On Gratitude; Or, I Love My Parents

I’ve been thinking recently about my feelings toward my parents. Several readers have interpreted my criticism of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull and fundamentalist religion in general as anger or bitterness toward my parents, and have said this in their comments or on their blogs. This bothers me not so much because it’s inaccurate as because if that’s the impression I’m giving I’m failing to effectively communicate what I’m trying to say. I’ve never said my parents are the problem here. They’re not. I love my parents and I’m not mad at them. I understand that they did what they thought was best for my siblings and I, that they were within their rights to raise us differently, and that they acted out of love. As I’ve said before that I blog not out of bitterness toward my parents, but rather out of sadness for the problems created by the beliefs and practices of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull. This blog is not at all intended as an attack on my parents.

Essentially all children become aware at some point that their parents are not perfect. It is true, as these bloggers have pointed out, that most children don’t feel the need to dwell on their parents’ mistakes or make a big deal of them because, well, no parent is perfect. Parents are allowed to get things wrong, and if being perfect was a requirement for parenthood, well, there wouldn’t be any parents. In addition, there is no ideology test for parenting (nor should there be); rather, parents are perfectly allowed to hold counter-cultural beliefs and to raise their children differently from “normal.” I am not contesting any of this. But the thing is, I’m not going after my parents for making mistakes or for holding beliefs that weren’t mainstream – in fact, I’m not “going after” my parents at all.

My parents were part of a growing movement generally referred to as Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull, and it is this movement’s beliefs and practices that I’m “going after,” as well as the problems caused by fundamentalist religion in general. Given the growing number of families joining this movement, I started this blog as a way to speak out, to discuss my experiences with this movement and what I see as its pitfalls and problems. Furthermore, blogging helps me think things through and better understand myself – it’s therapeutic in a way. My blogging also helps others making the same journey. The truth is, this blog isn’t about my parents. It’s about me and my journey and all that I’ve experienced and come to realize along the way.

But my critical readers have made me realize something. I do spend a good deal of time on this blog talking about how I was raised – the intent being to examine the beliefs and practices of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull, not to indict my parents – and I don’t generally discuss the resoundingly positive aspects of my upbringing – aspects that were positive not because of Christian Patriarchy/ Quiverfull (some might say in spite of it) but rather because my parents really are wonderful people on many, many levels. This means that a casual reader almost certainly ends up with a fairly negative picture of my parents.

In light of this, I want to take a moment to talk about the things I am grateful to my parents for.

I’m grateful that my parents loved me. No matter what happened, I never doubted how important I was to them. My mother was always ready to spend a moment with me if I needed it, and my father was always there when I had a question or concern. My parents never gave me a reason to doubt their love for me for a moment, and for that I am thankful.

I’m grateful that my parents always met my physical needs. My father worked hard to put food on the table for us, and my mother worked equally hard to make sure the food we ate was healthy and that all of our physical needs were met. I never had to worry about having a roof over my head or where my next meal would come from, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

I’m grateful that my parents stayed together. Their relationship was far from perfect, but I never doubted that they loved each other or were committed to making their marriage work. This love and commitment is an inspiration to me as I navigate my own marriage, and I’ll always be thankful for seeing it modeled.

I’m grateful that my parents never physically abused me. I may personally disagree with my parents’ discipline method, but at the same time they never beat me, struck me without warning, or spanked me capriciously or in anger. When I read stories of children who were beaten until they bruised or faced random outbursts of parental anger and violence, I’ll always be thankful for my parents.

I’m grateful that my parents taught me the value of hard work and how to handle money. My dad worked tirelessly at his job, and we kids knew it. Mom always seemed to have some task at hand, and was definitely never idle. Watching my parents stay on a budget and carefully make ends meet was an important and useful education for me, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

I’m grateful that my parents taught me the importance of family. I always knew that family was more important to them than anything but their faith. My parents were never too busy to take time out to romp with us kids or make cookies or do a family project, and we took awesome family vacations every year. We kids came first, and we knew it. This is an inspiration to me as I parent my own child, and for that I am thankful.

I’m grateful that my parents taught me that beauty is only skin deep. They may have emphasized modesty more than I now think healthy, but at the same time they told me that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters, and I’ll always be thankful for that.

I’m grateful that my parents taught me that my life had meaning and value. I never felt aimless or purposeless and I never felt the need to turn to peers, sex, drugs, or alcohol as a way to fill some sort of hole in my life. I never felt worthless or unwanted, and for that I am extremely thankful.

I’m grateful that my parents valued education. They turned every moment into a learning experience, and taught us to love exploring the world around them. They planted curiosity in each of us, and made me a lifelong learner. This is something I’m working hard to pass on to my daughter, and something I’ll always be thankful for.

I’m grateful that my parents always made sure I had free time. I had plenty of chores, yes, but I never felt overworked. It wasn’t always easy to find alone time, but it was possible and allowed. I’ll always cherish those moments spent walking across neighboring cornfields or laying in the grass looking at the clouds, and for that I’m thankful.

I’m grateful that my parents didn’t isolate me. We children may have been sheltered, but we were heavily involved in the local homeschool community and attended numerous co-ops. We always had plenty of friends and never felt lonely or left out, and for that I am very thankful.

I’m grateful that my parents were more evangelical than fundamentalist. I may have worried about the coming rapture and had nightmares about demons, but the God I learned about was primarily a God of love, not primarily a God of judgement. I’m thankful that my parents never made me feel afraid of God.

I’m grateful that my parents trusted me enough to send me off to college. They wanted me to have an education and skills to fall back on if I ever needed them, and they saw a college degree as important. I’ll always be thankful for this.

I love my parents, and I know that they’ve only ever wanted what is best for me. I also understand what attracted them to the beliefs they held – after all, I once held these same beliefs. They have the right to believe what they want, and I know that their beliefs provide them with meaning and a sense of purpose. But just because I understand why they believe what they believe and why they do what they do does not mean I have to share or agree with their beliefs and practices.

I think some people have a hard time separating criticism of beliefs from criticism of people, but there is actually a difference. For example, I have a coworker I value highly, but I see his militant socialist views as problematic. I have another coworker whom I admire and count as a friend, but I strongly disagree with her fundamentalist religious beliefs. It’s possible to love and admire someone as a person and yet disagree with or even disapprove of – whether slightly or strongly – that person’s beliefs. The reality is that criticism of someone’s beliefs does not automatically equal criticism of that person.

This blog is not meant to be an indictment of my parents, whom I love dearly, but rather an honest discussion of my experiences  and journey and how I have come to view the beliefs and practices of the milieu in which my parents raised me. This blog is about my journey, a journey from Christian Patriarchy to feminism and from fundamentalism and evangelicalism to atheism and humanism. It’s about what I feel I’ve learned along the way and how I now see and understand the world, not about “lashing out” at my parents or my childhood. It is my hope that a reader see generosity and love, not bitterness or anger. And maybe that’s something I need to work on.

The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
Red Town, Blue Town
Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
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/06401440551873070129 Elin

    I love your list! I love my parents who are both dead now unfortunately but I also feel that they made their fair share of mistakes as well. Because they are dead I sometimes feel like a crook for doing it, they cannot defend themselves but still I know that the critique I have is valid and also that the bad things never change the good things or the fact that I am thankful of the way I was raised. I know who I am and I can stand up for myself. I, like you were also taught how to manage money and my parents also showed me that you can make a marriage work. I have four siblings and none are divorced and all have long relationships, some from when they were teens. I didn't meet my partner until I was 27 (now 29) so I cannot say I have been with the same guy since I was 15 like my sister but hopefully I will live with him for the rest of my life.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15824217102632813598 Tanit-Isis

    It's so hard for us, as humans, to remember the shades of grey—much easier to interpret things as black and white, all good or all bad. Which is pretty much never accurate.I think the most tragic thing here is that your parents have allowed their ideology to damage their otherwise-excellent parenting.

  • Anonymous

    Whenever a person is angry about a painful situation such as an abusive childhood, being accused of bitterness is the standard response of other Christians. For this reason, I have learned to never mention my past to Christians unless I know them very well. Like Libby Anne, I have expended a lot of effort to "pass" for normal to avoid the stigma of bitterness.Finding positive aspects to the past is a good exercise if in fact there is anything positive. For some abuse victims, there may not be. But a person is not required to pass an anti-bitterness litmus test to be acceptable. I am glad Libby Anne is able to find positive aspects to her upbringing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14775794907218052899 Amanda

    Libby Anne, I think you do very well making it clear it is the philosophy and movement with which you take issue, not your parents. Maybe it's because I read your series about your childhood on No Longer Qivering first… but it's always been obvious that you love your parents very much.Some people really do have difficulty separating a dislike of a person's ideology or actions from a dislike of that *person* individually. My siblings and I all know that our parents can't hear that they were perhaps a wee bit too controlling while we were growing up — our mother bursts into hysterical tears at a hint of criticism, and our father just blusters that eventually everybody has to get over their childhood — but we still love our parents just the same.Not to say an apology wouldn't hurt :) But I have my own kids, and frankly when they point out an area where I screwed up someday (and I'm sure they will), I'll say I'm sorry. That's how I can make it right. All we can do is our best — your parents did their best, mine did their best, and we're doing our best :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15809248960102035040 Ashton

    Thanks for this list! My parents were much less evangelical than yours, but even so I struggle with bitterness (yes I am actually bitter) towards them sometimes. It's good to moderate my feelings by reading from someone whose upbringing was much more extreme but still has positive feelings. Sometimes I forget about the positive and feel overwhelmed by the negative. I need to constantly remind myself that I am doing this. Do you think that your siblings would agree with your list? Would they see more negativity than you?

  • http://wonderingwanderingthoughts.blogspot.com OneSmallStep

    I've only commented once before, but I've never read your stories as anger at your parents — I read them as anger at the belief system that essentially trapped your parents into reacting to your de-conversion in a set way. THat belief system didn't allow them to actually hear what you were going through, and almost viewed your questions and struggles as an attack on them as parents, because that meant they hadn't done everything right. That, and to follow-on to what anonymous said — we seem to live in a world where those who clearly identify the problem are told they are bitter or being too vocal about the problem. That allows the audience to ignore anything about the problem itself, and thus attempt to take steps to fix said problem.

  • Anifail

    You know, even if you were angry, or were "going after" your parents in some ways – I'm not sure why that wouldn't be okay. It's okay to be angry at your family, okay to think that they did something wrong, and okay to say it if you feel it. I agree with some of the previous posters that lots of people will see criticism of religion/parenting/whatever and immediately start yelping "Bitter!" as a first defense against actually thinking about what's been said.That said, if you AREN'T angry at your parents, I'm not saying you should be. I have noticed in reading your blog though that you seem to me to really go out of your way to be non-confrontational and to speak positively about things, and sometimes it seems to me like maybe you need to give yourself permission to be angry, or shrill, or crabby or even bitter if you want to be. You aren't required to force your emotional state into a shape that acceptable to the masses. Anyway, if you think I'm completely off, feel free to forget I said anything. :)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15654013636892916062 Erika Martin – Stampin’ Mama

    You haven't communicated it ineffectively. In fact, you've been very clear about your intentions on this blog. The problem isn't in your communication, it's that there are people that insist on reading what they want to in something and making accusations for things that don't exist simply for the sake of wanting to feel persecuted.

  • Wendy

    What dismays me about the way you describe your parents is that your mother seems…smart, and fierce, and really strong. And yet she believes in demons. A little voice inside asks, could that happen to me?

  • http://profile.typepad.com/6p0154323017c1970c Verity3

    I haven't been reading your blog long, but I think in what I've read you've communicated well. I agree with those who point out that despite your best efforts, there are those who will read into your words what they want to find. But to me, you don't come across as having changed your beliefs to get back at anyone, but because you are growing and learning as a person, and honest about it.You come across as a healthy, constructive person who wants to pursue ever-greater wholeness, and help others who are willing to clear away their own cobwebs as well. That's why I'm interested in what you have to say. :)