(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.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16232186225573312896 Incongruous Circumspection

    Bravo!Don't kid yourself, you're already a success by doing this writing and by seeing the light.What are your dreams?

  • http://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/ Retha

    Formulas like this to raise children into culture changers cannot work:The best way to convince a child that something is the right thing to to, is to set the example. A parent that stay at home and only speak to their own offspring about God, model being too cowardly to speak to the culture.It's very unlikelike that someone will conciously change culture without understanding it – seeing the real problems of it and working on that. Those who try to change culture after the seeing the minimum of it, end up irrelevant to the culture.Quiverful teaches children to obey and follow. In order to change culture, you have to lead. Children who only know how to be thermometers, reacting to the temperature of their home and reporting it, will not – barring a miracle – grow up to be thermostats, It sets the standard for success not just way too high, but raise children for the opposite of what the parents find succesful. And you sound very successful to me, Liberty. You even work, in your writings, on changing culture. Not the "worldly" culture your parents wanted you to change, but the culture you grew up in.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03234821657523195681 Elizabeth

    This post was heartbreaking to read… I can't imagine having all of that false guilt poured out on a child… maybe because I have an issue for feeling guilty for things that I shouldn't. Good for you, though, for realizing that it IS false and that it is NOT your fault.. and for spreading that news for others to hear. On another note, I think the way you opened your post was one of the best, to the point definitions of the quiverfull movement I have heard. Looking at things from the outside (I was homeschooled, but only through the 7th grade… but Christian Patriarchy has torn my old church family apart and has deeply wounded friends and my own family) I don't always fully understand how this mindset works, but you explained it beautifully. Or, not so beautifully, since it is not a very beautiful thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02510172065585770709 Hopewell

    Great post! I think "growing up" IS the problem with Quiverfull. You can't grow up if you are still under your parents. By forcing DEpendence and not allowing their children the life experiences that grow both faith and maturity Quiverfull parents are certainly NOT developing world changers! When do these kids ever get a moment alone to just think what they want to change? Or are capable of changing? How many get the type education that would let them? You are so right—they are NOT robots. Nor are they parents to siblings, unpaid house slaves, unpaid workers in family business, etc. They are kids and deserve a life with responsibilities normal for a kid. Please keep writing! People need to hear what you are saying to counteract the pretty pictures they see on a certain tv show.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07630805993208700804 Sara Amis

    (Yes, I appear to be reading a whole bunch of your posts at once. I actually have other stuff I should be doing, but keep finding new interesting thoughts).I agree with Retha, that you ARE changing culture. So in that sense, you are totally succeeding. Just, uh, not quite the way they intended….I almost feel it would be unkind to inform any of that "take back the country for Christ" crowd that a whole bunch of the liberal, hippie, Pagan tree-huggers I run with are *also* trying to change the culture. Mostly by example and creativity, sometimes by their relationship choices and child-rearing methods. They thankfully have no plans for domination, more like a rather fuzzy conviction that if we can just get a hundred monkeys doing it Utopia will be achieved. And it's definitely not remotely so…structured. (Much as Will Rogers belonged to no organized political party, I belong to no organized religion.) But in some cases, I would say, more effectively. For one thing, the attachment-based, child-focused parenting methods favored by the crunchy granola crowd tends to produce buoyantly confident children. Also that "hundredth monkey" thing I was making fun of a minute ago is actually, at bottom, persuasion. So, the ideas will succeed or fail on their own merits.I fear that, given that some of this stuff is rooted in fear of how society has already changed, that if the aspiring "culture changers" *do* figure that out it will just freak them out even more.

  • May

    Not just a religious phenomenon. When I reached an age at which I became conscious of the problems in the world around me, I asked my (secular) mother why she brought three children into such a problematic world. She said she did her part to improve the world by making the three of us, and that now I would go off and "save the environment" (my main concern at the time, and let's face it, still). I believed her and thought I would grow up to single-handedly "save the environment".Guilt, disappointment, and more guilt, that's what happened. Definitely a cop-out argument on the part of parents.

  • Anonymous

    Libby Anne,You write very well and in your 20's are leaps and bounds ahead of some 60 or 80 year old's analyzing capabilities. Good you can recognize false guilt for what it is. Although it still has to be worked through, and is so difficult to be on the receiving end from parents, whom you need to be your allies.Beverly

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