Voices of Sister-Moms: Part One, Introduction

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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.

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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

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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.

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To be continued.

11 comments

  • Reblogged this on The Road.

  • Pingback: Voices of Sister-Moms: Part Two, DoaHF’s Story | H . A

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  • Hi. I just want to say, that this article really helped me. I’m actually being homeschooled at the moment…in this same sort of environment that your talking about. It’s so hard…and I often just feel like giving up on everything, but I always think positively about the life i’ll get to live when I turn 18. Thank you so much for writing this article, it’s so encouraging. 🙂

  • I grew up with ATI, Bill Gothard, homeschool, home business, etc, and I am the second oldest of seven kids. I know the atmosphere that you describe because I grew up in that sort of environment. However, I am grateful for my upbringing. I realize now that it was somewhat extreme and none of my siblings or I plan to follow that strict of an environment with our own families, but seeing where we are now in life, I’m grateful that it started out as it did. Within our family, we have a director of sales who holds a masters in journalism and an MBA, an English teacher who has taught in public schools and community colleges, a cosmetologist with a strong clientele, a registered nurse who also is a respiratory therapist, a microbiologist who works in water purification, a stay at home mom of one who previously worked as a nanny and cashier until married, and a disabled taxidermist who is our youngest. I’m not sure if there could be a more diverse family than ours, but we are all happy and I think our strong and strict family structure had a lot to do with who we are today.

    I don’t believe looking back on your upbringing with bitterness and regret is really productive. The flip side of our strict upbringing would be children of broken families crying out for a stable and unified home environment. And we all know they have issues to work through. Whatever your lot, I think becoming a victim and dwelling on how you don’t agree with the lifestyle your parents chose is really a step backwards instead of forwards.

    But that’s just my two cents. I do tend to see black and white and am not the most sensitive person on this planet. I understand that others may process things differently and no one’s experiences are exactly the same. I just wanted to point out that not everyone regrets growing up in the sort of household you describe. And I don’t think just because something is different, we should call it a cult.

    • A couple of thoughts….

      Regret is not a bad thing. It can be productive, as all emotions can. Bitterness an be as well. Emotions are only positive or negative depending on how they are processed, expressed, and given space. Be careful not to assign values to human emotions.

      A person does not “become a victim” because they wake up one day and decide they are. They are a victim when something is done to them by another. It is a state of being. Be careful not to accuse people of something negative when they have been a victim of someone else’s actions, as if they somehow had a choice about it.

      ATI/IBLP was not a cult because it was “different”. There are many signs and descriptions of what makes up a cult. ATI/IBLP fit *every* single description, something made even more evident by recent revelations about the leadership. You can find some of those descriptions here: http://culteducation.com/warningsigns.html

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