Trigger warning: physical abuse, self-harm
“We are thrown away in the house you made of every stolen moment.
Don’t pretend, I know how this ends, and who you are in secret.” -Blue Stahli
When I read Libby Anne’s article, “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?” it resonated with me. My parents had been doing the exact same thing with me for years.
“I want you to know that I never believed everything in Created to be His Help Meet.” My mom told me recently, after having taught Bible studies from it for years.
I was 18, and in my super-senior year of high school for another season of debate. Throughout my teens, I wasn’t allowed to read the Harry Potter books. I was okay with that, though, because I knew why. I argued with everybody because I’d done my research: Harry Potter had real spells in it and kids had gotten into witchcraft because it made devil worship attractive.
One of my friends said I should read the books for myself. I thought that was a reasonable request, so I went to my parents for permission. I was careful in presenting my case: I was just going to read the series critically, so I could tell my friends that I’d read them when I had arguments.
When I’d finished, my dad said, “Harry Potter was never not allowed.”
I replied, “Oh. I thought it was.”
My parents were both offended. “We would never be so controlling as SOME parents!”
I felt guilty for assuming, so I quickly apologized for my oversight. My parents were forgiving, and I went on to read and enjoy the series of children’s books, and my mom and siblings also read and enjoyed Harry Potter. It wasn’t a set of instruction books for devil worship; it was an intriguing, well-written, and powerful story.
The problem is, I remember the books being prohibited. My older sister read the first Harry Potter book in the early 2000s, and my mom read an article talking about how evil they were. She proceeded to tell us countless stories of people who’d gotten into the occult through Harry Potter. We had friends who hosted book burnings at their churches for anyone who, as my mom put it, wanted to repent of their sin: reading Harry Potter.
It would take me a few more years to realize that my parents made a habit of denying any unfavorable memories I had of them. They also denied anything that made them look uncool by the standards of whatever crowd they wanted to blend with.
I have a good memory. I was only four when Michael and Debi Pearl stayed at our house, but I remember what changed.
The Pearls were treated like royalty. My mom was pregnant with her fifth child, and all the kids believed, because our parents taught us to, that the Pearls were magnificent people.
My older sister, perhaps ten at the time, was terribly afraid of hell. She told Debi that she wanted to make sure she was saved, and Debi prayed the sinner’s prayer with her to make sure.
When my parents found out, they did two things: they forced my ten-year-old sister to write an apology letter to the Pearls, saying she’d lied about her salvation.
Then they started beating her with a belt every day, no matter what she did. She got additional “spankings” if she did something wrong.
This physical punishment was never predictable. Sometimes she’d endure five swats, other times forty. Sometimes she was allowed to keep her pants on, other times she was not. I was also spanked, but not with a belt, and I could expect punishment for specific disobedience. It frightened me to see my big sister suffering, but I didn’t have the words to identify my own emotional reaction at the time.
If any of us had known what anxiety attacks and survivor’s guilt were, it might have partially explained why my sister jumped and lost her breath every time my parents called her name, and why I started self-harming at age four.
Five years ago, while my sister was living in another country, she tried to ask my parents why they beat her every day for some part of her childhood. They said it had never happened. She thought it was a problem with her own memory until I mentioned that I remembered it, too.
Abusers deny and minimize what they’ve done, and if they can’t deny it, they’re so sorry, and once you’ve expressed forgiveness, you can never bring it up again.
Because bringing it up again is keeping a record of wrongs. That’s not love, according to the Bible, and we’re all about love around here.
Only when I started researching patterns of abusive people, did I recognize this pattern in my parents. They didn’t give explanations at the time, because they could deny it later:
“Your sister was never physically abused.”
“You were always allowed to read whatever you wanted.”
“You’re not being fair to us when you say otherwise.”
So Libby Anne, about your post: “Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?”
For a long time, I didn’t know why our moms never told us that things were different than we remembered them. I think it’s because they didn’t disagree with what we were taught. It’s easier to make your kids believe every new version of the narrative than to see the problem and change it.