When we were Quiverfull, our family wasn’t nearly so extreme as some regarding dress standards, but we did insist on longish dresses and hair for the girls for several years.
This wasn’t all religious nonsense: those Osh Kosh pinnies were tough as hell and could be passed on through all the girls in the family and still look as though they’d hardly been worn. And, despite how my girls remember it, they were actually in fashion at the time. I wasn’t just sewing our own stuff (although I did that too), Osh Kosh pinnies were bought off the rack in Myer and Target by regular folk as well as fundies like us. However, I’ll admit that we kept it up for longer than was appropriate. And we did choose clothing on the basis of a biblical notion of feminine modesty.
One day, some months after we’d come out, my then-17-year-old daughter K reminded me how damaged she had felt by this over-emphasis. She told me that in her view it had three significant effects – none of which I had intended to convey. For one, she grew to have an abiding disrespect for men and boys who apparently couldn’t keep their minds away from her private parts. K says she felt disgusted at male weakness and their apparent obsession with all things sexual. For years she struggled even to imagine enjoying a healthy partnership with a man.
In addition to helping us spot like-minded families in a crowd, dressing as we did had served, conveniently, to keep a distance between us and ‘the world’. K tells me that, even though she ended up going to school for grades 11 and 12, and is now happily managing university, for a long time she felt 16 years behind the eight ball when with her peers. Dress and other conservative choices we made kept my kids from engaging with their own culture. In an effort to follow the advice of patriarchal teachers such as Jonathan Lindvall we ‘dared to shelter’ our kids from many things that would help them function in a 21st world.
Finally, and perhaps most disturbing is that K says she grew up believing that there was something very wrong with her body. Having to hide herself away under a veritable mountain of denim, and promptly being admonished when any bits weren’t properly covered left her confused and, she says, appalled at her own foulness. She tells me that, before she even came to the dreadful realisation that God planned a very limited range of life choices for her, she knew she hated it that he had made her a girl. It’s impossible not to connect the dots and see this as a factor in K’s subsequent fight with Anorexia Nervosa.How incredibly sad is that? I am heartbroken that I participated in crushing the self-worth of such a beautiful, intelligent and energetic young woman. And I feel very lucky indeed that she loves me still and allows me to walk beside her to build her up and help her realise her full potential.
It has been many years since I stopped enforcing the dress code in our home – long before we even came out of Christianity. Really, as soon as our girls reached their teen years the foolishness of such a position became clear to me. The fact that my two oldest girls came to me threatening mutiny helped a lot. I dropped over-the-top modesty like a hot potato when I realised it was hurting my girls – and probably my boys – and damaging my relationship with them. Thankfully my desire to keep the love and respect of my children overruled my foolish legalism.
I can imagine a flood of ‘if anyone loves father, mother….more than me’ tut-tutting from some former churchmates as I write. I realise that many will believe my opting to side with my kids will send me to hell, but I have chosen to love them regardless. I’m so glad I realised I loved my children too much to stand on silly, man-made principle – no matter what the punishment for rebellion. Whatever happens and whoever my kids decide to be, the only mother they’ve got in the world is going to stand beside them cheering them on. No matter what it costs me.
When I told K about this post, this is what she said:
“Now I love being a woman. I feel powerful, strong and capable of doing anything I want to do.”
A little joybird just nested in my heart.
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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.