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.


5 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by momhelen on September 10, 2008 at 6:36 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this a great deal since you posted on this subject, that my current personal tensions in the area of motherhood are partly due to the variety of influences I’ve had on my life, all communicating different things. No wonder I’m so confused!

    My home life very much reflects the fact that I’m the daughter of immigrants. My mom started working part-time soon after I was born, then shifted to full time when I was in 3rd grade. I was a latchkey kid by age 8, with no babysitter to watch over me and my younger brother. Both parents were working more than full-time, all the time, and so my first image of motherhood was one in which mom wasn’t around much! I just thought this was the way it was supposed to be. But then occasionally my mom would make comments about the other Korean moms who were married to professionals, whose husbands made enough that their wives didn’t need to work, and she would always sound envious about their situation, that if she could she’d be home everyday, serving freshly-baked cookies the moment we walked into the door. But she would also be somewhat disparaging of her peers who did not work outside the home, who were in her words “sitting around the house doing nothing!” And the great irony here is that after I had my kids, and she saw me living the life essentially of a stay-at-home mom, she made the comment that she couldn’t ever imagine doing what I did. So right there, in a nutshell, is a good explanation of why on earth I can’t figure this issue out for myself!

    Also, I would say that girls/women of my generation were always encouraged to reach as high as they could. In high school, my closest group of friends were a group of extraordinary women; of the six of us, three went to Ivy league schools, one was accepted into the most competitive college/medical school combined program in the country, and the other went to a UC-Santa Cruz but was extremely motivated and committed, and is now a physician. (I am the underachiever of the group by far!) None of us ever had an inkling in our head that we would wrestle with this issue. We just assumed that we would pursue our vocational paths just as the boys/men around us. College was similar. All my female friends were on careers tracks in medicine, law, academia, without a care or fear about how to balance it all.

    Then I went to Wheaton College for a graduate degree. The difference to me was night and day, how the women there conceptualized their futures and their hopes and dreams compared with what I had experience in my secular liberal arts school. I met more women than I could count who really did not care much about what they were studying, they were just hoping to meet that special someone. Many of the women had no vocational dreams whatsoever; their only goal was to become a stay-at-home mom. I was absolutely floored by how many would stay inside on a Friday or Saturday night, waiting for the phone to ring, instead of initiating friendships and relationships themselves. I couldn’t even imagine thinking the same way!

    And yet here I am now, a SAHM by all appearances but one who continually wrestles with this identity (can’t wait to read your book, Caryn!) Throw in the fact that my mother-in-law is a traditional Korean wife who once told me that one of her greatest points of pride is the fact that she never once used a babysitter for her kids, and you can probably understand even better than before why I am such mess when it comes to trying to figure this whole issue out for myself!


  2. Posted by momhelen on September 10, 2008 at 8:39 pm

    Not to monopolize your blogspace, I had to send my last post without making the larger point. (In an attempt not to just write all about me, me, and me!)

    I’m reading _A Mother’s Work: How Feminism, the Market, and Policy Shape Family Life_ by U. Cal/Berkeley professor Neil Gilbert. Basically, he’s trying to pinpoint some sort of empirical reason to explain what has been going on in the secular side with similar confusion over what a woman’s role should be. Remember all the articles and books that came out in the early 2000s, talking about how many women are heading back home to raise their kids and abandoning the workplace? It seems that whether you are a Christian woman or not, this whole area of a woman’s role in life is one that is currently very much up for debate and discussion. Absolutely we are in a fascinating era, for ourselves and for our daughters and for women generations to come, in which there have never been more options and yet in which there has also never been more confusion. On the Christian side of things, I think the point I would want to push, and that you all are doing with your writing and this blog, is that there is more than one Christ-honoring model to be a woman and a mother. Maybe we should just take that as a given and move on!


  3. Posted by Heather on September 11, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    When Carla said, “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.” I actually teared up, particularly at the “living on her terms” part. I don’t know how, but this is exactly how my mom raised me to think. Period.

    I wonder if part of it is because my mom was parented before the feminist movement of the 70’s, and was too young to participate in it ( if it was happening in small town OK at all) and that she began parenting in late 1979, through the 80’s and started all over again in the 90’s, and currently has a 14 year old at home!

    I know that she struggles with having already raised my other sister and I, and we are both mom’s now, but there she is, 50 years old, doing it all over again, 14 years later. She’ll say straight up – it’s a different ball game. BUT – my mom has never expressed any struggles with societal pressures of what her mothering should look like. I should praise her for that.

    I was raised by a Baby Boomer parent to be a Baby Boomer (which is something I struggle with a lot, rural Oklahoma doesn’t offer much else). Take someone half a generation older than me and you have a whole different childhood experience and outlook on their parenting.

    I know I’m on the younger end of this conversation/experience, but I am passionate about making sure that societal standards communicated from here on out are about being who you are, not taking all the Dr. Sears advise (no offense to his thoughts) about how to raise you kids and – for goodness sake – listening to your own gut about what is best and right and true.


  4. I’m older than all of you. (I might even be older than all of you added together.) My mom was a lot like Carla’s, though older than Carla’s mom. My mom worked in a bank until she had my older sister. Then she became an “at-home mom,” although she was gone a lot since she ran the girl’s ministry at church, and the American Legion Auxiliary, and she was PTA president, and summer camp director, and sang in the choir, and was active in our town’s centennial celebration, and bowled in a bowling league, and was in a pinochle club, and performed one-woman dramas and comedies, wrote her own scripts, was a room mother when I was in grade school, attended my football games and many of my track meets, went on mission trips. I could go on, but you get the picture. She would never have called herself a feminist, but she was a Christian and a leader who couldn’t do anything less than lead. That’s who she was.

    In 1979 I married a woman who is smarter than me, prettier than me, more accomplished than me, more capable than me (did I mention I’m a guy?), used to earn a lot more money than I did at the time, is more likeable than me, far more charming and hospitable than I am. You get the idea. I married a star. Still, when we had our daughter, my wife went off the payroll and became an independent consultant, set up an office in our home, and was an “at home” mom to our daughter. Exept that my wife continued to travel for her work as a consultant. She was in the air more than I was, and I was working full-time.

    My wife does not consider herself a feminist. She’s a woman who has a lot of talent, ability, gifts, passion, and competence. She uses these things to benefit others. I like that in a woman.

    I wish Christians weren’t so polarized. It seems that many Christians are happier when they have words to use that tag other people. We have lost a sense of nuance, individuality, gradations, unlikely combinations. That’s a huge loss. Christians should be more discerning than that. But we’re not, for the most part.

    I like what Carla said about women being who they are. My wife had dreamed of being a mom since she was a young girl. She got her dream. But that was not her complete dream. My wife’s life is bigger than that.

    Seems some Christians are happier with a smaller life. Is that what God designed us for?


  5. Posted by Robyn on January 6, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    I’m a Christian. I believe in God, in Jesus as my personal savior from my sins, in the inerrancy of the Bible. My theology is conservative.

    I believe that women should have complete economic, legal, and personal equality with men. Women should have the freedom to make independent choices for their lives based on what they believe to be best, and not treated like children nor boxed in by societal expectations. That makes me a feminist.

    What’s the problem? I don’t see any contradictions.


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