Crosspost: On Growing Up in a Small Quiver

Crosspost: On Growing Up in a Small Quiver

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on July 12, 2013.

Most of the homeschool graduate bloggers, such as Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism, and Heather of Becoming Worldy, come from super large homeschool families. They write about the trails of the “sister-mom,” the role of being the elder sister of a large family, and the trials of the quiverfull background. But there is another story that has yet to be told: some daughters (and sons) grow up in a legalistic Christian fundamental and patriarchy homes/churches/circles, but actually come from smaller families. And it’s pretty dang shameful.

Let me liberally quote Samantha of Defeating the Dragons on this very topic, who recently posted her story over at Becoming Worldly.

We had been attending an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Cult (IFB) for a few years. When we first began attending, the Quiverfull teachings weren’t readily apparent. Quiverfull ran underneath the surface of almost anything having to do with women, but not obviously. However, when I was thirteen years old, my cult-leader’s wife became pregnant with twins when she was already past 50 years old.

At that point, Quiverfull ideas jumped to the forefront. Other members joined, many with large families, and I remember families coming through our church (usually to perform music) that the cult-leader held up and praised. These honored families usually had at least a dozen children, and one family in particular had 20. Women in our church were first encouraged, then compelled, and then ordered by the “word of God” to have as many children as possible, from whence comes their salvation.

One day, when I was fourteen years old, I remember asking my mother if she had ever wanted more children than just me and my sister. Her response was an automatic “of course.” And she cried for the rest of the afternoon.

Because the leaders at my church-cult knew that I would not have younger siblings, many of the women took me under their wing. While I was not permitted to baby sit for money– only the cult leader’s daughters had that privilege –I was assigned to work in the nursery during services far more often than any other “young lady” at my church-cult. I was frequently tasked with managing the children in a variety of capacities and at different functions when others were given the freedom to play and roam. All of this was done in the name of “preparing me for motherhood.”

Everything I did around children was sharply monitored and harshly criticized. Other “young ladies” who had the experience of looking after younger siblings at home were not watched as closely, and were trusted to perform basic tasks like bottle feeding and diaper changing while I was not allowed to do any of those things on my own for months. It was humiliating that I couldn’t be trusted to change a diaper on my own, that I had to do every single task with the utmost perfection or risk a lecture.

I was mocked because I didn’t know how to operate a diaper genie the first time I tried to use one. The first time I burped a baby, the older nursery worked literally held my hand and patted the baby’s back with it. Every experience was degrading because I wasn’t lucky enough to have had younger siblings to look after. I was given the most onerous, tedious tasks. Even when I grew older and other “young ladies” were coming up underneath me, I was still considered their inferior because these young teenage girls were considered more “domestic” than I was. I was not lady like enough. I was not as interested in the feminine arts like everyone else was. I was considered an unfortunate aberration.

I related to this story so much because nearly everyone I knew as a kid came from super-large families, yet we were always the outsider in many ways just for having a small number of kids. Most people were not intentionally insensitive to it, but let me tell you, some people are freakin’ rude to homeschoolers with small families. One 29-year-old mother (I’ll call Mrs. Jones) with 8 kids approached me when I was in high school and said, “I am closer to your age than your mother. I had my first child at 19. Please don’t go to college and waste those years.” Mrs. Jones told me this without my mother around, because my parents had too few of kids and she needed to straighten me out.

Mrs. Jones prided herself to my parents. Once she came over with all her kids and said, “Everyone thinks we are nuts for having another baby. You could never relate to the ways people shame us,” and then she would criticize those who “take control” over their fertility and limit God’s “blessings.”  “But they just don’t get the blessing we do,” she would say, in front of my mom.

Like Samantha’s mom, I had to watch my mom cry about this. God didn’t bless us quite enough. I internalized those tears. I was the powerless bystander, but this I knew: God had not blessed us as much.

I was also told – regularly as a little girl (as in eight years old, little) – that I could not relate to a husband one day because I did not have a brother at that time. “When will you get a brother?” people would ask. I was haunted by this for years. And then when I had tween (and later teen) foster kids in SE Asia, I was again told, “You can’t understand boys. You can’t take care of boys. You have to grow up with a lot of brothers to raise boys,” as if the male species is an alien, as if their emotions and needs were not the same human that I am, as if I was too stupid to learn from them. The difference was waffles and spagetti noodles on steroids.

Adults were not the only cruel ones. Some kids of large families made fun of me too, especially, as Samantha writes, on how well they were versed in being a “mom.” Ironically my dad still counted us in the car, and we always had extra kids over. I was a freak kid torn in the middle. I had asuuuuuuuuper-long chore list, and had to babysit almost every day, but that never accounted for anything. My one friend Grace of a large family was always “better” than me, and she never let up on it.

In fact, in college (yes, Grace and I ended up in the same university) Grace got snappy and readily corrected one of my classmates about how many kids were “really” in my family. Grace was talking to an only child who was raised by her grandparents (who had died on her), and who, by extention, still thought I came from a big family. It’s all relative, orjust stupid talk. No one in college cared when we talked and missed our siblings – large families were now nothing “cool.” The little trend was out, and nobody cared or related to any struggles of fundamentalism, and I had no one to vent at during the night when I struggled with culture shock, and stared at my window wondering if their was a path to Narnia.

Religious quiverfull teachings hurt everyone. They tire the mothers, put too much responsibility on the daughters, and shame those who are barren, cannot afford, or otherwise don’t choose to have a bunch of kids. The  teaching makes kids a “blessings,” into presents – the more you have, the more blessed you are – and by implication, the less you have, the less blessed you are.  It leaves all daughters with an enormous babysitting and chore responsibilities in the name of “preparing” for motherhood, and makes motherhood into something “divine.And it makes children the property of their parents; the parent’s “blessing,” the parent’s “presents.” This property mentality is exactly the mentality that has caused HSLDA to defend the parents’ rights to homeschool under any and all circumstances, even when the children are abused.

I am now out of fundamentalism, but everytime I read stories like Samantha’s, it call comes back up.

Anyone else experienced or seen any of these dynamics in fundamental circles?

4 thoughts on “Crosspost: On Growing Up in a Small Quiver

  1. firstoftwelve July 15, 2013 / 12:45 pm

    My parents had 12 kids. But they weren’t neccessarily “trying” to have a dozen, but various birth control methods didn’t work ,and they realized God really did seem to want them to have this many kids. Because of their large family they were automatically assumed to be “quiverfull”. The one thing I remember my mom being so frustrated over was the QF crowd talking sooo much about allowing God to be in control over size of the family, but that somehow He wouldn’t control that size to be small. Really trusting God w/ the size of your family should mean, not TRYING to have a bunch of kids either. But just letting things happen as they may. For mom and dad, despite birth control they got pregnant. For others, no matter what they try, they don’t have any kids. It’s so sad and aweful that people would feel shamed and less loved by God because of the size of family when there is no scripture that dictates you shall have x-number of kids…..:( I hate the people are so judgemental and operate by so many abitrary rules expectations rather than true Grace and Love for others.


  2. Fia July 16, 2013 / 11:02 am

    My family isn’t quiverfull but Catholics who have a lot of the same ideas, and I still remember my mom crying over a miscarriage. She was only able to have two biological children, and my youngest sister is adopted. At least three adoptions have fallen through since, including one which fell through after we’d already traveled to China and had the little girl staying with us for several days. She is trying to convince my dad to sign adoption papers now to try again in another country. She feels a lot of shame about not having more kids to raise for Christ.


    • nickducote July 16, 2013 / 1:41 pm

      This is so sad. I too come from a small family, just four of us. And my parents turned radical Quiverfull when I (third born) was already like 10 (my sisters are much older). My mom went through a long time of feeling guilty about somehow failing in her child-bearing years. It was strange how that desire literally overtook her life. To add some relevance, both my parents were raised Catholic.

      Large families were always shown off a any sort of function a just the epitome of proper, holy Christian life.


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