One of the visitors to my blog asked me about living in polygamy. I am happy to answer her questions.
She asked, “What was it like for you to grow up in a home of polygamy? What are your thoughts on these practices?”
Although polygamy is illegal where I live, the authorities choose not to prosecute those who practice polygamy which means that in some segments of our society it is left unchecked. Because the practice is illegal, the children are forced to live a secretive lifestyle. My view is that any secretive lifestyle is harmful to a child. A child living in an environment of secrecy is more likely to be abused and then not tell about the abuse. That child is trained to keep family secrets at the expense of their own mental health.
If polygamy was legal, I would still think the of the practice as harmful to those who live it. As a school teacher I understand that the larger the class size, the less I can do with the students. One person can only do so much. In polygamist families, you have one father with multiple families. Many children in polygamist societies have little or no interaction with their fathers. Kids need the influence of a good father. Wives are forced to share a man which means their emotional and temporal needs often go unmet. I know that some people think you need to live polygamy to gain the favor of God, but that is untrue. Other people think they need to live polygamy in order to be less selfish, but I believe that is just the cult leader’s way of making women be submissive to this lifestyle. I would never want one of my children to live polygamy.
Growing up in polygamy was better than living in my father’s home. My mother grew up in a polygamist cult. She left my father when I was almost seven years old and returned to the cult of her childhood. When we moved from my father’s home, I felt safe for the first time in years – meaning I didn’t fear being sexually or physically abused. We had food to eat, and while that food was often substandard and often not a balanced diet, there was always something to eat. However, now we had more secrets to keep. We were told that if we told anyone about the cult that they wouldn’t let us see our grandmother (my father’s mother) anymore. I had a great love for my grandmother, so I kept quiet. We were told that if anyone found out about the cult that we could be put in foster homes or returned to our father, so we kept the secrets and told lies in order to protect our mother and our step-father. I spent my entire childhood in a state of anxiety.
Our mother was asked to collect state welfare for the new children she had with my step father, but she was not permitted to tell who their father was. Yes, she committed welfare fraud and later had to pay the money back. Welfare workers would come to our house and question us. We were told to say that our step-father was our landlord and when asked who the father of the new baby was the answer was always, “I don’t know.” When I was eight years old, I made a promise to my older self that I would never go on welfare. I couldn’t stand the stress those home checks brought into our lives. She told the state worker that she would go to bars and go home with someone. I didn’t like people thinking that my mother was the town whore. I felt our family was dirty with shame and lies.
A few years after my mother married my step-father he took another wife. His second wife was mentally retarded, but the leaders felt she deserved to have children, so he married her. A few years after that, he married his second wife’s younger sister. She was also mentally retarded. It was hard for my mother to deal with these two new wives. They needed a lot of supervision. They each burned down their homes for completely preventable reasons. They were childlike in many ways. I think it was too much for them to be parents, but the leader said it would be so; my step-dad was a perfect follower, so he did what he was told.
I have also seen situations where men are so frustrated by the demands placed on them by having multiple families that when they are unable to meet those needs, they become impatient and violent. Jealousy runs rampant in polygamist cults. Women are told they are not good enough if they feel jealousy toward a sister wife. The men always have a favorite wife and pity the poor wife who isn’t it. Many of the children do not know who their father is because secrets are safer if the children are unaware.
At age twelve, I loved this cult and hoped I wouldn’t be asked to marry someone that already had another wife. I felt great love towards most of the people – I was related by blood to most of them because of inbreeding. By age thirteen, I knew I would find a way to leave the cult because of the abuses I saw toward women and children. My step-father was a decent man. He was not demonstrative, so I didn’t know he cared about me until I was grown, but he wasn’t violent or perverted. I always felt safe around him. He was blindly following a leader who was corrupt, but he (my step-father) was a good man in many ways.
In the next few days, I will go into what living in this cult was like and why I decided to leave.
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