Three generations of polygamy on both sides of my family was the only life we knew. Dad had four wives and thirty one children when I was a child, before he was through, he had six wives and thirty nine children, including his step children.
We all had several brothers and sisters the same age that we were, though our birth certificates never revealed the truth of our parentage and often not even the truth of our ages. My own mother's children had different last names on their birth certificates in order to keep Dad from any legal consequences of so many illegal offspring. Most of us grew up on Aid for Dependent Children.
We lived our lives in mandatory submissive bondage, while we placated our minds with Holy self righteous superiority. We hated and feared the out side world for its evil and inferior spiritual condition. We upheld our freedom to believe as we chose to believe, but we chose eternal damnation and death by blood atonement for those who chose not to believe as we did. This was especially true for those who tried to leave our religion. We embraced suffering and hardship as necessities to gain heavenly rewards, but we wept with bitter anger when life gave to us, that which we embraced.
Boundaries were confused in our culture. All light work was to be done by women, which was interpreted as any work a woman might be able to do. The fact that women were producing children as fast as possible did not ease their work load. Gardening, care of animals, milking, pickingcrops, canning, food, grinding flour, making meals, sewing clothes, home schooling children and serving the men the best of what we had, never slowed down for childbirth.
When our mothers were incapacitated through child birth or illness, the responsibility fell to the children. Most of us grew up believing it was our fault if we didn't have enough to eat. It was our fault if there wasn't enough water in the ditch to make the crop grow. It was our fault if the range cows broke in and ate the garden, or if a child got hurt and we weren't there to prevent it, while we worked in the fields, ground the flour and tried to make the world we knew, turn out right.
If we spoke to strangers, if they found out about us, we may be taken away from our families by the welfare. If they found out we were polygamist children Dad may go to prison and it would be our fault because we weren't legal. Polygamist children grew up feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders and in fear of constant persecution from the out side world. We were too young to understand that our persecution came from inside our own private world.
Our religious beliefs were much like the Taliban. The dual standard was an extreme hallmark of FLDS thinking. Multiple partners took men to the highest of heavenly glory and women to the depths of hell. Men became Gods by spreading their seed into glorious multitudes of people and women could face the death penalty for adultery (to save their souls and keep them in eternity, of course). Eternal damnation and blood atonement were the primary glue that held polygamy together. Ignorance, poverty and isolation added the finishing touches.
Comparatively few of us were allowed an appropriate education, but those who were educated were held up to the out side world as an example of "who we were". Few of us were given the opportunity to discover who we were. Our lives were completely defined by our leaders. We didn't know the difference between piety and integrity. We were commanded to obey without question. The price of disobedience was high. In our world, fear of power masqueraded as faith in God. Unquestionable obedience masqueraded as wisdom Sacrifice and devotion were taught to be the same.
Joy was crushed beneath the heels of piety until after years of suffering many looked forward to death as a liberator. Our suicide and mental illness rate were always higher than those of less "saintly people". Laced together with bonds of fear from all directions, we were too terrified to accept the consequences of doing anything about our condition. We were told the price would be everything, in this life and the next. Our children, our family, our homes, the only life we had ever known and if we could leave, could we get our children out? How would we survive? How could we care for them? How could we cope in a wicked world who hated us?
It took years of planning for me to escape with my six children. It also took the help of a very wise professional who understood and changed my life and the life of those around me. Later I was able to rescue my sister Irene Spencer, author of "Shattered Dreams", a New York Times best selling book about her life as a polygamist wife. Before I was old enough to know that women had choices, I was the mother of a large family. Before I was wise enough to direct my own life, it had been taken in a direction to keep me in bondage and control. Before I learned how to be responsible for myself, I was responsible for six children.
Today my children are grown and in pursuit of their own dreams. Today I have realized accomplishments I once only dreamed of. Today I share what I have learned with others, motivating and directing them in taking control of their own lives, their dreams and their future. Today I acknowledge that I have graduated from many courses in life I never would have enrolled in if I had known what I was doing but, I am a graduate.