Why What Happened in the Bill Gothard Movement Matters Part 2 (And How Becoming a Midwife Temporarily Saved Me From It)

Since I wrote Part 1, I’ve been a little surprised at the number of visitors to my little blog.  There are many other websites that provide a more wide spread and comprehensive forum for ATI survivors to share their journeys.  What seems to have struck a chord was how much the doctrine that came through Bill Gothard’s Basic and Advanced Seminars and the ATI curriculum spread and affected those who were not an actual part of the movement, like myself.
The homeschool movement itself has been a huge current into which many branches have fallen and affected those of us who were swimming in the river.  While homeschooling itself was just an educational choice, those who chose it were often more “extreme-conservative” in their lifestyle choices, and that very much flavored the whole stream for a very long time.  IBLP and ATI were two of the biggest branches that were log-jamming the whole thing.

This is why at homeschool book fairs it became common to see a large majority of young people and their parents dressed in jumpers and button down oxford shirts. This might be because they were ATI , or it might be because they were influenced by the general current philosophy that flavored the stream that Christian home education, traditional roles in the home and more traditional dress (women wearing skirts and dresses exclusively) were a package deal.  Booths at these fairs might include a large one from ATI, Vision Forum, Above Rubies, and multiple other small ones with everything from dress patterns, to coming of age and courtship books, to cookbooks, that fit into the conservative healthy lifestyle.  Even the images and illustrations in so much of the Christian curriculum on display (Rod and Staff, Christian Liberty Press) would show women dressed very conservatively, children obediently smiling, and everyone in traditional roles - to the point that these things were all melded in our minds as indistinguishable.
So, back to my story, which is really the only one in which I can to speak with any kind of authority, and why I am telling it.  My motive in sharing it is that it may help others on their own road of sorting and healing. 

 My family and I jumped into that off-mainstream-road into the homeschooling-stream in 1981, when I was 11 years old.  It was not the typical diving board. I had been doing fairly well going to public school in our small town, but then when I hit 5th grade I had a slightly imbalanced male teacher who would occasionally get verbally and sometimes even physically abusive with the kids in the class, besides not doing a very good job of teaching.  My mom was furious, couldn’t get support from the other parents to get him removed, and finally decided it was easier just to take me out.  She didn’t know anyone who was currently homeschooling, but had read about it in an article sent to her by her sister about the humanism coming into public schools (mainly the teaching of evolution) and how to help your kids navigate it.  In the final paragraph there was a brief mention of home schooling as an option.
(You will notice I keep mentioning my mom but not my dad.  My dad was a dysfunctional alcoholic mostly absent parent who had very little influence over me at this point. What I didn’t realize about my mother at the time was that along with an on-going battle with depression she also had borderline personality disorder.  This causes a person to see situations and people as either all bad or all good, nothing in between.  Hence her quick jump to all-bad public school= we must homeschool. )

My mom latched on to that idea, ordered some Abeka books from Christian Liberty Academy (because that was one of the few companies providing curriculum at the time- Bill Gothard had not started ATI yet), and bam, we were homeschoolers.  My only sibling was a brother, six years younger and autistic, who had only gone to a church kindergarten, so she started him in first grade.
A key part of my story is that at this point my family was not ultra conservative nor legalistic. In fact we were enjoying some positive fruits of freedom from the Jesus movement that surged throughout the 70s and influenced the way we lived as Christians.  We went to a healthy non-demoninational evangelical church, attended women’s Aglow meetings, listened to enthusiastic bearded guitar playing Christian artists like Don Francisco, came up to Dallas to hear speakers at Christ for the Nations, and read the Last Days Ministry newsletter from Keith Green. Other than the fact that my mom was strict about TV and kept me on a steady diet of PBS shows like Mr. Rodgers and Sesame Street instead of letting me watch the Dukes of Hazard, Happy Days and Saturday morning cartoons, I was kind of a normal late70s early 80s kid who dressed and ate and watched and read somewhat consistently with my time period in America. 

And then homeschooling changed all that.  When we jumped into the stream my mom picked up various bits of flotsam that she adapted to her fancy.  We weren’t nearly as specifically legalistic as the ATI family mold, but my mom soon developed her own quirky version as we floated along.
Clothing, for example.  We didn’t go all exclusive dresses for gals, and I never heard the term “eye trap,” but it was decided that pants with zippers were “men’s clothing.”  By the time I was 13 (1982) I had to find pants and jeans without zippers.  Anybody want to guess how hard that was?  Also the pants were carefully scrutinized not to be too tight (Mom’s definition: showing any curve from my seat down the back of my leg), so I was usually forced to buy at least a size bigger than necessary.  Swimsuits usually had to be specially made for me and resembled more of a mini dress. 
Food, for another thing.  My mother read the book Sugar Blues by William Duffy (published 1975) around the time she was pulling me out of public school.  It was actually quite ground breaking and gave her some excellent dietary keys to helping my brother’s hyperactivity that were way ahead of the curve.  Unfortunately, not eating sugar and white flour quickly became, not just a healthy lifestyle choice, but one more sign that we were more spiritual that the people still eating sugar because our bodies were temples of the Holy Spirit and we were keeping ours cleaner than theirs.
These were relatively minor -although not at all minor in my teenaged mind- I didn’t want to dress provocatively, just be like everyone else- wear jeans and eat candy bars- uh huh, gotcha! - that was exactly what I was NOT supposed to want, you know. But minor compared to the stronger previously mentioned mandates in Part 1 that quickly crept in and instructed me not to have dreams for myself beyond getting married and having kids.  No jobs. No dating. No college.  No goals. 

(What do you think?  Was the individualized legalism my mother developed for me any less quirky and random than the laws developed for the ATI students?  I thought this post was one of the best I have ever read at pointing out the inconsistencies, and it helped me more clearly see the ones in my story as well: 


Did your family develop random extra-Biblical or inconsistent legalistic rules for you to follow that affected you?)

This is where I would like to make another important point.  Remember I mentioned that my mother had chronic struggles with depression and had borderline personality disorder.  It wasn’t until much, much later in my adult years that I realized she picked both lifestyle and doctrine that matched her dysfunction. 
It was much easier for her to stay home with me that go out and take me to school and deal with people.  As a young person she had felt traumatized when her family expected her to go to college and get a job, and had suffered emotional breakdowns as a result.  In her mind, when a Christian doctrine came along that said that shouldn’t have been expected of her to go to work and go to college in the first place, it totally justified her reaction- and she was ready to pass that all on to me.

Her borderline personality did well with the “us and them” mentality that existed between homeschoolers and public schoolers in the 1980s, and well into the 90s.  In general, Christian homeschoolers espoused that if you were a real Christian who cared about your kids getting raised right and turning out right, you had to homeschool, because public school would absolutely ruin your kids and destroy all the traditional values you worked so hard to put into them.  Christians who had their kids in public school generally thought the homeschooling parents were weird and overprotective and their kids would turn out to be un-socialized misfits.  Needless to say, their kids didn’t hang out together much.  This was a mentality greatly fostered in ATI as well, I noticed- you either were, or you weren't, in or out, a good ATI Christian or a not that great worldly one.
As I mentioned in part 1, I think the majority of Christian parents choose homeschooling for the right reasons.  But there was a significant minority of parents who choose homeschooling, and perhaps also ATI, because it fit in with an already present co-dependent or dysfunctional lifestyles or unhealthy emotional tendencies.  I think depending on the day, my mother could have been in either category. 

However as I got older, it was more in the dysfunctional category.  I was not allowed to have opinions that differed from hers without being labeled rebellious. This came both from the growing submission to parents teaching in the stream and her BPD which interprets all disagreement as betrayal. 
My father’s drinking worsened, and he began to get more and more violent, sometimes coming home in a drunken rage and throwing knives around in the kitchen.  (He had already been unfaithful many times.)  My mother, worried about our safety, took my brother and me and moved out when I was 14, hoping it would cause my dad to get help.  He didn’t. The divorce was final two years later.  (For the record, I’m glad whatever she was reading at the time didn’t tell her to stay and submit to that.) However we were never allowed to talk about what happened in front of other people– I’m not sure how much of that was shame, how much was control, or how much of that reminded my mother we weren’t the perfect Christian family she still somehow tried to keep up the appearances of.

In the meantime, we kept homeschooling.  By the age of 15 I tested out of all my curriculum and received an Alpha Omega high school diploma of completion.
So now what?  I was interested in midwifery, but deemed (rightly) too young to start an apprenticeship. I started helping a lady in my church clean houses for money.  (I brought the money home to the family.)That job was deemed acceptable since it was in homes.  Then I got a temporary office job with a doctor in my church.  (I brought the money home to the family.) That job was deemed acceptable because it was with someone from the church.  Then I got a job at a grocery store. (I brought the money home to the family.) That job was deemed acceptable because God gave it to me.

Because I was simply grateful to be let out of the house, I didn’t realize that I was experiencing evidence that exceptions could be made to “women shouldn’t work outside the home” rule when it was convenient to do so.  As with many laws made by man, the ones in my home could also be reinterpreted by man when there was a necessary end to a certain means.  (I’ve seen the same pattern in some of the testimonies from those recovering from ATI, particularly those who worked at headquarters.) My mother did not choose to reinterpret it for herself however.  She stayed home and homeschooled my brother.
The dating one was not reinterpreted though.  That one was unchangeable.  And I thoroughly internalized that one, and kept it as one of the Ten Commandments, believing that it would ensure me the happy marriage of my dreams, and not a broken one like my parents had.  My mother had nothing to worry about on that count.

When I was 18, I was allowed to start a midwifery apprenticeship.  This involved moving out of my mother’s home into the birthing center where I was working.  This was deemed acceptable because it was in a house instead of a college campus, the owner was a Christian, and my mother would rent a house right down the road where I would go on weekends.
*Insert Snoopy hyper happy dance here.*

I have to say it again:  Midwifery was one of the absolute best things that ever happened to me.  It was like getting on jet skis after spending my whole life floating on driftwood wherever the current took me.   My training finally gave me a purpose and (shhh!)a goal to achieve. But that was okay because I was called by God to be a midwife (actually true) and midwifery was deemed intrinsically a godly calling and appropriate for stay at home girls.  Whatever.  It was 1988, and I was brought into a place that had not been influenced by the teachings of Bill Gothard or ATI, into a profession where independent adult decision making skills by women (the midwives) were of paramount importance.  Although as an apprentice I attended the births of homeschoolers, and even some ATI families, I also attended births of every ethnicity , Christian denomination, religion and demographic present in the DFW area at that ime.  I rubbed shoulders with a lot of very strong independent opinionated women in an environment where those traits were defined as good and not bad.  It was a true 1980s sub-culture.

Not only that, but midwives had to study and research and think for themselves on intimate and controversial topics, and then pass that information on to clients for them to make informed decisions- that might differ from mine-but that was okay too.
But for that year and a half, from 1988-1990, I thrived.
In conclusion, becoming a midwife was the antidote to almost every lie I had been told about what I couldn’t and shouldn’t do up to that point.  There would be other lies later, so strong that even being an independent thinking midwife wouldn't be enough inoculation to save me from believing them.

To be (further) continued…

(Sorry about dragging it out, but hey, I'm a busy working midwife and homeschooling mom, I can only write so much at once.  Stay tuned, if interested. And please. Comment and tell me your story too.)


  1. Thanks again for sharing your journey. After reading the article you linked, I'm left wondering how my parents thought any of the IBLP stuff was ok. I know they didn't embrace all of it, but how did they not see that the guy was full of nutty? I am thankful that they didn't go for more random legalism than they did. Most of it made sense with their worldview. My mom believed that a certain level of rock and roll was wrong. If it was "too rocky" she didn't like it, and she loved Gothard telling her there was a good reason for that. And there were so many hiding places for demons and/or New Age (which was really demons dressed in rainbows) in pop culture. Rainbow Brite, He-Man, Smurfs, Dungeons and Dragons, various Disney movies, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars. They continue to be consistent about getting rid of anything with a passing reference to magic, witches, or anything paranormal. (True story, my mom recently threw away the wild cards from a Crazy Eights card game because they had the word "magic" on them.) And if we couldn't be sure whether there might be demons/New Age to fear? Then it was time to apply Philippians 4:8. And if you don't think the same things are pure, right, lovely, etc., as your parents, then you are wrong.

  2. I always forget that we basically had identical childhoods. It's sort of scary. I could have written paragraphs 5, 7, 9-11 (for example) without changing more than a couple of words. Of course we did go to a (really unpleasant) IBYC seminar when I was 13-14, and I had all the Bill Gothard books (as well as all the Christian Liberty/Abeka ones of course), so there was some influence; but as with your family, mine revelled in its eclecticism and isolationism which was of course just further proof that we were on the one true path—anyway. I'm still wordless about all this...except to say that BPD can be treated, and doesn't have to damage loved ones as well as oneself. It's too bad that our families were so entrenched in their crazy that none of them ever got help. Stopping here before I start to use really bad words and make Baby Jesus cry—much, much love to you.

  3. Okay I'm sorry I keep leaving comments but I keep rereading as I feel strong enough and then I did go to the Homeschoolers Anonymous post and started cough-laughing as soon as I got to: "We all know that an umbrella is the best possible analogy because their thin, flammable fabric is the perfect substance with which to stop fiery darts." HILARIOUS and so painfully familiar and much needed, you have no IDEA how much good these two posts of yours are doing me....

  4. Loving your Blog Roxanne! I also have one. I'm going to read the whole thing.... Blessings to you.

  5. Excepting your father being an alcoholic, and the slight difference in birth years (4)...our stories are quite similar. Thank you for sharing your story.

    Out of curiosity, did you train at Helen Jolly's birth center in Grand Prairie?

  6. I still struggle with figuring out how to be a Christian, years after leaving a church that was influenced by a lot of what you're talking about.
    I want so much to be better than that in my own dealings with others. In my country, people look to me to see what Christianity is all about, and it scares me to recognize pieces of what you are saying in my background and in myself.


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