What is it like being raised by an extremely religious parent?

When the extent of control in the name of 'faith' goes too far...

FamilyMental health and wellbeing
By VoiceBox ·

Lillian (not her real name)

A young writer from London.

My experience being raised by an extremely religious parent

In my experience, growing up with an extremely religious parent has been far from a heavenly ordeal. Getting baptized at 6, (largely because I’d be allowed to have a sip of wine at communion), I was unaware that I’d soon be needing far more than a sip of wine, if I wanted to get through a day in my house. To be honest, as my mum’s been a born-again Christian for over 30 years, thinking it was normal for us to travel to Bristol every Sunday at 6 am for a 7 hour service, it was inevitable that religion would have a bearing on my life in one way or another, since the only thing stronger than her iron fist, is her ‘faith’.

I put faith in quotation marks, because I’ve come to realise that this word can be interchangeable with two main things... control and condoning. As a 5-year-old in primary school, praying about who ‘the Lord’ wanted me to be friends with, or telling my best friend that we couldn’t play anymore because, ‘Jesus said it was for the best’ wasn’t a question. You just don’t dispute it, especially when the wooden spoon is ready and waiting to be whipped out and applied liberally on your backside, at any hint of ‘disobedience’. Of course, my mum would insist that ‘violence’ or ‘abuse’ couldn’t have possibly been the name for it, since the bible said it was okay, after all, she was happy to quote Proverbs 13’s famous ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ to my headmistress, when we were called in. The bible seemed to excuse a lot of things, so although the rod was never spared, I did become spoiled, but not in the brattish sense.

My mum’s unwavering beliefs meant that navigating life, especially throughout secondary education, was nothing less than a baptism of fire. When interaction with your peers is crucial to establishing friendships, never being allowed out the house isn’t great for your social standing. Since my mum deemed anywhere that wasn’t church or my bedroom ‘the devil’s playground’, going to a sleepover, chilling after school, or generally being anywhere unsupervised was out of the question, and parties? Come on, let’s be sensible now. Although, I did find that just talking to everyone at school about the situation was the best thing I could’ve done. I felt freedom in not having to make up excuses, and laughing about how ridiculous my life was, made it bearable.

The extent of control was not limited to where I could and couldn’t go, though. Every shopping trip would end in tears without fail, after walking round the shopping centre with my mum calling me a prostitute, whore or slut, because I’d picked up a v-neck top, or a bra with a pattern. I’m still reminded daily, with accompanying bible verses of course, that if I got raped it would be my fault for enticing the men and making them ‘fall’, and if I’m not a glowing example of chastity, I’m sending my friends to hell.

The pressure was unfathomable, and so I did ‘rebel’ at points, if you consider ‘rebellion’ as trying to make an email address before I turned 15 and having drugstore foundation hidden in my room (since God apparently said I’d be cursed for wearing makeup). But as you can’t exactly lay a 16 year old across your knee, a whole new range of punishments were introduced, whether this was receiving a barrage of texts telling me how close to death I was, having my phone removed for 6 months, or having my clothes and shoes cut up... you name it.

The worst punishments of all though, weren’t the intentional ones. As an individual who has suffered with low self-esteem since I can remember, the emotional blackmail and biblically justified disrespect, being constantly barked at and told to ‘SHUTUP’ for saying ‘ungodly’ (logical) things, not only affected my relationships with others (not forgetting I’ll get disowned if I have a boyfriend), but has had detrimental effects on how I view/ed my own worth.

You’d think this would stop when I got to uni… think again. In my second year, I was told that if I didn’t move out of my uni house and continued living with non-baptised people, my mum would have nothing to do with my degree, and wouldn’t even attend my graduation, amidst my dad passing away that same year. Long story short, and many more upsetting stories later, in the period of homelessness and depression which followed, I was forced to put guilt aside and found that cutting her off for a period, was the best thing I ever did for myself.

It’s draining centering your life on gaining validation from one who causes you so much pain, and a blow to realize that you’ve been conditioned to be a lesser version of yourself. So, I’ll say to those in a similar situation, that while your parent/s might’ve stopped you from having a normal life, you mustn’t let them stop you from making it a good one.

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