What Growing Up in a Cult Taught Me About Parenting
“College is overrated. You don’t have to go” my dad said to me.
“L. Ron Hubbard, (founder of Scientology) says that in ancient Rome, by the age of 15, men were married, starting families and already working a trade. This modern system with so many years of schooling and college before ever doing anything holds people back,” he added.
I wasn’t totally surprised to hear this sentiment from my dad. We were talking about what I should do next with my life. I was 15, attending a private school that used Scientology study technology, but claimed to be secular. I was on a “work/study” program, working half of the day to pay for my own tuition, which meant slower progress as a student. However, I had grown tired of this arrangement, was unhappy with the people I worked for and wanted a change. I didn’t want to graduate from high school years late.
“What I think you should do is study Scientology full time at the local organization,” my dad suggested. “You should train to become an auditor (a professional Scientology counselor.) This will give you more preparation and life skills than any school or college education in the world.”
There was no insistence to just go to a regular public school like other children.
My own dad was encouraging me to drop out of school to study the religion that ruled our lives; the religion he loved so dearly.
And what did I love? Him. He was my big, strong, one and only dad. I loved him as dearly as he loved the cult. This man didn’t care what anybody thought about him, he was unapologetically himself. So of course, everybody loved him. His friends sought out his council when making life decisions. Eddie King, a former professional football player, was an opinion leader in every circle that he was a part of. Now a successful real estate investor, he was smart, funny, handsome and bigger than life. “Captain E,” they called him.
His fatherly advice came from such a place of authority that it was hard to ever have a differing idea. Eddie was well versed in the skill of being right.
So, where do you think I wound up? Yep, at the local Scientology organization training every day. In that environment, I was easy prey for the cult recruiters who manipulated me into giving up my life and working full time for Scientology. Missing out on a normal adolescence, I was there for nearly 14 years. Eventually, I left when I was pregnant with my first son, overcoming huge obstacles to do so. It took a few more years to untangle my beliefs and arrive at a place where I no longer considered myself a Scientologist, and thereby lost all of my family. Peeling away the layers of false ideas like an onion, undoing the indoctrination of a high-control group, takes time and distance.
Now, I am a mother to two boys of 14 and 8.
I know my upbringing affects how I parent them as I ensure they do not have to experience what I went through.
One big takeaway for me is:
Let children think for themselves.
Respect that they are whole people with their own dreams and values. Kids need a chance to uncover their own individuality and not feel obliged to follow a preordained family footprint. Pushing a heavy agenda or system of unquestioned beliefs on children is, in my opinion, harmful.
When my boys ask me about god, religion, past lives, or even politics, I let them know that I don’t have all the answers. Because that is the truth. Does anybody have all the answers?
No matter where the conversation goes, I always ask them:
“What do YOU think?”
The asking of this question is almost more important than the answer. It’s an opportunity for my children to wonder, ‘what do I think?’ It acknowledges that they have the freedom to have their own thoughts and feelings. (Pro Tip: “What do YOU think?” is also a great response for questions about Santa Claus and the tooth fairy.)
Throughout my childhood, I was taught that one man and one ideology was the source for all knowledge from: how to be a better person, how to handle relationships, how to run organizations, how to wash a car, how to cut flowers, or how to handle finances. You name it, L. Ron Hubbard wrote about it and his word was the final word on the matter.
I want my kids to make up their own minds and to learn for themselves. I want them to read books by as many authors as they like. I want them to take the pieces of knowledge they agree with, that light up their soul, and hold onto those. I want them to take the pieces of knowledge that they don’t agree with and let them go.
I don’t blame my dad for how things turned out but I recognize his deep influence, the same deep influence that many parents have.
As the captain of our family ship, he blindly sailed us through the sea of deception and lies: the cult. Despite his unwillingness to entertain any ideas of what it might be like on land, I wanted to know! When I was finally brave enough to jump into my lifeboat, by myself, alone and scared, I rowed past the imaginary sharks and discovered a beautiful world.
Parenting is challenging and no matter what I will get things wrong. But I promise to do my best to prevent my children from having to strip away layers upon layers of falsities to find out who they are and what they believe.
Let the kids be the authors of their own books to live by. Let children think for themselves.
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