I was twenty-two and sitting on my couch the first time I realized I had a problem doing things without permission. I desperately wanted to leave, just for a minute, but I didn’t think I was allowed to leave my daughter with her dad and do something as selfish as go for a drive while she was still awake. I didn’t realize how damaging this was until the first time it turned into a fight, me screaming that I never got to leave the house because he never let me, and him looking baffled about why I didn’t just go.
It is possible that people will disagree with me, but I think a huge problem with growing up in the church is the amount of control that you allow others to have over you. You’re given, from a very young age, a long list of people that you have to answer to. For me this manifested itself most as I became a teen. There was always someone there I had to check my actions with. It didn’t end when I left my house, it continued on into every social interaction. Sunday school teachers, youth pastors, senior pastors, other adults in the church. They were all there to tell you what you were doing wrong, how to avoid the appearance of being a sinner. All of them had a specific set of rules they wanted me to be live by, and all of them were more than eager to tell me when I wasn’t following them properly.
Instead of testing my boundaries, and figuring out what I could say and do when I was on my own, I started asking first. Constantly.
When I left home and went to college, the need to ask permission followed me. I went to a Christian university that had extremely strict rules. There was a curfew, boys weren’t allowed in the dorms; I couldn’t leave for the night without asking the resident director and signing out. Every step was monitored. Every slip up was punished. I was an adult living with more rules than I had the previous year as a high schooler. It was impossible to feel any sort of autonomy for my actions or decisions, because all of them first had to be checked with authority. Even after getting married and having my daughter, I had to ask permission to skip chapel to nurse her in between classes (I was denied my request, by the way.)
I came out of this with no ability to decide things for myself. Every step of my life, every choice, had to be run by friends or family. It was incredibly unhealthy, and I was incredibly discontent and anxious.
This year I will turn thirty. I left my parents’ home when I was seventeen, and this is the first year that I’ve come to fully realize my ability to do things because I want to, and because I think they are best for me, instead of asking someone to allow me to move forward with my life.
I was recently listening to a friend of mine fretting over how to tell her parents that she was moving in with her boyfriend. She’s in her mid-twenties, she supports herself financially, and yet here she sat worried her parents would tell her she couldn’t live where she wanted to live. It doesn’t matter if her parents disapprove, they don’t get to make the decisions for her anymore. My parents don’t get to make decisions for me anymore. I can ask for their advice, but I get to disagree, and I don’t have to do things their way. This is a lesson I should have learned years ago. It’s a truth more adults need to grab onto and live by. It’s the only way to live honestly, and the only way to have a good relationship with those around you.
Here is a short list of things I’ve been afraid to tell my parents because of my fear that they would tell me no (aka, here is a short list of lies I’ve lived in order to avoid having to make my own decisions and stand up for myself as an adult):
-That I was living with my boyfriend. (Seriously, I paid rent for six months on a place I never even unpacked at when I was around the age of 19. No joke, I never even put my mattress on the floor, it just leaned up against the wall. Super giant waste of cash.)
-That I wanted to drop out of college.
-That I was going to spend the weekend in a hotel just to get a break.
-That I wanted to leave my husband.
-That I made a large, frivolous purchase.
-That I was leaving town for the weekend on a last minute trip to Portland.
-That I planned on traveling overseas.
Now, lest you think my parents are tyrants, I will tell you that they are perfectly reasonable people with perfectly reasonable reactions. They may tell me that they don’t like the choices I’m making, but they wouldn’t tell me I couldn’t make them. It isn’t their fault that I still feel the need to ask them for their blessing in every aspect of my life. That blame rests firmly on my shoulders for not immediately seeking therapy when I first realized I was experiencing this issue.
There isn’t a cut and dry moral here. If you are having trouble speaking up for your self, and asserting your agency, then figure out why, and get help if you need to. It’s an important step to take in order to live a whole life. If you have kids, make sure you help them understand that they have the ability to think and grow and be wonderful little humans without asking permission. Sure, there has to be rules, but maybe not so many involving belief and knowledge.
I don’t have answers for everyone, but I do have my own experiences. Maybe we share those, and maybe we can help each other grow and become stronger.