The choices women make to bear many children in the context of fundamentalist communities will cost them, sometimes dearly. Nobody talks much about these costs, certainly not women who are still in these communities, where to talk about such things indicates fearfulness (viewed as sin) or a lack of faith (viewed as spiritual weakness or immaturity). To be honest and open about parenting struggles (besides the struggle to subdue and manage one’s children) is to be openly or discreetly shunned as someone who must have had some “hidden sin,” some defect in her Christian walk or as someone who is somehow paying for some transgression, her own or her ancestors’. So, women don’t talk about this. They believe the best, they hope for the best, they try to live by the kind of love they believe will never fail, so they aren’t afraid. They are heartbreakingly sincere.
The likelhood is, statistically, that the future will hold in store at least one or more of the following eventualities for Quiverfull mothers over the course of their lives.
- One in four of their children is likely to have a diagnosable mental disorder.
- One in 17 in any given year might have a serious mental illness.
- One in nine may abuse alcohol.
- Nearly one in 10 may abuse substances.
- Nearly one in 10 may suffer from an eating disorder (most of these will be girls and women).
- One in 10 may be attracted to persons of the same sex.
- One in four daughters will be sexually assaulted in her life.
- One in 12 sons will be sexually assaulted in his life.
- One in two may be divorced.
- Their children may leave their community.
The more children a woman has, the more likely that some of her children will experience some of these things, with deep implications for her. Among Quiverfull mothers there is a lot of talk about birthing, breastfeeding, homeschooling, family bed, a lot of joking about large family life. In the overall scheme of things, though, these are really a very small part of what it means, over the span of a lifetime, to have given birth to a large number of children. Your kids don’t stop being your kids once they’re adults (unless there is an intentional severing of the relationship, another painful possibility). For better or worse, they will be part of your life always; you will feel their struggles and challenges and will be affected and impacted by everything that comes into their lives and all the decisions they make. Those of us who have left the movement can find some support in times of difficulty, limited though it may be (because mainstream culture does often blame mothers for their children’s struggles.) For women who are still in the movement, there is not much support when their children’s lives go sideways in some way or when their children fail to live up to community standards. They will be judged or shunned, held out as a bad example, enjoined to “give it all to God” or to “trust God” or to “count it all joy” and to deny how deeply their lives are affected.
It pains me when this community is idealized (as it often is, even by the mainstream). It’s hard enough when a woman has one struggling child; five or 10 or 15 children’s struggles and sufferings over a lifetime? This is a cost to be reckoned with.