Saturday, July 16, 2011

Quivering Daughters by Hilary McFarland (A Review)

Dear friends,

I am preparing to compile an issue for my Hope Chest e-magazine on the theme of gender and authority, especially as it relates to the home schooling movement.   Looking at the outline of what I want to cover, it seems like a gargantuan task.  But you know what they say about how to eat an elephant don’t you?  One bit at a time, right?  So here is my first bite, a book review, the first of several on the theme of gender and authority.   Today’s review is of Quivering Daughters – Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy.   The next two will be the novel When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley and the book Submission is Not Silence: Boldness from a Quiet Spirit by Elisabeth Julin.  After that, Grace-Based Parenting by Tim Kimmel, which is not specifically about gender and authority, but still has much to say.  Later on, as I have time, I hope to write reviews of When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference (my subtitle for it would be, “Why Women Should Study Theology for Themselves”) and Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James.

As most of you know, I am a home schooling mom of 10 children, ages 5 to 24.  My oldest daughter is married with a young son, and my second one is engaged to be married this fall.  I have been home schooling my children for about 20 years, and observing the movement even longer than that.  

Shortly after Thad and I married in the mid 1980’s, we moved to Maryland, where we joined a conservative yet contemporary church that was filled with large home schooling families.  One of my earliest mentors in marriage and motherhood was a sweet lady named Vickie Botkin, whose husband was our home group leader.   Vickie taught me how to make log cabin quilts in her sewing room.  She continually modeled a heart of simplicity and contentment to me.   She is a lot more well known now than then.   Victoria (as she is now called) is the wife of Geoff Botkin, and mother of seven young adult children.  The books, audios and DVDs that the Botkin family produces are published by Vision Forum.  Probably the best known of these are the Elizabeth and Anna Sophia Botkin’s book So Much More and their DVD Return of the Daughters.  Back then, one of the books that either Vickie or of our friends introduced me to was The Way Home by Mary Pride.  Then I read the sequel All the Way Home when it came out in 1989.   For about a decade, I subscribed to and wrote articles for Pride’s magazines HELP, Big Happy Family, and Practical Home Schooling.  About 20 years ago, I also started subscribing to Above Rubies Magazine by Nancy Campbell.  I have attended several three or four of her retreats (and helped organize one of them), written many articles for her magazine, and have had many personal conversations with her either while driving her to the airport or when she would call me on the phone with her delightful New Zealand accent.  All this to say,  I was quickly and deeply drawn into the “full quiver” (large family) and home schooling lifestyle that my new friends and Mary Pride’s and Nancy Campbell’s books and magazines espoused.  I don’t regret that at all.  I wouldn’t trade any one of my 10 kids for anything!  And I love home schooling them!  I was 28 when Mary officially started kindergarten, I am 47 now, and I’ll be 59 when Melody graduates from high school.  That’s quite an investment in my own family, but I have also written home schooling books and published an e-magazine for the past 13 years.  I’m in deep and I’m in for the long haul.

As the years have rolled by and I have closely observed the full quiver / home schooling movement and where it’s gone, I’ve seen some disturbing out workings in certain segments of it, especially relating to gender and authority.  Anything good can be distorted, sometimes very badly.  The ones who seem to suffer most are the moms and the daughters.  I’m certainly not the only one who has taken notice, hence the book reviews I will share over the next month or so.

Now Available!The first book is Quivering Daughters – Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy by Hilary McFarland.  The quickest way to introduce this book is to give you a paragraph from the back cover: “Homeschooling. Large families.  Biblical womanhood. Quiverfull.  The Christian partriarchy movement promises parents a legacy of godly children – if they adhere to specific Biblical principles.  But what happens when families who abandon “the world” for ”the Biblical home” leave hearts behind, too?  For many wives and daughters, the Christian home is not always a safe place.  Scripture is used to manipulate.  God is used as a weapon.  And through spiritual and emotional abuse, women who become “the least of these” within Biblical patriarchy experience deep wounds that only God can heal… Written by the firstborn in a homeschooling family of eleven children, Quivering Daughters – Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy biblically examines the fruits of authoritarian, religious families and shows women the real way home – to the grace, heart, and love of God.” 

It’s not a polished or tightly edited book, and I didn’t necessarily agree with everything Hilary had to say, but the remembrances and insights in it are both profound and heart rending.  And yes, I’ve seen “in real life” among my own acquaintances what she has recounted on the pages of this book.  The gist of it is that full quiver and/or home schooling both attract, enable, and even create parents who have twisted views on family dynamics, roles, and authority.   Under the guise of “living by Scripture” the lifestyle becomes a means of very unscriptural control and abuse. 

Women (wives and growing daughters) can become doormats who have no rights, no opinions, no identities, no voices of their own.   As just one example, girls in these families are often denied the opportunity to obtain a proper education and marketable job skills under the assumption (and often  demand) that they go straight from being a completely dependent daughter to a being a completely dependent (young) wife and mother.  Their days are filled with an inequitable share of household (and often old-fashioned labor-intensive homestead) chores and taking care of a steady stream of younger siblings and their (often) pregnant mother.  They are not given sufficient time to rest, to think, or to develop their own gifts and talents.  If they object to this, they are labeled as rebellious, with even stricter measures put in place to ensure conformity.  In some cases, they are thrown out of the family home and banned from future contact so that they won’t “pollute” younger siblings with their anarchist ideas.  Young women are sometimes pressured into marrying “like minded” young men after their fathers arrange tightly controlled courtships or betrothals.  The families are often isolated geographically and technologically from the larger world, so there is little support when they are struggling and little outside perspective to remind them that THIS IS NOT NORMAL even when they are being told by others in their religious circles that it is. 

Even their churches can play into the dysfunction by excusing, denying, condoning, hiding, and/or blaming the victim, for serious cases of domestic violence and even sexual abuse within the home.  Additionally, churches can add to the burden by imposing rigid lifestyle rules that are manmade but that claim to be mandates from God for godly living.  Members are shamed and manipulated if they do not fully comply.  So there is a complicating dynamic of spiritual abuse in the church as well as in the family. 

What a contrast from the liberty, grace and joy that we are supposed to find in Jesus Christ!  No wonder so many young people are bolting away, leaving behind not only the damaging aspects of their religious upbringing, but their faith in God at all.  A quick look on the Internet will yield plenty of blogs by home schooled young adults and disenchanted home school moms to prove it.  I am not surprised.  If an earthly father is despotic and unbalanced, it is such a hindrance to trusting their heavenly Father.  If the Bible is used to demean and degrade and bind, rather than to nurture and liberate and equip, why would they want to believe it?  This is a tragedy.  The original goal of raising a family to glorify God becomes a bitter mockery.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying.  I don’t think it’s wrong for daughters to help out in a family in appropriate ways.  Sometimes this will be more intense for a short season of time, but it should not consume their whole lives and stunt their futures.  And certainly husbands and fathers bear a responsibility of leadership and protection for their families.  But they should not function as family dictators, expecting unquestioning obedience and subservience, and exerting control with harshness.   The example that Jesus lived out for us is to lead by laying down our own lives in humble service.  I wish I could tell you everything I learned from Hilary’s book, but those are a few of the concepts she covers.  She shares stories from her own life, as well as from other young women.  She quotes from research and books on spiritual and emotional abuse in churches and families, and abundantly laces her paragraphs with relevant passages from the Bible.  I love some of her charts, such as the difference between authoritative parenting and authoritarian parenting.  Even though she is obviously upset about the damage done in families like the one in which she was raised, she does not come across as bitter and she is not encouraging other young women to rebel or reject their families.  Her goal is to bring perspective and healing, and the knowledge that they are not alone and that something can be done.  Comfort and empowerment abound in this book. 

As a mother of a large family, I was convicted by much of what Hilary McFarland.  I have apologized many times to my daughters for placing an unnecessary burden on them for so many years, and, for one season of their lives, for attempting to impose particularly legalistic and self-righteous standards on them.  We live and learn, don’t we?  Hopefully, books like Hilary’s can prevent many families from even “going there” in the first place, and can help others to repent and change.

Want to explore more?

Hilary’s blog:
Read the first chapter of the book:

And a radio edition of a tragic story by a daughter who lived in an extreme case of abuse by a home schooling father:  Unshackled – The Story of Elishaba Speckles

Virginia Knowles

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