By Jesse Jost
I’m gonna admit right up front that my title was a shameless attempt to get your attention so you would read my thoughts.
I was raised with certain treasured beliefs that have shaped me and the environment that I grew up in: The father needs to take leadership in the home and protect his lambs from destructive influences. One of the most fulfilling (but not the only) roles a woman can play is to be a mother and mold and inspire the next generation of leaders. Children are a blessing and God in his sovereign wisdom can be trusted to know the best number of children for you. Homeschooling is an amazing and effective way to tailor your child’s education to his unique strengths and interests so he can reach his full potential. The family is a unit built by God with each individual specially gifted in ways that complement the whole and empowers greater ministry. Modesty and sexual purity are keys to a great sex life.
I believe each of these ideas is firmly supported in scripture. My parents implemented these convictions in ways that led to a rich, fulfilling childhood and left me feeling inspired to take on the world and its challenges and embark on a journey to obey God’s calling on my life. I am the oldest of eleven children and the product of a home and lifestyle that is coming under attack. Families who hold these ideas are being derisively labeled “patriarchal, quiver-full, daughters-stay at-home-till-marriage, fundamentalist cultists.”
Leading this attack are young people who come from families who hold similar convictions to the ones I listed, but the experiences they describe of their time at home sounds nothing like what I was raised with! What they describe is terrifying: physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional abuse. Strong language and heart-breaking, if true. I have mixed reactions when I read these exposés of this “movement”. On the one hand, I feel defensive of these beliefs because I do believe they are biblical and I don’t think these beliefs are to blame for the abuse or family dysfunction. On the other hand, these reports should raise serious warning bells about a growing problem in the body of Christ and a style of parenting that is counterproductive at best and destructive at worst.
Don’t Shoot the Rooster
What is really the problem? It is easy to mistake correlation for causation, like the farmer who was frustrated that the sun always rose too early right after his rooster crowed. So he shot the rooster. Just because children are abused in “patriarchal,” “quiver-full”, homeschooling homes does not mean these beliefs are to blame. Sadly, cases of child abuse can be found in the homes of republicans, democrats, blue-collar white people, green peace liberals, African-Americans, and southern Baptists. It is a common media ploy to highlight human dysfunction and use it to heap blame upon the association they want to attack. I believe blaming the above beliefs as causing the abuse is an example of shooting the rooster.
Something is wrong
Clearly though, something is wrong and we need discussion to figure out what it is. It is a story that is becoming all too common: Parents are saved out of a destructive lifestyle. They do everything they can to shelter and protect their kids from the heart break and misery they went through. Kids apparently comply with parents’ wishes until they grow up. Kids then suicidally throw out much, if not all, of what they were raised with and plunge into the same painful river their parents were pulled from.
What is the answer? Is it tighter controls? Even less media access and social interaction? Better surveillance cameras? Stronger threats?
The strongest drive in the world
Young people have no idea what powerful all-consuming love bursts through parents’ hearts when their tiny baby draws that first precious breath of air. The moment is magical. And as a parent holds that cooing little miracle, they vow right there to do everything they can to protect that child from any harm. This protective instinct is one of the strongest drives in the world. Parents sacrifice sleep, sex, and food to watch over a sick child and make sure she gets what she needs. The sacrifices keep coming as the parents prioritize their children’s needs.
But somewhere along the line a poisonous lie enters their minds: If I can exert enough control over this child I can completely protect him from ever being hurt by a wrong choice. They start to see parenting as programming a robot or tying the strings on a marionette. They genuinely love their children but they are terrified of the big bad world out there. Fear causes the desire for control to become more important than the relationship. They don’t like to consider the child’s inner life and identity, because deep down they know their child is free to make wrong choices and that is terrifying for a parent. Fear takes a big red marker to X any activity that could infect their pristine little darling: Television, rock music, Facebook, PG-13 movies, social groups, questioning, etc.
Image is everything
Another temptation that is easy to fall prey to is parenting by appearance. Groups that pride themselves on looking different than “the world” can put a lot of pressure on each other to look a certain way. This moves the emphasis from the change of heart that Jesus came to bring, to a focus on external issues and obsession with how others view them. The evaluation of men becomes their barometer of success. Because of this, parents start to worry more about what fellow parents think of them than what their own kids think. The kids start to feel an enormous amount of pressure to act and look a certain way so that they don’t “shame” their parents. Trying to conform to external standards without being changed from the inside creates a hollow existence and feelings of guilt for being disingenuous. A young person can only live so long in this hypocrisy before something snaps. Their growing desire to be genuine leads to choices that parents can view as rebellion.
Fear of what others will think and fear of corrupting influence has ruined the chance for open and honest communication between parent and child. When parents encounter their child’s newfound desire for freedom, they respond with greater attempts for control and new restrictions, rather than taking time to listen to the child’s doubts and fears. This is a sure recipe for rebellion.
Raising them from the inside out
Yes, the world is full of dangerous pitfalls, but what is the best way to protect your child? External controls? Stronger warnings? There is no way to protect your child forever! The influences of lust, pride, and rebellion, are everywhere…including in your child’s own heart! If you are spending all of your energy trying to protect your child from the external world, but are not cultivating his inner life, it is only a matter of time before you lose your child. The only hope for your child to stay on the straight and narrow is to have him changed from the inside out. How is this possible? Only by the grace of God. Only the Holy Spirit can change a heart of stone in to a soft and pliable heart.
It is the goodness and love of God that leads us to repentance. We as parents have to give our children to God and trust him to work in their hearts. This does not mean we do nothing! Far from it! We must cultivate obedience from a young age, but more importantly we need to show them love and grace. We need to love them like God does, which means that we as parents first need to experience the grace and love of God for ourselves. We need to learn to rest in the fact that our performance or righteousness is not what wins God’s love. God loves us because that is his essence. This outflowing of God’s love between the members of the trinity is God’s core attribute. God could control us with a giant electric prod but He is after a relationship with us, not mere external behavior. We need to parent the same way- to passionately communicate unconditional love for our kids because that is how God loves us.
A life soaked in God’s love finds evil repulsive. Sometimes we need to taste for ourselves that the pleasure of sin are empty. It is scary to give your children freedom. But the bonds of a cultivated, loving relationship are so much stronger then the chains of external control. Conversely, if you don’t have their hearts, all the safe guards and restrictions will be largely ineffectual. You love your children, but communicate that to them! Say it loud and often and express it in that child’s own love language. Let them know that everything you do is motivated by love, not fear or desire for control. Take the time to listen them! Give them the freedom to question you; it will give you the opportunity to help strengthen their inner convictions. Care more about your children’s evaluation of you as a parent than what your peers think. No, DON’T stop loving your children, but do love them from the inside out.
If you were raised in a “Patriarchal, quiver-full, homeschooling” home I can guarantee your parents made mistakes and in some ways “messed you up.” That’s life. It happens to all of us. But sometimes perspective is in order. If you were not sexually abused, raised by a crack-head, physically injured, starved, or abandoned, you have much to be grateful for! Yes, your parents made big mistakes, but they tried and need to be thanked for their efforts. If you were abused, I in no way want to belittle the pain you went through! My heart goes out to you in compassion. But biblical convictions are not to blame for your abuse. We all have an ugly side that is only transformed by the love of God. In your hurt, don’t run from the only One who can heal you.