Crushing Daisies ~ Ways in Which Patriarchal Fundamentalism Harms Its Children ~ Part 1: Work, Work, Work!

Crushing Daisies ~ Ways in Which Patriarchal Fundamentalism Harms Its Children ~ Part 1: Work, Work, Work! May 31, 2011

by Daisy

Note: This post is part one of a series that originally appeared at my now defunct blog A Dragonfly Diary sometime in 2010. It has been updated slightly for publishing here but mostly left as it was. Because of this, this post reflects my attitude at the time of writing when I still felt a strong connection to Christianity. I’d also like to note that I’m not suggesting it is necessary to leave one’s husband or faith in order to find happiness. That’s just my story.


Work, work, work!

Recently I caught the tail-end of the US-made Wife Swap program. The father in one home was a real stick-in-the-mud and a big believer in strictly ‘training’ his children. How I cringed to watch a work ethic so like my ex-husband’s standing pasty-white, flabby and naked on reality TV.

This guy and his wife owned a restaurant and they – and their children – worked 7 days/week so that they could ‘have the freedom of lifestyle’ they wanted. Those poor kids had no free time and lived weighed down by inappropriate burdens their parents inadvertently laid on them. Of course the new mom was a ‘servant’ who didn’t allow her kids to do anything for themselves at all. Juicy conflict ensued as she insisted Dad sell the inn and give his kids their lives back. The new mom encouraged the kids to string worry beads on a thread to symbolically give back the adult worries they were carrying. The poor little mites listed things like ‘I don’t want to worry that the inn will go broke and we’ll all have to live on the streets’. It was all uncomfortably familiar. I’ve seen it in so many QF patriarchal homes.

Some years ago I was invited to take a session at a homeschool mothers’ group. The leader had asked me to speak about home organisation as, apparently someone thought I had got that together. I’m guessing the entirety of my self-congratulatory little speech was pretty cringeworthy but I blush particularly as recall myself quoting from some book I had read on the subject which smirked, ‘Don’t ever do anything for yourself that your kids can do for you.’ I actually read it aloud twice telling them I agreed with it so strongly. And I really did.

Although with just seven children, our family is not so large as many I know, having the first six kids in relatively quick succession does make for a pretty busy household. At various times I inflicted new and proven-to-succeed home management systems on my family in an effort to impart a smidgen of orderliness. I’ve been known to impose Managers of their Homes, the happy face system, Fly Lady and numerous other mercifully short-lived, chart-ticking nightmares on my long-suffering offspring. While those programs are not all bad, in our home they were mostly educational in just two respects: They taught me that (1) nobody likes me when I’m in Household Hitler Mode and (2) I can only tolerate making my kids miserable for a short time.

But even though I failed to stick with a consistent program, my kids used to do a huge amount of housework. That’s not entirely unfair as they did create a lot of mess. And it wasn’t all bad. They learned some useful skills and developed – as promised by the program publishers – the seeds of character. But looking back, they did way more than was appropriate. It’s cute (hmmm, maybe) that a 10-year-old is capable of cooking dinner now and then for a family of nine, but hardly fair.

I don’t think I loaded the kids up because I was lazy – I’m not. But I do think that I was rather too proud of my little army of worker ants. Obedient, productive kids are a bit of a status symbol in QF. And it’s not like giving up homeschooling so I’d have time to hang my own washing was an option. Having a husband whose only interest outside religion was work – his and ours – did not help. But if I think about it, I suspect my easing up on the kids work-wise coincided with my loosening ties with QF families and what I believed was their ever-present judgement.

And now that the kids are in school, I take a totally different view of housework. I feel that getting an education and having a childhood are the primary responsibilities of children. I do nine-tenths of the housework and this is how I think it should be. I have lowered my standards a lot. If I’m hung up about something needing to be spotless all the time, I clean it.

Discuss this post on the NLQ forum. Comments are also open below.

Jane Douglas (“Daisy”) was at one time a pastor’s wife, homeschool mum and advocate of QF patriarchal Christianity. She is now none of these things and is instead discovering the joys and challenges of living, loving and learning in a whole new way with her children in their home in Australia. In her spare time Jane works on her university studies and blogs at All the Way Out.

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  • O gosh, this is good to see! I was #3 of 7 – and yes – able to cook meals for a family of 9 at an early age. And like you said – it wasn’t all bad. Nevertheless, the work was never ending and though I did a lot – I also hid from work with a book in my room – always afraid I’d be discovered for being lazy. I always considered myself the lazy one in the family – but then I started working around people in the real world – and to this day, though I still have that “I’m not working hard-enough” mentality – I literally run circles around coworkers. Also – I was a 2nd mother to my younger siblings – again – not all bad – but it sure got wanting kids out of my system at an early age. Ultimately – I have to thank my mother for recognizing the importance of time to be a kid. She didn’t expect perfection in the household and wasn’t a slave-driver. It was just the nature of things. Huge, fairly poor families require lots of helping hands.
    I’m very glad to see you write about this! Thank you 🙂

  • What I love about Daisy’s post is her acknowledgement the QF lifestyle is just too darn much to saddle a child with. There’s no way that a mother can single-handedly manage the extraordinary (and often self-sabatoging) demands of the QF ideal family ~ so in choosing QF for herself, she is also deciding that her children will spend a large portion of their childhood supporting and enabling her “perfect life.”

    True ~ she is laying down her life for the sake of bringing many children into the world ~ but they come into this world already saddled with the burden of devoting their lives to her vision. When I was waking up to the true insanity of the QF lifestyle, one thing that became very clear to me: it’s one thing to choose martyrdom for oneself ~ but when we choose it for another, theirs is not really martydom ~ it’s human sacrifice.

    The dilemma for those of us who wake up and leave ~ although we’ve forsaken the ideals of the QF life, we still have to deal with the reality of lots of kids, loads of work, etc. It’s hard as hell to be in a position of needing slave labor, but suddenly being morally opposed to slavery.

  • Emily

    I’m not sure this post is entirely fair as, simply, I know A LOT of non-QF families who’s children are expected to do what you might consider long lists of chores. I ALSO know multiple QF families who’s children, in fact, do no more than clean their rooms and maybe rotate doing the evening dishes.

    It’s true a lot of QF families expect a lot of their children work-wise, but I think this has less to do with QF itself and more to do with different ideas of how to rear a child that are within the entirely of our culture. I’ve seen a number of ‘mommy-bloggers’ who have only one or two children, and those children are encouraged to cook dinner once in awhile also.

    At what point does a child learn to cook dinner? Once they have to do it themselves? that results in a lot of bad food for the first year, trust me! I am only now, after 2 years of marriage, getting the hang of this cooking thing, I wish I had been taught. My best friend, an only child, is expected to do a lot of chores including cook, she is a wonderful chef!

    I just think you might have missed the mark on this one, this isn’t a post against QF but a post against an entire child rearing philosophy that QF and non-QF families alike hold.

  • denelian

    I’m gonna argue with both you and Emily, at different sides.

    it doesn’t [as Emily says] Take Quiverfull, Patriarchy, or even Christianity to have this sort of thing.

    my mother remarried when i was 7-ish. i spend most of my 9th year in the hospital.
    somewhere in the middle of my 10th year, i started doing about half the houswork.
    by the time i was 13, i was doing ALL of it except cooking – and i had two sisters living with, one 3years younger, the other 6.
    neither of them had ANY real chores. they were supposed to keep their room clean, but somehow it was *MY* responsibility to MAKE them clean it [with zero AUTHORITY to back it] and so i ended up doing it.

    every day, i cleaned the whole house.
    we had a living rooom and a family room, both about 20′ by 20′. we had a dining room and a kitchen that were each about 15′ by 15′. there were 2 bath rooms. there were 2 hallways, one carpet, one linoleum. there was my bedroom and my sisters’ bedroom [i wasn’t responsible for CLEANING my mother and stepfather’s room – but i WAS responsible for removing dishes and laundry. and cleaning their bathroom. and they’d often lock the door, the ground me [my mother] or beat me [my stepfather] when i wasn’t ABLE to get the dishes or laundry. no, i don’t understand that one, either]

    before my stepfather died, when i was 16, he did do SOME of this – he did the laundry, mostly, even if it was my job to gather it, to fold/hang it. he did the cooking. about once a week he’d do something else.

    but from the time he died, in March right after i turned 16, until i was forced to go live with my dad that next October, this was my life:
    wake up at 5 am to shower, get dressed. at 5:30, wake up middle sister. at 6, wake up youngest. make breakfast and lunches for both. walk youngest to school [she had to be there at 7] and get self to school by 7:30.
    school 7:30-4:30. M/W/F work from 5-10; T/Th band/choir/dance until 8.
    go home. didn’t matter the TIME i got home. start a load of laundry. start in living room. pick everything up. dust. vacuum. move to family room and repeat. flip laundry. move to dining room, clear table. wash dishes. pray mother had actually not locked her door so i could get HER dishes and laundry. sweep and mop BOTH rooms. flip laundry [required to do 2 loads a day]. clean sink in laundry room. clean bathroom 1. if mom awake, clean bathroom 2.
    do homework.
    get 3 hours of sleep – if mom didn’t wake me up because there was a glass in her room or something.
    S/Su – do all of the above PLUS all the rest of the laundry, scrub walls, rake leaves [year round – in northern CA it *IS* year round] mow lawn if there was any grass. wash cars. clean my sisters’ room.

    i was also in all AP classes except for band, choir and dance [as those didn’t come as AP] i was expected to get a 4.0 MINIMUM [it was possible for me to get up to a 4.7, because of the AP classes] i was grounded for an entire quarter if i got an A-.

    i broke in that october.

    my mother *had* converted to Christianity when i was 9 – but she wasn’t religious. my stepfather was just insane. there was no religion to this, and there was no “teaching my child to be responsible”. it was, pure and simple, my middle sister was my mother’s baby, my youngest was my stepfather’s baby [she was 9 when he died – and didn’t KNOW HOW TO DRESS HERSELF. i had to dress her every freaking day until i left] and both of them were “too imature” to “be expected” to take care of anything – whereas my mother was afraid of me and hated me because i reminded her of my father, and my stepfather was insane [we won’t talk about the rest] – and my stepfather, as i said, was unable to work from about the time i was 10 – and my mother had just finished nursing school and was working 40 hours [nights!] M-Th and then worked the whole time, from friday morning until sunday night, taking care of an old couple in their home.
    then, when i was 13, she was hurt at work – and so now NEITHER of the adults in the home were working, and both claimed to be “unable” to do so much as clear the table.
    and if “i love my mother like i should”, i would shoulder this slavery on top of all other expectations and do it smiling! because that’s what you do when you love someone! i pointed out, ONCE, that they must NOT love me, since i couldn’t ignore ANY chores EVEN DURING FINALS. once. that was the time i was grounded for 4 months AND my step-father broke my nose.

    you know what i learned from all those chores that should have taught me “adult responsibility” and “maturity” and “life skills”? i learned that i wasn’t loveable, that i was required to do whatever, no matter how i hurt [and i have been in constant chronic pain since i was 9], that i wasn’t worth any effort on anyone’s part, that it didn’t matter how smart i was or how hard i worked, i would NEVER please anyone or be deserving of any love.
    i also learned that i was NEVER going to do ANY housework for anyone ever again. i wasn’t going to DO housework unless it was needed. i became a slob – because not only can i NOT do housework now, due to disability, but for the past 15 years, doing housework has been an active trigger for my PTSD.

    it’s one thing to wash the dishes once a week. but that’s NOT what we’re talking about.

    the difference between me and Quiverfull kids is mostly that my siblings did NOT help. but Quiverfull kids probably did the same amount of work i did!

  • Karen

    This is an interesting topic. I think we all need to have a looooonnnnggg discussion about housework as a society. Living a clean and orderly life and eating good food are all important, but the tasks involved in producing those things are tedious and grueling. Children, especially boys, need to know how to do those things and how much time and physical effort they involve.

  • y.feelings

    Yeah i am sorry, if you are doing ninetenths of the housework for children out of diapers, you are neglecting a vital part of childrearing and it’s not fair to the other people you are going to unleash your kids on. There’s a balance here, guys.