Why We Keep Silent

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve received a good number of emails from people who grew up with similar beliefs. They write to thank me for for my blog. “More of us need to speak up,” they tell me. That made me wonder? Why don’t we? What keeps us silent?

First I think is the desire not to upset our parents. After all, parents who come to the beliefs of Christian Patriarchy do so because they love their children and want what’s best for them. When we speak out we need to work to distinguish between criticism of our parents and criticism of their beliefs. The problem is that most parents who adopt Christian Patriarchy don’t see this distinction. For them, attacking their beliefs is the same thing as attacking them. After all, when you shape your entire life around a set of beliefs it’s easy to end up seeing criticism of those beliefs as criticism of you. We don’t want to upset the parents we love. And so we stay silent.

But the problem is that our parents need to hear these things. It’s possible that they may not be aware of the problems their children have come to see, and that they may reassess or reconsider when confronted with them. Even if they don’t, at least we will have been open with them and they will know how we feel.

Next is the reality that we’ve grown up seeing our parents as strong authority figures. It can be hard to criticize when your first instinct is still to listen and obey. You second guess yourself, again and again, afraid that maybe you’re wrong and they’re right, even as you know this isn’t correct. When you talk to your parents, your mind travels down old well-worn paths and you suddenly find that what they say makes sense, and up becomes down and down up. When you grew up with parents who endorsed a strict hierarchy with no objections allowed and derided those who tried to be “friends with their kids,” criticizing can almost be physically painful. And so we stay silent.

But the thing is, we are now adults just like they are. When they were are age, they were making their own decisions and forming their own views. Many of them faced opposition from their parents to their decision to homeschool, but they were adults, so they forged ahead anyway. We need to have confidence in ourselves and not be cowed by old hierarchies and patterns of authority.

Then there is our own second guessing, especially for those whose upbringing was less extreme. It wasn’t that bad, we think to ourselves. We had friends, and had great times with our siblings. There were good times along with the bad. We also inevitably compare our experiences to those of others, and then count our blessings. Our parents may have spanked us, but they never actually beat us, we remind ourselves. We weren’t confined to the house, we weren’t micromanaged every second, we weren’t left uneducated and we had free time along with chores. We made it out, and today we’re doing just fine. It wasn’t really that bad, we think to ourselves. It could have been worse. And so we stay silent.

But the thing is, even small problems are still problems. In some ways, it is even more important to speak out against the small problems because they are the ones that go under the radar. Most adults will admit that beating children or depriving them of friends are problems, but lesser problems may go under the radar. Even a small problem is a problem, needs to be spoken out against.

Finally, we are afraid that we are alone. We wonder if our families were exceptions. We wonder why no one else is saying anything. Those of us now living in the normal world don’t think those around us can understand our experiences. Who would listen to one lonely voice? And besides that, who would understand? And so we stay silent.

But the thing is, by speaking out we do real good. First, we encourage others who were raised the way we were and validate their feelings and experiences. Second, we may deter other parents from walking down the paths our parents did by pointing out the problems with what may appear to them as an idyllic vision. Third, we raise awareness and understanding in society at large, making it easier for others like us to leave and find understanding. And who knows. Maybe our parents will actually listen.


Note: I am not saying that we should all go directly to our parents and tell them what we think they did wrong. While this may be beneficial in some situations, it can also cause a scene and only make things worse. Similarly, some of us may not have contact with our parents anymore. For those of us who do have contact, speaking up can mean simply being willing to say “no, I disagree” when our parents say something we think is crap, or “no, I think that actually was a bad idea,” when they bring up something from the past. Even without bringing up anything with our parents, our voices can nevertheless encourage those who have had similar experiences, dissuade others from walking down the paths our parents did, and raise awareness to these problems in general.

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.


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