My Fascination With the Duggars and Quiverfull

January 22, 2011

On episode 42 of our Parenting Within Reason podcast, we interview Vyckie Garrison, who is the editor and a contributing writer of  the blog No Longer Quivering.  Vyckie left the Quiverfull movement and writes about her experiences within it.  Quiverfull followers believe in letting God plan their families, and they often have ten or more children.  (Vyckie had seven.)  They also homeschool and instill the idea of submission among wives and daughters, who are brought up as domestic servants and “helpmeets” for their husbands.  Vyckie really gave us a wonderful interview.  She was very open about her life and her journey away from the Quiverfull movement.  Her blog is a fascinating read, especially because the women who write for it break up their posts into continuing episodes that draw the reader in.  The stories have completely hooked me.

The Duggars belong to this form of fundamentalist Christianity, and I have not been able to get enough of their show since I learned this.  I love watching 19 Kids and Counting, as much as it sort of freaks me out and scares me.  I find the kids and the parents totally charming, even when they’re talking about how the earth is 6000 years old.  While doing a little procrastinating from another writing project, I came across the video above.

The Quiverfull movement has become a topic of peculiar fascination for me.   I first heard about the Christian Patriarchy on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog.  He posted several excerpts from Katherine Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.  Geek that I am, I asked for the book as a present, ironically enough, for Mother’s Day.

One of the aspects of Quiverfull that I find the most alarming is that some parents within it adhere to a strict philosophy of child rearing espoused by a couple named Michael and Debbie Pearl, who have published the book, To Train Up a Child.  Excerpts can be found here, and this is the passage that is most emblematic of the training method advised by this book:

There is much satisfaction in training up a child. It is easy and challenging. When my children were able to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.

Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-no” corner or on an apple juice table (That’s where the coffee table once sat). When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch it.” They will already be familiar with the “No,” so they will pause, look at you in wonder and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.” Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.

That’s right.  Use a switch on the child when he or she reaches for a toy.  Specifically, the Pearls recommend a quarter inch plumbing supply line.

The idea here is that by teaching your child to obey you rather than follow his own natural inclinations, you will instill enough obedience for the child to forego his sinful nature.  Obedience is the most important trait according to this thought process.  If you can’t obey your parents, you won’t obey God, and you’ll end up in Hell.

Vyckie says she did not practice this particular form of discipline with her kids, but she did emphasize obedience as the highest virtue, and she tells us in the interview how it drained the spirit right out of her children.  Once liberated from this dogma, the kids began to flourish and grow as individuals.

Vyckie’s blog has a heartrending series of apologies from parents who feel now that the stress upon obedience wrought psychological damage upon their children.  In an especially moving post, one writer speaks of the intense love she felt for her baby and the gratitude she felt upon finding guidance to protect her child:

If I could sum up the message that this book spoke to a young mother who deeply loved her baby, it was this:

“Momma, your baby is a sinner. He/she will try to manipulate you. Things like a child not liking a diaper change and squirming to be free are an example of a sinful will attempting to dominate you. You may think this is a little thing, but it’s huge. Why? Because if you let the child dominate you, the child will win. If the child wins, the child will learn that rebellion pays. The child will then grow up to probably reject God and go to Hell, because a rebellious heart will not want to follow God. So, Momma, never ever let your child win. Your child’s exertion of will [which includes anything you deem unacceptable---grumpiness, for example] is an act of war, and parenting is about the parent winning any and all battles of wills.”

I loved my baby. How grateful, absolutely grateful I felt, that someone was there to show me the way.

The mother then expresses her regret:

Baby,

I am so very very sorry. Everything I did, I did out of love. But that doesn’t excuse any of it, nor does it take it away. And I am sorry.

I suppose I find this so emotional, because I can relate so well to the ferocity of love that a new mother feels, along with the weight of responsibility for not only keeping this new being alive but somehow instilling virtue and life skills.  So many of us feel clueless and turn to books.  Who knows?  Maybe swaddling will turn out to be totally wrong and I’ll have to regret that one.  It’s easy to get misguided as a parent, and we all do the best we can.  Sleep training?  I’m still torn.  I’m sure I got that one wrong, if only because I never quite decided to do it one way or the other.  We’re all looking for answers, and the secular parents among us might find the wrong answers, too.

I hope you’ll give episode 42 a listen.  It’s a great interview.


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