Posted by Stacy McDonald on November 5, 2010
Quivering Daughters: A Review
By Stacy McDonald
Christian parenting is a difficult job, especially in today’s growing anti-Christian culture. One expects opposition from the world, but when it comes from within the church it is especially frustrating. So, when I heard a book had been written for the “hope and healing” of the “daughters of patriarchy” (of which I have seven), I braced myself.
Yet, while I expected a militant, egalitarian rant, what I found was a gracious, but, confused young woman trying to sort through her melancholy while reaching out to others. And I have to admit, I was surprised by her gentle spirit and passion for God. As deceived as I think Hillary is, I believe she is genuine.
One of the best and most basic writing tips I ever received was “show, don’t tell.” A good writer makes her readers truly “experience” what she’s trying to communicate. Hillary McFarland, author of the self-published book Quivering Daughters: Hope and Healing for the Daughters of Patriarchy, does an amazing job of touching the heart and stirring the emotions of her readers.
With great drama, Hillary paints scenes from her childhood in vibrant detail. I found myself eerily drawn into Hillary’s melancholy in a way that startled me. Her stories evoked emotions I had not experienced, at least to the same degree, since before I became a Christian over 20 years ago.
I was not raised in a Protestant Christian home; but, as I recalled my own childhood, I could relate to Hillary’s descriptions of never feeling “good enough”; being plagued by a sense of overwhelming ugliness and worthlessness; always trying to win the love of my parents and others; irrational fear; thoughts of suicide; and being the child who never fit in (in my case, at home or at school).
While I could relate to Hillary on an emotional level, I found myself baffled by her conclusions as to the cause of her misery. In her mind, it seemed, the source of her depression wasn’t her own sinful heart (as in my case), or clear, tangible examples of abuse (I kept waiting); and it wasn’t because her parents hated her or made her feel unwanted. Hillary’s despair came from what she calls the “emotional and spiritual abuse” of patriarchy.
Let me begin by saying I acknowledge that true abuse occurs even in Christian households; and Hillary brings some very important topics to the table—topics that need to be addressed from a theologically sound perspective. I also acknowledge that there are Christian homeschooling families who are out of balance, and desperately need the guidance of solid churches and sound doctrine. For that reason, I am thankful that in God’s providence Quivering Daughters was written.
However, I also recognize that things are not always as they seem. It is important to remember that “abuse” is a hot button issue. Abuse is a word that, like the words racism and legalism, puts people on edge—it causes an automatic emotional response. True abuse is a tragedy, especially in the Christian home. However, labeling common conflicts and parenting weaknesses, which are present in most families “abuse” is a shame and an insult to the real victims of any sort of domestic oppression.
It is likely that a child who has experienced true familial horrors would be happy to be in a home where he is loved, nurtured, protected, and taught the Scriptures, even if he felt his “feelings and individuality” weren’t always “respected” or that he didn’t have enough one-on-one time with Mom and Dad.
Defining Terms…or Not
In the introduction, terms like “patriarchal,” “biblical patriarchy,” “quiverfull,” “patriocentric,” and “homeschool movement” are introduced; however, they are never clearly defined. In fact, vague language, like “some Christian groups” and “these groups” are used by Rachel D. Ramer in the seemingly misplaced “special feature” preceding the introduction.
Though Hillary acknowledges that “those who preach biblical patriarchy sincerely believe they do so in obedience to God, and that some of the beliefs can be good, solidly backed by Scripture,” it is immediately obvious that the author is preparing the reader for something dark and ominous.
Before beginning the first chapter, Hillary seems to guess that some will be offended by her labels and attempts to disarm them by stating, “Not every Quiverfull, patriarchal, or homeschooling family promotes what I address in this book, but this doesn’t alter the truth that countless women have experienced deep bleeding wounds, neglect of living needs, and very real pain and abuse within this system.”
However, though Hillary admits this is not true of every single “patriarchal” family, she seems to imply on her blog that it’s true of most patriarchal families. It is clear that she blames the problems in her own family, as well as those of the girls she quotes in her book, on something other than the sinful heart of man. Using hyperbole and hasty generalizations, she evokes a strong emotional response from her readers by making the following incredible claims:
Emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, psychological, and even physical and sexual abuse are widely prevalent within many patriocentric families. (emphasis mine)
Fear, shame, guilt, confusion, low self-esteem, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue, and many other emotional, spiritual, and physical repercussions, we believe, can be direct results of this [patriarchal] lifestyle. (emphasis mine)
Sadly, many men have endured spiritual, emotional, psychological, physical, and sexual abuse as well within aberrant Christianity [Reformed, Quiverfull or patriocentric.] (emphasis mine)
I do not doubt that physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and even sexual abuse occurs even in Christian homeschooling families. In fact, I’m sure of it. Sin is no respecter of persons—or families. However, to say that it is “widely prevalent” in a certain group; that it happens to “many men” [from patriarchal families]; or that it is a “direct result of a [patriarchal] lifestyle,” without any proof, is irresponsible.
Since the word “patriarchal” is only vaguely defined in Quivering Daughters, and often interchanged with the newly invented word “patriocentric,” let me clarify what I mean by the term. The word patriarchy literally means “father-rule,” which is consistent with 1 Corinthians 11:3.
But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:3)
Patriocentric would have been a better term to stick with, since it means “father-centered,” and represents an unbiblical twisting of the Scriptures. However, often people who believe in patriarchy (biblical) are lumped together with people who believe in patriocentricity (unbiblical). In my opinion, this is one of the biggest weaknesses of the book.
There were several times I had to read a paragraph twice to see what the point was. When Hillary said, “Many who affirm patriarchal doctrine also emphasize familial hierarchy, gender roles, biblical living, and biblical womanhood,” I found myself thinking, “And this is bad?”
Throughout the book there are similar subtle jabs at complementarian doctrine; but rarely does Hillary own her position. On her blog, she claims to be somewhere between complementarian and egalitarian; but, she never clearly defines what that means. The following quote is from a review of Quivering Daughters by Robin Phillips:
Indeed, these terms (patriarchy and neo-Patriarchy) are used so widely with such a broad spectrum of anecdotes that `patriarchy’ seems to encompass everything from large families, to strong fathers, to parents who believe we are part of a culture war, to parents who use corporal punishment, to home schoolers, to families who embrace an agrarian lifestyle. While McFarland does acknowledge that none of these practices is itself the problem, the overall tone of the book clearly associates reconstructionalist, Patriarchal, covenantally-minded, conservative, authority-conscious fathers with abusers.
The Special Feature
Let me back up for a moment to discuss Rachel D. Ramer’s “special feature” lead-in. As I stated earlier, it is very difficult to determine exactly who Rachel is talking about. Using terms like “some Christian groups” she goes on to say that they “promote principles of parental authority based on shame.”
After reading her whole segment, I was left wondering if she might have had the same problem with parental authority if it were simply based on Scripture (rather than shame). In other words, how was she defining “shame”? I’ve known Christians who believe that corporal punishment of any kind causes shame. In my opinion, she seemed to have an issue with authority in general.
I would have agreed with Ms Ramer that “authoritarianism and isolationism provide[s] a false sense of security from moral and spiritual evils, and merely result[s] in a subculture that fails to interact with and transform culture in a redeeming way” if I hadn’t discovered there was more to her meaning.
In her analysis of pastors and leaders who have an alleged obsession with strengthening families, she criticizes Patriarch magazine (out of print for six years now) for suggesting that “youth groups and Sunday school programs demonstrate a ‘failure of the church to teach the principles of parental responsibility for child training and to reinforce it in the church’s programs.’” And? Again, I found myself trying to figure out how this is an aberrant or abusive teaching.
Without any sort of clarification, she goes from using terms like “some groups” to the label “authoritarian.” She does this after lumping people like Jonathan Lindvall, Michael Pearl, Bill Gothard, and Reb Bradley together with Reformed pastors Steve Schlissel and the late R.J. Rushdoony. She even labels Brooklyn, New York pastor Steve Schlissel, who heads a ministry to immigrants, an isolationist!
It is significant to note that Michael Pearl (with whom I have my own issues) is no friend of Reformed theology. This is a perfect example of how lumping together large groups of dissimilar Christians from varying denominations makes no sense. I can’t think of a more contradictory forced alignment than Jonathan Lindvall and Steve Schlissel!
While Rachel seems to have some of the same issues I have concerning the importance of dealing with heart issues in children, and the harsh and unbiblical shame/fear tactics of the Pearls (though we may disagree about what falls in that category), she seems to have a larger problem with authority in general.
For example, Rachel Ramer doesn’t seem to think that leaving a child to himself is abuse or neglect. She claims that “some authoritarians redefine child abuse as a lack of authority.” She uses as her proof a quote from the out-of-print book The Little Book of Christian Character and Manners: “Real child abuse is allowing a child to be overtaken by the destructive forces of sin and rebellion.”
“Not so,” says Ramer. “Real child abuse is the misuse or overuse of authority.”
While I would agree that the misuses or overuse of discipline could be described as abuse, I can’t figure out how Rachel can possibly say that leaving a child to himself is not abuse as well. Especially in light of the fact that the Bible describes it as hatred!
He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Proverbs 13:24)
The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Proverbs 29:15)
I did find in Ms. Ramer’s segment an excellent quote by Michael S. Horton, from his book, Where in the World is the Church:
The problem is not the world, but the willful opposition of the world to God and His Christ. This frees the believer to participate in the world as a full-fledged citizen and to view it not as inherently wicked, but as a theater in which both God’s glory and human sin are displayed.
While it is possible Rachel and I would disagree on the application of this quote, I am in complete agreement with Dr. Horton, and glad the quote was included.
Rachel claims that “isolationists” (and again, we’re left completely confused about who she really means here) want to “create their own culture, often based on ancient cultural practices found in the Bible.” She goes on to say, “A true transformer of culture does not seek to create a separate culture; rather, he seeks to transform the existing culture.” Once again, I found myself bouncing back and forth between wholehearted agreement and feelings of, “Hey, is she talking about me?”
We are certainly not called to create a “separate culture,” but, to transform it to God’s glory. Yet, I have to wonder if (based on the flavor of Quivering Daughters) Ms. Ramer is implying that Christians who choose to “court instead of date,” “throw out the television,” or “dress modestly” are attempting to “create a separate culture.”
Still, I found plenty to agree with. I appreciated Hillary’s charts on “shame vs. guilt” (pg. 78) and parts of “authoritative vs. authoritarian” (pg. 52). She makes some good points here and I was relieved to have more I could agree with. The problem was, just when I’d find myself saying, “Amen!” to something, I would read something else that made me slap my forehead!
Some of her descriptions of “boundaries” are subjective. A few examples of breaches in physical boundaries are “inappropriate expectations” and “over-responsibility.” While this has some validity, it depends upon how these things are defined, and Hillary’s young readers are left to decide that for themselves.
Emotional breaches in boundaries are defined as “denying the feelings of others” by saying things like, “You shouldn’t feel that way”; or, “You aren’t sad; you’re just mad you didn’t get your way”; or, “You are too old to feel like that; you’re just being foolish.”
While these could be inappropriate comments depending upon the context, there are plenty of times when these could be words of wisdom from a parent to a child in need of godly correction. To imply that this is abuse may undermine parental authority, as well as hinder the spiritual growth of the child. God gives parents the responsibility to point out sin issues that a child may not see on his own.
Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother
The following quote was particularly confusing, since it appears as a regular chapter entitled “Dear Mom and Dad.” I initially thought it was written by Hillary and assumed that she was delivering a public admonition to her parents (in the form of a personal letter no less). I was shocked that she would dishonor her parents this way. However, upon getting to the end of the chapter, I realized it was one of the many anonymous quotes sprinkled throughout the book:
So here I am. You’ve raised a daughter who is broken on the inside, but perfect on the outside. Or, at least close to perfect. We all know that I didn’t quite reach your standards. And we all know that I never would…
You screwed up with me; you’ve left me to work myself out on my own. Well, fine. Just don’t make the same mistakes with my siblings…you have a responsibility to protect them, even if that means protecting them from yourselves…It’s too late to fix me now; just don’t ruin the others.
Still, this quote is painful, especially in light of my recent conversations with Hillary’s 27-year-old sister, Rebekah, who has a very different perspective of their childhood. While Rebekah has the same recollections of events described in Quivering Daughters, she views them as precious childhood memories. Here is a portion of an email (reprinted with permission) I received from Rebekah after I commented on another review of Quivering Daughters:
Hillary left when she had just turned 19 and so she doesn’t have true experience of adult life with her parents. It is only seen through the eyes of a teen. She tells me that, “Wow, Dad has really softened up over the years.” Softened up, or perhaps now he has more older children than before?
I have told Hillary over and over that she has been gone too long and has forgotten what is important, and has only been dwelling on her disgruntled ideas of how she thinks she would have rathered her childhood.
And let me be clearly frank with you, and I will keep it brief, the first chapter of the book is absolutely bogus. She is talented as a writer and has a vivid imagination.
My parents did not move to the country to “go back to the old ways.” The old ways are not perfect either! My parents were not trying to be perfect! Is it not okay to live a dream? It was my parents’ dream to live in the country. Maybe they should have asked their four-year-old daughter if it was okay to pursue that dream…
And the bloody escapade of the butchered goats? Wow. It is a part of life, but I could write about my experiences of butchering animals and it would bring God glory. She did not bother to write about Dad taking her up in his arms and comforting her and feeling horrible because he didn’t know that she would feel that way. I looked on, not knowing why she would cry about it, although I missed those goats. She is tender hearted but I think there is something else going on.
The claw footed tub? It is all the wording you use and the imagery. I love that old tub. Come to think of it, it would be pretty cool if it had the claw feet instead of the heavy dumpy ones…
The cauldron that the melted soap bubbled in? I almost want to laugh and cry at the same time. It is all about creative imagery. I love the smell of home made soap…And it’s not because it draws us closer to a once perfect life style. It is because the process is fascinating, and it doesn’t have all those additives added to it. Safer for your skin.
I love my parents and the older I have gotten the closer our relationship is because I have gotten to know them better and they have gotten to know me. Something I would have missed out on if I had moved out long ago or had the blessing of getting married.
[I included this portion of the personal email I received from Hillary's sister to demonstrate that perspective is everything. We have two siblings close together in age (Rebekah is 27) with two different perceptions of their childhood. It is entirely possible that both versions include blind spots and distorted facts. But, really, it's none of our business. And that was my point. If we've been willing to listen to the dark and ugly side of a family, why not allow another party to share the beauty and value they found in it?]
Perspective is everything. This brings me to one of the first concerns I had, after reading Hillary’s Quivering Daughters blog. Would young girls who are struggling with laziness or sin, or who have a difficult time submitting to godly authority, read Quivering Daughters or articles like Hillary’s “Letter to a Patriarchal Daughter” and be seduced into self-pity or rebellion?
While Hillary claims to write only to “adult daughters” from Christian patriarchal families, her writing seems to be especially attractive to any older teen struggling with sin. Notice the baiting nature of her address:
- It is not okay when your feelings and individuality are not
Who gets to define what this means? Anyone in a close relationship will at times feel the sting of disrespect or offense—real or imagined.
- It is not okay when your privacy is invaded.
Privacy as in a father getting into bed with his daughter, or privacy as in I don’t have my own room? Because the fact is, children will read into this what they want.
- It is not okay when your thoughts are discounted, either in private, or in front of everyone.
Who among us hasn’t felt this way? These are common sins in any family and have nothing to do with “patriarchy.”
- It is not okay when you are compared to other siblings, whether it is by family, extended family, or friends.
Again, when I was a teen, I can remember feeling this way and hearing my friends complain about the same thing. Any family counselor will tell you that siblings often struggle with these issues. Common family problems should not be viewed as general trademarks of the conservative Christian family.
- It is not okay when you are expected to continually be responsible for the younger ones.
Who gets to decide what is “continually”? I may tell my husband, “I’ve been washing dishes all day long.” This probably means I am just sick and tired of doing dishes that day. However, it isn’t a sign of abuse or “too much” being expected of me. I am to cheerfully pitch in and work hard to the glory of God and for the good of those He has given me to serve.
- It is not okay when more is asked of you than appropriate.
Again, my son may think that being asked to take out the garbage is asking more of him than is “appropriate.” This is completely subjective and a ridiculous statement for evaluating abuse.
- It is not okay that mom and dad don’t have enough one on one quality time with you. It is not bad to wish you did.
This may be a parenting weakness, or an issue of logistics; but, it is not abuse. And many times, the measuring stick on “how much” quality time is necessary is based on a family of 2.4 children.
- It is okay to feel tired each time a new baby is placed into your arms.
I’m sorry, but this one had me rolling my eyes. Every time we’ve had a new baby, the children fight over who gets to hold the baby, and complain about all the baby-hogs we have! Still, in my own case, my youngest sister was born when I was 15. I can remember feeling like poor, pitiful me when I had to stay home all summer to take care of her while my mother worked. But it was because I was self-absorbed. I wouldn’t have been “too tired” to put forth the same effort working at McDonald’s or partying with my friends.
Any adult child, Christian or non-Christian, male or female, quiverfull or not, can look back and find instances of just about any one of these things from their childhood—specifically if they are struggling with discontent.
“What about situations where a girl is simply rebellious and is all too willing to interpret any parental censure as an assault on her individuality? What about situations where a rebellious daughter takes all criticism from her father as a case of her thoughts being ridiculed? What about situations where a daughter feels she is being treated as a slave because she is asked to do her chores or to help with the younger siblings? What about a situation where a daughter feels her privacy is being violated because she can’t have a bedroom to herself? What about a daughter who claims she is being verbally abused when her parents merely correct her?” – Robin Phillips
Here is another list of questions to daughters that Hillary posted on her blog. When reading this, for some reason, I get a mental picture of a grainy black-and-white movie featuring a scene where Satan is whispering into the ear of a struggling sinner. Only, where’s that determined angel speaking words of reason?
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…
How many of us, Christian or non-Christian, couldn’t relate to these common birth-order questions? What is the purpose of dwelling on our discontent, past or present? Why focus on what we didn’t get, what we feel we “should” have had, or what we’re sure we deserved?
That being said, I still think there is something to be learned from Quivering Daughters. Church leaders and some parents may find it profitable to read it with a discerning eye, gleaning from it “what could go wrong.” At times, real abuse does occur in the “name of God” and it is one of the most noxious forms of abuse. The church must be prepared to defend the weak and confront the tyrant.
Still, I cannot recommend Quivering Daughters to Hillary’s intended audience, even to the ones who have suffered from real abuse. After reading this book, I was left feeling heavy and victimized. It resurrected emotions and memories I laid at the foot of the cross long ago. I do not believe it is edifying to encourage readers to dwell upon past hurts, bitterness, offenses, or the sins of others (real or perceived). And I believe this is just what Quivering Daughters does.
As a pastor’s wife, I have counseled women who deal with all sorts of real issues in their marriages and families. Shame, fear, manipulation, perfectionism, rebellion, tyranny, and even physical and sexual abuse—these are real issues even in Christian families. And they must be dealt with by the church. But, it places an additional burden on true victims of abuse to encourage them to focus on the past, and agonize over the sins of those who have offended them.
In addition, it is a slander to blame proponents of real biblical patriarchy (father-rule) for the tyrannical actions of selfish men who cloak themselves in a pseudo-patriarchy that does not resemble Christ-like, biblical headship in the least.
Rebellious husbands and fathers who think they are the ultimate authority and are accountable to no one besides God are not practicing biblical patriarchy. These men want their wives to submit and their daughters to obey, but they demonstrate no obedience or accountability themselves.
Lone Ranger families who don’t believe they “need” the authority of the church in their lives are treading on dangerous ground—and I believe Quivering Daughters proves that. Biblical authority is a protection for the weak. And when wicked leaders violate their call to protect, teach, nurture, and lead (either by neglect or abuse), they will answer to God—and the church should take action.
I have heard of cases where desperate wives and mothers have appealed to their church leaders only to be told, “Tell your husband I’m here if he wants to talk.” Or they are directed home to better submit to their out of control husbands. It is time for the church to rise up and confront sin.
Some have suggested that male headship causes men to become tyrannical husbands and fathers, implying that men can’t handle a position of leadership without becoming a dictator. While my heart breaks for women and children who are in truly desperate family situations, neither egalitarianism nor antinomianism is their champion. An abusive man will still be an abusive man in an egalitarian home. A bully must answer to someone. Biblical authority does not create tyrants; it restrains them. And a rejection of God’s law and order does not produce freedom, it creates chaos.
I really pray that Hillary is able to get past this and move on to other topics. She is a gifted writer, and I look forward to seeing how God will use her talents to bring glory to Himself and truly edify the Body of Christ.