An Ideological Straight-Jacket

I just realized that in my last post I made the my home and those of other daughters who leave sound like a sort of prison complete with wardens. I will explore that idea here, and argue that the children of Christian Patriarchy essentially grow up in ideological straight-jackets.

The parents of Christian Patriarchy have one goal in mind: to raise children who believe and act as they do. The reason, of course, is that they see their beliefs and lifestyle as the only one that is truly Christian, and anyone who steps outside of their beliefs and lifestyle turns their back on God. Within this framework, parents of Christian Patriarchy act quite rationally.  

Vision Forum and No Greater Joy and the Institutes for Basic Life Principles tell them that if they do just so, they will turn out perfect godly Children. This is the appeal these groups have, and parents buy it. They then live by the formulas these groups present and expect complete conformity from their children, not because they think they have to force their children to believe something they don’t believe, but rather because they think the formulas will work and produce children who genuinely believe just as they do.

These formulas for raising perfect godly children always seem to involve some degree of sheltering and some degree of surveillance. Children are kept from bad influences and their associations are monitored. The extreme to which this is taken, though, varies slightly from method to method and greatly from family to family. On the one end, Michael Pearl suggests in his article Sanctuary that children’s every move and interaction should be watched:
Over the years as our children were growing up, Deb and I offended about every family member and some of our friends by being “overprotective” of the innocent charges God sent into our care. We guarded them from any suspect company and thoughtfully planned their associations. We have not trusted, “good Christian families.” We have not participated in churches where the children were separated from us. After church, we watched them and their associations. When kids stop running around in circles, screaming, and start talking, or drawing aside, you’ve likely got the beginning of troubles brewing. Keep the little ones standing right beside you after church. They should always sit with you, never with their friends. If they go out to the bathroom, go with them. Never allow them to spend the night with friends or cousins. Slumber parties are sin parties. Never allow them to listen to music through headphones. Three-minute phone conversations, no chat rooms, no surfing the web for any reason. Parents should make it physically impossible for them to even access the web. We didn’t allow our children to spend time in their bedrooms unless they were working on a project or reading. Bedroom doors were always kept open, except for two minutes while dressing.
Families that go to this extreme essentially act as prison wardens over their children. Vision Forum goes so far as to advise that children of both genders should not be sent away to college for fear of corruption.  

Yet sheltering and surveillance are rarely taken quite to this extreme by the families of Christian Patriarchy, which can vary in many respects. In my family, for instance, we children had plenty of friends and activities, and we weren’t watched every minute. We were allowed at least some privacy, inasmuch as privacy could be found in a house full of children. We were also allowed to go to friends’ houses and to slumber parties. In addition, my family believed in sending children away to college, trusting that by that point they were well trained enough to withstand the evil influences they might come in contact with. Yet, nevertheless, every family of Christian Patriarchy practices at least some sheltering and surveillance, especially with regards to internet use, friend selection, and privacy in bedrooms.

Even as most children of Christian Patriarchy have activities, friends, and some measure of privacy, they nevertheless grow up in a sort of ideological straight-jacket. The parents of Christian Patriarchy expect a great deal of conformity in belief (especially when it comes to religion and gender) and in action (no dating, no cussing, dress just so, etc.), and stepping outside or having a differing opinion simply is not an option. Questioning your parents and how they do things is a big no-no, and is counted as either back talk or rebellion, depending on one’s age. Now here’s the thing about an ideological straitjacket: to someone who shares the ideology, it doesn’t feel constricting. In fact, it feels perfectly comfortable and comforting. It is only when an individual begins to grate against the restrictions or ask questions or change beliefs that they realize they’re in a straight-jacket.

Now, when a child rebels the parents generally do not see it as a problem with their beliefs or child-rearing methods, but rather as a problem with the child. After all, they followed the formula, so the child should share their beliefs, and if she doesn’t then there’s something wrong with her. The general conclusions are that she’s selfish and is thinking only of her fleshly desires, or that she’s been misled or brainwashed by someone (especially if college or outside classes are involved), or that she’s blinded by love (if there’s a boy involved). These explanations are turned to because the parent literally cannot figure out how a child raised according to the formulas they’ve been sold, separated from evil influences and immersed in the Bible and covered with prayer, could ever go wrong or leave their beliefs. It simply does not make sense to them.
At this point, the parents generally believe it is their duty to bring their wayward child back to the true path. They see this as a fight against the devil and the world, a fight for their child’s very soul, and a struggle between the parents and the child ensues. It is here, if not before, that the child realizes that she is stuck in an ideological straight-jacket. This struggle is not fun for either the parents or the child, and it involves much heartache and pain for both. In the end, one of three things has to happen: either the parents rein the child in, or the parents loosen up and accept some lack of conformity, or the child simply leaves and the parents are left trying to figure out what went wrong and what to do now. In essence, the child must either be taught to remain in the ideological straight-jacket willingly, or the straight-jacket must be loosened and its wearer allowed more freedom, or the child must find a way to rip off the straight-jacket entirely.

When an older daughter rebels or changes her beliefs, she automatically becomes a threat. When I told my father about my differences in belief, the very first thing he said was, “What am I supposed to do about the children?” I was completely shocked, because that wasn’t the first reaction I had expected. I realized then that in that moment he had gone from seeing me as his precious daughter to seeing me as a threat to his other dozen children. I had suddenly, in his eyes, become the enemy. That hurt, a lot, and it also scared me. What it told me was that he would consider sacrificing me in order to protect the children he still had. While the idea of cutting a daughter off for rebelling or differing in belief may seem foreign to some of you, it’s important to realize that it actually makes perfect sense and is indeed quite rational – within their worldview.

And it is with good reason that the daughter who rebels and leaves is seen as a threat. If the parents allow the daughter to visit and have contact with her siblings, those siblings may look at this older sibling they’ve been told is “rebellious” or “out of step with God” and see that she appears normal and happy and experience a disconnect. They may come to see leaving as a valid option, and they may even question their parents’ treatment of her. It is for this reason that some parents cut off a wayward older daughter completely, denying her access to her siblings completely. This serves two purposes: it is an attempt to bring her back by using her siblings as a weapon against her, and it is an attempt to protect the children they have at home from potential corruption.


Yet even if the parents deny the older daughter any access to her siblings, she is subversive by her very existence. The parents may tell their younger children that the older sister is “selfish” or “worldly,” but who do you think daughter #3 or son #5 will call the moment they face conflict with mom and dad? I know of one case where an older daughter who had left home received a call from a younger sister who had run away from home, asking to be picked up. If that older sister hadn’t been there, the younger one might not have run away, or else would have run away in the face of far more difficult circumstances. Just being there provides an alternative support system for a younger sibling who starts asking questions.

If children of Christian Patriarchy grow up in an ideological straight-jacket, the daughter who leaves shows her siblings that the straight-jacket can be removed, and that if they need there is someone who can help them do so.
To be clear, it’s not that I have a problem with the parents believing whatever they want to believe. I’m all for freedom of religion and the freedom to choose your own lifestyle. The problem I have is with the way that Christian Patriarchy forces the child into an ideological from which children who want to make their own paths and come up with their own beliefs or views must break free, leaving parents and siblings behind. The parents of Christian Patriarchy can’t seem to let their children make up their minds for themselves.
And yet, if you get inside the heads of the parents of Christian Patriarchy, you can see why they do what they do. After all, they believe that any views or ways of living besides their own are ungodly and worldly, and thus the option is quite stark: conformity or rebellion. Furthermore, Vision Forum, No Greater Joy, and the Institutes for Basic Life Principles have preyed on their fears and told them that if they raise their children just so, they’ll turn into into “perfect godly Christians,” echoing their parents’ beliefs and marching like robots down the straight and narrow to God’s kingdom. Sadly, the parents don’t see the ideological straight-jackets they put their children in: for them it’s just “godly living” or “godly parenting.” It’s only the children who ask questions or want something different that suddenly realize the ideological straight-jacket their parents have unwittingly (or intentionally) put them in.

Red Town, Blue Town
Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
When Marriage Looks Like the Only Escape
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.

  • Jude

    I'm a parent of three kids who can believe whatever they want. I took in a runaway Mormon girl who chose rationality over religion. Her first week away from church was scary and liberating–she couldn't believe how much free time she had. Her parents agreed that she could live with me, and the dad dropped by three times to see her–each time with the intention of reconverting her. After that, they stopped talking to her. She hasn't seen them or her brothers in two years. I'm sure she'd tell you that the freedom is worth it, but I can't understand how someone could just write off their child. I have a son who's been a challenge to raise, but if he'd left, I'd have been knocking on his door every day, or at least sending him letters and emails. I would have filled out the Fafsa for him so he could attend college. I'd make sure he had warm clothes, blankets, and the books he needed. I just don't get it.

  • Young Mom

    Yes! My family hasn't outright rejected me, but I know that "protecting" the younger children is always on their mind. It has gotten better since the early years after I got married, but back when I was living at home, we weren't allowed to have sleepovers, I had no friends, and we hardly left the house at all. We didn't even go to church for a long time.

  • Jesse

    Yes!I should send people to this post when they don't understand why I have so much trouble maintaining a relationship with my parents. It is so hard to explain if you haven't grown up being expected to fit those expectations, having your every move guarded, and then being rejected when you don't turn out as desired.

  • Final Anonymous

    This is a big reason why I'm starting to see these groups as cults. Even among my most conservative friends, I've never known one to completely cut off ties with a child who started to think differently than them about religion. If anything, the poor wayward son or daughter has to put up with a bunch of extra contact as the parents try feverishly to bring them back into the fold.Disagreements, hurt feelings, distance, awkward family gatherings, sure… complete abandonment, no communication allowed, never. Different world.

  • Libby Anne

    Final Anonymous – Remember that not every family following Christian Patriarchy does that. Mine didn't. And even when families do cut off contact, they first work to bring them back into the fold.

  • Bruce

    My daughter corresponds with a 20 yr old girl she met 7 years ago at the last church I pastored. The girl is not allowed to receive a letter from my dsughter or write one until Mom reads it. every action is closely supervised and controlled.

  • Ophelia Benson

    Libby Anne, you say "the child must either be taught to remain in the ideological straight-jacket willingly, or the straight-jacket must be loosened and its wearer allowed more freedom, or the child must find a way to rip off the straight-jacket entirely." Is there a fourth option of just plain force?From what you say there clearly is force of a kind, all along – no closed bedroom doors, no talking alone with friends, etc. Do you know if any older children end up as prisoners, or almost-prisoners? Not exactly locked in, but always watched and not able to leave?

  • Libby Anne

    Ophelia – No, I don't. Generally if a girl stays in her parents' home in a situation such as this, it's because of the emotional manipulation and the fear of losing her siblings and everything she's ever known. Remember that the outside world is portrayed as a very scary place. The girl can also simply be convinced that staying and submitting is what God wants, and so she stays. But if a girl wants out, she CAN leave, and she knows that. And parents sometimes point this out – if you want to leave, go, we're not stopping you. It's just that it would very likely mean losing everything she's ever known and entering a new and scary world, often alone. In more open families, like mine, girls already have friends and a support system on the outside. Other girls have friends who have already left, and have given them contact information. Others have relatives, such as aunts or grandparents, who are willing to give them a hand, or even let them move in with them. Others have strangers they know who have reached out to them. There might possibly be some girls who have none of these, of course. Also, remember that not every family goes to the extreme of no closed bedroom doors and no talking alone with friends. Mine didn't, though if you were alone in your room too long you'd be asked what you were doing, and if you had a conversation with a friend that you didn't want overheard, that was seen as a problem, because you shouldn't be talking about things you're ashamed of. But really, those things weren't enforced very much.

  • shadowspring

    Libs wrote:" This serves two purposes: it is an attempt to bring her back by using her siblings as a weapon against her, and it is an attempt to protect the children they have at home from potential corruption." Don't forget the third purpose- to threaten the children who remain with dispensing of their existence just like happened to sister if they ever disagree with mom and dad. It's a powerful deterrent.Ophelia,I know of a twenty-year old who was so closely supervised she never left home without Daddy's approval and someone to accompany her except for a few instances deemed safe- like cleaning for elderly neighbors, etc. At twenty she finally got her own laptop, and she had an exiled older sister on the outside. She made her escape, coming to live with people she had previously known only online. It's been over a year since freedom, and still sometimes depression hits. But she's free, in more ways than one, and very much loved in her new life. So yes, it is still happening, and even to older children.

  • Libby Anne

    Shadowspring: "Don't forget the third purpose- to threaten the children who remain with dispensing of their existence just like happened to sister if they ever disagree with mom and dad. It's a powerful deterrent." Yes, you're right, I forgot that one! And it's true – it sends this message to the others, that this same thing could happen to them if they step out of line. Also, the story you provide is what makes me wonder if I can truly say I lived in Christian Patriarchy. My parents were comparatively open – heck, they sent me to college! – and that's why I was so blindsided when trouble started. I wasn't expecting it. But all the core beliefs were still there in my family, just not implemented in such an extreme way!

  • Ophelia Benson

    Thanks Libby. It's good to know that's at least very rare. The exception shadowspring reports is…scary.

  • Anne

    And even when families do cut off contact, they first work to bring them back into the fold. What do you mean by that? My parents tried before I left to keep me there…they knew I was thinking of running again and tried to grip me tighter, but once I said I was going, that was it. They didn't even let me say goodbye to my siblings.

  • Libby Anne

    Anne – My parents bought a whole bunch more literature and had me read/listen to it. It was a lot of Vision Forum stuff. They told me I had to obey my dad because he was my authority, had to believe as he did, etc. They tried really hard to get me to believe as they did again, but it didn't work. They never ordered me to leave – it was more me simply leaving in an effort to maintain my sanity.

  • Anonymous

    It really depends on the family and the child. My dad kicked one of my sisters out with NO warning for just being being who she was and he claimed she was being rebellous. She did not not have the option of coming back. He basically told her as far as he was concerned she was dead. He tried to get me to come back, but only under certain terms, and made it clear that unless I met those terms I couldn't come back–and trust me, I wasn't about to accept his terms. On one had I had a fair amount of freedom on our own propety, but I wasn't allowed to leave the property without my father or a brother with me, even as an adult–I was 26 when I left. Outside friends were not encouraged. For me, when I think about my parents' home, I still feel invisible prision walls pressing against my heart. At the time they were so real and seemed so impossible to scale. kateri @

  • Katy-Anne

    Ophelia, it's kind of offensive to call it an exception. Most that I know that have left have been that strict.

  • Libby Anne

    Katy-Anne and Ophelia – I think there is a lot of variation, and that part of the problem is that there is no one church denomination or belief statement that all follow. So in interpretation, it becomes varied, united by certain beliefs and the influence of organizations like Vision Forum, IBLP, and No Greater Joy. Some families, like mine, get it all in a lighter dose, while others get it in much heavier doses. I would contend that these beliefs are problematic in any dose, but that those raised with higher doses obviously have much harder times than those raised with lower doses.

  • Anne

    Libby – Ah, I see. When it became evident to my parents that I might leave at some point, they tightened their grip on me…took away my phone, didn't let me online, and bought the Botkins' "Return of the Daughters" DVD to re-indoctrinate me. lol I was silently pointing out all the flaws to myself as I watched it. xD

  • Libby Anne

    Anne – I did the same thing! I was like…uh…seriously…this makes no sense at all. It was almost laughable it was so ridiculous. Only for me, it was the Botkins' So Much More rather than their Return of the Daughters. I'm not sure that one was out yet, actually.

  • Anne

    Libby – I'd already read So Much More a couple years before. I've been interested to read it again…but not sure that will happen.

  • Libby Anne

    Anne – When I left, So Much More was just coming out. Same with Created To Be His Helpmeet. You were still in, so you got more of that stuff, I'd imagine.

  • Anne

    Libby – Yeah I didn't leave until last year…just before Preparing To Be His Helpmeet came out. But when I left, nothing would have helped — at that point I didn't care what was "right" or "wrong", I had to get out for the sake of my sanity and my life!

  • LucrezaBorgia

    Did you ever watch the Jeub's on "Kids by the dozen" on TLC? They kicked an older daughter out and cut off contact with her to "protect" the younger children, most of whom weren't full blood siblings. That show always got my blood boiling because I felt that the husband did that mostly because she wasn't his blood daughter and it seemed as if her mother really wanted to see her but was prevented by the husband.

  • Libby Anne

    Lucreza – Nice to see you here! Yes, I've heard of the show and the situation. And you're right, it was NOT GOOD. I think some girls get kicked out or are given an ultimatum while others are simply smothered and manipulated until they leave out of sheer desperation.

  • Anonymous

    What started my questioning and the whole huge journey it's been, was actually a situation where some dear friends of ours were ostracizing their adult son for doing things different than they wanted, things they had once told him to do! The mother was talking to me and said how it was so nice that I was like the girls in So Much More. Somehow I got a creepy feeling from that and started to google some homeschool leaders and everything in my belief system and life is very different now!

  • Sierra

    I was so completely creeped out by that Michael Pearl blockquote. Oh my god. How stifling.

  • Haggie

    Hey, thanks so much for posting this! I am following your blog now, I love it. I grew up in this Patriarchy, and though it was not as strict, and my parents saw the light when I was in my 20's. The damage is done. Being the oldest daughter in the family. I had so many expectations, and I envied my younger sister, she had a free spirit, and was so comfortable with herself, and never LET people conform her, she just didn't care. My parents watched other families "shun" their children for rebellion or outright kicking them out for questioning things, and my parents told us they would never go to that extreme, it was against God's design. So, I had that fall back, that I would never be kicked out, but I have always had the feeling that I let them down in areas, not that I would change one thing in my life, but the guilt can be stifling even 16 years later. I have a memory, our family was in turmoil, I was coming off of a BAD BAD relationship, and has squeaked out without getting pregnant, but the thought was there, and I was confronted with a situation that made me break down over my own pain. My brother, my dear dear brother took me in his arms, I was weeping, and saying, "That could have so easily been me, pregnant, alone, and kicked out for rebellion" and he said "Hey! Hey, That's BS! We don't do that, YOU would NEVER be that person, WE don't walk away from each other, you ALWAYS have us!"I have never forgotten that. It reminded me that in all the crap, all the twisted teaching, somewhere down deep, my parents got some important things VERY VERY right, like, loyalty, and Family. I guess, with all that, my addition is, don't underestimate the mental damage done to these girls, I believe my entire life I will be haunted by some kind of guilt now and then about things I did and didn't choose to do. I will constantly fight with prejudice, taught to me by wise Bible scholars. Even though I was allowed many more freedoms than most girls, I still had a high IDEAL to accomplish, and if I walked into that church (I don't even know if it's still in session) now, with my trendy tight jeans, high heels, two kids, and catholic hubs, I wouldn't be given the time of day, then when they figured out who I was, they would probably ask me not to come back. I wouldn't want to influence any tender minds to think that they might survive outside the bubble.I am Happy with my life, and lately, as I shed more and more pieces of the straight jacket, I feel more and more FREE. I feel like I am only just becoming the person I was meant to be. my "faith" is not shaken, well mostly, once in a while i do have questions, but my walk is much altered, but my Faith in God and who He is, and how He wants people to act, pretty strong. :)