Children Are Not Trophies


When there were eight children in my family, I had a friend who was also one of eight. Then my mother had another baby. What do you think my friend did? She was so jealous of me that she didn’t talk to me for three months. Finally, she came to me and confessed her jealousy and apologized for letting it jeopardize our friendship.


I talked recently with a woman with nine children. She told me she wants more, because she loves kids and loves being pregnant. I looked around at the nine kids coming and going, shouting and dodging in and out of the fridge. They looked happy, yes, well fed, yes, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this woman was concentrating more on the next unborn – heck, unconceived - baby than on the ones she already had.
When I was a kid, we heard about the Duggars and their TV show. Several of my siblings were upset that the Duggars had more kids than we did, and they urged mom to have more quickly so that we could “beat” the Duggars. As if it was a contest.


One of my friends growing up was one of only four children. She felt very left out when she looked at my family, and I wondered what was wrong with her parents that they only had four. She talked to her mom and told her that she wanted more brothers and sisters, and her mom said she should pray for more. More never came, and I secretly suspected my friend’s mother of using birth control. Having only four children seemed extremely selfish to me.


I myself determined that I wanted to have a large number of children, ideally more children than my mother. Somehow I felt that the more children I could have the holier and better that would mean I was.This is really not that surprising, given that at homeschool conferences and conventions I attended as a child it was not uncommon for the leaders to give a prize to the woman with the most children, having her stand up and be applauded before the entire group. I hoped that I would marry early, so as to maximize my fertility. Today, I feel like I am somehow deficient or inferior because I have only one child. Somewhere along the way my brain was trained to tie my worth as a woman to the number of children I would have. Ending thought patterns like this is not easy.


Now I know I come at this from the perspective of someone having grown up in the movement, and not as a mother who lived it. But I do have to wonder – is it actually about the children or is it just about the number?


Sometimes I think my parents didn’t see me as an individual with my own wants, talents, and desires, but rather as a blank slate to be shaped into what they wanted – a perfect daughter according to their specific definition. Did they see me as a person or just another number to raise up for the glory of God? Isn’t that what the Quiverfull ideal is about, anyway? Raising up as many strait and true arrows to shoot into the world for God as possible?


The problem with this whole ideology is that children are not trophies or collectors items. They are not simply blank slates waiting for their parents to write on them as they please. Rather, children are individual human beings with their own personalities and interests who need to be cared for and nourished and allowed to bloom. Every child needs individualized time and attention, and deserves to be loved for his or her own sake, quirks and differences and all. It seems to me that many Quiverfull families forget about this. The focus isn’t on meeting the needs of the children who already exist, but rather on expanding the family for the glory of God. The more children the better. The more children, the holier. But I have to ask, what about the children you already have? What about them and their needs? Why not invest in them? Because you know what? Children are not trophies. They’re children.

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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.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    "Today, I feel like I am somehow deficient or inferior because I have only one child."Nah. I think your deficiencies come from somewhere else! Ok….seriously. We had six before it clicked in our heads that quiverful crap was ruining our lives. Many times, I have wondered what life would be like with only 2 – 4 children. Easier? Who knows? But, I have my six to love and cherish now.Anyway, great post. You nailed it. The "quiver" has taken on the mark of the Pharisee. The more your have, the more you're revered, respected, and listened to (translation: the more pockets you can fleece) in that culture. Children are reduced to numbers and simply a cog in the wheel family unit.Hang on while I go clean up the pool of pee that Jack just created. Potty training is tough!

  • Young Mom

    I ask this a lot. I realize my parents are very busy, and I wouldn't trade any of my siblings (most of my good childhood memories involve them)and in a way it's been a relief to be off their radar. But I don't get that much time from my parents even now. My mom calls me every other month or so, she sometimes replies when I send her pictures of the grandkids, and she is upset that I don't invest more time in her, instead of the other way around. I even had to confront them on remembering their grandkids birthday's after they completely ignored them for several years. Both my mom and dad act as though we are amature parents, who have no idea what it is like to have a real family. I have a hard time letting myself feel like I do anything valuable, because I ONLY have 4 kids. For the longest time, people would say "wow, you must be so busy" and I would always say I wasn't, and recently I am realizing I AM busy. I am DANG busy. Now I am trying to dissect how much of my desire for a "large" family (5-8 in my mind now) is tied to this brainwashing, and how much of it is my actual desire for children? So frustrating and confusing.

  • Libby Anne

    Young Mom – "Now I am trying to dissect how much of my desire for a "large" family (5-8 in my mind now) is tied to this brainwashing, and how much of it is my actual desire for children?" I get this – I get it a lot. I'm still trying to figure this out, actually. Because I still feel like I want a big family, and by that I mean five kids, maybe six or seven (these numbers actually sound VERY manageable after growing up with a dozen siblings). But do I really? Or is my brain just conditioned to feel this way? I honestly don't know! And how the hell am I supposed to figure that out?!? I know one thing – I'm not having more than three kids before I figure it out, because I'm not going to get to five or seven kids and realize that I only had them all because of conditioning I received as a child!

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Young Mom. You described my mother exactly. She refuses to visit our house but expects us to come visit her quite often. In fact, she has laid down an ultimatum that she will never let her shadow lay across our doorstep until we allow our kids to stay at her house overnight.Due to the physical abuse we endured when we were children, there is no way on God's green earth that that is going to happen. So we sit in limbo. No skin off my back. I'm happy and so are my children. The sad thing for her is, they hardly know their "other" grandma. She has been 100% replaced by my dad's wife.Ok. Enough about that. Family size:You seem to struggle a lot with old habits and ideas from your past. My wife, Kristine and I didn't even pontificate about this stuff until something clicked about 18 months ago. We had rejected the idea of quiverfull and patriarchy and yet had not really though through the details.The kicker was when Kristine wept when she found out she was pregnant with number six. That was really hard on me. Our whole life changed after that.I would simply look at how you are treating yourself, your husband, and how much time you have INDIVIDUALLY with each one of the kids. If you are skimping on any of those, then go ahead and wait a while until you are well caught up. It may be never, and then four will be the perfect number.Some women and men are cut out for the multi-tasking necessities of large families. I know that WE ARE DEFINITELY NOT!!!!!And if you aren't, I trust that you will discover new freedom and joy in loving each one of your darlings unconditionally and completely.No need to spread the love around to more, if you simply don't have more to give.

  • Young Mom

    We were Quiverfull up through our third pregnancy, so #4 is the first one we actually chose to have (free healthcare here in Canada, and our immigration status doesn't allow me to work or got to school anyways). We are now hoping to wait for a while, to see if we even want more. I have a lot of unanswered quesitons and so does my husband. But it is hard to shake the guilt, even though I don't believe that stuff anymore. And yeah, we haven't had to tell my parents about the no sleeping over rule yet, our kids are little and we live far away, so it's never really come up. But I am not comfortable with leaving them there, so it's not happening.

  • Katy-Anne

    I've always, from a very young age, wanted about 7 – 9 kids, and my family wasn't quiverfull. My parents had 3, and were open about the fact that they made sure they'd never have any more than 3. Our family was still fundamentalist Christian, though, we ended up after years in public school, homeschooling and all. So while I know that mine and my husband's desire to have a "lot" of kids has nothing to do with them being trophies, we don't want others thinking we just think our kids are trophies. And, we've even considered using birth control between pregnancies, or at least having all the kids we "want" and then putting a permanent stop to it. The thing is, children are individuals, different from each other. Parents who have their kids just to have trophies don't seem to understand this, and try to mold all their kids to be the same. With the Duggars for example, the girls even all LOOK the same, wear the same stuff, do their hair the same way, etc. I deliberately dress mine different to suit their personalities, I keep one of my sons hair pretty short, and the other two boys a little longer because they are too young to choose and it's what I think looks best on THEM. Those boys have different likes and dislikes, and my daughter (going to be born on Monday) will have different likes and dislikes too. And although not really QF, I'm a 15 passenger van mommy…it was a cheap and comfortable option for us. :p

  • Katy-Anne

    I must say though that in one church we were in, it was definitely a contest between all the moms. It was a small church, and I remember all 4 of the young married women all being pregnant at the same time, and how exciting but competitive it was. When I started to outnumber them all in the amount of children, they started being nasty to me and rejecting me and gossiping about me. That was right before we left that church.

  • Libby Anne

    Young Mom and Incongruous – The last time we were at my parents' house, one of my sisters spanked my little girl. My poor daughter completely freaked out, because we have NEVER hit her, and she had no idea what was going on! It was like her world had just fallen apart and she had no idea what to do. I was SO MAD. But I had to take a deep breath and remind myself that my sister was only doing what I had been taught to do at her age, and I then made sure that EVERYONE was informed that we were NOT spanking her and that they could not either. Katy-Anne – Good for you! I've had the exact same thoughts. Children are individuals, and parents need to let them be that!

  • bluebleakember

    Oh gracious, this post hits a nerve for me. It's been awhile since I've freed myself from the children as trophies mindset, but I still react to it like it's only yesterday. Sure, kids are blessing. Sure, be fruitful and multiply (if you want). But this mindset of having as many kids as you can as fast as you can? Like for what? It just seems like lunacy to me. And it certainly oppresses women.Quiverfull? I believe David wrote that Psalm and he had multiple wives engaged in filling his quiver. If my husband wanted ten kids in as many years, I'd honestly rather share him with some concubines than go through all those pregnancies myself! Sheesh.I've never wanted more than four or five kids. Even when I used to believe quiverfull was what God wanted, I secretly hoped that I'd turn out to have a medical condition that would prevent me from being able to have many children, or that I'd marry later in life and therefore have a few guilt free years off of breeding duty. Now, I love babies, it's just that I realize I can only handle so much. :) I sailed blithely into marriage with a vaguely quiverfull ideology, and within seven months I was in the throes of a very rough, very miserable pregnancy. In hindsight, I'm glad it was like that because it forced me to really scrutinize quiverfull thinking (which is full of glaring holes) and to be honest with myself about how many kids I really want.It's so freeing to know that (barring an "accident") I won't be having any more pregnancies unless my husband and I genuinely want them, and that there is no reason to feel guilt or shame over this. I love my daughter and for now she completely satisfies my maternal longings. I do want her to have siblings and I'm sure there will be more babies in my future, but right now I'm delighting in cherishing my daughter for the amazing little person she is. I don't want to see her as the first in a series of progeny I must produce to validate my being as a Christian woman.Okay, end of rant. :)

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Another idea in light of bluebleakember's "barring and 'accident'" comment:There will be no accidents in my house. We took care of that. And it only cost $2300. We could never be happier. Sex has never been better. There is no worry about maybe tonight she'll get pregnant. And we can actually enjoy other's babies for them being babies and not have a burning desire to make one ourselves.That may also be a hurdle some have to get past after leaving quiverfull ideology.

  • beka

    hmmm. i love this post, and all the points you make. children need to be cherished– encouraged to bloom uniquely.

  • Sara Amis

    I am the youngest of eight and I never felt neglected or like my parents didn't see me as an individual. However…my parents had eight children because they WANTED eight children. It was not for religious reasons, or one-upping anyone. They just liked the idea of having lots of children. So they did. *This is definitely not a choice for everyone.* My parents had a real talent for attention, for making all of us feel special, and for keeping order in a family that large. Not everyone is capable of it, and the pressure to have more and more whether or not you are really cut out for it is a recipe for disaster.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Exactly, Sara Amis.

  • Libby Anne

    Sara Amis – That's an excellent distinction, I'm glad you've made it! Weirdly, my parents sort of fall in the middle. See, they had always wanted a big family. But big meant, like, six, not a dozen or more. However, as they adopted the beliefs associated with Quiverfull, they had more than they had thought they would and didn't stop as they had planned. Yet because they started out wanting a big family, things went SO MUCH BETTER than they could have. They worked hard to give us individualized attention, but there was only so much time to go around. They ended up having to outsource some of the parenting. And of course, there was the view that we were each potential soldiers in the army of God, rather than just individuals with our own wants and desires. But anyway, Sara Amis, well put!

  • Anne —

    Ugh, I SO felt like a trophy instead of a person. I called it the "dog and pony show". My parents were obviously proud of how we reflected on them, even though they would say that wasn't the case. I think part of the reason my dad is so upset at me that I moved out was because it reflects poorly on HIM.I want 4 kids max…and we'll probably end up with two. I want to be able to support each of my children as individual people, rather than have so many I have to lump them together to keep track.

  • Sandra

    I felt like a dog and pony show growing up as a PK in the 1970's and there were only three of us! The irony of these comments referencing 5-6kid families as not large blows me away. I have two and somedays that was two too many. I burnt out and went into adrenal shutdown with only two in two years–I seriously have no idea how a woman can have 5 in 6 years or 10 in 12 years. I mean how did she even have the energy to get pregnant? Or get out of bed the next morning? It is so far out of my ability to do that I can't even imagine it, even though I read the blogs of several of these commenters who have what I consider large families.

  • Anonymous

    @Incongruous Circumspection: unless you're talking about removing her uterus, nothing's entirely certain. There is a failure rate for both tubal ligation and vasectomy, however slight. Also, both are difficult to reverse, and I got nothing from bluebleakember's comment to suggest they didn't want any more children ever.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Neither did I, Anonymous, but that wasn't my point. My point is that that option is one that is hard to reconcile or broach once you've left the whole P/QF movement. It will have been beaten into your brain that ANY form of birth control is abortion or worse.And, to say that it not entirely certain is being a bit disengenuous. If you do the research, you will find that there are different ways of doing a vasectomy. The way I had it done pretty much guarantees a zero percent chance of failure. Of course, nothing is certain, but that doesn't matter.And, the fact that operations like that are difficult to reverse is exactly why the decision is not to be made lightly. Not only are they difficult to reverse, but they are also quite expensive. Something to the tune of $25,000 for a vaz reversal. Not to mention, when your white blood cells catch on to the foreign sperm objects (which were conveniently 100% separated from them until the slice) they will attack them and grow atibodies. This severely reduces the chances of a successful pregnancy. One must be SURE they are ready before they take the plunge. But, the plunge is an available option with no guilt to be had.One final point. Even the removal of a uterus is no guarantee. There have been instances of women becoming pregnant and carrying a baby full term in just her abdominal cavity.As the saying goes…nothing is certain except death, taxes, and the Yankees spending more than everyone else.Does that clarify?

  • Anonymous

    I'm the same anon as above. Having had my tubes tied, it's a fantastic option, and a major pet peeve of mine is the way so many doctors condescend to childless women patients who want them and insist they'll change their mind. My objection was the way you implied that her partner should have the surgery, and then there would never be an accident. I may have misread your intention, but that was what I got from it.All four cases of viable ectopic pregnancies recorded involved a woman who had a uterus, mostly because doctors didn't realize it was an ectopic pregnancy until it was time to give birth, but also in at least one of the cases, the fetus was in fact drawing its blood supply from the uterus. It's not an accident that results in a child but one that results in a medical procedure.

  • Lois Brown Loar

    As a mom of 12, I feel annoyed when my adult married children have to face the question:"Are you planning on having as many as your mom and dad?" Why in the world MUST that be an expectation? My children will have the children God gives them, if they have any at all…One daughter has 4…ONLY 4? Good grief the woman is a saint with those kids and I'm so very proud of her.A son has two. And his wife has very difficult pregnancies…they would have liked to have more, but won't risk her health! AMEN!Another son has two….but he is in the Army, and if, God forbid, he were killed on a deployment, his wife would be alone raising children. They are happy with their two….SO, world, it would be great if you got off their back and quit expecting them to have a dozen. Thank you for allowing me this litte rant. :-)

  • Freedom

    Haha, the "Dog and Pony Show"- I felt that myself. As the second oldest of 12, my parents would often trot me out when there were visitors to "entertain," which usually meant to play piano, serve refreshments, and comment on my extensive education (being homeschooled, I had Latin, Speech & Debate, and Apologetics, as well as the usual subjects). I. Hated. It. I remember one time in particular when I was about 15, tears of frustration and rage welled up and I refused to go into the living room where our guests were seated, instead shutting myself in my room. I knew I was self-imposing my exile for the rest of the evening, as there was no way I would be allowed to mingle with the family after my disgrace. I had read plenty of old fashioned books where the children of the family always performed the apres dinner entertainment and seemed to enjoy it- but I felt so degraded. My accomplishments were my OWN, not my parents', and I wanted to decide for myself if I wanted to display them or not. Being ordered to play a song or recite a poem simply to put a feather in my parents' cap resulted in feelings of helplessness and resentment. Later that evening after their guests had departed my mother asked me what was wrong and I lied and told her I was feeling sick. If I had admitted my true reason for refusing to play, I would have been dubbed "selfish" and punished.

  • V

    @Incongruous Circumspection"One final point. Even the removal of a uterus is no guarantee. There have been instances of women becoming pregnant and carrying a baby full term in just her abdominal cavity."That's actually very wrong and sounds like fundie/anti-choice propaganda to act like ectopic pregnancy is not a big deal. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable and will KILL both the fetus and mother if the mother doesn't have an abortion.

  • Incongruous Circumspection

    Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!! Far be it from me to be a proponent of the viability of an ectopic pregnancy. Horrible thought!Reading back through the ancient words I once wrote, I think my position is clear. Get snipped, baby – and have no qualms about it!I went on a stupid tangent about "guarantees". It was a rabbit trail that was unnecessary. I don't stand by the no uterus thing anymore anyway, because I was pulling crap out of a hat that I heard on the rumor mill. It may have happened but who cares, in my opinion. It shouldn't change the view that, if a woman's life is in danger, the pregnancy is not viable. And &^$&#%^ Doug Phillips and anyone else that disagrees with me, standing on religion to watch a woman suffer and die. Barbaric.I hate being misunderstood. I'm going to go eat a sandwich.

  • Anonymous

    There are 7 billion humans. That's several billion more than can be supported at a decent standard of living on the planet's finite resources. Having children adds to this problem and literally pulls resources from already-existing humans in need.Having few or zero biological children is the *unselfish* thing to do. Want more than 1 or 2 kids? Adopt or foster! There are thousands of already-existing children in need of a loving family.

  • Anonymous

    I had 2 children. A girl a few days after I turned 21 and a boy a few weeks before I turned 22. Both due to BC failure. My husband was a bit upset with me after when after the second delivery I had an IUD placed so there would (hopefully) be no more accidents. This was great for years. When I got close to my 30th birthday my husband decided that maybe we should have another baby. (this from a man who never changed a diaper or warmed a bottle) Nothing I said seemed to change his mind. I pointed out that we had 2 already, one of each gender, they were half grown, I worked full-time ect, ect.Finally I borrowed a baby. A friend was having a really hard time with a colicky 2 month old and needed a break. I brought the baby home on a Friday night after work and kept her until Sunday evening. My husband and kids were horrified with the all night screaming. I am still blessed with just the 2 wonderful kids, now grown up and having kids of their own.

  • Aemi

    You know what? I completely agree with this post. :)

  • MadameHazelnut

    Counting children as an outward and visible sign of parents’ piety and a presumed index of the degree of God’s approval of their lives is _reproductive works righteousness_, IMHO.

    Scripture itself contains a counterexample to this mindset. In I Samuel 1, Elkanah had 2 wives. Peninnah had children and provoked Hannah who had none. But Elkanah (a Hebrew patriarch approved by God) rejected the idea that a woman’s worth is defined by her reproductive success.

    He said to his wife, “Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?”

    If God allowed this his servant to value his family by unmeasured love and grace and to be countercultural to the tribal values of antiquity even when they were majority values, how is it that our sisters and brothers in Christ affirm tribal values as how God measures families’ faithfulness for all time?

    Hannah did eventually have the child she asked of God: Samuel, who grew into a great prophet and judge.

    We are not told how many more kids Hannah had. The beautiful thing is that Elkanah stood by his woman and loved her even if Samuel hadn’t come along. Love that values the beloved by prior grace, without weighing her merits (on a reproductive value metric or any other)…now THAT is an image of the love between Christ and the Church!