(Too) Great Expectations

Quiverfull teaches that Christian parents should have large numbers of children in order to raise up and army for Christ and take back America for His Glory. My parents always told me that they were filling their quiver with arrows in order to shoot them out into the world and retake this country and this culture for Christ. They said the reason they weren’t out being missionaries, pastors, or politicians making godly laws was that they were instead investing their time in raising us to go do those things.

What a cop-out. So my parents – and other Quiverfull parents like them – apparently get a free pass on changing the culture and the country by raising us to do it for them? Seriously, what kind of bullshit is that? If my parents – and others like them – want to change the culture, why the hell don’t they just go do it? Quiverfull provides parents with a lazy way out!

Not only is this a cop-out that somehow gets these parents off the hook, it also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the children. Because seriously, we didn’t ask to be born and we didn’t ask to have the burden of taking back this country for Christ. Our parents put that on us.

Children aren’t robots to be programmed and activated, they are people with their own personalities, hopes, and dreams. Instead, my parents saw us as blank slates to train and shape in their image, not as individuals waiting to blossom and live lives of their own. And thus they worked to form us into little culture-changing agents to remake the nation in their ultra-conservative political and theological mold.

But what happens when those great expectations don’t play out in reality? Of those of us who are grown now, none of us are pastors, missionaries, or politicians. I am now my parents’ political and theological opposite, and several of my adult siblings are politically apathetic and theologically moderate. The ones who are still politically and theologically conservative don’t have plans to be pastors, missionaries, or politicians; in fact, their dreams include things like desk jobs and houses with a picket fences. To my parents, this is failure. Even the siblings who still share my parents’ views are seen as failures, because they’re not out their changing the culture and remolding the country into the perfect Christian theocracy.

These expectations are way too high, and they bring on a great deal of guilt for both the parents and the children. Why? Because my mom gave up her entire life, devoted everything that was in her to raising us, and for what? When we fail to be what my parents intended us to be, they feel like we are invalidating their very beings. They sacrificed everything so that we would change the culture, and when we don’t live up to those expectations, they have failed. My parents lived the formula of the perfect godly family, and were told by the movement that their actions would produce culture-changing children. And it didn’t work. Our failure is their failure.

The result of course is a high level of manipulative guilt wielded against the children of such families. Guilt, because my parents sacrificed everything so that I would go out and radically change the culture. Guilt, because I have failed my parents. “Don’t you see what you are doing to your father and I?” my mother asks. “How can you not see what we sacrificed for you?” Guilt, guilt, GUILT.

But this guilt is totally illegitimate! Like I said above, I never asked them to have me, or to give up everything to homeschool me in preparation for changing the culture! I never asked my mom to sacrifice her life to raise me! She chose that, and if she’s unhappy with her choice now, that’s just too bad! It’s not my fault!

I suspect that this phenomena is more widespread than just Quiverfull circles, because this idea of raising children who will go out and completely change the culture for Christ is a fairly mainstream idea in homeschool circles. Michael Farris of HSLDA tells parents that they are the Moses generation, taking their children out of Egypt and training them in the wilderness, and their children are the Joshua generation who will go out and retake the promised land for the Lord. This is the same pressure as Quiverfull children feel – if you aren’t some sort of radical culture changer, you are a failure. If you just have a desk job or only want two kids and a picket fence, you are a failure. This sort of pressure is not healthy! We children are people, not just robots!

When I am tempted to feel like a failure or succumb to the guilt, I remind myself of something my grandfather told me several years ago. He considers himself to have successfully raised a child if that child leaves home, is financially independent, and has a stable marriage. And that is it. His children all did just that, with successful marriages and financial independence. Therefore, he considers himself a success. If only my parents could feel the same way, they would see me as an incredible success rather than a phenomenal failure.

Parents, please please don’t put this kind of pressure on your kids. When you do, you only ask for grief for everyone involved.  

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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.