cess-pool of bitterness and hurt. There is a whole other option out there. You can walk away. You can choose to surround yourself with people who are not interested in violating your rights. When you walk away, you can leave the hurt there too, because you are leaving the source. It isn't as easy as it sounds, but everyone has a right to live their own lives, regardless of wrong doing in the past. This takes time but no one has to submit themselves to a proven risk.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Just imagine for a moment...

Just imagine for a moment a mother of a six year old child. Now, this mother has never been kicked in the head, however, all her friends are kicking their children in the head, and from what she has seen, children who are kicked in the head are very obedient and have lots of time for helping around the house. If she kicks her child in the head she will be able to make sure she is the only person influencing him and can pass her values on to him. It's a kick in the head - other people might judge but who are they to decide what is best for the child? She is pretty sure it will all work out, and she thinks this is what god wants her to do. Other people try to interfere with her process with dire warning but they must not have been kicked in the head properly, or they must be bitter and will eventually learn that their parents were right to kick them in the head: parents always have their children's best interests in mind. She has read some books about kicking children in the head from people who seem very experienced in the field, and has purchased several manuals on the topic, so she is fully equipped. After all, she wouldn't want to create a less than perfect situation for her child! She is the mother! There is a lot of work ahead of this loving mother. She may need to defend her values from naysayers. She will need to maintain perfection so that others do not think she is making mistakes. She is doing the right thing for her child. Now imagine this mother with a six year old child: she has never been homeschooled...
Also imagine if you will, another scenario: another mother of a six year old child. This mother was homeschooled. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Introduction and a quick snapshot of how I got here

I am 25, and I am the second oldest of 9. My family ran through an eclectic gamut of various churches and ideology (but always pseudo-homeschooling, starting with the ATIA when I was 6). My parents were into all the popular stuff, Michael Pearl, Above Rubies, Keepers at Home, and I am sure there are others but they do not spring to mind. When I was 9 my parents got in trouble with Children's Aid where we were, so we moved to another province and were taken in by Mennonites, so if you can imagine a mix of QF and Mennonite ideology - yes it's nuts. Then when I was 14, they got involved with a chapel/brethren church, which is very much into homeschooling, quiverfull, and subjugation of women. I am not sure where it fit in with all the religion but neither of my parents worked, I think my dad spent a total of maybe a full 12 months (split up) being employed from when I was 7-17. I think this had something to do with the idea from Christian Patriarchy that men are not supposed to be "under" women.
When I was 17 I had enough. I told my parents I was going to school and went, even though my dad tried to physically prevent me, and in a few weeks I made a friend and asked her parents if I could live with them. They said yes. Then I went to a more mainstream church and youth group, finished high school in three years, met and dated my now-husband, and went to university. I have a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Social Work. My husband is a feminist, and believes that men and women should have equal say in everything. That has caused some problems because even though its been 8 years I still sometimes shy away from asserting myself. Due to repeated calls to CAS over the years I was 17-19, my father was eventually convicted (plea bargain) of three counts of assault on a child, and he is now not allowed on my mother's property. My mother is still deeply involved in the chapel/brethren church, which is very patriarchal and conservative, and she still has 3 of my siblings, however she is not as abusive as the both of them were so CAS lets it be. However at this point, every single one of my siblings except my older brother have spent some time living with my husband and I before moving on to make their way in the world.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Homeschooling as Abuse - It Could Happen Again

This is just my own opinion and is not intended to be an evidence-based argument against homeschooling, although in the future I may expand upon it.

This subject is very sensitive to me right now because my mother is actively contemplating pulling my third youngest sibling (second youngest boy) out of school and return to homeschooling. I decided that since homeschooling was not something she was ever subjected to, maybe she should be given the benefit of the doubt, that she didn't know how harmful it can be. 

So a few weeks ago, I called her and told her. My mistake. My conclusion from my conversation with her is that she knows its harmful but doesn't care. I explained to her about social awkwardness and social disconnectedness. She didn't care. I pointed out all the evidence that shows she is not really capable of homeschooling. She blamed me for the original homeschool failure! 

I explained that especially for someone like my brother who has already been unsuccessfully homeschooled (entered Christian school at grade two age, unable to read!), there would be complex interactions of triggers and confusing expectations based on the past, not to mention those on her own psychological experience. She thanked me for my opinion. 

I asked her why she wanted to do it, and all her answers were selfish. I believe homeschooling is a selfish act. It is based on emotions and desires of the parent, often based on fears from their own past bullying or fear of not being able to completely control their children. Also from our conversation I conclude that she thinks its cute and therefore she wants it. She wants the admiration from her fundie church. 

I told her that I had explained how her plan was harmful, and that I couldn't have a relationship with her if she was going to set out to re-victimize another sibling. She told me that was my choice. So far that's the last conversation we have had. Even if she changes her mind, how could I renew my relationship with her? To me, it's the same as if she was contemplating kicking him down the stairs or experimenting with spanking devices again. She knows its mean, she knows its about her, and now she knows its abusive.