A Clarification Part 2: Things I Do Have A Problem With

A Clarification Part 2: Things I Do Have A Problem With September 19, 2011
Last week, the article I wrote for Butterflies and Wheels (My Life as a Daughter of Christian Patriarchy) was posted on the news site Alternet. I received a lot of comments from horrified individuals who had never heard of Christian Patriarchy, but I also received a number of comments like the one below:

I was very disheartened as I read this post. In some ways, my family would fit under her headings of Patriarchy and Quiverfull. We are followers of Jesus, my wife has chosen to work at home, we homeschool our 5 kids, and would love to have more. It was ironic listening to the author’s disapproval over the way she feels people in this movement demonize secularists, environmentalists, humanists, etc – because I feel the same disapproval at being painted with the same broad brush. I would argue that narrow-mindedness, domineering husbands, and oppressed wives are no more common within families of faith than without.

I also think that it’s important to note that the degree to which my family qualifies as Patriarchal or Quiverfull is the result of careful consideration, not lifelong brainwashing. My wife and I are first generation followers of Jesus, both college educated, from an arts background, considered the liberal tree-buggers of our church. We don’t fit any of the rather bleak characterizations the author lays out. While I certainly wouldn’t argue the painful reality of the author’s personal journey, I must strongly contest her broad indictment. Shouldn’t it be recognized that some parents genuinely delight in many children, that some mothers freely choose to invest their lives in their families, that the overwhelming majority of homeschooling families aren’t remotely cult-like?

I actually find it kind of strange when people read what I have to say and then respond by saying that they have a large family and stay at home mom, they homeschool and they’re Christians, and they’re not anything like what I’m saying, so I’m somehow wrong. Look, if you don’t follow the teachings of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, then I didn’t write it about you! Sometimes I wonder if what I’ve said hits too close to the mark, but I don’t want to assume that because I know that there really are families with all of these characterizations that do just fine. These sorts of comments were actually what prompted me to write my Things I Don’t Have a Problem With post, but I thought I’d respond to this issue again here, since it keeps coming up.
The author is right that there are plenty of couples who choose to have a large number of kids (which in this context usually means five or so), mutually decide for the wife to stay at home, and homeschool and thrive in it. Their kids are happy and well adjusted, with lots of friends and activities. The parents are energetic and fun loving and the kids love having numerous siblings. The parents work hard to have individual time with each child and seek each kid as an individual. I also don’t have a problem with “families of faith,” as the author seems to assert. I understand the appeal of religion, and church can serve as a family style community center complete with youth group and mothers’ day out programs. I get that.

In fact, in many ways, this all describes my family. My childhood was really fairly carefree and happy. My mother was college educated and chose to stay at home, and they originally choose homeschooling for practical, not religious, reasons. I really enjoyed the evangelical church we attended when I was a child, and all the programs it offered. Furthermore, my parents had a large family because they wanted a large family. They loved having lots of kids, and they always seemed to have energy for a game or a new adventure. If this had been the extent of it, I wouldn’t have any critiques to offer, because this part was truly wonderful.

The problem wasn’t my mom being a homemaker, the large family, the homeschooling, or the fact that my parents were Christians. It was when the other beliefs crept in – the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull beliefs – that the problems took root. And that – THAT – is why I speak out. Without the beliefs of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull, there really would have been no problem at all with my childhood and coming of age. In fact, a large part of why I write is to warn parents like this commenter of pitfalls to avoid, of things not to do.  

So to state it again: I don’t have a problem with women who choose to stay at home, couples that have five or more children in order to shower them with love and make life a daily adventure, those who choose to homeschool, and those who raise their children in the Christian tradition. I really don’t.  I have to wonder if I really wrote that article so poorly that this is what comes across. I know I’d write it slightly differently if I had it to do over again, including a clarification simply to avoid this misunderstanding.

Let me clarify the problems I was actually trying to point to in my article. These are all problems that are introduced directly by the various teachings of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull, NOT by choosing homemaking, having a large family, homeschooling, or raising children in the faith.

  • When parents expect their children to turn into miniature versions of themselves, clones in belief and action, that is a problem.
  • When families trust formulae to turn out the perfect children, and freak out when their children don’t meet the mold they wanted, that is a problem.
  • When parents raise their children with the explicit expectation that they will “retake the world for Christ,” without taking into account what the kids themselves may want, that is a problem.
  • When children are seen as trophies and shown off like beauty contestants, when kid counts become a contest or a race, that is a problem.
  • When parenting is seen as a contest between the parent and child and breaking the will of a child becomes part of common vocabulary, that is a problem.
  • When parents teach their daughters to dream of nothing but homemaking and seek to kill any other desire or dream, that is a problem.
  • When parents teach their daughters that boys are to go out into the world and take dominion while girls are to take dominion by doing laundry, that is a problem.
  • When parents teach their daughters that women are created to serve men, that is a problem.
  • When adult daughters are expected to obey their fathers and remain under their fathers’ authority, that is a problem.
  • When parents insist that they control their adult daughters’ romantic relationships and can’t trust them to be adults and make their own decisions, that is a problem.
  • When families are so large that the older children become miniature parents rather than siblings and even the discipline is outsourced, that is a problem.
  • When children are not allowed to be teenagers and are expected to take on the responsibilities of an adult while holding the independence of a child, that is a problem.
  • When homeschooling is used to isolate children from the surrounding culture and from alternate ideas, often in the name of “sheltering” them, that is a problem.
  • When homeschooling is used to indoctrinate children into a specific set of beliefs, no questions or thinking outside the box allowed, that is a problem.
  • When a young adult questioning her parents’ beliefs means she risks being cut off from her siblings in the name of “protecting” them, that is a problem.
  • When doctrine and correct belief matter more than love and kindness, that is a problem.

The problem is with the beliefs of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull – that women are always to be under male authority (which includes obedience), that women’s place is in the home and not outside of it, and that parents must raise of armies of soldiers for Christ – not with homemaking, large families, homeschooling, or Christianity in general. And I guess I should have made that more clear in my article.

Also, in case anyone missed it, I did write an article breaking down the relationship between Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull and the homeschool movement. I am more than aware that they are not identical, and that there are plenty of homeschoolers who have nothing to do with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements.

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