If you caught yesterday's Secret Lives of Women, you'll know it didn't contain that many insights into the Quiverfull lifestyle - possibly because it was titled "Born to Breed?" The most interesting by far? The woman who left the movement:
As we've read, the Quiverfulls are an evangelical movement for whom God's will is birth control and the more Christian children one produces, the more soldiers for the Lord. Those whom we see - famously, the Duggars - as well as two of the families featured on last night's program, run tight, happy ships in which frugality and organization trump the inevitable challenges of a double-digit brood.
And while, whatever you think of the messianic message - let alone environmental responsibility - of the Quiverfulls, there's no denying the amazing job a lot of these families do, there's probably a reason they're the ones we see. And that's what makes Vyckie Garrison all the more noteworthy. Formerly a prominent member of the community who wrote a popular newsletter and home-schooled 7 children, Garrison made waves when she left the movement, divorced her husband, and began speaking out against the lifestyle. (Read her statement here.)
As author Kathryn Joyce told it in a Salon piece,
She may have looked like the perfect Quiverfull wife, but Garrison was struggling to care for her seven children, three of whom have a rare bone disease, while juggling the demands of her husband and coping with difficult pregnancies. Though she preached patriarchy to her readers, practicing it at home required a major suspension of disbelief. Her husband, Warren, had been blinded in a work accident years earlier and had trouble keeping a job. Garrison founded her paper in part to create a sales position for him, to maintain the illusion of his heading their family. But Warren chafed against his dependency and was verbally abusive, Garrison says, browbeating her and the children into frightened compliance.
A central theme of last night's program was the burden the lifestyle placed on Vyckie's eldest daughter, Angel. While Angel dutifully and devotedly cared for her younger siblings and assumed many household responsibilities -especially following Vyckie's difficult births - the overwhelming pressure took a toll on her. While it's clear that such setups demand the cooperation of older siblings - think of the Duggars' famously efficient "buddy system" - we aren't often treated to the consequences of losing one's youth in so archaic a fashion. In Angel's case, the unending demands led to self-harm, depression and, ultimately, a suicide attempt.
Angel and Vyckie clearly have no regrets about leaving the movement; Vyckie and her mother talk about how the children have blossomed in public school, while Angel has fallen been able to study - as well as date and fall in love - which would not have been options before. Vyckie, along with a fellow ex-Quiverfull, run a blog called No Longer Quivering, which is frankly critical of the movement, and of some of its most vocal proponents (also featured in the documentary.) She claims there's pressure to present a perfect facade, and that's doubtless true, particularly for prominent members of the community. One thing's for sure, and that's Vyckie's assertion that "there's no one size fits all parenting." Even if some families can run their homes with the blissful efficiency we see, that's a very, very special skill-set - and being the benevolent "patriarch," as Vyckie's story shows, is equally challenging.