Recently I read an article by Tracy Keen about homeschooling girls. The article argued that there is a “disturbing trend” in homeschooling where young girls are forced to grow up too fast. The article made some good points. The dangers she mentions are ones that any homeschooling family should think and pray through. But the article was not very clear at certain points and thus produced some “yeah, but” moments as I read. Some of this might be due to the nature of a short article and the fact that we run in different circles. However, I still thought it good to clarify some points. You will not understand my points thoroughly if you do not read her post. I would encourage you to do that then come back here. I do not know Mrs. Keen and have never read her before. So this is simply and interaction with this article and not an attack on her.
Mrs. Keen’s thesis is stated thus, “too many young girls in the Christian world are also losing out on their childhood innocence as their parents push and prod them to mature faster than they are ready.” She then goes on to give four specific examples; girls are being given too much responsibility at a young age, they dress like their mothers, they cannot talk with their peers, and they are being called on to teach older women about running their homes when they themselves have not run a home. She closes by saying,
“Girls raised in Christian homes need to be free to still be innocent, fun-loving children, tweens, teens, and then young women. If the heart of your daughter has truly been changed by Christ and she is given the time she needs to mature as a result of your Godly training, you will begin to see her develop into a Godly young woman first and then on to a Godly woman.”
There are several good points in the article.
First, we should be careful about crushing our daughters under duties that only a grown woman is supposed to have. We need to pay attention to their development and pray how best we can help them grow in godliness. This is especially true of large families with daughters. There is a temptation to keep piling on.
Second, it is a great point that younger women should not be teaching older women on topics that older women have experience on. This would include parenting, homeschooling, etc. I agree this trend is bad. There are topics young ladies may be able to lecture on that older women could benefit from. But this should certainly be the rare exception. The young ladies in our communities should be content to sit under, listen to, and learn from the older women at their church and in their homeschooling community. Moms should also be content for their daughters to do that and not push them to the podium too quickly.
Third, there is a danger of making our daughters into trophies for the world to admire instead of tools for Christ to use. This is a danger in any environment with high standards. Of course, that does not mean we drop high standards. It means we pray for and cultivate humility in our daughters and teach our daughters dependence upon Christ’s shed blood and not their own labors.
Fourth, a daughter does need freedom to develop godly individuality. A daughter is to be modest, but this does not mean she must dress just like mom or act just like mom. It is a temptation for moms to make daughters in their own image. However, what if the daughters are imitating mom because they love her and not because mom is squishing their individuality? If a mother is keeping the daughter on too short a leash this should be addressed. But just because a daughter dresses like mom does not mean the mom is being too heavy-handed.
Here are some points of clarification or disagreement.
First, she cites no biblical evidence for her claim that children should be allowed to remain innocent and fun-loving. Where Biblically is there a danger of having them grow up too fast? I think Colossians 3:21 and Ephesians 6:4 could point us in that direction. Matthew 23:4 is also a verse that should be used more in homeschooling circles. If you are going to raise a specific criticism against a portion of the Body of Christ, then it needs to backed up with some biblical texts.
Second, she overstates the case when she says that the trend towards pre-mature daughters in homeschooling circles is just as disturbing as the over sexualization of young girls in the culture at large. These are not equivalents. I am often guilty of overstating. It is easy to do on a blog. However, she should have toned down that comment.
Third, she doesn’t give concrete ways to tell if our daughters are growing up too fast. What are some signs that my daughter is not ready for what I am giving her? How do I know that I am asking too much of her at too young an age? What is a “large responsibility?” How do I evaluate the difference between pushing my daughter and burdening her? Most examples she provides are not helpful. Dressing like mom may or may not be a sign that the parents are asking too much. The one clear sign she gave was wanting to or mom wanting her to teach older women. But this will only apply to a small number of families. The article indicates that I might be sick, but gave me no real symptoms to look for.
Fourth, I agree it is wrong for a daughter to regularly be a substitute mother, especially at too young an age. A mom should not make her daughter run her home in her place. If the mother has abdicated her role she should be admonished. But this is not what is usually occurring. Usually, it is simply division of labor. The daughter makes dinner so mom can teach the boys math. The daughter changes the babies’ diaper because mom is making dinner. The daughter goes to get ice cream from one side of the store so mom can get meat on the other side. In other words, mom is not stepping back and letting her daughters take over. It is so that family can now get more done because there are more hands to help. This can lead to overburdening our daughters, but it certainly does not have to.
Fifth, she does not address the attitude with which things are done in the home. This is probably the greatest factor in parenting, not the amount of work a child is given. There is nothing wrong with a pre-teen or teenage girl having large responsibilities. I have seen many girls do this with joy and gladness. I have seen girls with little responsibility feel completely ripped off by the slightest amount of work. The amount of work can be a problem, but usually isn’t. Douglas Wilson states that one man tells his son to cut wood and he is giving a gift to his son. Another man tells him to cut wood and he is just being selfish. This also applies to daughters. If mom and dad are regularly laying down their lives for their children then their children will be loyal to them and obey them. If mom and dad are giving, even when they are handing out chores and disciplining them, they are imitating Christ. But if mom and dad simply see their daughters as another way to get what they want, whether that is clean dishes or praise at the home school co-opt, then their daughters will be bitter and disobedient.
Sixth, I want to address the following quote because it shows some of the sloppy thinking that often goes into statements about hypocrisy and grace. Here is what Mrs. Keen says:
“The young girl who dresses more modestly, is capable of running a home, or has input on topics above the knowledge level of her peers is not necessarily godlier than other young girls. In fact, there is a greater danger of raising up a Pharisee, someone who shows forms of godliness on the outside but with no change on the inside. The desire for modesty, pure speech, taking care of a home, etc. should be taught and modeled to our daughters, but not forced onto them from the outside.”
Paragraphs like this are meant well, but they are terribly unclear and often just plain wrong. The first sentence of the quote is a throwaway line that almost every Christian will agree with. Most Christians agree that it is possible play dress up in the Christian life and pretend to be holy when we are not. The second sentence is biblically unsound. Teaching my daughter to be modest, how to run a home and be knowledgeable about subjects (I am assuming that she means homemaking subjects) does not make her more likely to be a Pharisee. Obedience to God’s Word does not make us more likely to be Pharisees. Outward conformity to God’s Word without an inward love for Christ and His Word makes us Pharisees. A desire to please man and not please God makes us Pharisees. But we are supposed to teach our daughters modesty. We supposed to teach our daughters how to run a home. Our daughters are supposed to be knowledgeable on things concerning the home. Mrs. Keen is essentially saying that teaching our daughters to obey God’s Word makes them more likely to be a Pharisee. If this is not what she means then she needs to be clearer. Obedience and legalism are not the same thing.
Also, what does she mean by “not forced onto them from the outside?” How else are we supposed to teach our daughters? Everything we do is from the outside. In one sense our entire Christian life comes from the outside. The Word, prayer, fellowship, rebuke, encouragement, worship, the Lord’s Supper, our baptisms all happen to us from the outside. Even the Holy Spirit comes to us from the outside. I think (I am not sure) she means we should seek to develop in our daughters a heart for God instead of just outward conformity to a cold set of rules. To which I say, Amen! But how do we do this, except from the outside? We train, exhort, rebuke, love, encourage, pressure, delight in, pray for, and set an example for our daughters. All of this is from the outside with the goal that our daughters will love God and love neighbor. But this goal is achieved by force from the outside. Sometimes this force is gentle. Sometimes it is stronger. But as parents, and even as Christian brothers and sisters once our children are grown, we are to be spurring one another on to love and good works. I understand that without the Spirit and the work of God in the heart my daughter my work from the outside will be impotent. But that is what the promises of God are all about. He promises us that He is the God of our children. We move forward trusting that our children belong to Him and that he will do a good work in them as we shepherd them from the outside in.