Marrying Before Thinking

The Quiverfull system pushes daughters into marriage before ever giving them a chance to figure out who they are. Given the admonition against having “teenagers” and the interpretation of any difference in thought or practice as “rebellion,” Quiverfull daughters have no chance to grow up or mature. Then they marry. Then what happens?

A growing number of Quiverfull daughters are being kept at home. They practice homemaking and help raise and homeschool their siblings. They learn to cook and quilt and clean the house. They remain under their fathers’ authority and obedient to their parents. And most of all, they wait for a man to come looking to marry them. It is therefore not uncommon at all for these Quiverfull daughters to marry before they ever ask questions or think things through for themselves.
Melissa married at nineteen. She admits that what she really wanted was an escape, a way to leave home and have her own life. She married after a short courtship to a man her parents approved, a man who was Quiverfull and a strong believer in Christian Patriarchy. She did not truly know her husband when she married him, and how could she? They had just met. Melissa proceeded to have a number of children one after another, but then the questions started coming and didn’t stop. Amazingly, her husband was willing to listen to her questions without dismissal or bulldozering. While he did not always agree with her thoughts and questions, and especially when she began questioning God’s very existence, he allowed her room to think, grow, and mature and rather than simply expecting her to believe as he did.  Melissa’s marriage has worked out because when she started asking questions and thinking, changing and finding herself, her husband gave her room to do so.
Ellen married in her early twenties after spending her college years as a stay-at-home-daughter. Like Melissa, she didn’t know her husband very well when she married him, but he was approved by her father and they followed the practices of courtship to a T. Ellen had a baby fairly early in her marriage, and then, infant at her breast, she began to ask questions. Soon Ellen found that while she still counted herself a Christian, her religious beliefs were shifting dramatically from those of her youth. But today Ellen has a problem. When she first started asking questions, her husband was extremely concerned and even displeased. He refuses to compromise and will not bend. Because of this, she stopped talking to him about her questions even as they ballooned. She doesn’t share what is in her heart with her husband, and instead focuses on pleasing him by being a good homemaker. She feels guilty for having changed when he has not, and she is not sure what to do.
If young women are allowed to figure out who they are and what they believe for themselves before marriage, this sort of thing doesn’t have to happen. Ideally, marriage should take place between two mature adults who have both already formed their identities and views. Sure, people change within any marriage, but this is something on a completely different scale. I think this is also why statistically marriages between adults in their early twenties fail so much more frequently than those between adults in their later twenties. The goal should be to find yourself first, and to marry second.
Some Quiverfull daughters start asking questions before they marry. Sometimes this happens because they are sent to college and thus given space to breathe free and think for themselves, but sometimes it happens regardless. Yet even those Quiverfull daughters who do start thinking and asking questions before marriage, whether through experiences like college or not, the problem of marrying before thinking does not necessarily disappear.
Anne desperately wanted out of her parents’ house but didn’t see any way out. She met a young man on the internet, a young man who had grown up similarly in many ways but did not share her parents’ extreme beliefs. Her parents found out about her online relationship and kicked her out of the house. Within months, she married her young man. Anne may have already started asking questions, but her journey of finding herself had only just started. Fortunately, her husband is in the process of finding himself as well, and they are being able to move forward together, supporting each other.
Why does this happen? I think Sarah describes it best:
I married young. Upon many occasions i have seen marriage used as an escape for adult children, trapped at home by parents and the Patriarchal lifestyle. Two kids, caught in the system, clinging together for dear life. I like to think that desperation had nothing to do with my decision marry, but it was defiantly the force that put me in the position in the first place.
Sarah spent a semester at a Christian college, and it was there she met her young man. He was Christian too, but in a fairly open evangelical sense, the sort of sense where God is about love and rules don’t matter. Sarah readily admits that she has only just embarked on her journey of self discovery, but the young man she married is the sort of young man to give her room to find herself.
Katherine is in the process of walking this same path. She started asking questions in college, and around the same time met a wonderful and accepting young man. Her parents disapproved of this young man, and disapproved of her questions, and all hell broke loose at home. Katherine is currently trying to figure out who she is separate from her parents, and this is being very difficult for her. She finds comfort, acceptance, and encouragement in her changing faith and in the young man into whose arms she has run. I believe they have a wedding day set.
I hate to admit it, but I did just what Sarah describes and just what Katherine is in the process of doing. I married extremely young, both as a way of escape, because marriage is the only thing that will make Quiverfull parents stop trying to assert their authority over an adult daughter, and out of a desire to have a supportive companion in this big scary world where everything is new, a companion who loves me and accepts me as I am. The result was that I married after I began to think for myself but before I finished finding myself. 

When I married, I had totally rejected male headship, female submission, and my parents’ fundamentalist religious beliefs and conservative politics. I still, however, intended to have five or seven kids, be a homemaker, homeschool, and use the Pearls’ discipline methods. This was fine with my new husband, who though personally progressive had grown up in a conservative family and liked the idea of having a stay at home wife where responsibilities were split and the idea of teaching his children self-discipline, something he felt like his own upbringing lacked (to clarify, he had never actually read To Train Up A Child). Being a natural teacher, homeschooling also appealed to him, as did the idea of a large, energetic, bustling family.

But I have changed since our wedding day. I sometimes feel like I have been unfair to my husband because the woman he married years ago is not the same woman he is married to today. When he married me I was in many ways still on autopilot. I had never really realized there were actual options outside of homemaking and homeschooling. My identity was still tied to the number of children I would have. I hadn’t yet thought through and questioned everything, and I didn’t realize how much my parents’ beliefs were still affecting me. As I’ve questioned more over the past few years, I’ve changed my beliefs more. Today, I don’t want to be a homemaker, I don’t want to homeschool, I only want a few kids, and I have a fairly permissive style of child rearing. 

Fortunately, my husband is understanding and accepting. He realizes that people change over time, and he doesn’t see me as his subordinate or expect me to echo his opinions. He has listened to me as I’ve explained why I’ve changed my thinking on these issues, and he has come to largely agree with me on many of them, especially on sending our children to public school and on not spanking. We still have our differences – I’m thinking two kids, he’s thinking four – and our disagreements – he thinks I let our daughter get away with too much – but it’s nothing we can’t work with. Furthermore, he understands my desire to work, whether from home or outside the home, and simply wants us to make sure we don’t each end up so caught up in our work that we relegate our children and family to second place, with which I wholly concur.

Finding myself within marriage has involved a lot of give and take. It’s necessitates communication and cooperation, but even then it’s not always easy. My husband is not the sort to try to control me or tell me what to think, but he does sometimes feel like he has some sort of whiplash from watching me change. Though I wouldn’t trade my husband – or our daughter – for anything, I can’t help wishing I had figured more of this out before marrying. I wish I’d found myself first. It would have made so many things so much easier.
I can’t imagine what it must be like for the Quiverfull daughters who marry Quiverfull young men before even starting to ask questions, before embarking on the journey of figuring out who they are and who they want to be. Some of them will likely never ask questions, and will simply go about their lives as young Quiverfull mothers, but those who ask questions face a problem.
In some twisted way, maybe this is part of the point. I remember hearing that fundamentalist Mormons marry their girls off young and work to get them pregnant right away to make it so that these girls, saddled with marriage and children by age twenty, never have the change to ask questions or explore other ways of life. I don’t want to see things in such a conspiracy mindset, but in practice this exact thing can happen with Quiverfull families who keep their daughters at home and marry them off young. There’s no chance for these girls to think for themselves, and then there are babies. 

One of the key problems with the Quiverfull mentality is that there is no room for individuality or personal growth, for maturity or difference of opinion. Indeed, all of those things are interpreted as “rebellion.” My parents thought “finding yourself” was a ridiculous concept. The expectation is that children will mine what their parents believe and somehow “make it theirs” without ever asking questions or considering alternative ways of seeing things. The unfortunate result for many daughters is that they marry before thinking for themselves and end up potentially stuck in a suffocating situation, expected to be a submissive homemaking wife and quickly saddled with several children but suddenly wanting so much more. Those daughters who start thinking first and then marry understanding men as a means of escape have an easier time of it, but finding yourself within marriage is no piece of cake even with an accepting spouse.

I am very much an admirer of my fellow blogger Lisa, who left her Quiverfull family in order to avoid being forced to marry the man her father had picked out for her. Lisa could easily have ended up in Melissa or Ellen’s position, but instead she started asking questions and then bolted. She is now back in school, and she doesn’t plan to marry or settle down any time soon. Instead, she wants to find herself first. I heartily approve and part of me envies her that.

What the Ruff, the Spotted Hyena, and the Cuttlefish Taught Me about Gender and Sexuality
The Cold, Unforgiving World of Geoffrey Botkin
Monogamy Isn't Biblical, It's Roman
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.

  • Personal Failure

    I, too, think marrying daughters young and saddling them with children immediately is a means of control. Thinking is hard when you have a newborn, and harder when you have a newborn, a baby, a toddler, and on and on and on.Thanks to the wonders of facebook, I can see how the man I intended to marry at 20 turned out, and I am incredibly grateful I did not marry him. And if I'd had children with him? I would have been stuck dealing with him forever. *shudders*

  • Autumn M.

    Stuff like this just creeps me out. Why should one partner in a relationship submit to the other? It's like one person (always the woman in the patriarchal system) is being treated like a child. Anyone who can't maintain an equal partnership with someone they claim to love has dominance issues I wouldn't want to deal with.Peace,Autumn

  • Tanit-Isis

    Great post! Although my upbringing was about as far from Quiverfull as possible, I still transitioned directly from living at home to with my husband and having a baby. I thought I knew myself, but there was still a fair bit of adjustment, both in figuring out what was actually important to me (as opposed to my mother) and in figuring out how to accomodate that to my husband (not in a submissive way but just in terms of figuring out how we worked together). The whole marital-compromise thing was (and remains, twelve years later) quite the eye-opener. And that's without any radical change in paradigms. And while I love my husband and wouldn't trade him, or our children, I would credit our success far more to dumb luck (and maybe idiotic stubbornness ;) ) than anything else. When I think about my daughters, I definitely hope they wait a little bit, and live a little more, before starting families of their own.

  • Anonymous

    Your husband sounds like a very special person.

  • Anonymous

    Ellen sure sounds messed up. Glad I'm not her. :PLeah

  • Mommy McD

    I too married young and had a baby at 20, but i wasn't raised quiverfull. We've been married 4 years without too many issues. I only wish he had lived on his own for a while because he lacks most any household skill, handiness or budget sense. I grew up young due to unfortunate events when i was a child and young teen so while i had a lot of growing left to do when we got married, i had a fairly good understanding of my views and values (at least they haven't changed much but i am still technically a young 20something so I suppose i'm still on the younger side.) But yes having an accepting and supportive spouse makes all the difference.

  • Libby Anne

    I love you, Leah. :-)

  • Enigma

    "When I married, I had totally rejected male headship, female submission, and my parents' fundamentalist religious beliefs and conservative politics. I still, however, intended to have five or seven kids, be a homemaker, homeschool, and use the Pearls' discipline methods. This was fine with my new husband, who though personally progressive had grown up in a conservative family"I was EXACTLY the same way. I just didn’t realize how many of my beliefs were just programmed into me. I'm STILL discovering and eradicating new bits of brainwashing every day.Also, your analysis of why we ex-P/QF girls get married young is spot on! Although I didn’t see it as an escape at the time, I realize now that marriage is literally the only way we can get away from our parents. If I was 40 and single when I left, they would still have been asserting their will on me. Marriage was an escape. I am so incredibly lucky to have escaped with such an easy-going, reasonable guy. haha :)

  • Libby Anne

    Enigma – I didn't think I was getting married to escape either. I've only realized that over the course of the last year, actually. But that doesn't make it any less true!

  • Cherí

    Though I wasn't raised in the Quiverfull movement, I was raised conservative Christian. My senior year in high school, I was completely convinced that "God had told me" I was going to marry a certain guy. Now, six years later, I'm SO glad "God" was wrong. Not that he's not a nice guy, but we are so different now…probably more because I have changed than because he has. I'm looking for completely different things in a relationship now. There are times I get very lonely and wish I was married, but it's probably easier to deal with loneliness than with a relationship in which the partners are not very compatible.

  • joysthoughtsonstuff

    I wasn't raised quiverfull but conservative Christian…..which has over the years evolved to just Christian – But I went to a small Christian college for a couple years and this definitely seemed to be the prevailing attitude – come to school, find a man, get married, and the girl would often drop out of school. I was kind of an enigma there – I actually wanted the degree. I felt really out of place with my friends, one of the only ones not getting married. Then I went to grad school in California, and hit the real world – like two or three people in most of my classes would be married and they were the older students. We worked hard and then would turn around play hard on the weekends – sometimes both. Later marriage was the new normal, and I followed suit – I got married in my late twenties, after taking a job overseas for several years. Around the time I came back to get married, many of my friends from college were starting to file for divorce. My friend showed me a new set of stats a few days ago – – from Cardus – with homeschooling Christians at the top of the list of "most likely to get divorced. I wonder if it is as you said Libbey, they get married without learning to think first and then, when they start to if one spouse changes and the other digs in their heals, then things fall a part?

  • Verity3

    I used to feel somewhat guilty for changing my views and "subjecting" my husband to dealing with that. But now I think that was false guilt, and a waste of energy (though there are people who try to saddle me with it still).When we marry a person, we marry someone with a capacity for growing and changing, not a lifeless, shiny trophy to put on a shelf. And that's a good thing.

  • Anonymous

    I think Patriarchal daughters are stuck in a constant state of childhood, forced there by their parents, and then kept there by their husbands. I find it extremely creepy, like a sort of pedophelia.

  • Melissa

    I knew when I got married that I was marrying to escape. Obviously it was more than that, I felt like I could trust my husband, and I felt that we respected each other and enjoyed being together and had a love begining to blossom. But looking back, I feel awful that urgency to escape was also part of our story. Like you said, I wouldn't change my husband or my children, but we were both such different people then, sometimes I think it's just sheer persistence and luck that we are still together.

  • masagoroll

    My marriage story is like a less dramatic version of the ones presented in this post. My husband and I were both raised conservative Evangelical Christian. He was raised more conservative than I was–his parents spanked, homeschooled, and believed in young-earth creationism. I went to private Christian school, grew up going to church a lot, and was taught that women had to "submit" in some way to their husbands. We were both raised that only conservative politics are correct.We got married at 20 (and "waited for marriage" even though we did date and spend lots of time alone and in no way have a courtship thing going on), and I feel like it has worked out for us so far (more than 4 years later) because we were both on the path away from these conservative beliefs. One of our best conversations when we started dating was when we both admitted to each other that we…GASP! believed in evolution!Now we are both politically independent/liberal, and I'm a feminist liberal Christian and he's a sort of Christian agnostic who is not sure what he believes. I'm our main breadwinner. We are still close and friendly with our parents, and I don't think they realize how much we have changed. I feel like getting married helped us grow away from their beliefs, but I do wonder if I will later regret "settling down" so young, even though I'm happy to be married to my husband.