Friday, May 6, 2016

When Mommy Bloggers Seemed Like Freaks: How I learned about the faces and seasons of motherhood

There was a time when, to my young self, "mommy bloggers" seemed like freaks of nature. I would see blogs or websites run by mothers of young children, some of whom were also authors and speakers, and immediately have thoughts like the following:

How in the world do these ladies magically have so much time?

But don't they want to available for their children? How can they do that if they're always online or on speaking tours? (because when a woman writes a couple of blogs a week, it must mean that she's "always online," right? I have stellar logic...)

I can't see myself being that kind of mom ever, so naturally, it's impossible for any other lady to be a successful mother who also writes, speaks, and blogs.

I feel quite silly looking back on all of these assumptions I once made about "mommy bloggers." I have long prided myself on being a nonconformist who isn't afraid to step out of pre-made molds and images...yet in these statements, I was trying to push other women into my mold of what motherhood must be like. Thankfully, over the past few years-especially as I became a mother myself several months ago with the conception of the little boy in my belly-I have been learning quite a lot about motherhood. 

We are all formed by so many things, including our surroundings, how we grow up, what we read, and what we see in the media. For a lot of my life, I was surrounded by stay-at-home, homeschooling moms, which was a huge blessing. I read lots of great parenting books that revolved around the homeschooling lifestyle. I think that stay-at-home motherhood is beautiful and awesome, and I really love homeschooling. In fact, I look forward to the day when, God willing, I can home school our little guy at home. However, in my zeal and passion for stay-at-home motherhood and homeschooling, I began looking at some aspects of these lifestyles as characteristics of what an Ideal Mother must be. I unfortunately got to the point where I would raise my eyebrows at the way in which other ladies mothered if they did not meet the image that I was so familiar with and fond of. 

Working a full-time or even part-time job not related to children? Definitely not an Ideal Mother.  

Not breastfeeding her baby and cuddling him or her throughout the day? Also not part of the Ideal Mother's image. 

Not spending every waking second being attached to an infant or toddler? Not an Ideal Mother, that's for sure! 

As I supported this picture in my mind, I sadly was closing myself off to the beautiful diversity of motherhood. I was trapping myself into a very narrow view that, while it may work for some women, does not work for every woman! Once, while talking with a woman whose children now are all adults, I realized how dangerous the narrow image of motherhood can be, especially as it progresses. This woman repeatedly tried to hammer into my head that "There's no more time to yourself ever once you have kids." While this woman's heart and intentions were good, and I could tell that she wanted to serve her family with love and humility, I also saw-through her words and actions-that her line of thinking ultimately created an image of the Ideal Mother that became a self-imposed prison of stress and misery. 

The Ideal Mother puts herself completely last, all day, every day, for the rest of her life, because she's supposed to give and sacrifice for her family without ever caring for herself.

The Ideal Mother takes care of her husband and makes sure that he pursues his own interests, but doesn't ever let him take care of her-because she's supposed to sacrifice herself, remember? 

The Ideal Mother doesn't ever take the time to cultivate her own interests and pursuits, because she needs to be completely centered on her children's interests. 

Do you know what will happen when a woman tries to push herself into this image of the Ideal Mother? Major stress, burnout, and misery. It's not pretty; I've seen it with my own eyes. You might have seen it-or gone through it-as well. Haley, at Carrots for Michaelmas, recently wrote a great piece somewhat related to this, which I highly recommend reading. 

The other day, when I read Simcha Fisher's awesome article about Chrissy Teigen, I realized that in the not-so-distant past, I probably would have been one of the naysayers who was horrified at the thought of a woman leaving her ten-day-old baby to go on a dinner date with her husband. After all, the Ideal Mother surely does not leave her infant before he or she is at least a year old, right?  

What was my response to this article and Teigen's actions now, though?

I applaud Teigen for gracefully doing this and spending time with her husband, and I wholeheartedly appreciate and support Fisher for talking about it. Because whether we'd like to admit it or not, a lot of us try to make motherhood a one-size-fits-all type of gig, and this needs to stop. We like to think that what works well for one mother will automatically work well for another mother. We can also tend to think that what works perfectly in one season of motherhood will continue to work just as well over the coming years, or because we've always mothered in one certain way means that we need to keep mothering in that same way. 

However, if there's one thing I've been learning in my short time as a mother, it's that there are many faces and seasons of motherhood.  

Yes, there are certain biological or cultural benefits to different aspects of parenting, but if one thing doesn't work out for a woman, her marriage, or family, then she shouldn't feel the need to force herself into it just because it's part of the Ideal Mother image! There are as many types of mothers out there as there are women, and the way in which women act on their mothering instincts can certainly change over time as needed. Let's give ourselves the freedom to change and break out of the self-imposed molds that we have created. Why do we subscribe to one image of Ideal Motherhood, anyway? Is it so we can be successful as mothers? And what defines our success? Personally, I want this baby inside of me to glorify God during his life on Earth, and to glorify God in Heaven for all of eternity. That would be pretty successful, I think. 

I really love learning from the saints, since they figured out this holiness thing on Earth and are now interceding for us from Heaven, so I think it's worthwhile to examine their lives and examples. There's one saint in particular who really shows us a vibrant image of this motherhood thing. I mean, her children were very holy; one is a Servant of God, and another is a very famous Doctor of the Church! And you know what? This mother does not meet the the specifications of the Ideal Mother that I once created. 

St. Zelie Martin takes the image of the Ideal Mother that I once clung to and demolishes it. 
From catholic exchange.
For the past few months, I have been reading A Call to a Deeper Love: The family correspondence of the parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and my mind has been utterly blown by Zelie. She and her family have always seemed to fit a certain image in my mind: reserved, quiet, lovey-dovey, etc. When I opened this book, I was expecting something that involved love letters between Louis and Zelie, mixed in with other family affairs. Well, this book actually involves a tremendous amount of letters which Zelie wrote to her daughters, brother, and sister-in-law about every day life in the Martin home. This correspondence naturally involves a lot of her life as a mother, so here are a few things I've seen about Zelie's motherhood: 

That notion that the Ideal Mother doesn't ever take any time for herself and her own pursuits? Zelie busts it out of the water. 
This lady was amazing with her correspondence. She wrote lengthy letters to her family members about random events that happen. She read the Life of St. Jane de Chantal for her own personal edification. Yes, life was as busy as a three-ring-circus around the Martin home, and Zelie was continually on the go, but she still made the time to read and write. 
"I must finish because it's very late. I had many letters to write, first to the children in Le Mans, then to other people, and, since today is Sunday, I would very much like to go to bed before midnight because I'll be staying up late all week when I'm so harried." (December 1874)
The image that the Ideal Mother must breastfeed and continually be with her children? Again, Zelie doesn't fit the mold.
 Zelie was unable to breastfeed most of her children due to health problems, so she had to send them to live with wet nurses. Not being able to nurture her babies at her own breast was extremely difficult for Zelie, and having to walk several kilometers to visit her newborns was no walk in the park. Not to mention the times when her babies suffered from unreliable or negligent nurses! Still, Zelie did what she had to do and let God take care of everything. Those ladies out there who can't breastfeed and are being fed dishes of guilt from others, take heart: Zelie did not have a strong breastfeeding relationship with St. Therese, and I think the Little Flower turned out just fine. 
"I'm rejoicing, my dear sister, to think that next August we'll each have a little boy, at least I hope so. But, girl or boy, we must accept with gratitude whatever God gives us because He knows what we need better than we do. What troubles me is to think of having to put my baby with a wet nurse again. It's so difficult to find good people! I would also like to have the wet nurse live at our house, but that's impossible; I already have enough people! In the end, I think God will help me. He knows well that it's not laziness that keeps me from nursing my children because I'm not afraid of the effort." (February 12, 1870)
The view that the Ideal Mother cannot or should not work? Yeah, Zelie ignores that "rule," too. 
The woman made incredibly gorgeous Alencon lace, and was very involved in running her business. Was life pretty crazy for her at times? You bet; but she still fit in prayer, work, and family life.  
"I'm overwhelmed with work at the moment. I sold some beautiful lace, and I've received orders for more than forty meters. I have, among others, an order for twenty meters of lace that is very difficult to make, a pattern that costs one hundred and eighty francs per meter, to be delivered by December 25." (October 1868)
So much of motherhood seems defined by comparison and hasty judgments. 
Even if we don't verbally or militantly criticize others, we so easily slip into internal comments about what other women do when it really shouldn't matter that much to us. We can all grow and become more awesome, so let's focus on our own self-improvement and mothering in the ways that work best for us, our marriages, and our families-and not worry about trying to achieve some glossy image of Ideal Motherhood. 


  1. The book sounds fascinating. Yes, it's true. It's easy to go into motherhood (or any gig they you have strong feelings about) with a bunch of "I will never . . . ". And then life happens. It's not all long days and cracked nipples. Nor is it all sweet cuddles and baby coos. There's a healthy dose of both. I've become a lot less critical of other women since becoming a mother. And I've learned not to compare my worst day with someone's best day.

    1. Ann-Marie, thanks for sharing your experience! I think it's cool that you mention a dose of both cuddles and long days-that will be really good for me to remember when I hit the trenches of newborn life in the very near future :)
      Oh goodness, I love this book. It's really cool to see that a family of saints and religious sisters was so normal-they had their joys, arguments, awesome days, and rough days, but they kept striving to glorify God in all things. I highly recommend it :)

  2. One of the biggest things I've learned from motherhood is to "never say never." I entered motherhood thinking that I would never do this, that, or the other because they weren't ideal. Then reality happened...and I did some of those things!

    I've continued blogging after becoming a mom because it is so important for moms (especially stay-at-home moms) to have something they do to refresh themselves. I don't write while my daughter is awake because she is my priority (and other things need cleaning the house). I use the time I have early in the morning and while she naps to write.

    1. Shannon, that's a neat way to put it! I definitely have been feeling that a lot. So many things that-in the past-I would never have considered all of a sudden are looking a lot more appealing or realistic (though I won't really be able to find what works and what doesn't work until the baby is actually born).

      I love how you bring up the importance of moms to refresh themselves; too often, I think women in general (moms and women who aren't moms) can get too enthusiastic about serving others that they forget to do that!

  3. I think it's fine to say that certain things are better/worse for children IN GENERAL or better/worse for YOUR children specifically, but passing judgments on other specific people's families is usually not helpful because you don't know everything about their circumstances and personalities, etc. Great post, thank you!

    1. That's a great point about generalizations! It is indeed so easy so make assumptions and judgments on others without knowing the full story. Glad you like this, Jenny!