It’s Not Enough To Tell Mothers To Stop Whining And Learn To Love Motherhood, We Have To Cultivate Community To Help Them…
In an article entitled How To Stop Whining And Learn To Love Being A Mother, the author, Anna Mussman, addresses a malaise that has settled over the discussion of motherhood via social media. It’s obvious, Mussman claims, from the online negativity that mothers are not enjoying time with their children.
The antidote to the tripe, Mussman suggests, is to reject the lie “anything they [Mothers] do not know how to do cannot be done.” Whether the struggle be with housekeeping or parenting, women don’t have to adopt a defeatist attitude that proposes we don’t have what it takes to be good parents; We can learn hard things. For instance, we can embrace as a necessary part of our jobs tasks we don’t particularly enjoy, find a mentor to guide us in parenting issues, consult with the women around us who are good at things we are not, read blogs authored by mothers of older children, and absorb the example of strong mothers in old books like The Little House On The Prairie. We don’t have to base our parenting “normal” on what we see online.
I agree that floundering mothers are capable of learning skills they lack. However, the online commiseration Mussman defines as unhealthy is not the result of bad habit or weariness from suffering like she suggests, but is the result of a substantial lack of community women experience in daily life. It is not easy today to find a mothering mentor or even a friend with whom to commiserate about parenting, so many women bring their troubles to the online watering wells of today. They use social media to vent and discuss and laugh about the hardest job they have—mothering.
Years ago, I worked with a sixty-something woman named Millie, who had four grown children. As a young mother, Millie’s best friend lived next door and was in the same life situation as she: charged with the full-time care and feeding of a house full of small people. Both had husbands who worked crazy hours so after a long day of childrearing, they put their children to bed and sat on the front porch. Together, they drank a high ball, smoked a cigarette, laughed about their children’s crazy antics, and shared about how much they missed their hardworking husbands. Millie felt supported in her vocation because she had another woman alongside her with whom to commiserate.
Fifty years ago, women gathered in neighborhoods and socialized with a sea of children at their feet, while they swapped recipes and shared familial anecdotes. Women supported each other in ways more difficult today because we are so isolated from each other. Families today are self-sufficient and don’t rely on neighbors for much of anything, least of all friendship. In the evening, after parents put their children to bed, they don’t sit on their front porch gabbing with the adults next door! They lounge on the couch with cell phones, interacting with pseudo-friends. Today most people don’t even know their neighbors! The fact we critique online parenting attitudes at all demonstrates how isolated we’ve become.
As a mother of six, the only success I’ve had in pinpointing mentors and friends is by forging community around me, usually at church. Over the years, I’ve started many bible studies and mothers group. At these weekly meetings, I have found the mother-friends I need. In community, I’ve gleaned laundry tips and how to manage molecular teenage meltdowns. In community, I’ve experienced a swath of support as we faced a life-threatening illness and I’ve learned how to cook in bulk. In community—in my real life interactions with other women—I’ve discovered tips of the trade and how to find joy in my vocation.
Mussman is correct in saying women can learn to love being a mother and we need other mothers to help us do it. However, it’s unfair to simply tell struggling women to quit whining and learn to do hard things. Through our witness and our words, we have to exude the pearl of great price we have in parenting (and that often means keeping a sense of humor about the ridiculous parenting situations in which we find ourselves and laughing together about them!) Just like its ineffective to tell our toddlers to knock it off when they annoy us, we can’t simply implore women to quit complaining. We have to take struggling women by the hands and say, “Honey, I’ve been where you are; I know what you are doing is hard, but I believe in you because I believe in a God who showers abundant grace.”
My challenge to Mussman is this: are you the kind of mother others look up to and admire? Because that’s how we can really encourage joy in the parenting vocation. We practice what we preach.