Raised Quiverfull: Sarah’s Story

Raised Quiverfull: Sarah’s Story June 29, 2012

A post in the Raised Quiverfull series.

Part 1: Introductory Questions

Please introduce yourself before we get started. Are you married or unmarried? Are you in school, holding down a job, or staying home? Do you have children? What religious beliefs or lack thereof do you ascribe to today? Provide whatever additional information you like.

My name is Sarah. I have been married for almost 2 years now. We have no children, and don’t plan on having any for at least 5 more years. I work full time as a receptionist and pay all the bills for my household. I am also in school part time taking about 10 credits per semester. I go during the summer too so it comes out at around a full course load per year. My husband is still stoically Christian; I on the other hand have come to an uncertain agnosticism. This difference is religion has been the major cause of conflict in my marriage.

How did your parents first come under the influence of Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull teachings? What leaders did they follow and what publications did they receive?

My parents were already slipping into PF/QF teachings by the time I was born. They both came from chaotic backgrounds and were looking for a way to ensure that their children would never experience the things they had to go through. My older sisters had to watch things go from normal to terrible, but I have no memories from before. My earliest memories involve skirts and braids and spanking spoons. We had every book and magazine ever published by Vision Forum, Michael Pearl, Debbi Pearl, David Wilkerson, Above Rubies, Answers in Genesis, The Harris’s, The Farris’s, and the Botkins. I’m sure there were more.

In what ways was your family a “typical” Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull family? In what ways was it “atypical”?

My dad has always been fiercely independent, so we didn’t follow any one specific leader or teaching completely. To this day he claims that he was never really “quiverfull” or “patriarchal,” he was just following what he thought was God’s leading. I think that was a part of the problem. My father did not recognize any authority except the Holy Spirit; which basically meant that he did whatever he wanted, and subscribed to the teachings of people who said exactly what he wanted to hear. My dad always scoffed at ATI people because he said they were “respecters of men.” He could never find a church that was godly enough for him, so we just never went to church. We tried a few Sunday services now and then, but they were never good enough. We had no community. Other than the neighbor kids and my mom’s nearby friend, we did not interact with other people for the first 12-13 years of life.

Part 2: Living the Life

What sort of a church did your family go to while you were growing up? Were the other families who attended the church also involved in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?

When we finally DID go to church the summer before I turned 13, it was a tiny family church with one service, no worship band, and no daycare. Families of 8, 9, and 10 kids were the norm. Families would take up an entire row of chairs by themselves, and we never made it through a service without at least 6 babies crying loudly. Our pastors preached CP/QF doctrine from the pulpit and by example. Many people in our church had followed the leading of God and gone back to having children even thought they were nearing their 40’s and already had 4 or 5 older children. Our church stressed the importance of reading scripture in the home, and encouraged fathers to be “spiritual leaders.” They also had a highly structured and supervised “youth group” that my dad never allowed us to attend.

In many ways, every Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull couple has a different dynamic. What sort of a dynamic did your parents have? Was one more sold on the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology than the other? Or, if you grew up in a broken family, how did this affect your experience?

My mom was the one who got our family into PF/QF stuff in the beginning, but my dad did not need too much convincing to jump on the bandwagon. He is a very authoritarian person and the teachings my mom showed him fell right into place with his personality. I know they used to fight a lot when I was very young, but mostly I just remember how much my dad loved my mom. He always doted on her and hugged and kissed her all the time. Whenever she was tired or sick or even just crabby, he would blame us for her feelings. “Your mother is tired! Why are you so lazy that you never help her around the house!” Or, “what did you do to upset your mother?” He would get so angry and mean with us when we failed to keep mom happy and healthy.

How often did you, your siblings, and your parents read the Bible? Were you guided by your parents or pastors in how to interpret the Bible, especially certain passages, or were you generally free to form your own ideas about what the Bible said?

The family goal was to read the bible every night. We would read one to four chapters at the dinner table after we had finished eating. My dad loved to ramble on with longwinded explanations of passages. It wasn’t until recently I’ve realized that a lot of his interpretations were completely unfounded and made up. We never asked questions about the meaning of passages, we just believed what we were told. I never knew there were any other options. We were also expected to read our bibles alone. Any mistakes we made were attributed to fact that we “hadn’t spent enough time in the word.” I read my bible multiple times a day, grasping for meaning and rarely finding any.

What role did race play in the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull community in which you grew up? Were there any black or hispanic families? Were they treated differently?

I had no racially diverse acquaintances in my childhood, but to be fair, I didn’t really have many acquaintances at all. For a brief time I was friends with a Hispanic girl down the street, but I wasn’t allowed to go to her house, so she soon got bored of me. My dad went to an African American Baptist church in Chicago when he was a kid, and he always spoke fondly of his memories there. We never really discussed race, but I remember my dad telling me that interracial marriage was not a sin. It wasn’t until my late teens that I had any interaction with people outside my race or religion. It took me a long time to learn how to interact comfortably with diverse groups of people. I’ve always felt that that was one of the major flaws in my upbringing.

Part 3: A Gendered Childhood

How many siblings did you grow up with? Did responsibilities in your family differ by gender, with the girls having certain chores and the boys having others? Explain.

I have ten siblings: six sisters and four brothers. Three of my brothers are much younger than me, so I never saw them treated as anything other than babies. I have one brother about two years younger than me, and there were major differences in the way he was treated. He was expected to mow the lawn and take out the trash, chop wood, build fires, and occasionally mop the floor. The sad part is that my brother has always had an affinity for cooking, but with all his other tasks, he never had that option. As a girl, I was expected to learn all the “womanly arts.” At around age ten I was required to get up early every morning and make breakfast for everyone. I also made dinner at least three nights a week. My mom always said it was because I “loved to cook,” but any enjoyment I got out of it was soon lost.

If you were an older daughter, do you feel that you were expected to play “mother” for your younger siblings? Explain.

I am number four out eleven kids. We implemented “the buddy system” in our house, which basically meant each child over twelve had their own baby to take care of. My “buddy” was Catherine. She is fourteen years younger than me. Catherine and I did everything together. I fed her, bathed her, dressed her, cleaned up after her, did her laundry, and even occasionally disciplined her. I hated it when I had to spank her; it made me so angry with myself. Leaving for college was like leaving my baby behind. I still miss her desperately. It’s like watching someone else raise my baby.

In what ways were boys and girls in your family expected to dress or act differently from each other? Were there certain things it was appropriate for girls to do but not boys, and vice versa?

From as early as I can remember, I wore dresses and skirts every day. I was always jealous of my brother because he could fit in out in public better than I could. My dad required the boys to tuck in their shirts and comb their hair, but for us girls the list was much longer. I was never allowed to have makeup of any kind, despite the fact that I had acne. I could never have hair hanging near my face. It had to be pulled straight back and if it wasn’t, my dad threatened to cut off the loose pieces. I was never allowed to play contact sports like football, and never allowed to have male friends. My brother was always pretty shy, but his social interactions were not nearly as closely monitored as mine.

In what ways were boys and girls in your family raised differently vocationally (i.e., the boys pushed toward careers and the girls pushed toward homemaking)? How did this play out as you came of age (apprenticeship, college, staying home, etc.)?

I always knew that I was never going to go to college. My dad ridiculed higher education as a form of worldly indoctrination, unsuitable for emotional and vulnerable women. It was understood that we girls would stay at home until marriage to be mother’s helpers. My father served as a young man, so my brother assimilated to that goal. My father was very tough on my brother about his school work. He pushed him into higher and higher math and ridiculed him for lagging behind. There was zero emphasis put on education for me. My dad always said I only needed to learn enough math to teach my children. I always wanted to be a singer and perform in musicals, but my aspirations of musical theatre were strongly condemned. My voice would be used to serve God, and that was all.

Part 4: Homeschooling

Why and when did your parents originally decide to homeschool? Did their reasons for homeschooling change over time?

My dad had serious problems in school as a kid. He was very intelligent and found the structure of school to be oppressive and a hindrance. When my parents first heard about homeschooling they were very excited to have found an alternative. My dad wanted us to have academic freedom, and my mom wanted us to be safe from the world. Their goals converged over time.

Briefly describe your experience being homeschooled, including the amount of interaction you had with other homeschoolers or non-homeschoolers (socialization) and what sorts of textbooks or homeschool program your family used (academics).

My parents used a very eclectic curriculum. They used different systems for different subjects. One year, my mom tried out a series that covered all the main subjects in one massive book. That year we read a lot and made fun science projects. I learned a lot that year. But the more kids my mom had, the less involved she became in our school work. By the time I was 11, I was completely responsible for my own education. I would create my own schedules and do my very best to stick to it. Every week or so I would update my mom on how I was doing. It is very hard to be self-motivated when you are so young. Especially while being required to do so much house work. I never really completed any of my goals, and was constantly lagging behind. During my second year of high school we joined a homeschool co-op at our church that met once a week. I probably accomplished more academically in the two years we were involved with co-op than at any other time.

What do you see as the pros and cons of having been homeschooled? Do you feel that your homeschool experience prepared you well socially? Academically?

I am sure homeschooling could work very well if there were only a few children, and if the mother was very organized and had good support. This was not the case in my family. We had little to no structure, and until later, zero social interaction with other people. Homeschooling was a struggle for me, and it still plagues me today. I never made it past remedial arithmetic and am struggling to catch up in college. My reading and writing skills are excellent, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’ve always loved to read and write, so I never found it hard to learn. I think there are situations in which homeschooling could be good, but in my case it was not.

Do you perceive of your academic or social abilities differently today than you did when you were being homeschooled?

Back then I thought that I was about 100 times smarter than every other kid on the planet. My parents taught us that kids in public schools were being brainwashed, that they were dumb, and that their parents didn’t love them. I treated all “public-schoolers” with disdain and pity. It wasn’t until later that I realized how very wrong I was. Not only were other kids more socially comfortable than I was, they were better at math, and knew facts about history, anatomy, and science that I had never heard. It was shocking and I felt like I had been lied to.

Do you plan to homeschool/are you homeschooling your children? Why or why not? If you do plan to homeschool, in what ways will you/do you do it differently from your parents?

I do not plan to homeschool my potential future children for a number of reasons. First, I do not plan to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t leave the house for years of my life, and I know I would lose it if I ever went back to that. I have a lot to offer the world, and I do not plan to closet myself away in the home. Secondly, I want to be a mother to my children. I do not want to taint that relationship by also being their teacher, their supervisor, their principal, and their surrogate friend. I want my children to have a broader frame of reference than just my own. I want them to have other role models and examples besides myself. I also just don’t think I’m cut out to be a teacher.

Part 5: Purity

What were you taught about physical purity, emotional purity, and courtship and dating? How was sex education handled?

Sex. I don’t think I ever heard my mom say that word. She sat me down at around age 13 (right after I got my first period) and gave me a watered down version of “the birds and the bees.” She told me that women make eggs and men make sperm, and when those two things connect a baby is created. I knew nothing about the mechanics of sex or the anatomy of my own body until MUCH later when I was becoming sexually active and decided I needed to know what was going on.

I had a much longer conversation with my dad regarding sexuality around the same time. He sat me down and told me that men were perverse and sick-minded. “They will see a girl like you and immediately picture you without your clothes on. They only want ONE thing.” This, he explained, was the reason I must never do ANYTHING to tempt a man to lust after me. It was my responsibility to keep men pure since they could not control themselves. From that point on, I was terrified to make eye contact with any man. My dad watched me all the time, and would pull me aside to tell me when I was “laughing too loud,” or “standing inappropriately.” He policed everything I wore and often sent me back to my room to change if my shirt was “too tight” or showed too much collar bone.

It was my responsibility to keep men from lusting, and it was also my responsibility to keep my heart from wandering. My dad often lectured me on how wayward a woman’s emotions can be. He told me how dangerous it was to spend time with boys or have friends that were boys because I might accidently fall for them. Having crushes was not an option. I was to keep my heart pure and not give it away to anyone. We had every book ever written about courtship and emotional purity. I read all of them by the time I was 14.

Did you participate in a parent-guided courtship? If so, what was your experience? If not, why not?

It was always expected that I would participate in a parent guided courtship, but I was rebelling secretly by the time I was 17. When I escaped to a hyper conservative Christian college, I started dating and eventually met my husband. I didn’t tell my parents anything about him. When I eventually brought him home to meet the family, my dad absolutely flipped out. We continued to date at school without any supervision. I spent a lot of time on the phone with my parents, lying to reassure them that I was still obeying their wishes.

How do you feel about purity and courtship teachings today? Have you rejected some parts of it and kept other parts of it? How do you plan to handle these issues with your own children?

I think the idea of courtship is absurd and very dangerous. It is impossible to know what you really want or need in a relationship without ever having BEEN in a relationship. Having parents babysit your relationships sets you up for failure later in your marriage. As far as purity goes, I believe sex should be considered something intimate and special, and should be reserved for relationships of trust closeness. I plan to teach my children to love and respect themselves, and I want them to know that their bodies belong to them.

Do you feel that the purity and courtship teachings you were raised with still have lasting impact on your life today? If so, how?

The teachings I was raised with still affect me to this day. In my marriage, it was very hard for me to move past the expectations I had of my husband and myself. For example, I was taught that all men ever want is sex, so I expected that my husband would always initiate and pursue. When he turned out to be a normal person who liked to sleep or watch TV sometimes, I started to think there was something wrong with me. Another area where I was affected, was the fact that my husband had dated more people than I had before marriage. He had more experience than me, and I often felt jealous of his past. I treated him like damaged goods for quite some time, and that’s something I wish I could go back and change. Once I was able to shake of the brainwashing, I realized I am very happy he dated other women. He knew exactly what he needed in a partner, whereas I was just guessing.

Part 6: Questioning

How were you first exposed to “mainstream” American culture? What were your first impressions?

I think the first time I really experienced any culture shock was when I started taking Mixed Martial Arts classes. As I have mentioned on my blog, my parents stepped way outside their comfort zone and let me participate in MMA when I was 15, on the condition that I never trained with or near boys. 3 nights I week, I would go and spend 2 to 3 hours training with a group of about 25 men and 2 or 3 women. It was a huge shock for me. At first I was terrified, but the more I got to know everyone, the more I realized that “wordly people” were good and happy too. I developed a much more relaxed, confident, and expressive side of myself during those years in Martial Arts.

What first made you question the beliefs you were raised with? Was this initial questioning a frightening or liberating experience?

I always acted like I didn’t really believe what my parents said. When I met my husband I told him that they were a “little extreme.” But deep down, I always assumed that one day I would settle down and do exactly what they had done, because I still believed it was the only right way. I planned to have 10 kids (at least) and homeschool them, and spank them, and never let them date. About a month after our wedding, my husband and I moved back to the hyper-conservative Christian college where we had met. He was going to school full time, and I was working 2 jobs at over 70 hours a week. Living near people who used to be my friends, and watching everyone move on in their education except me was devastating for me. I started working nights so that my husband could take the car to school during the day. The stress was incredible. My dormant eating disorder flared up, and I lost about 30 pounds in a matter of months. It was during this time that I started having nightmares again. Nightmares about God, about devils, and about long-repressed memories. I remembered all the things I had tried to forget, and I suddenly started questioning why God, who claimed to care about me, had never made an appearance in my life other than to judge me or shame me. It was during all of that tumult that I started questioning everything. My upbringing, my plans, and even my belief in God.

What did you struggle with most when you were in the midst of questioning and/or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology? What was the hardest part?

I think the hardest part of walking away was all the fear. I was afraid that if I didn’t follow “the rules” I would ruin my marriage. I would destroy my future children’s lives. I would displease God. I would alienate my parents. It was scary. Especially when I started to walk away from God altogether. The fear of hell is a powerful motivator.

Among those you grew up around who were also raised with Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology, what proportion has remained in the movement and what proportion has left?

Most have stayed. Almost all of them actually. Except my sisters and I. My parents have also stepped away from most of their previous ideology, but not my friends. I have even seen my friend and cousin walk straight into the ideology right before my eyes. She has given up all her dreams to be with a boy who controls her and her relationships in the name of God.

Part 7: Relating to Family

How did your parents and siblings respond to you questioning/rejecting their beliefs? How did those you grew up with respond?

I was very private about the changes I was experiencing. I didn’t really discuss it with anyone except my older sister, who was on a similar journey at the same time. My parents frequently questioned me on when I was going to get pregnant and let my husband start working. I just deflected all the questions. My parents were progressively getting more and more “normal” throughout this time as well, so I was able to keep most of the focus on them. My parents don’t really know anything about my personal beliefs at all. My husband’s parents on the other hand ended up hearing that I was questioning my faith, and I have had nothing but harassment from them ever since.

What is your relationship with your parents and siblings like today? What is your relationship with those you grew up with who remained in the movement like?

As I said before, I don’t really talk to my parents at all. They never call me and they never visit. I don’t really go out of my way to call them either though. I feel safer having them at a distance. I don’t feel threatened or questioned or judged, so long as I keep them at arm’s length. I miss my little brothers and sisters very much, even though I see them at least once a month. As for people still in the movement, I generally don’t see them anymore. Sometimes I get angry facebook comments from them, but that’s about it. My best friend of many years actually told me she no longer wanted me in her life because my beliefs had changed so much from hers.

For those who are no longer Christian, are you “out” to your parents or siblings? If so, how did you do it and how did they respond?

Although I would not call myself a Christian at this point, I have not discussed it in any capacity with my parents. I’ve talked about it a few times with some of my older sisters, but I find that it is deeply personal to me, and very hard to talk about; even to my husband. This has been hard on both of us since he is still staunchly Christian.

Have any of your siblings (or perhaps even parents) left Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy ideology? How do you approach the relationships with siblings who have not?

My parents have almost completely left the QF/PF mindset. My 10, 13, and 15 year old siblings are all attending public schools.  My siblings all wear what they want, listen to what they want, date who they want, and have plans for college. My parents no longer spank my siblings either, which is a huge relief to me. They are still clinging to anti-feminist, anti-gay, anti-medicine, anti-birth control stuff they believed before. But as a whole, things are so different there that I find it hard to really grasp what has happened.

Part 8: Adjusting

Do you still feel as though you are “different” or that your past experiences emotionally isolate you from society?

I think my LACK of experiences is what isolates me from society. I do not have “highschool friends.” I have never crossed a stage in cap and gown. I didn’t watch “Thunder Cats” or “Full House” like my peers did. I didn’t play video games or eat Fruit by the Foot or listen to the Backstreet Boys. I have no ties to the culture of my childhood, and that often leaves me alone and left out. It seems silly that such unimportant things would make such a big difference, but it’s amazing how many times I have been unable to participate in a conversation with my peers because I have no idea what they are talking about.

Since most of the world doesn’t understand Quiverfull/Christian Patriarchy culture, do you feel this creates barriers in friendships or in romantic relationships? Do people have a hard time understanding you and your past?

My background, on top of being hard to explain, has made me emotionally disabled. I was trained to hide my emotions, and “guard my heart.” It has been a huge struggle for me to learn how to connect with people honestly. I used to lie a lot about my childhood. I would make up elaborate stories about sneaking out of the house and partying to try and relate to peers, and then I would turn around and tell fairly tales about how perfect my childhood had been and how incredible my parents were to try and appeal to a different crowd. It is very hard to explain your past to someone when you don’t understand it yourself. Don’t feel pressured to share things that you haven’t processed yet. Once you have a better grasp on the past, it’s easier to share the truth about your childhood in a way that makes sense to people, and without getting embarrassed or ashamed.

What do you think is the biggest way being raised in a family influenced by Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideas has influenced who you are today?

Without a doubt, the biggest thing my childhood affected was my self esteem. I was taught that I was worthless without God, without a gentle spirit, without a man, without a womb. I struggled constantly to be everything they wanted me to be, and I always failed. I had no respect for myself, and I lived in a constant state of shame. That shame has followed me into my adult life. I have incredibly high standards for myself in everything from school, to relationships, to body image. I constantly shame myself into achieving my goals, and when I am unable to achieve even one of them, I beat myself up about it. It’s painful and exhausting, but I don’t know any other way. I constantly feel like I will never be good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, old enough, religious enough, you name it. I am plagued by the idea that I will never be enough.

How did you perceive your childhood at the time compared to how do you see it now?

My childhood is a foggy blur to me. I have a few bright memories of good times, and few sharp memories of bad times. It’s my diary that tells the truest tale. I started journaling at around age 10, and going back over those pages reveals the truth. I was never really got to BE a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I was able to look back and realize that I had grown up much too soon.

Do you sometimes wish to go “back”?

Sometimes when my self-hatred gets the better of me, I find myself wondering if I should just go back to the way things were. Maybe if I just shut my mouth and covered my head obeyed God, things would get better and I wouldn’t have to hurt so often. Those feelings are few and far between now.

Part 9: Helping Others

What advice do you have for other young adults currently questioning or leaving Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull ideology?

Do not be afraid to ask questions of people outside your group. People within the PF/QF lifestyle will have a cookie cutter answer for every question, try branching out a little, you might be surprised at what you hear! If you’re just questioning the system, it can’t hurt to hear another perspective. If you’re leaving the system, you NEED to hear from other people. People make a huge effort to drag you back when you start to leave, hearing from sane people on the outside can make all the difference.

What was most helpful to you when you were questioning and/or leaving the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?

The most helpful thing for me was hearing other people’s stories. It is easy for people raised the way we were to ignore their own needs and emotions. I ignored all the abuse I received for years. It wasn’t until I read the stories of other men and women with similar experiences that I had the courage to face my wounds. Reading other stories, talking to other survivors, and finally voicing my own pain were the most healing things I experienced on my way out.

What helps you the most today?

What helps me the most is my sisters and my husband. They keep me grounded and remind me that I’m not crazy at the same time. Especially my oldest sister. She knows all about my thought patterns of self-defeat and she can tell when I’m slipping back into it. She’s always there to help me keep my chin up.

What suggestions do you have for those who might to help friends or relatives who grew up/are growing up in families influenced by the Christian Patriarchy/Quiverfull movement?

When I was 15, I knew a young woman through Martial Arts training. She was about 6 years older than me and an outspoken feminist. But she never said a word against the way my parents raised us. She just made encouraged me. She told me I was strong. She told me she believed in me, and that she could see me achieving amazing things some day. I never really paid too much attention to it, because I knew that anything beyond motherhood was not in my life plan. But all of her words and encouragement came back to me later when I started to walk away from the system. I knew she was someone I could turn to for encouragement. Today we are fast friends. If you know someone who is stuck in the PF/QF system, don’t try to tell them why they are wrong. Instead, tell them how important and valuable they are. Notice and affirm the things about them that don’t fit the box they are required to live in. Maybe one day they will turn to you with their questions. Maybe one day you can help them escape.

Sarah blogs at Who I Am Without You.
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