A Revolutionary Experiment

Caryn: So this weekend I did a bit of Revolution experimenting. The retreat my husband and I attended—on the shores of the amazingly beautiful frozen, snow-covered, and ice-jagged Lake Michigan–was the same one (or, I mean, the same people, place, and sort of thing) we attended two years ago when my good old mama identity crisis peaked.

You could say it was the retreat that two years ago lauched a blog post that launched a book that helped launch the Mommy Revolution. It was there that a strange man kept calling a very pregnant me mama and it was there that I had the almost ridiculously agonizing decision of whether to attend a “publishing” break-out-session or a “homemaking” break-out-session. (Only in America is this a huge dilemma, right?) It was the retreat—no matter how enjoyable and relaxing and interesting—that made me come home and go, Something’s not right in the world of motherhood. Or, at least, in my little world.

So anyway, after two years of thinking and talking and wondering and praying and addressing some of these ID-crisis-causing issues, back we went this past weekend. To where it all began.

And I gotta tell you: Whole new ballgame, people! I walked into that retreat as me, bolstered by the encouragement I’ve received from many of the Mommy Revolutionaries and other women I talk to.

I didn’t feel disloyal to my kids when someone asked me what I did and I said I was a writer (or a speaker or an editor—whichever fancied me at the moment. They ARE all true, incidentally.) And sometimes I tossed out my own advice from my book and gave my “mom and a writer” answer.

I talked openly about the joys of motherhood and how thrilled I am to be raising these great kids, but also talked just as openly about how annoying and exhausting it can be. And how glad I was to have a weekend away from these kids I adore. I said so without even a hint of an apology.

And it was great. I got to spend time talking about things other than my kids, things of the world, things of God, heck, things about me. And I didn’t feel selfish.

Now I know this isn’t world-changing stuff here. But in a way it felt like it. Something so small, something so internal, and yet, I couldn’t help but think that maybe part of the Mommy Revolution has a lot to do with this. We can’t help what other people think about us. I mean, I couldn’t help that one guy—after talking to my husband extensively about what my husband does for a living—got up from the table after I shared that I was a mom (it’s always an experiment with me!). I can’t help that HE thinks it’s uninteresting. But I can help my response.

In this case, Rafi (my husband) and I cracked up. He loved seeing in action what I write about in my book. And so did I. It’s fun to be right.

But what we can change is our attitude and our reactions. Really, isn’t the Revolution about declaring that what people think of us and our motherhood is THEIR problem? As long as we’re looking to God, who cares? Or am I being flip?

Carla: Of course you’re being flip, but since the other option is being bitter, I think flip is just fine. It loathes me to say this, but you’re absolutely right. The Revolution isn’t about changing the culture so that moms can change. It’s about changing moms so the culture can change–and so that if it doesn’t, we’re okay with it. 

I don’t mean that we want to turn moms into something we aren’t. No, the change we’re talking about it what we’ve been reading about in your comments. It’s that change from living lives that are based in who other people think we should be, to living lives based in who we feel God leading us to be. It’s amazing to hear your stories and watch how each of you is impacting other women with your honesty and vulnerability! 

So here’s a thought. For the rest of this week, let’s have everyone who reads this blog tries a little experiment. Let’s all try to own our motherhood in a new way. Maybe it will be answering that “So what do you do?” question with one of your many options and paying attention to the various responses you get. Or maybe it will be telling one other person the truth about how your day is going–good or bad. Ask for help when your instinct is to try to be superwoman. Offer encouragement instead of judgment or defensiveness when you talk to someone who parents in different ways than you do. Or pull a Chloe O’Brian and tell people you’re a stay-at-home mom while you’re implating transmitters in their teeth (best moment of Monday’s episode of 24.). Then, post a comment about what you noticed or experienced as a result. What changes when we change?

Caryn: Oooh, I love the challenge—even if I have no idea what pulling a Chloe O’Brian means. (Can I have a moment of vulnerability and admit that I’ve never seen 24? Or Lost, for that matter? SOME OF US have to work at night, you know. Oh, wait, is that exactly what I’m not supposed to be doing…? Sorry.) I can’t wait to hear everyone’s stories! Please do tell.

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13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Heather on January 26, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    Just a quick thought before heading to bed…about six years ago I decided that I will never ask someone how they are doing, unless I am honestly interested in knowing. Not just knowing, but actually listening to their response. If I can’t commit to them my full attention, then I will say something else, make a nice statement. In the same vein, if someone asks me how I’m doing, I flat out tell them. I kind of get a sick little thrill out of watching someone squirm when I say “My day’s been horrible and I haven’t showered in three days. How are you?” They just look at me and walk away most of the time, which is just fine. They really didn’t want to know how I was doing. Cut the crap, right?!?

    Reply

  2. Posted by Robyn on January 27, 2009 at 8:27 am

    Yes, yes, yes!

    Quick story: Last week I was in the emergency room with my 2-year-old-daughter (she’s fine now). I was reading to her to pass the time and she was “reading” along with me, naming shapes, animals, colors, etc. One of the nurses said, “Oh, you must be a stay at home mom.” Huh? I asked, “Why do you say that?” She replied, “Because your daughter knows so much. You must spend a lot of time with her.” Huh. So I said, “Well, I’m a teacher by profession, but I do invest a lot of myself in my daughter. Thank you for noticing.” Totally sincere, not snarky, I swear. She kind of looked surprised, said, “You’re welcome,” and hurried away. What was that all about?

    Reply

  3. Posted by Carla on January 27, 2009 at 1:29 pm

    Oh little culturally unaware Caryn, I understand a person not watching 24. It’s intense. But Lost? What kind of person doesn’t watch Lost? Have you even tried Netflixing the first season to discover the joy and addiction that is Lost? How we have stayed friends is beyond me.

    Anyway. Last night on 24, Chloe, who is one of the greatest supporting characters ever created for television, was putting a tracking chip in the teeth of the president of a Sengala so that when he and his wife were handed over to the bad guys, Jack Bauer could find them. The president asked her if she was with the FBI and she said, “No, I’m a stay-at-home-mom.”

    I wonder if she’s been reading this blog?

    Reply

  4. Posted by Steve B. on January 27, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I’ve never seen one episode of Lost, but never missed and episode of 24. I’m an enigma like that. Probably why I keep reading this blog. So what was the original question? Oh yeah, “what do you do?” As a dude, I always get a huge kick out of this question, particularly the importance – even preeminence – that it has among males. I also enjoy making people squirm, so no matter how I answer this question, invariably there’s someone in the room feeling a little uncomfortable. I have two options when asked this question.

    “So Steve, what do you do?”

    Answer 1: “I’m an addictions counselor, working with heroin addicts”.

    or…

    Answer 2: “I’m a follower of Christ and a husband and a father”.

    Can you hear the crickets chirping?

    Reply

  5. It took me several years to get over saying, “I’m a stay home mom, but I used to have this important job. . . ”
    I like the thought of viewing it as an experiment and being amused by the reactions, not worrying about what the reactor thinks of me.

    Here’s the most imporant question for Carla: I’m halfway through Lost season 3 on DVD, and totally torn about whether to watch the new season or go chronologically through them in order. What do you think?

    Reply

  6. Pam, I think you need to get yourself through seasons 3 and 4. Otherwise, this season isn’t going to make any sense. A lot has happened since season 3. I say plow through the rest of 3 and 4, then catch up with this season on ABC.com as fast as you can.
    Thank you for your vulnerability on this issue. So many women (Caryn) just give up and don’t seek the help that’s right here.

    On the other thing, it absolutely helps to think of it as an experiment. I call it playing sociologist and it’s rather fun.

    Reply

  7. Heather: I applaud your approach to the “how are you” thing. When I was growing up, I was taught to respond to that question NO MATTER WHAT with “I’m fine, thank you. How are you?” My parents were trying to teach me manners, but also taught me that no one cares how you really are. I mean, they REALLY said that no one wants to hear about your problems and would mock people who were all whiney when asked that. The only exceptions were if you were maybe JUST in a a horrific car accident or if something truly horrible happened. But if you were, say, just feeling sad or lonely or frustrated or something, keep it to yourself. It’s basic Swedish parenting. (Love you, Mom and Dad! Really, I do!)

    My husband was actually the one who convinced me it was okay to answer the “how are you question” with “not great” if you’re not great. He rightly said it was the other person’s problem if they couldn’t handle the news. But, of course, this whole notion of “being real” or answering a question about myself truthfully goes against everything about the way I was raised. And every time I try it, I picture my dad rolling his eyes. Oh, well. Since I am often “fine” I do get to answer in the polite way too.

    And Steve: Do crickets really chirp when you say you’re an addictions counselor? I can hear them with the whole follower of Christ, father, and husband thing (I mean, yawn-o-rama, right?) but I feel like flipping over to Facebook right now and pummeling you with questions about your work with addicts. I think, though, it may be one of those occupations people don’t know what to do with. Plus, people wonder if you’re in recovery too, and addicts make everybody squirm. Except us co-dependents who need our own 12-step programs to resist the draw to them. ; )

    And Carla: Rafi reminded me that I once watched an episode of 24 with him. Clearly, I was engrossed.

    Reply

  8. Posted by April G. on January 28, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    This whole discussion about how we introduce ourselves is interesting to me. I realized that I do often still introduce myself as a former teacher who is now home with the kids. And, I am sure to include that I am now editing as well. For some reason it makes me feel more worthwhile to add my “careers” in there. Maybe because those careers also help define who I am, what I am good at, and what I am interested in. I don’t think it is bad to include those things because they also help define me. But, I do wonder why it is hard to find my worth simply in being a SAHM. I am clearly not comfortable being completely immersed in that role.

    As far as the assignment goes. I was working on it even before it was assigned (the over-achiever that I am). I have made it my goal to be more vulnerable, real, and honest. And I am experimenting with the collective balance idea. I began some honest dialogue with my sister and had lunch with a single lady I recently met who is in the same position as the anonymous emailer. I am finding it refreshing and empowering. Thanks ladies!

    Reply

  9. Posted by Steve B. on January 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    I should have clarified that it’s usually at parties where alcohol is served that some people get uncomfortable with me being an addictions counselor.

    Reply

  10. Ah, yes. That’s hilarious. That would make things awkward.

    Reply

  11. Ok. I just found you people. I’ve been a part of the revolution without realizing there was one taking place. So glad to have some cyberkindreds…

    I’ve been honest about how I’m doing when others ask for several years–since my first days of motherhood when I seriously didn’t know how I was going to make it. I’m sure there are people around me who think I’m a bad mom, have too many sitters, & think I’m theologically off-base for not seeing motherhood as the ultimate calling for “godly” women. But there are a few women who are so relieved to learn they aren’t alone when I tell them that I have some horrible days, that I sometimes scream at my kids, that I thank God every day for the TV, and that I sometimes like to talk about issues that have nothing to do with caring for my family and my home.

    I haven’t had the opportunity to answer the “what do you do?” question in a really long time. Maybe that’s part of my problem…

    Reply

  12. Posted by Heather on January 29, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Charlotte: I like you. 🙂

    Reply

  13. Posted by Jennifer on February 18, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Hey,

    My friend Lisa passed along this blog via facebook and I am very grateful for it. This “revolution” has not hit eastern WI and I was starting to feel crazy and not very motherly due to some thoughts and fears I have been having (I am 34 and due with my first in April).

    Now, I was told I would not be able to have kids and agonized over the lifestyle of infertility for a few years (I saw lifestyle because it takes over your whole life).

    Anyway, so I have been struggling with these thoughts and fears because I keep telling myself that I should be so incredible grateful for being pregnant and that I have no right at all to have negative feelings about the adjustment I will soon be making- i.e. being a stay at home mom.

    Like I said, I am 34. I have been working on my professional life and in ministries for over 10 years. I have no idea what I am going to say to people about “what I do” when I stop working. I am a teacher and guidance counselor and mentor and singer and reader and leader… does all that end when a newborn arrives? Am I truly destined for a life of diapers and sleep deprivation and spit up and play dates?

    Speaking of play dates, they scare the crap out of me. A serious phobia. I have no idea why. They seem harmless enough.

    So, when I say, “I am a stay at home mom,” what does that mean? I can’t have an Annie Dillard book in my hand every time I am asked that question as a silent disclaimer, but neither will I have the energy to explain to everyone who asks the impression the last 12 years of my life has made on me and my views of motherhood.

    Also, what do I do with all the people (by that I mean mothers) who now notice my existence because I am pregnant. Why couldn’t we have been friends before? I love kids, I can talk about them… but there are other topics out there we could have bonded over, aren’t there?

    Or maybe I am still on the outside looking in and don’t truly understand how all-consuming motherhood is. But is it “unmaternal’ to not want to be “all consumed?”

    Don’t get me wrong, I want this. I prayed for this, I begged for this. I guess I feel blind-sided by a culture of motherhood and child worship. Not just in my church but in the community.

    Short story long, thanks for taking the time out to write so others out there may know they are not crazy and unnatural. I look forward to tracking this blog. ~Jennifer

    Reply

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