Posted by lifetapestry on November 16, 2010
In the self-published book, Quivering Daughters, Hillary McFarland takes the reader on a journey into her own troubled past. She communicates her pain, her disappointments, and her hopes.
Hillary had no trouble convincing me of her sincere love for Christ and her desire to know Him. I found her to be expressive, intense, and creative and I am convinced that, through her writings, she desires to help other young women who are trying to sort through their own painful pasts.
The premise of Quivering Daughters is that girls who are raised in Christian, father-led homes (patriocentric or patriarchal – these terms are never clearly defined and seem to include a wide range of definitions) are in danger. She expresses a concern for the manner in which “patriarchy” is carried out in the home. And indeed this may be a valid concern in some homes. Men who desire to follow God have always, and will always, have the tendency to pervert God’s Word and turn God’s glorious ways into ungodly methods.
As I read, I anticipated accounts of tyrannical, cruel abuse. My thoughts raced ahead to physical violence, molestation, incest, or accounts of hunger, harsh punishment, or isolation. Hillary had set the stage in early chapters that caused me to anticipate the unthinkable, yet those stories never came.
Though the word “abuse” is used throughout the book, its meaning is ambiguous. As I progressed through Hillary’s childhood, the image of abuse faded, and a clearer picture took shape in my mind. Most (not all) of the accounts that she shares (from her pen and other “daughters”) were testimonies of discontent and disappointment.
Hillary describes a scene in which her parents had a conversation with her about her clothes. Her father is tired of talking about clothing, so he says that he is “ready to make everyone dresses that when you sit down come halfway between your ankle and knee….” He goes on to describe the apparel he thinks would keep the girls from being immodest or from attracting the opposite sex. Hillary says she felt like she was being attacked. Key word: felt. Feelings are not to be discounted at all. However, in this book, feelings tend to trump any sort of fact – that is, the fact of abuse…at least, the way most of us would define it.
In one of her diary entries, Hillary says, “I wish I was perfect.” She wishes their bills were paid, that her dad’s back didn’t hurt, and finally, she wishes that she were in heaven. These are the writings from her journal at age 12. But, I couldn’t help thinking, isn’t this life? I could not fathom how daily trials could be considered abuse.
Quivering Daughters strongly implies that all of her problems, “abuses,” and resulting feelings of no or low self worth (she describes having suicidal thoughts) stem from being raised in a Christian home where the father led the family (patriarchy). Yet, it seems obvious that the conflicts she describes are not unique to a particular type of home. The sins, conflicts, and weaknesses she describes cover all socioeconomic groups, all religions, all races, and all ages! A particular sector of society cannot claim the market on disappointment, low income, struggles to pay bills, or having large families.
In another journal entry, Hillary expresses disappointment because her mother will not take a walk with her. I am not sure why a tired post-partum mother, who doesn’t have time or energy to walk with an older daughter, is viewed as “neglecting” her child. Hillary says, “Well I never have Mom to myself! There’s always a baby somewhere or brothers and sisters or things to be done or dinner to be made or we don’t have enough money – but the track is free!”
Where, in God’s Word, are we promised a life of ease and personal desire? Making dinner, caring for children or aging parents, nursing sick spouses, trying to make ends meet – these are all part of daily life for many, many people. This is called Christian service. It is the ministry to which Christians are called. Again, I just don’t see the abuse here. I see self-pity and discontentment from a writer who has been convinced that God and her parents owe her something more than what she has been given.
The term “cognitive dissonance” floats throughout the book like a forced vocabulary word. It seems to be an attempt to make us think there is a real “clinical,” “psychological” crime being committed against Christian daughters. The term is used to describe a contradiction: When something we observe does not line up with what we’re told. But again, concrete and obvious examples are never given from Hillary’s life.
Hillary shares her experience of voicing her desire to move out of her parents’ home. Her parents were disappointed at this thought. But, is this her example of cognitive dissonance? Her parents compared her leaving to “what the world does.” Perhaps we may all have different views on when a young lady should move out of her father’s home, but to tell a child, “It’s what the world does,” is no example of condemnation, abuse, or “cognitive dissonance.” If this action goes against her parents’ beliefs of what is right and best for their child, should they not be free to express this?
Hillary is faced with a crisis: She needs to leave or she has to stay. This is part of growing up. We all face tough decisions. We have to make decisions that are unpopular or that hurt, yet these are the growing pains of life that sanctify us in our walk with God. Still, this is not abuse.
Cognitive dissonance is psyco-babble for “I don’t understand,” which is a fairly common plight for all of us in life. God often doesn’t explain why things appear to be one way, yet veer in another direction; however, He does tell us to have faith in Him because He sees and knows all, and He does not forsake His own. It is upon this fact that we can place all of our trust. We cannot place our trust in cognitive harmony. If cognitive harmony does exist, it will give way to dissonance in the blink of an eye. We fix our eyes on Jesus who is the Author and Finisher of our faith. We do not fix our eyes on psychological analysis.
Misery has always loved company. Almost any young daughter (Christian or non-Christian) could read this book and identify with the disappointments and discontentment of life. Being tired, to use one of Hillary’s examples, is not abuse. She doesn’t say that her parents made her stay up for 24 hours at a time. She simply says she had a lot of work to do and had to help with children and household chores.
Hillary says she loves her parents and wants to honor them, but this book is far from honoring to her parents. It paints them as harsh, insensitive, unkind, and demanding. They are not, however, painted as abusers. This book is an accusation against them for the wrongs she felt were committed against her; yet, no real proof of harm was given (nothing criminal or immoral is ever noted).
As I read Hillary’s accusations against her parents, I couldn’t help but think of one of my relatives who indeed experienced real physical and emotional abuse. This man was physically abused at the hands of a drunken father. As a young teen, he was forced to quit school, so that he could work and help support his large family. This man’s life was anything but easy; yet, to this day, he doesn’t view his almost 80 years as a disappointment. He pressed ahead and refused to give his past too much attention. He has an incredibly strong work ethic and a tenacious spirit in life. He took the hardships and made them work for him rather than against him.
It is troubling that Hillary says, “Remember – the Old Way is the way we’ve always gone, the broad way of destruction….The New Way is stepping into the unknown…for the sake of following the Lord Jesus when He calls.”
No one can disagree that following the Lord may require that we examine our lives, our methods, and our practices, and see if there be anything that contradicts the Scripture. If so, we are called to change. Yet, Hillary does not define the “Old Way,” nor does she say what is wrong with it. Because it is “old,” it is identified with sin, wrong, failure, and antiquity. But, there are times when “looking back is wisdom, especially when people have forgotten the Lord.”
“Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; your elders, and they will tell you.” (Deuteronomy 32:7)
After reading Quivering Daughters, I cannot conclude that Hillary was “abused.” I do not intend to trample on nor dismiss her very real feelings and experiences; but, the accounts she weaves in and out of her book do not constitute abuse.
She has honest pain and is pointing her readers to Jesus; but, the source of her pain may be more complicated than we can understand. And she has not convinced me that her parents are the ones who inflicted this pain upon her.
In reference to the structure, rather than specific content, the book is not easy to follow. Anonymous writers are given space to tell their stories, but, we’re not sure who they are and we are not allowed to hear the other side of their stories. For that matter, Hillary does not allow her parents or siblings space in this book to give their perspective.
The author of Quivering Daughters leaves the reader with the sure impression that most homeschooling families who practice headship by the father inflict some type of abuse upon their children because of their beliefs. Allegedly, abuse simply goes with the territory. According to Quivering Daughters, although the intentions of patriarchal parents are noble, and although they do the best they can, in the end, they damage their children (specifically their daughters) and send them into a dark pit of depression, hopelessness, and despair that leads to suicidal tendencies.
Our family has homeschooled for over 15 years. Throughout the years, we have known many homeschooling families and are still in contact with them. We see strong families who thrive. The oppressive environment that Hillary paints in Quivering Daughters is foreign to the families I know.
Quivering Daughters needs to be read prayerfully and with great discernment. Hillary has good things to say; however, I believe the premise of her book is unfounded and could lead many astray in their quest for contentment and satisfaction in Christ.
“Godliness with contentment is great gain.” I Timothy 6:6