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.
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.