Q: How can I help my “Quiverfull” friend?
I have a good friend who is really into the quiverfull/patriarchy lifestyle. She is always careful to appear cheerful and happy with her family life, but I have often suspected that things are not quite as rosy as she wants everyone to believe. After reading the stories here on NLQ, I am more concerned than ever, especially for her children who are very well-behaved and respectful but who seem to be sending out “distress signals” like Angel did in Vyckie’s story. My friend is slowly cutting out everyone who loves her and has offered to help. What can I do?
1) How committed is your friend to the QF/P ideals?
2) What level of time/energy investment are you willing and able to take on yourself in order to help your friend?
First of all, just how “into” the quiverfull/patriarchy lifestyle is your friend?
If she is fairly new to the lifestyle (a few years or less), helping her might be as simple as asking her and her husband to read Kathryn Joyce’s book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Be sure to read the book first in order to really familiarize yourself with all the lifestyle choices and teaching involved so that you can discuss these issues with your friend.
Most QFers get into the lifestyle very gradually ~ each step leads to the next and over a period of many years, the family winds up in an overwhelming lifestyle which nobody would jump right into all at once. One of the great benefits of Joyce’s book is that you get the whole shebang right upfront ~ having a clear idea of where the road her family’s on is headed could very well dissuade your friend from going any further.
If she’s not yet in too deep, introduce your friend to No Longer Quivering and encourage her to read the many, many introductory stories which have been posted on the forum by women and their children who have been seriously damaged because of following this lifestyle.
A few other good websites:
Now ~ that was simple enough, huh?
Before we go on to discuss ways to help a friend who is entirely committed to the ideals of QF/P, let’s consider “important factor #2″ ~ what sort of investment are you willing and able to make in order to really help your friend?
It is essential to seriously consider this question because, truthfully ~ if you are only interested in picking apart your friend’s lifestyle choices and criticizing her for whatever seems to be wrong with the way she’s living ~ you cannot help and, in fact, you will only be contributing to her misery
I want to assume that your desire to help your friend is sincere ~ but from experience, I know that many of those who watched with skepticism as my family became more and more peculiar over the years were only interested in justifying their own (in my old way of thinking) “lazy” and “irresponsible” lifestyles ~ so they’d scrutinize everything I said and did in order to find fault so they’d feel better about sending their kids to public school or limiting their family size to a manageable two or maybe three children. These people were not helpful.
Truthfully, these people only made the situation worse for me and my children. At one point, our family began attending a church which was not strictly fundamentalist. Our large, homeschooling family definitely stuck out and almost immediately people began to “snoop around” ~ asking the children about our lifestyle choices. This sent Warren into a frenzy of panic and defensiveness and he became all the more difficult to deal with.
When unhealthy families feel threatened, they withdraw ~ isolating themselves even further and creating more potential for abuse. That’s what we did. We left the church ~ and it’s too bad because if we’d have stuck around, we would likely have been exposed to a more balanced approach to the bible.
Here’s a couple things to think about:
Dealing with any woman in an abusive situation is a challenging and utterly frustrating position to be in ~ just ask any counselor at a domestic violence shelter ~ it’ll wear you out and bring you to tears. With QF/P women the problem is compounded because the husband’s control/abuse of his wife is sanctioned and even encouraged by religious ideals ~ they’re getting all of this straight from the pages of scripture. So ~ if a woman decides she wants out, not only must she defy her abuser ~ she has to stand up to her God too. PLUS ~ she’s got all those kids to consider.
By getting involved, you are committing yourself to a rollercoaster ride that can easily consume your thoughts, emotions, energy ~ your whole life if you let it ~ for a prolonged period time with no guarantee of satisfactory results. I’m not actually trying to discourage you as much as I am hoping to prepare you ~ much the same way that a social worker will fully inform potential foster parents about the realities of dealing with abused children.
So I guess one question to ask is ~ What’s it to you? Do you have a strong enough connection with this friend to provide the motivation and endurance you’re going to need to stick it out with her? If she’s your sister, daughter, niece, etc. ~ that may be sufficient to keep you going.
Another question ~ What are your other obligations? If you are at a point in your life when you are preoccupied and consumed with raising and nurturing your own children ~ then you may not be in a position to take on the added responsibility of trying to help your friend. If so, admit it ~ and give yourself permission to concentrate on your own responsibilities.
If, after considering everything, you decide that helping your friend is really beyond your capabilities right now ~ that is okay. Perhaps you know someone who might be better suited to the task ~ talk to them about your friend and see if you can enlist their help. Just be honest with yourself ~ and if you’re doubting your ability to follow through ~ then excuse yourself from meddling ~ because that’s all your “help” is going to amount to anyway.
From someone who has been on the receiving end of some seriously deficient “help” ~ please take me at my word about this.
Okay ~ if you truly are serious about helping ~ and are in a position to commit yourself to the long haul ~ here are some ideas which can and most likely will eventually get through to a friend or loved one who is deeply entrenched in the QF/P mindset and way of life.
First and foremost: Make yourself indispensable to your friend. This means that you must find a way to be of practical help. The QF/P lifestyle is demanding and exhausting ~ so you can bet that your friend is perpetually at the end of her rope ~ all of her smiles and reassurances notwithstanding.
Here are some ideas:
Offer to teach her children. Go to her house to give individual math lessons once a week. Find out what she’s using for a phonics program or writing course ~ and volunteer to go through the material with the kids to give them a good foundation in reading and writing.
I know this is a major time commitment but there are several reasons why getting involved in the family’s home school can be very effective.
It relieves a huge burden from the mom’s workload as well as her conscience ~ she wants her kids to be well-educated, but with so many children, plus pregnancy, nursing, etc. ~ days go by and then weeks ~ and often not too much schooling actually gets done. By making sure that the kids are getting the basics of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic ~ you’re sure to endear yourself as a genuine friend.
Helping with the schooling also spares the older daughters from having to do the job ~ and your friend will be grateful that she does not have to rely so heavily on them.
You’re making a difference for the children who will actually have the study skills and thinking ability to figure some things out for themselves. Plus ~ it gives you an opportunity to spend time with them and that’s when you’re going to learn what’s really going on in the family when nobody’s looking.
If teaching the children is too much of a commitment ~ here are some easier ideas which could still be just as effective, though they may not make you quite as indispensable: take the kids to the library once a week, get the family a membership to the YMCA and offer to do “P.E.” with the kids on a regular basis, offer to read to the little ones to keep them occupied while mom does school work with the older children ~ better yet, take the little ones to the laundry room and let them “help” you sort, wash, and fold the clothes, take charge of the vegetable gardening or lawn care ~ involve the children in planting, weeding, etc.
The idea is to make yourself at home ~ like a useful and essential part of the family ~ only be sure to do it in a way that doesn’t feel domineering, overly-intrusive or manipulative. Just be a friend and position yourself to be trusted and available when the inevitable ups and downs occur in your friend’s everyday life.
Be prepared for the husband’s attempts to control you and push you out of his family’s life. Be courteous and respectful ~ but otherwise, don’t pay him too much attention. By engaging him as little as possible ~ you may be able to avoid alerting him to any potential threat you might pose to his power and authority over his wife and children. It’s important to make yourself necessary quickly ~ before the husband has a chance to take offense with you ~ if you are truly needed, he’ll tolerate you for quite some time.
Ask your friend a lot of questions. Not because you’re a nosy, busy-body ~ just ask questions from simple admiration for your friend’s strong character and a genuine curiosity about the life she lives.
Women with strong convictions which they’re paying a high cost to maintain have a need to explain those convictions. Don’t ask in order to be critical or to contradict her and point out the fallacies in her thinking ~ ask questions in order to truly understand how she thinks, what’s important to her ~ what motivates her? Don’t shy away from asking deeply personal questions such as:
What does it feel like to have so many children / children so close together / children with (whatever particular challenges one or more of the children may be dealing with ~ in my case, three of my girls have a rare bone condition which they inherited from me) / more girls than boys / whatever it is about your friend’s kids that stands out and makes them unique?
What are your aspirations for yourself and your children?
Tell me about your birth stories ~ you don’t just pop these babies out, do you?
What do you think goes through people’s minds when they see you with all your kids at Wal-Mart? What do you think other Christians think about you and your larger-than-average family?
Don’t ask questions which set your friend up to be defensive such as: Are you really happy? or, Do you really feel like your husband loves you? If the tone of your question suggests that you don’t really believe everything’s as wonderful as she is constantly saying it is ~ you are not truly being a friend and she’ll pick up on that.
The reason it’s so important to ask questions and let your friend talk without condemnation or judgment is that she really does not get a lot of opportunities to talk about what’s really important to her. Within her community of like-minded ladies ~ conversation is very constrained ~ she might chat all afternoon long and never say what she honestly feels because she must keep up the positive testimony.
Also, allowing her to talk freely creates a safe relationship in which your friend will be willing to really open up to you. This is good for her ~ plus, it helps you to know what makes her tick ~ which is important when it comes time to determine what is going to actually motivate her to make changes in her beliefs or lifestyle.
DO NOT ask her children a lot of nosy questions. That is the number one fastest way to get yourself cut out of their lives for good. If you are going to ask the kids questions, be sure to be absolutely positive in your approach ~ I bet you are so happy for your new baby brother, isn’t he the sweetest? Better yet ~ just don’t ask the kids any questions. Kids will tell you stuff without being asked if they like you.
Look for opportunities to disprove her idea that you (as a non-QFer) are not truly happy or fulfilled. Don’t feel like you have to “witness” to your friend the way she does to you ~ but do point out when you take pleasure in the good things in your life.
Small luxuries which you probably take for granted ~ if your friend were to experience the same thing, she might think she’d died and gone to heaven.
Have you engaged in an intelligent conversation with someone of the opposite sex? QF/P women rarely talk to adult males other than their husbands. (I can’t resist adding here that it is questionable as to whether talking to patriarchal husbands qualifies as adult conversation.)
Do you regularly take time for yourself ~ doing something you enjoy that makes you feel good about yourself? Most QF/P women almost never get a moment to themselves ~ and when they do, they guiltily spend that “quiet time” in prayer and meditation.
Do you have a good relationship with your own children? Tell your friend about it ~ not in a boasting sort of way ~ just to let her know that public school children do not hate their parents as she has been told.
When your husband respects your personhood ~ but sure to let your friend know. Often, patriarch wives have been in one-sided relationships for so long that they really can’t fathom that a man and a woman can relate to each other without power being an issue at all.
Pay attention to your friend’s health concerns. Ask her how she’s feeling and really listen when she tells you all that she’s struggling with.
If you suspect that she is suffering from something deeper than the usual aches and pains of perpetual childbearing ~ such as anemia, thyroid disease, etc. ~ ask more specific questions which might lead her to realize that she needs to address these issues. Be especially alert for signs of depression.
Encourage your friend to sleep. Make specific suggestions which could help her to get to bed early ~ offer to help with the bedtime routine so the little ones settle down and Mom can go to bed too. If she feels compelled to use that quiet time after everyone’s finally in bed to catch up on her “to do” list ~ give her permission to take care of herself and get some much needed rest.
Sleep deprivation is a major problem for QF/P women ~ and when they’re not getting enough rest it affects every area of their lives ~ including their ability to think clearly.
To the degree that your QF/P friend trusts you, feels supported and safe in your company ~ she will begin to open up to you about her true situation. You will know when an opportunity arises to really speak to your friend from your heart ~ when that time comes, here are some things to keep in mind:
Translate her thought-stopping language. When you hear your friend use peculiar phrases such as “trusting the Lord with our family planning,” “sheltering” or “protecting” the children, referring to the kids as “precious lambs,” “denying” herself, etc. ~ ask her to explain what she means, and then restate what she tells you using ordinary language.
For example: “We are trusting the Lord with our family planning.” Encourage your friend to explain this phrase and follow up with a plainly-stated, “In other words, you don’t use birth control.” If she’s talking about dying to herself ~ her wants and her desires ~ kindly restate for your friend, “You are talking about martyrdom.”
No need to be malicious in your translation ~ this is just a simple way to get her thought processes going again.
It’s important to be as direct as possible in expressing your own concern for your friend’s situation. IOW ~ *tell her* that from your standpoint, it looks very much like an overwhelming, abusive situation. Please don’t hesitate to use the words, “abuse,” “control,” etc.
Maybe start this way, “I want to be totally supportive of you no matter what choices you make ~ but, is it okay if I talk to you honestly about how I see your situation?” If she agrees, then state your concerns matter-of-factly and then follow up with another statement of unconditional support.
I say this because I’ve been thinking that over the years there were many friends and acquaintances who hinted that they had some concerns about our family ~ and I always went into “damage control” mode ~ painting a pretty picture to convince them (and myself) that all was well. Looking back, I truly believe that if any one of them would have directly said to me, “I disagree with you…” ~ it would have got my attention and made me consider another perspective.
Focus on the children. QFers are strong women ~ they can take A LOT of abuse ~ more than you could imagine possible. And their thinking is so muddled by their ideology that they WILL take a lot of abuse ~ and they’ll even praise the Lord in the process.
Please do not underestimate the affect that such conditioning has on the minds of otherwise very intelligent women. Consider that over on the CMOMB forum ~ Christian Moms of Many Blessings ~ there is currently a very active thread which was sparked by someone who read a bit at NLQ and then wondered if it was okay for a woman who was being abused by her husband to contact the police. The thread is so disturbing because the moderator and several others are basically saying that there is absolutely nothing in scripture which says a woman doesn’t have to submit to her husband IN EVERYTHING.
This thread just really grieved me because it is a perfect example of how screwed up this extreme patriarchal fundamentalism really is ~ when the women who think this way do not even make exceptions for extreme cases ~ they actually deny the obvious, common sense response to abuse by playing a bunch of word games (who defines what constitutes “abuse?”) ~ rather than just do what everyone automatically knows to do without any need for scriptural approval ~ just get help!
Recognize this about QF/P women ~ but don’t let it discourage you.
QF women have a highly developed, strong maternal urge ~ when it comes to watching their children suffer ~ they’re more likely to get protective and take action.
The problem is ~ QF/P submissive women are likely (as I did) to discount just how deeply their husbands’ abuse is harming the children. For me ~ it took Angel cutting herself before I could admit that this was seriously bad and the Lord was not protecting her as I obeyed Him by supporting my husband and remaining under proper authority.
QF moms are clinging to their faith and hoping that by their obedience and submission, they can ensure their children’s safety. Your job is cut through your friend’s delusions by providing her with specific examples of how the abuse is causing real and lasting harm to her children. Be prepared as though you were talking to a CPS worker ~ specific incidents and the dates on which they occurred, quotes of the children’s actual words ~ the more concrete the evidence, the better. Don’t let your friend off the hook.
Once you get to this point ~ it’s up to your friend to make the hard choices.
If she recognizes and admits the failure of her ideals and chooses to protect her children rather than hoping and praying and supporting her husband ~ go back to the beginning of this article and give her the Quiverfull book and links to the websites. From there, helping your friend get out is fairly similar to any other case of domestic abuse ~ contact authorities, get her in contact with a local shelter, etc.
If your friend chooses to remain in denial ~ then it’s your turn to make a choice ~ either continue to stick with her and wait for another opportunity ~ or, if you must, save your own sanity and back off from the situation. If you choose to do the latter ~ don’t be hard on yourself. Recognize that your friend is responsible for her own decisions. Yes ~ it’s too bad for the children, but you cannot control everything. If appropriate ~ report what you know to child protective services ~ but don’t blame yourself if you just cannot get through to your friend. It’s a tough situation ~ at least you tried ~ that counts for something.
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Vyckie Garrison started No Longer Quivering to tell the story of her “escape” from the Quiverfull movement.
Over time, NLQ has developed into a valuable resource of information regarding the deceptions and dangers of the Quiverfull philosophy and lifestyle. Several more former QF adherents are now contributing their stories to NLQ and our collective voice makes these Quiverfull warnings impossible to dismiss or ignore.
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce