Challenges

The best place to start reading in order to understand the ill effects of Botkin Syndrome begins with Hillary McFarland's book, Quivering Daughters.  It explains in great detail what it is like to grow up in such a home.

To my knowledge, many but not all young women have been prepared well academically. Within the Christian school movement through men like Donald Howard and within the homeschooling movement through people like the Moores and Rushdoony, just as Christians should set the standard of good ethics within the secular world, Christians should also strive to set the highest of academic standards through both of these alternatives to government schools. For many, this is the case, and those young women who received excellent training have an easier time acquiring job skills and have better opportunities when pursuing college and healthcare training as many of them have done quite successfully.

However, for all of these young women, because they were required to abdicate all significant problem-solving to another agent while in their families of origin, they lack skill and practice in critical thinking and planning which I believe is their most significant hurdle and greatest weakness. Those raised in more restrictive environments where daughters were sequestered have more significant problems than those who had liberty to interact with others both inside and outside of their subculture.

It is difficult, because society expects competence regarding what seems like common sense from young adults, so it is more difficult for the rest of society to identify and cope with what seems like an enigma. They must compensate for these gaps in their normal development while also dealing with the struggles inherent in leaving their religious groups, their homes, and their immediate families.

Those who were raised in homes where parents were more concerned about character than academics need more support logistically when they make their initial exodus from the lifestyle, but it does not appear to be anything that the young women I have interacted with cannot transcend in time. This brings up a concern that Kimberly Yuracko of Northwestern University School of Law emphasized in a California Law Review article in 2008, questioning whether Vision Forum’s restriction of opportunities for women according to their religious paradigm constituted a violation of the Federal Equal Protection Clause.

After reading comments from Kevin Swanson’s March 2009 presentations at the Men’s Leadership Summit (concerning homeschooling) which was sponsored by his own organization, the Christian Home Educators of Colorado, I became more concerned. Swanson suggested that the most important academic text a child needs is the Book of Psalms, that he personally fits in algebra instruction for his son while driving the car between speaking engagements, and that we shouldn’t be too concerned about the academic abilities of 12 year old homeschooled boys.

I am also reminded of R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s poorly stated comments in his book, “When You Rise Up” -- comments that I don’t think he meant directly but nonetheless infers that intelligence and good character are mutually exclusive traits. The discussion flows from his encouragement to the mother of a twelve year old who cannot read but is fantastic at domestic chores.  I suppose that Swanson’s March 6, 2009 presentation can be offered to Kimberly Yuracko as evidence that the growing bias against academics is an equal opportunity trend?

Particularly as a nurse and as a naturopath, I am deeply concerned for young women who have no means of support apart from their families and who are not offered health care coverage. Some families participate in the medical cost sharing programs that are popular with some within the homeschooling community, but many do not.

Owing to both cost and preference, some families pursue addressing the psychological cause of illness or Complementary and Alternative Medicine before seeking traditional allopathic diagnosis and treatment for their children. (Bill Gothard promotes both of these options and does encourage his followers to pursue them without equal stress upon the responsibility to provide adequate care, nor does he define what is responsible or adequate.) Again, I truly hope that this is the exception and not the rule for young women within this population, but there are young women who do not have medical access and some that are not permitted to seek care if their parents decide that it is not necessary. Some families require young women to pay for their own care if it is necessary.

Initial departure from the home can be a struggle, and young women often need to contact law enforcement in order to obtain their identification documents from their parents when they leave the home. Young women fear seeking this assistance from law enforcement for many reasons that include the fear of the potential triggering of a Child Protective Services investigation. Children have been taught from a young age that CPS targets homeschoolers and wants to remove them from their homes, so it is believed that this terrible tragedy would destroy their families. Obtaining help from friends can prove quite volatile, risky, and intimidating also. Once these young women leave, they must find someone who is willing to take them in and support them until they can do so for themselves. Many cannot drive and may not have identification records to obtain. I have a personal concern that with the popularity of home birthing using lay midwifery, some young women may not have birth records, as certain sectors within the subculture believe that such identification is intrusive.

They are also faced with the unique struggles faced by all children raised in high demand, manipulative environments as noted in Janja Lalich’s book “Take Back Your Life,” as well as the dissociative states, other psychological problems, and spiritual dilemmas faced by adults who exit abusive religious settings and relationships. They must work to build integrity, self-reliance, autonomy, and trust in themselves, that which they were taught to derive from the identity of the family. The International Cultic Studies Association offers an annual weekend retreat for children and adult children that have exited manipulative religious groups, but to date, I know of none from this belief system that have agreed to attend, even when others have offered to cover the cost of the modest tuition.

Recovery from any abusive setting requires that those seeking healing find a safe place and safe relationships within which to heal. Upon exiting, individuals need to grieve, morn, and make sense of their experience by thinking through it. The faculties of trust, intimacy, self-reliance, competency, identity and initiative all develop within the context of relationships with others, and healing of these abilities also takes place in the context of relationships. In order to fully heal and redevelop these abilities, they must connect with people in social settings, and the exit process generally isolates them from all of their previous situational supports.

Isolation proves to be one of the most difficult aspect of any chronic or significant trauma. For those raised within these paradigms, that presents different problems for those who were recruited as adults and have some standard of comparison of normalcy to recall. Children raised in totalist groups often suffer from greater degrees of learned helplessness, anxiety, and other symptoms in addition to the intimidation that all people feel when exiting groups, without the memory of appropriate self-confidence. Some young women express great distress and anxiety when relating to young men outside of their families. And they must deal with family estrangement and rejection which is significant when not combined with the other hurdles that they face.

The process is by no means impossible, but it takes great courage on the part of these young women to venture into new territory. During that process, this population of young women requires great support of many types, and few professionals are well versed in the specific dilemmas that are unique to exiting religious groups. When reconnecting with the Evangelical community, many also suffer rejection related to what Dr. Paul Martin called “revictimization,” because many Evangelicals deny that spiritual abuse exists or feel biased against it because the find the concept threatening and unpleasant.

For more specific accounts, please refer to Hillary McFarland’s blog and her book, Quivering Daughters.  The specific stories belong to the girls who have traversed these struggles, and they belong to them alone. But their stories will be told and heard in time when they are ready. They are accounts of great triumph and all are accounts of mighty courage. They are my heroines.




(Kimberly A. Yuracko, “Education off the Grid: Constitutional Constraints on Homeschooling” in California Law Review 96, no. 1 (Feb. 2008): 123-184.)




Revised Aug 2010