I don’t even know where to begin. You’ve grown and lived and thrived and your life journey is a beautiful work of art, it almost feels wrong to bring up Quivering Daughters even just to say thank you. But I’m not speaking just for me, when I say, sincerely, thank you for writing through your journey, for taking care of us as we left our families, for writing Quivering Daughters and leaving the blog up. Your tender heart and kind words were the gentle encouragement we needed to start moving forward ourselves. You didn’t judge and yet firmly confirmed that abuse was happening, that we weren’t wrong or broken for feeling how we did – you opened up the doors to healing for so many more of us than you know.
And I just really, truly, with all the warmth in the depths of my soul want to say thank you. Thank you for being the big sister so many of us needed, even though it was and is heart wrenching and hard and messy and exhausting. Thank you for moving forward in your own journey towards healing and showing us that it’s okay to embrace ourselves and make our life what we need it to be.
You are a beautiful human being and Quivering Daughters and now your art + life journey, mean so much to me, and so many of us.
Thank you. Thank you for being gentle and kind and healing. Thank you for lighting the way for so many more people than you realize.
Today, No Longer Quivering published a 2016 housekeeping post where they noted that they changed their focus in 2015 (which is true) to be on the mothers leaving the QF movement and as a part of that they decided to remove the voices of the adult children from their website.
Those of us alumni who are queer and grew up in toxic environments similar to the Duggars started posting, alerting people to the danger it puts the children at home in. Christian Patriarchy, Quiverful, and ATI parents shun even the appearance of evil, and if word gets to them that someone on the internet (or anywhere) thinks their child is gay, it’s going to make life hell for that child, or worse. Queer kids living at home are already at a higher risk of abuse, homelessness, and suicide even outside of conservative families. They last thing we need is for people posting wildly in a comment section about the sexuality of children in the public eye, in a toxic environment they did not choose, who will be the ones to pay the price if or when this gets back to them.
As a result, those of us who are queer or allies in the comments section calling out these people were harassed, stalked, and told in not so many ways to shut the fuck up and let the adults have their fun. Caring about children in the same situation we were apparently means we’re bitter and have more recovering to do.
Meanwhile, Vyckie, who decided to let this go on, eventually started liking the comments that were clearly cruel and abusive to the queer survivors of this environment and later made another public post about how she isn’t responsible for anything that happens on her Facebook wall, even though she made the choice to allow this behavior and start off with a public post that everyone in the world can see.
I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with Vyckie in the years since I wrote for her, but this was the last straw. In the last couple days she has made it abundantly clear that her only concern is not for healing and safety of all who are escaping toxic christianity and the quiverful movement, but merely the adults and militant atheists who agree with her and enjoy making the children of the movement into a side show.
I wrote to Vyckie and Suzanne on the first day to have my posts taken down. Others soon followed suit and are continuing to do so – including Love Joy Feminism, and Homeschooler’s Anonymous. While NLQ is attempting to take credit for the elimination of alumni voices on their website, I thought it was pertinent to post the real reason for the removal.
This wasn’t NLQ’s doing, it was ours. We’re tired of being used by a woman who chose the quiverful lifestyle to garner a following and fame while patting herself on the back and putting kids still at home at risk.
When I was 19 I had the opportunity to write out…basically my life story and post it to a website with a lot of readers. It helped me start processing my life and was the catalyst for rethinking all the things I was taught and starting to see my abuse for what it was. I’ve requested the author of the site to take the articles down because I feel the site no longer represents or seeks to aid survivors of abuse like mine – but I still feel like my story – though I have grown and changed massively in the last six years – is important and can maybe still help people like me. So I’m posting it here. It was originally published in 6 parts, but I’m posting it in one fell swoop with handy navigation.
This was my start. I was just out of my parents house and still talking to them, facing a world of unknowns, and clinging to religion and the hope of a healthy family. Where I was then is still important, because it gave me the courage to become who I am now.
I have to admit, I was really hesitant to start reading Devoted by Jennifer Mathieu – not because I doubted it’s good-ness (she worked with my friend Hännah on it, so I knew it would be good) but because I wasn’t sure I was ready to face the story I know so well, again. Devoted is about a Quiverfull daughter escaping, and Jennifer worked really hard to get the story, and the feeling, and capture everything it means to leave that environment right, without making it over the top. She did so beautifully.
It was painful and cathartic, as a former quiverfull daughter myself – I remember what it was like to leave and not say goodbye, I remember what it was like to have to clear my browser history, and feel like the eight of us who existed just weren’t enough. Devoted captures those experiences perfectly, and I think people who are curious about what it’s like to grow up in that environment, now have a way that they can understand.
If you’ve ever been curious about what my childhood felt like, this book is it. Read it. This is the book I wish I could give to everyone who wonders, or everyone who thinks maybe this lifestyle is totally awesome.
If you’re an escapee from this environment, Devoted is so good it hurts. Someone else understands, and I can’t put into words how good that feels. We’re not alone, we’re not freaks, and we are undeniably tough as nails.
Devoted comes out June 2nd. Go buy it. My copy is tear-stained, so.
Just because someone is smiling in public does not mean everything in their life is happy, perfect, and healthy.
I’m reminded of this, in light of the Josh Duggar situation, because both parent-like sets of people in my life see the Duggars as The Best Family Ever. And because the Duggars are good at being The Best Family Ever, it makes it hard for their fan base to see past the barrage of smiles and actually listen to what’s being said and taught and what the consequences of those are for the Duggar kids.
My family was a poorer, less popular, less business-savvy version of the Duggars. Bill Gothard aside, they believe basically the same things the Duggars do. As much as the Duggars want to tell you they just love kids and are totally not quiverfull, their line about just “doing what God wants them to do” re: breeding is quiverfull ideology, and my parents (like the Duggars) are quiverfull.
My parents spent my and my siblings childhoods training us to always smile and look/act/be happy even when that wasn’t the emotion we were having. Happiness was godly, happiness meant no one thought anything was wrong, happiness made my parents the go-to parents in our local community for child-rearing tips and advice.
So it pains me when people don’t see that the smiles are fake. They look at families like mine, like the Duggars, like countless others, and say “But look, they’re smiling! they’re happy! everything is obviously great!” as if the mouth is not a series of muscles that can be willed into an upside-down frown on demand, or out of necessity.
A smile does not indicate a healthy, happy situation. It doesn’t take much to see past the plasticity and into the tired eyes behind the upturned lips.
Just because a family is smiling on tv doesn’t mean it’s happy. Us quiverfull kids are great at smiling. Listen to our words and our silence, not our masked faces.
When I was 11 we came home one day to find someone we’d met at a homeless shelter/food kitchen/church thingy on our doorstep, with her infant. We’ll call her Missy.
I don’t know how she got our address, or why she was there.
But she was.
And I gave up my bedroom and moved in with my sisters and Missy stayed with us for a very long time.
She stayed with us through the aforementioned foreclosure, where my parents stopped paying their mortgage in lieu of paying someone else’s.
She stayed with us so she could get her two other kids (and nephew?) back in her custody.
Our house was foreclosed on and we were facing homelessness – not just for our family, but for Missy’s as well.
My parents traveled all over the city, and even a few hours north of where we lived, trying to find some place to live, but because we were being foreclosed on, no one was taking my parents + another family, because they didn’t trust they’d pay.
On the day we had to be out (the people who bought our house granted us an extra week or two on account of they were nice and we had a shit ton of people to move – although, Missy did most of the packing because….I think mom and dad were busy looking for houses and also hanging on to “god saving our home”) we had nowhere to go, we were looking at being homeless, and Missy was still going to follow us around.
The plan was for me and my siblings to stay at my grandparents while my parents continued to travel anywhere to find somewhere who’d let a two-family-one-income household rent from them. It was a really terrifying day. Not knowing where we were going to sleep, or live, or if I’d see the people in my homeschool group ever again…
But then my grandparents mentioned that the house next door just went up for rent, and so my parents went over and the guy who bought the place just wanted the land, so he didn’t ask questions and said as long as we’d paid the rent we could stay there. So we did.
And the house was a 3 bedroom + bonus room, and one of the bedrooms had it’s own private bathroom and entry, so that was where Missy stayed with her 9 year old and infant (the timeline is fuzzy, because it was around the time we moved there that she got partial custody of her kids, but I don’t know if it was simultaneously, or a little later), and I eventually shared a room with Missy’s 15 year old. My dad put up a false wall in the bonus room because it was connected to the master bedroom and my sisters slept there, and my brother literally slept in a closet.
When Missy’s nephew joined our party, he slept on a futon outside my bedroom, in the dining room.
When I was 12 mom got pregnant again, which meant that pubescent Kiery got to take over everything again, except this time….not only was my mom telling me what to do, and having me run the house, but Missy was too.
I was cooking and doing chores not just for my family, but hers as well.
Let me mention this again: I was 12 years old.
I was taking care of two families single handedly.
I was not okay.
Eventually my parents confronted Missy about using me as her slave too, and set up a chore list so other people had to also cook and clean and do laundry. Mostly, just that Missy had to take care of her family’s stuff, and we alternated cooking days. Zero introspection on the part of my parents regarding…I don’t know, placing too much responsibility on a twelve year old.
My parents got mad at me for my “attitudes” (because I was adolescent, exhausted, run ragged, burnt out, and barely keeping up with everything, including school), and blamed it on Missy’s 15 year old daughter’s influence (because I shared a room with her – even though we weren’t close). Very little came of this besides my trying extra hard to be totally happy all the time.
It was Missy’s older child who alerted me to the fact that my period had started when I was studying in a tree with my brother, her cousin, and some of the other kids. My brother was very concerned, and I panicked. Missy had then asked me, at random, if I was pregnant or not because I would sometimes wrap my arm around my abdomen (because cramps. and no meds.), and I was mortified. Half because I didn’t know what sex was or how to do it, and half because that’s not something you ask an isolated twelve year old who just started having periods.
My parents paid Missy $40 a week to stay with us and homeschool her kids. That way, she could say she had a job to the CPS people, while still fulfilling her god-ordained plan to be a stay at home mother and educator. I…don’t remember this going well. To be honest I’m not sure if she even did anything more to educate her kids than through books at them, like my mom did with me, but I don’t remember. I was otherwise occupied.
Missy was, however, a far superior cook than my mom, and fish and frog-legs aside, she made some really good food. This is the only pleasant memory I have of her. Graham cracker cake and home-made Chinese food.
Shortly before/after my 13th birthday, my parents discovered that Missy had been abusing pharmaceuticals and kicked her and her family out.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved that I only had one mom around any more, and my own room. Also, my brother got to move out of the closet and into Missy’s alcove, which was nice…and I was maybe jealous.
The second stillborn happened two weeks before my 13th birthday.
After Missy, my parents decided not to let random families live with us again. Turns out my mom didn’t like having another lady in the house either.
My mom got pregnant almost instantly after the stillborn and I had to get my own rides to ballet (which meant asking my teacher to pick me up and coming home with my grandma). My ballet teacher was a wonderful adult to have in my life at the time. She made me feel valued and cared for at a time when I really needed it, because I wasn’t getting that from my mom.
In fact, that was often one of the things that hurt me so much as a child – I never had time with my mom, and I’d get upset and we’d have a mother-daughter day, but that would happen all of three times before she would get pregnant again and it would end and I just became an object. I tried to explain this to her once, but she never really understood it.
She spent so much time talking to and being there for other people, acting like she knew all the things about being a good wife (helpmeet), homeschooling, and parenting – but was never there for me, never there for her kids.
I had a dream last night, and in that dream I spent a lot of time with my closest-in-age sister doing chores. She’d taken up the slack for me since I was gone and had figured out how to do all the dishes and things required for keeping a house full of 8 people clean. We talked, and I realized she wasn’t the little kid I used to know anymore. She was growing into her own, and it was beautiful…..
But also painful. Because I wasn’t there. Because I abandoned her. Because my role was forced upon her when I left and she was angry, as she had every right to be. As I watched in awe and horror as she did my job, and was surprised and sad at how good she was being the next surrogate mom. I saw her anger and depression and exhaustion and I was powerless to fix it. She had every right to be angry with me, every right to be tired. Every right to grow and become her own person and enjoy her teenage years and yet that was brutally taken away from her – like it was with me. Through no fault of our own.
My mom was in the background, hovering and dictating as she does. Neither of us dared address the actual issue or the people who were actually at fault and made the decisions we were forced to live with. I bore the blame and the anger, because it was all I could do – and I told her as much as I could that she was perfect and capable and amazing.
It was only a dream, I tell myself.
And yet…..it’s probably not far from the reality.
I can’t ignore that running away, that choosing myself for the first time, didn’t leave scars on the siblings I helped raised. I wonder what it would have been like to just have siblings, instead of children – to have played and been more equal instead of responsibility for their needs foisted upon me as a child. I wish I’d been able to share childhood with them, instead of having to grow faster so I could meet their needs as a parent would. I wish I could have been real friends with my siblings, instead of nurse.
I wonder often what that’s like. What’s it like to have siblings as friends and playmates and obnoxious little sneaks, instead of people you need to raise, bathe, feed, and educate?
What’s it like to have siblings that your parents don’t cut you off from?
I wish so much didn’t happen the way it did – the way it had to.
I’m so sorry that it did, and I’m so sorry I hurt them.
Sometimes I have these weird time-based memories, and it makes some months (like this month) weirdly difficult, and I don’t really have a good reason for it, except it probably has something to do with being like “okay, don’t think about X too much during Y” and then…yay depression because of COURSE I’m thinking about X during Y and generally feeling shitty and sad and overwhelmed.
September 21, 2001 – the day the first stillborn was…stillborn. I’ve written about it before, I don’t know why this one hurts more than the other one. Maybe because the second one is in February and February has more generally happy memories and I’m usually distracted by my birthday anyway, and maybe it’s because I selfishly didn’t want to share a birth-month, but mostly, it’s probably just because, I was able to grieve for her.
Mikiah Faith would have been 10 on Valentines Day this year. But I let myself cry at her funeral, and I held her, and I didn’t pray for her to come back.
I think the biggest difference is, I never really got to grieve Elijah’s…not existing. On one hand, it still feels silly to me to – because it’s not like I ever knew either of them…
But at the same time, both of their pregnancies meant 9 months of misery, and then sudden mourning, and then sudden spiritualization and evangelism. So even though I never knew them, I still experienced……..the whole thing.
I don’t even know if it makes sense.
I raised my siblings during those pregnancies, as I had all the others…
My life ended as our family prepared for another one to enter, and then it didn’t.
I never grieved Elijah because he was never really dead to me…
When I was still a christian I believed I’d see both my siblings again when I died…after I prayed really hard and there were no screams from the casket.
I feel like maybe I’m just having delayed grief phases.
Elijah’s death was the catalyst for so many personal changes, not the least of which was my deconversion.
It’s been over a decade, but I’m still confused by it, it still affects me, it still…weirdly, hurts.
So now as I evolve and change, and his stillbirth was the string that unraveled everything else, I’m hit with new grief and I have to start processing it…over and over, because I never had the chance to before.
And somehow this makes me miss my siblings who do exist (and currently live at home – the one who is an adult I’ve been talking with and it’s been so so good <3) so much more. And I just want to hug them and hold them and find out who they are and what they like and know them as people, and I’m experiencing a similar loss – though (hopefully) temporary, because I can’t…talk to them. Because parents. Because my sanity is important and my family is unhealthy.
September is hard, and all the feels feed into eachother and I don’t really know what to do.
It’s weird not knowing so many of my siblings, when I used to be their caretaker.
I’ve had really vivid dreams lately, probably due to getting over the lingering effects of a cold (it was a horrible cold, and I’m mostly better but still dealing with minor sinus issues). My dreams have been weirdly stressful and tend to feature my family and I wake up feeling like I haven’t slept, but last night…last night I dreamt that my dad was shooting at me. A lot, constantly, I was trying to leave and he was just shooting and shooting and following me and shooting, and that’s the first time that’s happened. The last time I had a similar dream, my dad was a bear trying to eat Alex and I…this is the first time there were guns.
Which makes sense, my family has at least 3.
A few weeks ago I sent my family an open letter, addressing the things I knew they were upset about (my hair, my sexuality, my lack of pregnancy, telling them once and for all that I’m an agnostic), and telling them things about me that they probably didn’t care to know, and ending it by telling them to stop using me as a bat on my siblings, and to leave me alone (with the caveat of, if they ever get over themselves and decide to accept me as a human and get to know me and not just spy for creating-drama purposes, to talk to me instead of going through other people). Considering all my family really cares about is using me to create drama, I think that my letter shut everyone up about me like I thought it would.
My theory was that by giving everyone the same information about me they wouldn’t have anything to gossip or speculate about or reason to use whatever means necessary to spy – since I answered all their questions/issues and took the interestingness out of it.
It’s been radio silence and I hope it keeps. It’s weird, you know…my parents said they wanted nothing to do with me until I apologized to them in 2010, but then conveniently forgot that when it suited their purposes (I’m assuming, to make them look good in front of church people – it’s what they do). I unfriended everyone on my mom’s side in November and the family freaked out when they realized it, but I’ve never once been asked, genuinely, how I am, no one has tried to get to know me in five years, they’ve only been intent on spying and using me as a tool to inflict guilt on my siblings and that’s just wrong. Every contact I’ve had with them has been silently self-serving, done of obligation, or not-so-subtly implied that they wished I was who they wanted me to be and approved of and not who I am. I don’t have time for that.
I put up a strong face – I throw up brick walls the way Elsa made her Ice Castle, bury the pain inside the mortar.
It’s easier to be callous and cold and numb, than angry, and vulnerable, and hurt. So I act like it doesn’t bother me, Fuck them all is my mantra, but it does bother me and I wish that it wouldn’t.
I wish that I didn’t feel as though the most abusive people in my life mean something. Because I feel like they shouldn’t. I wish I didn’t feel sad because I know that by merely existing I’m letting down the people who spent my entire childhood neglecting me and using me.
Sometimes I feel like the Hulk and my secret is that I’m always angry. Because I am angry. I’m angry at how they get off scot-free, I’m angry at how the world thinks we need to revere parents even when our parents are the bullies we couldn’t escape. I’m angry that they can keep on manipulating people and lying and living with no guilt or remorse, with aid from family, and keep people on their side and looking up to them – as people with Narcissism and Borderline are really good at doing.
My family is looked up to in churches, cited as examples, people seek out my parents to ask them advice about homeschooling and child-rearing (and other things), they think the fact that my mom has destroyed her body having kids is awesome and noble.
No one sees the dark underbelly of what it looks like to grow up with them and their life choices, no one registers the fake smiles, no one sees past the masks.
And I get to pick up the pieces.
I can’t look at an infant or pregnant person without feeling ill and stressed out. I panic every time I see a stroller, or an entitled parent at a restaurant. I get to be condemned for not having or wanting kids, for not doing anything for mother’s day, for doing what I need to do for my sanity and quality of life that involves cutting out the toxicity that is my family. I can’t leave my apartment without being bombarded by triggers, I can’t talk to any nosey old person without being patronized about my existence, the general consensus of the world does everything in it’s power to tell me that everything about me is wrong and flies in the face of what is approved of and wouldn’t it just be easier if I killed everything-that-is-me and conformed?
I’m planning out how to help my siblings after they reach adulthood because my parents thought it was unnecessary for half of my sisters to have identification, and everyone born after 1999 is unvaccinated.
This is the aftermath of growing up with abusive and neglectful parents and extended family who enable them. You bet your ass I’m angry.
I don’t know that I’ve written much about the process of the relationship Alex and I had before we got married. I started this blog after the fact and before I had even begun to process the hellmouth that was my childhood.
Ever since I can remember, my mom really really really wanted to be pregnant at the same time as me. I don’t know why, I just remember her telling me this, often, and it creeping me out before I was 10 – and after I was 10, but I remember being REALLY damn young when she was telling me this. I feel like I was 8.
When we started homechurching, my mom become obsessed, I mean obsessed with jewish culture. Like everything about it was perfect and not at all weird, and by jewish culture, I guess I should clarify, I mean old testament jewishness, and whatever of that was referenced in the new testament. Yes, how women were property and bought/traded for dowries, and how they were surprised for when they were getting married, and their parents picked out their husbands (my mom is also obsessed with betrothal), and then how they wait for the couple to do it, and then they bring out a sheet that had better have a bloodstain on it to prove…virginity – because, obv’s everyone bleeds (<nope).
She had, before I was a teenager even, basically planned out my wedding to be like that. Complete with my future husband building an apartment attached to their house, and even as a kid who knew nothing, this was the thing I fought against, this was the battle I always chose, I was NOT going to allow my mom to pick out my husband, and dictate my wedding and create the most humiliating ceremony I could imagine – just so she could get her jewish fix and fulfill her dream of carrying children simultaneously.
For context: She had also decided that I would marry at 18 to ensure that pregnancy thing would be feasible. She was pregnant when I was 18 (I’m 18 years and one-week older than my youngest sibling) and I did end up getting married at 18, but the simultaneous pregnancy hasn’t happened (and never will, thanks to my own birth control and my grandparents stepping in after the last baby and paying for my mom’s sterilization).
Anyway, back to the story…
So, my childhood was already riddled with disturbing fantasies from my mom in relation to my future love-life, and I had been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, my dad was on my side here, and also thought that my mom’s whole wanting to control all of that thing was ridiculous, which made it easier to just look at her and say no whenever she mentioned it (that was the only thing I was ever able to do that with) even though she ignored it.
I had read too much Elsie Dinsmore to be cool with the idea of betrothal. 😉
Anyway, after we moved to Atlanta I went to TeenPact State Class and then TeenPact National Convention where I met Alex and we became fast friends over the course of the year. Later that year my parents told me they were done teaching me/had taught me everything I needed to know when I was 15 and they said I’d graduated. It was 2006. I turned 16 in February of 2007, had my graduation ceremony at the state homeschool convention in May, and Alex came down for camp, and that fall we started courting (which is, in our case, another kind of hell). Because he lived in Maine, our relationship was Long Distance and we saw eachother less than a handful of times a year – which means most of our relationship involved lots and lots and lots of talking and getting to know each other over IM/Email/Phone calls.
Nonetheless, as soon as my dad said “okay” to us courting in September of 2007, my parents – especially my mom- heard wedding bells. Courting is basically like, “dating with the intent to marry” but with everyone sticking their hands and ideas into the situation but without actually caring about or getting to know the two people involved – they just want power and think they can because they’re parents, so they must be right, right? (no)
My mom, at this time, had just had my second brother, and so, my broom services weren’t as desperately needed. By december they were pushing Alex to propose, made him buy me a promise ring, and kept asking about when we were getting married, and don’t you love him? (yes) don’t you want to marry him? (sure) but why not NOW? (because I’m 16) We’ll sign the paperwork! eventually I just looked at them and told them, I feel like you’re pushing me out, and I don’t know why. They were like, we’re not pushing you out! and I forget what else they said, but in retrospect, that conversation, and me not coming home engaged after visiting and meeting his family for the first time after christmas changed things.
But one thing remained, they wanted me married. STAT. They wanted him to propose like, right away, and when he didn’t propose by my birthday, in February (because we both decided it wasn’t a good idea to get married at like, 17 and 19) they got pissed and over the course of the summer of 2008, decided to do everything they could to sabotage our relationship.
It was brutal and nasty and deserving of more than one post because it was fraught with verbal and emotional abuse, withholding, and bribery – complete turns of opinions and demeanor’s, saying one thing and then the next morning saying something else, the last pregnancy that ruined everything, and the reason I had to run away.
If I had complied, as I did in every other thing, my relationship with my parents would have been less strained for a short time, but neither Alex or I would be in a healthy place. 16 is too young. Much too young.
So when people talk about child-marriage proponents, I remember being 16 and pressured, unbelievably pressured by my parents, to make my boyfriend propose and marry me.
because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion
I wonder if some of the logic of Swanson, Maranatha’s dad and husband, and Creepy Duck Guy wasn’t part of the logic my parents had too: female independence is bad, marry them off young so they can do what god commanded women to do – be fruitful and multiply.