The Problem: Parents or Ideology?

The Problem: Parents or Ideology? June 27, 2011

After my It’s About the Daughters post was crossposted on No Longer Quivering, I received the following response:

You make a lot of generalizations here. Do you really believe it is this way for all, or even the majority of, quiverful daughters? I have no doubt it’s happened to some, and I support you in standing for those women and girls. But it is not this way for all, yes they learn to cook and they believe their place is at home, but most have plenty of friends, plenty of free time, and are taught how to have an opinion, because they need a strong opinion against the common opinions of the world. And I don’t know a single QF family that dosen’t value an education, many a quiverful mother has spent their time worrying about whether their children, sons AND daughters, are being educated to an appropriate level. I’ve never, in modern day life, heard it called dangerous for girls to be educated. Even in the arts of homemaking, an education is valuable and vital, and a woman can have dreams outside the home without usurping her husbands headship. I have big dreams, and they are both within my home, and outside of it. I don’t dream of becoming a company CEO sure, but I dream of influencing peoples lives. Which is grander?

Girls who are in the situation you describe should, most certainly, be spoken for. But please don’t label every daughter of a patriarchal family as living this life. Maybe 20 years ago it was different, but, at least from my view today, very few families live the way you describe. What you describe is more true of Islam than christian patriarchy.

In other words, the problem isn’t Christian Patriarchy, the problem is parents who abuse it. I could not disagree more. The problem isn’t the parents – the parents who live Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull genuinely love their children and want what’s best for them – the problem is the ideology itself. Cindy of Under Much Grace has an entire series examining “Why Good People Make Dangerous Choices.” She looks at why good people do bad things with good intentions, and the problems that follow. Just so, Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull take otherwise loving parents and twist them into doing highly problematic things to their children, and especially their daughters.
But what about families following Christian Patriarchy who appear happy and healthy? First of all, just because a family living Christian Patriarchy appears to be healthy and happy does not mean it really is so. The appearance of perfection can be deceiving. My parents did a pretty good job of keeping what happened with me under wraps, and many in their community still don’t know what happened. They just think I’m off and married, safely settled with a husband and a kid. They don’t know what I went through with my parents or that I had left my parents’ beliefs. It’s not that hard to plaster on a smile and just pretend everything is all right. My parents have done the same kind of damage control with troubles with my siblings. My family appears perfect, happy, and well adjusted. So just because all appears to be well doesn’t mean it is well.
Yet at the same time I will not deny that there do exist some families who really do seem to make Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull work, with happy parents and happy children. While many (probably most) families have problems with the sheer load of work, the physical strain of pregnancies, and the authoritarian nature of patriarchy, not all families suffer from these problems in the same degree. As you can read in my story, my family was able to make Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull (light, in their case) work until I hit my college years. Sure, there were small issues here and there, but there was no outward abuse, no manipulation, and there was plenty of happiness and love. I was educated well, and my parents valued education so much that they actually sent me away to college. All seemed well. The problem is that even in families who seem to be able to successfully live out Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull ideals, there is damage being done to the children even if it may not be obvious or manifest itself until later.
Below are six problems that occur to some extent in every family following Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. These problems emanate from the very definitions of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull themselves, and therefore no family following these lifestyles can completely avoid them (although there are of course degrees):
1. Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull teach that parents must break their children’s wills, often through spanking and other punishments. No sign of disobedience is tolerated. This authoritarian nature of the parent child relationship can sometimes become extreme and problematic, causing otherwise loving parents to harm their children and leave lifelong scars. Even when it’s not carried out to the extreme, this discipline method, with its emphasis on breaking children’s will and unquestioning obedience, is highly problematic. For my analysis, see here.
2. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents teach children of both sexes outdated gender roles. These children grow up having no idea how an egalitarian relationship works because they have never seen it modeled. This can become problematic when they have to interact with the actual world, working with both men and women in a variety of settings. In some cases, boys and girls go through puberty not knowing how to interact with each other as equals. A reader mentioned this problem when he commented on one of my posts, saying “don’t forget that the sons need to re-learn the value of a woman as their peer, rather than the ‘weaker vessel’ that just means stupider and dumber and less refined and un-cool and more worthless than you.”
3. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents smother their daughters’ dreams, working to kill any desire their daughters might have outside of being a homemaker, wife, and mother. They teach their daughters that God’s place for them is in the home, and that they must forget about being teachers, or doctors, or scientists. In some cases, these daughters’ dreams are stillborn, because they never even have a chance to develop in the first place. I discuss this problem here. This damage occurs in mothers, too, who strangle any other ambitions or desires they might have had, sacrificing them on the alter of the perfect godly family.
4. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents seek to exert a great amount control over their adult daughters. As a result, daughters hit a wall the minute they want or believe anything different from their parents. When this happened to me as a young adult, it came up on me as a shock. My family had been so happy! My parents were so loving! What had happened? Parents use tools such as religious guilt and emotional manipulation as they seek to bring their wayward daughter back under her father’s authority and back onto the straight and narrow. When this happens, daughters are emotionally damaged and families are ripped apart. Only by doing just what they want and believing just as they do can a daughter of Christian Patriarchy truly please her parents. As I have pointed out in another post, sons are not immune to this either.
5. Under Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, parents work hard to isolate their children from the world. This does not mean that the children necessarily have no friends, but rather that their friends all hold the same beliefs and have the same backgrounds. Children grow up sheltered from the world, thinking everyone outside of their patriarchal bubble is evil and selfish, and end up having no idea how to interact with people different from them. There is a stigmatization of the “other.” I discuss this here and here.

6. Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull teach parents to have great expectations of their children, not only that their children will follow in their beliefs, but also that their children will retake the culture and remold the country into their ideal theocracy. They offer the perfect formula for a perfect family, and promises parents that their children will not fail them if they follow the method correctly. When children fail to be culture changers or choose beliefs or make life choices outside of their parents’ desires for them, children are seen as failures, and parents, who have given their lives to raise these children following the dictates of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull, feel that they have failed as well. I discuss this here.
Like I said, the problem is not the parents. The problem is what the ideology makes parents do. It tells them that their children will only be truly happy if they spank them and enforce careful discipline; it makes them teach their children to not see each other as true equals; it makes them tell their daughters to forget dreams of anything outside of homemaking; it makes them react as if the world has ended to any sign of their daughters wanting something different from what the family wants for them; it makes them isolate their children, depriving them of needed information and social skills; and it makes them place impossible expectations on their children and themselves. And this is all done in the name of loving their children and doing what is best for them.
Now of course, there are different degrees to which families follow Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull. Some parents are extremely uptight and controlling and others are more laid back and open. The degree of damage will naturally vary. Yet even in happy families, these problems still exist – given the nature of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, they can’t not exist. No daughter of Christian Patriarchy – or son either – comes out completely unscathed. But like I said, the problem isn’t the parents – the parents genuinely believe they are doing what is best for their children – the problem is the ideology, which takes over like a weed and chokes the healthy crops to death.

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