Then Why Didn’t You Tell Us That, Mom?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on September 1, 2013.

"My mother subscribed to Above Rubies and read each issue thoroughly."

“My mother subscribed to Above Rubies and read each issue thoroughly.”

“I want you to know that I never actually believed everything in those Above Rubies magazines,” my mom told me when I was visiting home a while back.

“Then why didn’t you tell us that, mom?” I asked. “I read every issue of that magazine cover to cover, and I always thought it was completely approved material.”

I don’t know why my mother made that admission to me when she did.

It was before the Mother Jones article about Kathryn Joyce’s new book on evangelical adoption, which sheds light on the Above Rubies/Liberian adoption scandal. My mother knows I identify as a feminist and that I’m critical of at least some aspects of the culture of the Christian homeschool movement, but that’s about it. Beyond that, we have a strict Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Except, I suppose, for the Pearls child training methods—that we’ve discussed on more than one occasion. But the Pearls don’t run Above Rubies magazine. Nancy Campbell does.

Regardless of what prompted my mother’s admission, I think there is something incredibly important to be learned here.

Kate and I were talking a few months ago, and she told me she doesn’t think her parents realized quite how many extreme patriarchal/purity ideas she picked up and took to heart through Christian homeschooling culture. Her parents, she said, were always quick to condemn reading material, organizations, and leaders they believed promoted ungodly ideas or false doctrine. Because of this, she always assumed that materials that entered the house under the banner of Christianity and without condemnation were things they approved and endorsed.

My experience was very much the same.

My mother subscribed to Above Rubies and read each issue thoroughly. The ideas contained within the magazine aligned at least generally with beliefs I heard my mother espouse. When my parents disagreed with a religious leader, they were quick to say so. In fact, I grew up hearing James Dobson described as too wishy-washy and soft. Yet, I never heard my mother call Nancy Campbell or her magazine into question, so I assumed that the messages contained therein were approved, and that it was something I should read, take to heart, and learn from. And read, take to heart, and learn I did.

I’ve talked to many homeschool graduates—some I knew growing up, some I’ve met in person since, and others I’ve connected with over the internet or through facebook. This thing I’m talking about? This thing is important. Once homeschool parents enter the Christian homeschool subculture, if they don’t vocally and openly condemn, question, or contradict what that subculture teaches, their children will assume that the ideas and ideals of that subculture are approved—something they should listen to, take seriously, and imbibe.

I’ve talked to more than my fair share of homeschool graduates who grew up in this culture and took to heart things they later found out their parents never even realized they were learning.

Christian parents who choose to homeschool their children but do not ascribe to the ideals of the Christian homeschool subculture, especially things like Christian Patriarchy or Quiverfull, need to be on guard against this. It’s not uncommon for homeschool parents who happen to be Christian to find themselves in the same homeschool circles with Christian parents who homeschool out of religious conviction. And it’s also not uncommon for their children to find themselves in those circles whether their parents actively frequent them or not. In this kind of situation, parents may not realize the toxic ideologies their children taking in through osmosis from the Christian homeschooling culture around them.

In my mother’s case, it’s not that she disagreed entirely with the Above Rubies magazine. My mother was more mainstream than many, but she definitely ascribed to the outer circles of Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull ideology. To be honest, I don’t actually know what parts of what Above Rubies she takes issue with—I was too surprised by her admission to think to ask.

There is one thing I was not too shocked to make sure to tell her, though:

“You need to tell the girls, mom,” I said. “They read Above Rubies just as I did at their age. You need to tell them you don’t agree with all of it, because if you don’t, they’ll think you do.”

15 comments

  • Oh my gosh…this is *exactly* my experience. I’ve come to realize that my parents didn’t actually hold some of the extreme views that I was picking up from the books I was reading and friends I had (I still remember being *very* surprised at my Mom’s lukewarm response to “Authentic Girlhood” or whatever that…book by Leslie Ludy is…I had thought she would be all gung ho but she thought it was a bit over the top) and I wish I had known that because it would have really liberated me a lot earlier on.

  • Exactly why to teach kids to think for themselves, teach them that it is important to _think_ about things, and not just accept what others say, no matter who those others are.

    • This is true – but also realize that children will not be able to think for themselves the way an adult will. A child who has never explicitly heard a different viewpoint is much more likely to accept what is presented to them, because that’s what they’ve heard arguments for. And a child will not have the resources to see flaws in logic the way an adult would.

      That was my experience – it’s not that I didn’t think things through, it’s that I wasn’t presented with opposing viewpoints and arguments until I was in college. And as a child I lacked the skills to formulate another way of seeing things and argue for it against many of the adults in my life.

  • My mother **just** said something to that effect to me this spring when she and I had a 6-hours-each-way car trip to visit my older sister (we are both estranged from the family, but my mom makes an effort to try to connect).
    I was explaining to her some of the beliefs I no longer espouse that I learned from/under/during her tutelage and she (over and over again) exclaimed “I never taught you that!!” or “I dont believe that.”
    It infuriated me at the time because I didnt learn (wasnt allowed to learn) from any sources that were not approved by my parents!!! The beliefs I had were from resources and books they bought and brought into the home. I was too angry at the time to respond how you did, telling her to warn the younger siblings, but I think I will send this along to her. She needs to know that this is something she can be vocal about unless she wants more extremist children!!

  • Spot. On.

    I have a 16 month old daughter, and I’m constantly reminding myself that the things she does are because she is learning. She watches what I do and attempts to do it as well. It’s important to remember that unless we’ve given our children a good reason to not trust us, they will follow what they perceive is our lead. Silence is assumed to be consent.

    Also, to echo Warbler’s comment, my mother did the exact same thing. Absolutely infuriated me.

  • Well, I don’t know. I don’t think this (openly disagreeing with reading material they themselves had brought into the house) is something most homeschool parents would have done at the time.

    In the majority of cases, I think it’s just a cop-out that they use with their grown children *after* the fact to absolve themselves of responsibility for actions and attitudes their now-adult children have come to realize were abusive.

    • *ISN’T something most homeschool parents would have done at the time

      Wow, changed the whole meaning of my comment with one typo euugh

  • And all hands go “mine too!”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Something about that magazine cover is just — disturbing.

  • Pingback: Then Why Didn’t You Tell Us That, Mom?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy is right about that magazine cover.
    I’ve never seen that magazine before, so I sat gazing at that little girl’s face, waiting for that internal “AW, isn’t she CUTE!!!” But it never came.
    Instead, she looks like she is in a trance…or somehow not quite “there”.

    Regardless, it’s possible that your mother was really and truly revealing her feelings about the mag, but chances are she is seeking to distance herself from it at this stage of the game…
    Maybe.
    Regardless, ARG!!!!!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I sat gazing at that little girl’s face, waiting for that internal “AW, isn’t she CUTE!!!” But it never came.
      Instead, she looks like she is in a trance…or somehow not quite “there”.


      I think it’s because her facial expression is so completely Neutral. Like she’s something not really human who’s been told to act like a cute little girl and falls into the Uncanny Valley. Totally neutral expression, like Arnold in The Terminator. The subtle feel of something wrong.

  • OMG this is the story of my LIFE! I am so glad I’m not the only one out there! I embraced all the ideas and attitudes that are still messing me up today and my parents think I’M the crazy one for thinking they EVER supported all these ideas! (well if you didn’t want me to think that way you shouldn’t have given me that book for my birthday)

    and yes the girl on the cover of that magazine looks high

  • Is that a child wearing make-up on the cover of that magazine? Or a young looking adult woman? I can’t tell and I find that disturbing. (I don’t know anything about this magazine – I don’t think I’ve heard of it before. I wound up here while web surfing.)

  • That culture did not encourage open dialog. If something was considered “evil,” even conversation and legitimate explanations about it seemed to be taboo. Basically: All you need to know about it is that it’s bad.

    Open dialog is what can better prepare children to navigate life – both before and after they leave the nest.

    I remember questioning one of the conservative homeschool/religious leaders of that era (Bill Gothard) and one of my parents explained it away (“he’s a godly man.” “God gives him insights . . . .”) It was a blanket endorsement of everything that came from that man’s mouth as well as an unspoken message to me that I had no need to question him (even if I did, my questions wouldn’t be considered valid). Following that exchange, I spent years under that man’s teaching – seminars, courses, and countless hours in staff gatherings when I worked for that organization. Eventually, I did start questioning again, though it’s taken over a decade of intentional work to undo the damage wrought by that man’s teachings.

    My parents, too, have since opened up a little about things they disagreed with. Sounds like they, too, set aside their better judgment when they cast their lot in with Gothard. It’s scary to me now – especially as I continue to hear about abuses that so many if my friends have suffered – all the stuff my parents *didn’t* talk with me about.

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