Originally posted on NLQ
Gentleness vs. Harshness – Showing personal care and concern in meeting the need of others (I Thessalonians 2:7) – Bill Gothard
From my earliest memories, my mother was a study in contrasts. Our home was chaotic (three boys and a new baby, all under the age of five). After my birth, my parents purposed to begin homeschooling. I say “my parents”, but that just means that dad decided mom would be doing her Christian duty best if she homeschooled. Not to mention the fact that dad’s employer and spiritual advisor had an up-and-coming curriculum that he was constantly retooling for use by homeschoolers. Mom could homeschool the children and dad could use the experience as a testimony and leg-up at work. It was a win-win – for dad.
My mom, on the other hand, was struggling and we all knew it. The boys took advantage of her disorganization and frustrations, as most preschoolers would. Many times a day, she would gather me from my blanket or playpen, sit down to nurse me and cry. She would sit in the rocking chair, in the midst of the noise and activity generated by the boys, and stroke my back while tears poured from her eyes. When I was done eating, she’d try to create the illusion of control and happy domesticity before company or my father returned home.
I think my mother suffered from post partum depression when I was born. When my brothers told my father how mom cried and sat in the chair most days, my father finally realized she needed help. He turned to his spiritual advisor for advice. This man told my father that my mom’s problems were from a lack of faith in the Lord and that the only way to get her over her depression was to get her to submit to God’s will. He asked my father to allow him to send “help” into our home. My father readily agreed and “Kay” was sent to stay with us for a month.
Kay was the wife of another organization employee. She was older than my mother by a few generations, but still advised the organization head on childrearing and pregnancy. For a few days, she adopted what I call the Super Nanny approach – following my mother around, observing the chaos. At the end of each day, Kay “gave report” to my father and prayed with my mother. At the time, my mother wrote a secret letter to an old friend, saying how much she hated Kay and resented my father for entering them into this lifestyle. The letter, which I saw after I left, is one of the saddest things I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s full of self-doubt and regret. Since reading it, there hasn’t been a day that goes by when I haven’t wondered why my mother didn’t leave.
Seeing the situation for what it was, through adult eyes, I now know exactly what Kay and my father did to my mother. Over the month that Kay was in our home, they broke whatever spirit remained in her. They subjected her to daily “prayer wars” during which she was put in a small, prayer closet for hours on end to pray about her “sinful, prideful choices” (my mom’s words from a subsequent letter to her parents).
My mother was told that all her depression was the result of not fully accepting God’s plan and purpose for her. Of course she was relieved of some of the blame. Some of the blame, they said, was her parents’ fault for giving her gender confusing messages and “feminist ideals” (like an independent career and higher education). My mother was made to write a letter to her parents, asking why they didn’t protect her from the evils of pre-marital dating and unchaperoned exposures to men and women. Finally, my mother’s problems were blamed on a lack of spiritual maturity.
My mother later claimed that it was through Kay, and this experience, that she realized she’d never been “saved” or asked the Lord to take over her life. My mother decided that, in order to be happy, she had to commit herself, body, soul, 110% to God’s will —and my father’s dominion over our home.
Note from Ruth: This isn’t the end of mom’s story. But, in some ways, it’s the beginning of mine because her choice to give herself fully to patriarchy sets up my life. How she got there and why she got there shaped who I am and how I see her. I also wrote these first five parts to show how a vital, dynamic and independent woman becomes a shell of her old self. My mother is not alone. This is what fundamentalist patriarchy can do to women. It doesn’t matter if it happens in all cases – it’s possible!