The morning I moved out, I texted my research professor who was helping me leave that my parents weren’t letting me take the heirloom violin, but left me an old laundry basket, a case of canned green beans, and a pot they didn’t like.
She replied, “That sounds like Harry’s birthday presents from the Dursleys.” Yep. The crazy relatives who made Harry Potter live in the cupboard under the stairs.
Sometimes my parents act like the Dursleys. Or even Miss Minchin in A Little Princess. It’s easy to compare my parents to fairy tale bad guys. And even helpful sometimes in predicting their behavior.
But villainizing anyone denies the psychological complexity at work.
My parents are more like the mature antagonists in classical literature. They’re more similar to Javert in Les Miserables, whose sense of justice and punishment for lawbreakers overrides any compassion, rendering him incapable of giving or accepting mercy.
And the pastor who said honoring my parents as an adult meant absolute obedience isn’t a villain either.
Sometimes I feel like fundamentalism was like living in Wise Blood, one of Flannery O’Connor’s Southern Gothic novels. The story is riddled with variations of extreme street preachers proclaiming damnation, but unable to uphold their own rigid moral standards.
My parents paid tuition for the A Beka Academy video curriculum, which was more than other families at our church could afford and made sure I graduated with an accredited high school diploma so I didn’t have to take the GED like my other homeschooled friends.
In 3rd grade when I was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin and a depressant, my mom saw how unbalanced I was. She told the doctors she’d make our home quiet so I could focus. She copied my long division problems lengthwise on lined notebook paper so I’d keep the columns straight.
My parents noticed I wasn’t on the growth percentile charts at the pediatrician’s office. They appealed for insurance coverage for my growth hormone replacement therapy when I was 12 to 16. Female growth plates between bones fuse around menarche, so my parents worked with my endocrinologist for an experimental combined treatment that delayed puberty and gave me more growing time.
My dad was even going to sell our more expensive car to afford a year of treatment without insurance.
If not for the daily Nutropin and monthly Lupron injections, today I’d be a real-life dwarf. I wouldn’t be able to drive a regular car or reach dishes in kitchen cabinets.
And they did pay for my first three years of college. My dad always said he wanted to give me “every advantage in life.”
I know deep down my parents love me.
Even if they don’t believe I am an adult yet. Even if they try to control what I believe and what I do.
Their beliefs dictate that they should shun me because I don’t measure up to what they think God wants.
Back in high school, the pastor at my last church talked me through why the King James Version isn’t an inspired translation or the only valid Bible to read. It was one of the first conversations that helped me to recognize the fear and control inherent in legalism.
And now he too believes I should be ostracized.
The summer I moved out, I borrowed the graphic novel Watchmen from my punk friend Kat. It’s about the second generation of a group of superheros blended into American history. But the first generation wasn’t as perfect as the press advertised.
“Who watches the Watchmen?” the book asks over and over. Who makes sure the good guys don’t become bad guys? What happens when authority is corrupted?
And (SPOILER) at the end the “villain” is one of their own. Disaster is sort of averted, they save the planet, but there is no real hero, either. Life just continues.
It’s not black and white.
Like Cynthia Jeub wrote, of course it wasn’t all bad.
My parents did many good things. And many hurtful things. I’m not obligated to give into their demands, I don’t have to lose my freedom. The bad doesn’t void the good and the good doesn’t cancel out the bad.
But if I don’t recognize their human complexity, then I am refusing to see the raw reality. And I will blind myself from the truth.
9 thoughts on “Why my parents aren’t villains”
Good to hear young people list all the things they’re grateful about what their parents*did* do, flawed as they might be – as we all are! As a new parent myself (of toddlers) it gives me hope that at least my strengthens may be appreciated some day. 🙂
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I relate to this a lot, too. It “wasn’t all bad”. But that doesn’t negate what we experienced. It’s important, I think, to recognize the good while dealing with the fact that there was much wrong. I have a hard time with this balance.
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It’s difficult to balance. Very difficult.
I’m not even sure I can adequately do it, but I feel a strong journalist sort of committment to telling my story as accurately as I can. Thank you. 🙂
It’s so strange how we read things so appropriate to our lives, always at the perfect times too! Your situation is, I think, more common than we’d like to believe, living in America, born to very giving parents but darn, you better believe what they do or else you’re a shame to the family. Our age is a precarious one, one in which we find ourselves questioning everything we were taught to believe as fact growing up. For me sometimes the entire belief system is thrown upside down but that’s when you discover what you truly believed, on your own, in the first place. I was called blasphemous for trusting science over what religious institutions say and not trusting God (essentially I spit in God’s face if I don’t use the Bible as a science textbook). Yes, I know I’m human and will never know everything (that’s God’s job), it’s just as bad to be ignorant on topics that have so much evidence. What happened to unconditional love, the kind of love God gives his children who he knew would be relentless sinners before they even entered the womb? Needless to say, I share parts of your same struggle – the struggle to make beliefs your own while at the same time respecting your parents AND growing up into an adult. It seems impossible at times and there’s this oppressive invisible line that, once crossed, damages relationships almost beyond repair (unless you back-track and say just kidding, I didn’t mean what I said)…haha. Gratitude can be shown in more ways than pretending to believe what your parents do or fulfilling their dreams for you…what those ways are I am still figuring out.
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Really identify with this line: “the struggle to make beliefs your own while at the same time respecting your parents AND growing up into an adult. It seems impossible at times.”
Thank you. 🙂 It’s a struggle, but I think in the end, it will be worth it.
I’ve always loved Rorschach from the Watchmen. As villainous as he looked, he was always the absolute moral center for everyone near him. But always too absolute–yet he knew deeply how much he needed the good/kind heart people like Nite Owl II.
My favorite line (from the film version) was the prison fight: “None of you seem to understand. I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with ME.”
Eleanor, I am he parent of 4 amazing adult children ranging from 21-28. I am also a RECOVERED LEGALIST. To my shame, I parented with control, power and anger. The root of my legalism was fear and anxiety. I (nor my husband), was not raised in a christian home and my parents…although good intentions. taught me not what to do as a parent. I wanted nothing but the best for my kids. I wanted them to feel loved. I wanted to protect them from anything hurting them. I wanted them to be strong in the Lord and to protect them from evil and sin. I cannot tell you how much I love my children , I do not have the words…it is like my heart is outside of me walking with 2 legs. Like your folks,I would die for each of them If I had to.
Legalism places a child in a performance based relationship with mom and dad. ” IF I behave this way I am loved and accepted. If I do not, I am “bad”,” not measuring up”, not a ” good christian kid”.
Using legalism to parent is pressure on the kids for 100% obedience. makes parenting easier and makes a parent look great in spiritual circles. Deceives you into thinking you are doing a wonderful job as a parent and all is well. The lie is…outward obedience does not mean there is not rebellion in the heart of the child or seething anger because of the lack of Grace in the parents relationship with them. Everything becomes performance based and in reality…acting and pretend.
God broke me and my husband and praise be his name and with a heart full of gratitude he broke us good!! He began teaching us GRACE and parenting with a spirit of GRACE. The reality that I as a parent am only a servant of the Lord in raising my children for they were Gods to begin with and as I looked to him for wisdom and guidance as to raise and nurture each one, not out of fear and anger but in love and grace as he himself shows me every day. Yes there are guidelines in raising a child clearly give in the word of God , However the focus in the word of God, is on the parent raising the child….walking in calmness, wisdom, peacefulness, having the spirit of the Lord No where do I ever read about control, power, anger, manipulation in the bible as parenting tools.Legalism focuses on the OBEDIENCE of the child Yes children are directed to be obedient to their parents, and later as adults to honor them. Jesus says , if you love me you will keep my commandments. The end goal of parenting is not intimidation of the child to obey in fear, but to operate in a spirit of Christ so that the child in a spirit love wants to obey. We are teaching the big picture as parents…we are setting up the stage for their relationship with God. Legalism is shame based. Performance based. *( I think I need to clarify…I am not talking about having standards, I am all for standards)
My older 2 children have been hurt by our wrong parenting and it has taken many many years of humility and repentance on our part to help them heal. No longer shamed, no longer afraid to fail or to speak of mistakes. No longer walking around as obedient automatons but thinking, loving, imperfect, AMAZING people. They are on their life’s journey with the Lord and they have our 100% unconditional love and support. This has been a painful journey. I am so grateful God and my children and a few deeply caring people showed us how wrong we were. We really meant well, we thought we were doing the right thing and doing the best for the kids. Our motivation was pure, however our thinking and responses were totally wrong. I am so blessed with the forgiveness of my children.
Eleanor, I pray for this for your family. Understand i stand not in judgement of any one and I am in now way criticizing. I am testifying there is a way to raise children where GRACE is in place.
BTW, I think you are a good communicator and even though I just briefly met you as the Lord places you on my heart, I will pray for you.
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Thank you. 🙂 Thank you for your prayers.