[Note: this series is dedicated to Quivering Daughters by the former-Quiverfull moms at No Longer Quivering.]
I was only 19 when I arrived at Christianity’s door, bruised and highly impressionable and, because of my family situation, determined to do a better job of sorting out my life than my parents had done. Victims of abuse in their own homes, my parents had learned very early to dissociate from their emotions. Our home was an emotionally sterile one and, although I know now that this is not true, as as child I believed my parents did not love me. I decided that when *I* had kids, if they grew up knowing nothing else, they would know for sure that I loved them more than breathing.
I became the kind of Christian mother other Christian mothers looked up to in awe. My numerous children were admired wherever they went: smart, lively, godly and absolutely obedient. Women used to call on me and ask advice, yearning to be able to produce the kind of wonderful ‘fruit’ I was enjoying in abundance in my children. I would explain the difference between violent abuse and the loving application of ‘the rod’ which turned children’s little hearts away from sin and toward God. I would explain that I spanked sparingly and always in the context of a warm, loving expansive relationship, as part of a ritual that included healthy confession, repentance, and loving forgiveness. Anyone who knew my kids could see that following these biblical parenting principles was paying off big time.
As committed as I was to following the principles I’d come to believe would help me to raise wonderful and godly children, and as invested as I was in the outcome, I was blind to the true state of my children’s hearts. Forbidding certain, and indeed numerous, beliefs and practices which I now see were absolutely benign didn’t make my children lose their taste for them as I thought it would – it just drove them underground. In order to indulge perfectly normal, harmless preferences and cling to some semblance of separate identity, my children were forced to construct a secret inner life to which I had no access and which, of course, added considerably to their guilt burden.
Despite many, many lessons about the love and forgiveness of a generous heavenly Father, I realize now that my children were not able to reconcile the horrors of personal guilt and the fear of punishment against abstract concepts such as Christian integrity and the grace of God. In an effort to explain the kindness and extent of a grace so great it could save even sinners like us, I inadvertently buried my older children in the shallow grave of shame, self-loathing, and later, deep, deep rage. They came to be appalled at the lurking sin monster that evidently resided in their hearts, and endured an abiding self-disgust that their natural bents seemed often to be precisely what God deemed evil.
My older girls were damaged in particularly sad ways. QF standards of modesty caused them to wonder just what was so disgusting or dangerous about their bodies that they needed to keep them so carefully under wraps. Witnessing my unreasonably energetic efforts to submit to their father, my girls learned that even when a man is stupid, petty and a bully, God wants Christian women and their children to bear it with a smile and a prayer. I taught them that heroic hypocrisy was more important than honest misery. Their determination not to repeat my marital nightmare ultimately caused them to question their sexual orientation. Frustrated in the belief that the whole world was conspiring to strip them of their sense of self and squeeze them into a mold for which they were not fitted, my daughters generated lakefuls of underground anger which eventually exploded into terrifying geysers of self-destructive energy.
But I was oblivious to this at the time. I adored my children, poured my life out for them, and simply could not imagine that my best and most sincere efforts at applying what was, after all, God’s methodology might be harming them in anyway.
But it was.