Question 1: Do you still feel as though you are “different” or that your past experiences emotionally isolate you from society?
I definitely feel the effects of my past even today. Because I was isolated from my peers in my formative years, social interaction takes a lot more concentration for me than for others. In a way, it’s kind of like I’m operating in a foreign culture with different rules about what is acceptable and offensive. Additionally, conversations in this “foreign culture” are full of cultural references and assumptions that confuse me and remind me how different I am inside. And in some ways the situation is worse than the foreign culture analogy suggests: I don’t have a “home culture” to return to. That means I’m stuck with this feeling of being slightly disconnected from society. I hope that this feeling will continue to fade with time and practice.
This is actually getting better for me. The feeling of cultural disconnection, of not fitting in, of being unable to understand my peers hasn’t completely disappeared, but it has decreased with time. So too has my fear of those who are different and my fear of being in large group or crowd situations. I still sometimes feel like I don’t know what to say in a situation, or how to act, and I still sometimes feel extremely awkward and out of place, but I now have hope that those feelings will go away with time as well. Maybe in another ten or fifteen years I won’t feel like I’m different at all.
Yes, a lot. I can’t really explain. I learned to camouflage myself as “one of them“, but I still feel an outsider. I feel like people look at me and they can tell I’m somehow different. A lot of times, people can’t understand my reactions to certain things. Only my close friends know about it and try to help me when I get into weird situations.
I think I’ve caught up and adjusted all right, thanks to a thorough pop culture education from my fantastically patient friends at college, and my husband’s great sense of humor. My coworkers are occasionally weirded out by the random information I know, but I don’t think I come across as homeschooled anymore.
Yes. I definitely feel different. I can hardly mention anything from my childhood without getting strange looks, whether it is number of siblings or the fact that I wasn’t allowed to go to college. I don’t have movies or songs I liked at different stages of my life, I didn’t go to school. I didn’t date, I didn’t have friends. Much of what people talk about doesn’t apply to me.
I think my LACK of experiences is what isolates me from society. I do not have “highschool friends.” I have never crossed a stage in cap and gown. I didn’t watch “Thunder Cats” or “Full House” like my peers did. I didn’t play video games or eat Fruit by the Foot or listen to the Backstreet Boys. I have no ties to the culture of my childhood, and that often leaves me alone and left out. It seems silly that such unimportant things would make such a big difference, but it’s amazing how many times I have been unable to participate in a conversation with my peers because I have no idea what they are talking about.
I feel like I’ve finally achieved normalcy. I don’t feel slighted or deficient for my upbringing. I’m grateful for what I learned and trying to use it by speaking out and by incorporating my understanding of religion in my academic work. I feel totally integrated in society now, and I’m having a ton of fun doing all the things I could never do: blaring rock music, wearing bikinis, playing with makeup, driving my own car to my own job, and studying and speaking what I think. I love being a teacher, too, because it’s so nice to express my thoughts and cultivate a respectful discussion where I can advise younger people and hear their thoughts.
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.
Question 2: Since most of the world doesn’t understand Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy culture, do you feel this creates barriers in friendships or in romantic relationships? Do people have a hard time understanding you and your past?
It seems like people are much more interested in who I am now than in who I used to be. Personally, I try not to bring up my past until a relationship or friendship feels more established. It is often hard to avoid though because there are also a lot of common conversational topics that I can’t really contribute to without shocking people, things like childhood family relationships, school experiences, dating, and pre-2005 pop culture. When I do “come out” as an ex-fundamentalist homeschooler, it is always a very stressful experience for me despite my efforts to be casual about it. Luckily, these days I feel encouraged because people more often respond with something like, “Wow, I had no idea….you seem normal.”
A lot of this progress toward normalcy was made possible through the unceasing support of my husband. Sorting through my childhood baggage has actually brought us closer together and made us both better people. When we first got together, neither of us had any idea how much childhood baggage I had though. Despite my husband’s conservative Christian upbringing, I shocked and horrified him many times with stories and memories from my childhood. Our countless hours of conversation have helped me process my experiences and helped me realize that these things are not typical of wider Christian and secular culture.
This? This is where I get stuck. I feel like it would be easier to explain my feeling out of place if I could say “I was raised Amish” or something like that. Then people would have at least some idea of what I’m talking about. But most people have never heard of Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull and everything that is involved in them. Most people have no idea how to understand my past at all. I really think some people I know try to avoid me as “the girl with that crazy past.” This does affect friendships too. The people I consider my closest friends are those who do understand my past, and know where I’m coming from, and can in some way identify with it. As for romantic relationships, my husband has heard me talk through these things so many times, and has gone through so much of my leaving process with me, that he generally can understand and is a wonderful support.
Some people certainly do, yes. Germans are very straight-in-your-face rude (if you’re not used to it) and a lot of people have asked weird questions. There are lots of mix ups with other christian sects. The European public generally knows only about big incidents, such as the Zion group in Texas being arrested for sexual abuse of children, so a lot of associations with that are made. People used to ask me a lot if I was sexually abused, married off to an old man, if my dad had four wives and things like that. But they are all curious to hear the truth and ask many questions to understand. My friends have no problem dealing with my occasional weirdness and help me out a lot. Of course I have some issues where I just can’t get over old habits and beliefs, but I feel like I’m generally accepted pretty well by the people around me. Sometimes, this “Oh it’s because you’re from a cult” thing annoys me, when people try to explain things I do by connecting it to my childhood. Not everything I do has something to do with it. But I can be just as German-rude as they are and just tell them straight to their faces it hurts me to be categorized like that, which helps a lot.
Now, in romantic relationships, it’s different. A lot of things don’t come easily. My boyfriend didn’t understand why I didn’t even want to touch him at first and I think that hurt him a lot, too. Everything is hard, and everything is a fight. I don’t think it would work with someone who isn’t as patient as my boyfriend happens to be. He does get angry at some things too, sometimes, and has to take a few minutes to himself to get over it. I have to be honest, I wouldn’t blame him at all if he left me tomorrow. I know what the bible says about love, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. I much rather quote a woman who said: “Sometimes, you think love will fix it. All we need is love, more love. But sometimes, love just isn’t enough.”
I’m usually able to brush things off by saying “I was homeschooled,” or “I’m the oldest of nine kids,” and that tends to clear up a lot of confusion. I don’t like explaining in a lot of detail what my background is, since most people just won’t understand even if I tell them my story. Usually it’s not important to explain things. My husband is from a similar background, and so we are able to relate over a lot of these things, although his family was a much more healthy and stable than mine was.
Most people don’t know what I am talking about. Just the usual questions you exchange when meeting someone (how many siblings do you have, what did you major in, how did you and your spouse meet) is enough to make it clear that I have an odd history. I usually try to keep my past somewhat vague in the average friend/ acquaintance relationship, so I don’t put anyone off by confusing descriptions.
My background, on top of being hard to explain, has made me emotionally disabled. I was trained to hide my emotions, and “guard my heart.” It has been a huge struggle for me to learn how to connect with people honestly. I used to lie a lot about my childhood. I would make up elaborate stories about sneaking out of the house and partying to try and relate to peers, and then I would turn around and tell fairly tales about how perfect my childhood had been and how incredible my parents were to try and appeal to a different crowd. It is very hard to explain your past to someone when you don’t understand it yourself. Don’t feel pressured to share things that you haven’t processed yet. Once you have a better grasp on the past, it’s easier to share the truth about your childhood in a way that makes sense to people, and without getting embarrassed or ashamed.
I’ve found that most of the dynamics I grew up with in my church are also experienced by worldly people. My “normal” friends have dysfunctional family dynamics where one partner dominates another (even without the Bible telling them to). They have problem siblings and sexual double standards. They are sometimes overprotected and forbidden to do things like date or go to prom. They are raised in other religions (one Catholic) that load them up with existential guilt, too. Basically, I don’t think there’s anything all that special about Christian Patriarchy that can’t be understood by “normal” people.
Question 3: 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 feel grateful that I have seen the world through two completely different worldviews. I feel like it makes me able to relate to more people, which is useful in my profession because I have to facilitate interaction between people from very different cultures. It also helps me understand both sides of the political divide in the US and reminds me not to demonize people that I disagree with.
I’m more afraid of what others think of me than is healthy. Growing up, what others thought mattered a great deal, as did conforming to a perfect ideal. Pleasing my parents and being accepted in my like-minded community was just about as important with pleasing God – actually, in many ways the two were conflated. The result is that I desperately want to please everyone. But I can’t. And that’s hard to let go of.
A couple other things as well: I have sort of PTSD-like symptoms sometimes from what I went through while leaving my parents’ beliefs, and I am still trying to wrap my mind around what life with a career – and with only a few kids – actually looks like. Having spent so long expecting to be a homemaker, homeschool, and have 10+ children makes re-imagining my life a long-term challenge.
That’s the toughest question on here. I honestly don’t know. I think it has made me value my option of choice more. Choosing what to eat, what to wear, what to study, what to do, which friends to have, all of that. You know, lots of people sit on their chairs and talk about the “land of the free” and think it’s all handed to everybody in this country. No, it’s simply not. We still live in a world where people do NOT get to choose what to do, think, wear believe, even whom to marry. It makes me so angry when people tell you “Well, it’s a free country, you can do as you please if you don’t like the way you live”. No, I can’t. I can’t because I was taught it was evil, and I have no right, and I’m too stupid anyway. I can’t because my parents have taken that right away from me for over 20 years, and I can’t because I wouldn’t know how to, and even if, I’m so scared to do it. So many young people can’t. Choosing all of these things is still a privilege in the world and even in America, and it’s one you have to fight to get it, law or not.
Yes, it has made me value choice a lot more. Even if it’s only the fact that I ate Pizza today, and not something else.
I think I have a better appreciation for multi-generational relationships, and I think that I place a lot of value in cooking a meal from scratch and then enjoying it together with the whole family. These things aren’t really unique to CP/QF families, but they definitely define who I am and are a direct result of the values my family holds.
Wow, that is a hard one. I think the biggest way it affects me right now is just how much self-doubt I have. I really have a hard time believing that as a woman I am actually smart enough to succeed in school or hold down a job. While I feel as if I have made huge strides in my confidence and self-assertion in my relationships with my spouse and my children, I still sometimes feel as though I will never be good at anything except having babies and cooking a really good meal.
Without a doubt, the biggest thing my childhood affected was my self esteem. I was taught that I was worthless without God, without a gentle spirit, without a man, without a womb. I struggled constantly to be everything they wanted me to be, and I always failed. I had no respect for myself, and I lived in a constant state of shame. That shame has followed me into my adult life. I have incredibly high standards for myself in everything from school, to relationships, to body image. I constantly shame myself into achieving my goals, and when I am unable to achieve even one of them, I beat myself up about it. It’s painful and exhausting, but I don’t know any other way. I constantly feel like I will never be good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, old enough, religious enough, you name it. I am plagued by the idea that I will never be enough.
My background has made me very thoughtful. I used to write endless essays trying to convince myself of things my church believed. It taught me a lot about who I was and what I wanted, even if those things were “wrong” to my church. I became an academic because I never stopped thinking about how and why the world was the way it was. I believed in my heart of hearts that women were equal with men and that submission was a moral wrong. That never changed, although I masked it with flowery Biblical ideas.
My experience of being the “wrong” kind of woman has also given me a lot of sympathy for LGBTQ kids and kids of color who grow up being hated for who they are (and great respect for the adults they become). I know what it’s like for your heart to tell you who you are and everyone else to tell you that you’re the opposite of what you should be. Anyone who’s had that experience is my kindred spirit.
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.
Question 4: How did you perceive your childhood at the time compared to how do you see it now?
At the time, I felt like a lot of things about myself were sinful—my sexuality, my negative feelings of frustration/anger, my opinions, and even my poor social skills. I genuinely wanted to have a deep relationship with God that would let me be satisfied no matter what my circumstances were. I believed that my challenges were God’s way of making me a better person, and I believed that God wasn’t giving me friends because he wanted me to depend completely on him. My journals from the time reveal the emotional rollercoaster I was on as I tried to be what God and my parents wanted me to be. In hindsight, it’s very clear that I was incredibly depressed and psychologically damaged, and it has taken me a long time to discover and accept who I really am.
About the community I was in: I thought that any failings of church families would be much worse and much more common among “worldly families”. I thought it was ok that Christians tried to hide their failings and crimes so that they wouldn’t dishonor God, and also because they believed that secular/liberal counselors and government workers shouldn’t interfere in the lives of God’s people. However, now I see that the movement promotes a culture that allows abuse with no recourse for the abused. Women and children are required to have a demeanor that invites abuse and then not allowed to do anything about it when it happens. I am horrified that movement leaders routinely give a one-size-fits-all answer to women and children with family troubles: “Submit more!” I feel terrible for the families who desperately needed professional help–kids who were physically abused by an alcoholic mother, a wife whose husband was sleeping with multiple partners, a family dealing with brother-sister molestation—and instead they got cookie cutter advice and were not encouraged to seek professional therapy and support.
When I was younger, I respected Reb Bradley as a godly church leader; now, I am incredibly frustrated that he continues to promote himself as an expert in family relationships without stopping to notice that his approach hasn’t worked out for the old Hope Chapel families or even for his own family.
As of when I went to college, I thought that how I was raised was perfect. I continued to think so through the beginning of college. I still held onto Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull beliefs and planned to replicate my parents’ beliefs and lifestyle with my own life. It wasn’t until I started asking questions and the response I got that I started to wonder whether something was wrong. This process of sorting it all out took years, and is in some ways still continuing. Today I still think there were great things about my childhood – my parents were very involved, and we children were always working on some project or planning some escapade – but I also see problems. Looking back on my childhood, I see a strange mixture of good and bad.
I thought my childhood was normal or even special and I kind of looked down on kids who weren’t raised the way I was. I mean, after all my Dad knew the truth, theirs didn’t. We were on the safe side. I just kept wishing that I could be a better child. I felt like my parents did so much for me and tried so hard to make me a good person. Everything bad that happened I blamed on myself and shamed myself by thinking I wasn’t good enough for my parents. I used to think about all the great things we did, like baking afternoons with Mom or singing and reading and sitting together on quiet evenings, and I felt like I didn’t deserve any of that. I thought all the other kids had to be at home alone late at night and eat fast food and watch TV and I pitied them because they didn’t have a family (working Moms meant no family to me). I thought I was very lucky I had a “real” family.
Looking back, yes there have been great times, especially with my Mom and siblings. But there have been very, very dark days too. But I don’t like to look back and think “Oh, it was terrible” or “Oh, I had such a hard childhood”. That wouldn’t be entirely true. At the end of the day, there are so many worse things that could have happened to me. Of course it shouldn’t have been this way either. I guess I just don’t like excusing every mistake I make today by bringing up my childhood.
My childhood memories are sort of split into two parts: the time before we left CA and moved to VA was really happy, and I think, healthy. My memories of that time are probably fairly true to what that season was like. After we moved and got involved with the SGM church in VA, I was not unhappy with life, but my family wasn’t in a good place and I remember a lot of agonized prayers that I prayed over issues with fitting in, over trying to submit to my parents, over things that I felt overwhelming loads of guilt for. Looking back, I can now see how off-balance things were and that I took a lot of guilt onto myself for things that were out of my control, and that I was probably struggling with mild depression at certain points.
I had happy times and sad times. I loved playing with my siblings and participating in family life. I was also often sad and depressed. Then I attributed my feelings of sadness and restlessness to my lack of peace and contentment in Christ. I was sure that if I was just Godlier, more diligent or more obedient, then I would be happy. I now realize that nothing I could have done would have changed the way my family functioned at that time, and that I have the power to change my circumstances now in a way that I did not have then.
My childhood is a foggy blur to me. I have a few bright memories of good times, and few sharp memories of bad times. It’s my diary that tells the truest tale. I started journaling at around age 10, and going back over those pages reveals the truth. I was never really got to BE a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was able to look back and realize that I had grown up much too soon.
When I was a little kid (up to age 10) I thought my life was pretty awesome. I had more free time than public-schooled kids, I had a beautiful woodsy backyard and lots of books to read. Church didn’t really sink in until I was 11 and got my period. Then I absolutely hated my life. I started listening to the apocalyptic stuff and the vicious condemnations of worldly women. I started realizing that I would be expected to submit to a man and be endlessly pregnant and that led me to think suicidal thoughts on a daily basis. I fantasized wildly about other planets where women were allowed to have lives and the Gods didn’t create people just to burn them alive for thousands of years. I was convinced I was a “vessel of destruction” destined for hell.
Now, I think my childhood crashed and burned at puberty. I think it’s because the prospect of womanhood in my church was so horrible, looked so much like slavery, that I would rather have died at 10 years old. I’m glad I didn’t, of course, because the other planets I dreamed about exist right here! But in retrospect, I would never live those years again.
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.
Question 5: Do you sometimes wish to go “back”?
The further from the movement I am, the happier I become. I have never had a desire to return or any feelings of nostalgia about it.
Not recently, no. For a while there though I did sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t simply be easier to step back into good-obedient-daughter-mode. I knew how to wear that hat, and I knew I could put it back on and everything would be right again. Except that it wouldn’t, not internally. I knew I’d asked too many questions – and seen too much freedom – to go back.
I’d lie if I said no here. There were good times, of course. I love my family. I loved some of the things about P/QF life. But the good things don’t make up for the bad things in this case. I might wish for feelings or moments back, but never my old life, no.
Only to the time before we left CA. I haven’t been able to visit since we left, and so I have a strong desire to return and perhaps find some closure on that part of my life.
Never. I sometimes miss being able to see my siblings as much as I was able to then, and I still wish that I could somehow please my parents. But I have no wish to go back to living with my parents as a child.
Sometimes when my self-hatred gets the better of me, I find myself wondering if I should just go back to the way things were. Maybe if I just shut my mouth and covered my head obeyed God, things would get better and I wouldn’t have to hurt so often. Those feelings are few and far between now.
The only things I miss about growing up fundamentalist was the large “extended family” it provided. I have been able to recreate this with my own friends, but I don’t have other older adults in my life. I miss having extra sets of “parents,” but I would never go back. I couldn’t go back without losing my soul.