Steadfast Daughters in a Quivering World ~ Part 3: Perception

Steadfast Daughters in a Quivering World ~ Part 3: Perception December 9, 2010

[Note: this series is dedicated to Quivering Daughters by the former-Quiverfull moms at No Longer Quivering.]
by Vyckie

So what is “abuse” and who gets to define it? Steadfast Daughters devotes a considerable amount of time and mental energy to this question. The trouble with making definitions central to the discussion is this: there’s no way to do it without being condescending, petty and dismissive of Quivering Daughters who are reporting their highly personal, and necessarily highly subjective experiences of emotional and spiritual abuse.

There is no objective way of defining and quantifying “abuse” ~ no way. Sorry. Try it if you must ~ but you will lose.

Too many factors affect our perception and judgment. We all perceive the same experiences differently ~ it can’t be helped since no two people are all alike. It is even possible for the same individual to perceive the exact same experience differently depending on mood, health, energy-level, etc. One day the dish water is too hot and scalds our hands ~ next day, same temperature ~ but we’re freezing and this time it feels good. We have different levels of pain tolerance, our focus and ideals change making once appreciated behavior suddenly intolerable, memories fade, memories emerge … there’s really no way to predict ~ and there is no way to control.

Quiverfull moms want their daughters to feel secure ~ unaware, perhaps, that to the daughters, “security” is associated with prisons and confinement. Daddy wants to protect his girls ~ his daughters feel controlled and possessed. QF parents enforce standards of modesty ~ thinking this will affirm their daughters’ worth and instill a sense of value and self-respect ~ instead, their daughters feel like freaks and just want to be normal ~ rather than feeling modest, they feel that they are drawing unwanted attention to themselves because they cannot blend in with a crowd.

Consider too, that the majority of first-generation Quiverfull Believers were saved out of horrific backgrounds ~ their childhood was often SO outrageously dysfunctional that as children they longed for and would have been exceedingly grateful for the sort of lifestye which they’re providing for their own families.  Let me explain.

Compared to the creepy “step-dads” who raised me, Warren was a total sweetheart.  He didn’t drink or use drugs, he didn’t gamble away our grocery and rent money, he didn’t cheat on me, never flew into jealous rages, never drug me across the floor by my hair or kicked me in the ribs with cowboy boots as I’d seen Mom’s boyfriends do to her.  True, he yelled A LOT ~ and he was exceedingly nit-picky ~ yes, he made us all crazy with his endless lectures ~ and he micro-managed all of our lives right down to our thoughts and intentions.  In fact, in most ways, he acted as though he was God to us ~ every aspect of our lives revolved around him ~ or else!  But, hey ~ at least he wasn’t wanted for murder like Mom’s old boyfriend, Spider!  And to make it all the more complicated, none of us doubted that Warren loved us.

My children did not grow up with the same chaos that I did ~ they were raised in a loving, Christian home.  They did not have my tiny measuring stick by which all that was necessary to pass muster was that a man not try to kill or rape his wife and children.  So they did not feel grateful that Dad was not in prison or dead from a drug overdose ~ they only felt oppressed and tyrannized based on THEIR experience.  Their natural boundaries and self-protective mechanisms had not been obliterated through years and years of extreme abuse ~ which means they remained sensitized to their father’s inappropriate behavior which ~ though mild by comparison to much of what my mother, my sister, and I were subjected to ~ was nevertheless very real and seriously damaging abuse.

Here’s another thing ~ none of the neglect and abuse which I dealt with as a child was tied up with my spiritual well-being.  I was not raised in a Christian home ~ and although I did know that God wanted me to honor my parents ~ I never felt that they represented God to me or that disobedience and defiance of parental authority was equal to rebellion against God.  When those who are supposed to be nurturing and loving hurt you ~ that alone is devastating enough ~ but when you mix in God and concern for your eternal soul ~ it’s really too much for any child to process.  There are no words to describe the pain and confusion.

The bottom line for Quiverfull moms: if your daughter feels and believes that she has been misused, abused, or neglected ~ IT’S A PROBLEM.

When Quivering Daughters express hurt, depression, self-loathing ~ when they hate themselves and harm themselves and want to kill themselves ~ it’s not the time to split hairs over definitions, it’s not the time to say, “What about me? ~ my childhood was so much worse!” ~ it’s not the time to explain how you are doing everything you do for all the right reasons ~ and it’s not the time to play the “nobody’s perfect” or “don’t let yourself become bitter” cards.

When our daughters tell us they’re hurting ~ we need to listen to their complaints; keeping in mind that the primary reason for living the Quiverfull lifestyle is to spare our children the trouble and turmoil of an abusive family life. We hated the chaos of our own abusive homes ~ it made us feel horrible and we vowed not to put our own children through that kind of misery. If they’re telling us they feel horrible too ~ it’s time to stop and reconsider if what we’re doing truly is the means of achieving our goal. The ideals we’re counting on to assure our daughters’ well-being must never become more important than our daughters’ actual well-being.

All this is not to say that Quivering Daughters’ charges of abuse are merely a matter of perspective ~ only to say that THEY ARE THE ONES who get to determine whether they have been abused. In part 4, we, the ex-QF moms of NLQ, will share specific examples of how we hurt and harmed our children because of the abusive QF/P teachings which we believed and practiced on our children.

We have already discussed Steadfast Daughters on the NLQ forum here ~ comments for this post are open below.

This series is written by Vyckie Garrison with the help of many ex-QF moms on behalf of Quivering Daughters.

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  • bananacat

    Wow, this was a really fantastic and insightful post. My own father was psychologically abusive, and it has been hard for my family to accept that because he never hit any of us. It took my mom years to leave because she didn’t think it was “real” abuse, and from the outside everyone thought he was a great husband and father (instead, he’s a great actor). My mom attempted suicide, so I can relate to your experiences. And whether the abuser is physically hurting the victim, or if he is making her hurt herself, the end result is still the same.

  • starlamelissa

    Vyckie! This hit so close to home for me. I have flirted with the QF movement for years, and I cant (couldnt) really say why.

    I had a very hard upbringing, and I was lonely, hurt, and struggling through most of my childhood and teen years.

    The idea of having a warm house that smells like fresh baked cookies, filled with happy children playing and being best friends, outside of the bullying and peer pressure of school sounds perfectly lovely. Nursing one while I read to the others, having my children grow up in safety, security, and unconditional love. Ah, that sounds so nice.

    Except, my husband has a severe case of PTSD, and requires our home to be as low-stress as possible. And I have a GED with a homeschool education, and I dont think I could teach effectively with my current level of schooling. And we are low income, so stretching the food budget/utility budget/to fit an army of children would be so taxing on us. Oh, and there is the fact that the one child I do have was delivered via c-section, and my doctor has urged me to take 2 years between each pregnancy to heal completely, and if I have another c-section, to limit my family size for medical reasons.

    Oh yeah, and there is also the problem in that I need outside accomplishments other than “mother”. I feel happier when I have time to learn, to read, to do new things. I need a break every so often from my (one!) child. I am actually starting college this year at our local community college extension campus. I am so thrilled to learn some new things. And to be able to have a 3 hour break from being a SAHM 2x a week. So that doesnt quite fit the quiverfull dream either.

    It is such a beautiful vision, but, my family is fragile, human, and prone to error. I love our three person tribe (daddy, mommy, and little toddler) and I only want the best for my child. So with a heavy heart, I have say, quiverfull just wont work over here, not for us.

  • Pippa

    Vyckie, your post is so insightful! I’m not Quiverful, but my father deeply resents the fact that only one of his children has had a child. He grew up with a physically and emotionally abusive father, so by his standards our childhood was idyllic – very little physical abuse, quite a bit of unintentional emotional abuse, and he generally didn’t hit our mother in front of us, and indeed tried not to hit her at all. Nevertheless, while it was far from the only reason those of us who did not have children, did not have children, a big concern with all of his children is whether we would repeat the pattern of abuse.

    So I’ve always had doubts of myself, *am I such a wimp that not being beaten isn’t good enough for me? I KNOW his childhood was objectively worse than mine!* But then he was determined to break the pattern, and all he managed to do was not score it so deeply into the clay. The pattern is still etched on us, albeit more lightly.

    I’m still not going to win an argument with him about why we don’t have children, but you’re post has made me feel a bit better about being true to myself and my needs, without worrying about why I am so much more sensitive than he was.

  • I recognize that my parents had so many abuses in their childhood’s that I’ve never experienced. However, they refuse to deal with the pain from their experiences. They “forgave and forgot” and never healed, instead they continued to act in reaction from their own experiences.

    I’m in the middle of writing on this topic, but think of it this way. A criminal in the justice system can’t go into court and say “I only killed one person, I don’t even know why I was arrested, at least I’m not a serial killer or anything.” Yes, be grateful that you aren’t a serial killer, but deal with your own shit and face the consequences! No Judge would rule that someone was not a murderer just because he used a gun and not an ax.

    We shouldn’t pretend that abuses haven’t happened in our own lives just because it “wasn’t as bad as it could have been.” A huge part of healing is actually recognizing the wrongdoing and hence the limitations of the people that harmed us.

  • shadowspring

    I don’t know Bessie at all, nor do I know Vyckie IRL, but I have been reading here a long time.

    Vyckie left the QF movement out of concern for Angel. She divorced Warren, changed her faith, moved out on her own, all of it, in response to Angel’s depression. This blog would not even be here if Vyckie did not take her daughter Angel’s experiences very seriously.

  • You are so right, banacat ~ and it is the end result, the “fruit” of following the teachings, by which we can recognize their inherent abusiveness. Thanks for sharing. All the best to you.

  • Young Mom ~ 🙂

    You wrote:
    A huge part of healing is actually recognizing the wrongdoing and hence the limitations of the people that harmed us.

    This is so true! When we “forgive and forget” too soon, it circumvents the process of healing. We will talk more about this in future installments of this series.

    Take care,


  • Wendy

    Vyckie, this is a lovely series, and I think this is some of your best writing. Thanks.

  • Mom of One

    Vyckie this piece stunned me, reminded me of being a teen girl who was looking for that “ideal” future that was totally opposite to my childhood. There was alcoholism, verbal abuse, terror, hunger and fear of something grave nearly every single day. I was desperate for comfort, predicability, sanity, parents acting like parents, cleanliness, warmth. I rode the Sunday school bus to the Baptist Church, knowing one day I’d marry a clean-cut, sober boy who would take care of me. (My own talent for writing would be used later, if it meshed with our Waltonish, Christian lifestyle).

    How much of me would I shelve? I kept journals, actually, and weighed what parts of my personality, which likes and habits I’d have to abandon in order to achieve “paradise.” This was the 70’s when there was no” Quiverfull movement” and the only folks with huge families were Catholics, Mormons, or undereducated poor people like my parents. But it would be different with me. I’d learn to love the domestic things I hated: sewing, baking bread, canning produce. I’d accept without question every bit of scripture and constraint. I’d be pliable as a dough ball.

    Far removed from other teens (they dated, partied, joined clubs, had jobs) I crawled way up inside myself and planned what Christian names I’d give my 8 kids. My only social life was the Baptist youth group where we did silly activities and saw most things as sin. I seemed more than anything we were a bunch of teen misfits of the holy kind–lots of acne and white socks with loafers and dowdy eyeglasses. But these kids were SAFE.

    The non-Christian kids seemed to harbor dark thoughts (or darkish thoughts) and wrote poetry that spoke to me. Dangerous. I started writing down my truths and what next? Beer? Pot? Lust? Depression hovered near like a hungry stray dog. If I gave in to my desire to read Plath or Hesse, let my mind wander to sex or careers or anything grown-up I’d be sucked into the vortex of un-Godly living. I’d get weighted by depression. I’d be a flopping around in the darkness that my family lived in.

    Although I turned down a scholarship to a prestigious women’s college and fled instead to a more Christ-oriented university (lord I was young!) I discovered, gradually, from age 17 to age 22 that I was not the wholly domestic sort, that I wanted an equal partnership IF I decided to marry and that maybe I might enjoy one child. One day.

    So, yep, I was drawn to the quiverfull type lifestyle before it had a name because it was going to be my port in the storm. A harbor for a straight kid who was starving for structure. A safe place. SAFE. No place more dangerous for a woman with an artist’s heart. A tomb, for me. But I understand why so many young people look to quiverfull, fundamentalism, patriarchy when they suffer the sorts of childhood traumas like mine–too awful to name.

    They just want a warm place to sit down.

  • starlamelissa

    Mom of one, I just want to say I really feel what you are saying. A warm place to sit down, indeed.

  • For the sake of my daughters’ privacy and to avoid embarrassing those whom I love dearly ~ we will not be discussing our very private, painful and deeply personal family turmoil on this public website. Personal attacks and comments which could potentially hurt my children will be deleted.

  • Charis

    QUOTE Vyckie: “Consider too, that the majority of first-generation Quiverfull Believers were saved out of horrific backgrounds ~ their childhood was often SO outrageously dysfunctional that as children they longed for and would have been exceedingly grateful for the sort of lifestye which they’re providing for their own families.” ENDQUOTE

    Odd how its such a common thread. . .

  • When I realized that my childhood had been abusive (through counseling in my 40’s- covert incest by my father and molestation by my *********) I immediately saw how I was trying to build high walls around my beautiful daughters to protect them! If only they never saw bad movies; if only they always covered up, maybe they would not be violated like I was? When I explained to them what had happened to me and apologized for my overprotective reaction of being the modesty and movie gestapo, the ice melted, especially with the then 15 yo.

    Thankfully, I was able to make amends when the oldest of my 8 were all still teens and they were amazingly understanding and forgiving! And the first 4 are launched as I think grown “arrows” should be 🙂

  • susan

    What a great post, Vyckie! You are absolutely right that relationships are not about creating neat little categories and defining what constitutes abuse and what doesn’t. It makes so much more sense to just listen to our children, try to see things from their perspective, and do our very best to meet their needs.

    I still recall how when my older dd was five and my younger dd was a few months old, I stopped and listened to dd1 and heard her saying that she felt like I was treating her like my slave. And I realized that I had indeed been making all kinds of demands that she drop whatever she was doing and run and fetch things for me, while I sat holding the baby.

    Not that I sat all day, but I’d “finally” finish whatever household tasks I needed to do and sit or lie down to nurse, and then realize I didn’t have a clean diaper or wipes or what-have-you close by, and call for dd1 to bring it.

    Around this time I read and article on the site, where the author challenged another mother’s insistence that she “needed” her older child to help her in certain ways because she had a new baby. I realized that, hey, when dd1 was a baby and it was just the two of us, I managed to “fetch” whatever things I needed for myself even though I had a baby in arms. If I could do so much for myself back then, why not now?

    So I made a new resolution to be my own “errand girl,” and also to show more willingness to serve my older dd in the ways that I’d been expecting her to serve me. After all, servanthood and mutual submission work both ways. If it’s okay for me to sometimes tell my children, “I’m really tired so if you want such-and-such you’ll need to make/get it yourself” (and it IS okay), then it’s also okay for them to sometimes say the same thing to me.

    I still don’t honestly know if it fit the guidelines of abusive behavior for me to be always asking dd1 to run and fetch for me — all that matters is that she was not happy in this role. She IS happy now that we have an honest relationship where we sometimes do stuff for each other and sometimes say, “I’m sorry but I’m really in the middle of something right now.”

  • Sargassosea

    This post is brilliant in its honesty and simplicity. Thanks Vyckie.

  • Sea ~ !!! So good to hear from you! We miss you 🙂 You’re so fabulous!

  • Merri

    Abuse never feels safe. Abuse requires secrets. Abuse leads to separation- from people who care, or might care, who might show pity or take action. Abuse requires maintaining status quo. Abuse requires stagnation- no room for growth, change or exploration. Finally, abuse requires an imbalance of power. Couldn’t think of an s-word to convery that, but it’s too true to omit.

    Just some thoughts, some of us do well with a checklist. The only thing worse than being in an abusive situation for a time is staying in one until it is too late. There is nothing worse than too late.

  • Merri

    I forgot a huge one- abuse leaves scars. I think most everyone here knows that.

  • Rebecca

    Hate to say it, but if I were the ex-QF daughter reading this, I’d be pretty damned pissed off to be patted on the head and told, “Oh, honey. If you think it was abusive, then I’m sure it was. Even if I don’t really think it was anything that bad.”

  • Rebecca ~ ?? Have you read parts 4 & 5?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Not so odd.

    Just as Communism begat Objectivism, an extremely destructive victimization often causes a reaction just as intense (and destructive) but flipped one-eighty in the opposite direction.

    “The Devil sends sins in matched opposing pairs, so that in fleeing one we embrace the other.” — either C.S.Lewis or G.K.Chesterton

    “When a drunk falls off his donkey and climbs back on, often as not he’ll fall right off on the other side.” — attributed to Martin Luther