Cult Kids (2/2)

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Actress Rose McGowan was born into the Children of God.

Continued from part 1

The American cult of Oneida, started in New York in the 1840s, engaged in “stirpiculture”, their name for “spiritual eugenics”. Each man in the group was married to each woman, and vice versa. Birth control was solely the responsibility of men (using coitus interruptus). The group did have intentional pregnancies between the most spiritual members; the leader sired half of these children.

Those kids were raised collectively as a group, and they lived together in a Children’s House building on the lawn of the mansion where their parents lived. Although gender equality was a stated goal of Oneida, women members were disproportionately assigned the chores that fell to women in the wider world: cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children.

Typical family relationships are different in a cult. There will always be a mission or holy calling that comes first, with child welfare and happiness coming second at best and often much farther behind. If a mother has sworn to put her God first and her husband second (or the reverse), her children can at best command third place in her affections.

What’s more, cults tend to be legalistic and rules driven. Obedience is required and punishment swift between the adults; of course they treat children the same. Childcare practices that are beginning to lose favor in the broader world continue to be practiced in isolated cults much longer. Spankings are commonplace, and more severe acts of physical violence are condoned and covered up. Children in cults are either unnaturally obedient (and therefore vulnerable to abuse), or getting hit regularly.

Two years before I realized I’d been raised in a cult led by my maternal grandmother, I had my child. I devoured every parenting book I could, and took three separate parenting classes in the first few months of his life. I knew, without understanding why, that I wanted something different for my son. As I learned about gentle and peaceful methods of parenting, I wept for the unfairly misused little girl I once was.

These gentle tactics are not as fast and easy as a spanking. They require empathy and imagination, to see things from a child’s perspective. Helping a child find the root cause of their misbehavior takes more time than threatening to ground them for a month. Gently working with a child to break a bad habit takes more patience than screaming at them each time they forget.

Cults favor bad parenting methods because they are fast, and because they place the blame for compliance failure on the children. With luck, those kids will grow up to require lots of emotional support from the cult, because they certainly aren’t getting it at home. By breaking family bonds, the cult becomes their family. And they rely on it too much to want to go.

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