Sin of the (Dorm) Parents

Exodus 34:7  “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

In Fall of 2001 issue of Simroots a couple who worked as dorm parents for many years at Kent Academy wrote an open letter to the KA “Kids.” Here is an excerpt from that letter:

“Among the many lessons that you can learn as an adult from your childhood experiences, one of the most important is this: What I am today in large measure is the cumulative result of the experiences I had as a child-most especially the experiences I had in my own home and family.”

They went on to “grade” the parenting skills of families they knew on the mission field.

  • A+ goes to wise, godly and proactive, intelligent parenting
  • B goes to above average families
  • C is for parents who didn’t seem to understand the impact of their parenting, and didn’t put much thoughtful effort into it
  • D is for barely passable parenting
  • F is for thoroughly dysfunctional failures

The letter ends by telling the KA Kids that whatever our childhood experiences were, we are to proactively seek to give our own children an A+ home.  They say that “no work or ministry in which you may be involved can be compared to this responsibility.” 

The point that this couple seems to be missing here is that they were in the parent role for many of us, during the good part of our formative years.  Since this woman was primarily involved in taking care of us in the girls dorm, perhaps she wouldn’t mind being graded by her own system.  She was probably the strictest enforcer of policies that would be considered abusive by the standards SIM uses today, because they resulted  in “actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power.”  One example is that girls were not allowed to use the bathroom at all during rest hour or after lights out at night.  We would actually be stopped in the hall and sent back to our room, and you can imagine the consequences.  This woman who is handing out advice on parenting gave no quarter to children who were unable to meet the standards set for dorm and dining hall, and for my part I was terrified of her.  I give her somewhere in between a D and an F. 

In the boy’s dorm, each set of roommates would collect points during the week for having a clean room.  Rooms had to be cleaned in the mornings, and there was also a surprise check sometime during the week.  This is normal, right?  What isn’t normal is that the boys in the room with the least points would be scheduled to be strapped on Saturday afternoon.  Points were tallied up early in the day, so that the boys would spend all of Saturday morning anticipating their punishment.  We are talking about boys as young as 6 and 7 years old.  If you were a messy type, or happened to be rooming with someone messy, you might get strapped on Saturday afternoons on a regular basis.  I doubt there was ever a perfect room, so it’s safe to say that every boy experienced this punishment at least once or twice during the years it was in effect.  The worst part of this system, if I am understanding it correctly, is that since there would always be a room with the least number of points, someone always got strapped.  Was this to teach the boys to clean their rooms, or to fill a need of the dorm parents to punish? What kind of a grade would we give parents who treated their children this way?  I would give them an F.

Parenting my own children has been one of the most difficult things I have done, since I often felt like I had no standard to use as a guide.  I have struggled with unexplainable anger, confusion, irrational fears of separation and guilt as a parent.  And to recap the letter’s message, “what I am today in large measure is the cumulative result of the experiences I had as a child-most especially the experiences I had in my own home and family.”  I will change that to read the experiences I had at Kent Academy.

Why would God punish children for the sin of their parents, as the scripture above says?  This hardly seems fair.  And yet it is true that people who are abused often abuse others, even their own children.  Or perhaps it is an acknowledgement of the anger, fear and grief that abused children will experience throughout their lives, and then maybe pass on to their children. 

How will SIM take responsibility for their role as a parent to MKs?

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7 thoughts on “Sin of the (Dorm) Parents

  1. Hi – these stories are truly sad. What I wanted to say though that for me, I never thought the mattresses were put out for humiliation. I always thought it was so they dried in the sunshine. I don’t recall that we as the other students pointed and laughed. Hope that makes up for something.

  2. At the very least, strong words are applicable! Anger against sin is what wins the war. Bringing all to the Light is how abuses are stopped. I know that your insides are torn up over this, Lost, I know because I used to help someone take their mattress out to dry and we both got abused for its stigma. This is not a joke and will not be treated lightly! Our God is sharing that rage, Mamou, and we will soon see how Perfection works its ways.

  3. My heart aches for your story, ‘lost’. I want to throw up. I want to rage at the system that created such trauma for a sweet, innocent little girl. Telling your story is a gift to all of us who survived missionary boarding schools. We know with even more certainty that what happened to each of us was not an isolated incident – it has been repeated over and over to innocent young children and teenagers who grew up in these boarding schools.

    I used the word ‘rage’ to describe my reaction to your story. I know that is a strong word that will discredit me in the eyes of many Christians. Yet we have the example of outrage expressed by Jesus when he raged against the institutional religious system of his day by turning over tables in the synagogue. His statement, “it would be better to hang a millstone around any persons neck who harms little children” (not exact language) is strongly worded and expresses anger at child abusers.

    Our anger at what was done in the boarding school to us as vulnerable, good children can be channeled to promote change. It is hard work to insist that the silence be broken around the suffering of the children of the mission communities, to require the institutions to assist survivors in practical ways such as monetarily as they seek help to overcome the aftermath of sustained childhood trauma.

  4. @ lost ‘n lonely………I am very sorry that you had to go through this and how, in turn, it affected you and your family. Sometimes the cruelty from other children was even more difficult to bear. How nice it would have been to have had an understanding dormparent who would be able to comfort as they should have. There are many stories of abuse and we are hear to listen and to support each other.

    Thank you for sharing!

  5. I am so sorry that you went through that, lost ‘n lonely! There is so much in your story that I can relate to. Don’t believe the feelings of failure and guilt, they are a lie. You are not the one who should be feeling shame and guilt, and you are loved very much.

  6. About Bed Wetting –

    What I DO KNOW is that what all KA Staff did about it was NOT WORKING!!!!
    When something is NOT WORKING, does not bring about the desired results; does it not require RE-EVALUATION and a NEW PLAN versus just keeping on keeping on with the old plan???

    I was a bed wetter clear into fourth grade
    (I have no idea why I was a bed wetter. My own children potty trained day and night easily by the early age two range)

    I was allowed NOTHING TO DRINK from approximately 3:30 in the afternoon until breakfast the next day. No glass of milk was ever allowed to be placed at my table spot for supper. All my evening meals were “dry” unless there was fluid within the food served

    Every day when I got out of school in the afternoon I had to:
    a) Right away walk over to the dining hall
    b) Go inside through all the empty tables and chairs to the big scary back kitchen through the “HEAVY BIG SCARY DOORS” all by myself (unless I was lucky enough to run into another bed-wetter going in at the same time as I was)
    c) find a staff member or one of the black African men workers
    (both of these were scary for me and it took great amounts of courage, ages 5 – 9)
    (If there was no one in the first area through the doors, I stood there waiting and waiting and waiting OR I had to enter into the HUGE BACK ACTUAL WORKING KITCHEN AREA with all the BLACK WORKERS and walk around until I found someone who would stop what they were doing and get me my glass of milk)
    (But I soon found out that I was “punished/scolded” if I DID NOT GO, so I had NO CHOICE but to put on my best courage and go do it every day faithfully. I would have rather had a drink of water from the fountain at school then go over there into the scary big back kitchen and have to talk to the scary Staff members or Black African workers)
    d) ask for my “glass of milk”
    e) drink it down on the spot quickly while they waited (sometimes it was warm / sometimes it was cold / sometimes it was old / sometimes it was powdered milk)
    f) often reminded “Now nothing else to drink for the rest of the day!”

    Even peers harassed me. Example, they would watch me while I was brushing my teeth before bed and accuse me of “swallowing water” when I was rinsing and that they were going to “tell on me”. So I got very good at being explicit about my spitting and spitting and spitting to ensure that no one could say I was swallowing at the end of my teeth-brushing before going to bed at night

    At night after I went to bed, when the “big kids” came back from study hall, it was one of their jobs before they went to bed to go down to the little kids rooms they were in charge of and wake up anyone who had a bed-wetting problem and take them to the bathroom. I would sit in the stall trying and trying to go. Sometimes I could go and sometimes nothing would come out. Depending on the “big girl” they would just send me back to bed or harass me longer to try to get me to go

    Well – NONE of this worked! For the better part of the time I wet my bed each and every night somewhere between when the older girls got me back up to try to go and morning

    The typical morning routine of the peers with “the whole room stinks” and “nose holding” to going down to get new sheets and making my whole bed each day. I had a rubber red sheet over the center of my bed. I often felt quite guilty when I looked out and saw little boys lugging their mattresses outside all by themselves from the boys dorm for wetting their beds. As a girl I was not required to heap this humiliation upon myself in this added way. I knew it was not fair that the boys had to do this and us girls did not . . .

    CONSEQUENCES:: I DO NOT HAVE A THIRST CENTER THAT IS EASILY ACTIVATED STILL TO THIS DAY!!

    Day-in and day-out, for the majority part, I ONLY drink when I specifically remember to drink by self directed thoughts: “You SHOULD drink something … ” versus that thirst stimulates me to think of drinking. This is still ongoing in my life. I rarely remember to drink fluids with my meals. It takes a lot to trigger me to actually make the extra effort to go and drink something

    In addition this issue affected my parenting with my children when they were little (and relationship with my husband) about “bedtime drinks” for a long while – until I got a grip of understanding about what was going on in my emotions and thinking. Every time my kids wanted another drink I ALWAYS got it for them. This went on multiple times in the evening at bedtime – up/down and back to bed over and over. My husband was fried with me!! Eventually, through a conversation with my mother, we finally chased the issue down. I came to the understanding that my children had had fluids with their evening meal. They took drinks when ever they wanted all evening. They were not dehydrated and this was a “ploy” by them that I needed to deal with and I was making it an emotional issue from my own past

    I sure would have enjoyed being loved and accepted in-spite of being a bed wetter rather than humiliated and made to feel a failure and guilty and rejected and shamed and lonely by all involved

  7. @ Liz……….don’t forget that since we weren’t allowed out of the bed and someone happened to wet the bed, his or her mattress was put on display for all to see the very next morning…the humiliation.

    I could go on and on about abuse but what really bothers me right now is the often biased view of SimRoots. It’s always the articles telling the MK’s to “move on” or the articles about the “wonderful dormparents, etc that get published. I know of parents that wanted to express how it felt for them to send their children away to KA….a parents’ perspective………an apology to their children. Do you know that the parents were never able to get the article published in SimRoots?!?! It kept coming back from editing………….it DID NOT need editing. They finally gave up……….very sad in my opinion because I am sure their children, along with many others, would have appreciated knowing how difficult it was for parents.

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