A post in the Raised Quiverfull series.
Part 1: Introductory Questions
Please introduce yourself before we get started. Are you married or unmarried? Are you in school, holding down a job, or staying home? Do you have children? What religious beliefs or lack thereof do you ascribe to today? Provide whatever additional information you like.
I’m Libby Anne, a married graduate student in my mid-twenties with one child and a baby on the way. I’m still not completely sure what I want to do “when I grow up,” but I do know I want to have a career of some sort in the field I am studying. I’m only planning to have a few children and I plan to put them in public school. As for religious beliefs, I’m an atheist. It took me a while to arrive there, but after I started asking questions the questions just didn’t seem to stop.
How did your parents first come under the influence of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull teachings? What leaders did they follow and what publications did they receive?
My parents were originally fairly ordinary evangelicals, but after they started homeschooling me (for practical, not religious, reasons) they came in contact with the literature of the Christian homeschool movement, made new friends, and attending Christian homeschool conventions. Little by little they adopted the essential beliefs of the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements. I sometimes think they didn’t even realize it was happening, it was all so gradual. Growing up, I remember recieving Michael Pearl’s No Greater Joy, Douglas Wilson’s Credenda/Agenda, Michael Farris’ Court Report, and Nancy Campbell’s Above Rubies. We also followed Vision Forum fairly closely.
In what ways was your family a “typical” Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family? In what ways was it “atypical”?
My family was typical in that my parents had an extremely large number of children and in that my father worked, my mother homeschooled us, and both believed that women must always be under male authority, first that of their father and then that of their husband, and that that included submission and obedience. We were also typical in that we ascribed to the movement’s purity and courtship teachings. My family was atypical, though, in that there was always a tremendous emphasis put on education, for the girls as well as for the boys. Because of this, I was sent away to college after high school, as were my siblings as they came of age. Oh, and we were not required to wear long jean skirts or grow our hair out.
Part 2: Living the Life
What sort of a church did your family go to while you were growing up? Were the other families who attended the church also involved in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
I actually grew up in an evangelical megachurch. While it was a generally conservative atmosphere – both doctrinally and politically – almost no one there was part of the Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull movements. However, because the church was so large, it was possible for us to only socialize with the most like-minded families. Furthermore, we never attended youth group activities (too worldly). There were other churches in our area that were made up primarily or entirely of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull families, but my parents felt those were too legalistic.
In many ways, every Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull couple has a different dynamic. What sort of a dynamic did your parents have? Was one more sold on the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology than the other? Or, if you grew up in a broken family, how did this affect your experience?
My experience was influenced by the fact that my father was generally a fairly quiet and reserved man while my mom was a very strong woman. So while they worked to fit themselves into the patriarchal ideals and truly believed in them, my mom was never simply a pushover or doormat, and could be quite adept at negotiating within the system. Of course, this also meant that their relationship could at times be stormy – after all, they both were trying to fit themselves into molds they weren’t necessarily perfectly suited for. Weirdly, my mom always seemed to take the lead on Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideals, with my father adopting them slightly later. But even with all that, my father was definitely the head of the family and he had the final call in decision making.
How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?
We all read the Bible daily. It was sort of a requirement. Mom and dad read the Bible early in the morning, and we children were expected to do the same – if we hadn’t read the Bible and spent time in prayer, we were sent away from the breakfast table until we had. And, mom always read the Bible aloud to all of us after breakfast. I don’t really remember dad reading the Bible aloud to us, but I think that’s just because mom was the primary homeschool parent and was home with us all day. Mom would discuss the Bible passages with us and help guide our understandings, but I think we simply automatically viewed the Bible through the lens we were given by them every day, and that we heard in the sermons at church, and in Bible club. It wasn’t so much about being forced to see the Bible one way as about coming at it with a perspective already formed and views already set.
What role did race play in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull community in which you grew up? Were there any black or Hispanic families? Were they treated differently?
The families we associated with were all white. I honestly can’t think of any minority Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull families – or even any minority families in our homeschool groups (which included ordinary conservative Christian families in addition to those who followed the teachings of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull). That said, my parents were emphatically anti-racist, and if a black Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family had come into our community I don’t think it would have been a problem for them at all.
Part 3: A Gendered Childhood
How many siblings did you grow up with? Did responsibilities in your family differ by gender, with the girls having certain chores and the boys having others? Explain.
There were a dozen or so children in my family, give or take. Some chores – like kitchen cleanup and weeding – were shared, but others – like laundry or mowing – were strictly divided by gender. The girls did more work in the house, cleaning, vacuuming, etc., and the boys did more work outside, mowing, digging ditches, etc. I can’t imagine any of us girls being asked out to shovel gravel, but at the same time, one of my brothers did some of the cooking as part of his chores for a while, so the division between girls’ work and boys’ work wasn’t so strict as to leave no room for flexibility.
If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.
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 the same time, at one point I virtually adopted one of my infant siblings, and we became so close that if hurt the toddler would come crying to me as first choice. 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.
In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?
My family actually had a good amount of flexibility. We girls were allowed to wear pants if we chose, and to romp outside like the boys. That said, we girls were expected to be more compassionate, gentle tongued, and sweet spirited while the boys were expected to exhibit more leadership and initiative. We didn’t always fit those roles – actually, I fit the second MUCH better than the first – but those were the character qualities my parents tried to bring out in us. Oh, and we girls were expected to be “graceful” and “ladylike.” Again, never my strong point!
In what ways were boys and girls in your family raised differently vocationally (i.e., the boys pushed toward careers and the girls pushed toward homemaking)? How did this play out as you came of age (apprenticeship, college, staying home, etc.)?
Growing up, I never once thought of having a career. I assumed from the very beginning, as I was taught to assume, that I would be a wife, mother, and homemaker and nothing else. The boys in contrast were always expected to have careers, and to choose jobs they could use to support a family. It was just the expectation that was there. Now because my parents valued education, I was sent to college. They actually spoke of that being my “dowry,” a sort of gift to a future husband. However, the goal wasn’t for me to think of a career, and I didn’t. I chose the field of study I did because it would allow me to tutor homeschool students and in that way perhaps bring my family a little extra income on the side, NOT because I planned to have a career in it (which I absolutely didn’t).
Part 4: Homeschooling
Why and when did your parents originally decide to homeschool? Did their reasons for homeschooling change over time?
My parents originally decided to homeschool for purely practical reasons, and they only planned on doing it for a year. But that first year went so well they did another, and another. Meanwhile, they began reading Christian homeschool literature, attending Christian homeschool conferences, etc. By the time I was ten my parents were homeschooling us because they believed that the public schools brainwashed children into “secular humanism” and turned children into unthinking robots, and because they believed, based on Deuteronomy 6, that it was the responsibility of the parents, and not the state or anyone else, to educate their children. Homeschooling had moved from being a practical and temporary option to being a lifestyle.
Briefly describe your experience being homeschooled, including the amount of interaction you had with other homeschoolers or non-homeschoolers (socialization) and what sorts of textbooks or homeschool program your family used (academics).
I was involved in a number of homeschool groups, though which varied by year. We had a circle of other like-minded homeschool families that we associated with regularly, and that, combined with at least one homeschool co-op a year and also a weekly Bible club, is where we got the majority of our socialization. This meant that literally all of my socialization took place with people who shared my parents’ beliefs, and I was never exposed to people who believed anything different.
As for academics, my mother used a hybrid approach with us, choosing different textbooks for each subject. We did apologia for science, for instance. Our history and science curricula were religious while our math and grammar curricula were not. Once we reached high school we essentially studied on our own, though occasionally we had tutors, if my parents decided we needed them. We also did a lot of hands-on activities and learning.
What do you see as the pros and cons of having been homeschooled? Do you feel that your homeschool experience prepared you well socially? Academically?
Homeschooling did not prepare me well socially at all. I only had experience socializing with other people just like me, and had no idea how to handle myself around those who were different or in large crowds. Furthermore, when I went to college I found that I had a huge cultural disconnect with my peers to the extent that I almost couldn’t understand them. It took a long time for me to adjust, and in some ways I still feel like a cultural outsider.
As for academics, homeschooling served me pretty well. There were some holes in my education – while I read voraciously, I never actually had a literature course, for example – and some miseducation that I had to undo later – much of what I’d been taught about American history and about evolutionary science was wrong – but I nevertheless excelled in college. I think this was because my parents gave me a love of learning, taught me to think critically, and educated me well in the basics. That said, homeschooling has not worked as well for some of my younger siblings. I think that I had the benefit of having a fairly independent and motivated learning style, which allowed homeschooling to work well for me academically. Homeschooling has not served as well for those of my siblings who would do well having the challenge of other students or who really need the presence of an actual teacher.
Do you perceive of your academic or social abilities differently today than you did when you were being homeschooled?
Absolutely yes. When I was homeschooled I used to laugh at the socialization question. I thought I was perfectly socialized, no problem whatsoever. It was only later that I realized how wrong I was about that. As for academics, I used to swear by homeschooling as the cause of my academic success until someone pointed out to me that, with my parents’ emphasis on education, I would almost certainly have also excelled if I had been sent to public school. That really made me think, because it was so true. Many of my close friends in college had been sent to public school, but because their parents valued education and were involved, they were academically just as prepared, and often more so, as I was. Academically, I now think what matters more is the parents’ emphasis on education and involvement in their children’s learning, not whether children are home schooled, private schooled, or public schooled.
Do you plan to homeschool/are you homeschooling your children? Why or why not? If you do plan to homeschool, in what ways will you/do you do it differently from your parents?
I do not plan to homeschool my children. It’s not that I don’t think I could do well by them academically – I know I could – but rather that I want them to have the socialization experience I never had. I want them to learn how to handle playground politics, to have teachers who aren’t me, and to have the opportunity to be involved in band, or soccer, or chess club. I want her to have the chance to be normal that I never had. I plan to be very involved in their education, of course, and were there to be some huge issue, I could see homeschooling temporarily.
Part 5: Purity
What were you taught about physical purity, emotional purity, and courtship and dating? How was sex education handled?
I was taught that I should save my first kiss for the altar, and that if I had a crush or dated some guy, I would be giving away part of my heart, and I would never give that back and could only offer my future husband an incomplete heart, something I was told I would forever regret. I was taught that dating was “practice for divorce,” and that I should find my life partner through a parent-guided courtship.
Sex education was not “handled,” it simply didn’t happen. My mother warned me when I reached the age to start my period, but I was never told what sex was in any way. I had to learn that stuff from a human anatomy class, from library books on how to teach your children about sex that I read furtively behind the stacks, and from romance novels I sneaked at my grandparents’ house. When I reached college I became appalled with myself for being so ignorant, so I did some careful research on the internet to learn about my reproductive anatomy and bring myself up to speed.
While I always thought I would participate in a parent-guided courtship, I actually didn’t. By the time I was in my first ever guy/girl relationship, I had already begun breaking away from my parents’ beliefs to the extent that I refused to let them control my relationship, though they tried really hard to do so.
How do you feel about purity and courtship teachings today? Have you rejected some parts of it and kept other parts of it? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?
Basically, I don’t agree with any of the purity and courtship teachings I was raised on. I really can’t think of any of it that I’m keeping. I plan to teach my young daughter that her body is hers and she can decide what she wants to do with it. I’ll teach her that sex before marriage is fine – so long as she’s safe and uses birth control and protection – but that she should never let anyone pressure her into doing things she isn’t ready for. I want to teach her to be confident, responsible, and self-aware. I plan to always answer her questions about sex, etc., honestly and completely, no matter how young she is when she starts being curious. And finally, I plan to let her handle her own relationships, offering only advice (if she wants it).
Do you feel that the purity and courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how?
First, I regret that I never dated anyone else before dating and marrying the man who is now my husband. I wish I hadn’t been taught that crap about “giving away pieces of your heart.” I regret that I never had sex before I lost my virginity to my husband. I wish that I’d had the chance to gain experience, and that I hadn’t been taught that sex before marriage was wrong. My husband never saw my sexual or emotional virginity as a gift – it didn’t mean anything to him. And further, the purity teachings I was raised with gave me sexual dysfunction that I am still dealing with today.
Part 6: Questioning
How were you first exposed to “mainstream” American culture? What were your first impressions?
When I was high school aged, I had to go into a public school to take a test. It was a big high school, and it was during the school day. I was scared to death. Everyone around me looked so worldy, so strange, so different. I felt so out of place and just wanted to disappear. My full immersion in “mainstream” American culture began when I arrived at college. For a while, I was pretty horrified, both by the language I heard used and the open way people talked about sex. Looking back, I was so innocent and so naive.
What first made you question the beliefs you were raised with? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
Weirdly, the first thing was realizing that the science is actually behind evolution, not young earth creationism. I had been taught creationism as a core doctrine, perhaps the foundational doctrine, and realizing that what I’d been taught about it was a completely lie was earth shattering. That started the rest of the questions, questions that continued one after another for years without stopping. Initially, this was very frightening. Realizing that everything you were taught, everything you believed in, might be wrong is scary. But once I got started it became liberating. Questioning all of my assumptions and having the freedom and ability to form my own beliefs was, in the end, exhilarating.
What did you struggle with most when you were in the midst of questioning and/or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology? What was the hardest part?
The hardest part was realizing that questioning my parents’ beliefs meant potentially losing my entire family. Somehow I didn’t realize this at first. I naively thought that I could disagree with my parents and form my own beliefs without repercussions. But when I watched how they responded to my very first questioning, I realized that this was not the case. I realized that questioning their beliefs meant being willing to lose everything. Choosing between my family and my freedom was horrible. No one should have to make that choice. And leaving everything I had ever known for a world that was foreign and new was also scary. It meant everything – everything – would change.
Among those you grew up around who were also raised with Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology, what proportion has remained in the movement and what proportion has left?
It’s hard to say because I was one of the oldest in my community, and also because I’ve lost touch with a lot of those I grew up with since leaving and starting my own life elsewhere. Honestly, not many left. Most of the girls I grew up closest to are still living with their parents, even as they are now in their early- to mid-twenties. Some went to college, but then moved back home. Only one is married. Thinking about it, while there is some variation in current belief I honestly can’t find a single girl from my circle of close friends growing up who has actually straight out rejected Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology.
Part 7: Relating to Family
How did your parents and siblings respond to you questioning/rejecting their beliefs? How did those you grew up with respond?
My parents responded by buckling down, and by doing anything possible to get me back into the fold. They got new literature from Vision Forum, lectured, cried, and eventually yelled. They were sure I knew that what they said was correct but was just rejecting it so that I could do whatever I wanted without having to obey the earthly authority God had set over me – i.e. my dad. My siblings, it’s hard to say. I tried my very best to leave them completely out of it. I really didn’t want to involve them in what was fast becoming a power game. As for those I grew up with, I knew how they would respond because I knew how I would have responded, so I didn’t even try with them. The only one I talked about any of this with told me that God had commanded that I was to obey my father, whether I understood his commands and agreed with him or not. When I left home for good, I really pretty much cut off contact with the friends I had grown up with. I think I just didn’t feel I had the emotional energy to deal with them and what they would say.
What is your relationship with your parents and siblings like today? What is your relationship with those you grew up with who remained in the movement like?
My parents and I have reached a sort of equilibrium. There are certain things we just don’t talk about. I do have relationships with my siblings, but again, there are certain things that are just left unsaid. Sometimes when I visit home I see some of the people I grew up with, but again, we simply ignore certain subjects. It’s always slightly tense, like there’s an elephant in the room. Oh, and I didn’t reach this equilibrium with my parents until after I married. When I married, even without their permission or blessing and against their wishes, I moved in their conception from being a rebellious daughter who wouldn’t obey her authority, her father, to being a wife under the authority of her husband. This weirdly allowed things to calm down a bit.
For those who are no longer Christian, are you “out” to your parents or siblings? If so, how did you do it and how did they respond?
I’m no longer Christian, but I’m not out to my family, whether parents or siblings. Except for one sibling, that is. Coming out was really hard because I didn’t know how my sibling would respond. When I told my sibling I didn’t believe in God, my sibling asked what I DID believe in. On impulse, I told my sibling that I believe in love. My sibling responded by saying “then I guess we believe in the same thing.” And this sibling has never given me a hard time about it, which has been awesome.
Have any of your siblings (or perhaps even parents) left Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy ideology? How do you approach the relationships with siblings who have not?
Yes, several of my siblings have left Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology. They’re still Christian, but they have rejected patriarchy and all that it entails. They’re awesome, and I truly feel I can let my hair down around them. As for my other siblings, the approach I take varies. With those who are adults, I try to maintain a sense of harmony, stating that I disagree with this or that but leaving it at that. That generally works, though it can sometimes be tense. With those who are still underage, though, I have to be more careful. They’re not MY children, and it’s not really my place to try to subvert my parents. Instead, I try to just be there in case they have questions or need my help in some way. They know my beliefs are different, they know my lifestyle is different, they know I’m available, and that’s enough.
Part 8: Adjusting
Do you still feel as though you are “different” or that your past experiences emotionally isolate you from society?
This is actually getting better for me. The feeling of cultural disconnection, of not fitting in, of being unable to understand my peers hasn’t completely disappeared, but it has decreased with time. So too has my fear of those who are different and my fear of being in large group or crowd situations. I still sometimes feel like I don’t know what to say in a situation, or how to act, and I still sometimes feel extremely awkward and out of place, but I now have hope that those feelings will go away with time as well. Maybe in another ten or fifteen years I won’t feel like I’m different at all.
Since most of the world doesn’t understand Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy culture, do you feel this creates barriers in friendships or in romantic relationships? Do people have a hard time understanding you and your past?
This? This is where I get stuck. I feel like it would be easier to explain my feeling out of place if I could say “I was raised Amish” or something like that. Then people would have at least some idea of what I’m talking about. But most people have never heard of Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull and everything that is involved in them. Most people have no idea how to understand my past at all. I really think some people I know try to avoid me as “the girl with that crazy past.” This does affect friendships too. The people I consider my closest friends are those who do understand my past, and know where I’m coming from, and can in some way identify with it. As for romantic relationships, my husband has heard me talk through these things so many times, and has gone through so much of my leaving process with me, that he generally can understand and is a wonderful support.
What do you think is the biggest way being raised in a family influenced by Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideas has influenced who you are today?
I’m more afraid of what others think of me than is healthy. Growing up, what others thought mattered a great deal, as did conforming to a perfect ideal. Pleasing my parents and being accepted in my like-minded community was just about as important with pleasing God – actually, in many ways the two were conflated. The result is that I desperately want to please everyone. But I can’t. And that’s hard to let go of. A couple other things as well: I have sort of PTSDish symptoms sometimes from what I went through while leaving my parents’ beliefs, and I am still trying to wrap my mind around what life with a career – and with only a few kids – actually looks like. Having spent so long expecting to be a homemaker, homeschool, and have 10+ children makes reimagining my life a long-term challenge.
How did you perceive your childhood at the time compared to how do you see it now?
As of when I went to college, I thought that how I was raised was perfect. I continued to think so through the beginning of college. I still held onto Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull beliefs and planned to replicate my parents’ beliefs and lifestyle with my own life. It wasn’t until I started asking questions and the response I got that I started to wonder whether something was wrong. This process of sorting it all out took years, and is in some ways still continuing. Today I still think there were great things about my childhood – my parents were very involved, and we children were always working on some project or planning some escapade – but I also see problems. Looking back on my childhood, I see a strange mixture of good and bad.
Do you sometimes wish to go “back”?
Not recently, no. For a while there though I did sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t simply be easier to step back into good-obedient-daughter-mode. I knew how to wear that hat, and I knew I could put it back on and everything would be right again. Except that it wouldn’t, not internally. I knew I’d asked too many questions – and seen too much freedom – to go back.
Part 9: Helping Others
What advice do you have for other young adults currently questioning or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology?
It gets better. Honestly, that’s the biggest thing I would say. You’re going to go through a lot of pain and heartache, but it does get better. I would also say that being able to form your own beliefs and views is important, and that if someone is trying to stop you from doing so, it’s their problem, not your problem. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and become your own person. Don’t conform to someone’s mold just to please them. Oh, and get friends who accept you for who you are and don’t place expectations on you or judge you. And, if you can, get therapy. I resisted that last one for the longest time, but it was extremely helpful.
What was most helpful to you when you were questioning and/or leaving the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
I had supportive friends. I can’t emphasize this enough. By the time I started questioning, I had made friends in college, friends who were okay with me forming my own beliefs and becoming my own person, friends who didn’t place expectations on me or try to put me in a box. They were there for me even though they really didn’t understand my background, or what was going on. They let me cry, they told me I could make it through this, they supported me even when they didn’t understand what I was going through. And they accepted me for who I was, no matter what – no judgment, no criticism, no head shaking. I couldn’t have made it without them.
What helps you the most today?
Having tasted freedom and the ability to make up my own mind and make up my own decisions allows me to hold up even when things are difficult with family members or friends from back then. Knowing how it feels to be free gives me the confidence I need to say that no, what they’re saying is wrong, and I won’t go back. My supportive husband and supportive friends help too, of course. And every time someone knows what I’m talking about when I say the word “Quiverfull,” it’s like a breath of fresh air. Oh, and I’ve seen a therapist a number of times, and that has been very helpful as well.
What suggestions do you have for those who might to help friends or relatives who grew up/are growing up in families influenced by the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
The best thing you can do is be there. Be available. Be accepting. Don’t judge. Don’t mock. Don’t tell them their beliefs sound insane. If my experience is any guide, that won’t help at all. Just be there for them. Show that normal people can be loving and accepting and live good lives. Just being there will be a testimony that there is a different path they can take, a different way to live. And then, when they’re ready, they’ll come to you.
Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism.