Learning “Mother” from Mormons
I blogged recently about the Protestant ideal woman, the mother. Luther considered this to be a sacred calling. Cutting across the tendency to see some vocations as ‘holy’ and some as ‘secular’, Luther saw all work as a way of glorifying God. Yet, in today’s world, women “leave” work to become mothers. Feminism has been blamed for such an unhealthy attitude towards motherhood. There may be something in that, but I wonder whether we need to look a little closer to home.
The blogosphere has erupted over the last month after Jezebel’s discussion of Mormonism and the confession from “standard-issue late-20-something childless overeducated atheist feminist” Emily Matchar that she loves reading Mormon mommy blogs (like rockstar diaries or angry chicken). It’s not that Matchar suddenly wants to quit her job and start baking brownies, but she describes the Mormon blogs as an “escapist fantasy, a way to imagine a sweeter, simpler life.” And there are plenty of others who agree with her! Now, who knows whether the blogging Mormon mom is genuine anyway. Mormonism is known for its surface level happiness (parodied here) and that ideal puts tremendous pressure on women. But it’s not the saccharine nature of these blogs that’s appealing: it’s their un-selfconscious celebration.
This is the kind of attitude I so rarely hear from mothers in my own circles. The women I looked up to in my uni years are now Gen X mothers talking about “choosing to enjoy this stage in life” and I wonder if what they mean is “making the best of a bad situation.” My own generation who are becoming mothers are judging each other nine ways to Sunday about controlled crying, formula milk, disposable nappies, on-demand feeding, going back to work, etc – oops, I mean, they’re deciding “what works for me.”
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m grateful they choose to share their struggles with me. I don’t want friends who are all lollipops and rainbows because life’s not like that. Friendship is often forged in the banal. But it’s also terrifying: the guilt, the frustration, the judgement. That doesn’t sound like a sacred calling – it sounds like a trap!
And the stuff that I do find that considers motherhood a sacred calling often has me running for the hills. girltalk springs to mind. It feels a little more American mid-West than the hipster Mormons of NYC but the basic idea of celebrating conservative models is still there. But added is an agenda of encouraging biblical womanhood. It’s all very Titus 2. And I think I end up feeling like this is more about getting women to conform to an agenda than it is about celebration or sharing ideas. There’s an innocence that is lost because it’s motherhood in the service of a cause.
Do we use motherhood to make some sort of statement? “I chose to give up my career to raise our children” (aren’t I selfless / holy?); or “I am not defined by my children” (aren’t I liberated / using my gifts?). It’s exhausting because we go round and round in an endless cycle of affirming women who stay at home while not wanting to guilt those who don’t but also not saying that what the latter do is necessarily more important than the former, etc.
There’s something condescending in Matchar’s description of the Mormon women’s lives as “simpler”, “adorable” and “old fashioned” but there’s also a yearning there. She says Mormon bloggers make marriage and motherhood seem, well, fun. Easy. Joyful. Like you could be relaxed and untouched by cynicism. Even though you drink lattes and live in NYC. One feminist commented, ’You are making me want kids, and I’ve never wanted kids!’ And so I’ve wondered if this is a more compelling vision of motherhood, not because it isn’t hard but because it isn’t defensive.