Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The First Step Towards Understanding Jill and Jessa Duggar’s Fox Interview: Second Generation Adults in Cultic/High Demand Religion

Originally published 07Jun2015

A host of resources exist exploring the characteristics of the subculture of the Quiverfull Movement (which is often synonymous with Patriarchy within evangelical Christian homeschooling circles).  As the new generation that this movement produced finds their voice, there appears to be little information about the process of how this group in particular has affected the development of the now adult “arrows” of their parents’ quivers , especially for those who remain within their religious culture of origin.

Defining the Term:  Second Generation Adult

Simply defined, children who are raised in a high demand religion whose followers view themselves as special have been described as “Second Generation Adults,” (resulting in the acronym of “SGA”). Their parents, those of the “first generation,” who opted to follow a particular ideology obligated their children to its demands — demands which shape how their children grow into their adulthood.  

Parents’ choices burden their children with concerns and issues that people outside of their religious culture do not share.  Even into adulthood, this burden alters normal growth and development as well as identity in predictable, lasting, and often in profound ways. 

The Duggar daughters who appeared on the June 5, 2015 interview on Fox News represent the SGAs of the duplicitous Bill Gothard’s “Advanced Training Institute” homeschooling program.

A Very Complicated Subculture:  Duggar Children as SGAs

Defining this for the Quiverfull Movement becomes more complicated because of the odd nature of clustered interests followed by these homeschooling families.  It is by no means monolithic, Some local clusters of families focus on agrarian life and homesteading, but this is not universal.  Many who are part of the larger culture have no idea about individuals like Bill Gothard, Mary Pride, or Gary North who helped to shape what filters down to them through the unspoken rules and ideals conveyed by their peers.  They fail to recognize the profound influence that the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement fostered, just by noting that the [self proclaimed non-denomination] are the largest and longest-lived publishers of Christian homeschooling materials and textbooks. 

The average evangelical Christian homeschooler has likely heard of the Duggar Family because of their penchant for media attention but may have no idea about the homeschooling organization to which they are beholden.  Few know about the shaming and bizarre, abusive nature of the misogynous religious teachings demanded by their leader.  Those who know of their leader usually wish to minimize or deny his well documented history of nefarious behavior, both past and present.

I am former member of this Christian subculture, and I’m the same age as Michelle Duggar.   I’ve spent the entire length of my childbearing years in evangelical Christianity which expects all married couples to procreate and parent, perhaps as part of the zeitgeist of the whole generation.  And though I did not grow up in a rigid fundamentalist Christianity, I experienced the same type of melding of parenting style with high demand religion within the Word of Faith movement.  

From that experience, I believe that it is impossible to interpret the responses of the Duggar Family interviews this past week without consideration of the profound effect that their whole lifestyle has had on them, particularly on the daughters.  The media attention which the family’s parents willingly sought further intensified these effects on their children, if only by what Robert Cialdini describes as the “weapon of influence” that he terms commitment and consistency.

What It Feels Like to be an SGA

This more specific description of what it feels like to be an SGA within the Quiverfull Movement and similar types of Fundamentalist Christianity borrows heavily from Michael Martella’s depiction ( featured HERE in a panel discussion on the topic).  He speaks as both a licensed family therapist (non-nouthetic) and as an SGA who exited what many describe as a “pseudo-Christian” religious group.  Many groups separate child and family, but for the “child of the quiver,” the focus on the father as a demigod patriarch and mother as suffering servant become something of secondary, middle management gurus within the larger, loosely affiliated Christian homeschooling culture.  Thus, I’ve adapted his description specifically to the movement.  (SGAs from other religious groups can be separated from family, but the general patterns and effects differ little between high demand groups.)

The SGA’s whole existence becomes the proof of the validity of a mixed collection of belief systems, of your individual family’s ability to meet the culture’s demands, and of the family’s favored gurus.  While children are praised as the central focus of the culture, they also become the assets of that culture.  They are objectified (reduced to objects), despite the irony that the homeschooling strategy claimed to exist for the best interests of children.

The SGA becomes the “dream come true” for not only Christians in general, the smaller subculture within Christianity, the effectiveness of homeschooling as an educational choice, and of the worth of the family.   Without realizing it, the SGA doesn’t even realize that the only dream that the process neglects is their own. Because of the “tight margins” in which they are raised, they quite often don’t even know how to dream.  Their needs are subjugated to so many in this hierarchical chain and their independent critical thinking so strongly punished that they may have no solid, viable core sense of self with which to dream.  Those who manage some semblance of one are fortunate.  The bounded choice imposed by their culture limits their ability to think beyond that which has always determined for them by others.

Martella's Masks:  Tools of Surviving the Christian Subculture

SGAs wear two masks, the first of which is the public one.  The constant pressure to present a glowingly positive public persona  (for the culture/parent/anointed visionary leader/homeschooling/Christian faith) dictates their public mask.  As a consequence, they become highly efficient at understanding the subtle cues in any situation in order to determine what is expected of them.  They also become amazingly successful at adapting to those expectations which constantly change because of the shifting dynamics of high demand religion.  One learns quickly that the cultures only reward the public mask, based performance and becomes one’s strongest sense of worth.  Achievement becomes a means of coping.

The mask of the private self cannot be worn, and it’s punished when it makes an appearance.  This mask rarely if ever receives reward or validation, for its neglect is the price that one must pay to earn admission to the culture.  Parents do not realize that they pass this burden on to their children, and it is generally very painful for the parent to even consider that their child pays any price at all.  From their perspective, it is the parent who has sacrificed all for the best interest of both family, culture, and faith — all for their children.  This difference in perspective accounts for great difficulties between SGAs and their parents (and the peers of their parents, too).

As we adapt in public situations, we also adapt ourselves to fit our masks.  We internalize the “lessons” that we’re taught through each one — and neither one is authentic or healthy.  I never managed either very well, myself.  The Duggar daughters seem to have mastered them, for now.  It’s easier to keep up when you’re younger.

An Untenable Life

What results for the SGA is the “endlessly untenable position where the self has no value.” Existence becomes an attempt to manage or to avoid personal disintegration.  (This feeling makes recovery from the emotional and psychological wounds of the personal and spiritual trauma feel overwhelming.  Letting go of the cult self to trust in the process of healing becomes a terror of what seems like complete personal annihilation.)   

For the SGA, life within the group becomes an attempt to juggle a “sufficiently credible performance” with avoidance of getting into even more trouble and greater pain that exceeds the trouble and pain that they constantly bear anyway.  The double bind of both pressures makes life a matter of “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”  The cognitive dissonance produced by a double bind life of the SGA becomes part of the vicious cycle of helplessness and hopelessness that keeps them dependent on the group if not enslaved with invisible chains of fear and duty which they tell themselves is really an ideal kind of love.

The self-help and educational literature produced by the cult recovery movement describes this impossible pressure experienced by anyone in a high demand group or relationship as “bounded choice.”  The perfect storm of an inspiring religious ideology and a charismatic leader which then melds with systems of control and manipulation work to alienate the follower.  They must bury their own sense of self (if they even had the chance to develop a functional one), and they cannot access or embrace their inherent internal strengths because of the pervasive restriction of critical thought and imagination.  The situation created by such relationships also often deprives individuals of practical resources (e.g., a trade to earn an income, an adequate education, financial resources) that walking away from their group or family necessitate.

If the adult who is a “first generation” follower of a demanding, restrictive high demand religion struggles to find strength and resources to free themselves from their relationship to their religious communities, how much more difficult are the barriers that SGAs must face without any experience of life outside of their cloistered lives?

A Duggar of a Double Bind

Jill and Jessa who often looked at one another to make eye contact for validation, especially early on in the interview.  For me, I could only see their bounded choice of duty to their family, their culture, and especially the hobgoblin created by the extraordinary pressure of consistency and commitment.  Their parents bound them to that obligation of consistency when they poised and postured them before the world through reality TV.  It breaks my heart.  (This brings up the question as to whether reality TV poses a risk or harm to children.  Read more HERE and HERE.)

At the same age as Jill and Jessa, I was not able to voice my own choices to my parents.  I tried a few times, but the pain of their punishment made the efforts short lived.  I worked hard to live up to their expectations until I was in my late thirties — when I finally lost all hope of ever doing so.  I started in (non-nouthetic) therapy at age 19, did not view outcome based psychology as evil, worked consistently to heal, and I didn’t find the strength to defend my own boundaries with my parents until much later in life.  (Please note that the Duggar Family only embraces Biblical or “nouthetic” Counseling which is a type of non-clinical pastoral counseling that operates certification organizations that are completely independent and opposed to standard, clinical mental health care.)

They said what they had to say and what a lifetime of coaching already programmed them to say to defend their parents and their family.  They had no viable choices to do anything else.  They haven’t even had a chance to think about it yet.


More about SGAs:

In the Patriarchy Movement

In other Cults and High Demand Groups