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 Lisa, I’m 24 and I now live in Germany. I was born and raised in the U.S. but left the U.S. when I left my parents and siblings about two years ago. I have an American father and a German mother, and found shelter with my mother’s family here. I’m not married and I don’t have any kids. Right now I’m working on getting a high school degree. Since I was home schooled and didn’t do well, I never got one when I lived with my family. Besides school I work at as a waitress. I’m not quite sure what I believe at the moment. I do believe there is God, but I can’t make sense of anything else.
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?
Both my parents grew up in moderate Christian families. They first got involved with the P/QF teachings shortly after they married. Back in the 1980s my Mom found out about Mary Pride’s teachings (The Way Home) and both my mom and dad were quickly fascinated by her teachings and approaches to family structure. Among their favorite “leaders,” if you can call them that, are Mary Pride and the Pearls, and especially the Gothard teachings. My parents took several trips to meetings and seminars hosted by Gothard’s IBLP.
In what ways was your family a “typical” Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family? In what ways was it “atypical”?
My parents believed that contraception was a sin, that the man is the head of the house and the woman must be in absolute submission, that he is the authority for his daughters until they get married or he dies. We were home schooled, believed in modesty and only wearing skirts.
We were atypical in a sense that my mother never quite let go of her Catholic roots. We did some things Catholic such as Catholic Easter traditions. My mother spoke German with us kids and my Dad couldn’t understand much at all. This kind of enabled my mother to say things to us that my Dad wouldn’t understand, and if he did, he’d tell us how wrong they were. For example, whenever us kids made a mess or someone got hurt, she would exclaim “Holy Virgin Mary help us.” It’s a very Catholic thing to say and my mother always spoke about Mary with great admiration. I think she could never quite let go of her belief in Mary as a living saint.
Due to our language, a lot of P/QF people considered us Amish. This didn’t really mean that they didn’t accept us – they did, they just thought we did things differently. We never had any connections with the Amish though and us kids had to do a lot of explaining. I remember being asked if my family would support the tradition of “rumspringa” (“running around” as in living in the real world to decide if you want to stay with the Amish). We had a lot of explaining to do!
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?
Since my Dad didn’t find a denomination that suited him, we switched churches a lot. He thought he had some sort of say in the church community, which caused us to be cast out rather quickly. In some churches, they didn’t want us because we were too legalistic, others we left because they didn’t represent what my Dad believed in. I can’t tell you just how many churches we tried out, but it was certainly more than 10 communities we were involved in over 20 years. Some churches we stayed in for months, others we visited once or twice and didn’t like the people, or the pastor, or something else. But it was mostly Baptist communities, and they were also the ones we stayed at for the longest time. We met a whole lot of like-minded families, some we stayed in contact with, many others changed their ways and didn’t agree with what we believed in (any more). My Dad thought those families had a bad influence on us, so we cut the contacts.
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 parents turned to the QF theologies before I was born even, so I can’t really tell you. It’s just what I think, but I think my Mother was much stricter at first. I also think she kind of pushed my Dad into those very fundamentalist ideas. I mean, he wanted to be the provider, but not at all cost. My Mom kind of forced him into dominating her. That changed when I was young, my Mom seemed to realize what kind of monster she made of my Dad. But at that point, he had been completely consumed by the theologies and was obsessed with being a leader himself.
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?
My mother got up early in the morning to do 10 or 20 minutes of reading by herself. My Dad took a few minutes a day for private study as well. Us kids, we were encouraged to take off a few minutes each day for private prayer time. Reading, studying, interpreting certain chapters was also part of our daily home schooling. My Dad tried to do daily bible hours with the entire family, but of course, in a family this large, it hardly ever came down to this. Some days he had too much work to do to collect everybody in the living room. Other days, one was sick, another one wasn’t done with home school and so on. We managed to sit together as a family and do bible studying an average twice to three times a week. Then my Dad would pick out passages that somehow suited our situation and problems we were facing during that time and tried to work out a message from there.
My parents, especially my Dad, believed that his beliefs must be our beliefs. He told us what to make of every single passage. At first, when I was younger, he sometimes praised pastors for their sermons. In my teen years, those weren’t good enough anymore. He told us pastors are corrupt and he had found the right way. All we believed was his, and we weren’t allowed to question it. That was considered rebellious and usually had consequences.
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?
While my parents said that all human beings were perfectly made by God and equal, my Dad didn’t like us mixing with the black families. There were two families we had closer contact with, and my parents were very friendly, but we weren’t allowed to play with them. I think that was because my Dad didn’t want us to consider one of them as a possible spouse. He was against interracial marriage. I remember a nice lady who was married to a Mexican, she was treated differently, as were their son. Not that anybody said anything, but she was never invited and people avoided talking to her too much.
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.
I “grew up” with 10 siblings, but I have more now – one more sister who was born about a year before I left, and another little sister who was born in 2011. We are more girls than boys, but the two kids after me are both boys, so I was much older than my sisters. I was pretty much the leader of the girl pack, supervising all housework we had to do. The girls had to do all kinds of housework, the boys had to do minor tasks such as making their own bed. Real housework wasn’t for boys.
All housework chores were given to me, first of all, and then it was on me to make distribute the tasks among the girls, to see that everyone did what they were supposed to do and that the work was done well. If something went wrong, I was punished along with the offender, or it was simply me getting punished with an option of punishing the offender myself. Say, if the sweeping wasn’t done clean enough and I had given this task to my sister, I would face the consequences for her failure as well. The smaller ones who couldn’t do things by themselves just yet were paired up with older ones to instruct them as well as to delegate chores themselves. It was pretty much run like a business.
The boys took care of things like gardening and fixing things up, changing light bulbs etcetera. Generally I feel like the boys had more free time, but then again, they also had to study harder for school as they were supposed to be providers later. But my brothers are smart and not doing their school resulted in harsh punishments, so they all got their work done pretty quickly and had time to go outside, play games in the garden and such.
If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.
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.
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?
Girls were expected to wear modest, feminine clothes. The only way to be feminine was wearing skirts and dresses all the time. Pants weren’t allowed – the smaller girls would sometimes wear pants for certain occasions, such as physical activity in the garden, but they’d still wear a skirt over it. Once you were older, about 8 or 10 years old, so shortly before you hit puberty, there were no pants to wear under your skirts anymore. If you couldn’t do something in a skirt without showing skin, you weren’t supposed to do it. Sitting on a swing or climbing trees and things like that were impossible once you were too old.
The boys likewise were expected to wear “manly” things – long pants and a nice shirt. Feminine colors, pinks or pastels for example, weren’t manly enough so they had hardly any clothes in that color. The pants of course enabled the boys to play certain games and do certain things us girls couldn’t do in our skirts – like I said, climbing trees for example.
On the other hand, girls were expected to play with dolls when they were small, but not for too long. After all, we had plenty of real babies to play with. The girls were expected to help in the house, “play house”, sort of, so they would be kept busy, learn skills they’d need and at the same time feel as if they were playing.
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.)?
Moving out, going to college? That wasn’t an option at all – at least for the girls. We were taught rather strictly that daughters stayed at home until their husband came along. My Dad told me terrifying stories of young women who left their parents to go to college and got involved in “worldly” things. These stories usually ended with the girl being a drug addicted prostitute who’s now in rehab (optionally, her bastard child had been given up for adoption). I imagined colleges to be places where people had group sex right in the classrooms. I couldn’t imagine anything good coming from there. Education wasn’t as important since I was supposed to be a stay at home wife and mother anyway. Even if I didn’t marry and my parents were to die, I could move in with some other P/QF family and help them as a sort of adopted daughter, no matter the age.
Boys were raised to be hard working providers for a family. College was something that was encouraged, but not necessary. My Dad always believed that you could make good money and support a large family as long as you were a hard worker. The boys were also encouraged to grow up and make money rather early in life, in order to find a wife and get married. If you don’t have a job, you can’t get married, so finding something that would pay was elementary for any man. Missions were encouraged but my brothers were too young to do much of that before I left. My oldest brother is getting married soon, so I suppose he won’t be doing any traveling.
Part 4: Homeschooling
Why and when did your parents originally decide to home school? Did their reasons for homeschooling change over time?
My parents said that they always wanted to homeschool us kids. I as the oldest have never seen a public school from inside. My Dad was convinced that public schools were filled with sin (sex and drugs) and that they enforced certain “agendas” on the students. It got worse over time, my Dad thinking that all the bad things in America are rooted in the pro-gay pro-choice pro-everything ungodly schools.
Briefly describe your experience being home schooled, including the amount of interaction you had with other home schoolers or non-homeschoolers (socialization) and what sorts of textbooks or home school program your family used (academics).
I hated school more than anything. I mean, when I was really small and the others weren’t old enough for school yet (many of them weren’t born yet!), it was nice that my mom would spend so much time with me and it was fun, I enjoyed learning something. But the older I got and the more kids my Mom had to tutor, the less fun I had. My Mom had little time for each individual kid and at some point, I guess it was when I was 12, 13, I felt like it wasn’t so important what I had to study, it was more important to help the smaller ones do their studies. My Mom had some tougher pregnancies as well, which put her out of the picture for weeks and months. Those were the times where I was the one responsible for teaching the others. I basically didn’t do much myself since I also had the house to manage and the smaller kids to look after. It was horrible, trying to keep the toddlers satisfied while cleaning and cooking and at the same time looking after the boys who were just screaming and not concentrating.
At one point, once I turned 14, scientific studies lost their importance. My Dad felt it would do no good to teach a girl too much science. So the kitchen became my classroom and, even though I could already manage a house better than most 20 year olds, my Mom made me her fellow “help-meet.” I tried to get in some more math and that, but I didn’t get far. When I was 16 I realized that I wasn’t going to get any sort of degree anyway. My Dad didn’t want me to take SATs – not that I would’ve passed them anyway – and so I settled on studying the “important” things with some other women we knew – sewing, flower arranging. I also read a lot of the P/QF books that were coming out – the Ludy books, Harris, Pride, Pearl and so on. My Dad was torn. At some point, he wanted us to be smarter than kids from public schools and I think that somewhere he hoped I would have finished high school earlier than most people do, but then again, he took pride in the fact that his daughters were so “biblical.” I never quite understood what he wanted us to do.
We didn’t have much contact with other homeschoolers. We went to conventions where we met mostly other Christian homeschoolers, but never many who lived close enough to actually have vivid contact with them. Having friends wasn’t as important anyway, your siblings were supposed to be your best friends.
Since my mother was such a great fan of Mary Pride, Pride’s books on homeschooling were her major resource on how to structure the classes as well as which textbooks to use. We tried out different curricula and different systems, but online-learning wasn’t our major way of studying. I guess we were just too many kids and had too little money to buy the technical necessities for that.
What do you see as the pros and cons of having been home schooled? Do you feel that your home school experience prepared you well socially? Academically?
Well, I do think homeschooling can work if done right, but it just didn’t work for us. Not that my parents were intellectually incapable of teaching us, it’s just that they never used much of a curriculum other than my Dad’s personal opinion. So my big con is that I didn’t actually learn things you need to know in order to get higher education. Academically I wasn’t prepared to live in the ‘real world’ at all. A big part of our girl’s education was “homemaking,” where Mom taught us stuff like knitting and cleaning and cooking and all that stereotypical stuff. We were discouraged from studying things like math and science simply because my Dad believed it would put the wrong ideas into the girl’s minds – going out, getting an education, work, do a man’s job. At some point I think he wanted to keep us dumb so that we wouldn’t even have the chance to think about the situation we’re in. Make sure we do what we’re best at – being homemakers.
I think the social aspect of being home schooled is overrated. I can imagine that you might be just as socially prepared if it’s done right, but then again, coming from the P/QF background, I was in no way socially “normal”. The only people we ever had contact with were other fundamentalist homeschoolers and every family kept to themselves, so there wasn’t much going on. If I was different than I am the aspect of helping my younger siblings with their school would’ve certainly been positive, but then again I was so clueless about the things we had to learn myself that it was a huge fright to explain things to them. It just cost me a lot of energy to get through the day.
Do you perceive of your academic or social abilities differently today than you did when you were being homeschooled?
I considered myself well-prepared for the longest time. When all you’re looking at for your life is being married, raising kids and being a good wife, you don’t need chemistry, you don’t need real friends. You’re not supposed to share private stuff anyway, that leads to gossiping faster than you believe. And after all men want to be the heroes, they want to be admired. A woman smart enough to go to college would just make any man feel stupid, she might question him and that’s something you want to avoid. If he can explain things to her, he’ll feel strong, admired and respected. Yes, I can say I felt like I was going to be a good housewife and I still believe that this was true – I would’ve been well-prepared for that.
Now that I depend on my education to live, I feel every day just how much I don’t know and how much harder things are for me. I will do well in school for weeks and suddenly I’m hit with something that I lack basic knowledge of, and I’ll have to start from scratch to get it. Especially in math, I don’t think I could have even helped my husband with finances if I stayed with my family… Here’s a confession: I can’t calculate. I mean, I couldn’t do the easiest calculations and I’m having major issues even today. A good example would be the multiplications. I still need to use my fingers, and it takes me very long to answer. (And no, I have been tested, I do not have any calculation disorders. I just can’t do it.)
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 will never homeschool my children. If I stay in Germany I don’t have a choice anyway since homeschooling isn’t an option here. If I go back to the U.S., I just don’t think I would enjoy doing it.
Part 5: Purity
What were you taught about physical purity, emotional purity, and courtship and dating? How was sex education handled?
Physical purity standards included refraining from kissing, but some forms of touching where okay if you were engaged or close to it, like holding hands. The newer generations of courtships seem to be even more strict. Emotional purity was a huge deal, maybe because it’s so much harder to restrict it. Contact with boys was allowed only for short amounts of time (minutes) and overseen by an adult, typically a male relative. Falling in love, having crushes or even (gasp) fantasies was prohibited, but of course it’s not that easy. I was taught thinking of a boy and imagining him to be my husband was impure. Now of course, all girls dream of a great husband, and most of the time he has a face (one that you know), which complicates the issue. I suffered a lot trying to keep my thoughts elsewhere. It didn’t always work and just thinking of a boy was a sin to me. Even when you were courting, you shouldn’t “dream” of a future just yet. That was all for being married.
Sex education was nonexistent in my family. Not even the birds and the bees. If one of the kids asked where the babies came from, the answer was “They’re a gift from God, he makes them”. I was oblivious that any sort of physical act could be involved. I remember the day of my first period, you can imagine just how shocked I was, I had no idea. I told my mom I needed to see a doc and hinted at what happened, I was too afraid to be graphic with her. She told me that this meant I was now old enough to carry Eve’s sin in me and that it would remind me of my place in the world. She also told me she would tell my Dad, and I was humiliated at the thought of that.
Did you participate in a parent-guided courtship? If so, what was your experience? If not, why not?
I have been in a courtship, yes. My experience was pretty negative. My parents picked the young man. I don’t know if there were any other men interested in me before him, but it could be. My Dad had tested him before even telling me that somebody was interested. When they told me he had feelings for me, he had already been approved by my Dad. I wasn’t really given the chance to say no to this. This has a variety of reasons, one being that a man cleaves his wife (not vice versa) and that I needed to trust my parents and listen to my Dad. I was told to take a look at him because my Dad thought he was the one for me. It doesn’t sound like forcing, but believe me, you don’t get to say no to that without being labeled rebellious.
My courtship was heavily chaperoned and we didn’t see each other very often. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for weeks, or even months – his family lived far away and due to the many children they had, trips were expensive. We also weren’t allowed to do things dating and some courting couples do, like going out for dinner or seeing a movie together. Most interaction was kept inside the house. Even conversation was chaperoned, especially in the first year of courtship. I had a pretty long courtship, for one because the man who was courting me still needed to prepare to provide for a family, because I was needed by my parents (so I figure my Dad didn’t allow him to propose for a long time) and also because we couldn’t have regular meet ups. I broke off my courtship the day the man proposed to me, which ultimately caused me to be shunned by my entire family.
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?
I certainly have rejected a large portion of the courtship teachings. To be quite honest, I don’t think there are any parts I kept. Of course, I believe that a boyfriend should be a real friend, not just a crush. Somebody who really knows you. I believe you should get to know someone before you date, but I wouldn’t label this as general courtship teaching. A lot of secular people believe the same thing.
At the same time I’m trying to get rid off the extreme purity teachings, but that’s so much harder. I still behave strange around men, on one hand because I myself want to stay “pure” and on the other I still believe it’s inappropriate to talk to “somebody else’s husband”, since that makes him impure too. It’s very hard to get over and I can’t really tell you where exactly I stand.
I have no idea how I’m going to handle things with my kids. I suppose that will become clearer once I’m actually faced with the issue. I don’t think I’d want them to do the whole courtship thing, though. I trust that I will raise them to be responsible young people who can recognize good character when they see it. I trust that they’ll be able to pick a person who’s perfect for them, even if they’re not my type. They hopefully won’t need me to tell them what’s marriage material and what isn’t. And I hope that they’ll end up being people who date a man or a woman whom I at least like (even if I don’t love them!), and that they won’t show up with a person I couldn’t stand if I tried.
Do you feel that the purity and courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how?
I’m sure they do, I can’t tell you the full extent (yet). Concerning purity, I have issues with physical touch, feeling dirty or sinful whenever I feel like something is impure. Like a male friend (not boyfriend) touching my arm or giving me a hug. I’m surprised I have a rather healthy image of sex compared to others who left the P/QF movement. Some are deeply afraid of anything sex, I guess I’m lucky I can still view it as something positive, something to be treated with care but not something that will kill you or cause you to do drugs. I’m still not sure what I think of physical touch or even sex before marriage and I’m taking my time to make up my mind on that one.
As for courtship, I abandoned those teachings for the most part. It’s supposed to protect you from bad feelings, thoughts, fantasies. But it just doesn’t do that. You still wonder what it would be like to kiss a guy, or how your Prince Charming looks, or anything that’s normal for young adults. If you’re easily pushed into making the wrong choices, something along the lines of courtship might be better, but I think if you’re not one to be talked into having sex “just to prove you love your partner”, you don’t need a bodyguard every time you grab a cup of coffee with your date. I also think that it’s important to have talks without the factor of embarrassment – some things you don’t want to discuss with your little brother next to you. Of course, there’s more to a person, there’s a family behind everyone and taking a look at that is important too, but not in such a heavy fashion as courtship attempts to do it.
Part 6: Questioning
How were you first exposed to “mainstream” American culture? What were your first impressions?
I got the full blast of American culture when I left my family. I never had much to do with it. It was very much like living in a parallel universe. I was shocked and embarrassed when I first tried to fit in. It was so different, so many things I didn’t understand. I think I acted like some kind of native from a lonely island to the world around me. I didn’t even know how to order and pay at a restaurant.
What first made you question the beliefs you were raised with? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?
I didn’t really question any of my parent’s beliefs until I was an adult (over 18). Of course I had “teen phases” too where I secretly thought that one or the other thing my parents did or believed wasn’t right with the bible, but I wasn’t really questioning.
It really started when I was supposed to marry the man my Dad picked for me, a nice young man whom, despite the fact that I liked him, didn’t want to marry. You see, love isn’t a necessity for a courting couple. Not even for an engaged couple. It’s all about doing the right thing, the godly thing, the smart thing, not what emotionally feels right. Seeing that my emotions and my agreement in this was so completely ignored made me incredibly angry and desperate. I didn’t want my Dad to stay the authority in my life, but that would’ve been the case if I married whom he told me to marry. I mean, he would always be there in some way or the other, simply by picking a man who thought just like him. I always believed that once you get married, there’s be a sort of change in your life and I didn’t see that happening. I didn’t want to marry yet another minion.
I struggled with this conviction for a very, very long time and it frightened me so much that I went along with everything my Dad told me to do. It wasn’t until the point of no return that I tried to find a way out of it. At some point I knew that leaving my family was always the only option but I needed the pressure of seeing my life disappear into everything I never wanted it to be to actually take this step. In retrospective I feel sorry for a lot of people involved in that situation. I lied to people for a very long time to please my Dad, hurt feelings and disappointed people who weren’t really at fault for the entire situation. But it was the only way. All in all, this process took me about 2 years – from the first questioning to actually leaving the QF circles.
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?
Well, I struggled most with the fact that I wasn’t accepted as a full human being. Kids weren’t either, and I hated that too. The fact that it seemed as if only an adult man could be a full human being, with all rights in the world, that I didn’t understand. Always thought God was very unfair and mean to put me into a position of submission without any fault of my own. I remember many nights of asking God what in the world I did wrong that he made me be a woman.
And the hardest part of it was disappointing and leaving all these people who loved me, and needed me, behind. Just the mere fact of considering leaving just to get my way pained me more than I can explain. I felt like those women I was supposed to hate, the ones who sacrifice family and their loved ones on the altar of being “free”. I despised myself for a long time simply because I craved just that.
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?
I know of some young people who have left, but it’s a rather small percentage. I don’t have any contacts with those people anymore so I’m not up to date on how many more have left since I left. Most are just too afraid to sacrifice their families. I think they hide the fact that they think differently and hope to God they’ll find a spouse who thinks the same way, so they can hide it together. It’s all about keeping up that image.
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?
I didn’t have any direct contact with friends of the family during the times of leaving, but I know some felt and expressed that I did the right thing. I know some people approached my family and told them not to be so hard on me and that I might be doing just what God wants me to do, but of course they got nowhere with this.
My mother was disappointed. I don’t know if that was because I rejected her beliefs, or because she knew I was going to leave and she wouldn’t see me anymore, wouldn’t be involved in my life any more. She cried a lot and begged me to apologize to my Dad. She couldn’t understand what I wanted at that point.
My Dad was extremely angry. He said a lot of very hurtful things about me and also about my mother, who obviously didn’t raise me well. He gave me two options: Apologize and return to complete submission, or leave and never come back, never be a part of the family any more. As I told him I’d rather leave than return to a world where my opinion was worth less than a piece of cake, he stopped talking to me all together and commanded my mother to make sure I’d get out of the house by the end of the week. We rarely talk until today, but I do talk to my mother.
My siblings didn’t say much. It wasn’t so much about beliefs there. They asked things like why I didn’t love Jesus any more, but mostly they thought I didn’t love them anymore, and that’s why I’m leaving.
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?
I don’t have contact with anybody in the movement outside my family. Contact with my family is very rare and not initiated by them.
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 do not know what I am at the moment, and I do not beliefs about faith with my parents.
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?
None of my siblings left (that I know of). Since I don’t really have any contact with them, I don’t know what’s going on with my siblings and their beliefs.
Part 8: Adjusting
Do you still feel as though you are “different” or that your past experiences emotionally isolate you from society?
Yes, a lot. I can’t really explain. I learned to camouflage myself as „one of them“, but I still feel an outsider. I feel like people look at me and they can tell I’m somehow different. A lot of times, people can’t understand my reactions to certain things. Only my close friends know about it and try to help me when I get into weird situations.
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?
Some people certainly do, yes. Germans are very straight-in-your-face rude (if you’re not used to it) and a lot of people have asked weird questions. There are lots of mix ups with other christian sects. The European public generally knows only about big incidents, such as the Zion group in Texas being arrested for sexual abuse of children, so a lot of associations with that are made. People used to ask me a lot if I was sexually abused, married off to an old man, if my dad had four wives and things like that. But they are all curious to hear the truth and ask many questions to understand. My friends have no problem dealing with my occasional weirdness and help me out a lot. Of course I have some issues where I just can’t get over old habits and beliefs, but I feel like I’m generally accepted pretty well by the people around me. Sometimes, this “Oh it’s because you’re from a cult” thing annoys me, when people try to explain things I do by connecting it to my childhood. Not everything I do has something to do with it. But I can be just as German-rude as they are and just tell them straight to their faces it hurts me to be categorized like that, which helps a lot.
Now, in romantic relationships, it’s different. A lot of things don’t come easily. My boyfriend didn’t understand why I didn’t even want to touch him at first and I think that hurt him a lot, too. Everything is hard, and everything is a fight. I don’t think it would work with someone who isn’t as patient as my boyfriend happens to be. He does get angry at some things too, sometimes, and has to take a few minutes to himself to get over it. I have to be honest, I wouldn’t blame him at all if he left me tomorrow. I know what the bible says about love, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. I much rather quote a woman who said: “Sometimes, you think love will fix it. All we need is love, more love. But sometimes, love just isn’t enough.”
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?
That’s the toughest question on here. I honestly don’t know. I think it has made me value my option of choice more. Choosing what to eat, what to wear, what to study, what to do, which friends to have, all of that. You know, lots of people sit on their chairs and talk about the “land of the free” and think it’s all handed to everybody in this country. No, it’s simply not. We still live in a world where people do NOT get to choose what to do, think, wear believe, even whom to marry. It makes me so angry when people tell you “Well, it’s a free country, you can do as you please if you don’t like the way you live”. No, I can’t. I can’t because I was taught it was evil, and I have no right, and I’m too stupid anyway. I can’t because my parents have taken that right away from me for over 20 years, and I can’t because I wouldn’t know how to, and even if, I’m so scared to do it. So many young people can’t. Choosing all of these things is still a privilege in the world and even in America, and it’s one you have to fight to get it, law or not.
Yes, it has made me value choice a lot more. Even if it’s only the fact that I ate Pizza today, and not something else.
How did you perceive your childhood at the time compared to how do you see it now?
I thought my childhood was normal or even special and I kind of looked down on kids who weren’t raised the way I was. I mean, after all my Dad knew the truth, theirs didn’t. We were on the safe side. I just kept wishing that I could be a better child. I felt like my parents did so much for me and tried so hard to make me a good person. Everything bad that happened I blamed on myself and shamed myself by thinking I wasn’t good enough for my parents. I used to think about all the great things we did, like baking afternoons with Mom or singing and reading and sitting together on quiet evenings, and I felt like I didn’t deserve any of that. I thought all the other kids had to be at home alone late at night and eat fast food and watch TV and I pitied them because they didn’t have a family (working Moms meant no family to me). I thought I was very lucky I had a “real” family.
Looking back, yes there have been great times, especially with my Mom and siblings. But there have been very, very dark days too. But I don’t like to look back and think “Oh, it was terrible” or “Oh, I had such a hard childhood”. That wouldn’t be entirely true. At the end of the day, there are so many worse things that could have happened to me. Of course it shouldn’t have been this way either. I guess I just don’t like excusing every mistake I make today by bringing up my childhood.
Do you sometimes wish to go “back”?
I’d lie if I said no here. There were good times, of course. I love my family. I loved some of the things about P/QF life. But the good things don’t make up for the bad things in this case. I might wish for feelings or moments back, but never my old life, no.
Part 9: Helping Others
What advice do you have for other young adults currently questioning or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology?
When it comes to questioning, I can only tell you to trust your heart for once, but still use your brain. If something appears to be wrong, try to find out why. You might be the one who’s right in the matter. Just because certain things work for your parents or people in your environment doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. At the end of your life, you’ll be the one responsible for everything you did. Not your Mom and Dad, not your siblings, not your pastor or friends. You’ll have to answer to yourself why you handled things that way. If you feel like you can’t do things the way your parents tell you to do, do what’s right for yourself. It’s hard to disappoint people you love, I know that.
If you feel it’s not necessary to wear skirts all day, you’re probably right. If you feel it’s wrong to have one kid after the other, you’re probably right. If you feel like you’re in the process of marrying the wrong person, you’re most likely right. Remember that you will hurt people when you question their beliefs, but you will hurt even more if you just keep going along with something that isn’t 100% your own conviction.
What was most helpful to you when you were questioning and/or leaving the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
I had some support from people who weren’t as strict inside the movement, and that was very helpful and encouraging. I also quickly found out about the ex-P/QF writers on blogs and internet pages, which is where I found my story repeated thousands of times. It was so helpful to know that I wasn’t an exception and that many many others felt the same way I did.
What helps you the most today?
The blogging world! Since P/QF is completely unknown in Germany and the families are super-rare, there’s nobody who is in it or left around here. There’s also no programs or anything. The only way for me to stay in contact with fellow refugees and like-minded people is the internet and my blog.
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?
First off, don’t abandon them. Don’t attack them with questions, they’ll stop talking to you. Try to stay away from discussions about beliefs. Be there for them, tell them that you’ll always help them if they’re in need. Don’t treat them differently.
If you hear about a person wanting to leave me P/QF movement, try to talk to them in private. Tell them about various blogs and pages where they can read similar stories. Understand their fears, don’t push them. Tell them that they can call you any time they want or need, or show up at your door any time of the day. Tell them you’ll always be there, no matter what they do.
Lisa blogs at Broken Daughters.