I’m not collecting children anymore

For me, the whole Quiverfull mentality ended up being little more than a child collecting contest. Now, any truly Quiverfull woman will deny this. “It’s not about how many children you have or don’t have,” she would say. “It’s about being open to every blessing God sends your way, be that only a few or a dozen or more.” But it’s all there in the language, if you really listen.

“God has blessed me with seven lovely children.”

“God only saw fit to bless me with four.”

“We’re hoping God will bless us with a few more.”

The reality is that when you are told over and over that every child is a blessing from God, it’s not hard to begin to tie just how blessed you are to how many children you have.

I attended homeschool conventions where they gave prizes to the women with the most children. I had friendships thrown in jeopardy when my mom kept having children when other moms didn’t. I saw that Quiverfull publications continually trumpeted the families with the largest number of children.

More children = more blessed. More children = more godly. More children = more praised. Is it any wonder that I experienced it all as a child collecting contest?

When I planned to have a dozen or more children, I saw my future children as numbers rather than individuals. When my daughter Sally was born I saw her as #1, the first in a long line of stair-stepped children. By the time I became pregnant with Bobby, though, I had completely rejected the Quiverfull mentality. I no longer see my children as numbers. I no longer see them as little trophies to be lined up across the hall and admired, or to trail after me in church or at a homeschool convention to prove just how blessed I am.

Perhaps when you were a child you knew a girl who prided herself on the number of dolls she had, all lined up in their pretty dresses on her shelf, carefully collected and set in place. Perhaps you also knew a girl with only one or two dolls, dolls she played with every day, dolls who got dirty only to be lovingly cleaned and then held tight. The first girl’s dolls are dainty and pretty, something to be held up and admired. The second girl’s dolls may not fit some perfect ideal, but they have character and individual personality – and they don’t exist to bring her praise or improve her reputation.

Growing up, I planned to be that first girl. Today, I’m the second. I’m not collecting children anymore.

Gamergate Comes Home
I Co-sleep, But: Some Thoughts on Attachment Parenting
The Radical Notion that Children Can Have Anxiety Too
Red Town, Blue Town
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Rosie

    Libby Anne, have you read The Velveteen Rabbit? It’s a kid’s book that I never saw when I was a kid. Maybe I was “protected” from it as I was from The Wind in the Willows. Anyhow, this post reminds me of that book.

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      The Wind in the Willows? That book is pretty squeaky clean! What’s in there that you would need protection from? I would have thought an Edwardian children’s novel would be safe…

      Unless, it’s the use of the word “ass,” in the British sense of “donkey,” of course, but I suppose not everyone would know that. When my mom read it to me and my sister when we were kids, we certainly got a royal kick out of it every time the word appeared. “They’re saying the a-word hehehehehehe.” lol

      • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

        Some homeschool gurus taught that children shouldn’t be allowed to read books with talking animals. Except, you know, the Bible.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Wow. Even The Chronicles of Narnia? I would have thought those DEFINITELY made the cut.

      • http://thaliasmusingsnovels.com/ Amethyst

        Yes, even the Chronicles of Narnia. They were also ban-worthy for featuring mythical creatures (mythical = pagan = demonic).

      • Rosie

        I figured I missed Wind in the Willows because the deity all the critters worship is Pan.

  • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

    Even though I was in the quiverfull community and did give birth to 8 children, I never saw it as collecting children. I saw, and still see, each of my children as individuals. Of course, I decided that 8 children was enough when I was still in the quiverfull mindset and saw myself as sinning and rejecting God’s blessings. I had felt that way since I started spacing my children with birth control after my 5th child was born. I even saw my 2 miscarriages while trying to have my 6th child as punishment for using birth control. It didn’t stop me from using it again though. When I gave birth to my 8th child, I realized that I was done. I could not, in good conscience, have any more children when I felt that 8 is all we could personally parent and provide for. I just saw myself as a failure, but it wasn’t fair to put that failure on my existing children or any future children that I didn’t feel capable of parenting properly. God just had to understand! Of course, now I am an atheist, so no more guilt for me! You have no idea how free I feel. Now I can enjoy the children I have, with no fear of facing an angry god for refusing his blessings.

    I do see where you are coming from, and I did see this collecting mentality at Above Rubies retreats, but it was never about that for me. I love each of my children and don’t regret having them one bit. Of course, I didn’t do quiverfull by the rules, so I probably don’t count.

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

      Oh I absolutely wasn’t trying to say that every Quiverfull mother sees it that way! I think that being naturally very competitive made it more that way for me, and I’m sure that if I’d stayed in that mindset I ultimately would have seen my children as individuals as well as numbers. But there would always, I think, have been an aspect in which they still were numbers. If that makes any sense. :-P

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

      By the way, I really appreciate your perspective and enjoy reading your comments. :-)

      • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

        Aw, thank you so much, Libby Anne! That made my day :) And I totally understand where you are coming from. I didn’t actually have anybody in my real life that lived the quiverfull life fully, at least no one of childbearing age. My parents didn’t come to that belief until my brother and I were adults. So, I didn’t have anyone around me to compete with. I have the most children of all of my friends. People always thought I was a little kooky. LOL I probably would have had a larger than average family no matter my religious beliefs. The religious beliefs just made me feel guilty for any control I felt I needed to take. Now, it all seems so silly, but at the time I was under a lot of stress and guilt. I havn’t had the intense patriarchal/quiverfull indoctrination from birth that you have endured. I did grow up evangelical from the age of 12, that increasingly got more fundamental, but pretty mild compared to your upbringing. My parents didn’t adopt the full patriarchal belief until I was newly married in my early 20′s.

    • http://susanbarackman.freeservers.com Esbee

      You did not have to become an atheist to no longer have guilt but I understand that it sure takes the pressure of religious rules and expectations off you, which is what you need right now. The bible talks against men who have made their own rules to be God’s rules. Jesus sure made it easy on anyone who believed on Him, to love your neighbor as yourself.
      I had guilt put on me after going to my first Gothard seminar. I came out self-accused the worst sinner ever for loving and riding horses, having several cats in the house, college educated, teacher in public school and the worst sin of all -not wanting to have children. It took an intervention from God to tell me those were not sins…my only sin was not living by faith the way He had made me, warts and all. Still working on that.
      I sincerely hope and pray that you get the healing you need. His burden is easy and His yoke is light. He accepts any type of prayer, even cussing Him out, which for some, may be the deepest heartfelt prayer of all.

      • Ken

        “His burden is easy and His yoke is light.” Really? Just accept guilt for thinking and breathing and existing is “light?”

      • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

        It was just how everything went for me. When I realized how suffocating my beliefs were, I went on the search for a more loving and stress free Christianity. I have always had problems with the cruelty and contradictions in the Bible, and set out to research and find answers. “God is God, and we just can’t understand why he did those things” wasn’t cutting it for me anymore. When I was done, I just couldn’t believe. I tried, I wanted to be one of those loving, liberal Christians that only wanted to help people and show the love of Jesus. But once I saw the facts, the belief was just gone. My best girlfriend is still a Christian, and she knows I am an atheist, and we both totally respect each others’ beliefs. Of course, she is a very liberal Christian.

  • AL

    I’m curious how your husband has adjusted to the change in your vision for your family size. If when he married you he was expecting a huge, “quiverfull” family, what does he think now that you only want 2? I think this is a question lots of couples have to address- how many kids does each person want and how do you reconcile any disagreement. It seems you two must have had a lot of converstations to go from dreaming of a ton to a couple. In your egalitarian marriage, how did it work for you to change your mind on something so much that effects you both? Thanks for all the insightful posts!

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

      Good question! This really could expand into a series of questions, because when we married I also planned to be a stay at home mom and to homeschool, both of which he was on board with. I’ve changed my mind on those as well. In many ways, we married young, before we’d figured out who we really were. The key is remembering that people change, and that your spouse won’t remain the exact identical person you married. You have to find ways to accommodate each other as you change, and to continue working as a team, if you want to make things work out long term.

      Communication, communication, communication.

      When I changed my mind on homeschooling and on being a stay at home mom, well, my husband felt like his head was spinning – I’d been so sold on these things before! What helped the most, I think, was asking him why he’d liked the idea of these things in the first place. Why did he like the idea of me being a stay at home mom? Because he doesn’t want us to feel like our family is going a million different directions or like we don’t have time to really be together? Well then. We just have to make sure that whatever jobs we have, we make sure to prioritize family and being together! Why did he like the idea of homeschooling? Because he likes the thought of making every moment educational, of learning with the kids, of discovering things together? Well, we can still do all that even if they’re in public school! We just have to make sure to make it a priority, and a part of how we live life. Talking through that sort of thing has been really helpful as we both figure out how to balance what we want as individuals and what we want for our family.

      As to your original question, the whole number of children thing is something we’re still working through. My husband was from a large family himself, but by normal standards (i.e., compared to the family I grew up in, his seemed small!). When he met them, he loved the hussle and bussle of the large family I grew up in and liked the idea of having a house full of children. But over the years since we got married the number of kids I’ve wanted has tumbled. I now think I could be perfectly happy with just the two, and I think my husband could be too. However, even though he’s started realizing there are advantages to a smaller family (only two kids to put through college? heck yes!) and that we can still have the hussle and bussle with only a couple children (especially if we make our house the place where our kids’ friends like to hang out!), he thinks he’d still like a couple more. Since we don’t have the money for more than two right now, that conversation has been tabled. Someday we’ll revisit it, and make a decision together on whether our family size is good as is, or whether we should have one or two more.

      As for reconciling how many kids each partner wants, I think you’re right that that’s something pretty much every couple has to address! I personally think that the dice has to go to the one who wants the smaller number, because I don’t think you can ever force someone to have another child when they don’t want it. I think that in case of conflicting numbers, the partner with the higher number simply has to try to persuade the other, and that if the answer remains no, well, then that’s it.

      • Elise

        As the child of a woman who never wanted children, I second what Libby Anne says about communication and compromise. Forcing children on someone sets up a situation ripe for abuse. Rather that’s any children at all or or more than wanted makes so difference.

  • Nathaniel

    Children ain’t like poke’mon. It shouldn’t be about catching em’ all.

    • victoria

      OK, that almost made me snort water on my keyboard. Well played.

  • http://www.ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com Melissa@Permission to Live

    Yes. I knew how much work all those children were going to be, especially after having helped raise many of my younger siblings. I definitely thought of Ms Action as #1, and tried to shape our interaction to be easiest for me to be the mom of many as more babies arrived. It wasn’t until after the birth of our third child that I began to think of it differently. It was easy to see the number of children as important, I know I wanted to have more children than my parents, because I think deep down I felt it would prove I was an adult to them. They felt like they couldn’t take advice from anyone because “no one understands what it is like to have a large family”. I also remember the moms of very large families being looked up to, and asked for advice. And there was the endless explaining of why one didn’t have more children, (sadness over past choices to limit children, or becoming older and therefore past childbearing age, or having a health condition that rendered you infertile or doomed to misscarry again and again.) While the young, fertile mothers of many were admired and held up as examples.

  • http://campuskritik.blogspot.com Malte

    “I attended homeschool conventions where they gave prizes to the women with the most children.”
    That really got me. You see, in Germany there used to be something called the Cross of Honor of the German Mother (colloquially known as the ‘rabbit medal’, for obvious reasons), introduced by the Nazis in 1938. In fact, my great-grandmother qualified for the first-class order – score!
    The two ideologies aren’t generally similar, but they do share a belief that women should be restricted to the snappy patriarchal formula of “Kinder, Küche, Kirche” (children, kitchen, church). When you start with that, awarding women prizes for being prodigious breeders is pretty much logical.

    • Paula G V aka Yukimi

      During the dictatorship of Franco in Spain they also gave prices to the families with more children.

      • plch

        and Mussolini gave such prizes too, probably he ontroduced it first. Of course those children were considered just future soldiers and future mothers of soldiers.

    • http://susanbarackman.freeservers.com Esbee

      ‘Kinder, Küche, Kirche”
      Is that where the phrase, “koochy, koochy, koo” came from?

    • Petticoat Philosopher

      Heh. I thought of this too when I read that part, but I didn’t want to be the first one to bust out the Nazi thing. lol. Thanks for letting me know I’m not the only one whose mind went there!

      • smrnda

        I think after the Franco Prussian war the French did something similar, since they thought an increased birthrate might help avoid another military defeat.

    • Judy L.

      Oh, I think the comparison of Quiverfull to Nazi breeding programs and other eugenics movements that awarded fecundity is quite apt. And it wasn’t just German families who were encouraged to breed lots of children for the fatherland and to re-populate the neighbouring occupied countries that were being emptied of Jews, but German soldiers, both married and not, were encouraged to father children with local Aryan women in those occupied countries. My understanding is that Quiverfull isn’t merely about children-as-blessings, but children-as-arrows in the quivers of warriors for Christ in the battle for Dominionism. If Dominionist goals aren’t going to be achieved through violent insurrection against the government, then influencing government to become more Christianist-theocratic has to be a numbers game.

      • http://puddinsilovemylife.blogspot.com/ Tonya Richard

        This was preached with great enthusiasm by Nancy Campbell. It was taught that it was so important to raise these children up to be warriors for Christ. It was actually said that the Muslims are reproducing at a much higher rate than Christians and it was our duty to try to keep up. Really unbelievable!

    • Anonymouse

      In the Soviet Union, they had the medal of “Heroine Mother”; a woman who had 10 (or more) surviving children.

  • Ismenia

    In ancient Rome they introduced privileges for citizens with three or more children. I think there are often economic reasons for a state to want to increase the population. I once read that countries often promote women’s rights when it benefits the economy to have more more women in the workforce and/or less babies but to be more restrictive of women if the goal is to increase the population.

    • http://ripeningreason.com/ Bix

      Hmm…I also learned in ancient history class that Roman men (women had no say) were obligated to care for their first two sons and their first daughter from their wife. All other offspring they could legally abandon to die of exposure. Presumably at that point in their history they wanted to keep their population down, but ensure a steady stream of sons for the great Roman army. Hence the two sons, one daughter. One son was disposable.

      I guess the larger point is that humans have always tried to manage population. I think having as many children as possible is more rare, historically speaking. Or at least, the expectation that one’s many children will all survive is very recent.

      • Elise

        Don’t forget the British Primogeniture saying: You need an heir and a spare (in case one dies). Also, there is “Lie back and think of England”.

    • Steve

      I can agree that the state has a general interest in promoting child raising. At the very least every couple needs to have an average of 2 children to sustain the population (discounting immigration). But beyond 4 or 5 children it starts to get absurd

    • Rosa

      Roman writers liked to complain about women using birth control, too. We really don’t have much new in the way of patriarchy in Western culture.

  • http://AztecQueen2000.blogspot.com AztecQueen2000

    When DH and I got married, I thought it would be great to have as many kids as G-d gave me. Then I had one. No one can prepare a new mother for how HARD a new baby is. When that baby was not even 2, I had another one. Now I had a newborn, a toddler, and a husband who expected me to take about five minutes to recover before picking up all the slack (including major holiday preparation).
    He wants more. I don’t. I’ve told him, “I will have more when you pitch in with the ones we have.” We still have just the two.

  • Rilian

    My dad is one of 7, and my mom is one of 11. There’s quite a different mentality coming from the parents. My mom’s parents set out to have 12 kids and the last one miscarried. They don’t seem to really know the kids individually… but my dad’s parents seem to have a special attachment to each kid individually. When I was little I thought my dad was their favorite but then I realized that they talk lovingly like that about all 7 of them. I don’t know what my point is.

  • smrnda

    Speaking, I think the birthrate is down in the US quite a bit, and I think a major factor is that no matter how much you encourage people to have kids, unless there’s adequate support for them (and yes, I mean government welfare programs and actual legislation and regulation that gets people reasonable working hours, health care, and stuff like that) you’re asking people to have families but not providing the means of supporting them.

    So you either get a low birthrate, or tons of kids growing up in poverty. It’s amazing to me how ‘pro family’ the US is, but we lag behind about every other industrialized nation in doing things that would actually make it easier on parents.

    • Judy L.

      I’m not sure where you get the idea that the U.S. is pro-family, except maybe all the lip-service and jingoism. Over the past thirty years, “family” has become a code word for Conservative, Christian, and Patriarchy. With few exceptions, you can subsitute any of those words for family in organizations’ names and the names will mean the same thing: The Conservative Research Council, The Amercian Christian Association, Focus on the Patriarchy, etc.

      If the U.S. were “pro-family”, the immigration laws would be different, marriage would be legal for all adult couples, there would be paid parental leave and compassionate leave for those caring for an ill family member, and universal child care.

      • smrnda

        True. That’s why I put it in quotes. In the US, ‘pro-family’ is an Orwellian phrase means “for my white, conservative, well-to-do traditional family, and against YOURS’