Voices of Sister-Moms: Part One, Introduction

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 5.21.49 PM

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Heather Doney’s guest series on her blog, Becoming Worldly. Part One was originally published  with the title “Quiverfull Sorority of Survivors (QFSOS) & Voices of ‘Sister-Moms'” on June 24, 2013. This is a slightly modified version of the original post. If you have a Quiverfull “sister-Mom” story you would like to share, email Heather at becomingworldly (at) gmail (dot) com.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney | Part Two: DoaHF’s Story | Part Three: Maia’s Story | Part Four: Electra’s Story | Part Five: Samantha Field’s Story | Part Six: Mary’s Story

*****

Part One: Introduction by Heather Doney

I hosted a guest blog series about the experiences of “sister-Moms” in Quiverfull families.

This was actually the first time I’ve had people do guest posts on Becoming Worldly. I was excited about it  — and really couldn’t think of a better topic to start with!

Before beginning with the first guest post, an account by a young woman who’s going by “DoaHF,” I figured a brief intro about the kinds of issues young women and girls who were raised in these sorts of environments often face would be appropriate. This intro is a generalization. But based on my experiences, research, reading blogs, and conversations with many other Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy daughters, the following troubling patterns and issues for girls emerge:

  • Being a “parental child” and having an adult level of responsibility within the home starting at a young age.
  • Inappropriate and enmeshed relationships with parents, particularly fathers, encouraged by daughter-to-father purity pledges, purity balls, and purity rings and teachings saying that daughters are under their father’s “spiritual covering,” much like a junior wife of sorts, until (and if) they receive permission to marry through a parent-guided or arranged process.
  • Lack of age-appropriate financial, social, emotional, physical, or educational independence during formative years (and often into adulthood).
  • Social isolation and indoctrination as part of a controlled, restricted, and separatist “us v. the ungodly world” perspective.

In May I briefly spoke out about my personal experiences as part of a BBC World Radio Heart & Soul documentary on the Quiverfull movement. The “A Womb Is A Weapon” radio piece is half an hour long, with some adorable British accents and one distinctive New Zealand one. I speak starting at minute 11, and Nancy Campbell totally sounds like a racist Disney villain. Yep…not even kidding!

Within this sort of isolated, dogmatic, and restricted environment where the parents are consumed by what they see as duty to “the Father,” the eldest daughters of Quiverfull families are enlisted as junior mothers to their own siblings. While Quiverfull proponents such as Nancy Campbell often talk about how helpful this system is to mothers of large families and focus on how much these daughters are learning about childcare, the drawbacks of the lifestyle to the daughters doing this constant care are numerous. They are only recently coming to light because, as these daughters ourselves, we speaking are out about them.

That is the focus of this “Voices of Sister-Moms” guest post series.

Note: The rest of these issues apply to daughters of Christian patriarchy as well as Quiverfull daughters. While many in Christian patriarchy families did not have to care for numerous siblings, most still had the rest of the accompanying teachings, rules, and expectations.

The “Dad in charge of everything, particularly guarding his daughter from the interest of young men” is a standard thing in Christian patriarchy (with a watered-down and often more symbolic version of this occurring in mainstream society). But it can become much more extreme when a daughter is homeschooled. Then she literally can be hidden away from all outside men and boys, encouraged to look to Daddy as the manliest of manly examples in her life, and I don’t think I have to get into how very wrong this can sometimes go.

Daughters who do eventually disobey or disagree with their fathers (often by choosing higher education without approval or planning to marry someone he disapproves of) describe a subsequent shunning that takes place by dear old Dad as being “like a bad breakup.”

This, folks, can be referred to by the icky name for what it actually is — emotional incest.

Some young women report not being allowed to work outside the home in their teens and early 20′s, others report being able to do so under heavy monitoring and sometimes then only at certain types of workplaces seen as appropriately “feminine” or gender-segregated enough, and others report being able to only work in or start home-based businesses or do tutoring and childcare. Some report engaging in long hours of unpaid labor for family businesses, others being forced to turn over their earnings to their parents, and others having what they are allowed to spend their savings on tightly controlled by their parents.

Either way, becoming physically and financially independent is often not allowed.

A number of Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy daughters say that they were not permitted to get their diploma, a GED, or their drivers license. Some even did not have social security numbers issued to them due to being the product of an unreported home birth.  Their parents chose to use withholding these things as a way to control them. Some have even said that they were told it would be their future husband’s choice as to whether they eventually got these things, or were simply told that they would not need them for a life of housewifery and motherhood.

For many, a college education is intentionally set out of reach, whether being described as an unbecoming or immoral goal for daughters.

The young woman is repeatedly told she is not intelligent enough or doesn’t have the right aptitudes to obtain higher education. Or her parents might refuse to sign FAFSA paperwork enabling her to be eligible for student financial aid.

Many girls report only being able to socialize with siblings or the daughters of likeminded families, and then only under supervision, steeped in a strong “informant culture” inculcated into the children that generally curtails secret-telling. In addition to often being kept away from peers, most girls report being encouraged or required to wear “modest” dresses that are several sizes too big or more appropriate for someone several years younger or a great deal older, having their Internet and phone conversations closely monitored, and having friendships with boys disallowed or ended for superficial reasons.

Another thing often mentioned by young women who grew up in Quiverfull and Christian patriarchy homes is that very coercive and often both emotionally and physically abusive “discipline methods” were regularly used on them to keep them toeing the parental line. “Spankings” that consist of multiple hard hits with a belt, a piece of plumbing line, or a wooden stick or utensil (sometimes occurring well into their teenage years), “taking of privileges” that may include meals or basic necessities, and being put “on restriction” by being given punishing chores and/or temporarily shunned and shamed by the family for any form of questioning or disobeying.

Often there are threats of having even minimal contact with the outside world removed and replaced with punishments if a girl gives so much as a hint of showing disagreement or displeasure towards her parents, which is referred to as “having a bad attitude.”

As such, smiling and “being joyful” are often the only moods permitted for young women like us and the struggles with depression, guilt, self-harm, and self-esteem that might be expected in such an emotionally repressive environment occur with regularity. In addition, and this is often reported to be one of the most painful of the control techniques, young women raised in Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy families often are told that they are risking their very souls, God’s wrath, and the entrance of demonic and satanic forces into their lives if they do not “honor their mother and father” by cheerfully complying with every parental request. Some parents will also tell their children that the bible permits and may even require rebellious offspring to be put to death.

For most young women who do choose to leave (or are forced to leave) the Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy way of life, the outside world can be quite overwhelming and scary in many ways and the transition difficult on many levels. Some initially find shelter in marriage and family, others though university attendance, others through paid employment, and still others through the help of extended family and friends.

A few even manage to find their way to places like Meadowhaven for cult deprogramming.

As we come of age and grow in our understanding of what happened to us and gather to tell our stories, there is a sense of comfort, healing, and solidarity in finally being able to compare and share our experiences, to know that we are not broken, we did not “imagine things,” and we are not alone. Together we can face the truth and recognize (if not come to an in-depth understanding of something seemingly so unfathomable) that the indoctrination that took place in our formative years was indeed done by the same people who brought us into this world and our parents were likely indoctrinated themselves.

While growing up in this lifestyle may seem pretty extreme or foreign to someone looking at it from the outside (or even to someone like me who grew up in it but didn’t really see it through this sort of framework until many years later) there is something important to keep in mind. First, it was normal for us because it was what we knew. Also, although it certainly can bring hardship and pain — after all we never asked or chose to be raised in such an environment — there are many strong, smart, dedicated, and likable young women who have escaped it and “pass for normal” in our society today.

I have so much respect for many of the ones I’ve had the honor of meeting and getting to know and look forward to being introduced to more.

When you choose to move on despite the fear, the hardships, the shouted threats by “leaders” and patriarchs, even while knowing you may face a loss of connection with your own family, you do it because something inside you says you have to be free to live, not because you want to leave your loved ones behind. Despite the unnecessary hardships that many of us have had to overcome (and are still overcoming), today we know that we have both the right and the ability to let ourselves out of the cage that this harsh and harmful lifestyle is.

As more of us come of age, more will continue to do so.

We hope to make it easier for them.

The Quiverfull/Christian patriarchy movement is still young. It’s mostly the “big sisters” who are speaking out right now.

But as time goes on our little sisters will likely join us.

So while these sorts of formative experiences do leave scars, today those of us who are out can choose what directions we would like our lives to go. We can take back these stolen parts of our lives. And as we let others know what happened and how we felt about it, we can find assurance in the knowledge that we are discovering and shedding light on a dark side of human nature. We are also highlighting the resilience of the human spirit and the power of community.

We might have each felt hopelessly alone and silenced while we went through this stuff before, as children, teens, and young women. But we are not alone today.

We now have the words and confidence to share what happened to us, what is still happening to others, and the confidence to ask you to understand and help us do something about it.

*****

To be continued.

Homeschool Movement and Abuse, An Introduction

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on October 4, 2012.

The lawsuit from my former abusive church has come and gone and I have been doing some deep thinking — trying to figure out what brought us to that particular church — what made that church appealing to us? I had to acknowledge that this church, like other prior churches, was strongly pro-homeschooling. In fact, if you didn’t homeschool, you may not feel very comfortable there. So, it made me go back further, all the way back to the very beginning — before we started homeschooling and were investigating. What I have discovered is alarming:  patriarchal teachings that are often times abusive, parenting styles that are often abusive, and ideas completely outside of mainstream Christianity are going on in the homeschool movement.

My husband and I have been married 27 years and have 7 children from 25 yrs down to our 6-yr old “caboose”.  We have always homeschooled.  We have always believed that this was the best choice for our family.  We have been to many churches due to my husband’s military service and job changes.  Many people have influenced us in our homeschooling, parenting, marriage, and our Christian life journey and right now, I am angry.   I am angry about what I have discovered looking over our marriage, looking at our parenting styles over the years, looking at decisions we have made, looking at people who influenced us — people we trusted to be godly, like-minded and who wanted the best for their children and families.

If you have not been connected with the homeschool movement and click on some of these links, you might say:  ”Um, yea, you drank the Kool-Aid long ago.”  If you’ve been in the homeschool movement, you will probably be nodding along and can reminisce with me. I will take you on a wild journey going back through what I have experienced or seen in the past couple decades as a homeschooling mom.  Here is a sampling, and not in any order, of the kinds of influences, beliefs, philosophies, practices we dealt with or were familiar with among the homeschooling movement over the years:

Why did we have so many children?  How do you know when your quiver is full?  Would we have had this many children if we hadn’t listened to specific teachings?  Who invented the jumper dress?  Why did I sometimes feel guilty if I didn’t wear my denim jumper?  I no longer own a denim jumper.  Who decided Gregg Harris or Michael Farris were the spokesmen for homeschoolers?  Why did so many homeschoolers flock to the articles and books of Mary Pride?

Is it okay to refrain from sex to not get pregnant or is that saying “no” to God’s blessings of children?  Did it really mean one isn’t trusting God if taking measures to prevent pregnancy after cycles returned 6 weeks postpartum (and round-the-clock nursing)?  How many blessings of babies did I prevent by taking matters in my own hands?  Is God mad at me for my “interference” of “His plan”?

What about all of those families who stop having babies after only 4 children or 2 children — are they disobeying God?  Why don’t they want God’s blessings?  Who is targeting the homeschooling community to convince them to pop out babies to overpopulate the world with Christians babies?  Why does this same dude bombard our mailboxes right before Christmas to encourage us to buy Christmas toys (gender specific boy toys for boy and girly girl toys for girls) when their family does not celebrate this “pagan” holiday?

How did I get to the point where I believed that I may be treading dangerously if I was not a member of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Who would protect me if someone from school district came to my door and wanted to find out why my children weren’t attending the evil government school down the block?  How many homeschool families printed out instructions on what to say to government officials  if “they” came unannounced to our door to interrogate?  How many of us had HSLDA phone numbers in a prominent place — just in case? Where did all of this fear come from?

Why was I corrected when I said “public” school instead of their preferred “government” school?  Is there an agenda going on? Who is feeding all of this? Who decided that boys should be owning their own home businesses to support their families?  Who decided that all colleges were bad until Patrick Henry College was founded by popular homeschool leaders in the “movement” and then all of a sudden it became “okay” and even “good” to send our kids away to college?

How did the homeschool movement influence my views as far as who I voted for or how involved I was in politics? How did they convince me that I was eating improperly and I needed to grind my own wheat and make my own bread?  How did the homeschool community have the inside scoop before my traditional-schooled friends from church when it was going to become the end-of-life-as-we knew-it during the Y2K scare?  Who brought that hype to the homeschool community?  Would you like to ask me how many homeschoolers I personally know who are still going through their stockpiles of grains? Seriously!

When did I get to the point where I looked down at my friends who were Christians and either sent their children to public or private schools when “they should” be teaching their own?  How did all of this happen?  Why do so many homeschoolers balk at immunizations? Why are some homeschoolers so proud?  Homeschooled kids were the smartest because they always won the National Spelling Bees, right? Who decided that homeschoolers should be involved with speech and debate? Why are so many families going to their state capitals and involving themselves in politics — because they were going to be the movers and shakers of world in the political arenas?  And why is my husband responsible for my faith and the faith of our children? And why do we have to go through him on spiritual matters?  Does God not speak directly to homeschool kids and wives?

Who told me about modesty and how I should be dressing and how my daughters should be dressing?  What does modesty have to do with homeschooling?  Why do all homeschool boys look alike with similar short haircuts?   Who convinced me that my children could never “date”, but must only “court” and that my husband gets to choose our children’s future spouses?  How did, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” become such a popular book?  Who named the government as “evil” for wanting to know how our children are educated?  Why do homeschoolers assume the worst when they file their “notice to intent” with their local school district?

Why do they assume that the school district secretary doesn’t want to deal with homeschoolers and will instigate more trouble by wanting more information than required by law?  Who made up this purity ring ceremony — and that our teen daughters should wear their purity rings symbolizing their virginity until they replace it with their wedding ring?  Who started this thing where daughters shave their fathers’ beards? Below you will see an invitation to a Father Daughter Tea from Vision Forum. Fast forward to 1:37 to see daughters shaving their fathers. Um, really?

Who decided that boys should have their homes paid for before they get married?   And why are organized sports so wrong?    When did Young Earth creation become a primary issue to be a Christian and that if you didn’t believe it, you might not be Christian?   Why are scientists looked at as if suspect?  Psychology is of the devil.  What’s with all of those pictures of large families with matching clothes on the covers of homeschooling magazines?  Are my children supposed to be wearing matching clothes?  Who decided that was the right way to dress kids?  Who decided that women should only wear dresses?

And what about those who show up at conventions with head coverings — are we bad women if we don’t have them?   Who decided that family-integrated churches were better than traditional churches for our family?  Why is it that homeschoolers brag about their children being able to interact and socialize well, yet you can “pick them out” a mile away because they look and act so “different”?   Who has been instigating the us-vs-them mentality regarding so many of these topics?  Who decided that the only job that we should be teaching our daughters is to be “keepers of the home” and serving their fathers and then serving their future husbands?

Who decided a 1/4-inch plumber’s line was an appropriate tool for spanking?  Who taught us that if we had to repeat a command twice to our children, our children were being disobedient:  First-Time Obedience.   How did we let this group convince us that all infants should be able to go 4 hours between feedings.  What single man decided that fathers were an umbrella of authority over the family below God?  What same man also encouraged men and women to get vasectomies and tubal ligations reversed to allow God to control the size of their families and then paraded post-reversal children in front of the auditorium at conventions?

This is quite a diversion from spiritual abuse in the church, but I need to go there.  I now believe the homeschooling movement made our spiritually abusive church seem appealing to us.  Some of the above is just plain quirky, but other issues go much deeper affecting core spiritual beliefs and agendas.

My daughter, Hannah, is 25 yrs old and she was only homeschooled.  The first traditional school she attended was community college and last spring she became a college graduate. Her peers were from an early generation of the growing homeschool movement. More and more blogs are being published by young adults like my daughter who are “coming out” and sharing their homeschool experiences.  The stories are not pretty.    My daughter has shared some of her story.  And you can read the story I wrote about Hannah’s experience here.  In that story, you can get an idea of the controlling environment in which she lived and how she had to escape – it remains one of the most popular blog posts.

What she experienced at home has probably gone on in many homes.  I bear much responsibility for it.  I went along with it.  I have apologized to my daughter many times for it.   The abusive church we found also aligned with these philosophies of heavy-handed control of children, even adult children.  Hannah was 21 when she moved out.  She was not a child, yet we thought we owned her.

I assumed (yeah, I know about that word), that when we got into homeschooling that it was a safe community — a community where children’s best interest was at heart.  We wanted to have the primary influence in the education of our children.  That’s good, right?

But I have discovered that there is an underlying agenda in the homeschooling community that has been there all along — even years before I started — and it continues to this day. I believe that some of this underlying current — taken to an extreme — could be responsible for breaking up families, causing abuse, wreaking havoc on people’s spiritual life.

I firmly believe that God used the lawsuit in a powerful way to highlight the issue of spiritual abuse in the church.  He was there during the entire time providing amazing support for me.  My life is rich having gone through it.  But now I’m wondering if God is using another experience of my life to share here.

While I have spent countless hours writing blog posts about spiritual abuse in the church, I think there is a setup for spiritual abuse that originates in the homeschool movement. In our abusive church, we felt a “kindred spirit” (and all the homeschool moms just laughed at me with that phrase) in the church because of with like-minded teachings and beliefs. Some of these ideas need to be explored further.

I think it’s important to hear from these young adults who have lived it and are now trying to put the pieces together of their childhood together as they begin their families.