Raised Quiverfull: Tricia’s Story

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.

Hello! My name is Tricia. I’m 26 years old. I had a fairly typical American childhood until age ten or so, when my parents began to homeschool me and gradually became immersed into the world of CP/QF. You might say they/we were fully “in” by the time I was fourteen. So I went on to live the stay at home daughter life– foregoing college to be a keeper at home, courtship in my early twenties and eventual marriage to another child of the movement, etc. Over the past two years I have come to consider CP/QF as an aberrant offshoot of fundamentalist Christianity that can, and often does, foster situations that create emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage in the name of “Godly living.” This was a painful realization to come to, and the process of healing, sorting, and re-evaluating my beliefs and experiences has likewise been intense, but at the same time very freeing. I’m still on the journey and don’t have all the answers or know for sure where I’ll end up, but am trying to be honest and enjoy life as much as possible along the way. True to my training, I am now a stay at home mom to two small children, but at this point it’s more due to pragmatics than conviction. When my kids are a little older I intend on pursuing college and career training of some kind.

I remain a traditional Christian, in the sense that I affirm the Nicene Creed with only a few minor redefinitions and accept the Bible as a collection of inspired writings that has had, and will continue to have, a shaping influence on my spiritual life. Beyond that, I gravitate towards Christian faith traditions that emphasize the mystical and experiential. I shy away from superfluous rules and rigid theological formulations, more because I find them triggering at this stage in my life than from reasoned objections to theology per say. After some exploring and shopping around, I’m currently attending an inter-denominational charismatic-lite sort of church. It is lively, diverse, and casual. I don’t kid myself that it’s perfect, but for now it’s a place where I can relax, breathe, and enjoy some undemanding faith based community.

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?

At the first homeschool convention my parents attended, they heard one of the “big names” in the movement speak and were dazzled. They actively pursued more of the same kind, and Doug Philips, Jonathan Lindvall, Bill Gothard, and Michael Pearl all soon became household words in our family. There were several other less well-known teachers in the same general stream that we followed as well. We subscribed to the magazines/newsletters, bought the books and tapes, went to the seminars, etc. Our home was literally littered with patriarchal propaganda.

In what ways was your family a “typical” Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family? In what ways was it “atypical”?

In terms of family dynamics, beliefs about what said Scripture taught about gender and family, and overall lifestyles and goals, we were a fairly typical example of the CP/QF trend.

On the atypical side, however, my mother had a huge appreciation for liberal arts of all kinds, so my reading was not restricted in anywhere near the same way as is typical in many CP/QF homes. This proved to be a tremendous benefit to me personally, as I read widely and it helped to keep my mind open and gave me the tools I needed to eventually think through and discard much of what I learned from the world of quiverfull and patriarchy. My siblings and I also had friends and relatives that were secular or existed in the mainstream Christian world that we were permitted to interact with freely, and although that was sometimes awkward because I was so different, I think those influences and relationships helped to provide some grounding and balance to my growing up experience, because the outside world didn’t seem as strange or alien as it otherwise may have.

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?

My parents did a lot of church hopping and shopping before becoming involved with the housechurch movement when I was in my teens.  The man who led the housechurch my parents got involved in was one of the more well-known apologists for housechurching in our area. Himself by no means a CP/QF advocate, he tended to attract a mixed crowd and the meetings were usually interesting, to say the least. We were part of that group for many years, until it broke apart and a few of the CP/QF families that were involved, my family included, started a housechurch of their own. After that break, things became much more homogonized and in some ways stifling, because literally everyone in our group was reinforcing the CP/QF paradigm, either by explicitly promoting it or simply by being the people they had become.

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 came from backgrounds where “traditional” marriages were the norm, so a dynamic like that emphasized in CP was present to some degree as their default. However, CP/QF had the unfortunate effect of enabling them to exalt their particular marital dynamic into a universally valid bit of religious dogma that they hoped to see replicated in the lives of all their descendants.  I think my mom was less enamored with the teachers and trends of CP/QF than my dad was, but she didn’t have a doubt that her role as defined within the system was laid out by God himself. I assume that what she did was read the specifics of her cultural background and marital dynamic into the (highly controversial) biblical texts on marriage and perceived that this all lined up with the teachings of CP, and that is what made her feel okay with my father leading our family ever deeper into the subculture. I seriously doubt it would have appealed to her much otherwise had she been left to herself. As for my father, I think he was impressed by the speaking skills and apparent knowledge of Scripture displayed by some of the movement’s prominent teachers, and that he was rendered vulnerable to their ideas by his uncertainty about how else to raise his growing family in a Christian way.

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?

In my home, Bibles were everywhere and they were constantly being read, that is we read them daily or sometimes a couple times a day, both as a family and individually. I was certainly taught particular interpretations as well as a particular style of interpreting, a lot of which I have since rejected, but I developed a genuine love for the Bible itself, complex literary work and strange cultural artifact that it is. 🙂 Although at times it was used against me as a weapon, and some bits of it frightened or depressed me, it was also the book that brought me comfort when I was lonely and fueled my imagination and fledgling sense of spirituality. A writer I like referred to the Bible once as a labyrinthine library that contains both everything and the opposite of everything. I think in some senses that is true.  While still having a great appreciation for the Bible, I now have, I hope, a more realistic awareness of the difficulties it contains, and of the difference the interpretive lens one chooses can make.

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?

White, middle class Protestants were we all. It was a very segregated world. I never even had a black or Hispanic friend growing up, and there were no opportunities to cultivate such a friendship.  I definitely feel like I missed out in that regard. Exposure to other groups and cultures can be so enriching, and I had very little of that. The church I attend now is racially and culturally diverse, and coincidentally so is the neighborhood I currently live in, and this exposure to a wider world has been like a breath of fresh air, even though I can have a difficult time connecting– mostly because I don’t know how. It’s getting easier with time, though.

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.

Because my mother had medical issues that made her doctor strongly advise her against having many children, I had “only” five siblings. In that regard my parents were QF-lite, you might say, as many others would have chosen to ignore the doctor’s advice out of faith in their QF beliefs.  In fact, my poor mother was occasionally questioned and criticized by nosy QF advocates about her personal medical issues and decisions, which would always fill me with disgust. QF-ers can be very self-righteous and ignorantly opinionated in addition to being crazy, imo. I have very little tolerance for the QF mindset now, and it irked me even at the time when I supposed it was “godly” to have a very large family if you could.

Chores were divided along stereotypical gender lines. My brothers helped out with yard work, home repairs, took out the trash, etc. I helped with dishes, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and the care of my younger siblings.

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

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.

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?

We went through a phase as a family where my father strongly encouraged the females of his clan to only wear skirts and dresses. Interestingly, my mother refused to capitulate on this one entirely, but we wore skirts/dresses for church services and maybe about half of the time, or more, around the house.  I was not allowed to wear anything sleeveless, show any cleavage, or wear anything with a hem that came above my knee.  And of course I was expected to be ladylike and domestic, whereas the boys were taught to be hardworking, independent, and strong. My brothers and I lived very different lives.

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.)?

My father felt strongly that since a woman was created to be a helpmeet to a man and a keeper at home, it made no sense to prepare her for life in the way one would prepare a son. Thus I never had a job outside the home, career training of any kind, college, etc. Instead I helped my mother out around the house, did odd jobs for my father (bookkeeping, etc.) and read in my spare time. My brother chose not to go to college of his own volition, but he held a variety of jobs and apprenticeship positions throughout his teen years and early twenties, and so was able to gain some skills and experience that have enabled him to get by in life at the very least.

Strangely, in spite of the fact that so many opportunities were closed to me, my father blamed me for not showing more initiative and becoming a “Proverbs 31 woman.”  I felt like a disappointment to him in spite of the fact that I was doing nearly everything he wanted. It still wasn’t good enough.  Apparently I had to recreate the socio-economic system of an ancient civilization as well, and proceed to make myself a success within it if I wanted to be perfect.

Part 5: Purity

What were you taught about physical purity, emotional purity, and courtship and dating? How was sex education handled?

Physical purity was deemed of ultimate importance. The possibility of losing it was dangerous enough to justify all manner of precautions, including choosing courtship over dating, sheltering adult daughters from the world and the young men in it, and avoiding college as a possible locale of temptation and vice. I was definitely given the impression that losing your virginity made you somehow damaged goods, was cheating your future husband out of something he deserved, and could have a devastating impact on your emotional well-being and the happiness of your future marriage.

Emotional purity was seen as also highly important. I was taught to “guard my heart,” a phrase from a verse in Proverbs that is ripped out of context and frequently used to make young people in the CP/QF culture afraid of falling in love outside of parental authorization. I was told to “go to sleep emotionally,” until God brought me a spouse, a dubious echo back to the story of the garden of Eden, where Adam was put to sleep while God performed the rib operation that resulted in Eve. Furthermore, I was instructed to give my heart to my father until he gave me permission to give it to the young man I would one day wed. Looking back now, this all seems very intrusive and very unnecessary, although I know they meant well and only wanted to protect me. There are better ways to teach a person appropriate caution and common sense in relationships.

Did you participate in a parent-guided courtship? If so, what was your experience? If not, why not?

Yep, I played the courtship game to a T. It “worked” in the sense that I got married and my marriage has been mostly happy, but other than that my courtship experience was a time of trial and disappointment. Libby Ann has done a great job of explaining how emotional and religious abuse, enmeshment, and fuzzy boundaries are common problems in CP families. I would further note that many young adults from these homes are frightened of their own emotions and of making decisions for themselves. Courtship has a way of bringing all of this to the surface, and it was during my courtship that I first began to have an inkling of how messed up things were for me.

I became emotionally and psychologically symptomatic– anxious, depressed, and dissociative. I didn’t know what was wrong with me or what to do about it, but I felt that I was going crazy. I was happy about my suitor, a childhood friend whom I had been secretly crushing on for years (in spite of emotional purity dogma), and frankly I was also happy to be on the way to leaving my family and starting a life of my own. I dimly concluded that the problem was that in courtship, I was being swept into an artificial role in a contrived system, and that maybe this wasn’t good for a person. Now I believe that many latent problems in my family and in the CP/QF system were being manifested as I engaged in the process of detaching from my parents for the first time, while also navigating my first romantic relationship. Of course it was tough, but I naively thought that if I just pushed through things would be magically better when I got married.

Surprisingly, I turned out to be partially right. Once the courtship was over and I was out of my parents’ house and safely married my symptoms went away for a time and I felt very happy. However, during my first pregnancy and especially after the birth of my child the crippling anxiety and dark depression began to return. You can only run for so long. Since mental health treatment was covered by our insurance, and since my husband didn’t have the extreme dislike of “ungodly psychology” that my parents had, I began a bit nervously to consider trying secular talk therapy. Seeing what a nut I was becoming (I’m saying this tongue in cheek, although sadly there is some truth to it), my husband encouraged me in this, and now nine months later I can say it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. My therapist has helped me to identify and work through so much that I sensed was wrong but couldn’t quite identify. My husband has been supportive of the changes we’ve needed to make. My symptoms have decreased, my confidence has grown, I’m happier about life, and much more insightful and aware about my past and it’s problems.

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?

The teaching of sexual purity has been part of Christianity from it’s early origins, and as a Christian, it’s something I certainly still consider valid practice for Christians of our day. However, I see it as meaningful if it is a personal, individual decision made in the larger context of a genuine spiritual walk. I don’t so much think of virginity as valuable in and of itself, and I definitely do not think it is something to frighten or manipulate one’s children into practicing. It’s not a trophy and it’s frankly tacky to treat it as such. Though it might sound trite and cliched to say it, there is so much more to a person than their sexual history, and sadly this can get overlooked in a world that glorifies purity so extravagantly.

Courtship I think of as a reactionary fad within fundamentalism/evangelicalism, which can be either harmful or mostly benign, according to the emotional and spiritual health of the people practicing it. However, in most cases I’ve seen, it’s been more harmful than not, so I would be extremely cautious about recommending any form of courtship to my children. On the other hand, I’m really not sure how best to prepare them for relationships. I think this may be something that I’ll simply have to figure out as I go. Thinking this through really hasn’t been a priority yet, as they are still quite young and I’ve had a lot of other things on my mind.

As for emotional purity, as far as I can tell it mostly just makes already anxious and frightened young women gain an additional layer of neurosis. Maybe there are some good ideas mixed up in the teachings, but for now, I can’t identify them as I’ve only seen the harm they can cause.

Part 6: Questioning

What first made you question the beliefs you were raised with? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?

As I wrote earlier, the debilitating stress and confusion I experienced during my “ideal” courtship is what first began to make me questioning and a bit cynical. It wasn’t long afterward, a few months into my marriage, when one of my friends who had left the movement began facebooking about Quivering Daughters, the book and blog by Hillary McFarland. Curious, I began to read.

I still remember so clearly the first time I visited her website. I recognized myself and my experience in nearly every article and blog post I read. However, it literally made me feel sick to read at first. I didn’t want to think that my parents had been emotionally abusive, or that I was as psychologically and spiritually wounded as I sometimes felt myself to be. However, Hillary’s fearless, but always gentle and gracious, words shed a light that was ultimately healing, even though it hurt at first. Because it shook me up so much, I had to pull away and take breaks from her website, sometimes for several weeks at a time. But I kept coming back, and I went on to read other blogs and websites in a similar vein– Commandments of Men, No Longer Quivering, Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, Under Much Grace, Permission to Live, and of course Love, Joy, Feminism. Reading these things helped me to heal and detox, by making me feel less alone and learning to recontextualize and redefine my experiences in a way that felt more congruous with my own emotional truth.

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 feeling like I was a disloyal, terrible, rebellious, self-centered, and ungrateful daughter for criticizing my parents or acknowledging, even to myself, that they had hurt me. I still struggle with this sense of misplaced, extreme loyalty. It helps a little to remind myself that there should be nothing dishonoring about facing truth. It’s also been hard not to feel that focusing on my own growth and recovery is wasting time that could better be spent serving others or doing something productive. But I know if I don’t do this work, I’ll never become the person I could be.

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?

Sometimes defining the “ins and outs” of things can be a bit tricky, since a lot of this is about a mindset more than one particular defining characteristic. But. . . I would say about 75% have stayed Christian, although many have taken their faith in different directions than their parents outlined, about 50% still plan to homeschool their children, and only a very small percentage still speak of Phillips, Gothard, and their ilk with anything other than amusement, irritation, or disdain. I doubt that adulation for these speakers is going to continue into the second generation, although some of the trends they started may or may not be perpetuated. A lot of us still don’t know for sure where we’re going in many areas. At least, this is my perception.

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 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.

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 talk to my mom a few times a week, and I’d describe our relationship as positive and friendly, if still somewhat enmeshed in the sense that we tend to feel responsible for each other emotionally. She has seemed much less fazed by my defection from CP/QF than my father, which strengthens my suspicion that “their” beliefs have been largely his, with her playing along to be supportive and keep the peace. I see my siblings every week or two. We aren’t as close as we used to be, but there is little tension. With my dad, things have been a bit more distant and strained at times. I feel he is disappointed that he wasn’t able to hand on his “vision” to me more fully, and that I never did become that Proverbs 31 woman of his dreams. On the other hand, he still cares about me and wants to be on good terms. I’ve had some indications already that with time he is letting go of his disappointments and accepting things as they are. I hope this trend will continue and that he will have great relationships with his grandchildren. 🙂

Part 8: Adjusting

Do you still feel as though you are “different” or that your past experiences emotionally isolate you from society?

Oh yes. Very few people can relate to the things I still struggle with almost daily, and it’s hard to try and make them understand without seeming to villianize my family, which generally brings me pain rather than making me feel better. It’s hard to let new people I meet really get to know me for these reasons. I hope that as time passes and life takes on new shapes, I won’t feel so much defined by my past and making connections will be easier.

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 think the most devastating impact of CP/QF is the way it can make a woman feel that her mind, emotions, and spirituality do not truly belong to her, but are the responsibility and in some sense the property of her authority figures. This is a very insidious and deeply destructive sort of tyranny, an attack on one’s very selfhood. Learning to individuate without guilt has been an intense process for me, and one that is still far from complete.

How did you perceive your childhood at the time compared to how do you see it now?

Well, my childhood was all right. It was in my teen years that the dark clouds of CP/QF began to gather over my soul. 🙂 I think I recognized that some of it was silly and reactionary even at the time, but for the most part I was on board. I hoped that we were together ascending some sort of ladder of godliness. Now I look back and see it all as a time of gradual miring into lunacy and dysfunction that I am now trying to distance myself from.

Do you sometimes wish to go “back”?

Nope, never.

Part 9: Helping Others

What advice do you have for other young adults currently questioning or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology?

I’d advise them not to neglect examining the emotional and psychological effects of their experience. It can be so easy, when one starts on this journey, to intellectualize it all, to think it’s simply a matter of critiquing a faulty ideology and switching to a better one. While that is an important part of the process (and one that will take time and certainly look different for different people), I believe to truly reclaim your life and sense of freedom you have to do the harder work of addressing any underlying wounds and abuse that may have occurred. You don’t want to spend your life in bondage to the past as one of the walking wounded if healing is available.

What was most helpful to you when you were questioning and/or leaving the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?

Therapy has helped immeasurably. The therapist I am working with had never even heard of the CP/QF subculture before, so part of our work together has simply been me explaining it in a way she can understand. Having to articulate it all to an outsider has been good, and her bewilderment and honestly expressed shock have had something of a tonic effect on me. Even though she hasn’t worked with someone with my exact issues before, she’s been awesome about rising to the occasion and doing the research she needed to find out how best to help me. In a way it’s been a corrective developmental experience– having someone focused on nurturing me as an individual rather than on working me into a stereotype. Really I’d recommend therapy to any daughter of patriarchy who is looking to get a grip on life and find new ways of relating to herself and others.

Hillary McFarland’s book, “Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy” has also been a tremendous help and inspiration to me. I’d recommend it to those who are interested in approaching healing from a faith based perspective, especially if you find yourself confused about how to hang on to your Christianity while letting go of the harmful practices and interpretations with which you were raised.

What helps you the most today?

Believing that the future doesn’t have to be determined by the past gives me hope and encouragement, especially during those times when I feel depressed about the years of my life that were “lost” to the patriarchy movement. Having a few friends that truly understand helps a lot as well (shout out to Libby Ann). 🙂

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?

This can be a tricky one, because any critique of the movement is likely to be interpreted as persecution from the godless. Even if you mean to help and are acting in love, your attempt at intervening may be seen as criticism, which generally just makes people feel rejected and withdraw. I think in many cases the best thing you can do, if you truly care, is to maintain a genuine relationship with the person. CP culture is weird in that it makes a virtue and a goal out of being a one dimensional stereotype of a human being. Simply refuse to see them that way. View them as an individual and treat them as and individual. Talk about any interests they have that are not related to the movement. If you have the opportunity, hang out with them and show that you enjoy their company. Be yourself.  Let them see that you are a willing and available listener should they ever want to talk about their feelings or thoughts on whatever topic. Be non-judgemental and non-threatening and who knows? By creating an atmosphere of acceptance, you may be making it possible for them to feel they have somewhere to turn when (I suppose I should say if) they decide to leave and find themselves needing support. Even if they never fully leave, a solid, real friendship may help them maintain their sanity to a greater degree than they would otherwise.

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