Archive for September, 2008

Do I Know You?

Carla: A dear old friend of mine is coming over for dinner tonight and I’m actually a little nervous. Melissa and I worked at Bible camp together when we were in college 20 years ago. We kept in touch after than, but I haven’t seen Melissa since I was pregnant with my first child 12 years ago and I hope she still likes me.

I don’t know if you have this particular insecurity, but I find that when I get together with people I knew before I was a mom, I wonder what kind of changes they notice in me. I had the same feeling a few years ago when a guy I knew from camp (as you know, I made 90% of my friends at camp) started attending my church. I thought, Here’s a guy who knew me as confident, fun, creative Carla who was in charge of everything and knew how to work a megaphone. And now I’m tentative, tired, boring Carla who is home with her kids and doesn’t have a whole lot to add to a conversation. I wondered if he would feel sorry for me, or feel like I had somehow lost all that potential I had when I was 21. I didn’t want to be a story he told to his friends (or, God forbid, friends we both knew!) about someone whose best days were clearly behind her.

That reconnection happened when I was at my lowest point as a mom and as a person, so I don’t feel quite so pathetic this time around. But still, as I prepare for Melissa’s visit, I’m thinking about the ways I’ve changed in the last 12 years. What has motherhood done to me?

Caryn: I can’t answer that question for you—because I’ve only ever known you as a mom—but I can tell you that motherhood FOR SURE has changed me. I could write a book on all the ways I did in fact change. [SPOILER ALERT: shameless self-promo on its way!] Well, at least one chapter of  Mama’s Got a Fake I.D. is devoted to how motherhood changes us.

All this to say, over the past couple years I’ve spent a lot of time noodling this. I know that motherhood has made me softer and yet nuttier; it’s made me sharper and more driven, and yet looser and less focused. It’s made me slough off a lot of the unimportant crap I spent way too much time focused on, and made me value what “really matters,”  as they say (and for the record, this doesn’t ONLY mean the kids…) It’s made me understand the depth of God’s love better, and why so many moms I knew growing up seemed so mean and crabby. (Remember those moms? I totally think I am one now.)

But honestly, in most ways, I think motherhood changes us a lot less than people think. Even though we may have less time to SHOW other people our true, full selves, they’re still there. So I actually take back what I said earlier (this is so much easier than deleting it and rewriting the whole thing): Motherhood has done a lot of things to you, but taking away who you really are? Not one of them! Camper Carla is still there, even if the megaphone is not. (And why is it not? You need one. I need one.)

So I think as long as Melissa can get her own assumptions out of the way, she’ll see you’re just as much a blast as you ever were—except that now you might randomly yell for someone to “stop it!” mid-sentence or wander off mid-conversation to see where that kid ran off to. And what’s not to like about someone who does that?

Carla: I knew there was a reason I liked you. Motherhood has changed me, too. In some ways, it’s like a refining process. It melts away the extraneous stuff–the need to look good, the need to be all things to all people–because I only have the time and energy and interest for so much. I find that in some ways motherhood has revealed the best in me along with the worst. You said this so well, so I won’t try to say it myself, but it’s totally that laser focus on what matters mixed with so much fuzzy concentration that it’s amazing when I can articulate what that might be.

This struggle probably has less to do with motherhood and more to do with aging in general. None of us are who we were at 20–at least I hope not–whether we’ve got children or not. We grow up. Hopefully we grow smarter and stronger and more authentically ourselves. Motherhood has definitely helped me in that process. It’s not the only thing that has helped of course, but it has certainly played an enormous role in reshaping me as a person. So the Carla who hangs out with Melissa tonight won’t be the same Carla from camp, but hopefully a wiser, more thoughtful version.

And I totally need my own megaphone.

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Mr. Moms and the Daddy Revolution

Caryn: This is hard for me to write, in a way, because I SO love the movie Mr. Mom. I saw it when I was probably 10 or something with my grandmother, who laughed and laughed the whole time. Since my dear hard-working, hard-knock-life-sort-of-life Swedish grandmother NEVER laughed, you can see why I might love this movie. Plus, I love their house. Plus, it kicked off me wanting to work in advertising (which I did for a stint) and wear big-bowed blouses (never did. I think I wrote about this in an earlier post). Plus, it was funny.

That said, I hate “Mr. Moms” or to be more precise, I really hate the TERM “Mr. Mom.” It totally p—-es me off. Excuse my hyphens. I hate it because it implies all sorts of idiotic things:

1. That when a man cares for his kids—feeds them (LOVE that scene where Michael Keaton irons the grilled cheese!), bathes them (even with Sesame Street slippers on), and drops them off (now I’m laughing at that Mr. Mom carpool drop-off scene)—he is doing a mom’s job.

2. That a mom is simply a role—not a relationship—that can quickly swapped out by someone else doing those jobs.

Okay, so that’s just two things that I can think of right now. But, still, isn’t a “Mr. Mom” in all reality just a Good Dad? Isn’t this just as stupid as when a dad says he “babysitting” his kids? Or am I nuts? Or both?

 

Carla: You might be a little nuts, but I am still with you here. This is another one of those areas where it seems like today’s parents have inherited ideas and language that don’t relate to the way we really live. I have so many friends who parent as partners, not as two separate people with separate roles. They both do what needs doing, both arrange their work lives to fit their family life, both nurture and feed and bathe and tuck in with the same commitment to parenting well. I honestly don’t think men and women worry about this kind of stuff as much as the media or the culture or previous generations did.

That’s not to say I think men and women can or should parent in exactly the same ways. Jimmy is far more physical with our kids than I am. I am a more patient listener than he is. But he snuggles with the same delight and reads with the same enthusiasm and never blinks when there is a diaper to be changed or a meal to be made. He expects to be part of their lives and I can’t imagine what it would be like if he didn’t.

My dad has often commented that he wishes he had known how to be the kind of dad Jimmy is. My dad is a wonderful father, but he wasn’t on the floor wrestling with us or coaching our teams or climbing into our beds to read at night. Fathers of his generation just didn’t do that kind of thing. But men today not only do those things, they enjoy them. I think today’s fathers want to be more invested in their kids than their dads were in them. And that’s good news for moms.

The Mommy Revolution is all about encouraging women to live out their dreams. But I think we all know that it’s impossible to do that if we don’t have a partner who is willing to be a present, active parent. So the Mommy Revolution carries with it a need for a Daddy Revolution, one that encourages men to be the fathers they want to be.

Caryn: Totally need a Daddy Revolution. (Maybe a Grandma and Grampa one too.) Because one of the core values of the revolution is that parents are able—equipped and supported—to parent and raise kids and live lives as God intended them to, with gifts God gave them. Again, Carla, well put.

Caryn the Controversial

Carla: Well, it looks like our little Caryn went and got herself a controversy (see the comments for the previous post). It all started when she was interviewed here.

Then, as things do in blogland, one click led to another and a reader found Caryn here. And Scott, while we’re always happy to have new readers, I have to say, I am totally with Caryn on this one.

I don’t know of anyone outside of the most conservative of Christian movements who believes that God “calls” us to spank our children. But that’s the only interpretation one can come to if one believes in a strictly literal understanding of the Bible–again, an understanding held by a very small minority of Christians. So for the sake of clarification, here’s where I stand on spanking: It’s an unnecessary and potentially harmful form of discipline.

I have dear friends who spank and I don’t for a minute think they are terrible parents. We have spanked one of our three children exactly once and haven’t felt the need to do it since. But as a rule, I don’t believe spanking accomplishes much of anything. It’s certainly not the only way to alter a child’s behavior. It doesn’t teach them anything that can’t be taught through other forms of discipline. It does nothing to shape the character of a child. There might very well be times when it truly is the only way to deal with a child’s behavior, but I think those times are few and far between.

I’ve worked in the Christian parenting field for nearly a decade and apart from Ted Tripp and a very few others, I don’t know of any Christian parenting “experts” who would say that God “calls” us to spank. Some of them believe the Bible allows for spanking as a form of discipline, but most stand in the “rod as metaphor” camp that holds the language of the rod to mean that parents need to guide and correct their children as a shepherd guides and corrects his sheep. As with every Bible reference, it’s important to look at the whole of Scripture to determine what a particular passage has to say to us. If one verse a parenting philosophy makes, then we don’t really need the rest of the Bible, do we? So, looking at the whole of the Bible, it’s pretty clear that it consistently refers the rod of the shepherd as an instrument of help, of gentleness, of loving guidance. I mean, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” doesn’t really work if the rod is an instrument of pain.

Okay. That’s enough from me. Caryn? Got any more radical liberal insight here?

Caryn: What I love most about being “controversial” is that if you knew me (which Carla does) you would realize how ridiculous this is. That such a nice sweet woman like myself would be so often a rabble-rouser. How do I do it….? I believe, in all honesty, it’s part of my calling. I get to be crazy and radical sometimes and yet I come in this nice “white bread” (or “Polly Purebread” as I was once called by a-jerk-of-a-former colleague) Conservative, suburban package.

I mean, get this: The reason I’m anti-spanking? Because I SUBMITTED to my husband. Honestly, when I first became a mom, I could see good reasons to spank (on occasion) but my husband was TOTALLY opposed. And I “submitted.” I don’t know what Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Seattle folks would say about that (but I DO hope they say it here!).

All this to say, well put, Carla. Nicely done. Ditto. And great work with that Psalm 23 bit (that is where that’s from right?). Seminary did you well, my friend.

Carla: For an excellent understanding of “the rod” in Scripture, check out Ryan’s comment in the previous post. It’s a wonderful explanation of this metaphor.

‘More Interesting Than You’d Think’

Caryn: I was going to email Carla this little bit of fun news but thought I’d throw it up here on the blog—to see what anyone else has to say about this. Really, I wish this had happened last fall so I could’ve used it as an illustration in my book. But alas, it works well here too.

Anyhoo, I need to keep details sketchy to protect the person’s identity, but the other day I was talking to someone we’ll call Pat. I really like Pat. He’s nice, intellingent, and friendly. All good. So anyway, Pat told me he had read this blog and really liked it. Pat was telling me how we made good points and were amusing at the same time (which I like to hear). But then Pat says, “You know, you’re more interesting than you would think.”

Huh?

Of course, Pat smiled like it was a joke. But it wasn’t. It’s that same old mom thing (fake ID….?) we got going on. Because Pat knows me from a place where I’m that frazzled mom constantly trying to find one child while making sure the other one doesn’t spill her decaf coffee with too much creamer while trying to keep the baby from plunking too hard on the piano (okay, this is me at church). OF COURSE, Pat has trouble seeing me as interesting. He sees me as a mom.

And that’s what stinks. And why I think we need some sort of arm-swinging/pumping fist/revolution motion and catchy catch phrase (maybe in French?) to at least THINK when someone says something as annoying as this.

So tell me, am I over-reacting? Is it because I’m blonde that this gets me even more? Or maybe I am just actually dull–with or without kids…..?

Either way, a dream of this revolution should be that when our daughters are mothers (and please start singing that “Sister Suffragettes” song from MARY POPPINS) they will “adore us and sing in grateful chorus, Well done!'” because we fight that moms may be seen as interesting.

Carla: I think you’re hitting on a crucial part of the revolution. We are working to redefine motherhood, to rearrange the cultural norms and expectations of what it means to be a woman with children. I love what you said in the comments from the last post about creating a Mom’s World where we make the rules and set the expectations instead of having them made and set for us by, what? Magazines? Books? Conferences? Pat’s comment to you is less about you–although maybe you are boring at church. I don’t know. I’ve always found you very entertaining. But then you and Pat probably didn’t grieve John-John together or talk about trips to the gynocologist. Anyway, my point is that Pat has a preconceived notion of what it means to be a mom based on some random cultural message that suggests people are defined by their work and the work of being a mom is boring.

And honestly, I’ve fallen prey to the same assumption about myself. I think I’m boring. When I’m with my non-mom girlfriends or people I work with, I find myself at a loss for how to talk about myself or my life. I mean, why would they want to hear about how many trips I’ve made to SuperTarget this week (because sometimes that is truly the high point of my week)? Motherhood itself isn’t all that interesting in and of itself. And I don’t ever want to be one of those parents who assumes everyone is as fascinated by my children as I am.

What makes motherhood interesting is the women who do it.

So (everybody now!), “Cast off the shackles of yesterday! Shoulder to shoulder into the fray!”

Moving On

Caryn: MomHelen so wisely comments in “Early Influences” that as Christians we should accept that Jesus accepts more than one type of mom and move on. Couldn’t agree more! But, since so many other people aren’t there yet, I think it’s hard to do that without a bit of a fight first (hence the Revolution).

You know, I was thinking the other day about how much I loved Jill Savage’s book, Professionalizing Motherhood. Her book totally opened my eyes and revolutionized my own thinking about how motherhood might look–a few years before I had kids.

In fact, I credit her–and that book–with bolstering my decision to stay home with my kids. I love that her whole “‘thing” has been to make being a mom–and all the roles and responsibilities that go along with it–into an actual profession, going so far as to start conferences–like other professionals have–to learn and “network” and just generally connect with fellow moms.

While Dorothy Sayers rightfully argued in “Are Women Human” that the Industrial Revolution robbed mom of “intelligent occupation,” by taking away much of the bread-winning work moms once did, Jill Savage’s book sets out a look at a very intelligently run motherhood. Albeit, one that still doesn’t come with a paycheck.

This may seem weird that a “revolutionary” mom would like a book so much that is targeted for the “traditional” mom so much, but I think it’s because Jill  did revolutionize a view of motherhood. And I’m always up for that (as long as it doesn’t include neglect, cruelty, or something evil!).

Of course, as I flip back through her book now (just grabbed it off the shelf), I realize how little my life as an “at home mom” resembles the one she sets out. Really, it seems, I’m more of an amateur… But I’m good with that. Because I’ve tried to follow God’s call into other areas (as has she!) beyond motherhood. 

So what’s my point? Who knows? I’ve totally got a bad cold right now and am having trouble thinking!

Wait, I think I’ve got one: That OF COURSE Jesus accepts all types of families (down the road, we’ll talk about the WONDROUS book, ‘Parenting Is Your Highest Calling’ and 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt, which addresses this beautifully!), and so do I. And we can each continue to learn from other models of motherhood. They’ve each got their strengths and weaknesses. And will until we can be moms in Glory (my new favorite word for heaven. Love it.)

Carla: I love the idea of professionalizing motherhood–up to a point. I think back to something I read in a book that I can’t remember the name of anymore that said what I had wanted to say for so long: that motherhood (parenting really) isn’t a job or a role or a calling. It’s a relationship. That’s why models and rules and ideals don’t work, why they frustrate us when we want so badly to make them work. But a relationship exists between two individuals, both of them unique and unpredictable. So while I agree that we can professionalize the work side of motherhood, I think we always need to keep that idea of motherhood as a relationship first and foremost. It’s what helps us see our children as people, not projects. And it also helps us retain a sense of balance. It’s never healthy to lose yourself in a relationship and the mother/child relationship is no different. Both people in that relationship have legitimate needs and hopes and desires. And both of them have to figure out how to meet those needs and live out those hopes and move forward with those desires in the context of that relationship.

I know you’re sick and this is probably going waaaaay over your snotty head. And I’m certain you (and Jill Savage) are not suggesting one view over the other. But as we revolt, this understanding of motherhood as a relationship will be one of our core values. How’s that for professional?

And Ron, thanks for chiming in. We’re glad to have you around.

Caryn: Thanks for bringing up the relationship thing. Someone mentioned that to me when I was researching my book, Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Discover the Real You Under All That Mom (coming March 2009, but if you pre-order now on Amazon, I will be your best friend!!!), that the thing that gets annoying about the mom identity is that we become known by our relationship, not as ourselves. So, again, nothing to do with what you just said–or that I said before, but what can I do? I’m now under the influence of Nyquil. Good night!

Early Influences

Caryn: Waaaayyy back in our very first little post (which was just last week), Sue left a comment that touched me. While she cheered on our revolution, she did ask that we cut some slack to the “old timers,” meaning the traditional moms of the 1970s and 80s who pushed back against the radical feminists who tried to devalue an at-home mom’s role (think: Hillary Clinton’s crack about baking cookies, standing by her man….).

So, I think we should just put it out there—for all the Sues—that we more than cut you slack, we HONOR your fight to preserve the integrity of the nitty-gritty, lovey dovey work a mom does.

In fact, I think this “fight” between the feminists and the traditionalist totally shaped today’s Mommy Revolution. I, for one, feel priviliged to have grown up in a time when I could witness women burning bras (actually, they had gotten this out of their systems by the time I got on the scene in 1972. Carla–you may remember this…) and later crashing through ceilings in their big burgandy bows and shoulder pads (still one of my favorite looks) all from the comfort of my home, which was kept so beautifully and made so warm and cozy by my good old-fashioned American mom. 

The best of each of those worlds absolutely shaped what I wanted my mom life to look like. How ’bout you?

 

Carla: I do remember the bra burning! And Helen Reddy and Gloria Steinem and Ms. magazine and watching my mom just go about her business in the midst of it all. My mom is perhaps the strongest feminist I know because she has always just assumed she could do what she wanted to do with her life. Granted, her opportunities were limited–when I went to college she told me she had a little tinge of jealousy because I really could choose any path I wanted while she had four choices: nurse, secretary, teacher, or mother. She worked as a nurse until I was born, then stayed home. But she didn’t really “stay” anywhere. She was the Sunday school superintendent. She was in Ladies Aid and Belle Lettres (that was a “women and the arts” kind of club back in the 70s) and PEO. She worked endlessly for our community arts organization. She volunteered with the community theater and ran the church suppers and did everything but run for mayor (she totally would have won). And my brother and I were hauled along to all of it.

My point is that at the time I didn’t see my mom’s involvement in all of this as feminist. I just saw it as her living life on her terms. Now I think that was indeed very feminist thinking. When I became a mom, it actually seemed like there was more pressure to pick a side of the working/stay-at-home debate than my mom faced. Maybe that’s because when I was young the “working” side was still in its early days and there really was no debate to be had. But by the time I had children, those sides were deeply entrenched–particularly for Christian women. Caryn and I have gotten the very clear message–from other women, from churches, from books and resources–that our primary calling is motherhood and that to seek after anything else is unbiblical. The words “Feminist” and “Christian” have become mutually exclusive terms in some circles.

My sense is that the real battle began in the mid-70s, when the feminist movement had made serious strides and the church felt like it needed to stand up for families lest anyone get the message that the family wasn’t important. James Dobson started Focus on the Family in 1977. Time magazine declared 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical” after Jimmy Carter was elected president. That was when the church really dug in and declared war on the perceived threats to the family. I think the intentions were noble, and like Caryn, I have tremendous respect for women like Sue who worked so hard and sacrificed so much to earn respect for the practice of parenting. But somewhere in the last 30 years, the idea that it’s okay for a woman to choose to be home had turned into a message that it’s not okay for her to choose anything else. I think what we are really “revolting” against are the institutional messages about who women should be and what motherhood should look like. 

Caryn: Didn’t know you were so well-versed in you 1970s history, Carla! Impressive. I still feel like taking this in a thousand new directions (like how feminism became all about abortion rights–to the feminists’ DISCREDIT–and how I think the Mommy Revolution is really about getting BACK to the way motherhood had been up until recent history), but that will have to wait till another day. This mommy needs to get dinner going.

Back to the Beginning

Carla: With all the excitement over Sarah Palin, our little revolution has gotten off to a slightly premature start. Caryn and I have been dreaming about this idea for nearly a year and haven’t quite been able to find the voice we feel this movement deserves. Sarah Palin kicked us into high gear, which might have been just what we needed. Whether we’re ready or not, we are thrilled to have all of you here and helping us start new conversations about motherhood. I have been so impressed with the insight and graciousness of the comments we’ve gotten. And I’m thrilled that you’ve been passing us along to your friends. We really do want this to be an open conversation where ideas and opinions are shared with grace and a mutual desire to see women thrive in the midst of motherhood.

My husband told me that what he liked most about what we’re doing is the way Caryn and I talk to each other. He said, “You’re proving that people can disagree without being obnoxious and trying to prove their rightness.” And that’s one of our highest hopes for the revolution, that it moves our culture away from the language of “mommy wars” and into a way of talking about motherhood that makes room for all the ways we live and work as women. So please keep telling us what you think–about what we’ve written, about what you’d like us to write about, about where you see the Mommy Revolution taking hold in your life.