The Problem: Parents or Ideology?

After my It’s About the Daughters post was crossposted on No Longer Quivering, I received the following response:

You make a lot of generalizations here. Do you really believe it is this way for all, or even the majority of, quiverful daughters? I have no doubt it’s happened to some, and I support you in standing for those women and girls. But it is not this way for all, yes they learn to cook and they believe their place is at home, but most have plenty of friends, plenty of free time, and are taught how to have an opinion, because they need a strong opinion against the common opinions of the world. And I don’t know a single QF family that dosen’t value an education, many a quiverful mother has spent their time worrying about whether their children, sons AND daughters, are being educated to an appropriate level. I’ve never, in modern day life, heard it called dangerous for girls to be educated. Even in the arts of homemaking, an education is valuable and vital, and a woman can have dreams outside the home without usurping her husbands headship. I have big dreams, and they are both within my home, and outside of it. I don’t dream of becoming a company CEO sure, but I dream of influencing peoples lives. Which is grander?

Girls who are in the situation you describe should, most certainly, be spoken for. But please don’t label every daughter of a patriarchal family as living this life. Maybe 20 years ago it was different, but, at least from my view today, very few families live the way you describe. What you describe is more true of Islam than christian patriarchy.

In other words, the problem isn’t Christian Patriarchy, the problem is parents who abuse it. I could not disagree more. The problem isn’t the parents – the parents who live Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull genuinely love their children and want what’s best for them – the problem is the ideology itself. Cindy of Under Much Grace has an entire series examining “Why Good People Make Dangerous Choices.” She looks at why good people do bad things with good intentions, and the problems that follow. Just so, Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull take otherwise loving parents and twist them into doing highly problematic things to their children, and especially their daughters.
But what about families following Christian Patriarchy who appear happy and healthy? First of all, just because a family living Christian Patriarchy appears to be healthy and happy does not mean it really is so. The appearance of perfection can be deceiving. My parents did a pretty good job of keeping what happened with me under wraps, and many in their community still don’t know what happened. They just think I’m off and married, safely settled with a husband and a kid. They don’t know what I went through with my parents or that I had left my parents’ beliefs. It’s not that hard to plaster on a smile and just pretend everything is all right. My parents have done the same kind of damage control with troubles with my siblings. My family appears perfect, happy, and well adjusted. So just because all appears to be well doesn’t mean it is well.
Yet at the same time I will not deny that there do exist some families who really do seem to make Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull work, with happy parents and happy children. While many (probably most) families have problems with the sheer load of work, the physical strain of pregnancies, and the authoritarian nature of patriarchy, not all families suffer from these problems in the same degree. As you can read in my story, my family was able to make Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull (light, in their case) work until I hit my college years. Sure, there were small issues here and there, but there was no outward abuse, no manipulation, and there was plenty of happiness and love. I was educated well, and my parents valued education so much that they actually sent me away to college. All seemed well. The problem is that even in families who seem to be able to successfully live out Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull ideals, there is damage being done to the children even if it may not be obvious or manifest itself until later.
Below are six problems that occur to some extent in every family following Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. These problems emanate from the very definitions of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull themselves, and therefore no family following these lifestyles can completely avoid them (although there are of course degrees):
1. Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull teach that parents must break their children’s wills, often through spanking and other punishments. No sign of disobedience is tolerated. This authoritarian nature of the parent child relationship can sometimes become extreme and problematic, causing otherwise loving parents to harm their children and leave lifelong scars. Even when it’s not carried out to the extreme, this discipline method, with its emphasis on breaking children’s will and unquestioning obedience, is highly problematic. For my analysis, see here.
2. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents teach children of both sexes outdated gender roles. These children grow up having no idea how an egalitarian relationship works because they have never seen it modeled. This can become problematic when they have to interact with the actual world, working with both men and women in a variety of settings. In some cases, boys and girls go through puberty not knowing how to interact with each other as equals. A reader mentioned this problem when he commented on one of my posts, saying “don’t forget that the sons need to re-learn the value of a woman as their peer, rather than the ‘weaker vessel’ that just means stupider and dumber and less refined and un-cool and more worthless than you.”
3. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents smother their daughters’ dreams, working to kill any desire their daughters might have outside of being a homemaker, wife, and mother. They teach their daughters that God’s place for them is in the home, and that they must forget about being teachers, or doctors, or scientists. In some cases, these daughters’ dreams are stillborn, because they never even have a chance to develop in the first place. I discuss this problem here. This damage occurs in mothers, too, who strangle any other ambitions or desires they might have had, sacrificing them on the alter of the perfect godly family.
4. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents seek to exert a great amount control over their adult daughters. As a result, daughters hit a wall the minute they want or believe anything different from their parents. When this happened to me as a young adult, it came up on me as a shock. My family had been so happy! My parents were so loving! What had happened? Parents use tools such as religious guilt and emotional manipulation as they seek to bring their wayward daughter back under her father’s authority and back onto the straight and narrow. When this happens, daughters are emotionally damaged and families are ripped apart. Only by doing just what they want and believing just as they do can a daughter of Christian Patriarchy truly please her parents. As I have pointed out in another post, sons are not immune to this either.
5. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents work hard to isolate their children from the world. This does not mean that the children necessarily have no friends, but rather that their friends all hold the same beliefs and have the same backgrounds. Children grow up sheltered from the world, thinking everyone outside of their patriarchal bubble is evil and selfish, and end up having no idea how to interact with people different from them. There is a stigmatization of the “other.” I discuss this here and here.

6. Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull teach parents to have great expectations of their children, not only that their children will follow in their beliefs, but also that their children will retake the culture and remold the country into their ideal theocracy. They offer the perfect formula for a perfect family, and promises parents that their children will not fail them if they follow the method correctly. When children fail to be culture changers or choose beliefs or make life choices outside of their parents’ desires for them, children are seen as failures, and parents, who have given their lives to raise these children following the dictates of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull, feel that they have failed as well. I discuss this here.
Like I said, the problem is not the parents. The problem is what the ideology makes parents do. It tells them that their children will only be truly happy if they spank them and enforce careful discipline; it makes them teach their children to not see each other as true equals; it makes them tell their daughters to forget dreams of anything outside of homemaking; it makes them react as if the world has ended to any sign of their daughters wanting something different from what the family wants for them; it makes them isolate their children, depriving them of needed information and social skills; and it makes them place impossible expectations on their children and themselves. And this is all done in the name of loving their children and doing what is best for them.
Now of course, there are different degrees to which families follow Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. Some parents are extremely uptight and controlling and others are more laid back and open. The degree of damage will naturally vary. Yet even in happy families, these problems still exist – given the nature of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, they can’t not exist. No daughter of Christian Patriarchy – or son either – comes out completely unscathed. But like I said, the problem isn’t the parents – the parents genuinely believe they are doing what is best for their children – the problem is the ideology, which takes over like a weed and chokes the healthy crops to death.

Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
Any Time I Hear Someone Say "Traditional Marriage"
Red Town, Blue Town
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • dulce de leche

    Amen! Excellently thought out, and very true.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, there are most definitely quiverful families that do not value education. In my experience, your family's empahsis on education is the exception, not the norm. My family was a quiverful family that was strongly against educating daughters. My father would often say that an educated woman did not need to rely on her husband, she could go out and get a job, and if she could support herself independantly well, then she could easily decide to get a divorce if she wanted to. Therefore educating daughters was the first step towards the destruction of marriage. (This is one of those things that makes my head want to explode when I try to think about it today.) I agree big happy families may just appear happy on the outside. My family did an excellent job covering up how disfunctional we were until most of the children where adults and older teens–then one day it all exploded. If you don't know a family really well, you can't take what you see at face value. kateri @ Dandelion Haven (For some reason I can only post anonymously at certain blogs lately.)

  • rachel

    Thank you for this! I absolutely hate it when people say what the commenter said. There are so many damaging things that really are intrinsically tied to the "system" – and it is just that, a system. With boundaries and rules and no place for exceptions to those rules. I should know, I was an exception. And the choices were either to not be me, or to be a heathen outside of the fold. And we were patriarchy lite, I went to college (bible college) and we wore jeans. And I'm still working through the scars and hurt. So much hurt.

  • Libby

    Yes, exactly, Rachel! Like you, my family wore jeans and they sent me to college. In some senses we were very normal. But we weren't. The pain I went through in early adulthood was surreal, and no one should have to go through that. Being raised with Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull beliefs, however light, leaves a permanent mark, and it's not a good one. Some people don't realize that.

  • Young Mom

    I'd say you are the exception. I never had any science or geography or biology, and only very limited history. The only reason I needed any education at all was so that I would be able to homeschool my kids someday,and it was much more important that I have enough time to serve the family by cooking and cleaning so that my mom could do other things.

  • Anonymous

    I'm glad that you are posting these truths on your blog. Yes, it is painful to read because I still have one foot in the door within the circle of Patriarchy. However, please keep posting. I will simply have to learn to adjust through my tears.

  • Sierra

    It's very telling that this, the most common criticism that we receive at NLQ, is based on such readiness to sacrifice the lives and reputations of people rather than even begin to ask whether the patriarchy doctrine might need work. The system is untouchable; people are disposable.

  • Anonymous

    I'm posting as annonymous because I don't feel like setting up an account for one of the choices given. My name is Mary.I just have a few sincere questions. What if you and your husband disagree on something really important about how to proceed with something related to your daughter. You both feel strongly that your particular but vastly different choice is right, and the other is wrong. Let's say she is a teen, and would willingly do one or the other. And a follow-up question, what would you do if she believed one choice was wrong for her and one was right, so she wanted to do the right one, which opposes your choice for her but goes along with your husand's choice for her. Let's assume this choice to make had to do with a core value/belief you hold dear, a moral choice, not just a personal preference.Thank you!

  • Libby Anne

    Mary – If my husband and I disagreed on a belief, say political or religious, we would explain that to our daughter and explain why mommy believes this and daddy believes that. We want to teach her to make her own choices anyway, not to just echo what we believe. If the difference was not in belief but rather in an actual aspect of how to raise her (say, public school or homeschool), we would do what we usually do when we disagree about something like this: discuss the issue until we either come to a compromise or one of us convinces the other. This only works because any time this happens we both make sure that we are remembering the good of the family as well as our own personal desires. As to your last question, my goal is for my daughter to be a critical thinker, not necessarily for her to always agree with me on an issue. My husband's goal is the same. I'm going to teach her to think for herself and then let her make her own decisions, even if I don't agree with them. Does that answer your questions?

  • Anonymous

    (Mary again)Yes, that pretty much does. But may I give a specific example I did not think of before? Let's say your unwed teen daughter got pregnant and she felt morally obligated to keep the baby and not abort because she believes all life begins at conception, and no one has a riight to end that life. This is her firmly held belief. This time, though, you and your husband both agree she has every right to an abortion, you hope she chooses abortion, and feel that's what she should do. What's more, it is discovered through definitive tests that the baby will be born with a disease that is crippling, debilitating, medically costly once born, but the defect is limited to the physical and not mental. Your daughter still believes she should let the child be born, but of course does not have the finances to support the child on her own. Assuming you and your husband could help financially, that while it would be a strain, it is within your means to do so. How would you handle this with your daughter? Again, thank you!within your means.

  • Libby Anne

    Mary – Wow, what a specific question! I think that if my daughter were old enough to get pregnant, she would also be old enough to make her own decisions in an area like this. Sure, my husband and I would try to help her understand her options and the consequences of her decisions, but it's her life, and ultimately, if she makes a mistake she's the one who will have to live with it. Throwing in the crippling disease issue makes the issue more difficult, but ultimately I would leave the final decision up to her. Of course, my husband and I would let her know just what we're willing to help with or not help with, and that would be information she would need to take into account when making her decision. Why do you ask?

  • Anonymous

    I get questions like these from young people and wanted to hear your viewpoint.So you would stay completely objective and not try to persuade one way or the other? What if, on the other hand, she were not sure what to do, that her beliefs were still forming? Would you show her what some people like, say, Al Mohler and John Piper (evangelical but not strongly patriarchal), would advise, along with what Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens would say, but again, stay completely neutral and not try to persuade her to your own viewpoint one way or another– other than to merely state what your belief is? Which also leads me to ask, is one choice right and one choice wrong? Thanks, Mary

  • Libby Anne

    I would not stay neutral or withhold my opinion. I would tell her what I thought and why and discuss the issue with her, listening to her and her thoughts as well as expressing my own. Ultimately though I would let her be the one to make a decision like that, as it is her life, not mine. As to your last question, in an issue like the example you raise, I don't think that one choice is necessarily right or wrong. I might personally feel that one was the better choice of the two, but someone else might feel the opposite. Is one of us wrong and the other right? No, we just have different values and desires that shape how we view the two choices. This is why I don't think anyone should have the right to impose their choices on anyone else.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for sticking with me, Libby Anne.Let's pretend all four men mentioned above had blog posts answering these exact questions from their perspectives, and those posts could be accessed. Would you pull all of them up for her to read, and let her make her own choice after reading and contemplating, without imposing your choice on her? Would you advise her to sit down and talk with intelligent people coming from both perspectives, in order to inform her of all sides of the issue, yet not impose your own personal choice on her, since it is her life and not yours? I understand you said you would offer your opinion, and that's fine, but would you not impose it on her?

  • Libby Anne

    Yes of course. Like I already said, my goal is to teach her to be a critical thinker and maker her own choices, not to push her into one set view. I actually intend to teach her about all the world's religions and all sorts of different views, visiting different houses of worship across denominations and religions. I would WANT her to grapple with ideas like these, and with Christian apologetics, and with Muslim apologetics, etc. That doesn't mean I'm not going to tell her what I believe and defend it, it simply means I'm going to tell her that she needs to think things through and decide for herself.

  • Anonymous

    I think that was a troll trying to bait you and you were awesome :DI'm reading your blog but you've written so much and the comments are so adddictive. It's going toi take me a long while :P