Motherhood after growing up Quiverfull: Part 3

This is the third post in a series. Click here to read Part 1, and here to read Part 2.

As I’ve related some of my story, I’ve found that many people that latch onto the idea that “too many children” is what causes the emotional and spiritual abuses and overworking of older children that Quiverfull families can experience. I’m not convinced that is the whole story. Yes, having many children can add to the physical exhaustion of the parents, it definitely stretches the parents thinner. But I don’t think that once you exceed a certain number of children you magically hit a threshold of “too many” children. The many children is just one factor in the recipe.

I find that the performance mindset that seems to pervade these families is brutal. And it’s not just Quiverfull families either, although the performance mindset is heightened by their theology. Children are no longer added one at a time by the mutual consent of each parent after evaluation of the families resources and abilities, now they are a forgone biological conclusion. This puts stress on parents to provide whatever living standard they have decided they want to maintain for a constantly growing family. Add to this the common beliefs in the mindset about being completely debt free and owning your own home and you have families trying to force the impossible.

When J-O-Y (Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last) is taken to the extreme you have a problem. Now the parents (or spiritual leaders) are defining what “putting Jesus first” means (having many children, staying clean from the world, financial independence), putting others first becomes “the group is more important than the individual”, and putting yourself last turns into any self care or individual interests being “selfish”. The parents are not asking of the kids what they are not already doing to themselves. The work of everyone is required to “obey God’s plan for the biblical family”, the children are exploited to achieve the family’s vision, as well as preparing them for “God’s service” (which means having their own Quiverfull families someday.)

I have good memories of growing up in a large family. Before age 10, I remember being able to get my homeschool done before noon and spending hours outdoors playing with my sisters.

I had chores. I collected and sorted the laundry, I either cleared the table or swept or did the dishes after each meal, made my own bed, and I was in charge of getting breakfast on the table each morning after age 8. I helped my mom fold laundry, and I changed diapers sometimes. But at this point in my life I never felt overwhelmed.

My mom was in fairly good health, I was always able to get my schoolwork done, I had lots of free time to play. We did alot of the chores together with my mom, which made it fun. We were going to a church regularly, we even had some outside involvement in a girls club and a homeschool co-op, both of which I loved.

After that, things started to change. We moved, stopped going to church, and ceased all activities outside of the home. Until I started weekly violin lessons several years later, I sometimes went months without leaving our home. We became more serious about modesty and patriarchy, and my parents were intent on training their girls to become future keepers-at-home and mothers.

I don’t believe it was ever my parents intention to overburden me as a teen, but I think it was fairly easy to do. With as many siblings as I had, my mom could be busy with the needs of children, housekeeping and homeschooling and not realize that she was asking me to do so much. Asking your teenage daughter to change a diaper doesn’t sound like a big deal, but over the course of a day those requests would add up to many diapers, cleaning rooms, doing laundry. Watching, feeding and bathing and tucking children in for bed added to the chores, meals and schoolwork that were already assigned to me.

My Dad was working very long hours, trying to get a business of the ground to support his growing family, so my mom was often going it alone. Mom was usually pregnant or nursing, as well as homeschooling all of us school-aged children. In the last few months of each pregnancy she was often completely exhausted.

But I am convinced it wasn’t merely the number of children that caused her ill health. It wasn’t until I started repeating the pattern of J-O-Y, that I realized my mom never took care of herself. Mom rarely went anywhere, not even outdoors. She would forget to eat sometimes, much less remembering to take her supplements. She had few friends, and no hobbies. She did not exercise, and now that I look back, I realize that she was depressed. She also had many severe migraine headaches as well as infections that would leave her bedridden.

I look at my mom today, who is actively involved in a church and ladies bible study and homeschool co-op. She now dresses the way she likes, eats better and takes her supplements, and she is healthier. She is a happier and livelier woman now, than the mom I remember even though she is older and still has 7 children under 18 (Ages 17 down to 18 months) living at home that she is caring for and homeschooling. I wish that she had valued herself beyond her role as a mother when I was a child.

As for me, I wanted my Mom to feel better. I wanted to be the help she needed to get back on her feet. I worked hard to try to please my parents, and when I did try to tell them it was to much for me to handle, I was encouraged not to be “selfish”. When I was 18, I had a job working 13 hours a week, my parents told me I needed to quit so that I would have more time to help out at home, I felt like I had no other choice. My hope was that if I managed to get alot of the dirty work done, then my mom would have more time to have fun with the kids and give them more individual attention.

I don’t resent having chores to do as a child, but I was very depleted throughout my teen years. The interests and importance of each individual, was sacrificed for the whole. I see how my doing the work of a mom while I was still a child influenced my understanding of motherhood and my behavior towards my own children. I am saddened over missed opportunities of school and experiences I could have had if I had not been Mommy#2. I am serious about never allowing myself to become so overwhelmed that I cannot see when my children are feeling burdened. I am grateful that even though I was exhausted and burnt-out from parenting before I ever became a mom myself, that I still had the desire to have children. Because I would never trade my babies for anything.

I remember when I was eleven, I told my mom I did not want to grow up. I wanted to stay a little girl forever. She tried to tell me that being a grown up was nice, but all I could see were the responsibilities continuously added to my plate, and I had none of the supposed privileges that came with age. Now I am understanding how life can be lived more fully, and I want my children to have that same opportunity.

Re-Post: Lies we tell ourselves about abuse
Fundamentalist Approved Feminist Literature
What I Understand
Children of an Atheist talk about God
  • Anonymous

    (I'm a fellow blogger, you can probably guess who, commenting semi-anonymously today in case any of my relatives who read my blog stumble across this.) :)

    I've found this series so fascinating, since I grew up smack in the middle of the secular world, where children were loved but ultimately seen as burdens. I didn't know anyone who had more than two siblings living at home (and only one person who had more than one sibling living at home). In all my childhood, not one friend's mom was ever pregnant or had a baby. Before I was a mother, I had held a baby once in my life. My husband had never held a baby.

    What I find particularly interesting about this series is comparing and contrasting what can result when you grow up in an environment where attitudes on childbearing are taken to the other unhealthy extreme.

    I am an only child, and I grew up aware of the "fact" that my existence hindered my parents' freedom — and personal freedom was, in our circles, the very meaning of life. Autonomy was the secular god, the golden calf before which we sacrificed everything. Though my parents were extremely loving and never explicitly made comments like that, it was woven into the foundation of my conscience my parents' lives were more free and exciting (and therefore better) before I came along. I think that the parents I grew up around had deeply mixed feelings about their children: they did love them with all their hearts…but they never quite reconciled how their children could be a completely good thing when prevented them from seeking autonomy, the very meaning of life.

    Among my friends, there was a tremendous amount of deep-seated self-loathing. Drugs, cutting, and other self-destructive behavior were commonplace (and this was in a semi-rural, upper-middle-class town). I really believe that a large part of that stemmed from the subconscious messages they'd gotten all their lives that children — and therefore they — were burdens. Though my own parents never did this, I can't even count the number of times I heard other parents talk about future children like they might talk about the black plague. They'd wrinkle their noses in disgust and make "joking" comments like, "I'd kill myself if we had another kid. I am SO GLAD we're done!" And this sort of thing would regularly be said in public and in front of their children. Needless to say, as a child, you have a lot of mixed feelings when your parents speak with disgust about repeating what they did with you.

    Anyway, I could go on and on, but I won't take up any more space in your combox. :) Again, these posts have been fascinating, and very eye-opening about a worldview that I've never personally encountered before. Your candid discussion of these issues has given me much to think about with my own upbringing. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Maria

    Again, a great post. The first time I heard the J-O-Y adage (on a Duggar episode), I thought it was sort of over-the-top. But taken in the right spirit, it is a great way to imitate the life of Christ. But it takes discernment and wisdom and self-knowledge to know how to take care of yourself so that you can truly serve others with love. Ironically, I later found out that J-O-Y is originally from Mother Teresa a – gasp! – Roman Catholic! Something else of Mother Teresa's sayings that the Duggar family use often is, "Saying there are too many children is like saying there are too many flowers." This isn't to say I'm not inspired by the Duggars, but I have really found that my Catholic faith helps inform my understanding of what they espouse and what I consider reasonable, and what I consider unreasonable (no dancing, for example).

  • Rach

    This is a good post, and one I want to remember as I have more children. I, like you, want to ENJOY my kids! I want them to ENJOY me! Thanks for your perspective on this. Also, I really agree with what anonymous said…you can take this issue to either extreme, and that is never good.

  • Hopewell

    "But I am convinced it wasn’t merely the number of children that caused her ill health. It wasn’t until I started repeating the pattern of J-O-Y, that I realized my mom never took care of herself. Mom rarely went anywhere, not even outdoors. She would forget to eat sometimes, much less remembering to take her supplements. She had few friends, and no hobbies. She did not exercise, and now that I look back, I realize that she was depressed. "

    This is very typical of old-time Catholic moms, too [although they went out to Church]. Any culture that doesn't allow even a tiny bit of "self" causes burn-out. I do not think the number of children is the issue either. But the stress of "the rest of it"–the debt free, the "Life in Perfect" ideal–too much. [I've written about the debt-free life and about growing up only to be a homemaker in guest posts at No Longer Quivering]

    I'm glad your Mother "escaped" enough to be herself and that the rest of your siblings are able to get out some. I've seen families burnout and give up–it's better when they see the mistakes, acknowledge them and keep what was working [if anything].

    This is an excellent series of posts. The word needs to get out that the Duggar's do not at all represent "reality".

  • Pippi

    Thankyou very much for writing this. It has been a blessing to read. I did not grow up in the quiverfull mentality, but my childhood was similar even so. It's a long story. The pattern was very much the same even if the specific beliefs differed. I was the oldest of 10, it was my responsibility to take care of the younger ones so my mother could do the other things God had called her to do (in someone else's opinion), I had everything I needed inside these four walls if I would just stop rebelling against God's plan for me to be a wife and mother.

    I have never regretted being a wife and mother. I have hated being a stay-at-home mom, and now that I am working (much to my mother's dismay) I do not think I will ever stay at home full time again. It is not my calling. I want to raise my sons to be useful in venues other than their future homes, and if I ever have a daughter, the same for her. I want them to see, know, and empathize with the other human beings God created in this world, and be capable of helping them someday. I want them to be homegrown missionaries, as I want to be myself. Not someone so estranged from modern society that evangelizing downtown is like going into a foreign country, but someone who can understand the struggles that others are going through and give some pointers from experience, or just lend an ear or helping hand in passing. That is who I am. I am more than a mother, more than a wife, and it would be wrong for me to let either of those things consume all of my time. God did not give me the experiences I have had, or a husband with the experiences he has had, so that we could shut ourselves up at home. As victims of childhood sexual abuse, our pain has provided us with an opportunity to reach out to a nearly unreachable segment of society and hopefully make a difference in damaged lives. I am not going to live in denial of it, put it behind and never speak of it again, as I have been told I should. I do not believe that I perpetuate perversion by speaking out. This is my calling. God has prepared me for it, and I will embrace it with or without the support of others.

    My mother is still waiting for us to have enough income that I can leave my necessary evil of a job and start homeschooling my children. It isn't going to happen.

  • Michelle

    Another great post. I think my daughter would also never resent responsibilities and would always want to help me out if I were becoming overwhelmed. Heck, she still does now. Thankfully, I've learned to say, "You know what? Mama just needs a breather…let's go read a book" instead of stressing about all the housework not getting done or something. I just love reading all this stuff…I find it fascinating. Even though I have never experienced this mindset…it's just so fascinating to me.

  • Mrs. Fordyce

    I have really enjoyed reading your posts on this topic. You have made a point that I have long noticed (and been concerned about), and that is older siblings basically raising their younger siblings. Reading your posts has helped make me more mindful in avoiding this as I raise my own six children.

  • Praises from a Wife and Mommy!

    I enjoyed reading this. I too am a pastors wife! You should check my blog


  • Katie

    Thank you so much for sharing in these posts. As Anonymous said, this is eye-opening to me. I'm somewhat familiar with the Duggars, and I do find them fascinating, partly in fact due to the reactions they seem to invoke in people.

    Anyway, I feel like I grew up in the middle of the extreme. I'm the oldest of 6 (within 10 years) in a Catholic family. My parents didn't set out to have 6 kids – just happened. I grew up in Catholic circles, but was always from one of the largest families in my class, and certainly in my extended family. People loved making jokes about it, and I was always embarrassed about how we'd have to schlepp up the aisle at Mass (late, usually) with everyone watching. I begged my parents to not have anymore kids because I was tired of being a freak. By college, however, I knew that a large family was a definite option for me. I felt smug about how much fun my family always had when all of us kids were together – constant conversation and mayhem!

    I don't feel like too much was expected of me around the house. I babysat siblings a lot, but my mom never demanded much in the way of housework (and hence, our house was often messy). My mom worked full-time from the time I was 8 weeks old until she had her 4th child. I'm not compalaining, though. I had a great childhood and I'm close with my parents.

    What saddens me as I read your posts is that it seems like you had no choice. That you didn't have the choice of whether to go to college. You're so obviously a thoughtful and intelligent woman. I sit around thinking about how maybe I wish I hadn't gotten my graduate degree, since we'll be paying for it until our kids go to college, and I'm not using it, but I'm happy to have had the choice. My parents always encouraged me in my goals, even if they didn't agree with my career choice at first. Actually, in my extended family, I'm the weird one for staying home.

    You give me a lot to think about since I have daughters and will possibly one day have a large brood. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Anonymous

    Oh, honey. I have been where you are. You have no idea how much.

    Keep searching. Catholicism and NFP were a pit stop for me, as it turned out. I discovered that under the flowery rhetoric and glorifying of motherhood was a rather dark side that sought to control women and their sexuality and their lives just like fundamentalist Christianity.

    They just wrapped it in a little more intellectualism.

    I beg you to stop having babies until you know for sure you want another one, and feel confident you can care for all of yours. Don't be a mom of 7 who can't escape. There are too many out there already.

    Check out Bethany Patchin's blog for another former QF mom of 4. She's had quite the journey, including NFP and ultimately a divorce and trying to find her way in life as an adult.

  • Katie

    Anonymous (#2), (and Young Mom, I hope I'm not taking things too off-topic, as I know this was the subject of your earlier QF post – I guess you'll be the judge :)

    I mean this with all respect: I am really sorry that NFP (and Catholicism) had such a dark side for you. I have to say my experience has been the opposite. I will definitely give you that NFP is not all flowers and roses. There's nothing fun about avoiding relations with your husband during the fertile time, when you have decided it is not time for another baby. The classes seem to try to make it that way.
    In practicing it, however, I have never felt that my sexuality has been controlled. In everything I have learned, it has been made very clear that the discernment of family size, spacing of babies, etc. is between, me, my husband, and God. In fact, the most "controlled" I have flet is by those who think they know better than me what my family size should be (family who reject Catholicism's teaching on sexuality).

    Again, I'm not trying to tell you what opinion to have, just sharing that my experience is different and that I don't agree that Catholicism's stance on sexuality and the spacing of children is seeking to control women or fundamentalist Christianity wrapped in a little more intellectualism.

  • Anonymous

    Yup. You pretty much nailed it with these posts. I grew up in the cult the Duggars are in and it destroyed any semblance of a childhood for me.

    Thanks for posting.

  • Lois Brown Loar

    Thanks for this series. As a "QF" mom who didn't know I was part of a "movement", I never embraced the whole patriarchy thing, daughters staying at home forever, etc. I used to worry that my daughters did too much for the younger ones, and in fact had a couple of instances of insisting they go out with friends, that I could handle things on my own.

    I was awakened to all this about a year ago, and called my oldest and asked her if she ever felt that way. She did feel a lot was expected of her, but no where near the extent many of you QF oldest daughters were. I praise God we didn't fall into that!!

    I am still a SAHM, and glad to be. I believe that this has, in fact, been MY calling, despite my college education. But it is not necessarily the calling of all Christian women.

    I didn't homeschool till my oldest 3 were already out of high school, and most of my homeschooled children attended public(gasp!) high school. It's not that I refused to homeschool high school, if they wanted to, but most wanted to attend school, and we felt that was what was best for all concerned.

    I still have 5 minor kids at home, 3 in high school, and 2 are still homeschooling.

    I'm grateful for each and every one of my 12 children….I have some really amazing adult offspring!!

    That said, the peri-menopause years were extremely difficult for all of us, not just me. If I have any advice for those having babies after the age of 35, it would be that as soon as you feel the effects of menopause creeping up on you, get to the doctor and get help!!

    The mood swings and irritability stole some years of really enjoying my kids that were at home at the time, that I cannot get back. THe middle daughter took the brunt of some of that, in helping iwth homeschooling younger kids, etc.

    It's something I am ashamed of, and had I known how she and some of her younger sibs felt, I would have been quicker to get on top of it medically.

    Before that, I remember enjoying my children so very much…and I enjoy them so much now that I am past that stage of life….

    Well, those were some random thoughts! Again, thank you for bringing this to the forefront in such an eloquent way.

    God Bless You…and please, DO, kick back and ENJOY your children. The laundry will get done eventually, and so will the dishes… :-)

  • Anonymous


    Part of the NFP problem for me was the lack of desire during the non-fertile phases and the overwhelming desire during them (hello, hormones!). So I basically could have enjoyable sex a handful of times in my life, when I wanted to get pregnant. And if I complained about it, I was then supposed to wax spiritual about the burden.

    Meanwhile, I had the constant internal fight of wanting pleasant physical intimacy with my spouse vs. NOT wanting to get pregnant again. Very frustrating. And then the burden of my priest reminding me that I should only be avoiding pregnancy for "just reasons."

    On top of that, the questions about whether I could ever be "done" having kids. I felt like I was supposed to be constantly discerning whether we were going to have another one, thinking about it every single cycle, etc. And I couldn't really make any career plans, because pregnancy would have me throwing up for almost a year, and honestly, can't a woman just decide she's a good mom to one or two kids, and be done? Does her uterus have to have a revolving door until menopause unless she has some sort of health or poverty problem?

    There's a reason why the majority of women worldwide want only 2 – 3 children. And it's not because they're selfish. It's because childbearing and rearing puts women in a dangerous, subservient position, in a place where they're likely to end up impoverished, where they are overly dependent upon their husbands to stay and support them (no matter how dire the marriage may be), etc.

    I want to say here that I don't believe there are no happy Catholic NFP big families! Just that if you're not a natural big-family type of woman, it's a heavy emotional burden to be asked to consider that regularly.

  • Deborah

    I've been enjoying your site, and I wanted to tell you how brave you are to make such big changes to your life.

  • That Married Couple

    I'm a bit late reading this series, but I really enjoyed it. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. You've given me a lot to ponder!

  • Emily

    Thank you for posting this series. As the eldest of 9 kids, I can relate to a lot of what you're saying. I agree with you that the number of children is only a factor and doesn't necessitate poor parenting. When I look back at my upbringing, I see many idealogical errors and emotional problems that preceded the large family and weren't caused by it.
    I know many large families and I find myself observing and analyzing them. I've been relieved to find that their are parents of large families who don't overburden their children and actually delight in their children. It's so relieving to know that I don't have to become my mother and that my daughter won't experience life the way I did growing up.
    I have two small children and I love sharing and enjoying life with them. I don't think that would change if I had 1 or 5 or 10 more kids to enjoy life with. Your position in front of reality really makes a huge difference. I've had old ladies in tears about how hard it was to raise to kids that were 2 or 3 years apart and tell me that MY life will be miserable. I can't help but think a lot of it was the way they look at life and their responsibilities.

    I also think that the JOY acromyn is fundamentally erroneous. It sounds like communism with Jesus tacked on to the front. The problem with altruism is that if others always come first and I come last, then no one can really be put first because every 'other' is also an 'I' who ought to be last as well (I hope that wasn't too confusing). I cannot give and I cannot love if I am not first receiving and experiencing being loved. Not to mention, Jesus asks us to love others as ourselves. So to love someone with a good and healthy love requires having a good and healthy love of ourselves.

    Have you read JPII's "The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World"? It's a good read and it's online :) I particularly like the section "The Rights and Role of Women" and the sections that follow. Here's a link:

  • Anonymous

    We are NOT Catholics but do our best to adhere to Catholic teaching on family issues and especially sexual morality, because it is consistent and we believe strengthens the institution of marriage. 

    That does mean that NFP is our only option for birth control. But perhaps where we are not "Good Catholic's" is that with 4 kids – one accidental so to speak – we do practice it VERY carefully with a clear "contraceptive mentality". Because whilst we do not believe in contraception we do think it is acceptable to change our behaviour to limit  our family and are definitely not Quiverful. For many of the reasons quoted above

    On a practical note I agree that NFP does really go contrary to most women's hormone driven urges and can be very frustrating.  But to be frank pregnancy, child birth, nursing and small children are not exactly great for your sex life so unless you use contraception, which isn't perfect or always safe (or get sterilised) what's the alternative ?

    Without being too graphic there are obviously other ways of satisfying your physical urges  But I agree  with one of your other articles I (and perhaps more pertinently my husband – as for Catholics the actual restriction apply specifically to the man !) just can't understand how so many couples (often devout protestants) see no problem in combining a belief that contraception is wrong, with an acceptance of mutual masturbation, oral sex etc.  

    After all – if 'anything goes' once youre married why not  just use a condom and if it's okay because it's not "really sex" was it okay before you got married ? Etc etc. 

    I think we just have to accept that sex was always meant to be an occasional pleasure – stop reading about multiple orgasms in Cosmo and get on with our lives. At least there is something to look forward to post menopause !!!! Sarah