Then Why Didn’t You Tell Us That, Mom?

by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism and Homeschoolers Anonymous

“I want you to know that I never actually believed everything in those Above Rubies magazines,” my mom told me when I was visiting home a while back.

“Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?” I asked. “I read every issue of that magazine cover to cover, and I always thought it was completely approved material.”

I don’t know why my mother made that admission to me when she did.

It was before the Mother Jones article about Kathryn Joyce’s new book on evangelical adoption, which sheds light on the Above Rubies/Liberian adoption scandal. My mother knows I identify as a feminist and that I’m critical of at least some aspects of the culture of the Christian homeschool movement, but that’s about it. Beyond that, we have a strict Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Except, I suppose, for the Pearls child training methods—that we’ve discussed on more than one occasion. But the Pearls don’t run Above Rubies magazine. Nancy Campbell does.

Regardless of what prompted my mother’s admission, I think there is something incredibly important to be learned here.

Kate and I were talking a few months ago, and she told me she doesn’t think her parents realized quite how many extreme patriarchal/purity ideas she picked up and took to heart through Christian homeschooling culture. Her parents, she said, were always quick to condemn reading material, organizations, and leaders they believed promoted ungodly ideas or false doctrine. Because of this, she always assumed that materials that entered the house under the banner of Christianity and without condemnation were things they approved and endorsed.

My experience was very much the same.

My mother subscribed to Above Rubies and read each issue thoroughly. The ideas contained within the magazine aligned at least generally with beliefs I heard my mother espouse. When my parents disagreed with a religious leader, they were quick to say so. In fact, I grew up hearing James Dobson described as too wishy-washy and soft. Yet, I never heard my mother call Nancy Campbell or her magazine into question, so I assumed that the messages contained therein were approved, and that it was something I should read, take to heart, and learn from. And read, take to heart, and learn I did.

I’ve talked to many homeschool graduates—some I knew growing up, some I’ve met in person since, and others I’ve connected with over the internet or through facebook. This thing I’m talking about? This thing is important. Once homeschool parents enter the Christian homeschool subculture, if they don’t vocally and openly condemn, question, or contradict what that subculture teaches, their children will assume that the ideas and ideals of that subculture are approved—something they should listen to, take seriously, and imbibe.

I’ve talked to more than my fair share of homeschool graduates who grew up in this culture and took to heart things they later found out their parents never even realized they were learning.

Christian parents who choose to homeschool their children but do not ascribe to the ideals of the Christian homeschool subculture, especially things like Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull, need to be on guard against this. It’s not uncommon for homeschool parents who happen to be Christian to find themselves in the same homeschool circles with Christian parents who homeschool out of religious conviction. And it’s also not uncommon for their children to find themselves in those circles whether their parents actively frequent them or not. In this kind of situation, parents may not realize the toxic ideologies their children taking in through osmosis from the Christian homeschooling culture around them.

In my mother’s case, it’s not that she disagreed entirely with the Above Rubies magazine. My mother was more mainstream than many, but she definitely ascribed to the outer circles of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull ideology. To be honest, I don’t actually know what parts of what Above Rubies she takes issue with—I was too surprised by her admission to think to ask.

There is one thing I was not too shocked to make sure to tell her, though:

“You need to tell the girls, mom,” I said. “They read Above Rubies just as I did at their age. You need to tell them you don’t agree with all of it, because if you don’t, they’ll think you do.”

Comments open below

Read everything by Libby Anne!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism

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


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  • Vaughn Ohlman

    Speaking as one of those extreme patriarchical and quiverful people, I must say I basically agree with this article. I doubt the problem exists only in quiverful households, but a parent should always make it clear when and why they agree or disagree with material they let in their home: particuarly if it comes from a source the child might consider ‘trusted’.Indeed this is one of my arguments against the public school. A public school teacher is billed as an ‘authority’, and much of what they say and do goes unseen and thus unchecked by the parents.

  • derickrae

    Agree! I was homeschooled and attended a Gothard seminar once. My parents decided it was too strict for our family. But I knew that they agreed with most of the “principles” even if they didn’t agree with his application of them. I had friends and other close homeschooling families who delved deep. As an adult, I would confront my mom about this Gothard belief or that Gothard belief. “Oh, I didn’t agree with THAT belief.” But as a child, I didn’t know she didn’t agree. I assumed I was supposed to agree and that it was truth. When I realized something was off, I assumed my mom would be horrified that I now disagreed with her (and sometimes she is).

    When parents come across a statement they don’t hold in, especially from “trusted” sources, they need to tell their children. Heck, I now tell my children that not everyone believes as I believe and that’s okay. I still lean towards the 6-day creation theory. But when I see a dogmatic statement regarding a 6-day perspective I tell my children that I have many sincere wonderful lovely friends that would disagree. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s pretty wonderful. I have much to learn. They have much to learn.

    Thank you for bringing this subject to light.