Steadfast Daughters in a Quivering World ~ Part 6: Soul-Binding

[Note: this series is dedicated to Quivering Daughtersby the former-Quiverfull moms at No Longer Quivering.]


by Daisy

My name is Daisy.

I am a good person…but I was a bad parent.

Tragically, by choosing QF/patriarchal fundamentalist methodology as the pattern for my home, believing that it would provide the very best insurance against messing up with parenthood, I messed up. I messed up badly. I hurt my kids and, worse, I silenced them when they tried to tell me about it. Criticizing your parents is, of course, disrespectful and therefore opening a dangerous door that may lead a child ultimately to rebelling against God – and as I believed that put my child in danger of hellfire, of course, I conscientiously nipped dissent in the bud at every opportunity.

As it happens, my eyes were just opening to the dreadful truth that QF had sold me a bill of goods when my oldest child found her voice. I was on the way out of QF teaching,  patriarchal Christianity and my marriage when that beautiful daughter tried to describe her pain to me by starving herself almost to death. Shortly after she began her lengthy treatment for anorexia, another of my children found a way to tell me that her soul was in agony. A razor blade and a veritable hill of pills were her loud-hailer.

If you, like me, raised your children in QF until at least their early teens, you may have  already had to endure the sorrow of watching your children rise up and call you Monster, or at least, Failure. If you haven’t yet, it is my opinion that, you probably will. And, believe it or not, this is a good, good thing. I do hope your child does not need to resort to the dramatic acts my oldest two did in order to gain your attention, in fact, I would plead with you to listen to them well before that becomes necessary. But I want to encourage you with this:

As parents we should not be afraid of the volume or power or ugliness of the moment – or indeed the many moments – when our child finds her young adult voice. What we really should be afraid of is her silence. That compliant 25-year-old looks and sounds like an adult, but she has a 12-year-old soul. Like the tiny feet of Chinese girls crushed and tightly bound in rags by well-intentioned parents to prevent their healthy growth, that child may be the victim of a sort of a ‘soul-binding’. This disastrous mistake may have doomed her to endure both a crippling emotional agony and an ongoing rage that her mother could dare to insist that such a violent and abusive act was perpetrated because of love.

The Terrific Twos

Children are usually very young when they begin to realize that they exist as a separate entity to their parents. Child development theorists call this the Separation-Individuation phase. A child becomes aware that they are not their parent but a separate ‘self’ all of their own. Here begins the life-long process of exploring what that means.

At least, the child *should* be off and adventuring along that path that leads to independence. But QF patriarchal dogma with its emphasis on obedience, submission and the subjection of the will to a higher authority instructs parents to prohibit this phase of their child’s progress to healthy adulthood. When the child says ‘no’ or ‘I don’t want to’ or sometimes even just ‘I don’t like…’ she is told that that is called ‘disobedience’ or ‘rebellion’. Sometimes she is ‘lovingly disciplined’ with ‘the rod of correction’ in order to bring her back to the moral safe ground of absolute obedience to God and her parents.

QF parents are told that if they are consistent in standing firm against the will of their little sinner, training her ‘in the way she should go’, she will ultimately come into line and the family will be spared the inconvenience and humiliation of the so-called Terrible Twos. Good parents – QF parents – will instead enjoy the delights of the ‘Terrific Twos’. They will see daily evidence of the failings of their non-QF peers who struggle to navigate the public humiliation of supermarket tantrums. But QF Mum and Dad will be enjoying their immunity to such dread diseases and can sail past the little kicking, screaming ‘disaster-in-the-making’ with their nice, quiet, compliant toddler in tow. I cringe at the memory of my smugness in such instances.

The ‘Myth’ of Teenage Rebellion

QF doctrine is sold as a cure-all remedy for every childhood ill. In fact, providing parents are the victors in a series of small but important battles, QF domestic life is promised to be one of enduring and delightful felicity. Parents are told that even what ‘the world’ considers inevitable – the dreaded stage of teenage rebellion – can, and indeed must, be circumvented. QF kids are said to go from baby bootcamp to joyous God-serving adulthood without a glitch. It is popular in QF circles to believe that if kids are parented right, they will never rebel at all. This ideal is purported to be the way God has always planned for families.

As happens with other dodgy dogma, gurus seek to add power and credibility to what they already claim is a divinely ordained methodology by building a framework of historical credibility around it. Hence there is a notion in QF that the rebellion of the teen years is a social construct which did not exist until perhaps the late 19th century. Apparently, pre-industrial revolution families endured no such horrors; their children making a smooth and easy transition to productive adulthood. The QF convert is pleased to learn that QF dogma is not a new fangled idea, but rather a returning to the ‘ways of old’, to tried and true methods, proven successful by generations of godly parents.

Frankly, I don’t believe it and I’m in good company: many child development experts don’t believe it either. The truth is growing up is tricky and messy and not for the weak kneed. But then, no journey to a whole new and previous unknown country is easy. Picture the chick breaking out of the egg, or Amundsen striving to reach the South Pole. It’s exhausting, scary, messy, and so dangerous that some of us don’t make it there alive.

In my view, it is a mistake to take the natural, if untidy, process of becoming a functional adult who is in possession of individual ideas, opinions and tastes and confuse it with sin- and hormone-driven rebelliousness. Instead of understanding that establishing an adult identity when in close relationship with parents you love and admire is necessarily one of struggle, when QF kids make noises as they try to wriggle out of the shell of childhood and try to fly off on their own, their indoctrinated parents may imagine them in the fast lane to hellfire. Conscientious QF parents would die rather than desert their hell-bent child in her hour of need – and dutifully trample the seeds of rebellion before they can put down anything like roots. Groanings toward adulthood crushed, the again-submissive young adult takes her place back at the family table, and everyone remarks what a wonderful job those parents have done.

But there is no such praise for the parent who has produced a burgeoning young adult who has found her voice and knows how to use it. This is because success for QF families is measured in the degree to which the young adult offspring adhere to the parent’s body of belief and practice in its entirety. In some QF circles, complete submission and obedience to parents is expected for so long as those parents are alive – no differences of opinion, taste or practice till Mom and Dad are pushing up daisies. None. Or at least none which might disrupt the harmony of the extended family or the illusion that the child has turned out just exactly as her parents planned. This might be OK for those happy individuals who are the product of clandestine cloning experiments, but if you have a teen of the other sort, a normal young adult with opinions and preferences that differ from yours, your cred is fried. You have failed. You lose. No chocolate factory for you, I’m afraid.

The dreadful tragedy here is that the so-called stage of teen rebellion, the time when the young adult takes their largest and perhaps most significant step away from their identity as a child towards one as an independent adult, cannot be totally circumvented. This important developmental stage of individuation can only be delayed. Sooner or later, if that young person is to build an identity of her own and thrive as an adult, she will need to make that break. It’s quite pathetic but sometimes the twenty-something offspring of a QF home will struggle with fear for years before finding the strength to voice their first real ‘no’ to their parents. It’s a milestone they should have passed in their toddlerhood or, at latest, in their teens. Sadly, some of us don’t fully make the transition until we are in middle-age and trying to navigate the same difficult journey within our own dysfunctional patriarchal marriages.

Out with the old…

I suppose it goes without saying that I’m doing life very differently now than I was when I was when my older children broke out of the confines of our family’s authoritarian mold in such a frightening and painful way. We are human so we continue to make mistakes – plenty of mistakes – but there are some significant differences in the way our family life works now. Far be it from me to advise anyone on how to raise their own kids but, as I’ve been asked to write this, I am going to mention three things I consider central to my own life which I hope will help my younger children grow up healthy, and avoid the sorrows their older siblings have had to endure. You will, no doubt, have devised some of your own.

First, I’m taking responsibility for doing my own internal work – I own my own stuff. I have an excellent counsellor. Not a psychologist and definitely not a Christian. She’s a medical doctor who specializes in guiding people as they do their own internal – and largely emotional – work. I don’t know if there is a proper name for what we are doing but I call it ‘awesome’. Together we are dealing with the emotional mess my poor parents bequeathed me: the suppression of emotions, the co-dependence, the fear of failure, the desire to control. We are uncovering how that inheritance was handed them by their parents and ultimately passed right on down to my own precious children.

I understand now that that legacy made my entrance into Christian cult teachings and acceptance of some blatantly counter-intuitive child training models likely if not inevitable. I can even see why I made such a disastrous choice of marriage partner as I did. It’s an exciting journey – and the best part is this: When you deal with your own internal stuff – deal with it, not just suppress it – it goes. And once it’s not there any more, you stop projecting it onto your kids. And, amazingly, that actually solves a bunch of their problems in one fell swoop, no further effort required. This has been a joyous revelation to us all.

Second, I now recognize that my children and I are truly separate individuals and that we always were. I used to see my husband and myself as the trunk of the vine, grafted into the rootstock that is God, and the children as branches curving away from the same source, in a tended and orderly fashion that I could both understand and more or less control. Now I imagine me more like a dandelion and the kids like the seeds in the puffball who will, in their time, burst out and be carried away willy nilly, ultimately to put down their own roots and contribute to the beauty of some distant meadow of their own choosing. Now that we aren’t afraid to think for ourselves, we are learning to trust that each of us is able to make good decisions about all sorts of things. We know we’ll make some mistakes too, but the fear is gone.

Third, because I am growing into a healthy, functional adult myself, and because I don’t share my life with people who want to judge and control me, I no longer desire to control my offspring and call it wholesome parenting. I admit, owning obedient, compliant children and teenagers makes for a convenient and orderly life but when the price is my child’s soul, it is not a game I will choose to play again. Further, I had no idea just how very wonderful my children really were until I met them – raw, without expectation or criticism – just their fabulous selves. *Especially* those dear higgledy-piggledy, angry, courageous, shy, confused, determined, anxious, selfish, generous, frightened, expansive, obnoxious, loving, hateful…. skyrocketing teenaged selves with whom I share a home.

How could I have ever thought that a little army of Daisy clones could be more lovely than a hotch-potch of sparklng, new and completely unique individuals? I shudder to contemplate the fabulous and truly beautiful chaos that I’d be missing right now if I hadn’t come out. My kids are learning that I really do love and accept them just the way they are. The younger ones see me standing on the sidelines cheering as another gorgeous teenager bursts out of her child-shell and flies away free. And despite all they’ve been through, they all are learning to love their wonderful, capable, independent selves and to imagine an exciting and adventurous future in that strange, exciting and as-yet-unseen meadow.

We have already discussed Steadfast Daughters on the NLQ forum here ~ comments for this post are open below.

This series is written by Vyckie Garrison with the help of many ex-QF moms on behalf of Quivering Daughters.

Steadfast Daughters in a Quivering World:

Jane Douglas (“Daisy”) was at one time a pastor’s wife, homeschool mum and advocate of QF patriarchal Christianity. She is now none of these things and is instead discovering the joys and challenges of living, loving and learning in a whole new way with her children in their home in Australia. In her spare time Jane works on her university studies and blogs at All the Way Out.

Read all posts by Daisy!

  • Jennifer

    Geez.

    “What we really should be afraid of is her silence. That compliant 25-year-old looks and sounds like an adult, but she has a 12-year-old soul. Like the tiny feet of Chinese girls crushed and tightly bound in rags by well-intentioned parents to prevent their healthy growth, that child may be the victim of a sort of a ‘soul-binding’. ”

    I feel so understood this morning!

    My mother “crushed and bound” my soul…not for religious reason–but the outcome was exactly as you describe–and yes, it played a huge part in leading me straight to “QF/Patriarchal/Fundamentalist methodology in my marriage and parenting.

    The silence: It’s actually SHOCK masquerading as humility.

  • Wendy

    It just befuddles me that some parents celebrate teaching their children unthinking obedience. Yikes! Naive, obedient people are awfully easy to exploit.

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  • beautyforashes

    This. Is. Beautiful.

    I was a Pearl momma too…and, yes, I had baby booty camp and had no terrible twos—and all the parental smugness that went with it. I thought I was serving the Lord, but what I was really doing was failing to allow my beloved children the right to begin to go through a *God-designed* process of individuation.

    I am so glad I woke up from that lie and began to allow my children the freedom to be human beings.

  • Maya

    The difference between modern teenage rebellion and the “perfectly smooth transition to adulthood” is that parents in older centuries had no choice but to treat their sixteen year old as an adult – s/he was probably providing a third of their income, and could take it away any time. Kids grew up faster, yes, but parents also got used to the fact that kids were growing up, and treated them accordingly. Now, kids stay dependent on their parents longer, and the parents have an excuse to pretend that their 17-year-old is “still their kid” and “has no business” making decisions for herself.

    I’m not an expert. I speak as someone who was raised in an anti-authoritarian household, where I have been allowed to pretty much make my own decisions, and deal with my own consequences since I was twelve. in order to avoid some of the nastier consequences, I generally ask my parents for advice on what I should do, but when we disagree, my life is mine. I made choices my parents disagreed with, but because my *parents* don’t have the attitude problem so many modern *parents* seem to have, the issue of “rebellion” never came up.

    TL;DR : authoritarian parenting is the cause, not the result, of teenage rebellion. it’s hard to break rules that have a reasonable ammount of bend in them.

  • writingmyheart@gmail.com

    Daisy, you’ve done a really wonderful job writing this! We used to be part of our neighborhood Christian homeschooling group and I have two very spirited girls and, well, it didn’t take too long before I learned that these other moms believed that I was not disciplining my children; they thought I needed the Pearls’ help. Thanks but no thanks.

    We’re much happier in our area secular homeschooling group, and (as of recently) attending our local Unitarian Universalist church where, surprise surprise!, we’ve encountered some of the same faces we’ve been seeing at the secular co-op.

    Anyhow, I wanted to add that just as QF/P parents tend to do what they do out of a misguided love, so do many other kinds of parents that we in the Western world see as abusive. My ten-year-old and I were recently reading about the practice of female circumcision, and we learned that some parents who don’t like the practice still feel they need to do it because uncircumcised girls are so stigmatized in their society.

    We learned of one woman whose parents resorted to doing the mildest form of the procedure on her because they disagreed with it but felt they’d be ruining her life if they left her genitals alone. She grew up to found a special school where girls in her area can go if they choose not to be circumcised, and she didn’t circumcise her own daughters at all.

    Dd was, like, why don’t these families just move rather than hurt their daughters?! And I had to explain that not everyone has the means or ability to move. I imagine that some Chinese parents probably didn’t want to bind their little girls’ feet and did so for reasons similar to those of the QF/P and female circumcision group: they felt their daughters had to be crippled in order to have decent lives in the crippled society they were going to have to live in.

  • http://lairofsavage.blogspot.com Mel

    *Just* what I needed to read this morning… while my little ones are… little!!

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  • Rachel

    This is SO TRUE! I was raised between quiverfull and mainstream evangelical, and I thought my life was great – until I started forming my own beliefs. As long as I believed just as my parents did, they heaped praise on me. I was their perfect daughter, molded in their image. Then I came up with my own beliefs, differing from theirs religiously and politically, and I was seen as broken, ruined, a failure. It strikes me that to some extent actions don’t matter – only beliefs do. I have a steady marriage and a young daughter now, and I’m working on a graduate degree, as is my husband. But this doesn’t matter. All that matters is I don’t believe correctly about the role of the government or what will happen to us after we die. And that hurts. It hurts that I, me, the person I am, doesn’t matter. It hurts that there is nothing I can do to change this or restore our relationship. My father’s refusal to walk me down the aisle because my fiance wasn’t the correct brand of Christian hurt. The rejection and suspicion I still feel in my parents’ house hurts. And the knowledge that if my parents were normal and hadn’t espoused aspects of fundamentalism and quiverfull, we would still be happy and close today, in a way we can never be now.

    But I am my own person, and that is so liberating. I have an equal relationship with my husband, and he is my best friend. I have never laid a hand to my daughter, and she is happy, healthy, well adjusted, curious, creative, and the joy of my life. Because life goes on.


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