I never imagined that I would end up in a debate with Mercy Grace Pride, one of Mary Pride’s own daughters. When I posted something on Facebook criticizing this New York Times article on Mary Pride, a woman often described as a “homeschooling guru,” an anti-feminist, and a pioneer among Christian Quiverfull mothers, I did not even expect it to be reposted in a place where people were all that familiar with the issue. Nonetheless, it was passed on and soon reminded me that it’s a small world and the homeschooling world is even smaller.

In the middle of some online snarking by a few ladies all agreeing with one another that Mary Pride’s teaching is repulsive and harmful, enter the 24 year old daughter of said woman who, as it turns out, agrees with her Mom on a number of key points.

Initially this conversation didn’t seem like it could go anywhere but a bad place. In fact, I’m still kind of surprised it didn’t. After all, I believe that my family’s acceptance of Mary Pride’s teachings contributed to the dysfunction and eventual dissolution of my parents’ marriage and the traumatic home experiences that my siblings and I had. I’d also just written a letter to New York Times journalist Mark Oppenheimer criticizing his Mary Pride article as being lopsided, and referencing Libby Anne’s list of survivor blogs. Mercy, on the other hand, loves and respects her Mom and, being recently engaged, expects to soon be a Quiverfull wife and mother herself.

So what more fraught and emotional subject could there really be for us two to discuss?

Luckily, homeschoolers are perhaps a bit more comfortable than the average person with awkward social moments. There was no cat fight, no insults, and ultimately no hard feelings. Instead Mercy and I ended up having a respectful debate, and while we did not ignore our emotions, downplay our perspectives, or come to any sort of agreement, we were not awful to each other.

I guess here’s where I could include some tropes about overcoming differences, agreeing to disagree, the importance of dialogue, and how it all boils down to recognizing the humanity of others, but the truth is I don’t need to. All that cliche’d stuff is pretty obvious. We all know the value inherent in it for other people’s situations, other people’s issues, but it’s still something we generally avoid for ourselves. Why? Well, what we often want to say is “Us: 100%. Opposition: Zero,” but if we talk openly with the other side then we have to be ready for a complex picture that we might just not know quite what to do with.

Mercy has given me permission to share our conversation here, so I ask you to be as respectful in your comments as she and I tried to be in ours.

Condensed and edited.
MGP [responding to all the snark]: What do you have against Mary Pride?
Yes I am [Mary Pride’s daughter], and I’m sorry that you had such an experience. I was also homeschooled and actually, I enjoyed it and ended up graduating earlier as a result. Homeschooling isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it really does put a strain on your family, but my mother wasn’t the cause of that. She wrote her book as a result of what she had experienced as a feminist before she became a Christian. She saw how the feminist movement was ruining the family structure in America and she was just encouraging women that felt forced to work that they didn’t have to work. “The Way Home” was about trying to show women they had a choice. It was to urge them not to trap them.

Me: I don’t mean to insult anybody’s Mom, but I think that Mary Pride, as a public figure and author, contributed to the harm that occurred in my family, which was bad enough for me to develop PTSD. It’s the extreme patriarchal lifestyle that puts people in a box – homeschooling in and of itself doesn’t. Because Mary Pride directly contributed to that pressure, your characterization of the lifestyle she advocated as being a choice surprises me. Things are only choices if there are alternative options and as far as I know, she didn’t present any and vilified the ones on the table as being unchristian. I see how her perspective gained traction because there were some hiccups in the move towards more egalitarian lifestyles (heck, there still are) but I honestly think the stuff she promoted was a knee-jerk reaction backwards to second-class citizenship for women, and that’s what her extra-familial legacy so far has been. I am glad for your sake to hear the intra-familial one was better.

MGP [responding to me and another commenter about Mary Pride’s opposition to “the 3 B’s” – bottles, baby-sitters, and birth control]: Well, breastfeeding has been proven to be healthier for your babies, and back then the formulas weren’t refined like they are now. If you breastfeed your baby, your baby gets a natural immunity to any disease you’ve contracted which helps your baby not get sick.

There’s nothing wrong with submitting to your husband. There’s a difference between submitting and bowing to. Submitting to your husband has to do with giving him respect and consulting with him on decisions. It doesn’t mean that the house is a patriarchy. A marriage is about a husband and wife banded together as a team and working as a team towards a common mission. If your husband is being a horrible person and not trying to do something positive towards the family, then it’s the wife’s job to oppose and advise her husband.

Maybe it seemed like my mother was pushing instead of advising, but ultimately, it was just advice. Please also take into account my mother’s youth. This was written back when she was still learning about Christianity and what the Bible says. Therefore, she could have phrased things a little differently, and she admits this as she looks back. LIfe is about growing and changing. My mother never said that the house should be a patriarchy, nor did she mean it should be. Our own house is a prime example of that.

Me: Mercy, I agree that there is nothing wrong with breastfeeding, homeschooling, giving lots of early childhood attention, etc. and a lot of positive attributes to potentially be gained. However, I do think there is a problem with having more babies than you can realistically support, having gender be used to subordinate someone, and the “obedience training” often used to raise kids to follow in these footsteps.

I truly believe that when set up in real life this stuff gets pretty ugly most of the time. If a husband becomes abusive, or depressed, or out of work, (or all 3, like my Dad) she’s stuck because she’s got 9 children, hasn’t had a job in years (or maybe ever) and is scared to death of the “feminist” world out there. Then what?

I get that your Mom being young and idealistic back then had an impact, but she hasn’t publicly repudiated or revised her position as far as I know and women are still following it and still getting stuck like how my Mom did, or being born into such a mess, like I did. I think because your Mom wrote the books and had a voice and an income she never ended up as powerless as my Mom did listening to the words in those books and taking them to heart. I would never wish that kind of life for either one of us.

MGP: Well, my mother was a home mother who worked out of the home and raised us at the same time. “The Way Home” and “All the Way Home” is about returning to raising your children. I plan to homeschool my own children, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t worked on getting my education. I’m certified as a nurse so I can get a job if need be.

My mother has never tried to “subvert” us to follow in her foot steps. She has always allowed us to decide what job we wanted to pursue. If we didn’t have a path, she looked at our personality and suggested a possible path. Raising a child is not about trapping them into what YOU want them to do, but rather to nurture them so they can find their own path. My mother practiced what she preached.

As to lots of children, I believe that the more children you have, the easier it actually is to raise them. My older siblings were a great help in my education. My older sister taught me to write my name and pushed me to learn how to read. My very first book that I read all the way through was a comic book. I ended up loving to read thanks to my older sister making it seem fun when I was young.

An abusive and depressed husband is a hard thing to deal with. I’m not sure what fell apart in your parent’s marriage. However, I know if when my fiancé and I get married that he can’t find a job still (because he is now looking) that I can support and help him in finding a new job. Also, when he’s depressed, I can offer advice and if he ever turns to drink, I will take that drink away. This is my personal stand on abusive husbands. I won’t let my gentle Alex ever resort to such things. Our marriage is formed in trust and stands on the Bible.

Me: I’m glad you had support in choosing nursing. My “approved path” was confined to “housewife” and I am so glad to have escaped those limiting influences and gone for my master’s degree in public policy. I think it’s good you have a “back up plan” of sorts and I hope your upcoming marriage brings you fulfillment and healthy babies, as it is obvious you are truly in love and that is what you want. Your description of how you want to be a supportive wife also sounds nice to me, as is your description of learning how to read on your own terms.

I find it’s the underlying dominant and subordinate roles that rear an ugly head and end up destroying this pretty picture, along with the exhaustive self-imposed routine of “what’s best” (not even getting into all the different interpretations of what’s actually “biblical”). What does a woman do if her husband stops respecting what she wants (no matter how submissive and comforting she tries to be), she’s exhausted with all the on-demand nursing, washing out poopy cloth diapers, answering the home business phone, constant cooking, worrying about bills, attempting to homeschool, and expecting yet another little one because birth control is forbidden? She starts developing insomnia, a quick temper, bouts of inexplicable crying, letting things go, fears she’s failing God himself, emotionally imploding. That’s what happened to my parents’ marriage.

Personally, I see egalitarian marriages with a “dual earner, dual carer” model as the best chance and when I do have my own children (I’m 29, married for 6 yrs, but not quite ready for motherhood) that is what I want. Also, I like big families too but will keep mine smaller. As the eldest of 10 I never got to be a kid myself and I won’t do that to my own kids. I think what women of our generation actually need is not a return to the wife role of 100 years ago but to make caregiving less gendered and more appreciated, get fathers more actively engaged in childrearing activities, and restructure workplaces so both women and men aren’t making unnecessary tradeoffs between work and family.

MGP: My mother based [her views on headship and submission] off the Bible verse in Ephesians:
22Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.
23For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.
24Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.
25Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;
26That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,
27That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
28So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.
29For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: (Ephesians 5:22-29)

You’re submitting as “unto the Lord.” Which means that you consult with him first before making decisions.
He’s supposed to love his wife “as (his) own bod(y)” which means that he treats his wife with respect and “cherisheth” her.

When I say it’s easier, I mean when children are small, hand-me-downs take care of a lot of the clothes. The children do help each other out, but ultimately, in our case at least, it was mom and dad who taught us and disciplined us when we needed it. I was taught by my siblings as well, but none of us feel like mom and dad didn’t give us attention. It helped that they worked out of the home so if we had a problem all we had to do was go upstairs. 😀

Me: I agree that “economies of scale” mean raising 8 children isn’t much different from 6 materially, but it does dilute parental time and resources, putting picking up the slack on the oldest daughters’ shoulders. For some time I wasn’t sure I even wanted kids, feeling I’d already been there done that. It’s probably why I’m still not ready yet even though I love kids. I’ve never had “baby fever” as it was pretty much nipped in the bud.

Also, I don’t buy a lot of those direct quotes from the bible, feeling they are cherry-picked and taken out of historical context. We are not the property of our husbands. The bible used to be used to support slavery too you know, and my Dad even threatened me that if I hit him back, he could kill me because of a bible verse on it. At some point you’ve gotta use common sense and say enough is enough. I believe that stuff is spiritual abuse.

Anyway, I wanted to say I appreciate the unexpected calm, honest conversation we’ve been able to have on a controversial and intensely personal topic. I think the composed tone you’ve set says a lot about you and I respect it.

MGP: I also appreciate the calm conversation we’ve been able to have. 🙂
Okay, well. There’s not much more I can say so I’ll leave you with a video that I hope makes you laugh. 🙂