Posted by: littlez2008 | January 22, 2011

My Fascination With the Duggars and Quiverfull

On episode 42 of our Parenting Within Reason podcast, we interview Vyckie Garrison, who is the editor and a contributing writer of  the blog No Longer Quivering.  Vyckie left the Quiverfull movement and writes about her experiences within it.  Quiverfull followers believe in letting God plan their families, and they often have ten or more children.  (Vyckie had seven.)  They also homeschool and instill the idea of submission among wives and daughters, who are brought up as domestic servants and “helpmeets” for their husbands.  Vyckie really gave us a wonderful interview.  She was very open about her life and her journey away from the Quiverfull movement.  Her blog is a fascinating read, especially because the women who write for it break up their posts into continuing episodes that draw the reader in.  The stories have completely hooked me.

The Duggars belong to this form of fundamentalist Christianity, and I have not been able to get enough of their show since I learned this.  I love watching 19 Kids and Counting, as much as it sort of freaks me out and scares me.  I find the kids and the parents totally charming, even when they’re talking about how the earth is 6000 years old.  While doing a little procrastinating from another writing project, I came across the video above.

The Quiverfull movement has become a topic of peculiar fascination for me.   I first heard about the Christian Patriarchy on Hemant Mehta’s Friendly Atheist blog.  He posted several excerpts from Katherine Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.  Geek that I am, I asked for the book as a present, ironically enough, for Mother’s Day.

One of the aspects of Quiverfull that I find the most alarming is that some parents within it adhere to a strict philosophy of child rearing espoused by a couple named Michael and Debbie Pearl, who have published the book, To Train Up a Child.  Excerpts can be found here, and this is the passage that is most emblematic of the training method advised by this book:

There is much satisfaction in training up a child. It is easy and challenging. When my children were able to crawl (in the case of one, roll) around the room, I set up training sessions.

Try it yourself. Place an appealing object where they can reach it, maybe in a “No-no” corner or on an apple juice table (That’s where the coffee table once sat). When they spy it and make a dive for it, in a calm voice say, “No, don’t touch it.” They will already be familiar with the “No,” so they will pause, look at you in wonder and then turn around and grab it. Switch their hand once and simultaneously say, “No.” Remember, you are not disciplining, you are training. One spat with a little switch is enough. They will again pull back their hand and consider the relationship between the object, their desire, the command and the little reinforcing pain. It may take several times, but if you are consistent, they will learn to consistently obey, even in your absence.

That’s right.  Use a switch on the child when he or she reaches for a toy.  Specifically, the Pearls recommend a quarter inch plumbing supply line.

The idea here is that by teaching your child to obey you rather than follow his own natural inclinations, you will instill enough obedience for the child to forego his sinful nature.  Obedience is the most important trait according to this thought process.  If you can’t obey your parents, you won’t obey God, and you’ll end up in Hell.

Vyckie says she did not practice this particular form of discipline with her kids, but she did emphasize obedience as the highest virtue, and she tells us in the interview how it drained the spirit right out of her children.  Once liberated from this dogma, the kids began to flourish and grow as individuals.

Vyckie’s blog has a heartrending series of apologies from parents who feel now that the stress upon obedience wrought psychological damage upon their children.  In an especially moving post, one writer speaks of the intense love she felt for her baby and the gratitude she felt upon finding guidance to protect her child:

If I could sum up the message that this book spoke to a young mother who deeply loved her baby, it was this:

“Momma, your baby is a sinner. He/she will try to manipulate you. Things like a child not liking a diaper change and squirming to be free are an example of a sinful will attempting to dominate you. You may think this is a little thing, but it’s huge. Why? Because if you let the child dominate you, the child will win. If the child wins, the child will learn that rebellion pays. The child will then grow up to probably reject God and go to Hell, because a rebellious heart will not want to follow God. So, Momma, never ever let your child win. Your child’s exertion of will [which includes anything you deem unacceptable—grumpiness, for example] is an act of war, and parenting is about the parent winning any and all battles of wills.”

I loved my baby. How grateful, absolutely grateful I felt, that someone was there to show me the way.

The mother then expresses her regret:


I am so very very sorry. Everything I did, I did out of love. But that doesn’t excuse any of it, nor does it take it away. And I am sorry.

I suppose I find this so emotional, because I can relate so well to the ferocity of love that a new mother feels, along with the weight of responsibility for not only keeping this new being alive but somehow instilling virtue and life skills.  So many of us feel clueless and turn to books.  Who knows?  Maybe swaddling will turn out to be totally wrong and I’ll have to regret that one.  It’s easy to get misguided as a parent, and we all do the best we can.  Sleep training?  I’m still torn.  I’m sure I got that one wrong, if only because I never quite decided to do it one way or the other.  We’re all looking for answers, and the secular parents among us might find the wrong answers, too.

I hope you’ll give episode 42 a listen.  It’s a great interview.



  1. Wow. It’s almost like parenting spawns the religions themselves. I want to practice wide tolerance, but it is hard to accept ways the subvert women or beat children. I do, however, think it’s important to gain an anthropological glimpse into other cultures, especially American subcultures. Thank you for sharing and open up this window into a world…

  2. Wow! I really do want to see the creationism museum because those exhibits look really cool. As long as no one talks to me … I’m afraid I couldn’t stop myself from blurting out, “How can you really take this seriously???” I had not heard of the Quiverful movement and now I’m afraid I’m going to get hooked on reading about it because anything extreme like that fascinates me.

    • Please don’t.

      Last week I went to a talk about a visit to that museum. Jen said she went so we don’t have to. She even has an extended tour on her blog in nine parts. She did say it was very well done, with very expensive effects. Though the child sitting next to a raptor dinosaur had very creepy eyes.

      I know what you mean. I first stumbled on a book about living in a fundamentalist Mormon family, Predators, prey, and other kinfolk : growing up in polygamy by Dorothy Allred Solomon. That led me to read Under the banner of heaven : a story of violent faith by Jon Krakauer. The first was okay, but it lacked something. That “something” was filled in by Jon Krakauer, and it was really scary!

      • I’ve read Under the Banner of Heaven. What is so alluring to me about extreme fundamentalist religions? I also enjoy reading about killer viruses, and I think I get the same fearful thrill from that subject.

      • It must be the same reason that many of watch suspense and horror films, we get a thrill from danger while knowing we a mostly safe.

        Except many of us have had contact with those who are part of fundamentalist religions, which makes it even more fascinating. As a naive nerdy seventeen year old I had an encounter with a Bible thumping hypocrite that framed my opinion from then on (it was not good).

        But I need to know (since I love reading about diseases and listen to the podcast) what have you been reading about killer viruses. Inquiring nerds need book titles!

        (PS: This evening I believe I have a green light to go to the next Las Vegas TAM. Hubby does not wish to participate in TAM, but would like to be with me, jsut to be in Las Vegas. While daughter, who will be 17, might actually join in TAM. This is going to be interesting… I hope I can pull it off!)

      • Chris, the book I read ages ago was called The Coming Plague, and then of course I read The Hot Zone. I was way into viruses for a little while. I guess the analogy to extreme religion is a bit obvious, but it’s there.

      • Thanks!

        I actually have both of them! I picked them up from a library foundation sale, but have not had a chance to read them yet.

        I know what you mean about the fascination with these things. From my experience as a young college student I encountered some religious groups that caught my interest (again, a naive nerdy seventeen year old kid). These included the Hare Krisha, Scientologists and the Love Israel Family. Each spring there was a street fair along the main business street by the college, and all three of these groups were there. The Hari Krishna were doing their dancing (and sending young children to beg for donations, which made me sad), the Scientologists had their E-meter, and finally there was big hippie bus of the Love Israel Family.

        I did read a book on all three. I forgot which one was on the Hari Krishna, but for the Scientologists I read A Piece of Blue Sky, and for the Love Israel Family I read Beloved Son: A Story of the Jesus Cults by Steve Allen (the same one who created The Tonight Show, his son was part of that group).

        The street fair has changed. I no longer see either the Hari Krishna group or the Love Israel family. But the Scientologists are still there with an e-meter.

  3. He posted several excerpts from Katherine Joyce’s book Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Geek that I am, I asked for the book as a present, ironically enough, for Mother’s Day.

    Okay, that is very weird. But is a good way.

    Though I am the mom who spends Mother’s Day working (playing) in my garden weeding and planting without interruptions and lunch served to keep me going. I get gardening supplies for Mother’s Day.

    I remember reading about the Pearls early on in my Internet life (over ten years ago). They frightened me, especially since they seemed to think children were just little bits of clay they could mold to their desire. I remember a long while back that one of their followers actually managed to kill a child by taking their teachings to an extreme (sorry long time ago).

    Episode 42 is an excellent podcast. Thanks for shedding light on another (scary) side of parenting.

  4. I think it would be very entertaining to get representatives from the Quiverfull and Tiger Parenting movements together in one room and see what happens.

  5. It is funny, because I, too, can’t escape the adorableness that is the Duggar family, regardless of their bizarre-o Religion.

    The Quiverful parenting style reminds me of many other parenting styles, really, if you remove the switch. In the end, I find that most people these days are trying to mold their children into some sort of believers. I know kids who are afraid of their own shadow because their parents have been swayed by raw foodism, natural living, religious beliefs, atheist beliefs, and conspiracies against the government or “Big” what-have you. I saw a mom rush across a crowded back yard BBQ a few years back to literally SLAP the hot dog out of her daughter’s hand while ranting about what “poison” it was.

    Crazy – it’s not just for religious zealots anymore.

  6. I had to chuckle at your comment about swaddling…check out this post from a blog I follow.

  7. I can find nothing adorable or charming about the Duggars. I suppose watching them could be absorbing in the same way watching a car wreck can be absorbing.

    I heard Vyckie a while back on a local public radio show. I think I’d heard about Quiverfull a few years ago. This patriarchal fundamentalist movement is so sad, especially for the children. I shudder to think how these kids will operate in the real world–or if they’ll ever find it. Their lives are wasted in this total submission to authority. My sister desires the patriarchal authority but wouldn’t submit to her husband because he was ultimately “ungodly”. She hasn’t gone all the quiverfull way, but does apply the other fundamentalist leanings to her life. She divorced her husband and is now involved with a man from her church. Her children are teen- and college age so I don’t think she’ll be going quiverfull.

    My other sister (now a moderate xian) tried using a “rod” on her son when he was young. She thought she was doing this with biblical authority. I protested (shrilly) and eventually I believe she stopped.

  8. FYI, Michael and Debi Pearl are also the people who teach that women should remain in marriages with abusive husbands. Their solution – their only solution – to the problem of verbally, physically or emotionally abusive spouses is that, if things get really bad, you can ask God to kill your spouse for you.

  9. Thanks for posting that video! I found it so sad to hear one of the girls speaking (I believe it was Jessa?). She said something to the effect of “sometimes, the things people say about evolution makes so much sense, but then I read the Bible and I see that no, the two don’t match up.” This poor girl. Evolution makes sense (it does! It’s so intuitive and it fits with so much that we’re able to observe about the world around us), and she can see that it’s reasonable, but her standard of truth is so warped that she’s forcing herself to deny what she can see.

    But at the same time, it means that there’s hope for her. She’s clearly clever, and she’s interacting with her world and learning. Hopefully, she will one day get to a point where the evidence stacked against the Bible as a literal and true account will free her from the whole Quiverfull/Patriarchy mindset. The more exposure she gets to the world outside her family’s movement, the more likely this is to happen. I just hope it happens before leaving means bringing 7+ kids with her…

    • A few of the girls in the Duggar clan actually seem to be on the fence about creationism. I recall that a couple of them wanted to go to medical or nursing school, so perhaps exposure to alternate viewpoints might win them to the side of truth yet.

      The boys on the other hand seem all to content to listen to dad and grow up to be just like Jim Bob.

      Oh, and the Pearls? I’ve written about them before and their methods, in my mind, are child abuse pure and simple.

  10. LOL. So, it it impossible that this world came in by chance? Right,but it isn’t impossible that an invisible man in the sky said abracadabra and poof, everything was created. Even though science is strictly based on our observations using the scientific method and creationism is based on a book written by man, controlled by a power political church. Independent observers, you decide! And why is it that most hard core religious people have big eyes and look crazy? It is like religion is their drug of choice and they are hopped up all the time.

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