How did your parents and siblings respond to you questioning/rejecting their beliefs? How did those you grew up with respond?
When I met, Kristine, the woman I have been married to for almost 11 years, I had already left my singly mother who very sincerely and deeply followed Bill Gothard. Regardless of her lifestyle. I still felt that I needed to be completely open with her about everything in my life. Knowing she would be hateful toward Kristine, I told her anyway – and she was hateful.
Kristine did not fit into her worldview. My mother was supposed to be the one that made the final decision in who I was to marry. I completely edged her out of the process and she was pissed. I was happy and, to this day, believe with my whole heart, that I made the right decision. I love my wife. My mother knew nothing about her nor cared to find out. She just had a bunch of formulas in a big red book that didn’t add up to the nuances of life. Control was slipping from her fingers.
Many of my childhood friends have left the movement and still cling to the religion – which I don’t hold against them at all. Bill Gothard, to them, is a swear word and they wield it well. On the other hand, my siblings continue in many of the patriachal/quiverfull beliefs, which means a houseful of little kids for Christmas.
My last few years at home were truly terrible for everyone. In my late teens and early 20s, I was chaffing more and more under my parents’ church-sanctioned authoritarian approach to parenting. They were getting more and more desperate to retain control, while I was rapidly becoming less able to fake love and respect. At one point, I was grounded indefinitely (it ended up being over 2 months) until I could achieve the correct facial expression and tone in talking to my dad. In all this, the crazy thing was that I honestly never purposefully disobeyed my parents, but I was still classified as rebellious.
The constant conflict at home contributed to our deep depression; my mom and I internalized our depression into mysterious illnesses while my dad channelled his into open hatred of us. When we were at the end of our rope, each of us asked our pastor Reb Bradley for advice. The advice we got was damaging and worthless. According to Reb, my mom and I needed to be more submissive, and my dad needed to not resist his leadership role in the family. That was it; God didn’t allow any other options for us.
It didn’t take much longer for my parents to become disillusioned with the movement; against Reb’s advice, they began to get professional counseling that completely changed our family dynamic. It was a welcome relief for my siblings and me. At that same time, I finally left for college and had a lot more privacy and space to discover my own opinions. Those changes helped us to begin to slowly heal the damage to our family relationships.
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.
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.
My siblings are pretty accepting of my changes, and are (mostly) all progressing along behind me with questions and new ideas. The internal dynamics within my family have changed a great deal in the last three years, and things are steadily getting healthier. My parents, despite their initial anger and disappointment, are gradually re-evaluating their beliefs and trying more deliberately to love their children unconditionally.
My friends from childhood have either not realized that I’ve changed, lost touch with me since college, or have changed enough themselves that we now have a lot in common once again. There have been a few who have rejected me outright, but those have either been friends who assumed I was still super conservative and legalistic, or those who won’t accept grey areas and nuances in faith.
My parents have been resigned in many ways, their beliefs have changed some over time and they regret some of the things they believed and taught, feeling that they were damaging. They are still very Christian though, and I think it hurts them that I am not. My Mom tells me that if I knew God the way she does than I would not feel the way I do. My adult siblings all have questions of their own, so we have varying degrees of camaraderie. My younger siblings and I do not talk about faith, so I am not aware of their knowledge or perspective. Many of the acquaintances I knew while still in the movement have expressed anger, sadness and feelings of betrayal over my doubts and questions.
I was very private about the changes I was experiencing. I didn’t really discuss it with anyone except my older sister, who was on a similar journey at the same time. My parents frequently questioned me on when I was going to get pregnant and let my husband start working. I just deflected all the questions. My parents were progressively getting more and more “normal” throughout this time as well, so I was able to keep most of the focus on them. My parents don’t really know anything about my personal beliefs at all. My husband’s parents on the other hand ended up hearing that I was questioning my faith, and I have had nothing but harassment from them ever since.
My dad thought I was on his side. He thought I was going to be all about money and sex. He was wrong. My mom thought I was going through a phase, then got angry and called me a bitter, hateful person, and eventually came to accept me. She bought me a pair of jeans last year!
I have gone on several rants to my parents about the silliness and reactionary nature of the “biblical womanhood” movement and ideal. I have informed them that I regret not having gone to college, and that I intend to do things differently with my daughter. They are also aware that I have rejected QF categorically, that I visit churches outside of their comfort zone and that I have a much broader conception of God and of Christianity than I believe they entertain. Things went down better than could have been expected. There was certainly some disappointment and miffed feelings, and we had several long, somewhat strained conversations on these topics, but things haven’t been too bad. I still have good relationships with them all. I think in a way my parents feel like, “Oh well, at least she still loves Jesus and we got her safely married off to a decent guy.” It grieves me that many other daughters of patriarchy have had a rougher road to travel in this regard. Sometimes I feel a little guilty that it’s been relatively easy for me.