Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Three - Part One

Ah...the joys of rural living. Fresh, home-grown vegetables. Lovely vistas of corn and wheat waving in the wind. Watching children work on 4-H projects. Multigenerational feuds over issues that no one outside of the families understands or cares about.  Americana at its finest.

No, seriously.  Half the fun of living in the country is the fact that any misunderstanding between the crabbiest members of an extended family can lead to a "Romeo and Juliet"-style romance - or equally "Romeo and Juliet" - style death toll - fifty years down the road.

I share this factoid because Steven and Teri Maxwell imply that terrible things than happen if people fail to learn to converse correctly from their book "Making Great Conversationalists".   And yes, I've meet families that have splintered to the point of changing the spelling of their last name based on rude behavior of members.

I simply question if this next "bad" conversation is as dire as the Maxwells imply:

Mrs. Monroe has just brought a plate of cookies to Mrs. Jones' house to welcome the Joneses to the neighborhood.

" May I help you?" asks Mrs. Jones and she opens the door.

"I am Mrs. Monroe from next door, and I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood."

"That is so kind and thoughtful of you. We just moved in yesterday, and the house is a mess or I'd invite you in," Mrs. Jones responds.

" Well, I-" Mrs. Monroe starts to comment, but Mrs. Jones interrupts her.

" We've already had to fix (sic) and that. It is amazing how much work this house is taken. We thought it was in good shape, but were we ever wrong. We've already called the plumber and electrician. Let me tell you, they were expensive," continues Mrs. Jones.

" I'm sorry. Have you tried-" Mrs. Monroe makes another attempt to be part of the conversation.

" I've even got a call into the air conditioning man and and am expecting him to get back to me any minute. Do you have any idea of how hot it is in our house? It feels like it could could be almost a hundred degrees, and it is only eleven o'clock. I can only guess how hot it will be this afternoon. I tried to open the windows, but I couldn't get any of them to open. Those are two more repairman I will need to call. I think those calls should be my husband's responsibility. I don't know why he isn't the one making them. He can deal with these people much better than I can. Oh, yes, and thank you for the cookies. I must be going. Nice talking with you. Stop by anytime. Bye," says Mrs. Jones as she steps back inside the house.

" Bye," replies Mrs. Monroe.

What kind of relationship did this conversation generate between these two ladies? How likely is it that Mrs. Monroe will ever try to visit with Mrs. Jones again? (pgs. 37-38)

OH, THE HORRORS!  This rudeness sets off the great Monroe-Jones feud that leads to...absolutely nothing.

Look, Mrs. Monroe is an adult.  Adults understand that moving is very stressful and people don't present themselves in the best way when stressed.  Mrs. Jones is decidedly frazzled and might want to stop drinking caffeine for the day, but she's not so obnoxious that the Monroes will never talk to her again.

Even if the Joneses are self-centered and chatterboxes, there's still some really important information that the Monroes will want to get from them. 

Personally, I want to know who the hell did the inspection of the home.  Home inspectors vary a lot in quality - but this inspector managed to miss issues with the plumbing, electricity, air conditioning and the fact that all the windows are inoperable.  Those are some pretty big issues to miss and I don't want to use that inspector the next time I move.

I'm very curious about the two professionals that Mrs. Jones is going to call to fix the windows.  I thought I misread it at first - but Mrs. Jones said that she's waiting for a call from the AC repair company  and that she needs to call two repairmen.  After discussing this extensively with my husband, we're assuming that one repairman is the local odds-jobs-man who will show Mrs. Jones how to unlock the double-paned windows...or maybe strip paint from the frames...or explain that the windows don't open.  The other repairman is a glazier because Mrs. Jones has decided to break all the windows to cool the house down.

Finally, Mrs. Monroe's habit of introducing herself as "Mrs. Monroe" to another adult woman casually is outdated by at least 60 years.

Let's see if the conversation would have been different had Mrs. Jones been a good conversationalist.

Mrs. Monroe has just brought a plate of cookies to Mrs. Jones's house to welcome the Joneses to the neighborhood.

" May I help you?" asks Mrs. Jones as she opens the door.

" I'm Mrs. Monroe from next door, and I wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood," Mrs. Monroe's smiles as she hands Mrs. Jones the cookies.

" That is so kind and thoughtful of you. Thank you. We just moved in yesterday, and there isn't even a place to sit down, or I'd invite you in. But I would love to take a minute and hear about your family," Mrs. Jones replies.

" Well, Bob and I have been married for 12 years, and God has blessed us with four children so far. Our children range from ten down to three, and we are expecting another one in August. Tell me about your family," Mrs. Monroe answers.

"Jim and I have been married for 24 years and have two children. Daniel is 20, and Melissa's 17. We've homeschooled them since the beginning," response Mrs. Jones.

" Really? Homeschool? You must have so much patience. I don't think I could ever homeschool. I'm just not patient enough," Mrs. Monroe says.

What a difference! This is the kind of conversation that builds friendships-- a great beginning for these two neighbors. (pgs. 38-39)

Friendships are built on carefully constructed truths that show no negatives in the land of the Maxwells. Mrs. Jones is still trapped in a hermetically sealed house without air conditioning with wonky plumbing and electricity with her two homeschooled young adults.  The Monroes are still unaware of a terrifyingly inept housing inspector.  The discussion is more outwardly pleasant - but the most vital pieces of information are not being exchanged.

 In real life, I would be seriously curious as to why Daniel is being homeschooled at age 20. 

Now, if the Joneses had bought the Maxwell's book "Preparing Sons to Provide for Single-Income Families" Daniel would be able to fix the plumbing, electricity and windows himself - but his family didn't and now they are paying the price.   Buy all of the Maxwell books or your family will suffer!

Mrs. Monroe, on the other hand, has four kids between the ages of 10 and three, is pregnant with the fifth, and had time to bake cookies for the new neighbor.   That's terrifyingly efficient - and I think I'd prefer the Joneses.   Does Mrs. Monroe realize that her cookie baking time will evaporate once she is converted to homeschooling like the chaos-ridden Joneses?

I know weather patterns are different in the south and southwest - but Michigan doesn't get 90 degree heat before June most years.  The fact that Mrs. Jones doesn't appear to notice that Mrs. Monroe is in her third trimester (and presumably showing a lot since it's her fifth) while standing on the porch in blistering heat seems implausible. 

See, the Maxwells miss the two most obvious reasons the Monroes and Joneses will meet in the future.  First, they are next-door neighbors.  Unless one of the families only comes out at night, they will run into each other when working on lawns or shoveling driveways.   In real-life, the Monroes would show up at the Joneses for trick-or-treating on Halloween or with holiday treats around Christmas.    Secondly, Melissa Jones is prime babysitter age and the Monroes have a growing herd of kids to be babysat.  My family has had multi-decade relationships built on the parent-babysitter-kid relationship.

Last question: how often does one homeschooling family move in next door to a family who is a good target for conversion to homeschooling - and eventually CP/QF life - through random chance?

Next post: More information-concealing conversations and a Maxwell-conversation stopper.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter Two

I've been a mom for exactly 21 months as I write this post.  I've had a lot of experience with various medical and rehabilitation professions having the awkward conversation about issues or delays that my son has.  Let's see....there's been blood transfusions, an infected PICC line, a super-active baby who required special ventilator settings, the time he started showing signs of a NEC infection but was really just thermoregulating as a very young age, lungs that were a bit messed up and the joys of choosing the right type of feeding tube.  That lead to meeting therapists who got to tell us that he was mildly delayed in gross motor skills and fine motor skills.  The fine motor skills improved and the motor skills continued on the right timing just delayed by 3 months.  Most recently, we learned that his gross motor skills had developed more of a lag and that it was time to think about outpatient PT.

I say this because I heard many different, but kind, sweet and caring ways of letting me know that my kid has some issues that need specialized treatment while still respecting my son's awesomeness - and he is freaking amazing - and my feelings as a full-time caregiver

I am so grateful that no one decided to follow Steven Maxwell's method of sharing concerns in his book "Making Great Conversationalists" co-authored with his wife Teri Maxwell. This lovely paragraph comes at the end of 2.5 pages that I would summarize as "Jesus loves us more than you because we've got a successful conference ministry":

Something else grew out of our travel, conferences, and personal conversations with those who attended our conferences. We became concerned about your children. This is a typical conversation one of our children would have at a conference with a young person of, perhaps, 16 years old. (pg. 24)

Yes!  This is how you attract people to your business - sorry - "ministry": insult their children!  How have other people missed this?

Oh, wait.  Successful businesses and ministries cultivate positive relationships with potential clients; the Maxwell habit of insulting the intelligence and parenting skills of their past customers is related to the current dearth of interest in Maxwell conferences, I suspect.

I should feel more insulted - but again, this is one of those paragraphs that drives the author's level of pompous isolation home.   The Maxwell kids are phenomenal conversationalists as evaluated by their parents.  When other kids fail to hit all of the Maxwell expectations, the fault is with the other kids, obviously. 

This next "bad" conversation follows immediately after the last sentence in the previous quote.  Not surprisingly, I believe my gentle readers will recognize that the conversation issue diagnosed by the Maxwell Parents is not the actual issue that's occurring:

Our Anna would initiate the conversation. "Hi, my name is Anna."

" Hi," the new girl responds.

" What's your name?"


" It's nice to meet you Stacy. I'm so glad you were able to come to the conference. I hope that you will like it and learn something from it. Where do you live?"


" How far is that from here? I am not very familiar with the geography of this area because I am from Kansas."

" Don't know."

" What do you like to do, Stacy?"

" Read."

" Tell me about your favorite book."

" I don't have a favorite."

Through this conversation, Anna is working to engage Stacy. Sometimes Stacy looks at Anna, but other times she is looking around. Stacy halfway manages to answer Anna' questions, but she doesn't give more than basic information, and she never asks Anna a question. (pgs. 24-25)


Before Stacy goes down in history labeled as a "bad" conversationalist, we should discuss the importance of non-verbal signaling in conversations. 

Stacy - to be blunt - does not want to talk to Anna. 

Stacy is looking for a specific person or persons who is NOT Anna while Anna continues to blithely assume that Stacy has nothing she'd rather be doing than making small-talk with a stranger.

Now, how did we reach this sad impasse? 

The first problem is that we've got two 16 year-old girls on our hands.  The finer social graces of being able to disengage a conversation without insulting the other person can take a long time to work out.  Saying "Anna, I'm so glad to meet you, but unfortunately I promised my friend Hannah that I would talk with her between the first and second session about a skit we are doing at church tomorrow so I have to go now" is something I couldn't do smoothly on the fly until I was in my twenties.  I doubt I would be as monosyllabic as Stacy - but I would have been stammering and vaguely inchoate.

The second problem is that homeschooled CP/QF teenagers have so few chances to interact with their peer group that every second is precious.  When I was the same age, I knew that I'd see my school friends five days out of seven and work buddies at least twice a week.  Using a passing period or even a whole lunch period to have a conversation with a stranger was not an imposition at all.  For poor Stacy, this may well be the only time she sees another homeschooled, home-churching friend for a month or more!  Stacy would have to be a martyr to pass up time with a friend - let alone potential suitor - to amuse Anna Maxwell.

The last issue is the forced yet transient nature of this relationship.  Anna is different than most of the teenagers here; she's a traveling speaker.  She's stuck being a model teenager on display for other families to admire.  That's an ok schtick - but it's not the most attractive to other teenagers.  Plus, Anna is visiting from another state altogether.  How much effort should a local CP/QF teenage girl spend cultivating a relationship with Anna when the relationship is going to be long-distance and highly monitored by one or both parent sets?

One last concern of mine: look at Anna's use of questions in this one-sided conversation.  I know that Anna's trying to start a conversation with someone who doesn't want to talk - but Anna's use of questions implies that Stacy is under some obligation to share whatever personal information Anna wants to know.   The only piece of information Anna shares about herself is that she lives in Kansas.  In return, Stacy's supposed to share her favorite hobby and produce a fascinating synopsis of her favorite book on demand. 

My tip for the Maxwells: Since your family only reads a highly restricted subsection of religious writings, don't be surprised when some people who are genuinely well-read react with visible annoyance to the question "What's your favorite book?"   I have a stock answer ready for that question - but a lot of avid readers find that question deeply annoying because there are so many good books in different genres that it's a bit like asking "Which of your kids do you like the best?"

The next quote is the "good" conversation.

Two 16 year old girls should be able to have a delightful conversation, perhaps a little like this:

Our Anna would initiate the conversation. " Hi, my name is Anna."

" Hi. My name is Stacy. I am excited to be at the conference with my family," the new girl responds.

" Why are you excited about it?" Anna asks.

" Our family has been really growing in the Lord lately. My dad shared some of the session titles and descriptions with us. They sounded really good. I especially like the one about brothers and sisters. Do you have many brothers and sisters?" Stacy continues the conversation.

" I have two sisters and five brothers. It is from those relationships that the Lord has given us the material we share in the Brothers and Sisters Best Friends Forever session. How many siblings do you have, and what is your biggest struggle with them?"

When we realize the good conversation was the exception rather than the rule, we decided that maybe we could assist parents and doing what is the most important to them-- helping their children. (pgs 25-26)

Well, I can see where the conversation is much more enjoyable from Anna's perspective - but Stacy's still not getting to see or do whatever was distracting her during the earlier vignette.

It's still a weird, stilted conversation, though. 

I grew up Catholic so I've never heard anyone use the term "growing in the Lord" to describe how a family is doing.    My twisted sense of humor wishes that Anna had followed up with the question "How has the Lord been active in your life?" so that Stacy could unload about how much better her life has been now that her dad's alcoholism has been in recovery for a month.   It sucks when he falls off the wagon, but at least he's trying now - and the family has enough money for food again!

The fact that Stacy's dad shared some - but not all - of the session titles with the family brought back a funny memory from the spring after my husband and I started dating.  My husband's brother-in-law and sister are highly active in a local Linux conference that has morphed into a sci-fi-fantasy-alternate lifestyle-fiction writer-gamer extravaganza.   By that point, my husband had known me long enough to realize that I would enjoy this conference - or at least be able to roll with it.   Well, we checked into the hotel and I started leafing through the conference program while we waited for an elevator.   I stop on one page and ask, "Is there something you want to talk about in our relationship?" My husband is completely thrown and blurts "No?".  I follow-up with "Is there something you need to tell me about your personal preferences?"  My husband is completely lost so I flip the program over so he can see that I have it open to the quick-reference for the BDSM community activities and workshops.   He and I laugh pretty hard. - and agree that that would be a horrible way to start a discussion about sexual preferences.    I doubt that the Maxwell conferences are that interesting...but I've never been to one.

Getting back to Anna and Stacy's conversation, I feel like part of the reason the conversation is "good" according to the Maxwells is that Anna is getting feedback about what clients of Titus 2 Ministries want.  The current clients like the descriptions and choices which is a good piece of info to have - but man, Anna's life sound more and more conscribed every second.

Let's talk about boundaries for a second. 

Healthy people have boundaries around their personal lives and respect boundaries set by other people.   Anna and Stacy met less than a minute ago - so Anna is massively transgressing a basic boundary by asking Stacy to disclose the foibles of the relationships between her siblings and her.    That question is a conversation-stopper rather than a conversation opener.   A far more acceptable option would be to ask "What are the strengths of your relationships with your siblings?".   Talking about the positives that happen in a family is generally viewed as non-threatening and acceptable.

Why would 16-year old Anna make that mistake?  The Maxwells are super-shelterers. Steven and Teri Maxwell have taken the CP/QF norm of restricting contact between their children and wider society to an absurd level.   As near as I can tell, the Maxwells can go weeks without having more than work-related or forced conversion conversations with strangers.  Learning societal norms require a bit more interaction with non-family humans. 

I can guess why the Maxwell kids don't recognize crossing a boundary.  What I don't understand is why Steven and Teri Maxwell don't remember basic courtesy and boundaries in conversations.  These two grew up in mainstream homes and they both went to college at the University of Missouri - Rolla.  Yeah, they've gone over to a very different life - but that was after their early twenties.  They should know better.

In the next few pages, Steven Maxwell shares his understanding of how communication is different than conversation.  I've pulled out his definitions:

Conversation is the verbal exchange of information between two or more people. (pg. 26)

Communication is the giving or receiving of information such as thoughts, opinions, or facts via speech or writing, whether electronically or by other means. (pg. 27)

He's not wrong - but that's not the same as being complete. 

I dragged out my notes from my one and only college class in Communications.  I learned that communication is the process of converting ideas or thoughts or feelings in a person's head to a form that can be shared with other people.  The advantage of that definition is that it includes lots of non-verbal communication methods as well as media methods.     Maxwell's description misses the scads of information that can be passed by facial expressions like "Continue doing that and you're in SO much trouble!" or "Wow, this has gotten weird fast...."

Conversation, on the other hand, describes interactive communication between two or more people.  A lot of time we think of conversations as being verbal and happening at one time - but conversations can be written and asynchronous.  An excellent example is the circle letters that used to be used to share information among families and groups focused on similar interests.  A more modern example is discussions in comment sections of websites and blogs.    A funny example of an asynchronous conversations involving random and unknown users was the time the guest service team manager placed a sign over the time clock that used "Your" when the correct usage was "You're".  Post-it notes, correction tape, Sharpies and a wide variety of ballpoint pens created a highly annotated sign divided among the "If the word is a contraction of 'you are', the correct form is you're" group and the "get over yourselves" group.   

From here on out, Maxwell treats all conversations where one person is predominating as communication - which is a bit shaky on either Maxwell's or my definition of communication.  Equally oddly, he doesn't seem to recognize that his definition of communication doesn't require that all participants share equally while requiring a balanced back-and-forth in the sample conversations.

We can see some of these quirks in a long story about a pre-screening for Jesse's wisdom teeth removal:

Recently we were at an oral surgeons office who was going to remove our son's wisdom teeth. Jesse and I ( Steve) were escorted into an examining room and instructed where to sit. The assistant turned on a DVD that played for 10 minutes, telling us all about wisdom teeth removal and follow-up care. That's the surgeon came in and began to tell Jesse about the procedure and certain things we should know.


To this point in the pre-surgery appointment, they were strictly giving us information, first via the DVD and then in person as the oral surgeon recited facts that he had repeated many times before. There was no exchange back from us other than to indicate we understood what they wanted us to know. We were interested in what we were hearing because it would impact Jesse's health. It was neither enjoyable nor awkward-- just the passing of information.

However, after the medical part was completed, the surgeon transformed from a sterile doctor into a conversationalist. He asked Jesse some questions about himself, and the flow of information went both ways. We entered a conversation.

Jesse and I asked him questions on a personal level, and he interned asked us more. He asked about Jesse's school and future plans. He asked about what I did for a living and where we went to church, among other topics. We were able to ask him some questions and learn a bit about his life, including his love for going on medical mission trips to Haiti. For 20 minutes we carried on a conversation. When the communication turned into an enjoyable conversation, it was no longer cold and dry communication but a pleasurable, relationship-building experience. He was a warm, caring person who had a heart for his patients. (pgs. 27-28)

In the first two paragraphs of this quote, Maxwell can't use his own definitions to correctly sort "watched DVD" and "listened to oral surgeon and assented that we understood the procedure" into the right categories.   Maxwell and I agree that his definition of communication fits watching an informational DVD.  What Maxwell blanks on is that he and Jesse were having a conversation with the oral surgeon when the oral surgeon described the procedure, common and uncommon side effects, and after-care for the procedure.  Yes, the oral surgeon was doing most of the talking - but Jesse and Steven Maxwell's indication that they understood what the surgeon was saying and were accepting of the risks and required after-care was critically important.  Jesse and Steven were sending equally important information back to the surgeon by saying "Yes" or "I understand" or "We can do that."  If the Maxwells had wanted, they could have engaged in a more dynamic conversation with the oral surgeon by saying "No, I'm afraid I don't understand the risks" or "Oh, dry sockets aren't a real thing" or any response that made the oral surgeon have to describe things differently. 

The last two paragraphs clarify what Maxwell really means by "conversation".  A Maxwell conversation is an informal exchange of information that is enjoyable to the Maxwells.  This remembered conversation strikes all the topics that a good Maxwell conversation should have - homeschooling, rejection of college or vocational training, bragging about their home church located in a retirement home and a chance for Steven to brag about his family business.  Really, the only flaw was that the doctor pulled out a higher "Jesus" trump card by having participated in medical mission trips to Haiti than Steven could pull.  An ideal conversation would have included the oral surgeon having a conversion experience right then and there with Jesse and Steven Maxwell.  Alas, we live in a fallen world :-P

Rapid topic change: How do the Maxwells choose their doctors?  I had my wisdom teeth removed when I was in my early twenties. I talked to my oral surgeon then for 15 minutes total and about 8 of those minutes were when I was being put under anesthesia or groggily returning to consciousness.  After my son was born, I became a hard-core tooth grinder and cracked a tooth so deeply I had to have it extracted.   I talked to the oral surgeon for 10 minutes at the pre-appointment (mainly because I was in the middle of filling out the medical history when he arrived so he finished it orally with me) followed by a tooth extraction that took less than 15 minutes start to finish.  I really don't remember anything about the oral surgeon who removed my wisdom teeth - but I'm certain I never had a very deep conversation about anything except the oddities of having a small baby attached to a lot of cords with the second surgeon. 

Oh - and that conversation was while he was extracting the tooth.  (I love laughing gas. It kills my anxiety about having pointy metal objects in my mouth while still letting me chat.)

I don't assume that a doctor who is quiet, business-like or even brusque hates their patients.  I pick my doctors for competency in their field and ability to communicate clearly with me.  The anesthesiologist who cared for me during my C-section was very brusque - but that was at least in part because I had two IV pumps the middle of a C-section that was projected to need at least one blood transfusion if not more.   In the middle of it, I didn't understand why my complaints about nausea seemed to be on the back-burner - but afterwards he explained what happened.  From my point of view, the anesthesiologist focused on the really important issue of keeping fluids in me and handled the less severe issue of nausea and vomiting when he got a free hand.

In case anyone missed it, Steven Maxwell outlines the real importance of teaching your kids to be conversationalists:

As a father at that moment, I was grateful that my 16 year old son had learned the art of conversation. When the oral surgeon ask Jesse questions, he spoke up and articulated his answers. Not only was Jesse able to do that, but he was able to continue the conversation by asking the doctor questions. That is a tool Jesse will use throughout his life. (pg. 28)

Remember, the Maxwells are all about image management.  Jesse earns points in that conversation because he can answer clearly and think of questions to ask the oral surgeon about his life.  Jesse performed well and therefore Steven is proud.   Notice that Steven doesn't seem concerned if Jesse understood the risks of tooth removal....or if Jesse had worries about the procedure...or even if Jesse could correctly fill out a personal medical history.  Nope, as long as the kids make Steven look good, they're fine.

Next post: the real reason those two neighbors don't talk...and a few remembered Maxwellian conversations. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Making Great Conversationalists: Chapter One - Part Four

We've had a wild and crazy week here in Kidlet land.  The Spawn has started weekly outpatient PT to help him learn to walk.  Spawn has unusually flexible hips and has used that super power to learn how to sit and crawl using minimal abdominal muscle support.  It's a good trick for army-crawling, but a weak abdomen is keeping him from learning how to pull himself up into standing and remain standing.  So...we're learning how to use bicycle shorts with the inner leg seams sewn together to make it nearly impossible for him flex his hips into a large support base for three 20 minute sessions a day to let him start getting ripped toddler abs. 

Spawn's pretty accepting of the modified bike shorts - also known as Hip Helpers - and absolutely diametrically opposed to the existence of the PT gym  up to and including Dr. Robin who is his current PT.   While Spawn vocally disagrees with me, Dr. Robin is awesome and so good with Spawn.  Having a toddler who screams and cries for 20 minutes out of an hour session (albeit in discrete burst of baby anxiety or rage) is emotionally exhausting for me.  The physical exhaustion comes having a 21 pound tot clinging or wrestling with me for 60 minutes plus carrying him to and from the car.  (Spawn's also in the middle of a stroller strike that causes him to scream or cry when placed in his stroller.)

At the same time, I'm gearing up to begin subbing a few days a week while Spawn is with his doting grandparents.  I love the idea of being in a classroom again - but those whom the gods wish to destroy are first sent to get a substitute teaching licence in Michigan.   I feel like I've jumped through nearly as many hoops to get a substitute licence as I did to get an unlimited teacher's licence way back when during a time where Michigan is frantic because of a lack of full-time teachers to fill classrooms now that school is starting.

So that's the lowdown on why my posting schedule is all over the place again.  The good news is that I have one last dialogue in the first chapter of "Making Great Conversationalists" by Steven and Teri Maxwell.  In a change of pace, both dialogues sound plausible in this example.  The reason for this influx of reality, I suspect, is the fact that the Maxwells have actually been in this situation AND are freed from their previous obsession with how their children's conversation reflects on their parenting.   Today, we listen in on a fairly newlywed couple - April and Ryan - who have a eight month old son named Joseph.  April is a stay-at-home mom and Ryan has just come home from his office job.

At six-thirty, April hears the garage door go up, announcing Ryan's return home from work. She picks up Joseph and hurries down the stairs to greet him. " Ryan, I hope dinner isn't spoiled since you had to work late. It's your favorite - chicken enchiladas. I sure wish you could have come home on time. It's been a long day. Joseph has been extra fussy today, and he only took two half hour naps all day! Because it was rainy, we couldn't even go for our morning walk. The day seems so long, and now I have a terrible headache. I sure hope you are planning to spend some time with us tonight."

Ryan is checking his emails and text messages as he emerges from the car. " Sorry, April."

"Joseph wouldn't eat his sweet potatoes. He kept spitting them out. Then he took his cup and threw it on the floor every time I put it back on his high chair tray. I think something is wrong with the washing machine. It is making a funny noise that I haven't heard before. I tried to write a check for the electric bill, but I couldn't find the checkbook. Do you know where it is?"

" No." Ryan hugs the two of them while reading his phone over their shoulders. " I really want to get changed. Why don't you put Joseph in his pack-and-play while you get dinner finished up?"

So many stay-at-home mommies with little children are starved for adult conversation when their husband returns home from work. Like many of them, April blast Ryan with all the problems of the day, while he remains engaged in his work issues either mentally or through his phone. They are not building the kind of relationship that they would like to have: a relationship that is developed through good conversation. (pg.16-17)

As a stay-at-home mom to a toddler, I have far more sympathy for April than I do for Ryan in this situation.  At the end of exasperating days, I've referred to my son as a nonverbal capricious tyrant with inscrutable whims.  Being stuck at home with a crabby baby who refuses to nap and is creating a mess every time they are fed is exhausting and monotonous.  Adding in the fact that a critical piece of equipment for household function is making weird noises makes the day longer from background worry - and that's not taking into account the frustration of a missing checkbook.   I also understand the habit of sharing important pieces of info - like "the washing machine might be on the verge of breaking" - pretty quickly after my husband comes home.  I do that because I may not remember if I put it off any longer and my husband gets that.

April does do three things that I find off-putting.  Chicken enchiladas keep well in a warm oven; it's not like she's serving a Yorkshire pudding or a chocolate souffle that will be kinda off if it gets cold.  The only issue I can see with enchiladas is that the bits of tortilla that aren't covered in sauce could dry out a bit in a warm oven over time.  Thankfully, the magic of aluminum foil can prevent the really minor inconvenience of overly dry tortilla bits.   That's the only issue I can think of - and it is not worth passive-aggressively complaining to her husband about. 

Similarly, the complete lack of a backstory makes April's comment that she hopes Ryan will spend time with April and Joseph tonight seem passive-aggressive or needy.   If Ryan does extra work at home or tends to veg out, some description of his previous actions would ground the story more. 

Finally, did April and Ryan adopt Joseph last week?  April's concerns about Joseph's eating habits are really strange for the mother of an infant that age.  Eight-month old babies reject foods all the time.  Hell, my son would scarf a puree one day and behave like it was poison the next.    He'd only eat purees some days if I let him hold the spoon the entire time.  I tried letting him hold two empty spoons - one for each hand.  No dice; he wanted to have some control over utensils going near his mouth.  (Can't blame him for that, really.)   Likewise, an eight month old will treat any object they can reach in a high chair as a potential projectile.  Even at 17 months, my son is equally likely to toss a sippy cup onto the floor as he is to drink from it.   Eight months also feels really young for a kid to handle a cup; my son's OT/Speech therapist was happily surprised when I told her that Spawn was starting to drink slightly thickened liquids from a cup I held and guided at ten months adjusted age.  The Spawn really only got good at drinking straight liquids from a sippy cup at around 15 months of age - so April might be worried over a milestone Joseph is several months away from being ready for.

April's got her quirks - but I'm hard-pressed to find anything likeable about Ryan.  He can't detach from his phone for thirty seconds to greet his wife and child?  He literally cannot complete a hug without reading from his phone.  Does Ryan multitask having sex with his wife while reading his emails?  (I don't really want to know the answer to that.) Why can't he say "April, I'm sorry, but I've got to wrap one business thing up before being done for the night." ?  April may still be tired and wound up - but at least Ryan would be respectful of her attempts to communicate with him instead of being completely checked out.    I might be reading overly much into this - but the fact that Ryan recommends April drop off the baby in his pack n' play while she finishes dinner makes me wonder if he was listening to her at all.  April said she's finished dinner a while ago.  The process of sticking a serving spoon into a dish of enchiladas after pulling it out of the oven takes less than 30 seconds even if she's got a baby on her hip.  Conversely, perhaps the writer of this section isn't a cook and has no idea how strange Ryan sounds.....

The advice section feels a bit overly harsh on April - and way too permissive on Ryan's behavior.  I can see how April might come across as overly intense when Ryan first came home - but she's not being rude, just tired and overwhelmed.  Ryan, on the other hand, is being damned rude.

The ideal conversation, on the other hand, is two people alluding to events in their day without actually discussing them:

Let's see how that conversation could have gone if both April and Ryan had learned to be loving conversationalists.

At six-thirty, April hears the garage door go up, announcing Ryan's return home from work. She picks up Joseph and hurries down the stairs to meet him. " Joseph, Daddy's home!" she bubbles to the baby as they move into the garage. " Ryan, I kept dinner warm in the oven since you had to work late. We have been so looking forward to having you home."

" Me too. It was a rough day at work. I will tell you all about it when we eat dinner. How was your day, sweetheart?"

" My day was rough too. I'll tell you more about that later. Would you believe Joseph sat up all by himself after his nap when he was playing on the floor? I hope he does it again tonight for you. He was so cute, and I think he actually was proud of himself."

' Yeah! Another milestone for our little man," Ryan hugs the two of them and takes Joseph into his arms. " Hey, Joseph, Daddy loves you so much, and I am so glad to be home with you."

April says, " I made your favorite for dinner tonight. Chicken enchiladas. I'll go put the food on the table while you play with Joseph." (pgs. 17-18)

See, life is so much sweeter when you sweep the frustrations and irritations of family and work under the rug while focusing on the strangely angelic baby!  Ryan's in for one hell of a shock when he starts playing with Joseph and Joseph devolves into a sobbing pile of eight month old baby because he's teething or afraid of sweet potatoes or really wanted to live in the garage.  (Seriously, it's not kind to hand off a crabby, sleep-deprived baby to a spouse without fair warning.)   April, who still has a headache, a washing machine that is making foreboding noises, and no checkbook in sight, is going to be super-happy when she is ready to relax only to find out that Ryan needs to finish an urgent matter from work tonight.   Will anyone be happier when the washing machine throws a bearing in the middle of a load tomorrow morning and April can't hire a repairman because Joseph ate the checkbook and so a frantic phone call arrives in the middle of Ryan's meeting that he's spent hours prepping for last night?

There is a happy medium.  When my husband comes home, we both make a good faith effort to greet each other warmly and express happiness that the baby is alive and well.  Next, we dump all of the assorted household and work baggage that we need to discuss and get those things squared away.  That way we are less likely to forget something important like "I think Spawn is teething again..." or be emotionally unavailable because one of us is distracted by something that happened. 

The end of each chapter has a series of questions for families to go over as they read the book.   In CP/QF writing tradition, the questions range from painfully dull to horrifying.  I've picked out the ones that amuse me or provide unintentional glimpses into how dysfunctional the families really are:

1) Read the good and bad conversations in this chapter as a family. Discuss them. Can your children discern the good ones from the bad ones? What do they think makes the good ones good and the bad ones bad? (pg. 19)

Well, the entire book follows the pattern of topic A bad conversation,  topic A good conversation, topic B bad conversation,  topic B good conversation ad nauseum.   Assuming the children have moderate skill in pattern recognition, I'm pretty sure they'll get the pattern even if they have no idea of the difference between the two conversations.   Be sure to give them full credit if they answer "The good conversations come second!"   Oddly enough, another correct answer would be "The good conversation conceals more information than the bad conversation" - and I'm not sure that's a lesson I want my kid to learn.

2) Sit down individually with each child with the state of purpose to talk. Go somewhere private in the house where there won't be distractions. Tell the child you want to be able to talk with him, and let him know he isn't in trouble. Ask your child some questions then evaluate his conversation with you. Here are some suggestions for questions you could ask. Ask if he has anything pressing he wants to talk to you about. Ask if he is having any problems in general, any problems with you, or any problems with other family members. Ask him how he is spending his time. (pg. 19-20)


"Hey, Billy.  Sit down.  We have the stated purpose to talk.  Yeah, here's your blanky.    No, the stated purpose to talk means that we're going to talk.  Not porpoise - purpose.  We are purposing to talk.  Please don't jump on the bed when we're purposing to talk.  I need you to use your words.  I need you to use your English words, not dolphin squeaks.  I know that dolphins jump in the air - but you need to stop jumping on the bed even if you are a dolphin."

"Hi, Leslie.  We have the stated purpose to talk....why are you crying?  No, you're not in trouble.  Why would you think you were in trouble?  I do not only talk to you one-on-one when you are in trouble.  You are not in trouble.  Great. you have any problems with me?  Wait, why are you crying again?  Look, you are not in trouble."

"Hi, Jana.  We have the stated purpose to talk.  You are not in trouble.  Did you think you were in trouble? Why does everyone think they are in....nevermind.    Are you having any problems with any family members?  Jessa's keeping you up at night by kicking your bed.  How do you want to solve it?  No, having her switch beds would be too much work.  What's another solution? talking to her is too much work.  How about you give her your prized jewelry box?  Why are you objecting to giving someone who is harassing you something you love with no promise of stopping the behavior?  You are in trouble, missy."


Look, I've spent years learning how to get teenagers to talk to adults.  The only bit of the second question worth doing is trying to find a time and place that is conducive to talking without interruptions.   If the purpose of this exercise is really to evaluate the conversational skills of a kid or teen, make sure you give them an easy, light topic that they can talk about without bringing up a welter of  hard emotions.   While the Maxwells abhor the following topics, most kids will respond to a chance to discuss their favorite TV show, movie, book, sport or sports team.   Giving them a loaded topic like "let's talk about things I do that frustrate or anger you" especially when the topic is thrown at them cold AND there's no promise of immunity from punishment if the adult doesn't like the answer will likely shut the kid down.

3) After the discussion evaluate your child with the following questions. Make sure you write down your answers and any other pertinent information concerning your child's ability as a conversationalist so you can compare it to a conversation you will have with your child after finishing this book.

  • Were you able to spend 15 minutes talking with the child?
  • Did the conversation flow between you?
  • Was it give or take or one-sided?
  • Did your child listen?
  • Did he seem interested?
  • Did he answer with a word or two or with whole sentences?
  • Did he ask you questions?
(pg. 20)

Reality check: not all verbal kids can pull off a 15 minute conversation on command.  Small kids and elementary school aged kids might well wander off course before 15 minutes even if they have excellent conversational skills for their age group. 

Reality check two: The skill of the parent in eliciting conversation from a given child will greatly affect whether or not the kid can do the first three criteria as well as the fifth and sixth one.    Compare this example:
Q: "If you could go anywhere in the world - and money's no limit - where would you want to go?"
A: "Disneyland."
Q: "That's interesting!  I'd like to go to Disneyland, too!  What would you do at Disneyland?"
A: "I'd really like to meet Belle and go on the........"

Now look at this example: 
Q. "Do you have any problems with me that you want to talk about?"
A: "No." 
Q. "How are you getting along with Alice?
A: "Fine."
Q: "Do you have any pressing issues we need to talk about?"
A: "Nope."

Did you notice that I gave the "good" example before the "bad" example?  See, authors can break up monotonous patterns in their writing by reversing the order of examples!    That's a freebie for any CP/QF self-help authors who wander onto my site. *curtseys*

The next chapter shows that the Maxwells haven't taught their kids to read body language and that they pick medical professionals in a very different manner than I do.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Ladies - This is NOT proving the point you think it is!

Here's a quick recap of the rationale behind the Stay-At-Home Daughter movement. 

The "theology":  Bible says that women need a male authority figure at all points so girls need to live at home under their father until they are handed off to their husband.  The theology is neither deep nor reflecting any portion of the Gospels, but no one seems to notice or care.

The educational correlation: Women are meant to be wives and mothers.  The main forms of post-secondary training in the Western world make women less likely to be wives and mothers so girls should avoid traditional education options once they graduate from homeschool.  The traditional works of women including cooking, basic household chores and childrearing are so complicated that a young woman who stays at home and helps her mother (or other Godly Woman (TM)) will end up so far ahead of women who attend college, receive vocational training or work after high school.  (No part of this section is demonstrably true, but no one seems to notice or care, either.)

I have a rather dark sense of humor and I've been enjoying watching the recipes published on the Maxwell Family's Titus 2 blog by Teri Maxwell or Sarah Maxwell along with Jill Dillard's published recipes on the Dillard Family site.  I'd call the recipes basic, but I feel like that's insulting the recipes found in real basic cookbooks.

I'm going to share my favorites by writer:

Teri Maxwell:

I have a sneaking sense of sympathy for Teri Maxwell.  I believe she really wants to be helpful to women who don't know much about cooking - but she's not great at explaining the theory that underlies the details.
How to Flash-Freeze Strawberries:
  • The process she describes is not flash-freezing; it's just ordinary freezing.  
  • There's no tips or anything that is noticeably different from what I have in the standard Ball Blue Book....
  • The reason we half or quarter strawberries and other fruits is two-fold.  First, cutting a whole fruit into smaller pieces speeds the freezing time up markedly since the amount of time it takes to freeze is mostly dependent on the size of the fruit.  The second benefit is that smaller pieces can be packed more tightly when frozen.
Make the Most of Your Leftovers:

  • This post demonstrates how to make a casserole out of leftover rice, pork spare rib meat, ham gravy with ham bits, and a few biscuits.   The resulting casserole sounds heavy for my tastes - but that's no sin.
  • My bigger issue is that she doesn't - or can't - generalize that specific example into a broader idea.   I think the post would have been so much more useful if she explained that leftover meat and vegetables can be made into a casserole by combining them with a grain product like rice, tortillas, hearty breads or noodles and a condensed soup or sauce.  To assemble, put a layer of grain product on the bottom followed by the meat and vegetables.  Top with a shallow layer of grain product.  Pour sauce over top.   Cook at 350 for 30 minutes or until heated through.     
    • For leftover chicken, I use tortillas, tomatoes, corn, ricotta cheese and green enchilada sauce to make enchilada casserole.  
    • Leftover beef combined with egg noodles, cream of mushroom soup, a little bit of wine, and green beans makes a nice casserole, too..  
    • I don't have a great leftover pork casserole - but pork fried rice is a household favorite.
Sarah Maxwell - the dedicated Amazon Affiliate writer:
  • That's a fascinating title.  An equally honest title would be "Brown meat.  Add commercial taco seasoning.  Buy an Instant Pot through our Amazon affiliate link so we get cash!"  The reason they didn't use that title is that there would be nothing left in the body of the post.
  • An Instant Pot is a pressure cooker that can also be used as a crock-pot.  There are a lot of times that a pressure cooker is a great choice.  A pressure cooker speeds up working with dried beans, lentils and rice of all types.  Pressure cookers can do amazing things with tender foods that can get gross if over cooked like shrimp and eggs.   Using a pressure cooker/crock pot to brown hamburger or ground poultry makes NO sense.   That wastes so much energy that it is insane. 
  • I've always found this one painful due to Sarah Maxwell's angst seeping through the post.  The post is so clearly written to list six fairly expensive items in the Maxwell's Amazon affiliate links program.  The purpose is obvious - but Sarah also seems to realize that most of her most dedicated readers don't have around $100 to drop to buy a ceramic coffee dripper, coffee bean grinder, milk frother and reusable insulated tumbler to make the perfect cup of mocha.  But she needs to drum up the income and so we have this post.
This post feels like it has multiple writers involved so I'm assuming that Teri and Sarah were involved in this classic:
  • An excellent recipe to use for an open house or any other party where you invited 500 people and forgot to ask them to RSVP.   
  • Let's see: 70 cups of cooked pinto beans and 15 pounds of onions with 4 cups of spices/flavorings.  I have a well-supplied kitchen but this would overwhelm every pot, pan, bowl and cup I own in the process including my boiling bath canner and pressure canner pressed into service as really big pots.
  • I have to give Sarah (or whoever wrote the post) credit for detailing all the steps the family goes through.  At the same time, the process is completely crazy!  The process of cooking the mountain of beans separately from the hill of onions and the peppers simply creates more dishes to wash and more time on the blender/mixer without adding anything to the finished recipe.  
  • If they were to add some cumin, garlic and oregano to the burrito mix, it would change their lives.  Just saying.  It's a magical part of burritos.
At least the Maxwell recipes require some skill at cooking.  Jill Dillard seems to be specializing in creating/remembering recipes for children too young to reach the stove. 

Cinnamon Toast:
  • Like Joseph Duggar, I enjoy cinnamon toast.  Unlike his sister, I've never even thought about writing out a recipe for adding sugar and cinnamon to a buttered piece of toast.  
  • Do I get credit for "Honey-flavored Breakfast Cereal" if I explain how to drizzle honey on corn flakes?
  • Tortillas, pizza sauce, and cheese.  Microwave for 1 minute.  
  • If this is really for a meal instead of a snack, I'd substitute bagels instead of tortillas and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  It's amazing - but probably not cheap enough for large broke families.
Jill Dillard's secondary theme is accidently exposing how huge families need to skimp on protein to feed everyone.  After all, Cinnamon Toast has very little protein and Poor Man's Pizza is only slightly better because of the protein in the cheese.  Here are some more:

Easy Chicken and Noodles
  • This is a giant pot of egg noodles and diluted cream of chicken soup.  Using cooked chopped chicken is optional.   
  • She notes that her family would eat it with homemade bread (ATI teaches that the line about "Give us this day our daily bread" in the Our Father means you have to bake bread daily), a big salad and fruit.  That sounds yummy - but unless the big salad is made with lots of hard boiled eggs or beans  - this meal is really low in protein.
  • The Duggars got this recipe from a family friend.  It makes 20 enchiladas out of 20 tortillas, 5 cups of cooked rice, 4 cans of cream of chicken soup, four cups of cheddar cheese and one 12.5 oz can of cooked chicken.  Each enchilada has 0.6 oz of chicken in it; a serving of meat for a child age 5 and up is supposed to be around 3 oz.  My toddler routinely eats more than 0.6oz of meat at a sitting - and he's tiny!
I know I'm supposed to be a dunce at cooking since I went to college - but this week we've had citrus-stuffed slow roasted chicken with green beans for dinner one night followed by chicken soup made with the back, rib, wing, neck and thigh meat from the roasted chicken combined with fire-roasted tomatoes, corn, green peppers and zucchini. 

I think I'll stick to the cooking I learned from my parents.....

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Spiritual Self-Defense: Fight This Fight

I hate this post with a deep and abiding passion.  The very first paragraph is the only part of the whole damn thing that I find funny (and let me be honest - I often find the Botkin Sisters writings to be unintentionally rip-roaringly funny):

As we all arm ourselves to walk through our still-very-present culture of harassment and exploitation, there are countless things we’ll need to study outside the scope of what this series has touched on: practical issues like how to recognize a predator’s tactics, or how to build our own self-defense strategies and arsenals; legal issues like how and when and to whom to report; spiritual issues regarding things like recovery, true forgiveness, and identity; ecclesiastical issues like what to do when your church won’t help.

Pssst!  I've got a tip, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth!  "I need more time to study" is a plausible argument for why you two didn't understand the legal issues surrounding sexual assault and harassment when you were teenagers.  You could even stretch that argument into the first year or two of your twenties but no later.  See, lots of freshly minted college graduates of age 21-23 enroll in law school and learn  the intricacies of sexual assault and harassment laws in their state.  By the time a person is in their early to mid-thirties, they should be able to explain the laws of sexual assault in their state even if they've never gone to college.

The kicker is that the same argument applies for all of the other "topics beyond our scope" that the Botkin Sisters never bother to follow-up on.   Therapists are great at identifying predatory tactics; they are also fully minted after a Masters or Doctorate degree at a lower age of 26-30.  Spiritual issues are handled by clergy of all stripes who are often fully fledged between 24-30 depending on denomination.  Ecclesiastical issues is a hoot; in my church, that's implying that someone should consult a canonical lawyer - but even those people are as young as 30-35.   In CP/QF land, there's a bias against secular and theological training so pretty much any man who is married and has produced a kid can pronounce his beliefs on the issues around a church.

My very favorite, though, is the refusal to take on a serious discussion of self-defense and which guns to buy.  Believe me, plenty of teenagers have very, very detailed and well-thought out ideas about how to defend themselves in a pinch and what to use. 

Next, the Sisters give a longish rant about why abusers, feminists, Good Christians(TM), and the legal system tell victims not to report abuse.  I've pulled out the sections on feminists and Christians:

On the other side, feminist voices tell us: If you feel that what he did was not consensual, then it was wrong, and if you feel that it would be more empowering to you to resist or report, then go ahead… but it really all comes down to what you personally want right now, and no one should expect you as a woman to have to do something you don’t want to do. This is only worth fighting if you feel like it.

Too many Christian voices tell us: You just need to forgive and turn the other cheek; bringing consequences for sin isn’t loving and isn’t forgiveness; it will really damage the reputation of Christ to have things like this brought to light in the Christian community; you’re a sinner too, so you have no right to point a finger at him. It’s not Christian to fight back.

I think the strawman feminist created by the Botkin Sisters comes from two places.  First, the Botkin Sisters cannot handle the cognitive dissonance that would come from admitting that feminism's push to bring sexual assault, sexual harassment and sexual abuse into the light of day is an exceptionally moral action.  I'm afraid they would die from shock if they agreed right now. 

The second issue is that the Botkin Sisters lack the mental habit of running through all the possible permutations of a situation.   Not all inappropriate sexual behaviors are criminal.  Not all criminal actions are prosecutable.  Not all people can handle one more stressor at a given time.  The Botkin Sisters' impassioned defense of what women are supposed to do reminds me of a quiz I read that discussed the level of Natural Family Planning (NFP) privilege a person enjoyed.  One end of the spectrum was "I can't wait to practice NFP someday when I eventually get married."  The Botkin Sisters sound like that end of privilege "I'd totally report a sexual assault or harassment if I was abused or harassed!".  Good on you - let me know how you feel once you have actually experienced life.    The opposite end of the NFP spectrum was "Even your NFP instructor thinks using NFP is a horrible idea for you!"   And you know what?  That happens with sexual assault or abuse or harassment, too.   What if the abuser is dead?  What if there is no overarching authority available to intervene?  What if you can't identify your assailant? The emphasis that feminism places on doing what feels acceptable to the victim is because often there is no straightforward or simple choice - and feminism focuses on helping the victim heal regardless of if the perpetrator is adequately punished.

I've heard of the "don't damage the reputation of the Church" line of logic for dismissing abuse victims.  The Catholic Church tried it - and that course of action makes everything worse.  The Church is complicit in child abuse and there is no positive way to "spin" that.  The victims are hurt worse while the criminal is protected and allowed to continue attacking people.   The best course of action is whatever protects the innocent and provides consequences to the attacker within the scope of justice.  That line of action creates a church that is reflective of the love of God.

As for the other justifications - you're fucking kidding me, right?  Turning the other cheek occurs within the idea of handling religious persecution - not rape, not molestation, not sexual harassment and not sexual abuse.  The entire Bible - the whole thing - is about how God is one day going to bring a whole lot of hurt down on unrepentant sinners.  That's a whole lot of consequence for sin - so why pretend that sending someone to jail for rape is unchristian?  And let's be honest - I don't believe for a second that the people who want to sweep sexual assault under a rug take the same line when someone breaks into their house, steals their car or sucker-punches them during a dispute.  If these Christians really bought into the belief that 1) consequences are wrong and 2) no sinner can judge anyone else, they would have to be as willing to forgo any interactions with the justice system as the Amish are. (In fairness to the Amish and other non-resistance groups, none of  their beliefs are based in either of these toxic reasonings.)   Since CP/QF groups are all about legal remedies for perceived slights, their sudden expectation of humble piety from sexual assault victims is sick.

Moving on.  The Botkin Sisters manage to mangle retelling Rachel Denhollander's brave action to move forward against Larry Nassar.  The most charitable way I can explain the mauling of  Rachel Denhollander's brave story by the Botkin Sisters is that Anna Sofia and Elizabeth either didn't bother to read the materials they linked in their fourth post or that their reading comprehension is so poor that they are genuinely confused.   If they did competently read Rachel Denhollander's victim impact statement and her op-ed to the NY Times, the Botkin Sisters are guilty of erasing Ms. Denhollander to pursue their own agenda - and that's abusive, too.  To keep myself from throwing my laptop, I'm just going to shoot down the untruths sequentially.

It would be hard to be in a much more vulnerable and powerless position than 15-year-old Rachel during the year that her physician, Larry Nassar, repeatedly sexually abused her on the therapy table, and when people she trusted to help her hushed her instead. But later, as an adult, she was convinced that “a swift and intentional pursuit of God’s justice” was worth attempting again. “I made this choice knowing full well what it was going to cost to get here,” she said, “and with very little hope of ever succeeding. I did it because it was right.” What Rachel did not know is that hundreds of other Nassar victims were waiting, silently, for someone else to go first.

1) No one shushed Rachel Denhollander until she came forward in 2016.  Like many victims of sexual abuse in a medical setting, she thought what he was doing must be wrong on a gut level - but assumed that since he did this a lot and hadn't been stopped she as a 15-year old girl must have been misunderstanding something.   Thankfully, the people she disclosed the abuse to in 2004 were willing to support her when she came forward in 2016.   The tricky bit is that if she had disclosed in 2002 (at age 17) the medical professional she disclosed to would be legally required to report the abuse.  Once she turned 18, medical professionals generally follow the lead of the victim if there is not an open-and-shut case for physical violence.  Rachel Denhollander did nothing wrong by not telling anyone; I only bring that up to explain why there wasn't an report filed by the medical professional she disclosed to.

2) Prior to Nassar's assault of Denhollander in 2000, there had been four separate accusations of sexual misconduct against him by gymnasts or female athletes at MSU.  

3) Allegations of sexual misconduct during therapy sessions continued to be reported to MSU and the US Gymnastics Association between 1998-2016.

Plenty of girls, teenagers and women trying to get someone - anyone - to stop Larry Nassar from raping patients.  For any of the women attacked in Michigan, forced digital penetration is first-degree rape - but MSU and USAG ignored, belittled or patronized the victims and protected Nassar.

My two-cents: Teach your kids about medical consent in an age-appropriate way.  The rough rules of thumb are that kids under the age of 7 need to rely on their parents' decision for medical treatment.  I love my toddler - but he'd be dead if we needed to get assent for medical treatment because he is far too young to understand the importance of medical treatment compared to his dislike of people messing with him.  I do let him express his anger, frustration and rage as loudly as he wants and I acknowledge his feelings when they happen.   Ages 7-13 need to have procedures explained in an age appropriate way and a good faith effort made to secure the kid's assent to the procedure - but parental consent still can override the child, especially at the lower end of the age range. (Like if you are a 12 year old who is refusing to get an spite of knowing people who suffered severe disabilities from measles and congenital rubella because you abhor shots.  Thanks, Mom. I love you!)  Age 14 and up has the mental maturity to decide if a treatment is appropriate.   Rachel Denhollander had the legal right to say "Stop" or "I don't want to have this treatment done" when Nassar was assaulting her - but she didn't know that.

Rachel’s courage, conviction, and thoroughly-prepared legal case was enough to break the previously-impenetrable dam;

Why did Ms. Denhollander succeed when so many women and girls had failed before?  It's not because she is a conservative Christian.  It's certainly not because she followed the Botkin Plan for dealing with sexual abuse.  No, Ms. Denhollander succeeded because she is a lawyer.  She attended college and graduated from law school.  Ms. Denhollander knew what materials she could collect to make a strong legal case against Nassar for assaulting her.  Ms. Denhollander walked into the Michigan State Police Department with an entire file of evidence including statements from people who were willing to testify that she disclosed the abuse between 2000-2004, proof of real pelvic floor physical therapy techniques from journals, expert witnesses willing to testify that what Nassar did was NOT therapeutic, and statements from two other women abused by Nassar.   She collected and handed the police department everything they needed to start a criminal case against Nassar - and that lead to contacting MSU and USAG who had multiple "resolved" cases that added new victims to Nassar's crimes. 

Plenty of courageous women, teens and girls had attempted to stop Nassar before; the Botkins' dismissal of those heroes is sick and a sign of the Botkin Sisters' dismissal of unpleasant realities.  Ms. Denhollander brought a brilliant mind, a stellar education, and a mountain of evidence for her case to support the courage and bravery of so many other women.  Those women together took down a monster - and they deserve our recognition of their individual and collective acts of bravery.

Shame on you, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin.  Shame on you.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Spiritual Self-Defense: Master Your Greatest Enemy - Part Four

We survived the first half of Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin's exposition on how various vices can lead to sexual sin in their blog series "Spiritual Self-Defense".  Personally, I found their logic underwhelming and their childish dismissal of abuse victims disturbing.   Thankfully, there are only four vices left.  Amusingly, the Botkin Sisters invented one vice I've never heard of before - and I'm clueless how that vice is different from another vice they listed.

Fear – the fear of loss, of retribution, of shame, of the unknown; of making a scene, of taking a risk; of rational things, of irrational things. It doesn’t make a difference what it is: Once we fix our fear on something other than God, we are bound and gagged. 

Oh, Anna Sofia and/or Elizabeth - your innocence surrounding fear is sweetly touching.  Believe you me; the world is full of scary, scary situations for people who fear God.   When the very young resident OB told me I had HELLP syndrome, I was absolutely terrified.  Not because my faith faltered; no, I was retroactively fucking terrified that if I hadn't had some random abdominal pains, my husband would have come home from work to find me dead on the couch when I laid down for a nap just before I had a stroke or heart attack.  Or perhaps he would had found me comatose in the time between seizures from eclampsia with a dying or dead baby.  I was well aware that I could bleed to death during the C-section in spite of the best efforts of my amazing care team.  I was even more petrified that my son could die before we got to know him and before he got to live. 

I don't believe God wants us to know fear or pain or suffering or death.  I believe that the people doing God's work that day were the multitude of medical professionals who kept me and my son alive.   I know that my faith helped me survive - if only because praying was something I could do while laying in a hospital bed attached to IVs and deep breathing.   But I was scared - very, very scared - and I don't believe that fear is a sign of a lack of faith.

We’ll need to practice keeping these truths at the forefront of our minds when we’re around other people, and we’ll need to practice speaking up and taking a stand for these truths when it’s scary and makes us unpopular. The more we do this, the more the focus of our fear will be shifted from people to God, and we’ll develop a reputation for being the kind of girl that would get an abuser in deep trouble.

Mmm-k.  This is sadly ironic coming from two women who have been told repeatedly since childhood or infancy that women are incapable of detecting deceit or malice in a potential suitor.  According to the Botkin Family line, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth have been completely sheltered from any bad influences their entire lives.  Who knows if that is true - but I hope for their sake it isn't.  As women in their thirties, Anna Sofia and Elizabeth should be experienced at comparing the actions of people with their words and alleged values.    Anna Sofia and Elizabeth were among the monied royalty of Vision Forum.  That's all good fun - but what does it say about the values of Vision Forum that there was a clear separation between the families with money and the far more common families that struggled to make ends meet?  The Sisters have never spoken out in any way shape or form about economic inequality in CP/QF.  My guess is that the Sisters have never thought about economic fairness at all - but they really should.  After all, that would give them plenty of practice taking a stand for a basic Christian belief that will evoke strong feelings from other monied former Vision Forum folks.  That would probably be quite scary for Anna Sofia or Elizabeth - but they are old hats at this, right?

Selfish ambition – wanting the perks (you name it – favorite-status, admiration, promotion, money, fame, popularity) that would come with being on this person’s good side. There is a kind of covetousness and ambition that women are very prone to when it comes to men, especially when it involves competing with other women.


I've never met a woman who had consensual sex with a guy for the sole purpose of competing with other women.  Like....never. 

I've never met a woman who abused or raped a man for the sole purpose of competing with other women.  Never ever.

And honestly, I've never seen women get particularly competitive with each other around dating.  I think this is because for women outside of CP/QF lifestyles, we have many other options for satisfying our competitive spirit.  There's a plethora of competitive sports for adult women.  Women can compete for employment or academic accomplishment.  The entire blot on Western society known as "Mommy Wars" comes from women (and men) treating child-rearing as a form of competition.  Dating as competition feels rather dull compared to joining a softball team, earning an advanced degree or landing a great job.

That's why I completely believe that Anna Sofia and Elizabeth's target audience IS tempted to look at romantic relationships as a competition.  They've got damned few legitimate avenues to compete with other women so courting a highly attractive suitor may well be counted as a win.

The suggested solutions for being ambitious are well as in sentence fragments.

For instance, to start thinking of the other girls as being more important than we are (which would even include seeing their relational lives or marital prospects as more important than ours). To stop seeing ourselves as the main character in the story, and all the other girls as supporting characters (or villains). To consider the souls of the young men around us (including their focus and their purity) more important than the ego boost we could get from them.

Yup.  Imagine living a life where a young woman is more involved in the marital prospects of church acquaintances because she knows she's not the main character in her own life and doesn't want to erode the focus of a young man by showing her interest in him.    That sounds like the beginning of a CP/QF version of "Single White Female" rather than a solid life choice.

Ladies, you are allowed to be the main character in your own life.  Full stop.  Other people do not need you to elevate them to the main character position of your life because they are the main characters in their life.  It's a win-win-win-win for all people to take center stage in their own lives.  If you don't, you risk becoming a passive-aggressive martyr who expects to control other people's lives as repayment for never living their own life.  Hint: passive-aggressive martyr is not an attractive character to play.

The next vice is the mostly made-up idea of "instability of soul".  Every time I read that section, I have a mental image of Geordi LaForge discussing how the Enterprise's engine is becoming unstable - and then an explosion of soul-goo.....

Instability of soul – 2 Pet. 2:14 says that men who have “eyes full of adultery” “entice unstable souls.” The word “unstable” means “unfixed,” “vacillating,” “unsteady.” An unstable girl is one who is not solidly, unshakeably rooted in what God says – she can be drawn or persuaded or manipulated by some other voice telling her “I’m only doing this because I love you so much…” “Did God say it’s a sin to do X? Don’t be such a legalist!” “It’s actually your fault I did Y, because you tempted me…” “If you tell anyone, my life will be ruined, and you’ll have to live with that!”

Man, that whole "CP/QF homeschoolers are smarter than the brainwashed masses"  idea keeps taking a beating every time Anna Sofia or Elizabeth defines a word that native English speakers over the age of 12 should already know. 

Apparently "instability of soul" is also a synonym for "not bright" or "very gullible".  The first three arguments given by "other voices" are easily proven false.

  •  "You love me?  Then stop doing _____ because I don't like it."  Problem solved.
  • "Don't insult me for holding a boundary with you.  I expect an apology."  Problem solved.
  • "Bullshit. You made a choice;  you need to own your actions." Problem solved.
The fourth one is a little more complicated - but only because people often feel guilty when doing a morally right action sets morally right consequences in action against someone they love.  Here are some options to try mentally:
  • "If it was ok for you to do ______, it's ok for me to tell people about it."
  • If _______ couldn't deal with the consequences of their action being known publicly, they shouldn't have done it in the first place.
  • "I can live with that.  I won't let ______'s dislike of consequences dictate my actions"
  • "Why do I have to keep a secret to protect _____ from the consequences of their actions?  That's unfair."
To be clear, you may not feel safe saying these things to the other person.  You don't have to; you do not need their permission or blessing to discuss actions that have affected your life.  

Spiritual laxness – when we identify as the Lord’s servants, and yet are not actively seeking out our Master’s will and striving to understand what He wants us to do.

By this definition, everyone is spiritually lax multiple times a day.  I don't have the skill set to seek out God's will while mowing my lawn or shopping for groceries.   I figure God wants me to exercise to keep my body healthy - but does God prefer when I go for a walk, mow the lawn, do water aerobics or swim laps?   What is the correct ratio of "play with the toddler" compared to "complete household chores"?  Before anyone quotes the story of Mary and Martha, remember that there was not a toddler in that story covering his glasses in barbeque sauce while crawling after an unguarded electrical cord.... 😜

But too often, we have adopted a brand of personal faith that expects God (and other people) to do all the work of seeking, buffeting, and striving for us. We may call this “letting go and letting God” – God calls this being wicked and lazy servants.

What is the last example of the Botkin Sisters dealing with any buffeting?  When have either of them strove for anything?  In their free podcasts, the Sisters claim that the second-generation of CP/QF homeschoolers have entire areas of theology to reconquer; remember their argument that they would personally need to look at every example of femininity ever to come up with an comprehensive new Christian form of femininity?  That's time consuming for sure - but they've dropped off producing anything new. does that fit in striving to change the world?

Good news: We've finished this post.  Bad news: there's still one post left.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Spiritual Self-Defense: Master Your Biggest Enemy - Part Three

I'm going to start this blog post with my overarching thought process about the entire "Spiritual Self-Defense" series on the Botkin Sisters blog:  Why is this series SO LONG?   I know that I often post long posts myself - but a six-part prattling reflection on why sexual abuse or assault won't happen to the Botkin Sisters as long as the Sisters stay firmly within the lines drawn by their father is five parts too long.

I digress.

After explaining all of the things that Emily did wrong that led to whatever the hell happened between her and Bryan, the Botkin Sisters decide to explain an entire list of vices that Anna Sofia and Elizabeth are certain put women at higher risk of being victims of sexual assault or abuse.  Now, I can see the argument - kind of - that indulging certain vices could lead a person to compromise their previously held beliefs on sexual purity.  That could lead to that person participating in consensual sexual activity.  It's a bit of a stretch, but I could see the rationale.  The problem is that this series is supposed to be about women who are victims - not consensual actors.  The Botkin Sisters' inability to differentiate consent from non-consent creates the galling situation where victims of abuse are told that they didn't do anything to deserve being attacked - but it's kind of their fault for being vain or needy.

That's not how the world works.

Vanity – the pride that makes us find our worth in how much men notice us, admire us, and want us. When men’s affirmation of us becomes something we’re dependent on, something we use to feed our egos and puff us up, something we’ll strive for at all costs (even the cost of sinning), we’re in trouble already.

That's not the definition of vanity.  Vanity is excessive pride in one's looks or achievements.  I highlight the second example because the Botkin Sisters drop the fact that they've written books in podcasts, blogs and lectures all the time.

I am not seeing how vanity would lead to breaking sexual mores consensually for the readers of the Botkin blog let alone how vanity would lead to being the victim of a violent crime.    I've known a handful of women (out of thousands of women) who might sleep with a guy who admired her or flattered her - but that's pretty rare and often time-limited.  As women grow up, most women I know are looking for longer-term relationships and raise the bar for men they want to be around.

Because this is a Botkin blog post, the prerequisite female-bashing comes into play:

By the way – though we pointed out in the first article that a man’s choice to commit the sin of lust is his own responsibility, we do need to acknowledge that doing anything calculated to provoke their lust is our own sin of lust (the lust to be lusted after), and our own kind of being predatory.


That's all kinds of confused.  That convoluted "lust o' lust" rationale is extraneous on top of badly thought out; if the person is acting out of lust - they are guilty of lust. 

Equally importantly, there is a bright, clear, clean line between the morally acceptable actions of being attractive and approachable towards available romantic partners, the morally illicit action of being lustful, and the potentially illegal actions of a predator.    The Botkin Sisters have staked their livelihood on teaching young women that any movement towards a young man prior to paternal approval is immoral - and we can see that the proof of their system has lead to two women who are "aged-out" of the marriage market for their society.

Unbiblical neediness, or emotional idolatry – having needs that we feel cannot be or are not being met by God – whether for companionship, love, affection, security, comfort, or a sense of worth – that we depend on other sources to meet. If we feel like we would die without attention/a boyfriend/a particular guy, and attaining that is the main thing that drives us, we are putting our faith in an idol and not God.

I agree that placing a romantic interest in the first place in a girl's life or heart prior to engagement or marriage is a terrible idea.   A woman old enough to date is old enough to have responsibilities to herself, her family, her community and her church.   As two people date, it's natural and healthy for the romantic interest to move higher in the list of responsibilities - but not right off the bat.   Of course, CP/QF young ladies are at much higher risk of this because they are prevented from having a form of external employment or much involvement in the wider community.  When the only form of change available in life is finding someone to marry, women and men both are far too likely to invest in a relationship that should have been discarded.

 I don't believe that falling in love is a form of idolatry; CP/QF writers use the charge of idolatry to cover sloppy reasoning.   At the risk of being crass, God doesn't provide sexual satisfaction or the chance to bear a massive number of offspring to single women no matter how pious she is.

The Botkin Sisters' solutions the moral problems are vague or strangely detailed while being completely unbelievable:

This will probably involve an overhaul of the minute-by-minute choices we make throughout the day: to either spend 30 minutes shopping for a particular clothing item we hope will impress a certain someone, or to spend it engaged in the good works of (invisible) service that we know will please the Lord; to listen to a song that stirs up our inner romantic neediness, or to listen to a sermon; to spend an hour texting a particular person, or to spend that hour reading the Word and communing with Christ.

I have never spent 30 minutes shopping for clothes to catch a man.  The Botkin Sisters are old enough to realize women mostly dress to impress other women; picking an outfit for a date night takes a tenth of the time as it does for a women's ministry meeting.    In picking out an outfit to wear on a date with my husband, I only needed to see if the outfit fitted well - e.g., showed off my excellent chest and hips while minimizing my stomach.  For a meeting with other women, my outfit needs to complement my coloring, be fashionable without being overly faddish, be impeccably clean, and draw out the better features of my figure.

The fact that the Botkin Sisters view 30 minutes as plenty of time to complete a real work of service in their lives makes me believe they do little or no service work.    Most real service requires a few hours of work, not 30 minutes.

How long are songs in Botkin-land?  I can only think of a few songs that are longer than 2-3 minutes.  Perhaps sermons have been trimmed down to mini-sermons that fit in 2-3 minute frames.  Or perhaps the only secular songs the Botkin Sisters know are "In a Gadda Da Vida" by Iron Butterfly and "Hey Jude" by the Beatles.

I'm amused that the Botkin Sisters inadvertently implied that religious topics cannot be texted or discussed for an hour.....

Lack of steadfastness – the inability to persevere. After battling to make a hard decision, sometimes we’re not prepared for how many times we’ll have to fight the same battle over and over again. And we get worn down. We get tired of saying no. We say “Don’t call me again,” but we answer the phone as soon as they do. The ability to win the battle depends on having the steadfastness to stick to our own principles, and that’s hard when other people and our own flesh are battering, relentlessly, against our resolve.

I wonder how much of this moral exhaustion comes from being raised in a protected greenhouse of like-minded homeschooling families.  One of the benefits of traditional schooling is that students learn how to defend their right to live as they choose.  All of your classmates drink chocolate milk - but you prefer white or strawberry milk.  You want to play on the twisty slide when your friends want to play on the swings.  You realize that one of your friends isn't a good friend and need to confront them about their behavior - or cut off contact.   These are all real-life examples of drama I faced prior to third grade.  I learned how to stand up for my own wants in decidedly low-stakes times.  As I got older, the stakes got a bit higher - but so did my ability to deal with my emotions.

I bring this up again - getting education, vocational training or even a minimum wage job provides a form of relief from the "relentless battering of resolve".  If a woman is living at home - especially a home as monotonous and dreary as most CP/QF homes - she can obsess over how the end of a relationship would feel for hours or days.  Put the same woman in the same home with a job as a part-time cashier and she's got blocks of time where she has to ignore the obsession over a relationship to remember the PLU for kale or how to ring up a marked-down cut of meat.  Give her a chance at training to become a nurse, an ironworker or a chef and the appeal of obsessing over breaking up with Mr. Stud Muffin of the Soul drops more.

Next, the Botkin Sisters make it clear that victims who maintain a relationship with their abuser are at fault:

The recent flood of scandals, including in the Christian community, includes far too many examples of women essentially saying, “Oh, I did rebuff his advances – every time we went out! I was never OK with the things he was pressuring me into doing, and I would tell him so every time it happened.” As a critically-injured young woman said when asked by her doctor why she didn’t just leave her abusive boyfriend: “Oh, but I have, Doctor – dozens of times!”

Why is the person at fault the woman who said "I don't like that" and gave the guy another chance when he stopped?  The guy is the one who crossed boundaries that were clearly stated.  The Botkin Sisters are far too willing to give ground to men who misbehave when they state that women should leave when men act inappropriately.  Following their advice means that misbehaving people gain access to everything while moral people are hiding in their homes.  I don't think that's going to fulfill the Great Commission any time soon, ladies.

The Botkin Sisters are also old enough to realize that their little vignette about a critically-injured woman is manufactured and cruel.   I've been critically ill before; you don't have the energy to make small talk with doctors because you feel horrible - and I wasn't in much pain when I was in the labor and delivery ICU.  Being critically injured is even worse since that means the woman is dealing with major injuries from a beating, strangling or attack with a weapon which means she's in pain, shock and traumatized.  If the Botkin Sisters were as in to doing service work as they claim, they would have been around people who were ill.  Every congregation I've been a part of has plenty of elderly people who are in and out of the hospital and congregants with chronic health issues.   The fact that the Sisters believe that a critically-ill abuse victim would sound like a debutante at a tea party shows how sheltered the sisters are.

 Why does the woman bear the stigma of not leaving her abusive boyfriend?  He's the one who beat, strangled, stabbed or shot her!  Her mistake was believing that he chose to change or that she simply didn't get out in time - neither of which is a crime or a sin.   The most I could say is that the abuse victim lacked the self-preservation instinct that is so important in adults - but, hey, how many of the Botkin family friends were left without jobs or contacts when Vision Forum folded? 

Taking cheap shots is easy; practicing compassion and steadfastness in the face of real human mistakes is hard.

The actions to learn steadfastness are so vague as to be ironic:

So let’s practice sticking to our resolves (even the little ones) whenever temptation is calling to let them go. Let’s practice standing firm on something we know is right when the pressure of the crowd is against us.

You first.  Anna Sofia, go tell your dad that you are going to study to pass the GED and plan to start attending college next year.  Elizabeth, go get a job as an in-home caregiver and tell your parents afterwards.  Make sure you stand firm in the face of their disapproval. 

If the Sisters can't do that, they have no right to tell the rest of us how to live our lives.

I looked at this post and realized that it's huge - and we're about half way through the subject of what vices lead women to be victimized.  I'll discuss the other half in the next post.  With a bit of luck, I should post that on Thursday or Friday - God willing and I don't get a migraine.  :-)