Just so you know

All right. I have ideas. I think about stuff. So here is the spot for stuff I'm thinking about and want to be able to share more broadly and possibly promote. Like I have time for this.

Everything is provisional at this point and subject to change in the future - as far as the blog is concerned. In real life some things will remain unchanged.

Also, our children are not really named Lenny and Linus. We are not that cool.

Feel free to share, rant, disagree, but please remember that I'm an actual person who tries to be respectful. I'd love it if you are and do to.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Myth of the Proverbs 31 Mom

I'm planning to write a post called "How to Bless a Mom with Chronic Illness."  I'm eminently qualified to write it and I have lots of positive suggestions (and a few warnings, it's true.)  But first, I am going to respond to this blog post, which I read yesterday because another mom with a chronic illness pointed it out and shared her response to it.  Several other mom's chimed in, mostly with illnesses also or with children with special needs.  I chimed in too - three times in a row.  Then I tried to leave a comment on the website.  But in spite of trying to stay very polite (while staying within the 500 character limit) my comment has now been forever lost in "moderation."

That's all right.  The more I thought about this post the more I thought that although moms with chronic illnesses (MWCI) have a special reason to have a beef with her suggestions this author is just generally so far off in her idea of what an "ideal" woman should be and in her approach to "encouraging" other women to live up to the ideal.  I considered just letting it go.  She and I will most likely never agree on any number of topics even though we both "say" we are Christians.  That's allowed.  I don't have to refute every line of reasoning I disagree with on the internet.  And I sure don't need to try to pick fights with other bloggers.

But I could never seriously consider not writing about this because it's such an important issue.  Because as moms we carry around this enormous weight of our own and other people's expectations of us.  Because sometimes this steals the joy of the beautiful moments.  Because I absolutely do not believe that the Bible teaches that we should operate this way or that God would be pleased to see us doing it.

Well, you can read the blog yourself, so I'll try not to spend too much time telling you what it says. I felt that the post started pretty well, actually.  The question of how much of our personal struggles and failings we need to share online is open for discussion, in my opinion.  Although I have already blogged about the benefits of being able to admit to having a really bad day I can also see the advantages of balancing our admissions of less-than-perfect-contentment with reminders (if only for our own encouragement) that some moments are beautiful and sweet.  Sometimes I feel that moms who are getting a good response to the humor of the icky moments leave out the balancing moments and are being entertaining rather than "real."  Some people aren't into that.  That's fair.

On the point of whether or not efficient, energetic moms who keep their houses clean and cook wholesome delicious meals for their families are "real" moms I think that the key is to remember that in this case "real" is being used to mean "genuine."  I know some of these moms IRL.  I've been in their homes and had a cup of tea with them.  I love them.  I love the serenity of their homes and the fact that they take time out to visit with me.  I love it when they let me rest in their homes while they move on to the next task.  I even love it when they are embarrassed that their kids didn't put their dirty clothes in the basket or when they can't help dropping the game they are playing with the kids and starting to organize the toys.  I especially love those moments because those are the times when they are being "real."  When I see that the "got-it-all-together" mom is doing life in the way that makes most sense and feels most comfortable to her and that she still struggles.  These moms have been such a big blessing to me that I almost just rolled this right into the "How to Bless" post.

If only she had left it at that.  But then she decides to apply Biblical "wisdom" in order to "encourage" her readers.  (It's in the comments.  She actually says she wants to encourage people.)  And here comes the Proverbs 31 woman.  Because figures in Wisdom Literature are clearly "real life" individuals who we should try to model our lives after if we "say" we are Christians. (Quote from the post:  "Many of you readers say you are Christians.")

In her defense she does identify characteristics of the Proverbs 31 woman that every human being can/should aspire to.  We could probably all stand to be more "Diligent, Kind, Meticulous, Caring, Trustworthy, Dependable, Frugal" and "Wise."  And we might even be happier moms with more cooperative kids and less chaos in our lives if we did.

But then it really comes down to the brass tacks.  What she doesn't like about these flagrantly authentic moms is that they "pout all day and claim that we can’t get our housework done and take care of our kids."  Clearly the Proverbs 31 mom would never do that.  She got up early, made meals for her kids and dressed in beautiful fabrics.  In fact, she looks almost exactly like the mom in this post.  Trust me, you would never find these ladies in their jammies at 4 p.m. "cuddling" on their beds with their kids and trying to write a blog post.  (Actually I'm not really sure when the Proverbs 31 mom wrote her blog posts, but I'm sure she had a designated time after the dishes were done and she had taken time for a hot chocolate date with her husband.  Yes, I'm getting snarky.  Yes, I stalked the website a little.)

The bottom line is that the Proverbs 31 woman does not now and never did in the past actually exist. Wisdom literature.  Proverbs creates "individuals" with characteristics that "wise" people can aspire to.  It's not modeled after some famous woman of olden times who practiced management, agriculture, real estate, international trade.... all while running a ship-shape house and cooking nutritious meals.  It's an illustration.  A tool.  And focusing on the characteristics her actions display might suggest that the same characteristics could have different manifestations for different people.  Requiring someone to take regular showers in order to prove that they are caring just doesn't add up in my book.  (Actually the fact that I sometimes manage to display kindness to others in the relative absence of hot showers is pretty amazing to me.)

If you really wanted to compare the life of a virtuous Old Testament wife to a modern one you would need to consider the fact that she lived in very different social circumstances than moms who generally have access to blogs.  She probably lived with extended family and got lots of help with the kids.  She didn't have to decide what food to make - she prepared what was available.  No one ever told her that her marriage was supposed to be emotionally fulfilling.  Maybe the chick was just a lot less tired and stressed than most moms these days.  BUT THAT'S NOT THE POINT.  I'll yell again:  I HAVE DIGRESSED.

The point is that sharing the unlovely and frustrating parts of being a parent does not mean that a person is less spiritual.  I would claim that it's a matter of opinion whether this says anything at all about whether they are exhibiting the characteristics displayed in the passage in their everyday lives.  But whether or not any parent keeps their house clean and cooks nutritious meals from scratch for their families?  Using this passage to try to enforce that kind of lifestyle does violence to the passage and is abusive to the people who read it.  Proverbs 31 paints a picture of someone with a full and rich life.  We can all aspire to being as productive and plugged in to our communities as the subject is.  But if we are not - by our own choice or because of the circumstances of our lives - we are not not notnotnotnotnotnot failing IN ANY WAY.

I could dissect the issues with using the Proverbs 31 woman to browbeat tired or discouraged or frustrated moms all day.  But the question is, what did the author of the post expect the reader to take away from her "devotional"?  Here it is, in her own words.  And this is why I could not just let this go:
"I so desire for all of us moms to make the most of this short-time on Earth we call life. We only get to be moms once, and if we mess up, there is no turning back.
I encourage you to read Proverbs 31 and see what a “real Mom” should be."
 Dear, dear friends.  I also hope that you get the most out of life.  Absolutely.  So don't listen to anyone who tells you that parenting is done in one broad stroke and can be messed up irrevocably.  It's just not true.  In my series about being an MK I probably should have pointed out that my parents made changes my senior year in high school so that I wouldn't have to be in the dorm.  They realized that the situation had not been working for me.  They apologized.  They made changes.  They handled the situation differently with my youngest brother than they had with me.  It is possible to turn back.  (Don't want to say they "messed up" but this is a beautiful example of doing it differently when you don't like the way it's going.)

If you want to read Proverbs 31 you should definitely go for it.  But don't feel bad if you decide not to buy a field or plant a vineyard (oh wait, this author doesn't say we need to follow that part of the "instructions.")  I have been following a group of moms online for a while that I find very encouraging.  This is not a "Christian" group, but I love their take on accepting and supporting each other as mothers.  Today is a special day to honor just that goal.  I believe that the Savior who called the short tax collector from a tree and who let the "unclean" prostitute wash his feet would have taken this approach to parenting.  I can just picture him walking into my cluttered living room, somehow finding a spot on the crumb covered carpet, plopping down and having a snuggle with my grouchy, snot filled baby while working on a puzzle with the five-year-old.  That's not in the Bible either, by the way.  I just love the image.

So we can all relax.  This is not The Velveteen Rabbit.  We do not start with bodies full of sawdust and hope that the kisses and traumas of parenting will rub off the shine and leave us with hearts that beat and noses that twitch.  We are all real.  If one mommy's way of keeping her kids safe and fed and tanked up with love includes taking time out to appreciate the humor of the chaotic process, fine.  If another keeps a strict schedule and manages to home school six kids while keeping up with the ironing, fine.  Lets rejoice together and walk beside each other through the hard times and never ever let a Bible passage intended to encourage be used to heap burdens on us.


  1. I so agree with you. As a Mom who also struggles with chronic fatigue, her post really angers me. I commented on it, but judging by the fact that the only posts that make it past moderation are the ones telling her how wonderful she is, I doubt my comment will get posted. This is what I said, "When I reread Proverbs 31, verse 15 jumped out at me (the part where it mentions her female servants). This woman did NOT do it all alone. She had help. I think that instead of judging other moms you should be a neighbor in the way Jesus called us to be and help them out. You don't know what they're struggling with, be it chronic health concerns, a non-"typically" functioning or sick child, Post Partum Depression etc. Perhaps show Christ's servant heart and go clean their house for them." There was so much more I wanted to say, but she limited it to 500 characters.

    1. Good point about the servants! And we sure don't know what other people are struggling with. I find that those who have the "best" reasons for non-glittery-shiney houses are sometimes the ones who are stung the most by the assumptions of others. It hurts when people jump to conclusions.

    2. She posted your comment! Also her response, in which she stands by everything she says and proposes that the "conveniences" of modern life outweigh the disadvantage of not having human help. Both are hard. It's true. All the more reason to allow for differences in how we handle it.

    3. Wow. Her reply to my post makes me even more mad. People have modern conveniences like microwaves, so they have no excuses like illnessor other hardships. Um, ok. Tell that to the mom with the child dying of cancer or the mom fighting it herself. Good to know where her head's at. I could reply that I spent my whole childhood living in Asia, and I can bet that she has at least 1 maid cleaning her house for her, freeing up her time to do other things. But, I can see the type of person she is. Apparently being a "Proverbs 31" mom trumps your need for compassion and empathy or even kindness. It honestly scares me that people like that are missionaries, but is sadly doesn't surprise me.

    4. Hi Amy, I currently live in Cambodia too (and yes, I have house help, and no, I could not survive without it!!) and was interested to hear you grew up in Asia. Did you know Rachel as a child? (I know Rachel through her parents' current ministry.) I am really, really sorry about the comment that said "we all have disabilities and setbacks." That sounded hurtful to me, and neither I nor my husband nor my children even have major mental or physical health struggles. I think her replies were rather dismissive, and I'm sorry for that too. And her husband coming in and calling you naughty, that was a really low blow! Ouch! I think we have to stay away from sites like that, honestly, because they exude competition, perfectionism, works-righteousness, and a complete lack of grace. (Bloggers and ministries often say they have grace when they really don't. I say this with some experiences in spiritually abusive situations and legalistic churches and my own struggle to really find grace as an adult.) We don't have to hang out at that site; we can find Christian community elsewhere. I know this means she effectively shut you up, which is unfortunate, but that site is her playground, so we can let her play there without us. We are not going to change graceless people with arguments anyway. Hopefully God can guide her into grace, though. He has certainly helped me understand grace better as I've gotten older. I started out needing a LOT of help on that front, and I'm sure I'll need help in that my entire life. I'm thankful for the grace He gives us in taking our own sweet time to find His grace! For now, though, just know your thoughts and feelings are valuable, and you are heard.

    5. I really feel that her final comment to me shows an insight and grace I hadn't seen before. I am encouraged. I also feel you handled your comments with patient insight, Amy. I know that we rarely see big changes in someone's outlook in a single online interaction, but I have seen people make changes over time. At least I do believe that she intended to encourage readers and maybe now she will have a different perspective on what some people do and don't find encouraging. I feel that an actual discussion was finally had, which I find very hopeful.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this and thought it was very insightful. And then I wrote such a long comment, that it wasn't accepted! I will send my thoughts to you via email instead, b/c after I spent 30 minutes writing, I want SOMEONE to read it. Ha!! Maybe you can read it at the doctor's office tomorrow :)

    1. I have thought about this, and thought about this, ever since you wrote it, and I have to say, the best part was your ending. I'm just going to repeat the words here because they are so freeing: "So we can all relax. This is not The Velveteen Rabbit. We do not start with bodies full of sawdust and hope that the kisses and traumas of parenting will rub off the shine and leave us with hearts that beat and noses that twitch. We are all real. . .Lets rejoice together and walk beside each other through the hard times and never ever let a Bible passage intended to encourage be used to heap burdens on us."

      That was really inspiring, Rachel, and made me feel just like I felt in the counselor's office, working through some really deep pain, when afterwards, he said, "I just want you to relax," in this voice that made me hope for the first time ever, that it was possible to relax. (My husband had been telling me to relax for years, to no avail.) But that last paragraph was just so beautiful, and brought such relief, that I really felt you needed to know that it did something for me, deep in my soul, even though I had already commented, and already sent private thoughts to you. I am so glad to have found you as a friend in recent weeks. Thank you for overflowing to others the comfort that God has given you :)

    2. I'm glad that was helpful to you! I have reread it several times this week myself as things have gotten a little more "free form" around here than even I am comfortable with. Sometimes I find that images are very powerful in helping our brains/emotions really grasp an idea that otherwise just sits on the surface.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Adam, if there was a problem with the website publishing your comment you can message me through my facebook page and I will see what I can do. I just found out there is a length limit. That's the site, not me.

  4. Much agreement here! I so often think the word "real" should be dropped from our vocabularies. 'Real' women, men, mothers, fathers, etc. We are all real, many of us struggle to be our authentic selves and there is no shame in that. Some people are authentically tidy and some are not (me!!!), some people have to fake it to have clean houses and children. There is no shame deciding not to fake it and saying, poo, poo so what if my house is a mess and I haven't showered in days. There is no shame in being perfectly healthy with healthy children and still not having any interest in spending time cleaning and cooking. I grew up in a messy house and now I have a messy house. I'm embarrassed of my crumbs and clutter, but I'm trying to embrace it. Cleaning isn't a priority for me. I don't know how to declutter or keep a tidy house with minimal effort. I know some people do and assume I am just a lazy slacker (I might be a little). But I grew up in a house full of love and fun. We played games together and watched tv together. Both my parents worked full time and/or went to school while I was growing up. No one wants to come home after a full day and clean.

  5. (cont.). Husband's family is the opposite. His parents' house is very tidy. I've seen the time it takes to maintain and I don't like it. When we visit my parents, they spend tons of time with us. Chores don't get done. His parents continue to clean and do chores. It drives me nuts. We only see them every few weeks/months and they spend much of it mowing the lawn and doing laundry, etc. I know it's just different personalities though, not a reflection of how they feel about us. I'm trying to get used to it and not vilify them. Some people like to be busy, busy, busy and that's okay, just like it's okay that I don't.
    Sometimes I think people have trouble accepting that other people are different and need to do different things. How can my way be right if other people's ways are not the same? We all don't have to live the same or parent the same. I think God wants us to be ourselves and enjoy it and that's exactly why it is so hard to do.

    1. My mom and I are quite different in our approaches to home management. It has caused some friction for us over the years, but we've worked some issues/strategies out over the years. It probably involves each of us getting out of our comfort zones occasionally.

      Accepting individual differences is definitely a gift we can give to others - and ourselves. I think we can even see ways that this happened in the New Testament Church.