Largely, I have been writing down my experiences as a sort of catharsis, but also on the off chance my experiences might resonate with others out there. I've spent the last ~8 years of my life thinking, processing, healing, reconciling over (etc, etc) the happenings in my childhood, how I got where I am, the whys of it. And now...I want to be done with it. It will always be part of my history but I don't want to cross into the territory of not being able to let go and living in wallowing of self-pity. Things happened the way they did - for whatever reason, who cares - and now I need to start moving on. So I want to share this story - trying to keep a tiny shred of anonymity, if it's even possible at this point anymore - and hopefully feel a big wave of relief.
My parents were still a fairly young couple dealing with me and my sibling when we lived in a cramped apartment building in the city. One day, they heard loud, coordinated singing in the hallway - it was that family. The family that had 5 children, all of whom were exceptionally well-behaved and listened to their parents with total obedience. The girls all wore skirts, on Sundays the mom and girls wore head coverings. My parents gravitated towards the music in the hallway and asked to listen. When the mini-concert was over, my parents applauded and asked the parents: what was their secret? How did they have such great children? Why did they seem so happy all the time? What made their family work?
These were crucial questions to my parents. For sake of privacy and brevity, let's say for all intents and purposes, my parents had zero framework on how to raise children or be part of a family. They both were completely on their own starting from a very young age. They had no one, nothing, basically raising themselves during the best of times. Which is why they hung onto every word. "Our faith in Jesus Christ," answered the father of the family. He explained that they were bible-believing Christians - very different from those idolatrous Roman Catholics - and the bible had all the answers for life. When you seek direction in your life, you turn to God. My parents soaked it up. The father led my parents through the sinner's prayer and asked them if they accepted Jesus into their hearts. My parents, with tears falling down their face, accepted.
This family would eventually introduce my parents to the bible church that would be our home church for the next few years. Very conservative, very evangelical, all women were encouraged to wear head coverings during services (even us little girls - my mom still has mine). Very anti-Catholic. My parents loved it and were active in church life. They felt like they had found true friendship and acceptance there for the first time in their lives.
While at this church, my parents were exposed to ideas stemming from ATI/IBLP. My parents don't even know what that means or who Bill Gothard is. I never knew what these were either growing up. But now I know from my time at FreeJinger and interacting with people who are self-described ex-ATI, that the materials in our house growing up (some of which my parents still have) and the ideas and theological notions my parents adhere to are specific to Bill Gothard's teachings. I do not know what exactly was going on with that church. I'm sure Bill Gothard himself would be horrified to know his precious biblical teachings materials and family control methods were being distributed for free without payment and/or membership. I have come to discover some of my parents' closest friends at this church were members (or at least have become members in the intervening years) of ATI/IBLP, despite my parents' ignorance of the program and its leader. And it is obvious now that my parents trusted the people around them yet they were being fed unbiblical teachings from the IBLP programs.
An early adoption of some of these practices was the mass cleansing of our home. My mom proclaimed that she could "feel evil spirits" in certain items in our home (this would be a recurring theme throughout life with mom). I remember specifically a black cat statue that had an Egyptian-type print on it - that had to go, it was apparently evil and influencing us to do evil. My sibling, a big Cabbage Patch Doll fan, watched as my mother stuffed the dolls into a garbage bag, never to be seen again. Why? "Satanists have planted witches in the Cabbage Patch factories, who put spells on the dolls. When kids look into their eyes, you stop listening to your parents and have evil in your heart." Even as an adult when I worked a stint in a big-box store, my mother made sure to remind me, "Make sure you warn parents not to purchase cabbage patch dolls for their children!" We had had a large, framed picture of a naked woman hanging on our living room wall. It was taken down, and I never saw it again.
Retelling the singing story, my parents always have rose-colored glasses on. When talking about the family in general separate from this "cute" little story of their conversion, the reality is a bit grimmer. First off, these apartments were one-bedroom. My sibling and I were quite young and our family was supposedly already packed up to the brim in this small space. This family had the same layout and my parents report that the children slept on the floor while the parents slept in the one bed they had. My dad has commented on how filthy they were all the time, my mother saying she would come over to give them baths and lice treatments because their own mother wouldn't. My parents frame this as "we were helping our fellow Christians in need," not as like...this family seems deeply disturbed? Recently my parents have said, "Looking back, there were some problems we glossed over at the time." As for an update, the family would eventually have 10 children - all 10 of whom have (apparently) completely left the faith, most of whom have zero contact with their parents. Another fundie fairytale.
I believe at the time my parents were panicking and desperate. They literally had no one else in the world to turn to. They globbed onto the first people, the first ideologies that came across their path, and it just so happened to be one that promised a perfect family. Exactly what they wanted to hear. And if you grow up in a dysfunctional family or with no family, you don't really understand familial behaviors that are normal vs not normal. These kids were obedient, dressed in clothes, and had a roof over their head - much more than my grandparents had given my parents.
(Part 2 will come later....thank you for reading.)