Growing Up Adventist: Parenting Styles

I sit here in psychology class tuning out the teacher. Not because I don’t care about what she is saying, or because it bores me, but because there are times in my adult life where I think I’m ok and BAM! A reminder of my cult upbringing.

The teacher is going over childhood development. I find this topic interesting, so at first I was paying attention. And then she started talking about parenting styles and it all went to shit.

These parenting styles are actually something I’ve read quite a bit about, even in Adventism. Here are the 3 main ones. The following descriptions are taken from my notes:

1. Authoritative parents tend to have children with the highest self esteem, self-reliance, and social competence.

There are rules, there are guidelines, but there are also open grounds for discussion.

2. Permissive parents tend to have children who are more aggressive and immature

give in to their children’s desires, make few demands, and rarely ever punish.

3. Authoritarian parents tend to have children with less social skills and less self esteem.

Authoritarian parents set the rules and expect obedience. No exceptions. Permissive parents kinda let their kids do whatever. Authoritative parents set limits, but allow the child to discuss these limits and boundaries. It’s the elusive middle ground I’ve never seen an Adventist find.

Many people, upon hearing that I grew up in a cult like environment, will naturally assume that I was parented with a very authoritarian style. But this wasn’t true for me, and it wasn’t true for a lot of Adventist children I knew.

See, the thing about cults and Adventism in particular is that, while there are similarities, every family is different. And you can’t always predict what that difference is.

I know one Adventist child who was parented very permissively. She got to wear jewelry and nail polish and read whatever she wanted.  I know of another Adventist child who practically couldn’t breathe around her super strict parents. Her parents would take her Barbie dolls and rip out the earrings, because jewelry was bad. She was not allowed to go on sleepovers for reasons I still don’t fully understand, and her mother hated me because she thought I was spoiled and at one point tried to forbid her daughter from playing with me. (This lasted like a day, because it didn’t work.)

So, even within Adventisms’s tiny little boxes, there are wild variations of parenting styles. This is probably true of many cults. There will be a lot of generalizations, but you can’t always rely on those generalizations.

My own parents swung like a pendulum wildly between authoritarian and permissive. Most of the time my reading material wasn’t policed, but sometimes my dad would see what I was reading and flip out. They had no problem if I wore necklaces, but they absolutely lost their shit when I told them I wanted my ears pierced.

In some ways this was constant bouncing back and forth was better, and in some ways it was worse. It was better because forbidden things could sometimes be ok. If my parents caught me with a Harry Potter book, they might not choose to throw it out. Remember, it was reading that led me out of Adventism in the first place, so the fact that I was allowed to read books sometimes was very important. If I had never been allowed to read those books, I would be a very different person than I am today.

In other ways, however, it was worse. I never knew what to expect. Some days things would be ok, other days they wouldn’t. It depended on my father’s mood, mostly, but also what book he’d been reading most recently. If my mother had been reading Child Guidance by Ellen White (I checked, their copy of the book is not well loved) I probably wasn’t going to get away with expressing my  opinion about my little brother’s habit of going into my room and breaking my toys while I was away at school. Other times, I could (and did) throw an absolute tantrum and not get punished.

(We will set aside, for now, the fact that my father threw tantrums at least twice as often as I did.)

I’m going to give my parents a little bit of credit here and assume that they were aiming for a middle ground, even if they didn’t always hit it. (Of course, they were big fans of James Dobson and Focus on the Family, so there’s that.)

However, the fact remains that this swinging back and forth affected me as an adult way more than they and I would like to admit. I am an absolute mess. To be fair, I don’t think parenting style was the main factor. But it would appear that it was a factor, if a small one.

I could have gone 2 ways from this upbringing. The first way I could have gone  was to go even further into the religion and the restrictions and say, “my parents were too permissive.” I could be a super conservative Adventist who doesn’t read fiction books or wear jewelry and would never even think of eating bacon.

Ok, I did go through a phase like that.

The other way I could have gone was the Rebellious way, saying “my parents were too strict.” I could drink constantly, pierce every part of my body, and read all the science fiction books I could get my hands on.

Ok, I did go through a phase like that.

In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that a lot of Ex Adventists go through both of these stages, possibly even at the same time.

You see, emerging from a cult is complicated. Being part of a cult is complicated. Seventh Day Adventists, even though they try to shove you into narrow boxes, also can’t all agree on exactly what those boxes are.

And sometimes these complicated feelings are going to slam into you in the middle of psych class when everyone else is taking notes and you’re busy writing Star Trek fan fiction to keep yourself from bursting into tears.




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