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.

Maintaining a Relationship with Difficult Parents
Evangelical Author Shaunti Feldhahn's Misleading Work on Marriage and Divorce
When the Perpetrators Matter More than the Victims
Marriage Is Not a Magical Social Cure
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.