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Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Post About Motherhood and Image-Worship

Alright. It's time for a Mommy-post. As a mother to 4 crazy kids 7 and under, mothers have a special place in my heart. We have a really difficult job. No, the "the most blessed job" or "the most difficult job" or whatever other claim all those mommy-blogs you read say. It's just difficult. And blessed. And, well, sometimes feels dang near impossible. So when I come across another article that heaps even more impossibility and judgment on the heads of mothers in the name of Christianity, I have to say something.

I came across this post today, on a well-known Fundy blog that promotes strict gender-roles and much striving for perfection in women of all ages, all in the name of God:

What Kind of Picture Are You Painting?

She starts off like this:

You’ve seen her, that Mom.
Maybe you, like me, have been her: that Mom.
You know, the one in sweat pants and hair that hasn’t been washed in three days who’s pushing a cart with more kids than groceries in the store that keeps all the breakable items at toddler eye-level.
The one with bags under her eyes from too many nights in a row with more work than rest.
The one with the little girl wearing flip-flops, a winter coat, a t-shirt two sizes too large and a skirt that’s…wait, she is wearing a skirt, isn’t she?! I’m sure she had one on when we left!…The one with the little boy who is begging for a snack and clearly in need of a nap.
The one with the gassy baby screaming for someone to take her out of the car seat so she can “let it all out.”
The one with a long trail of animal cracker crumbs left behind her by a toddler who opened a box that wasn’t on the original shopping list.
The one who’s perfected The Glare and is using it liberally.
The one who just let her kids know that they’re going to “get it” at home without saying a word.

Painting a picture of a tired, chaotic mom. Then she contrasts it with this picture:

Maybe you’ve seen the other Mom too. Maybe you’ve been her.
The one who looks like she just stepped out of a Pride and Prejudice movie set with a long, flowing skirt, hair gracefully twisted into an elegant bun, a few wisps purposefully left out and curled to frame her face, perfectly manicured hands pushing a buggy that works – full of children still, but ones that everyone stops to say are adorable.
The one whose well-rested, well-dressed, obedient, happy children remember to smile and say “thank-you” to the lady in the bakery department when she hands them a cookie.
The one with lips laced in kindness and patience as she carefully explains for the tenth time to her inquisitive three-year-old the health benefits of each organic vegetable they pick out together and place in the cart.
The one who people admire and inquire “How do you do it?!”

She then goes on to say that the "picture we paint" of motherhood with how we look when we're in the grocery store is important. I mean, what if a "raging feminist" (her words) looks at us and we look like the worst mother and that "raging feminist" decides right then and there to never have kids? We have just failed Jesus, y'all!!! Everyone that sees us will think terrible things about God and motherhood!! Oh noessssss!!

I can only imagine the picture I "paint" when I go out with all my kids:

Kid #1 always has crazy hair and mismatched clothes. I let her dress herself because it's fun for her and teaches her autonomy. As long as it's weather-appropriate and she's not naked, I consider it a success. And her hair is impossible to keep orderly. I try, honest. I've considered shaving her head but she's not keen on the idea.

Kid #2 is always dressed as Snow White or Raphunzel or a ballerina or a gothic fairy, complete with wings. Because it makes her really happy. She's autistic and I love her creativity. She puts together the wildest outfits but has to have her hair all perfect. And she loves boots. It's so cute. She is so uncaring about what anyone thinks and just dresses how she loves.

Kid #3 usually looks pretty normal, but often is mistaken for a girl because he's beautiful and has gorgeous long, blonde hair. Even though he's also usually wearing camo and super-hero clothing and his shoes are always on the wrong feet. He's convinced they're the right feet and after a few arguments I just drop it.

Kid #4 is just a baby. In this heat he's usually just wearing a onesie. I pack him around on my back in a Beco Gemini. He's usually babbling and playing with my hair and laughing at his siblings. Or crying and screaming because he wants down. Sometimes he smears snot on my back. His face never seems to be clean no matter how many times I wash it.

They're all very loud, all the time. It's like this happy roar wherever we go. Unless it's not happy. Then the fun really starts. Most of the time it's happy...singing, laughing, making weird noises, goofing off, "Mommy can we buy that huge TV for our living room?" and "Mommy that man has a funny face!" and "I hafta go potty!" and "can we look at the fishies?".

As for my appearance.....well.... I try to be clean, and match, but I don't "dress up" to go to Target. I mean, I really rock the shorts and tank and sandals look. Especially if I remembered to shave my legs within the last 5 days. I tried wearing a sundress out once, because I love them, but that didn't turn out so well and I don't like flashing an entire parking lot full of people because one kid just has to see my belly-button RIGHT THEN (we're working on boundaries. It's a difficult concept for a 3-yr-old). Occasionally I might swipe on some mascara, but often because it's taken half the day to just get everyone ready, I'll skip the make-up. My hair is usually in a pony-tail, but always clean. Except those days I just run out of time and I declare a hat day. Sometimes I can keep the smile on my face. Sometimes not. Usually I'm thinking about my list I forgot and mentally comparing prices and trying to plan the next 5 meals in my head while keeping my eye on everyone while trying not to run into other shoppers or accidentally grab someone else's little blonde kid, and while answering the barrage of questions that get flung at me by 3 eager little children who think Costco is the best store ever, full of wonder and delight and samples.

So I guess the picture I'm painting for the world to see is that of a busy mother who has full hands and heart, is a bit of a hippie, has creative, fun, friendly, loud, happy kids, who love our quirky life, who are far from perfect, and none of whom give a damn about what other people think of us. Because that's what this lady is actually saying. "You need to care about what everyone else thinks about you." She's just couching it in spiritual-sounding terms so she can hide her hang-up about what others think behind a spiritual concept and feel better about her need to appear perfect to everyone around her.  Because, as Jesus said, "They will know you are my disciples if you dress and look like you stepped out of a Jane Austen book". Ohhhhh wait........

I honestly feel sorry for her. And her kids. I can't imagine living under that pressure to perform for the world like she does. And how dare she praise that brokenness and heap it as a burden on other moms?! Don't we have enough on our plate without worrying that we're making God look bad because we aren't perfect-looking? What about those of us who have special-needs kids? Try going shopping with an autistic child who is scared to death of public restrooms or has melt-downs in the store because the sensory overload is too much.

This woman is so worried about what "message" she is sending to other people in the store....what about the message she is sending to her own children, and now proclaiming to other moms: That looking perfect is what matters. That "having it all together" is most important. That what other people think about you should rule your choices. This is image-worship, my friends. It is nothing short of idolatry. She is worshiping a certain image and telling other moms if they don't measure up to it, then they didn't plan well or they don't care what other people think about motherhood or Jesus. Golly, just reading what she wrote makes me exhausted. What a sad way to live.

Everywhere I go, people say nice things about my kids and I. Not because we look like we have it all together (we don't). But because we're happy (for the most part) and we're free from pressure to perform, and my kids are friendly (sometimes a little TOO friendly) and respectful (usually). People don't notice how we look (except sometimes my #2 daughter gets told how awesome her princess/fairy/ballerina clothes are). They notice things like happiness and freedom and grace and love. Even on the bad days when I think the latest grocery expedition is a complete fail, someone always smiles and says "you're children look like so much fun!" And it makes me smile, even when I feel like crying and never leaving the house again.

Mothers, just be you. Give your kids the freedom to be themselves. It's OK to not smile all the time. It's OK to not look like Lizzy Bennett with a bunch of smiling, quiet kids tripping in a perfect row behind you. I'm like 99% sure God doesn't care about what you look like. He cares about your heart (oh yeah, I read that in my Bible somewhere). He cares that we show love for each other. He doesn't care if your hair isn't washed or your kids' clothes don't match or you're wearing yoga pants. If you have to carry a screaming kid out of the store, He isn't judging you for making Him look bad. The people making Him "look bad" are the ones using his name to judge and to put other mothers in bondage to image-worship and perfection.


  1. I think if I went to the store looking like I stepped out of a Jane Austen movie, people might wonder what wacko cult I belonged to. Praise Jesus!

    1. hahahaha! I literally LOLed.

    2. My sister is a former member of the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, and whenever I would visit her in the Chicago area, you could always spot the IFB families from literally about 500 feet.

      Usually you would see the mother out, dressed like she's a Jehovah's Witness, with 4 or 5 kids all walking orderly behind her or to the side of her.

  2. Are you sure her post wasn't an ironic tribute to the mother of logical fallacies, the False Dichotomy? (that was sarcasm right there, btw.)

    A few observations:
    If I wore a long, flowing skirt to the grocery store, one of my kids would probably try to make a tent out of it and hide in it, and another one would segue into some game involving hide and seek or peekaboo with whoever was in the skirt-tent.... and ain't nobody wants to see that. :)

    My hands aren't manicured, and never will be. I am a pianist, and I wash a lot of dishes and do a lot of science projects involving sharp stuff. My nails are non-existent, and I have enough scars and callouses to make me interesting. :)

    I have never gone three days without washing my hair except when recovering from a nasty emergency c-section, and I have never gone out in sweatpants unless it's to the gym- never the store. I don't dress up, but I'm clean, and if I'm wearing shorts, I've even shaved. Huzzah! I, too, adore the ponytail. I don't really care if I'm the most stylish chick in the store- my clothes are clean and fit, as do my kids', and I know more scripture verses about ditching the fancy clothes in favor of simplicity and good works and inner beauty than I do verses about pressuring women to look perfect. (I have yet to find one, actually. Funny thing...)People have never complimented me on what I wear to the store- they have complimented me on my gaggle of cuties helping unload the cart or holding the door for strangers.

  3. I guess she doesn't know any feminists. Most of them would look at the so-called "better mom" picture she has pained and see a Stepford Wife, and still decide not to marry or have kids :) Honestly, from a feminist perspective, what makes motherhood look attractive is not how well the moms are put together but how well the moms have kept their sense of self, whether they're living in chaos or harmony.

    Also, loading women up with expectations and rules as she has, is also not appealing to feminists.

    1. You are spot on there. I'm a feminist. I want kids. I would much rather be the "worst mom" than the "better mom." Hopefully I will be somewhere in the middle, actually!!

    2. Another feminist with kids (and a SAHM!) checking in. :D I did have to laugh at her caricature of "feminists". Though it's pretty typical of her camp to paint feminists like that. In reality, if I, a feminist, walked by her in the store, she'd probably never guess I was one of them. ;)

  4. I saw this post the other day (the "picture" one.) Gosh, what a load to pile on and all the agreeing comments! I wear jeans and t-shirts. I like jeans and t-shirts. When I go to the store I pity all those women in heels and office attire and am so happy that I don't have to wear all that stuff. I'm an artist (painter) and my hands are ALWAYS a mess and I like it that way. But then, at 44 and 10 kids later, I'm far less impressed with what the mommy bloggers say. It took me a while to get here though!

  5. As the Internet Monk used to say, we were never meant to be an advertisement for God or God's PR team. Christians faking it is probably the biggest reason people are turned off by Christianity. Do we really think they're too stupid to know?

  6. Wow, the author does not live in the real world, and she's a second generation homeschool. Kid's are hyper and noisy, especially if you have more than one. But it's not too surprising, I guess, considering my mom tried to make us perfect in public. Of course, she never really took us anywhere other than the library or park. Maybe that's why - too embarrassed.