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“For protection, for provision, for the things I need…” are the words to a song that I taught children 15 years ago about the “Umbrella of Protection.”
The umbrella was over the dad, and if the dad was right with God, then there were no holes in the umbrella. If the mom was under the husband’s authority, then Satan couldn’t get to her. Or the kids.
But, at any time, the dad might get out from under God’s “protection,” and Satan could get him and the family. I say “Satan could get” with no humor. Satan was the enemy to be feared. If you didn’t do what your parents said, and do so cheerfully while going the extra mile, then you weren’t really obedient. Satan could attack you.
This “attack” could happen in many ways. Anything bad that happened (from a pet dying to getting stuck in traffic) was portrayed as an attack from Satan that you had done something to deserve (actual cause-and-effect or responsibility were never considered). Also, there was always the opposite possibility that Satan was attacking your life because you were doing something so wonderful that he just couldn’t stand idly by while you accomplished God’s will. Thus, if bad things happened, you were either properly “under authority” or “out from under authority.” Please don’t ask me what distinguished between the two—I have no idea.
As with most families in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI), in our family this umbrella concept meant that every time something happened that my parents saw as “bad” or that they didn’t agree with, I was told I had done something wrong. I had to confess, make myself right with God, and of course apologize to all people involved. The amount of second-guessing myself that this has created throughout my life cannot be put into words.
I was always confused at how the umbrella of authority worked for single moms. I saw some single moms live under the control of their brothers, brothers-in-law, uncles, and other male relatives. Divorce was also taught as very bad in God’s eyes, and I always wondered how that played out since my Dad was divorced. Were there holes in his umbrella of protection because he had sinned? Could Satan attack me because of my father’s sin? This fear was very real in my teenage years.
In my late teens, my parents’ anger and emotional abuse kept getting worse. I didn’t know how to respond to them, so I sought counseling from my pastor. Instead of encouraging me (at age 19) to move out of an abusive home, my pastor encouraged me to stay and find God for myself. While I did find God to be real and personal, I also began to realize that the authority concept was very flawed. Living in my parents’ home into my mid-20s, with no formal education past 8th to 10th grade, I was constantly told that I had no say over my life. My dad was to direct my future.
There was no graduating to my own umbrella, no trust that I was old enough to think for myself. My parents were still the ones to choose a husband for me. To our peers in the homeschool world, I was considered a child still—even though I was more than 20 years old and held the responsibility of several part-time jobs.
The only way for me to be seen as an adult was to get married (to Mr. Amazing, who would want to marry me without dating and with both sets of parents controlling the relationship to make sure nothing “improper” happened) and have children of my own. But getting married would only be the start. To be viewed as an equal by the other “adults,” getting pregnant and having my own child within the first 18 months of marriage was essential. I regularly watched teenager marry teenager (with no formal college, career, or job training, and with no savings) and soon after announce that they were having “a blessing.”
Somewhere between these people getting married and having their “blessing,” the status of adult was given to them. I still don’t understand how people thought that engaging in sex without birth control, while being unprepared to provide for a family, was behaving as an adult. Meanwhile, I was standing around waiting for Mr. Amazing to show up and could do nothing to hurry the process along.
My parents believed they were to control my life and make all the decisions for me until I married their choice. When I was 24, two traumatic events occurred: my expected move 1,500 miles away from home was canceled, and my car was wrecked in a hit-and-run accident. While I felt like my life was falling apart, my parents refused to let me go anywhere, drive anywhere, or have any friends pick me up. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car sobbing, begging my parents in the front seat to let me have a friend come get me. There are no words to describe the helpless, hopeless feeling of being trapped by your own parents at age 24.
Before you ask why I stayed in a controlling, manipulative house, you have to understand that leaving would be worse. I would then be labeled, abandoned, and shunned. Leaving would put a label on me that said, “I have chosen to ignore the godly advice (given as commands) of my parents and have given my life to Satan. I have chosen to turn my back on God.”
I had watched people shun my friends and my friends’ siblings, and we talked about the horrible things they must have done to deserve being called a rebel. Only when I was labeled as the rebellious “child” myself did I understand that the adult “child” may have done nothing wrong—it was the parents who were trying to control and live their adult children’s lives who were wrong.
To this day, the image of the umbrella still brings memories of the parental “right” to control their adult children and the feeling of complete helplessness of having every aspect of your life dictated without your say. The umbrella was literally held over my head.