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Quiverfull Daughters: Little Mothers, Little Sisters

I’m having a bad day today. I’m just so tired! I’m so tired of working—there is always something that needs to be done and dad is never satisfied. I’m tired of being overwhelmed with everything. I’m tired of washing dishes every night, I wish that the house would stay clean for 2-3 days—the kids are always cutting up paper, getting out toys, splashing water all over the bathroom sink, getting mud and sand all over the bathroom floor. I’m tired of doing laundry—there are mountains of it daily and I am tired of putting clothes away. I’m tired of people not doing their jobs; I’m tired of my brother’s arguing and endless supply of unnecessary words (though he is sweet a lot and has been a lot today), my sister’s constant fits and defiance and screaming, I’m tired of getting mad at my brothers and sisters, I wish I were perfect. I absolutely abhor the thought that every idle word will be judged . . . lately I have been doing some self-analyzing, or examining—I’m trash . . . I’m sick of disappointing God.
This is a tiny excerpt from the journal I kept growing up. Outsiders look at words like these and quickly assume roots of laziness sprouted in me, but words cannot do justice to the constant extreme tiredness I felt, the heartache, the struggles, my guilt over impatience and failures, copious amounts of stress, even mental fatigue . . . even before I turned 14.

Admittedly, my  perspective is from one who became a little mother—a child compelled to adopt care-taking roles earlier than most, earlier than healthy. But the Quiverfull life doesn't only affect the oldest daughters. Younger siblings experienced the "bossiness" of my perfectionist self, my efforts to "help", to keep things efficient and under control, efforts to be obedient and pleasing to God and parents, and the pressure of trying to live up to expectations both I and others laid upon me.

Just as I received the frustrations of petulant brothers and sisters screaming "You're not the mom!" and "You're not the boss of me!", they felt the pressure of having not only a dad and mom telling them what to do, how to behave, what to think, and how they should perform, but an older sister who attempted awkwardly to carry out mom and dad's wishes within the family.

Quiverfull Parents

As numbers swelled with mommy's tummy, more and more household details rested on my shoulders. I am filled with sadness that instead of mom, many times my dear brothers and sisters suffered a surrogate "mom" who was often more frazzled and worn out than our real one.  And while my siblings never understood the angst inside, the internal war, nor heard my nightly secret sobs to "help me be loving and sweet and kind", they did hear the demands, the rages, the lack of sleep, the short-temper. They saw a red face, harsh mouth. They witnessed the public admonitions to be patient and to pray about my attitude. What influence did it have—on both of us? They did not deserve this injustice. The younger children needed quality parental attention just as much as the older ones. Their needs were just as important as mine.

In a Quiverfull family, everyone is affected, for good, for bad; in healthy ways, and unhealthy. Mothers devote body and womb to pregnancy and the effects of hormones while cultivating new life. Fathers receive new life to provide for, to raise, to hold before God. And the children born into this environment bring unique strengths, needs, desires, challenges, and personalities, all precious in the eyes of God.

Blessings, yes. But serious blessings.

We all sacrifice something. Those who adopt a Quiverfull life have the privilege of choice—cognizant awareness and deliberate, intentional selection of lifestyle based upon conviction.

I beseech Quiverfull parents to humbly remember that your children do not have the freedom to choose, as you have. Your children are unable to seek God's will, count the costs, and go forth with full knowledge of what lies ahead. Please have grace and mercy upon these little ones, who often sacrifice quality time with mom and dad because other needs arise, who often become hands and feet and shoulders while caring for others; who sometimes struggle in silence, trying to reconcile the true nature of God with what they see and hear on a daily basis. Ones who perpetuate the pressure they feel, and react to the demands presented them; ones perhaps never completely understood—children created with individuality, in Imago Dei.

I beg parents to put forth the effort to know your children individually, for just as God has blessed you, He has made them, singularly and unparalleled, with each soul relating to others, themselves, to God, and the world, in special, precious ways. It is destructive to blanket an entire family with the same parenting formula. Each child needs parenting based upon the uniqueness God has gifted them; it takes time, energy, and discipline—a challenge, even in smaller families—to attend offspring with such tenderness, but such is the responsibility of mothers and fathers.

Quiverfull Daughters

If you are firstborn, do you feel as though you've grown up too fast and lost your childhood? Are you burdened by unrelenting expectations? Are your parents too busy with the younger children to spend quality time with you? Do you feel as though they call you a "blessing" because of what you do, not who you are? Do you feel perpetually exhausted?

If you are middleborn, do you feel overlooked and overshadowed? Are you old enough to have a lot of chores, but too young to have certain privileges? Do you feel unnoticed, unimportant, insignificant? Too old to crawl into your mother's lap or enjoy playtime, but too young to do anything fun?

If you are last, do you feel that you have five other mothers telling you what to do? Do you feel you never have a break and that everyone tattles on you? Do you feel that you never do anything right, that you are compared to successful older sisters? Does it seem you pay for your older siblings' mistakes? Did their problems cause your parents to exercise more strictness or control?

These are mere samplings of the emotions and struggles experienced by daughters within a quiverfull household, for if there is imbalance within a family, all daughters will have pain. But I believe that as quiverfull daughters, our place in the family is distinctly chosen by God. He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our futures, hurts and sorrows.  Whether we are first, middle, or last within our family, our lives bear His handprint, His heartprint.

While we often feel lost in the shuffle, He who sees a sparrow fall knows your deepest dreams, hopes, and fears; He holds gently secret tears that water your pillow at night. Your exhaustion, performance, and service, the demands, pressure, and austerity you feel does not miss His eye. He knows your cries, your loneliness, your longing to matter to those you love, to feel important in their eyes, to feel special. To feel that you are a blessing.

God designed us to seek Him face to face, to discover His will for our lives. As children of the Perfect Father, sisters to a billion souls, we can rest, knowing He loves us individually; but until we truly believe in His love for us, we will experience difficulty understanding how we bear significance to God Himself—and wounds remain unhealed.
Dear Heavenly Father, You know the thoughts and dreams You have of us, to give us a hope and a future. You see the pain lurking with the hearts of quiverfull daughters; you see the pressures they feel and the expectations placed on them by others, in Your name. I beg You to make Yourself known to these precious sisters, to make Your love known in deep, significant ways, so that they see how truly You adore them and grieve for the hurts and sorrows that they feel. You created them, just as they are, and yet so many feel discouraged and selfish for having feelings, dreams, desires, and needs in the first place. Comfort these dear women, and lead them on a journey straight to You. Heal and restore them, I ask You; give them strength and wisdom as they go forth in life. Be glorified in them, dear Lord, and may their families see You in their daughter's life. Thank You that You love us and want to be known by us. In Jesus Name, Amen.

27 comments:

  1. I may have found something very helpful to what I have been struggling with. Thank you for this blog!

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  2. May God bless you! Thank you for stopping by!

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  3. I can totally identify with being the bossy, angry big sister. I didn't have that many siblings, but I did often feel that I had to do things or they wouldn't get done - and then someone would be upset. I still struggle with feeling like it is my responsibility to "fix" whatever problem happens to be around me. The problem is - I often can. Which makes me think I should always be able to.

    God keeps working on me to get me to relax. :-) And I am very thankful for forgiving siblings!!!

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  4. I am the youngest, but from about 10 yrs. to 15 yrs or so I felt all of those feelings you mentioned for oldest, middle and youngest. :-P No wonder I was so ornery! :-P THANK GOD for His love and tenderness that began to invade my heart at 15 1/2! He is soooo good and has healed so much since then, but it is not over. I thank Him that He is always "by my side wherever I fall, in the dead of night whenever I call" and His hands are holding me.
    ~Anna

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  5. Sharon--AMEN for forgiving siblings!

    Anna, you are so sweet. I can't imagine you ornery in the least but praise God for His continued healing!

    In His hands, too . . .

    Hillary

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  6. I love that you have not condemned the "quiverfull" movement. You have opened a door to insight that parents living the "quiverfull" lifestyle may be unaware of, and that is very important. A Godly parent's greatest desire is to see their child come to know Christ and that should be the ultimate goal.

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  7. Thanks for your comment Leslie! No, I do not condemn the Quiverfull or homeschooling movements, in and of themselves; I have known very godly and balanced families who participate in both.

    What I do protest lack of balance, lack of Christ-centeredness (as opposed to family or father centeredness, for both of these can become idols). I reallllly hate how these things have become such a lucrative industry. I believe that authoritarianism is so counter to God's plan as to be anti-christ. (True, godly authority is characterized by the servant heart of Jesus, who did not come to be served, but to serve.) And to use guilt, shame, fear, performance based methods of "love" or control, and spiritual / emotional abuse, is simply evil.

    But not every conservative family does these things. ;-) God bless!

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  8. lol Well, I can definitely more than imagine myself ornery. :-)
    ~Anna

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  9. Leslie, and others: I have been thinking about this comment thread and wish to say that upon reflection, I do protest the QF movement, as a "movement". I do not condemn individual families for seeking God's will in keeping an open womb, (which is the distinction I try to make) but I do believe that the "movement" of such is rife with agenda, man-centeredness, and has many hallmarks of capitalism.

    I think that there is a marked difference between families who seek to support each other in their convictions, and what we currently see practiced in a Christian sub-culture. Thoughts?

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  10. I hope the fans and producers of "18 Kids and Counting" get this post to read. They need it. I remember how exhausted the big Duggar girls looked before they were able to wear make up. This is the reality. Great post.

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  11. I know this is way off topic from QF, but your experience Hillary sounds a lot like my oldest sisters experience as the oldest daughter in a single parent home where mom was *gasp* a divorced feminist!

    Do they realize that their lives mimic so closely the motherless families they demonize (single head of household working moms)?

    It was a raw deal for my sister, and for her younger sibs who did only have the angry, bossy, tired big sister. Completely different reasons for mom passing off her duties to the oldest girl, but exact same outcome.

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  12. Thank you for your comments, Hopewell! You bless me with your kindness.

    Shadowspring, very astute observation! As Sharon mentioned earlier--thank God for forgiving siblings!

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  13. Hillary,

    Powerful post, in so many ways. Not only can I relate to your journal entry as a *mom* but I am sure my children can relate to what you wrote. What you wrote from a child's perspective is what I have learned as an adult woman- mother of 10.

    Your words have given me much to think about in relation to my older daughters.

    I have ALWAYS been against the using of older daughters as a surrogate mom for babies that never stop coming. I have tried so hard to make sure there is balance for my older girls- work hard and play harder. But, I am sure that they could relate to the frustrations you felt of being in your position as a child.

    Hindsight is always 20/20.....but having come out the other end of this movement and seeing the delusion I was under has its own set of problems.

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  14. Hillary,

    I think that you are really deserving of being heard. In case I didn't say this before, your writing is outstanding and your seasoned, graceful and balanced approach is going to rise above whatever negative feedback you may get (and if you haven't yet, I've no doubt that you will at some point). You're going to bless a lot of people and you're going to hack a lot of people off! :) Borrowing a saying I heard once, let the excellence of what you're doing and how you are currently following God and seeking to minister to others be your protest to any of that stuff.

    Blessings,

    Jim K.

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  15. You continue to minister to my soul: Thank You
    This is one that I can directly apply and send to others...

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  16. Thank you so much for this post. It spoke to me and gave me a new perspective on the roots of my spiritual turmoil. This is a lifestyle that so few people in the wider world understand, and I'm glad you have room in your writing for both the love we feel for our younger siblings and the frustration we can feel at having been forced into parenting duties at a young age. I feel so lost as to what to do with myself now that my family no longer needs me. I'm married, I have a college degree, but I have no direction and no ambition. I hope this blog can help me find the will of God for me as an individual, finally.

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  17. Warbler & Anonymous,

    I am humbled and blessed that this post touches you. May you find love here, and draw closer to the Lord, as you navigate through the often murky depths of our pasts and our hearts.

    Emmanuel.
    Hillary

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  18. This is a profound article. I do respect quiverful families, yet we do use birth control. I have often wandered if this was the secret life for an older daughter of the bunch. Thank you for sharing. I am going to bring my hubby back to look, too.

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  19. I am not a "quiverful" parent/child/follower, but I just wonder.., aren't a lot of the topics/points you bring up present in a lot of families (Christian or not)?? I think they are, although they may be "felt" deeper/stronger in a quiverful home. But I did not read anything that I couldn't relate to from when I was growing up, in a strict Christian family, over 20+ yrs ago (I'm almost 40 now). Isn't it possible to "think" everyone else has it so much better.., when in reality it's similar situations in a different environment. Just a thought..GBU!

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  20. Heather ~ thank you! :-)

    Anon, thanks for taking time to share your thoughts! Hopefully what you'll find featured here is not so much as "thinking everyone else has it so much better", but thoughtful reflection and attention given to the very real life, struggles and pain of many women.

    If non-QF people find something here they can relate to, hopefully they will find encouragement that is applicable as well. :-)

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  21. What a wonderful blog... I really enjoyed reading this post. I have 6 children and we homeschool. I do lean on my oldest daughter to help me... probably too much. In fact, there are days that I let her sleep in and she jumps out of bed and tells me she is sorry she slept late and frantically starts doing chores.... sigh... have I caused this and did not know it? The last time this happened I just grabbed her and put her back to bed and told her to stay there as long as she wants to. She ended up sleeping several more hours!!! Anyway.. this has opened my eyes! They will all be going to public school next year, which I think will honestly put a much better balance to our lives! I am looking forward to the older children feeling like they have a sense of independance while I enjoy my little ones. I look forward to picking up my older ones from school and bring them home to a clean house and a wonderful snack... They are so excited to go too... I love my children so much

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  22. Hello Hillary,

    I am a somewhat conservative Christian homeschooler, but am not in the Quiverfull Movement and have a serious concern about the results of this movement and, as a pastor's wife, the lack of biblical balance/study in regards to procreation.

    I also come from a family of 14 children. 7 girls and 7 boys. I am number 10. Although my older sisters did not complain or mind helping out with parenting, we all suffered to a certain degree by not getting that one-on-one attention from our parents. Our house was filled with angry, loud chaos. I felt like just another number...as did others in my family. My mother committed herself to our local hospital's mental ward shortly after her 14th child. She ended up coming back home after a while, but she was always emotionally unstable with outbursts of wrath.

    There are definitely some large families who seemingly do very well at working it all out, but it depends on the parents relationship with each other, their relationship with God, and their ability to work at 'rightly dividing the word of truth' so that they have a balanced understanding of the Bible in all areas of life.

    Thanks for this wonderful post!

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  23. I feel like that on some days and I AM the mom with piles of laundry and quarreling children. We all need a break sometimes. My family is not of the quivering type, but there is an order of birth that does have natural areas of responsibility. We have an agreement in our home of how much is expected and what is not expected. We give our oldest daughters breaks from certain responsibilities..because we all need a break sometimes. But they do still have responsibilities and those responsibilities are given with discernment and for their preparation for adulthood. But I have seen an abuse of situations like that before and some daughters are crushed under that weight. We need to be wise parents.

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  24. I can totally identify with everything written here, but the kids I had to deal with were those my mom babysat...we were not QF and mom never heard of Gothard. She needed to make $ to supplement my dad's income and I was oldest and her helper. BUT instead of treating me like a helper I got in trouble for all the things those kids did and sent to my room often. And mom used me to take out her frustrations on. She screamed how useless I was, I would never amount to anything. How I never did anything right.

    I did get married but there were lots of problems and I did not want to have children. And it did cause guilt after having attended one Gothrad seminar.

    Mom is gone now. She spent her last years with us and I have forgiven her and those days even though they were hard to live through but God has brought much healing and continues to even as I enter my 60's.

    p.s. I am glad I never had kids and do not feel I have missed anything. Any maternal feelings are directed toward my cats.

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  25. My mother was cursed with four children, of which I was the only girl, second born, but still the only girl. From the time I woke up in the morning to her shrill voice telling me how lazy I was for sleeping past 6 AM, until midnight when her shrill voice told me how lazy I was for being so tired after doing nothing all day, I worked my tail off to be a "little mother". A typical day for me consisted of: getting up at 5 or 5:30, getting my two younger brothers up and dressed, bathing and dressing myself in the span of 15 minutes, (It was all the time I was allowed behind a closed door, otherwise my mother would come in to see what unholiness I was conducting) cooked breakfast, got the younger children fed, got their teeth brushed, their hair combed, and then it was time to clean up the kitchen while the boys dusted the baseboards. After they finished, it was schoolbooks out and laundry laundry laundry laundry laundry. Most of my assignments were unfinished, due to keeping two hyperactive children calm and on their schooling. Did I mention I had to do laundry? Washing, drying, folding, putting away, only to begin the cycle again. The laundry was usually done by around 11 AM, time to begin lunch. If 1000% was not given in my cooking efforts, the food was thrown out and I had to begin again. If I went longer than the prescribed time to cook, I didn't eat as punishment. There were MANY days I went without food because the demands placed on me were too much. When lunch was finished, I had 10 minutes to clean the kitchen or I didn't eat dinner either. Then it was back to laundry, dusting, cleaning the catbox, getting the younger children to keep attentive to their studies, try to study between loads of laundry, vacuum, sweep the porch, water the million and one plants both inside and outside, mop the floors, clean my already spotless room, alphebetize the library, and keep the children on their studies.

    I raised my two youngest brothers, I'm done with the whole motherly thing. Animals don't give you as much backtalk as children do, plus, puppies are actually cute when they're little.

    I don't plan to be married or have children, and have even considered getting sterilized to prevent an accidental pregnancy.

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  26. "Anonymous," I am so sorry you had to experience this. I can relate somewhat. I was the oldest girl in a family of eleven, with two older brothers.

    When I was about ten, the older boys were suddenly relieved of their "woman's work," i.e., babysitting and housework. I was resentful, as the next girl in line was five years younger. I became a chronic worrier (Mom was sick or pregnant a lot, Dad had to work two sometimes three jobs to afford all of us, and money was very tight at times)and I suffered guilt over hating to go home after school and face a sink full of dishes, and little ones to watch. I loved "the little kids," but it was an unnatural situation at the same time.

    My siblings and I have done a lot of the work to overcome the stress and dysfunction of that upbringing, but it's still a work in progress.

    I have two lovely grown daughters, myself. When they were little I couldn't imagine letting another child take care of them!

    My prayers are with you.

    Parents reading this who subscribe to the quiverfull/patriarchal "parenting" style that takes away the childhood of your older girls to make them care for your younger children, you could make a HUGE difference in the well-being of your older girls by allowing them to complete their own childhood with the support and nurture due them by you in your parental roles.

    My prayers are with you, too.

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