A Clarification Part 1: Things I Don’t Have A Problem With

This morning I heard from several readers who echoed a similar refrain. They told me that their wives are homemakers because they want to be homemakers and find it fulfilling, that they homeschool (or will homeschool) because they enjoy it and find it a good fit for their family, and that I should remember that even as I have chosen to leave Christianity, others have found it fulfilling and meaningful. So I thought it I should take a moment to make a clarification. I don’t have a problem with homemakers, homeschooling, large families, or Christians. What I am saying is slightly more nuanced.

1. Homemakers

I don’t have a problem with a woman choosing to be a homemaker (similarly, I don’t have a problem with a man choosing to be a homemaker). Every family is different and has different needs at different times, and every individual is different. I would never advocate a one size fits all style of doing families. Having a parent at home works well for many families, and can be very fulfilling for many individuals. But the key word here is choice.

I DO have a problem with a woman being a homemaker because she believes that is the only appropriate option, and teaching her daughters the same. I have a problem with depriving women of choice. I have a problem with the belief that men must be the protectors and provides, acting in the public sphere, while women must be homemakers, attaining their identities as wives and mothers and remaining in the home. I have a problem with the belief that men and women have different roles and different spheres, and must not step outside of them. I also have a problem with the belief that husbands are to lead and wives are to submit, and that women are always to be under male authority. Homemaking is not the problem: seeing it as women’s only option and emphasizing male authority and female submission is.

2. Homeschooling

I don’t have a problem with homeschooling. I am perfectly aware that homeschooling can work well for many families, and that homeschooling can be freeing and can open new avenues to learning. I think every family should decide for itself what educational option is best for it, and that homeschooling is a perfectly valid option.

I DO have a problem with homeschooling being used to isolate children from other points of view (aka “shelter”), or to mis-educate children by only giving them one side of every argument (aka “teach God’s truth”). I have a problem with parents using homeschooling to control their children and stifle them. I have a problem with homeschoolers’ frequent objections to regulation of any sort (the government regulates public schools and private schools to make sure children meet basic educational requirements, and homeschoolers shouldn’t be exempt). I have a problem with the idea that homeschooling is some sort of perfect panacea that has no problems, risks, or drawbacks. I also have a problem with the idea that public schools are evil or completely broken, and that homeschooling is the best option for everyone, rather than just one of an array of educational options available to a given family.

3. Large Families

I don’t have a problem with large families. I very much enjoyed having numerous siblings, and I have seen many happy big families. Big families can be dynamic and a lot of fun. I totally support a couple’s right to have a large family, if they have the desire and ability to do so.

I DO have a problem with the belief that everyone should have a big family, regardless of whether they want it or not (Quiverfull). Big families are NOT for everyone. I have a problem with having older children raise the younger children, and with outsourcing the discipline of the younger children to the older ones. I have a problem when older children are expected to be little parents instead of being allowed to be children. I have a problem with families enforcing one mold and refusing to allow their children to have individuality or differences in desires. I also have a problem with families that are so big that parents don’t have enough time to invest in each child individually.

4. Christians

I don’t have a problem with Christians, or with other religious believers. I personally believe that there isn’t a God or a spiritual world, but I respect people’s rights to freedom of belief. I also understand that there are lots of Christians who emphasize Christ’s love and the need for service. I understand that people can find meaning and purpose through religion.

I DO have a problem with people who don’t allow their children to choose their own religious beliefs. I have a problem with the idea some Christians hold that everyone who doesn’t believe exactly like they do is leading a sinful life and going to hell. I have a problem with the way religion can tear families apart because of how a child who chooses different beliefs is seen or treated. I have a problem with enforced conformity and the strict limits placed on freedom of belief and the freedom to be different.

I hope this clarification helps. It is my hope that even readers who disagree with my current beliefs can find at least some truth in my critiques, rather than seeing them simply as me being bitter, or as the results of an unfair rejection of a lifestyle and worldview I have chosen to leave. I do try to speak directly to these issues, but I also try not to be dogmatic or forget love and understanding.

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/03893206415346294554 mirele

    I generally agree with your remarks here, but what I have a problem with is that it was the husbands who wrote you, not the wives. That, to me, is very telling.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Mirele – I agree with you on that. And sometimes it's hard to say, because a woman who believes homemaking is her only option may say she finds it fulfilling – I mean what else is she to say? However, I have known women who do seem to find homemaking fulfilling, just as I've met women who absolutely do NOT. And because I value clear communication, I thought I'd write this post. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00916063114745954018 Vyckie

    Very well stated, Libby Anne. I lived as a submissive Quiverfull woman for about 16 of the 25 years that I was a Christian ~ and the entire time I was fully convinced that I WANTED to stay home, have babies, and serve my husband. It was my choice ~ but I would have also said that my choice was to obey God and do His will. Since I surrendered my life to Him, that meant giving up my plans, my ambitions. Since I was fairly confused about what to do with my life to start with, it didn't seem like such a bad deal to let the bible determine my path in life rather than "the world."So yes, it was my choice and it is what I wanted to do ~ but as you point out, it was a bounded choice since I did feel that all other options involved settling for less or missing God's best for my life ~ plus, I believed that my "selfish" choices would have spiritual consequences for my family, so I had to consider their welfare also.I have a really hard time when I hear QF believers tell me how happy they are. I guess theoretically it could be possible that they truly are making these demanding lifestyle choices because they actually prefer to stay home, homeschool, etc ~ but, having been there and done that, I am completely familiar with the mindset and it's easy to suspect that, giving a different set of "biblical principles" the women would be just as happy to adopt an egalitarian life that included birth control, college education, earning their own incomes, etc.It is kind of a predicament that knowing the mindset and motivations of QF, it's impossible for those on the outside to take these believers claims of "choice" at face value.

  • Anonymous

    Well said.My beliefs are pretty much in line with yours. For me, it all comes down to one thing: I believe people should have a CHOICE.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Vyckie – There is also the issue of Diminished Dreams. If a girl never knows she has other legitimate options, and so grows up believing that homemaking is her only option, she may never dream of anything else because she doesn't realize there IS anything else.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13930917517196516292 Jason Dick

    Personally, I do have a problem with large families, and for a simple reason: overpopulation is a real concern. If everybody believed in large families, we would very rapidly be on the road to starvation being a serious problem everywhere. If want to have more than two, maybe three children, then adopt.Now, if we lived in a society where the population was stable, then I wouldn't see such a problem with it. But our population isn't stable, and people who have a lot of kids are a part of the problem.

  • http://bertrand.le.roy.name/ Bertrand Le Roy

    I do have a problem with homeschooling: I believe that children should be exposed to more than just what their parents know or believe. I think they have a right to receive an education from people who are competent teachers (which, agreed, some parents are). Maybe most importantly, I think children need to interact with other children. So no, as far as I'm concerned, homeschooling is an aberration. It's not as if there weren't enough schools out there (including religious schools).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Jason Dick – I agree with your point, though I wonder if having more children might be balanced out by the growing number of Americans having fewer children. That's a nitpick, though – I agree that long term the population does need to stop growing and maintain a sustainable level, and that hasn't happened yet. Bertrand – I agree with you, and all the reasons you state are reasons I plan to have my daughter attend public school, and would encourage others to do the same. This is why I mentioned the "drawbacks" of homeschooling. However, there are some homeschoolers who expose their children to other beliefs, find tutors for high school level subjects, and provide their children with regular interaction with other children. I would of course argue that public schools do all of these things just even better and without the effort a parent would have to expend to make them happen, and I personally see homeschooling as an option that should generally speaking only be chosen if, for some reason, the public schools are failing a child.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12284971176688746388 Andrew G.

    The US fertility rate is currently 2.06 live births per woman, which would not be significantly higher than replacement levels if life expectancy was stable. Even so, it's one of the highest in the developed world, with only New Zealand (2.08) above it; most Western European countries are around 1.5-1.8, and Japan is down around 1.2. (Source: CIA World Factbook)US population growth (which is under 1%) is about half accounted for by immigration, and most of the other half is the result of improved life expectancy.In terms of net contribution to the world population (+1.7 million per year), the US is currently running at about #11, behind:India +16 million/yrChina +7 million/yrPakistan +3.4 million/yrNigeria +3 million/yrIndonesia +2.9 million/yrEthiopia +2.9 million/yrBangladesh +2.7 million/yrBrazil +2.3 million/yrPhilippines +2 million/yrCongo +1.9 million/yrThose top 10 countries account for approximately 58% of annual net world population increase.(Source: my computations, raw data from CIA World Factbook)

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels Ophelia Benson

    Great post, Libby Anne.Vyckie, I have a question about something you said."It was my choice ~ but I would have also said that my choice was to obey God and do His will. Since I surrendered my life to Him, that meant giving up my plans, my ambitions."I wonder about things like that a lot – did you ever wonder why God would want you to give up your plans and ambitions? It always seems to me a very strange thing for a good God to want (and God is supposed to be good). I can see a good God who would want people to make sacrifices for good reasons – but just a blanket wanting half of humanity to give up any plans and ambitions other than home-work?

  • http://greaterthanlapsed.wordpress.com/ bridgetmckinney

    Everything about this is perfect. This is quickly becoming one of my very favorite blogs.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13431360470621601054 Danae

    Libby Anne – I would have to disagree with your comment that public schools do all of those things better. I was homeschooled (fortunately by a mother who valued college education and made it a goal to prepare me for that), but my husband attended public school and he is adamant about homeschooling our children as a result. While this isn't to say that all public schools are poor, his preparation for college was shoddy compared to mine. He feels like he was barely introduced to history when he hears me talk about it and while his science and math were better, his English and writing instruction were not adequate. He had some good elementary teachers, but some of his high school teachers he would label a "joke". They put little effort into their classes, did not have professional teaching degrees, and he remembers problems such as male teachers flirting with female students, etc. He also remembers hating the high school atmosphere, the bad language, the cliques, and feeling like he was wasting a lot of time – and this as a secular teen from a nominally Christian home.This isn't to say that homeschooling is THE answer, but we feel that for our family, we will be able to create a homeschooling environment with the best of both worlds. My husband liked sports (wrestling) and being in choir; we want our kids to have extracurricular activities like that, which we will seek out. I believe I can custom my children's academic education to meet their needs better than a large classroom. Yes, it will take a lot of effort (one reason we want a smaller family), but it is what seems best for us. As they are older, we will see how that evolves and changes and we are definitely open to options like taking community college classes in high school or considering private school.I guess all that is to say that public school is not categorically superior (academically) to homeschooling. It really is a personal decision for every family and which option best meets their needs. It depends on the parents, the children, their needs, and the scholastic options in their area.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13431360470621601054 Danae

    Sorry to get so long-winded in my above comment. :) Thumbs up on your original post; I appreciate the emphasis on choice rather than a cookie-cutter "right and wrong" for every person. The more I experience life, the more I realize nothing is as simple as it seems.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Danae – What I said was that "there are some homeschoolers who expose their children to other beliefs, find tutors for high school level subjects, and provide their children with regular interaction with other children. Public schools do all of these things better and without the effort a parent would have to expend to make them happen." Meaning, when it comes to exposing children to different beliefs, having actual teachers for high school subjects, and offering regular interaction with other children, well, public schools DO do all these things better and more naturally. That was not meant to be a blanket statement that all public schools offer better academics than all homeschools, sorry for the confusion. That said, interestingly, if you account for race, education level, income level, and marital status, homeschoolers don't actually academically do better as a whole than their public school peers. This isn't to say that individual homeschoolers can't do better than individual public schoolers, but rather that, whether they homeschool or public school, children from white, middle class, educated, two parent families do better than those with other backgrounds, and that that is what explains at least a good portion of homeschool academic achievement. Also, you mention your husband's shortcomings in his public school education. Well, I was homeschooled and my history and was spotty and some aspects of English and writing were spotty as well. I also had problems with math, given that I'd never had an instructor and had actually been teaching it to myself, without complete understanding, for years. And science? My textbooks were creationist, meaning that I some of what I was taught was flat out wrong. I have also seen kids completely failed by homeschooling. Homeschooling is no magic panacea. :-)You mention problems with public schools. I personally would rather try to work to fix those problems than simply jump ship. The more interested, involved parents public schools have the better off they are. But that's just my thought. :-)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16027956042910623970 Leanna

    Libby Anne- I love this post. I am a homemaker, but I make sure my sons don't expect their future partners to stay at home just because I do, and I also assure my daughter that she can do anything her brothers can. This is the arrangement that works best for our family currently, but I'm thankful it's only one of many options open to me.Bertrand- I am a secular homeschooler. I do NOT do it to shelter my kids, but because there is not a good school available to me in my rural Kentucky town. Yes, kids have a right to have competent teachers, and I am giving them what our school cannot right now. They are around other kids almost daily through sports and other activities, and my kids are thriving.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Leanna – This is why I don't make the claim that homeschooling should be rejected completely. I think for some families in some situations it can work well. However, I don't think it should ever be the default, but should, like I said, only be turned to if, for some reasons, the public schools simply aren't working for a family or a child. And again, every family is different – some families in your situation might choose to stay and try to fix the schools and make the best of a bad situation. Regardless of whether you remain in a public school or decided to homeschool, I think it is important at the same time to not simply abandon the schools, but continue to be interested in seeing them improved. My parents – it was like the public schools weren't even on the radar, like they for all intents and purposes did not exist. Also, you sound like you're aware of the challenges of homeschooling – having to make sure the kids have contact with others, making sure they have competent teachers for each subject (which gets more difficult at the high school level), and making sure your kids aren't sheltered from other viewpoints. Homeschooling well is hard, but I have also seen families who do this and find it very rewarding. That said, I'm going to put my daughter in public school in part because I want her to have the normal experiences I never did. We're in a pretty good school district right now, so I'm not worried. I'm actually excited about it – it'll be a new adventure for me!

  • http://bertrand.le.roy.name/ Bertrand Le Roy

    Just wanted to chime in once more to say that yes, you guys are right, unfortunately there are (many) places where public schools are just not cutting it. I'm very lucky that there are excellent ones in my neighborhood, but I see where you guys are standing. Ideally, the solution would be to fix public schools, not to home-school but eh, what are you going to do?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Bertrand – I agree. The idea solution should be to fix the public schools, but it's not like any one family can do that with the snap of their fingers. That's why I think it should be an individual decision, made based on what is best for a given family in a given situation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/13431360470621601054 Danae

    Libby Anne – thanks for the clarification! That makes more sense. I guess part of this is a matter of looking at the big picture versus looking at my children in particular. I have nothing inherently against public school and plan on utilizing the excellent homeschool/public school partnership program in our area at some point. I would absolutely like to see interested parents impacting our school districts. But when it comes to my own children, I feel like I have more ability to customize their education to meet their needs on my own than as a parent with a child in a classroom. But that is simply my (and my husband's) choice at this point for our family and not a dictate for anyone else. Like you said in the above comment: a decision made for each given family in their given situation.

  • http://bluebonnetreads.wordpress.com/ bluebonnetreads

    I came over from your AlterNet article, which I found through Rachel Held Evans' Sunday Superlatives. I really appreciated this clarification – I felt like in the AlterNet article you were painting with a broad brush when it came to the things you mentioned above. Now I can almost completely agree with you instead of being worried that you are part of a movement to outlaw homeschooling or something. ;)I was homeschooled until 10th grade and then went to public school. It worked out very well for me, and actually I credit homeschooling with the fact that I was able to do so well in high school and college. I would like to point out, however, that public school quality varies WIDELY. Some public schools are very poor quality and children will be much better off being homeschooled. I'm also hesitant about government regulation, simply because I find that bureaucracy tends to mess things up and doesn't allow for individual attention. If homeschoolers had to pass standardized tests in Texas, nearly all would do so with flying colors – and personally I preferred not having to sit through the tests to taking half an hour to finish the (TAKS) test and then sitting there doing nothing for two hours, because we weren't allowed to have any books even after our tests were picked up. Regardless, though, I think homeschooling should simply be an option for parents to consider, and that where to have their children educated should be something parents choose carefully. The decision may vary from child to child, even. It's not one to be taken lightly. I'm looking forward to reading your blog!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10562805251128821984 Libby Anne

    Bluebonnetreads – On homeschool regulation, the reason I favor having homeschooling regulated is that I have seen it collasally fail children. Take the 17 year old I know who hasn't actually been educated since fourth grade, and has instead been expected to spend her time – all of it – raising the children, doing housework, and working odd jobs to bring in extra money for the family. She desparately wants a high school diploma, desparately, but she knows there is no change. And her state? No homeschool regulations. None. I understand that you were glad to not have to take tests, but the fact is, I have met and heard from plenty of homeschoolers who wouldn't pass such tests, regardless of your assertions. They are the ones who are being let fall through the cracks, given no chance of an education whatsoever. If this girl I mentioned had gone to public school, she would have a way to get that diploma. As it is, she doesn't.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16027956042910623970 Leanna

    I wish I felt like I could "fix" our schools. There is so much ignorance and a deep anti-education culture here though, and I'm not sure any number of PTA meetings can resolve that. I am pro-public schools but don't want to send my kids there while they are figuring things out. Libby Anne, that is very sad and it seems like that girl's parents should be able to be tried as truants. I am in favor of more homeschool regulations, though I obviously enjoy the freedom and flexibility we have now. In Kentucky, homeschools are regulated the same as private schools, which is to say not very much at all.

  • Anonymous

    I was so happy to find your blog through the recent article on Alternet, though it brings up a lot of unpleasant memories and frustrations. I think I am about a decade older than you, and my parents are somewhat different than the Quiverfull/CP families you describe (I don't know if those terms even existed when they started homeschooling me as a young child–my family started homeschooling at the very beginning of the movement). Nonetheless, my childhood/girlhood was fraught with many of the problems you point out. We were terribly isolated, and I was lonely, depressed, and worked to exhaustion as the second of many children. My parents had neither the financial nor the emotional resources to take care of their many children, and they were pathologically controlling, even though the control wasn't necessarily exercised in the strong religious overtones that characterize much of the QF/CP movement. Fortunately, with me being one of the older siblings, they still believed in sending their kids to college (something they no longer do). My older brother crashed and burned during college; it was no wonder given that he experienced the brunt of the spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse that happened in our family. The complete inability of my parents to spend any significant time or effort on our education didn't help either.My college experience was better; the first year was extremely difficult, but like you, I found that the conservative evangelicals at my college (who were wildly liberal and "worldly" by comparison to me) were a wonderful, kind friend base. (And shock and amazement–many of them went to public school and hadn't turned into sex-crazed drug-addicted prostitutes who worshiped Satan!!!!!)The process of getting out of my parents' emotional clutches was very, very painful for both sides, and much of my 20s were eaten up with me trying to get all the fear and depression and negative messages of my childhood out of my head.Now, in my 30s, I'm largely free of the crippling messages that rang in my head throughout much of my 20s. The way I was raised seems so foreign to me now that I have more than a decade's distance from my family. Unfortunately, as I have come into my own as a person and worked to establish my own life, my sorrow at watching my younger siblings caught up in this lifestyle has only increased. I have several siblings who are now in their early 20s who still live at home, without jobs or educations or much prospect for independent, fulfilled lives. (Of course their perspective on their lives is quite different than mine). Despite the fact that I have a truly wonderful marriage of 12 years, two healthy, happy (and public-schooled) children, an ongoing commitment to (liberal) Christianity, and a career and life I feel blessed and happy to have, I know full well that I will never be approved of or truly accepted. My family is polite, but closed to me. I have gradually been able to cleanse myself of the desperate need to please them and the subsequent anger toward them that consumed years of my young adulthood, and I've come to a place where I have sympathy for some of their shortcomings. I appreciate their strengths and some aspects of my childhood. That's all I can do, I guess.Anyway, thank you for writing on this subject. One of the most difficult parts of my journey through my 20s is that I had very few people to relate to. My growing-up was so freakishly abnormal that it was difficult to talk to anyone about. It took my husband years to get a sense of what my life was like. I had seen the No Longer Quivering site before, but hadn't spent much time on it because I couldn't totally relate, since like I said, my family had some aspects that just don't fit the QF/CP mold. But your post on Alternet and then your blog really touched me. You're the closest thing I've found to a kindred spirit.

  • http://atheistreadsbible.blogspot.com/ Jude

    I have a problem with people in general, let alone people who have way too many children and believe in nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    I did grow up in a patriarchal home, but for some reason I always felt like I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom/homemaker. After trying it out for a few months I realized this was NOT the life for me. My one child exhausted me, and I craved freedom and adult interaction! I realized I was spending my whole day trying to escape from her instead of spending quality time with her. I began working and I feel like our lives got 10X better as a result. I'm so happy that I had a choice, that I wasn't raised to think women could only take one path. I can't imagine how depressed I would have been if I thought I had to "stick it out" for the rest of my life.

  • Anonymous

    Oh geez, major typo on my comment. I did not grow up in a patriarchal home. Sorry.

  • Anonymous

    I found your article on Alternet and then found your blog through Twitter. I grew up Catholic but our (unusual & wonderful) priests followed the Jesuit method and taught us to come to God through independent thought, comparison and analysis. So I really appreciate your point of view because it emphasizes the choice I grew up with. As a rather headstrong individual I doubt my belief in God would be as strong if I have been force-fed a fixed set of beliefs. Very tellingly, when I asked my priest to reconcile Creationism with Evolution, he instructed me to review both schools of thought carefully and come to my own conclusions. A powerful belief in God and energetic intellectual pursuit for women (or men) are not mutually incompatible.There are many of us who love God as much as any professed Christian but are secular and Liberal. We believe secularism is what actually protects the rights of everyone in the USA to practice their particular religion or set of beliefs free from Government interference. Takeover of the Government by a particular set of beliefs limits the rights of those who do not share that particular set of beliefs. We are a stronger country when we all have a FREE choice of which dream to pursue, which religion to practice and what type of education to provide our children.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is worth mentioning that women face contradictory pressures. For example, I grew up being told that 'no intelligent woman could endure staying home with a baby', 'all mothers who lack paid employment are pawns/victims/don't know their own minds', 'your husband will not respect you as an equal if you are at home' and so on. Then I actually had a baby. Boy, was I surprised! I wasn't bored at all. My brain didn't seem to be rotting (although, how would I know if it were?). My husband didn't start treating me like a menial, nor did he demand that I "get off my ass and get back to work" as actually happened to friends of mine. It is true that I got less respect from some people, but they were generally a-holes so I didn't let it bother me.I'm not trying to minimize the struggles of women whose desire to work outside the home goes against the grain of their families and churches. Nor am I trying to proselytize any particular way of living. I'm just trying to say that it isn't a one-way street.

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