Identity and Motherhood, Part 6

Identity and motherhood: when humility countsWe’re midway through a series examining how mothers can establish their identity in very different ways, depending on whether we’re using our culture’s criteria or a Biblical framework.  Nowhere do we see this more clearly than in the way we use salary as a measure of success.  If you asked the average American who the most successful man or woman of our generation is, I’d guess that Mark Zuckerberg, the multi-billionaire founder of Facebook, would top the list.  I don’t know much about him beyond his fictional portrayal in The Social Network and the fact that he pledges to give most of his money away.  He is indeed very rich and very successful, as is his Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, who rose to fame for her book advocating women to “lean in” to their careers (even at the expense of their families) in order to achieve greater success in the workplace.

Sandberg is worth $1.07 billion dollars, and she is living proof that women are certainly capable of all the things she advocates.  But there’s a danger in measuring our worth in dollars.  If your identity is all tied up in how much you earn, a downturn of the economy can wreck havoc with your self-image.  If your identity is dependent on your job, that identity can change whenever you shift careers.  If your identity is your career, being passed up for a promotion becomes a personal attack.  You’ve become a slave of something that doesn’t care about you in your off hours or when you retire.  As much as your colleagues might respect you, they will never love you like your family does.  And sometimes your colleagues don’t respect you, even when it’s not your fault.

We as a culture respect a woman like Sandberg who sells her talents, abilities, and time to the highest bidder, in this case, Facebook.  We don’t praise cleaning ladies, grocery checkers, daycare workers, or other women working minimum wage jobs, although they constitute a far greater percentage of the female workforce in this country.  We’re interested in the women who are breaking glass ceilings and making as much as their male counterparts.  It seems that I’m always seeing social media posts urging women to demand higher salaries, and on the message boards I frequent, moms who post about taking promotions with a pay raise are always encouraged to, regardless of the effect on their children.  Why is it admirable to work for pay, but lazy to work for love?

Because that’s what we’re doing, fellow stay-at-home moms.  We’re working for love.  We’re using our talents, abilities, and time on our children, and in doing so, we’re shaping the next generation.  This is Kingdom work.  We are cultural resistance fighters.  None of us will ever show up on a “Most Successful Women in America Today” list, but that should not affect our identity.  Earning potential is a fickle measure of our worth.

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Identity and Motherhood, Part 5

Identity and motherhood: when humility counts

In light of the different things we’ve been talking about with identity over the past few weeks, how should we be training our children?

In the beginning of this series, I spent a post discussing how the Bible calls us not to think of ourselves as a certain thing, but instead to focus on the jobs that God has given us to do. We want to teach this same idea to our children.

We want to teach them, primarily, that they are children of God. As children, they can learn to see their sin, and to turn to Christ. As they come to realize this, we can show them that love of God leads us to obedience to the works that He’s commanded us to do.

We need to teach our children to be servants. Christ was our prime example in this, and along with example, we are given instructions:

A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man, having a reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.


If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

As moms raising children to go out into the world, we do want to encourage them to work hard. We want them to be diligent in their work, and learn that good grades are a reflection of a job well done. But we want to be careful that we’re never training them that their good grades in math are going to define who they are. It will, most likely, have a lot to do with a future job, but it is never who they are. They remain children of God, with the same commands to be servants in the world around them.

I think that if we could instill this mindset in our kids, we would protect them against some of the disappointments life brings. It would certainly help our daughters when they transition into motherhood from whatever they were doing before. It will help both our daughters and our sons when they get married and learn that their innate selfishness will only lead to misery in a marriage. It will help when they don’t get the promotion they wanted. It will help them as they age and have to care for an ailing parent or spouse. It will help if God blesses them with handicapped children. It will help them to lay aside their own desires, long-term, to do kingdom work that does not have immediate rewards here.

So let’s train our children–not just to get good grades in school, but to love the autistic kid in class that everybody else is scared of. Let’s teach them to stay and clean up the Sunday School room after the other kids have run out. Let’s be careful to look at the world through their eyes, and help them see who they could be serving. Let’s teach them that their identity is in Christ, as servants to a hurting world.

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Identity and Motherhood, Part 4

Identity and motherhood: when humility countsOn Monday, Emily spent some time talking about the different ways we identify ourselves. She mentioned the typically external places that our identity comes from—where you went to college, what your job is currently, or whether you stay home with your kids.

As Emily noted, it is not uncommon to have people treat you differently depending on what these things are. When I am asked the question, “What do you do?” my answer of “I’m a mom” does not get much feedback. I have trained myself to not answer “I’m just a mom” because I don’t want to downgrade that work any more than it already is in our culture, but you can tell from the responses that that answer is usually not inspiring. Like Emily, I have had much different responses when, in different circumstances, I respond with something different.  I was (jokingly) offered a job last year by a stranger after playing the piano for our church service. Nobody has ever offered me a job for my amazing homemaking skills.

In some ways, these different reactions make sense. With a paid job, it’s easy for a new acquaintance to judge who you are, how smart you are, how cool you are by the job you have. They can see your degree, or your employment with an impressive firm, or hear that you run your own business and know that you’re somebody they’d like to associate with. The work of homemaking is much more private, much more out of the public eye, and much harder to evaluate quickly. Along with this is usually the assumption that anybody can stay home to raise children, but it takes somebody awesome to make it through design school, or medical school, or a business program.

As moms, it’s tempting to answer with one of these responses that will let people know you’re awesome, too. Everybody wants to have people respond with raised eyebrows and impressed looks when they describe what they do, and the brute fact of the matter is that mothering and homemaking are not valued as impressive in our culture. But I think we must be careful to guard against pride in this way. The example of Emily’s friend not mentioning her Ivy League degree until Emily noticed the diploma was an excellent one. Telling people that our identities are wrapped up in a job that society demeans is an exercise in Christian humility. When the question, “What do you do?” is immediately followed by, “Do you do anything else?” it can be very hard to respond in a humble way. The temptation is to cull through our backgrounds, looking for anything that will make sense to a dinner table full of our husband’s colleagues (or, in Emily’s and my case, starry-eyed students). But we should view it as an opportunity to practice self-discipline, knowing that we are laying aside our treasure in heaven.

For those of you moms with impressive pre-kid resumes, I would encourage you to pursue humility in this way. Do not assume that your role as a mom is less impressive than the credentials you have. And for those of you who do not have a big-name degree or an awesome career in your near past, do not spend time wishing that you had those things. Let’s make a conscious effort to humble ourselves in this area, verbally putting our children before our pride.

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Identity and Motherhood, Part 3

Identity and Motherhood series: motherhood is longer-lasting than any paying jobAs we continue our series on motherhood and identity this week, I wanted to talk a little about all the different places we find our identity today.  If I asked you to tell me about yourself, what would you say?  Do you identify yourself by your ethnic heritage, the place where you were raised, the sports teams you follow, your IQ, your hobbies, your career, your relationships?

I would answer that question differently depending on when you asked me.  I met my husband (and Anna and her husband) my first day on campus in college, at a retreat for the honors program.  I spent the next four years of my life with this incredibly interesting, smart, and fun group of people, and I ended up by being its student president for a year and a half.  I had a strong academic reputation at college, and it was one for which I worked hard and of which I was proud.  Within three months of graduating summa cum laude, I got married and moved to a new place, where no one knew anything about me.  While my husband was commencing a brilliant law school career, complete with prestigious internships and post-school job offers, I found a job teaching at a little Christian school, and when the school shut down, moved on to Starbucks.  Nobody at work cared about my full-tuition college scholarship, all the awards I won in college, or my IQ.  At work, my identity was the “mean teacher” (because I expected my students to do their homework) and then the “goodie-goodie barista” (because I didn’t come to work high or hung over).  Then I had my son, and I was “just” a mom–and have been ever since.  What I find interesting about my “public” identity over the past 20 years is how much it is influenced by external things–my class standing in high school, my GPA and leadership positions and clubs in college, my paycheck after college, and now my lack of a paycheck.

As a mom, my intelligence is automatically suspect; if I were smart, wouldn’t I be earning money?  At my husband’s work parties, I often find myself stressing that I homeschool our kids, as if being a full-time mother wasn’t enough.  While homeschooling is certainly a big part of my identity at this stage in life, I fear that I usually add that mostly because it sounds more impressive to a table full of people with multiple advanced degrees.  Maybe I’ve truly gotten more confident in my homemaker status, but I do honestly feel like those powerful, successful people look at me a little differently than they did when I was “just” home with a houseful of preschoolers and babies.  I’ll never forget introducing two of my girlfriends, both graduates of Ivy League universities, to each other.  The successful working friend had little interest in my stay-at-home mom friend until my husband purposefully dropped the housewife’s alma mater into the conversation.  Suddenly this “mere” homemaker was worth talking to–and indeed, the conversation centered around her and Ivy League comparisons for the rest of the visit.  I asked my husband later if he’d noticed how rapidly my friend had gone from not-worth-talking-to to worthy-of-sustained-conversation, and he agreed that the look in our prestigious friend’s eye when she realized who this housewife “really” was cracked him up.  But is that who she “really” is?  We’d been friends for months before I noticed her college diploma up on a wall in their apartment, and in that time, I already knew that she was a total kindred spirit, a wise and generous friend with whom I can discuss breastfeeding, Jane Austen, the theology of spiritual gifts, and politics, all in one conversation.  In fact, most of my posts on this blog have their roots in conversations I’ve had with her!  My perception of my friend didn’t change when I saw her official credentials, because I already knew that she was a very smart, well-educated woman who had embraced the calling to stay home and raise her (equally smart) sons.  Her Ivy League education is certainly a part of what made her who she is, but to be honest, I’ve met her mom (another housewife), and I think she gets way more credit for her amazing daughter than any East coast professor.  So I guess it’s always rubbed me the wrong way when people assume that those with impressive degrees and prestigious jobs must be smart, while those of us who lack both of those must also lack intelligence or ambition.

We’ll talk more about how earning potential seems to relate to identity next week, but for now, let’s remember an impressive-sounding degree or a prestigious job does not trump our life-long identity as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, friends!

Posted in Philosophy of Motherhood | 1 Comment
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