Selfishness and Detoxing after a Quiverfull Upbringing

Reader Chrissy, who grew up in a large Quiverfull family, recently sent me an email with a question. I’m reprinting it here before adding my thoughts and opening the floor for input and discussion.

I have a question for you, Libby, about something I have been pondering recently. It would seem that I am not a very helpful person. I rarely lend a hand unless there is something “in it for me”. I am over-the-top helpful at my job, because I am invested in my paycheck and want to keep it coming. I am helpful to my husband by making his lunch every day—but I know that it saves money we can then spend on fun things. But, when I’m at my parents’ house surrounded by my younger siblings, I don’t want to DO anything. I don’t want to set the table, help with meals, straighten up the living room, or even intervene in my siblings’ fights or rowdy play. I don’t give money to charity, I don’t volunteer at soup kitchens, I don’t take my old clothes to Goodwill, I don’t make meals for sick people, or do any of the other things I was raised to believe that “good people” do. I care about people, but apparently not enough to do anything. Why?

I’m the second oldest of 12 children, homeschooled, fundamentalist, evangelical, authoritarian, the works. My question is, how much of my current “selfishness” can be chalked up to personality (hey, maybe I’m just a selfish person!) and how much of it is because of my upbringing? I was raised to say “how high!” the second an adult said “jump”. I spent over half of my highschool years as the sole chef for my family of 14, cooking three meals a day, 7 days a week. I changed diapers, gave baths, washed & folded laundry, cleaned, vacuumed, babysat, made snacks, oversaw homework, tutored piano and art, and basically spent 18 years being “on call” every second of the day. I was expected to do these things cheerfully, immediately, and without complaint. Is it possible that my “helpful spirit” has disappeared because I’m clinging to my new-found autonomy? Quite frankly, the thought of having & caring for kids of my own makes me want to cry. I can finally do anything I want and am a little disturbed by how self-centered I’ve become.

Am I a terrible person?


Okay, now my thoughts.

First, I’ve often heard people say that after growing up in fundamentalist churches, even if they still believe in God and Jesus, etc., they find that they need a period away from organized religion and formal church services to “detox.” I have to wonder if something similar is going on here. After being required to help with cooking and cleaning and childcare for so many years, likely as a sort of junior mother, Chrissy explains that now that she has a choice she now wants anything but. And that’s not surprising! In fact, it sounds pretty natural!

Second, this really puts a lie to the idea that if you force your kids to be helpful now, they’ll automatically be helpful when they grow up. Sure, they might. Or, when they grow up and find that no one is forcing them to be helpful they might just stop doing so altogether. The same goes for a myriad of other things as well. For example, forcing children to do homework doesn’t teach them how to force themselves to do homework. This is something I’m trying to be aware of as I raise my own children.

Third, self-care is important. Oftentimes those who spend their lives helping others because they believe that is what is required of them neglect or push aside care of self. Think of the Duggars’ JOY formula—Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last. But you know how in the airplane they tell parents to put their own air masks on first and then put on their children’s air masks? The same thing goes when it comes to helping others—if you don’t make sure to take care of yourself, you will become burnt out and unable to effectively care for others. The unfortunate thing is that those from a Quiverfull background often grow up believing that any form of self care—anything that focuses on self rather than on others—is selfish and therefore wrong. This is simply not true, and getting out of that mindset can be challenging.

Fourth, I think that we as people are generally more selfish than we like to let on. For instance, I volunteer as an escort at Planned Parenthood, but as hard as it can be I honestly get a lot of satisfaction out of it, because it finally allows me to feel as though I’m actually doing something. I think the idea that there are these ideal selfless people out there whose pure goodness overflows into flowery service to others is severely overblown. I point this out simply because Chrissy seems to be looking at her own “selfishness” in contrast to the “selflessness” of others, and it’s just not that simple.

That all said, what advice would I give Chrissy? First, no, Chrissy, I don’t think you’re a terrible person. Second, I would suggest that you see the time spent on yourself as self care, as a time of learning who you are and becoming healthy and happy as an individual. But third, it seems like your “selfishness” is bothering you. I think you it might help to realize that just because you don’t have a desire to be helpful to others in one arena—you mention helping out with cooking and cleaning and childcare while visiting your parents’ home—doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have no desire to be helpful to others in any arena. Let your interests guide you. Do you like art, or animals, or yard work? Rather than trying to force yourself to help others in ways that you find unpleasant, or shove yourself into a box, simply keep your eyes open for things that line up with what you already enjoy, what interests you, and what you are passionate about.

And now I want to open the floor to everyone else. What advice or thoughts do you have for Chrissy?

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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.

  • Ann

    I am the oldest of 12 children, quiverfull, fundamentalist, homeschool, Gothard family and second mother to my siblings, primary cook, teacher, etc. My question for Chrissy would be – are you REALLY unhelpful/selfish or do you just FEEL like you are because you’re not measuring up to the notions of helpfulness you/we grew up with? It took me several years just to get past the guilt of not helping with everything – as well as to develop the boundaries that let me know I SHOULDN’T help with everything. I am in ministry and I love to serve. But that doesn’t mean I can’t say no, or have to help everyone with everything. If I have dinner at a friend’s house, I will offer to help with the dishes. But I don’t feel the need to go around straightening her living room or tending to her children, nor should you need to do that at your parents’ home. Sure, I still feel the internal pressure that I ***should*** do all that like I did years ago when visiting family, but I’m not unhelpful if I don’t, and if I do it out of obligation, possibly have poor boundaries.

  • Sheldon

    My advice for her would be first of all, as Libby said, learn how to take care of yourself.

    Then, take time to figure out who you are, you’re going to have to re learn everything know that you are out, and you’ll have to find out what your beliefs are now, both in regard to religion and politics (it all changes after you leave), and you need to find out who you are, as a person.

    Fundamentalism is suffocating, is destroys there very essence of who we are, in order to make us submissive to what everyone else around us wants us to believe, and what they want us to be and do. It can be overwhelming to finally be able to make decisions for yourself for the first time, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, don’t make the mistake that I did, and give up on life, and not reach out to anyone when you are feeling overwhelmed. (It lead in my case to a nervous breakdown that changed the course of my life dramatically).

    Find out who you are, don’t feel guilty about being “selfish”, because now is the time to be selfish, to think about yourself and for yourself, it’s the first time you have been allowed to do so. Enjoy life, enjoy spending time with your husband. It sounds like you are rather young, live, enjoy the best years of your life, and don’t let your family guilty you. Remember, guilt is one of the top weapons that fundie families use to control people, you may have to distance yourself from family for a while, and stand up to them until they finally get the idea that you won’t be a push over anymore, like you were in the past, letting them trample all over you.

  • Alison Cummins


    First, requiring you to care for and educate their children was a reprehensibly selfish act on your parents’ part. They had children they couldn’t care for themselves and required you to take on their responsibilities. Refusing to take on other people’s responsibilities is not selfish. It’s healthy. (There’s a limit, and what “other people’s responsibilities” are exactly and where the limit is drawn is always up for discussion. Some people reject participation in community to the extent that paying taxes is an intolerable burden for them, which is not at all where my limits are. The point is that there is a limit and you need to figure out where you draw it.)

    Next, there is absolutely nothing selfish about not having children. Refusing to care for people *who do not exist* is not selfish! They don’t exist! You might enjoy reading through the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement’s website. I particularly like the chart at the bottom of this page but other sections might resonate with you more.

    If you are currently a Christian, please note that Paul considered family and children a burden and distraction from the important things in life. He was flexible — if someone was already married AND they liked being married AND they were both Christian, then it was permissible to not divorce. Or if someone were so sexually driven that being married was not going to be a greater distraction than worrying about not having sex, they could marry as a way to help them focus. Jesus preferred Mary’s choice to Martha’s. There is no NT imperative to breed or to want to breed.

    You say, “ I don’t give money to charity, I don’t volunteer at soup kitchens, I don’t take my old clothes to Goodwill, I don’t make meals for sick people, or do any of the other things I was raised to believe that “good people” do. I care about people, but apparently not enough to do anything.” That system for running a society doesn’t work very well. We tried it. We hated it. That’s why we have taxes and civil institutions now. It’s much better for everyone. There is no modern mandate to provide these services in unpaid labour. As long as you’re paying your taxes, you’re covered. Anything else you choose to do is gravy, and the more whole and complete a person you are the better the gravy. If you need to dedicate your time now to developing yourself as a person — discovering what you like, what you’re good at, going to school — then do that. There’s probably a lot of learning you didn’t have the oppportunity for when you were living with your parents. If later on you want to do good works, you can do them. But they aren’t compulsory. Even if all you ever do in life is spend and consume, your money is employing someone somewhere. You are doing your part.

  • L

    I’m in the same boat except I had 2 kids before leaving quiverful mentalities. I’d say give yourself a good break. Learn who YOU are. If you are like me, you don’t know. You were never allowed to be you. Learn who you are. Learn what you like and what you are passionate about. Then help people in a way that fits you, because you enjoy it, not because of duty or guilt. … And that might take years. It is taking me soooo long to get out of the quiverful mindset and I am so exhausted with the inner struggle. I have no emotional energy left over to give now. And fighting to do everything I feel like I should would be unhealthy… Just basic SAHM duties are hard enough… Just maintaining myself would be enough right now, honestly.

  • JudyV

    I’m the oldest of 10 kids – not Quiverfull, but Roman Catholic. I have to hand to my mom. She did require us to do chores like dishes and some cooking and baking, but she never abdicated the entire responsibility for the younger kids over to the older girls. She was a wonderful woman, but she did work herself into an early grave – she died in her early 50′s, having met only the first of what would be over 20 grandchildren.

    Almost all of us went on to have children eventually, although I did go a little wild in my 20′s, and didn’t settle down until well into my 30′s. I think it is just my personality, but I too value time to pursue my own interests, and don’t feel compelled to spend a lot of time “helping” others. I work hard for my kids and my husband, but maybe I feel like I’ve done my time, and don’t need to make further sacrifices?

    Anyway, I would say go easy on yourself, Chrissy. Your letter made me think you feel a little guilty – an emotion I am very familiar with, having been raised Catholic! Now that I’m older than my mom was when she passed away, I have to admit, I like how I chose to live my life. I’m happy that I didn’t work myself into an early grave, and now that my kids are grown I can look forward to some more adventures!

  • Lana

    Oh, no, Chrissy. Don’t feel this way. I don’t come from a large family, but I always told my mom I was a human mop because I did chores 24/7 and was her human slave. Because of this, I see the home as a trap. In fact, a home makes me go so crazy that I don’t even want to OWN a home, or stay in the same location for more than two years. I think of staying at home for the 40 years, and want to run. The last thing I want to do is be a stay at home mom. I suspect that overtime I’ll feel more settled, but I still will not be a stay at home mom. Quite frankly, I want to have my own career.

    You need to spend a season pursuing the things that give you joy, and if you don’t know, its time to cultivate it. You can do it in small steps. It could be regularly hikes if you like that, or reading a subject topic of your choice. Write a life bucket list. Read resources on how to dream, or read blogs (maybe travel blogs) that trigger dreams.

    If you don’t want to have children (or if you want to wait) and you don’t want to do housework, that doesn’t make you selfish. It just means you have dreams beyond just that. You and your husband can share house work, you can have your own career, or start your own businesses. The options are at your finger tips.

    I recommend this Christ Guillebeau’s resources. Chris has almost finished going to every country in the world (one left), he’s managed to help people all around the world at the same time, and he’s not a house wife. His point is you can do both (pursue big dreams and take over the world), and he even hosts a convention/party each year to help people do just that. So both can happen. This is not an either/or, but in the meantime, you first need to discover who you are and take care of yourself.

  • Vixi Dragon

    Chrissy it sounds like you are simply on the edge of burnout. Taking time to be selfish is important. Finding things that you enjoy (service oriented or not) helps to recharge. If in the future you decide to do more, that’s great . . . But even if you don’t, it doesn’t make you a bad person, lazy or even selfish. You HAVE given your time and energy. YOU deserve to take care of yourself too.

  • Lynn

    When I was involved in a passionate religious community, I felt such an obligation to be helpful in all areas and to ENJOY being helpful that I had to fake it in order to appear the good, happy Christian. I resent obligation. I grew tired of all of it. Now, I’ve learned to do what I want and be selfish with my happiness. I’ve found that I really do like helping people, but in certain ways. I like using a special skill or knowledge I have to help someone with a problem that I can relate to. I may not enjoy being helpful in every arena in life, but I don’t think that makes me a bad person. I think it makes me normal.

    • Basketcase

      Oh yes, I’ve experienced that feeling too. And the pressure of why wasn’t I willing to quit my part-time job in order to devote more time to the church…
      And I totally agree that the best thing to do is to find the ways you feel like giving help to others. Sometimes, you may go through extended periods where you just dont do anything, at all. And thats ok too.

  • Anne

    Lots of the commenters have already touched on this, but I think this is a normal part of having boundaries. Your parents had none. The people who should have been looking out for you left you feeling violated and used. Because you were never raised to have healthy boundaries you’re really taking baby steps here, and step one is protecting yourself from being exploited again. If your best friend kept taking you out to dinner and then bailing on the check, you’d feel pretty used and would probably be a lot more careful about going out to dinner. There is probably also some PTSD that makes you cringe whenever someone talks about helping others in the specific ways you were overworked. Fine. Take some time. There are lots of ways to help others, many that just pop up in a normal day. Help the people around you. If someone oversteps then cut them off. After a while you’ll have a better idea of what is healthy for you and you can open up again. Find a balance that isn’t as all-or-nothing as your parents made it.

  • Asuka0278

    My only thought while reading your email was BURNOUT. You are so emotionally exhausted that thought of having to care for someone other than yourself or your husband sounds like it makes you want to cry. I agree with what everyone here has said. It sounds like you need to cut yourself some slack. Focus on finiding out who you are as a person and who you and your husband are as a couple. Read books, go to the movies, watch TV, do something crafty, climb a mountain, :) find a hobby that you enjoy doing and do it. I think gradually over time you’ll find a way to be “helpful” in your own way. It may not happen tomorrow or next week or next month but it’ll happen. :)

  • MrPopularSentiment

    It makes me think of the articles I’ve seen floating around recently about why you shouldn’t teach kids to share. When I was a kid, I had to share. If I was playing with a toy and another kid wanted it, I was expected to give it over. If I didn’t, I was the selfish one and would be punished. And I came from a very secular culture and a very secular family! It was this idea that not giving is bad bad bad, and I hated it – particularly since this kind of sharing was never expected of adults (how come *I* didn’t get to use daddy’s computer whenever I asked for it? How come mom didn’t stop watching her movie and switch to cartoons like I asked?).

    I don’t know to what extent it’s affected me, but I remember some kids at my daycare going absolutely nutso about keeping their toys. If another kid so much as looked in their direction, they’d freak out – anticipating a possible request for their toy.

    As a parent, it’s something I’m struggling a little with. I teach my son the other side of it, the message that we never got as kids. If someone else is playing with something, it’s not yours to take. You can ask if you could have it when they’re done, but then you have to accept their “no” if that’s the answer you get, and you have to wait patiently if they say “yes.” But when we go to play groups and other kids want the toys he’s playing with, I have to stop myself from taking them from him and handing them over, all in the name of “sharing.”

    The point being, I think, that we teach our kids these really weird, unnatural, and confusing things. We teach them to be selfless, to put themselves (their self-care, as Libby Anne puts it) aside, and we teach them that trying to carve out some space for themselves is shameful. So often, I see kids having meltdowns because they are just too tired, but their parents want to go grocery shopping, or stay at the movie theatre, or whatever, and they punish the kids for asking to have their needs met, and it strikes me that this is just so weird.

    I feel like we hold kids to standards that we would never dream of holding ourselves or other adults to.

    • lucifermourning

      My sister is a preschool teacher and her approach to sharing is much more like yours. Kids can ask each other but if the child with the toy isn’t done, the asker has to accept that.

      Also, apparently a very common thing is for the kid with the toy to say they’ll hand in over “in 5 minutes” . Because they are only 4, none of the kids really understand how long that is, but it works very well in minimising fights. Kids learn to share without having their own needs and wants devalued.

  • Truthspew

    Growing up I had chores I had to take care of like cleaning my room, taking care of my dog, etc. I didn’t mind taking care of the dog, but cleaning my room?

    Then as I got older I got ‘volunteered’ to paint the house once. I was 16 or so. My father who is an authoritarian asshole comes and says to me, and I quote verbatim “I could get a fucking four year old to paint better than that.”

    I climbed down the ladder, handed the paint brush to my father and said “Then go find a fucking four year old.”

    That was the end of it.

    As far as being helpful, I do help out where I see it necessary. I’ve helped people push their cars out of snow banks, things like that.

  • Tracey

    A little additional advice I hope you find ‘helpful’: ‘being helpful’ can be as simple as sharing positive ideas. I interact on blogs and share new ways of looking at things. That’s one way I am helpful. Don’t limit helpfulness in your mind to physical activities. A good thought shared can help people too.

    • Alison Cummins

      And to that point, it was helpful of Chrissy to articulate her distress to Libby Ann, so we could have this great discussion and other Chrissys out there can read it and not feel alone.

  • Mariana

    This is an entirely minor point, but the main reason you should take your clothes to Goodwill is not to help other people, but to 1) keep your old clothes out of the landfill and 2) allow other people to acquire decent used clothing so they don’t have to buy newly manufactured clothing.

    Our modern lifestyle is completely unsustainable, and if we can’t figure out how to do more with less, humans will disappear as a species, and none of these religious/psychological/emotional issues will matter to the cockroaches crawling around on our giant trash heap of a planet.

    • Kodie

      How is that not helping other people?

      • Mariana

        Personally, I think that trying to save all of humanity from extinction is different than volunteering at a soup kitchen, for a variety of reasons.

        Failing to do your part to save humankind means you are complicit in the death of billions of people and the extinction of the human race. Not volunteering at a soup kitchen means you didn’t care about feeding a few dozen people, who were probably going to be fed by someone else anyway, and are still going to be homeless/broke at the end of the day, and you’re not actually doing anything to address the structural reasons for why they became homeless/broke.

        To me it seems like apples and oranges. But then, I am an ecologist, so I probably a different perspective than most.

      • Mariana

        And I guess, I was also trying to say: there is something “in it for her” when she takes her clothes to Goodwill. Her own survival on this planet. The problem with most people is that they don’t see it that way.

  • Kat

    I don’t have much else to add, other than that this particular sentence really jumped out at me:
    “I rarely lend a hand unless there is something ‘in it for me’.”
    There is not anything in the world wrong with that. Seriously, nothing. Look at it this way: if you do something for someone else and you get something out of it too, that just means more people are benefiting. It’s a net gain, really.
    As several people have said, you are not obligated (or realistically able) to run around helping everyone who needs it. And you definitely need to take some time to yourself. But even if you do reach a point where you feel able to start giving again, there’s no reason it has to be painful for you.
    Example: One of the very few things I do to help others is to give blood. You know why I do that? Because it’s easy. It takes no money and very little time; I just lie there and bleed for a few minutes, then get up, have a free snack, and go about my business. Selfish? Maybe. But I doubt someone of my blood type needing a transfusion is going to complain.
    As far as the having kids thing goes, I can remember being called selfish once when I mentioned not being sure if I wanted kids. My response: “Well, if I’m so horribly selfish, isn’t that all the more reason for me not to have them? After all, if I’m so selfish, I won’t be a good mother, so why would you want to inflict me on an innocent child?” If that doesn’t point out the absurdity of trying to guilt people into parenthood, I don’t know what does.

  • Cristi

    This sounds like the journey I’m working through. First, I’d say that you don’t need to help at your parents’ house now. It probably feels odd, but it’s part of redefining yourself as an adult. If you’re like me, you probably got in trouble at home if you were sitting down and not getting things done. But now even if your parents don’t like it, you don’t have to do any of it. It might also be your own form of rebellion since you probably didn’t “rebel” as a teen. It’s ok and it’s a healthy part of changing from a parent-child relationship to an adult relationship with your parents.

    I can understand how awkward it can feel not doing all kinds of helpful things for other people. I gave myself permission to “be selfish” and not offer things that I didn’t want to do. I felt really guilty as I saw all kinds of people around me offering to cook dinner for others, watch other people’s children, even letting people stay at their house. It felt (and still sometimes feels) like I’m on the outside of lots of relationships because these other people are closer to each other since they do all this stuff for each other. But I’ve decided that’s important for me for now – to have those boundaries, to know that I’m not being taken advantage of and just to give myself permission to take care of me. I have to remind myself that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself because even “taking care of me” involves some form of taking care of family (my husband and kids). Even just that is no small thing.

    Also, I just want to mention that sure making lunch for your husband has some benefit to you (you guys save money for other fun things), but lots of people can have the same end result by having their husband make his own lunch. Don’t discount even these small things you do to “help others”. Each of them is worth something because your time is valuable and you are worth something whether you’re giving to someone else or simply taking care of yourself.

  • Mars

    Considering how I grew up, this really makes me wonder why I can’t stand children that are not my own. All of it, the crying, the fits, it irritates me in a way that makes me feel bad. I took complete care of my sister, cooked and cleaned my whole house while my mother enjoyed her life. (Single mother) I had to run away to get away from it all when I was 19. We went to a mega church in San Antonio, ( Pastor “Slagee”) if you will. I completely obeyed the commandment and now I just find myself bitter and completely angry.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I think you’re overthinking this. Chrissy isn’t a terrible person, just a normal one. I’m nominally Jewish, male, raised in a completely non-religious home in a country that no longer exists. I live alone, a 1000 miles from my parents(my only living relatives in the world) and I do everything. I clean, I cook, I work, I go to the gym, I take care of myself, I do laundry. When I visit my parents, however, I don’t want to do any of that. It’s nothing to do wtih Quiverfull, it’s just being normal.

    • Kodie

      I don’t think it’s normal to feel guilt or over-analyze a situation. Last time I was visiting my mother, she had a list of things only I could do since my father doesn’t live with her anymore. And I did about 7 things over a weekend, not including what I went there to do for myself. I don’t want to do stuff, I want to hang out, but she’s one of those women who think a man has to do things and resists being taught how to do them, but she lets me do them even though I’m not a man.

      I don’t do a lot of stuff for myself. I don’t do enough for other people. I wish sometimes to run away and not be obligated to anyone for a while, but I guess that’s what vacations are for. I don’t take vacations – I end up taking time off to visit my mom and do stuff she has stacked up waiting for someone, i.e. me, to do.

      • Rosa

        that is not a vacation! We finally started taking non-family vacations again last year (as soon as we had a baby our families started talking about HOW BAD they NEEDED to see the GRANDCHILD – not bad enough to spend THEIR vacation on though, only for us to use ours. Screw that.) It was wonderful. Really wonderful. They don’t have to be expensive, but taking your time for yourself is so worth it.

  • Niemand

    You’re not selfish. You’re not terrible. You’re normal. After serving as your parents’ emergency backup mother and maid for many years, I’m not surprised that you’re not interested in helping them further. You say you only want to help when there’s something “in it” for you. May I suggest looking at it a different way? You only want to help people who are nice to you and reciprocate. You are helpful at work because your employers pay you regularly and-I hope-keep their obligations in terms of working conditions, benefits, protection from harassment, etc. (If they aren’t doing so, dump them for a new job.) You’re helpful to your husband who–I hope–also does things for you. In short, you help those who have earned your help and are reluctant to help those who have abused your trust and helpfulness in the past. That’s normal and healthy and in no way selfish!

    Another bit of advice, if you don’t mind: Don’t have children until/unless you WANT them. Not “are ready to cope with them”, not “can afford it now”, not “my husband wants”, not “because my ‘biological clock’ is about to run out”. The ONLY reason that anyone should have a child is that they want a child. Don’t agree for any other reason. If you get pregnant and don’t want a child, get an abortion. If you really don’t want to try for it, tubal ligation or depo-provera are options. But nothing good is likely to come from having a child when you don’t want one.

  • Caravelle

    I wasn’t raised in a fundamentalist household and I never helped much with housework (we had chores, which I did most of the time, tried to get out of a lot of the time and very rarely did of my own initiative) and as far as selfishness goes Chrissy could be describing me, so… it isn’t necessarily the upbringing.

    I think Libby Anne is right that most people are quite selfish; if everybody were as selfless as we think good people should be (and I’m including self-care here) the world would be a much better place. I could believe that the average person is less selfish than I am (though I’m not sure I would lay much money on it), but I don’t think they’re much less selfish. So I don’t think one should feel a monster over this. Not when you have actual people around who do active harm for any number of reasons.

    Of course it would still be better to be less selfish, or at least I think so. Personally like Chrissy I feel bad when I go home and don’t do anything to help; then again I’ve been trying to be a better daughter than I was growing up and helping out more (and spending more time with my mother that way) is one way for me to do that. It looks to me like Chrissy is in the opposite situation; you’ve done your time and spent all that effort helping out with the housework when you lived there; now when you go to your parents’ house you’re a guest, why shouldn’t you be treated like one ?

    As far as volunteering and giving to charity goes, if you don’t have the time or money or strength for it then don’t bother; otherwise I’d suggest setting things up so that doing those things takes is little effort and mindspace as possible. For example, choosing a charity and setting up a monthly payment you’d never have to worry about again. Or having a day in the week or the month scheduled to think about such matters. As for volunteering, maybe talk about it with friends or family and do something together; that way it will be a lot more fun, and a lot more difficult to get out of.

    (I should note that I haven’t had much success implementing any of those things, so grain of salt, but then I’m extremely lazy.)

  • Sophie

    Chrissy, I really don’t think that you are selfish. I think you are just tired of being taken advantage of. Your parents used you as an unpaid help which isn’t fair, they made the decision to have a large number of children and they should have taken care of them.

    I was in a similar situation although remove the religion and reduce the amount of siblings to two! I moved back in with my mother and her partner at age 16, and to make up for the inconvenience of my living with them I had a number of responsibilities. It didn’t matter that my mother got an extra £15 a week in child benefit because of me being there. As soon as I got home from school everyday, which I made as late as possible, I took care of my little brothers who were both under 3 when I moved back in. I played with them, made their dinner, changed their nappies, bathed them, put them to bed and got up in the night with them. At weekends and during holidays I took care of them all the hours I wasn’t at work. I also had a large amount of household chores I had to complete every week. My schoolwork suffered considerably as I usually only had between 8-10pm to do my work and that was presuming my brothers went to bed easily. After I left home and went there to visit, I was expected to get back into the same routine. By that point I only went there to see my brothers, who I love like they are my own. It is only recently that I am now longer expected to do a lot of housework when I go visit my mother’s house and that’s because I’m in a wheelchair!

    So basically what I’m saying is don’t feel that you are selfish, your parents just have unreasonable expectations and you need to establish boundaries with them. Once you feel under no obligation to them, you may well feel more able to help other people out. But only give to charity if you can afford to. Although donating old clothes doesn’t cost you a penny, and it’s a good reason for a wardrobe clear out and then the benefit for you is you’ll need to get some new things!

  • Mogg

    Hi Chrissy,

    You are not a terrible person! It sounds like you are at a point where you need to first, take a break and recuperate, and second, learn how to be helpful on your own terms and within your own limits, IF that is what you want to do or what you see needs to be done.

    Here’s a thought for you: all “helpfulness” is based on gaining a reward – a type of selfishness if you want to call it that, but nevertheless it’s true. It doesn’t make anyone a bad person to do things because it makes them feel good or because it rewards them – it makes them absolutely normal human beings, and generally more “helpful” human beings if they are invested in what they are doing, because they will put more effort in to get something they value than if they are avoiding punishment or discomfort. Even donating to charity has a payoff to the donor – they hopefully feel that they are doing something to help a cause, which makes them feel good. So helpfulness without any benefit is, in a way, fake – a powerful meme in our society, but with no substance.

    In your case, all that fake helpfulness was instilled in you by your parents by making the consequences of not being helpful *more* painful than just doing the work – using punishment both physical and emotional, and not reward. In addition, your parents were selfish. They had so many children that they couldn’t handle it, and they used you as unpaid labour to do a job they should have been handling in some other way, whether by doing it themselves or paying for help or using freely available resources like schools to do some of the task of raising children and running a household. None of this was work that you chose to do yourself or was taking your interests into account, although it obviously needed doing. This was what *your parents* wanted and chose, and they trained you to show no resistance and pretend to be happy about it not to benefit you, but so that your discomfort did not diminish *their* feelings of reward for doing as they chose. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking some time to find out what YOU want, and choose what to do about it.

    This may take some time to work out – recovering from a life like that can take years, and surprisingly it can also take years to discover what you really like if you have been taught that your wants and needs don’t matter. Do you have some stuff you don’t need that *could* go to charity? Donate those good clothes you don’t wear, and think how much less cluttered your closet will be and how much easier it is to see the clothes you like without the clothes you don’t wear getting in the way. Do you like animals? Get a pet and enjoy its company knowing that it is doing good for your health and you are giving it a great life, maybe join a club and learn more about that particular animal and meet people who also like them if that’s your thing. Do you like art or music? Go to concerts and galleries, your money will help fund future art and music making but you also get to benefit from seeing and hearing the work. Do you like to keep fit? Ride a bike or go for a walk or run or the gym knowing that you are benefitting society by keeping healthy, better able to do your job, lessening the burden on the health care system. Like reading? Read stuff. It will help your brain, and it will help others when your opinions and knowledge are expanded and contribute to great discussions or the spread of information. Even tidying the house can be framed in a positive way – you can clean the kitchen because YOU like a tidy kitchen or scrub the shower because YOU feel satisfaction from doing a hard job that needed doing, if you want. Or if you really hate cleaning the bathroom but you enjoy your job and earn enough money, pay someone to clean the bathroom for you! They get rewarded with the money, and you get to put your time into something else rewarding.

    All of these things can lead to more overt ways of “helping” – donating time or money or expertise, but find what you really like and are passionate about, and don’t just run around being “helpful” for the sake of it if you’re getting no satisfaction yourself. You’ll just tire yourself out again, and be less effectively helpful as a result. If you take something up and find you aren’t really into it, you can quit! (within reason of course – you can’t just abandon a pet or a child, but you can quit hobbies and volunteer positions and jobs and committees and babysitting your siblings and so forth if you’re not getting anything out of them).

    Resting is important – if you don’t do it, you risk being ill and worn out well before your time. Take it from me! I’ve been on a cycle of getting sick, not having enough time to recover due to the demands of work plus church commitments plus everything else one needs to do in life, and getting sick again for years, and now, years after after quitting church, I have serious and probably life-long limits on what I can physically do before making myself sick again. I need to pay someone to help clean once a week because I can’t do it all, my holidays and weekends are mostly spent resting and often ill, and at less than forty years of age I was told yesterday that I’m looking at possible serious surgery and/or a possible need for medical aids for the rest of my life due to permanent damage from recurrent bouts of infection in my run-down body. So do take the time to really rest before looking for new ways to use all your time and energy, and spend your energy wisely. Don’t rush out and get involved with a whole bunch of new things willy-nilly to replace the old work – be thoughtful and go slowly into new things, taking into account how much time you already have committed to work, self-care, rest and other things you like or need to do.

    Learning how to say “no” is the first step in this, but getting over the mental barrier that you will upset someone or be seen as selfish by refusing is actually difficult. You have been very well trained to feel bad if you don’t do what is asked of you no matter what, and your brain has absorbed that. You need to re-train your brain by remembering the positive benefits of saying no when needed, and understanding that your brain is going to jab you with negative emotion when you say no so you can be prepared to resist it. Some of the benefits to consciously remember may be that your parents will start to learn you are an adult, not a child or servant to be commanded; your siblings will see an example of someone making their own decisions and being happy about it; and that you will not overwork yourself. Or maybe, reward yourself mentally by enjoying some family harmony by saying yes when asked to set the table for dinner, once your parents have learned that you don’t do chores for them just because you are their child. I’m sure you can think of some other examples, probably better ones. Use those messages to combat the emotional message implanted in your brain that you are bad and lazy if you don’t Do All The Things.

    You don’t have to let someone else’s expectations rule your life. It is your life, not theirs. Learn to own it. It takes effort, but it is incredibly rewarding :-)

  • Caravelle

    In a way, putting a lot of mental energy into the question of whether one is doing good things for selfish reasons and if that really counts as “good” or “selfless” and if one should try and have more noble motives and so on is in itself, well, not “selfish” but at least self-involved. Not to say self-involvement is a bad thing (it’s just another word for “introspection” isn’t it ?), but from a selfless point of view the point of Doing Good is that Good gets Done. So what if you’re giving 50 bucks just to take away your guilt, at the end of the day someone got 50 bucks who needed it and maybe the world is a slightly better place.

    • Mogg

      That’s a valid point, actually: is doing something good or useful for supposedly selfish reasons a thought crime? How much does it matter to anyone other than the person concerned why they are doing a particular thing?

  • Random Lurker

    Taking care of yourself first is pre-requisite to taking care of others. They are not mutually exclusive. Excluding your own needs is every bit as destructive as excluding everyone else’s.

    In EMT school they taught me the first thing you look for at the scene of a call is this: Personal Safety. Rule #1 in Emergency Services is watch out for #1. Look up the 3 P’s of safety and see which one comes first; this is official business here. If you go charging into a building to rescue someone without checking it out first, and pass out from the same gas leak, you are no longer an EMS worker; you are an EMS patient.

    The general principle turns out to be a good principal in general, as well. There’s a balance between self care and other care- one is required to be able to do the second. This means the first one is actually PART OF the second, and trying to pick one over the other turns out to be a false choice.

  • Hilary

    I’ve only learned about the quiverfull lifestyle from online blogs, but one thing that stands out for me is how much of your time was taken from you for other people’s use. When did you ever have time to read a book for fun, paint a picture, play on the playground, talk to a friend on the phone, or just be by yourself to think about whatever interested you? No wonder you feel resentful about more demands on your time. I second what everybody else has said – you’ve got burnout, and you need to take care of yourself.

    If you still feel like you need to ‘do something’ I’ll second what someone upstream recomended, make an affordable regular donation to a local, secular, food shelf. Food shelves can take $10 and buy the same amount of food you would have to spend $30 on, and they can get exactly what they need. You get the warm fuzzy feeling that somebody, somewhere is a little less hungery, and you don’t have to give up more then 5 minutes of your time a month.

    Or donate $10-15-20 to Planned Parenthood once a month if you really want to stick it the whole Evangelical Christian mindset. Five minutes a month, a small affordable donation, and somewhere a woman gets a little more control to make her own descisions about her body and health.

    Good luck!


  • UrsulaL

    First off, I completely agree with everyone who has talked about how important and good it is for you to set your own boundaries and give yourself time for yourself, etc.

    However, if you do feel like donating/volunteering, maybe you’d enjoy it if you looked for things to do that are different from what you were raised doing? Maybe focus on areas that have nothing to do with the organizations you were involved with in the past, or even organizations you had been taught to oppose?

    Maybe donate money to Planned Parenthood, or volunteer at a public school or public library, or at election time volunteer for liberal and progressive candidates, etc?

    There are lots of ways to contribute to society. The ways which you mentioned seem to be things that fit with the values you grew up with. Probably not merely volunteering at soup kitchens, but volunteering at the subset of soup kitchens where the soup came with a side-dish of Bible readings.

    So, when and if you decide it is right for you to start volunteering/donating again, look forward, to find organizations that reflect your values now, rather than backwards, to the places you were told to value in your past.

  • sylvia_rachel

    So, my grandmother was one of 10 children — not because her parents were Quiverfull (not sure that even existed in 1912) but because they didn’t have access to reliable birth control and, I’m guessing, liked to have sex ;) (To be fair, I think they liked kids, too. It seems to have been a pretty happy family. But would you *set out* to raise 12 kids — they had 12 babies, but the last 2 were stillborn — on a barber’s income? Prolly not.) Three girls, seven boys. Grandma was kid number four, so she got off relatively lightly in the “junior mother” department, but kid number two — my (great-)Aunt Jenny — was “junior mother” all the way.

    Most (not all) of those 10 siblings eventually married, and most (but not all) of those who married had kids … but none of them, not one, had a bazillion kids. My grandmother was one of the most prolific: she had three. And these people were not all having their families in the heyday of reliable birth control, either: Grandma (an RN married to an MD, which may be relevant…) had her first child, my mom, in 1941 and her last in 1953. So there was birth control available, but it was the kind you had to work at. I don’t think those small families were coincidental, and I don’t think Aunt Jenny’s bitterness in her old age about never really having a chance to do her own thing — she went straight from parenting her younger siblings to parenting her own kids, pretty much — was coincidental either. Like I said, it was a happy family, but there must have been a fair amount of stress on everyone from keeping that ship afloat.

    My mom once asked my great-grandmother if there was anything about her life she would change if she could. Her answer was that she would have liked to be able to choose when to have her babies. Hmm.

    Advice for Chrissy … Give yourself time! You may very well feel like “giving” more when you’ve had a chance to rest your altruism muscles a little. There’s nothing wrong with doing things because they make you happy, as long as they’re not hurting anyone else. Also: falling back into one’s daughter role, whatever it was, when visiting one’s parents’ home is very common; so is feeling pressure to fall back into that role but not wanting to do so. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.

    Play to your strengths! Why not combine doing good with doing something you enjoy? Do you like spending time outdoors? Plant trees or clean up highway trash for Earth Day! Do you like to sing? Join a group that does little concerts at seniors’ homes! Do you like to knit? Knit some hats and mittens for a men’s shelter! Or whatever. Those are some of my things, but everyone has their own. Giving back to your community is important, but there are lots of ways to do it, and there’s no obligation to give back so much that you have nothing left for you.

    Having kids is a big deal, and there’s nothing unusual about feeling freaked out by it. Maybe you won’t end up wanting kids! That’s okay! Or maybe you will, but just not now. Also okay! I will say, though, I think lots of people who would rather not be responsible for someone else’s kids, including their own younger siblings, do just fine with their own kids, for whatever biological or psychological reason.

    • KristinMH

      My dad also comes from a pre-Quiverfull ginormous family (he was 11 of 12). The first two were girls and took on parenting responsibilities as early as possible. The oldest was always very bitter about it, while the second had a more positive spin on it, talking more about the good times they had as a family.

      So yeah, your personality does affect how your react to your situation. I doubt you are as bitter and frankly nasty a person as my late aunt Maria was, but even if you are, it actually wasn’t your job to raise your siblings and keep your parents’ house. What they asked of you was unfair. It was unfair of my grandparents to ask that of their daughters, though they didn’t have much choice (poverty + Catholicism + presumably they also liked sex = more babies than you can shake a stick at). Stop beating yourself up for your very human need to reject the role your parents imposed on you.

      BTW: Every story I hear about my dad’s childhood the more it drives home that parenting standards were much, much lower back then than they are now. Nobody expected my grandparents to provide their kids with sports activities and music lessons and their own bedrooms. They fed and clothed them and let them go to school instead of help on the farm (up to grade 8, anyway) and that was all that was expected. If I ever feel guilty for some perceived failure in my own parenting – and I am a very involved parent – I just tell myself if this.

  • Janet

    There is a book, can’t remember the name right now, but it’s a like a Girl Scout badge book for adults. For the volunteering badge, you’re supposed to think about what your strengths are and what you enjoy, volunteer in that area, and then think about how you feel. To me, that was a totally foreign concept- that you should, and only if you want to, volunteer doing something you think you’ll enjoy and then consider if you actually DO enjoy it. That’s so opposite from the message people in conservative churches receive. It’s almost more valued to volunteer in areas you don’t enjoy, so it’s more of a sacrifice. But life should be more about joy than about sacrifice, and no, you’re not a bad person. Lots of people help others just so they will receive benefits, whether here and now or in the afterlife.

  • A.Roddy

    Everytime I read a comment about how families were larger and everyone helped a 100 yrs ago out I give them gentle reminders about the lack of birth control, maternal deaths, infant deaths, and poverty. There is a difference in helping and being a slave to a situation you didn’t create. For some reason,Quiverfull thinks giving up all of self prevents spoiling but that is no guarentee.

  • Hollow

    I am the second eldest of seven and was often a surrogate mother to my siblings and even parents during my adolescence. I’ve moved away from home, gone to university, and have survived and thrived out in the world for almost ten years. But I still feel when I go home or when my parents call that I need to do something. Clean, tidy, counsel, take care of my little sister, ensure my little (17 year old!) brother goes to bed at a reasonable hour, etc.
    I heard something today from a teacher, “You owe your family nothing. Your parents owe you. You didn’t choose to come into the world. And when you’re a parent, you’ll owe your children.” I feel I owe my parents everything. When Dad fixes my car or my mother makes me dinner, I feel like they are “being nice” to me and that I’ll have to pay them back, because I spent my entire adolescence hopping and skipping to their tune, so even now I can’t relax.