Child Rearing: From Cog to Individual

When I got married, I had left behind my parents’ fundamentalism and evangelicalism, but I did not realize how many of their other beliefs, especially related to Quiverfull, I still retained. I believed that women should be allowed to choose their own beliefs and their husbands, but I had not yet fully embraced feminism. I could not fathom the idea of having a career and still planned to have eight or so children. I still saw daycare and public school as evils and planned to homeschool. I still believed that if I did not follow the Pearls’ parenting advice my children would be ruined and that I should not “do” teenagers.

When I got pregnant a few months after my marriage, I desperately hoped it would be a girl. An oldest daughter could help around the house, care for small children, cook meals, and babysit. An oldest daughter would be my right hand, a second mother to my many children. An oldest son, in contrast, would be next to useless. And so, I hoped for a girl and saw my baby as the first of many children to come. To an unhealthy extent, I saw my daughter as a cog rather than an individual.

My change of heart actually started with the Pearls. As I have narrated, I started out following the Pearls’ child rearing advice but realized when Sally was just shy of a year that there was something very wrong. I did some research on various child rearing methods, read some critiques of the Pearls, and read about attachment parenting and gentle discipline. I have to admit, this was life changing for me. I no longer saw myself as Sally’s absolute authority and no longer saw expecting absolute obedience from Sally as a worthy goal.

Rejecting the Pearls changed my life. When I consigned their advice to the trash can I was able to see my daughter as an individual rather than a cog. I was able to see my daughter as a person rather than simply clay to be shaped. Sally was no longer a rebellious child waiting to be pushed into a box of expectations; rather, she was a beautiful bud ready and waiting to bloom. As the way I viewed children – and my role as parent – changed, other things changed as well.

First, I was able to see having only two or three children, rather than the 8+ I had always imagined, as worthy and fulfilling. Rather than planning to have a flock of eight or ten children who would be molded to share my views and goals, who would be raised to be clones, I saw the value of having only a few children and investing in them as individuals and allowing them to develop as individuals and choose their own beliefs and life paths.

Second, I was able to see my children interacting with their peers away from my watchful eye and studying under teachers other than myself in public schools as beneficial rather than inherently problematic and dangerous. I no longer felt the need to completely control my children’s interactions and education.

In this way, seeing my daughter as a person rather than a potential clone and seeing myself as a guide rather than a dictator fundamentally changed not only how I parented but also allowed me to open myself to the idea of having a smaller number of children and sending them to public school. I am not saying that everyone who views parenting as I now do has only two or three children and sends them to public school, but rather that until my view of children and parenting changed I was not even able to consider these options. In other words, I wrote off a normal-sized family and public schooling without consideration because of how I had been taught to view children and parenting.

Finally and most importantly, as my perspectives changed the way I viewed my daughter was transformed. She became a little individual before my eyes, and I was surprised by the absolute beauty and joy I found. I no longer saw her as a potential homemaking and child rearing helper but rather as a person with her own needs, desires, and wants. Suddenly, parenting became an adventure rather than an epic contest between parent and child. I wouldn’t change what I have now for the world.

I don’t know if my mother or other mothers influenced by Quiverfull beliefs think of their children the way I did. Maybe I was alone in seeing my daughter as a potential helper and child raiser rather than simply as a little individual to be nurtured and guided. What I do know that in my case seeing my daughter as some sort of potential servant got in the way of seeing her as an individual. I am so thankful that I have left that all behind.

Red Town, Blue Town
Stop Stressing Out and Give Your Kid a Snuggle
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
Stop Saying Kids Aren't Expensive!
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.

  • yamikuronue

    It depresses me how much of mainstream parenting advice has to do with "My child won't behave the way I want, how do I force him/her to do so?" rather than understanding and appreciating the child as an individual and seeking to understand the causes of the "errant" behavior. I saw a question recently about forcing the child to play with her peers (preschool-aged) — the parent didn't know or care why the child was refusing to engage in group play, whereas my first concern was that the social dynamic had changed and it was possible she was being ostracized and striking back by refusing to participate in a system that rejected her. Most answers involved "ways to punish the child for refusing to play".

  • Katy-Anne

    Yes this is where I am at too, and it's so freeing.

  • Rosa

    I'm reading a book by historian Stephanie Coontz right now called Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage. And along with the evolution from marriage as a business partnership (small family businesses as "two partner careers") came the evolution of seeing children as responsibilities instead of resources – ending up with pulling kids out of the workforce and putting moms back in, for many Western European and American families.What's amazing is how the personal evolution of people leaving patriarchalist Christianity can mimic that, in one generation instead of 10 (Coontz puts the beginning of the "love marriage revolution" in the 1790s).It's an amazing book, I had read some of Coontz earlier work but been on the wait list for this one forever.

  • shadowspring

    "rather than understanding and appreciating the child as an individual and seeking to understand the causes of the 'errant' behavior. I saw a question recently about forcing the child to play with her peers"…That is pure gold. Even outside of religion, there are so many books and rules and guidelines about what is acceptable behavior, when in reality norms and averages are just that- norms and averages. They are not guidelines for what is acceptable, but a statement about what is commonly experienced.If your child doesn't fit the norm, it doesn't necessarily mean anything is wrong, just that your child is different. In the scenario above, the child just might be very low social needs or, as you wrote, have already given up on trying to join group play.My daughter turned out to be Aspie, but it never hindered her ability to accomplish whatever she wanted to accomplish in any significant way. I began to suspect she might be Aspie when she was in middle school, but getting an official diagnosis would only have hindered her goals and not actually provided any help we couldn't get from books any way. If only being neurologically different was not considered a problem, but merely a genetic difference like hair color, then getting a diagnosis wouldn't be such a big deal.As it is, I recognize my daughter in that that paragraph. On park days, while her brother happily built sand castles with others, she would go off by herself and draw in the sand with a stick. If you asked, she would tell you the other children were noisy and irritatingly sloppy and she would rather build/draw without their interference. Now as a senior in college with a job lined up in her preferred field, we are both glad she was never diagnosed as being abnormal, because, well Aspie IS NORMAL for her! There is nothing wrong with how she "is", though admittedly she falls outside of the norms in many aspects.I am encouraged that you younger mothers like Libby are able to see your daughters as unique and precious individuals, rather than anxiously checking them against someone else's norms. Peace and good will, SS

  • MrPopularSentiment

    In 18 and Counting, Michelle Duggar expresses gratitude over the order of her children, saying that it's like God provided a series of girls before the series of boys, "anticipating their need" for help.No, you weren't alone at all.I think it's most obvious when we look at all the soldier imagery of the Quiverfull movement. No one wants unique soldiers who grow and discover and learn. Soldiers are meant to be carbon copies of each other, prompt to follow commands without questioning. In other words, the very opposite of children.

  • AztecQueen2000

    This is why I limited myself to two. I have a neighbor with eight kids, and one night, I saw her oldest outside trying to soothe the baby. Yes, the girl was a teenager. But children should not have to parent their siblings!

  • Mommy McD

    Shadowspring, that reminds me a lot of my daughter. I don't want to get her diagnosed unless her life becomes difficult without it, more than the stigma that comes with it. she is well liked by kids her age, but she seems just a bit odd sometimes. She didn't learn to talk until after age 2, which isn't entirely outside the normal range, but something I've considered. She also dislikes eye contact and can be quite temperamental about touching. Anyway, I am sure it is worse in a patriarchal household, but I think the idea that kids are viewed as extensions or reflections of their parents is pervasive in society. Parents often live vicariously through their kids, or have unrealistic or burdensome expectations, or see them as accomplishments rather than people.

  • Libby Anne

    Mommy McD: "Anyway, I am sure it is worse in a patriarchal household, but I think the idea that kids are viewed as extensions or reflections of their parents is pervasive in society. Parents often live vicariously through their kids, or have unrealistic or burdensome expectations, or see them as accomplishments rather than people."I absolutely agree. It's worse with Quiverfull ideas because the entire POINT of raising kids is to raise ideological clones to go out and retake the world for Christ, but seeing kids as "accomplishments rather than people" or "reflections of their parents" rather than individuals is indeed widespread. One thing I decided in the rethinking detailed above is that I must not place expectations on my daughter. I want her to lead a fulfilling life, be a caring person, and come to her beliefs and positions herself rather than simply echoing what others say, but I am working hard to make sure that those are the only things I am dreaming for her. Her dreams, you see, are her own, and they're not mine to create.

  • Melissa

    You are not alone, I was also grateful to have a girl first, because I was sure to need her with the very large homeschooling family we were sure to have. I call the choice to stop punitive parenting "the choice that changed my life", because it truly has. Without that step, I never would have begun to seen my children as individuals.

  • Andrea

    Thank you for posting this! Before my daughter was born, I ordered the Pearl's book to get my husband "up to speed" on the way children should be raised (having practically raised my youngest already and with tons of nieces and nephews, I was already an "expert" ) Thank God, he changed my heart in that time and for some reason, the book never got shipped from amazon :) People always discount giving their children respect as a human being. When I respect my daughter, I'm a better parent. I realize that she's deeply engrossed in playing with blocks and I need to take time to make her understand that I have to take her away from that activity. Rather than snatching her up and spanking her for being upset. My favorite line in this was "Sally was no longer a rebellious child waiting to be pushed into a box of expectations; rather, she was a beautiful bud ready and waiting to bloom."

  • kisekileia

    Getting a diagnosis is really, really important for kids with disabilities if they are likely to ever need any sort of accommodations or special consideration based on that disability. It's really hard to get help for a disability that isn't diagnosed. Specialists in conditions like Asperger's syndrome can also provide useful information on how to live a fulfilling life with the condition. For these reasons, as someone who grew up with ADHD, Asperger's, and no diagnosis, I VERY VERY STRONGLY recommend that anyone who has a child with either of those disorders get the child properly assessed and diagnosed. Lots of kids who can cope during childhood and adolescence run into problems in later life (e.g. in the job market), and at that point they'll need the piece of paper saying what their issues are if they want any sort of help. It is also really important to make sure a kid with Aspergers, ADHD, or the like knows what's going on with herself. Otherwise she's likely to blame herself for problems that are caused by her brain wiring, and to accept it when other people blame her for problems caused by her brain wiring. As she gets older, she will need a sense of what limitations her brain wiring might give her in order to make good decisions about her future. So, yeah…I REALLY REALLY hate the "well, she's not having any problems now, so I won't bother having her 'labelled'" attitude. The fact is, if she doesn't have a label, people who observe her AS traits will give her other labels–like "stupid", "antisocial", or "mean". If she has the correct label, she is less likely to be given other much more harmful ones, and less likely to accept them if they are given to her.

  • Mommy McD

    Kisekileia – I appreciate this very much. It is something I have thought about, but at this stage I just don't know. I think I might be overly anxious about it and I have been given mixed reviews of her behavior thus far. She is in the "typical" range, but somewhat near the edge. The family doctor says she doesn't need anything further, but I guess we will see when she starts school. My brother grew up without a diagnosis and never developed coping skills for life so I think I understand what you are saying. And I have to realize that the way I grew up is affecting me – that my parents would not get my brother the help he so obviously needed because they believed he just needed to be disciplined to be "normal". This was a bit before Asperger's was widely known, but after treating him for speech development delay they did not get him further help in social development or any other diagnosis because they don't believe in psychology. It is something I didn't think was so heavily coloring my perception, but I see now that it is.So thank you for your suggestion, and I will continue to keep up with doctors and specialists to be sure.

  • Chatterbox

    I know only one quiverful family in real life and the first 4 children are girls and the first 3 girls are quite a bit older than the rest – i often wonder what happens in a quiverful family when the first 4 kids are boys. The mum must be under lots of pressure to keep up with all the quiverful ideals but without the help of girls. I think, i wonde,r whether the appearance of 4 boys first may temper someones fervency for quiverful views? Probably not i guess, but when i look at that family i cant help but wonder.

  • Rosa

    MommyMcD, for what it's worth, we went ahead and got the ADHD diagnosis but have been holding back on Aspberger's/autism spectrum as well as sensory integration disorder (though various specialists think any or all of the 3 are likely) because in young high-functioning kids the treatments are the same, but all the experts agree the ASD label is most problematic in terms of stigma. Lots of kids "grow out of" ADHD/sensory symptoms and there are drugs for ADHD, where ASD is seen as more of a permanent/untreatable thing.

  • Rosa

    (all the experts = all the experts who've seen my kid. Not "all experts everywhere")

  • kisekileia

    MommyMcD, if your kid is showing some issues now, there will probably continue to be different issues later. I would not trust the family doctor on this–GPs are far from expert in developmental disabilities. I would speak to a developmental pediatrician or child psychiatrist. I agree with Rosa about the ASD diagnosis carrying more stigma than the others, but the thing is, once you have the diagnosis, you can generally choose when to disclose it and when not to. In most circumstances, I disclose the ADHD but not the AS, because of the stigma issues and because I'm a lot higher-functioning AS-wise than ADHD-wise. It's better to have the piece of paper that will get the kid help if needed than to not have it. However, I'm not sure if the current data do in fact show that a lot of kids grow out of ADHD. From my experience in an adult ADHD support community and my own reading and study, my understanding is that hyperactivity symptoms often become more muted and subtle at puberty (for instance, internal restlessness instead of bouncing off the walls). Inattention symptoms can cause progressively greater problems as the person takes on greater responsibilities in adolescence and adulthood. Many people who function in high school can't function in college, for instance, and then any failure to get them diagnosed because "they were doing fine before" comes back to bite them badly (as in my case). ADHD is a significantly disabling condition for many adults. A professional who believes that ADHD is primarily a childhood disorder is a professional whose data is a good 10+ years out of date.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    Exactly what kisekileia said. Especially in females (even if the number is lower) it isn't something you grow out of.

  • Emma

    @Mommy McD: I had all the textbook signs of ASD and I definitely have sensory issues, by my parents' adamant refusal to ever go to psychologists or psychiatrists or anything like that (insert typical zealous homeschooler "but the government and that'll risk CPS getting involved" rhetoric, although I think they were really afraid that we'd get taken away if people found out how hard they were hitting us) and it's definitely made things more difficult for me as an older teenager and adult when I was in public school and college and couldn't figure out how to function because what everyone else was doing just wasn't cutting it for me.

  • kisekileia

    Exactly, Paula. Females are more likely to have inattentive-subtype ADHD (i.e. no hyperactivity), and the way ADHD has generally been stereotyped is a lot close to how males typically manifest it than to how females typically manifest it, so ADHD has been way under-diagnosed in girls and women. Women with ADHD are highly likely to not have found out what was wrong with them until adulthood, and generally have accumulated a lot of emotional damage caused by not having a diagnosis.