Question 1: What advice do you have for other young adults currently questioning or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology?
Your questions are there, deep down: be honest with God and yourself and acknowledge them. God is big enough to handle your questions. Then try to find answers for those questions with the mind that God gave you. It can be a scary journey but life is much richer and more interesting when you venture out of the box that you were raised in.
If you are not sure where to start, I’d recommend choosing a college and/or just getting out on your own. Give yourself some time and space to figure out who you are apart from your family.
It gets better. Honestly, that’s the biggest thing I would say. You’re going to go through a lot of pain and heartache, but it does get better. I would also say that being able to form your own beliefs and views is important, and that if someone is trying to stop you from doing so, it’s their problem, not your problem. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and become your own person. Don’t conform to someone’s mold just to please them. Oh, and get friends who accept you for who you are and don’t place expectations on you or judge you. And, if you can, get therapy. I resisted that last one for the longest time, but it was extremely helpful.
When it comes to questioning, I can only tell you to trust your heart for once, but still use your brain. If something appears to be wrong, try to find out why. You might be the one who’s right in the matter. Just because certain things work for your parents or people in your environment doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. At the end of your life, you’ll be the one responsible for everything you did. Not your Mom and Dad, not your siblings, not your pastor or friends. You’ll have to answer to yourself why you handled things that way. If you feel like you can’t do things the way your parents tell you to do, do what’s right for yourself. It’s hard to disappoint people you love, I know that.
If you feel it’s not necessary to wear skirts all day, you’re probably right. If you feel it’s wrong to have one kid after the other, you’re probably right. If you feel like you’re in the process of marrying the wrong person, you’re most likely right. Remember that you will hurt people when you question their beliefs, but you will hurt even more if you just keep going along with something that isn’t 100% your own conviction.
Be kind with yourself. Do what works, and don’t agonize over feeling disloyal or like a bad Christian. Processing takes time. Find someone safe you can talk to as you process these things. It’s okay to grieve and be angry, but do look forward and enjoy where you are now.
Know that it’s OK. You are a valuable person with many things to contribute to this world and the people in your life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a counselor or therapist. Try out new things and let yourself figure out who you are and what you like. No one has it all figured out, so hang in there. Life gets a whole lot better.
Do not be afraid to ask questions of people outside your group. People within the PF/QF lifestyle will have a cookie cutter answer for every question, try branching out a little, you might be surprised at what you hear! If you’re just questioning the system, it can’t hurt to hear another perspective. If you’re leaving the system, you NEED to hear from other people. People make a huge effort to drag you back when you start to leave, hearing from sane people on the outside can make all the difference.
Trust yourself. You know what’s right and wrong, and it’s not what people are telling you. Who you are is not evil. You will not become a heroin-addicted psychopath if you leave your church. You can be whoever you feel like you are underneath it all. It’s your choice. It’s your life. Start living it as soon as you can. (And no, that doesn’t make you “selfish.”)
I’d advise them not to neglect examining the emotional and psychological effects of their experience. It can be so easy, when one starts on this journey, to intellectualize it all, to think it’s simply a matter of critiquing a faulty ideology and switching to a better one. While that is an important part of the process (and one that will take time and certainly look different for different people), I believe to truly reclaim your life and sense of freedom you have to do the harder work of addressing any underlying wounds and abuse that may have occurred. You don’t want to spend your life in bondage to the past as one of the walking wounded if healing is available.
Question 2: What was most helpful to you when you were questioning and/or leaving the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
It was extremely beneficial to meet a lot of different kinds of people and just listen to them and their stories as much as possible. I learned that there is so much variety in the world, and so many good and caring people! Later, it was also helpful to spend some time away from church and religious culture. It helped me see it with a fresh eye and understand how it looks to outsiders.
I had supportive friends. I can’t emphasize this enough. By the time I started questioning, I had made friends in college, friends who were okay with me forming my own beliefs and becoming my own person, friends who didn’t place expectations on me or try to put me in a box. They were there for me even though they really didn’t understand my background, or what was going on. They let me cry, they told me I could make it through this, they supported me even when they didn’t understand what I was going through. And they accepted me for who I was, no matter what – no judgment, no criticism, no head shaking. I couldn’t have made it without them.
I had some support from people who weren’t as strict inside the movement, and that was very helpful and encouraging. I also quickly found out about the ex-P/QF writers on blogs and internet pages, which is where I found my story repeated thousands of times. It was so helpful to know that I wasn’t an exception and that many many others felt the same way I did.
The most helpful thing for me was having a support system of a patient and thoughtful husband, a best friend who could relate and listen with kindness, and being able to spend time with my in-laws and see that it’s possible to have a lot of kids and still have a healthy family with unconditional love and lots of individuality. I also enjoyed reading Quivering Daughters, Toxic Faith, and The Purity Myth as I was processing things—these books gave me names for the things I was working through and had experienced.
Reading perspectives of other people who left Christian patriarchy or other extreme beliefs, talking and talking about my questions and fears, learning how to care for myself instead of always putting myself last, reading other translations of the bible than the one I grew up with and reading about other faith traditions as well. Going to counseling.
The most helpful thing for me was hearing other people’s stories. It is easy for people raised the way we were to ignore their own needs and emotions. I ignored all the abuse I received for years. It wasn’t until I read the stories of other men and women with similar experiences that I had the courage to face my wounds. Reading other stories, talking to other survivors, and finally voicing my own pain were the most healing things I experienced on my way out.
Having my ideas respected. The idea that somebody actually might want to listen to me was earth-shattering. That’s why college helped propel me out: I started realizing that I wasn’t just some idiot who didn’t know her place. I had actual, valuable contributions to make to the world.
Therapy has helped immeasurably. The therapist I am working with had never even heard of the CP/QF subculture before, so part of our work together has simply been me explaining it in a way she can understand. Having to articulate it all to an outsider has been good, and her bewilderment and honestly expressed shock have had something of a tonic effect on me. Even though she hasn’t worked with someone with my exact issues before, she’s been awesome about rising to the occasion and doing the research she needed to find out how best to help me. In a way it’s been a corrective developmental experience– having someone focused on nurturing me as an individual rather than on working me into a stereotype. Really I’d recommend therapy to any daughter of patriarchy who is looking to get a grip on life and find new ways of relating to herself and others.
Hillary McFarland’s book, “Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy” has also been a tremendous help and inspiration to me. I’d recommend it to those who are interested in approaching healing from a faith based perspective, especially if you find yourself confused about how to hang on to your Christianity while letting go of the harmful practices and interpretations with which you were raised.
Question 3: What helps you the most today?
I sometimes get discouraged about my residual childhood baggage, but it helps to remember how far I’ve come. I also like to think of all the good things that are in my life now, and remember that I wouldn’t have them if I had stayed in the movement.
Having tasted freedom and the ability to make up my own mind and make up my own decisions allows me to hold up even when things are difficult with family members or friends from back then. Knowing how it feels to be free gives me the confidence I need to say that no, what they’re saying is wrong, and I won’t go back. My supportive husband and supportive friends help too, of course. And every time someone knows what I’m talking about when I say the word “Quiverfull,” it’s like a breath of fresh air. Oh, and I’ve seen a therapist a number of times, and that has been very helpful as well.
The blogging world! Since P/QF is completely unknown in Germany and the families are super-rare, there’s nobody who is in it or left around here. There’s also no programs or anything. The only way for me to stay in contact with fellow refugees and like-minded people is the internet and my blog.
Seeing my family gradually change in positive ways is incredible to watch. Perhaps the biggest help for me is being able to attend a healthy church where grace is really emphasized and the tangible parts of life are inextricably tied with the spiritual. Body and soul are not separated and performance doesn’t factor into God’s love for me.
Self-care, healthy loving relationships that I can count on, Persistence in trying new things and learning to say yes to things I am interested in and no to the things that drain me. One thing that continues to help me is reminding myself that I can take my time, in fundamentalism there is usually this huge push to commit. It’s as if you have someone yelling “Hurry! You either believe in God or you don’t, make your choice!” It’s OK to ask questions, it’s OK not to know. It’s OK to have a journey instead of a destination.
What helps me the most is my sisters and my husband. They keep me grounded and remind me that I’m not crazy at the same time. Especially my oldest sister. She knows all about my thought patterns of self-defeat and she can tell when I’m slipping back into it. She’s always there to help me keep my chin up.
Everything. The universe. The world is so exciting! I love being part of nature and not feeling like the world is going to end – those trees are still going to be there in a hundred years. I love music, all kinds – rock, some hip-hop, and definitely Florence and the Machine. I also love the sun on my skin and the way the wind whips through freshly cut hair. I love unapologetically wearing mascara.
Believing that the future doesn’t have to be determined by the past gives me hope and encouragement, especially during those times when I feel depressed about the years of my life that were “lost” to the patriarchy movement. Having a few friends that truly understand helps a lot as well (shout out to Libby Anne).
Question 4: What suggestions do you have for those who might to help friends or relatives who grew up/are growing up in families influenced by the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?
Remember that it takes a long time for people to change their opinions and even longer to change a whole worldview. Try to focus on any similarities in values that you share with them, and choose your battles extremely carefully. If the parents trust you, they may allow their children to spend time with you unchaperoned, which will give the children a chance to confide in and be affirmed by a non-parental adult. You could make a big difference in their lives!
The best thing you can do is be there. Be available. Be accepting. Don’t judge. Don’t mock. Don’t tell them their beliefs sound insane. If my experience is any guide, that won’t help at all. Just be there for them. Show that normal people can be loving and accepting and live good lives. Just being there will be a testimony that there is a different path they can take, a different way to live. And then, when they’re ready, they’ll come to you.
First off, don’t abandon them. Don’t attack them with questions, they’ll stop talking to you. Try to stay away from discussions about beliefs. Be there for them, tell them that you’ll always help them if they’re in need. Don’t treat them differently.
If you hear about a person wanting to leave me P/QF movement, try to talk to them in private. Tell them about various blogs and pages where they can read similar stories. Understand their fears, don’t push them. Tell them that they can call you any time they want or need, or show up at your door any time of the day. Tell them you’ll always be there, no matter what they do.
Be patient with them. Don’t stir up conflict or try to change them or “fix” them. Just love them for who they are and let time do its work. Don’t accept their evaluation of who you are or where you’re at—you know yourself and what you can handle, and they cannot control you. Try to avoid provoking them, and be aware of yourself and your triggers so you can avoid things which damage you.
Be patient. Don’t tell them unequivocally that the teachings they believe are wrong or bad, just gently share alternative perspectives that have helped you. Be sure to remind them that they have value and worth regardless of what they believe.
When I was 15, I knew a young woman through Martial Arts training. She was about 6 years older than me and an outspoken feminist. But she never said a word against the way my parents raised us. She just made encouraged me. She told me I was strong. She told me she believed in me, and that she could see me achieving amazing things some day. I never really paid too much attention to it, because I knew that anything beyond motherhood was not in my life plan. But all of her words and encouragement came back to me later when I started to walk away from the system. I knew she was someone I could turn to for encouragement. Today we are fast friends. If you know someone who is stuck in the PF/QF system, don’t try to tell them why they are wrong. Instead, tell them how important and valuable they are. Notice and affirm the things about them that don’t fit the box they are required to live in. Maybe one day they will turn to you with their questions. Maybe one day you can help them escape.
Don’t be afraid to challenge their beliefs, but be prepared for them to hate you. The most helpful people for me in college were the ones who frankly told me they didn’t understand and I wasn’t being rational. I got mad and stayed mad with them for months. But I never quit thinking about what they said, and it changed my life.
This can be a tricky one, because any critique of the movement is likely to be interpreted as persecution from the godless. Even if you mean to help and are acting in love, your attempt at intervening may be seen as criticism, which generally just makes people feel rejected and withdraw. I think in many cases the best thing you can do, if you truly care, is to maintain a genuine relationship with the person. CP culture is weird in that it makes a virtue and a goal out of being a one dimensional stereotype of a human being. Simply refuse to see them that way. View them as an individual and treat them as and individual. Talk about any interests they have that are not related to the movement. If you have the opportunity, hang out with them and show that you enjoy their company. Be yourself. Let them see that you are a willing and available listener should they ever want to talk about their feelings or thoughts on whatever topic. Be non-judgemental and non-threatening and who knows? By creating an atmosphere of acceptance, you may be making it possible for them to feel they have somewhere to turn when (I suppose I should say if) they decide to leave and find themselves needing support. Even if they never fully leave, a solid, real friendship may help them maintain their sanity to a greater degree than they would otherwise.