Raised Quiverfull: Junior Mother

If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.

Joe:

I wasn’t the older daughter but I can explain about my eldest sister.

She was not expected to play the mother and not even expected to be responsible if anything happened to any of her younger siblings.  Every one of us had the responsibility to be obedient and worshipful of Mama at every minute of every day.  My sister did take on the responsibility of being the seeing-eye dog for Mama for all of our indiscretions.  This pissed me off to no end and caused a humongous rift between my sister and I.  She apologized for it a few years back but the apology was entirely unnecessary.  I would have done the same thing in her position.

One thing she did do, as well, was to mother us in the area of the Bible.  I was always complaining about religious crap and spewing common sense out of my mouth (as well as swear words) and she would march me to the Bible and read me whole books in a rage.  She was one of the reasons that I knew my Bible so well and the fact that I picked up a heavy dose of skepticism.

Latebloomer:

As the oldest of three, and I definitely spent a lot of time watching my young sister for my mom.  I also occasionally helped her with her school work.  However, I never felt responsible for training or disciplining her.   As for my brother, he and I were too close in age, so my parents never allowed me to boss him around.

Libby Anne:

I definitely played mother for my younger siblings, but I wasn’t really a very good one. A ten-, twelve-, or fourteen-year-old girl caring for her siblings doesn’t really know how to “mother.” It’s more like being a babysitter in some ways. I had all the mechanics down – diaper changes, caring for sick children, supervising the kids outside – but being a mother is more than mechanics. I ended up being rather bossy and not very compassionate. This actually damaged my relationships with many of my siblings.

At one point in my early teens I virtually adopted my latest infant sibling, and we became so close over the following years that when hurt the child would come crying to me as first choice. Leaving that little one behind when I left for college was incredibly difficult. It felt like abandoning my own child, and to this day there is some tension still there because my sibling did indeed feel abandoned. I saw this repeated with several of my sisters, as they did the same with this or that new baby. This was never an official assignment, though.

Lisa:

Well, as the oldest daughter, it was likely I would be the first one to get married. So of course having younger siblings was the perfect chance for me to train my skills as a future wife and mother. It always runs under the definition of “training” for your future but it’s really just a way to get the daughters to help more than an average kids would be expected to do or even capable of. The heavy period of training started when I was around 12, an age I was considered old enough to take actual responsibility for kids. Of course I had to do chores long before that, but the period of really mothering my siblings started at the age of 12. Different chores with the younger ones were given to me, making sure everybody wears appropriate clothing, changing diapers, feeding a small one, making sure they don’t do stuff that will hurt them.

The older I got, the more motherly responsibilities I had. This went as far as me physically punishing my siblings for smaller offenses (like not making their beds, for example). Of course the major offenses were still punished by my Dad. My mother had some physical difficulties during a number of her pregnancies and the sheer number of pregnancies made it impossible for her to do everything a mother usually does. A lot of times my Mother was simply too stressed out or physically drained and my siblings rather came to me with their issues and problems. Nobody wanted to feel like the heaviest of Mom’s burdens. I never felt like I could really talk to her about problems simply because I felt she had too much to do to be bothered with it.

Mattie:

My mom had twin boys when I was 13. Because of the timing and the stress of having twins and various other factors, I was heavily involved in helping out with them (and the two babies that came after them) until they were about four years old. My senior year of high school I asked to be relieved of a lot of these babysitting and mothering responsibilities so I could focus on school and graduate on time, and my parents rearranged schedules and chores to accommodate that request.

However, I still feel closely bonded to the twins and their little brother, as I invested a lot of time and love in them during my teens. I’m their godmother now, and I think that’s both appropriate and special.

Melissa:

Yes. My mother was often pregnant or caring for a new baby and was tired. We had a buddy system, where the older child was responsible for bathing, dressing, feeding and possibly educating the younger child. Discipline authority was designated to older children, including authority to spank disobedient children.

Sarah:

I am number four out eleven kids. We implemented “the buddy system” in our house, which basically meant each child over twelve had their own baby to take care of. My “buddy” was Catherine. She is fourteen years younger than me. Catherine and I did everything together. I fed her, bathed her, dressed her, cleaned up after her, did her laundry, and even occasionally disciplined her. I hated it when I had to spank her; it made me so angry with myself. Leaving for college was like leaving my baby behind. I still miss her desperately. It’s like watching someone else raise my baby.

Sierra:

Since my interactions with other boys and girls came mostly from other families in my church, I’ll answer this question as it pertains to them.

Older daughters in my church absolutely were mini-mothers to their younger siblings. They constantly sought out young children to “practice” on. For my part, I had no interest in raising children and avoided the other girls out of boredom. The result was that the little children loved me and pursued me because I treated them like they were my age.

Tricia:

I was always available to help out with my younger siblings, housework, ailing grandparents, etc. These were not things I resented or even thought much about, as they were simply taken for granted as what was reasonable to expect of me, and I was fond of my siblings in any case.  I suppose if I resent any of that now, it isn’t because I was expected to be a contributing member of the family, but because my sense of life purpose and value was narrowed to that limited range.

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Raised Quiverfull Introduction — A Gendered Childhood Summary

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.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    I also had a younger sibling that was almost exclusively my responsibility. She was 6 years old when I got married and was so upset when I left that she wouldn’t speak to me for 6 months after that. It really hurt to leave my siblings behind, I tried not to think about them at all for those first couple of years, it was too painful to be separated and think about not being a part of their upbringing.

  • http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com Sierra

    I did write this longer post about my sense of guilt over abandoning my mother’s friend’s children when I left my church:
    http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/the-older-sister-who-wasnt/
    I don’t know why I didn’t think of it when I answered this question.

  • Rod

    Here is a question: As with the Duggars, these parents assign an older sister (usually, it seems) or brother as the keeper for the small children. How do the small children view their older siblings? As pseudo-parents? What is the relationship between the actual parents and the small children? Do they even have time to know them, to guide them to love them in the way smaller families deal with these parent/child issues?
    Seems to me that these mega-mothers (and fathers) are abdicating their responsibility to be a true parent, and passing it off to half-grown children who are not ready or equipped to assume the role.
    Do these teenage pseudo-parents miss out on a normal adolescence because of this?

    • Lirel

      I don’t think they’re supposed to have a normal adolescence. I know I’ve read about preaching in the direction of “in olden days, children went from child to adult, with none of this ridiculous teenager stuff in between.”

      • http://phoenixandolivebranch.wordpress.com Sierra

        They love to trot that out when they need free labor, but they conveniently ignore the fact that “in olden days” children were hired out as apprentices and domestic servants at age 12-14 and had very little contact with their parents after they moved away. In societies where children had to go “from child to adult” (even though “youth” is a persistent historical category), they ceased to have their lives micromanaged by parents – if they ever did in the first place. A true modern equivalent would be giving 14 year olds driver’s licenses, credit, legal majority and unrestricted working hours, and sending them states away from their parents to live with strangers and learn a trade.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        I’ve written about this before: We Don’t “Do” Teenagers.

  • http://www.pasttensepresentprogressive.blogspot.com Latebloomer

    Lirel, yes you’re exactly right. The pastor of my family’s church, Reb Bradley, wrote and spoke on that very topic…the myth of adolescence. He always said that proper authoritarian parenting (aka his way) would result in skipping ungodly teenaged rebellion. But parents had to establish their absolute authority early and never let it falter….he even advocated overriding your teens” dinner orders in restaurants randomly, just to remind them who’s boss. Meanwhile, he claimed that he was promoting treating kids like adults. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I saw the irony. The only adult thing about the treatment was the amount of chores expected of the kids.

  • Rod

    Wow. Bradley sounds like a real piece of work. Anyone really believe him?

  • WordSpinner

    My family is about the exact opposite of Quiverfull as you can get (nonreligious, 2 kids, equal relationship between parents) and I ended up “practice parenting” my little sister a lot. Sometimes she liked it and usually she didn’t, but it was (a) my choice, and (b) the fun bits of parenting and (c) if I wasn’t parenting well, the the real parents were right there. I remember the piece you wrote, Libby Anne, about knowing about the physical and organizational mechanics of parenthood but not the social and emotional ones, and I think that not forcing older kids to do the organization and physical bits of parenthood leaves more room for practicing the emotional aspects, if that’s what the kid would do anyways.

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  • Ceridwen

    Although my family was not even remotely involved in CP/QF (I was raised Catholic) a lot of these things still hit home for me. I was oldest of 5 children and fully expected to take on the “mom” role from the time I was very young. I was 8 years old when my youngest brother was born and spent many nights up with him when he was an infant (and still had to be up early and in a good mood the next morning for school). I was in charge of making sure my siblings were behaving themselves, and that they got their chores done. After my parents divorced when I was 13 (which was ultimately best for all of us and is something I don’t even remotely fault them for) this dynamic amplified. And post-divorce the mothering role I was required to take on caused a lot of damage to my relationship with my father. I’d always been a Daddy’s girl, but I take after my mother to a fault (in appearance as well as mannerisms) and she was my only model for how to be a mom. The more I acted like her, the more it alienated me from my Dad.
    There were some benefits to it: I was a babysitting pro as a teen and was well liked by all my mom’s friends because I could handle even troublesome kids easily and without upsetting either the kids or the parents. I’ve never been uncomfortable around babies or children and now that I’m expecting my first baby I’m don’t have the feelings of terror about how to take care of an infant that my friends often express. It made me an infinitely practical and level headed person that others would come to for advice (my friends in high school affectionately called me “mama”). And it made me think very carefully about when (and whether) I wanted a family of my own, which contributed to my extremely careful use of birth control until my husband and I were ready for a little one. I also still managed to forge a good relationship with my siblings, so that they were all always willing to confide in me (even about things like sex that they were afraid to approach our parents about). And for better or worse, I sheltered them from many of the negative aspects of our parents divorce (something they were not aware of until years later).
    On the other hand there were a lot of downsides that I’m not sure outweigh the good: I never got to be a normal teen. Even if my mother had released me from my duties the “mom” mentality was so ingrained on me by the time I was 12 or 13 that I couldn’t go back. As previously mentioned, it hurt my relationship with my dad a lot, though thankfully we have mostly repaired those wounds in the years since I went to college. I suffered a lot of damage from both of my parents during the divorce and carried those burdens in silence for years because I could not confide in my siblings (since I was more their mom than their sister and wanted to protect them from it all). It also led my parents to treat me as inappropriately adult and expect unreasonable things from me.
    This post is a lot longer than I intended. I think my major point is that forcing (or even letting) your older daughters take on the role of mother can easily be damaging even if it has no roots in CP or QF teachings. It’s good (and even fun) to learn how to help take care of the baby, but bad when that becomes a requirement or starts to change the dynamic between siblings or your dynamic with your children.

  • http://christiancompletely.blogspot.com/ Skarlet

    “If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.”

    I was the second older, and I was the oldest girl, but I was not expected to play mother for the younger ones initially. It was after I was 12, after Mom was in crisis and was always fighting with Dad or feeling tired and depressed, that I had to start taking care of the household quite a bit. This was not assigned to my by my parents, it’s just that I had a very vested interest in school happening, or the house being kept clean, or little kids being listened to, and many times, if I didn’t make sure that it happened, it didn’t happen.

    My mother would alternatively be glad for the help, or else feel criticized and undermined that I felt that she wasn’t doing a good enough job herself. Two of my younger siblings minded me taking that role, they were just below me in age, and didn’t like me being “bossy.” All the rest of my siblings didn’t mind, supported the role, or actively loved having me in the role.

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