Marisa & Samantha Conversations: the "Godly Homeschooling Mom"

Welcome to Marisa & Samantha conversations, where we chat about the things we are interested in. Be sure to check out Samantha's blog, No Spring Chicken.

Marisa: Okay, let's deconstruct the image of the Godly Homeschooling Mother. I know we have both at some point in our lives, and even now at times, struggle with feelings of inadequacy from not reaching the ideal put forth by Christian writers who expound on the Proverbs 31/Titus 2 scriptures. Since we both began parenting before blogs and parenting websites were really a big thing, where did you first come across these ideas of what a mother should do and be?

Samantha: It started with a copy of Mary Pride's book The Way Home. I have no idea where it came from. I tried to read it several times and it made me so angry because it was basically the antithesis of what I intellectually believed about marriage etc, even though I was, in practice, living the life of at-home wife and mother. I don't know why I kept coming back to it, but at some point it's as if the thing brainwashed me because all of a sudden my views totally shifted, and I was then all about how a Christian Wife And Mother's Life MUST Look In Order For Her To Be Properly Fulfilling Her God-Given Role In Obedience. It was another opportunity for me to obnoxiously promote whatever my current obsession was. For years it had been libertarianism, and I think one reason that book resonated with me is that it definitely has an anti-State bent.

Marisa: Mary Pride is someone I can still read, because she is so obviously not one of those trying-to-be syrupy-sweet moms and I like how ranty she gets. I discovered her books later on in my evolution, and actually submitted quotes to be included in her reprint of All The Way Home.

Samantha: OOOOOO! Were they included? 

Marisa: I think so! But I already own a copy of that book; I'm not entirely sure if it's out just yet.

Samantha: I honestly can't say how I would respond to that book now...I have a feeling I would relate to it more than, say, Nancy Wilson.

Samantha: I don't think she was ever so focused on exactly how well you performed your role logistically, (as in how clean your house is, how well your meals were prepared etc.) as opposed to the idea that women are called to make the homes, in whatever way they manage to do it with their skill set.

Marisa: Yes, I think she is less focused on being perfect. My idealist mothering standards started because of the attachment parenting community; reading on Christians, of course, add their own spin on what makes a Biblical mother, but AP moms set the bar pretty high.

Samantha: That's interesting about AP, I never thought of that, because apart from the healthy food aspect of it, I gravitated towards that pretty naturally. Not that I am against healthy food, I just have never been all that adept in the food arena.

(Marisa’s note: Samantha is an amazing cook, don’t let her fool you.)

Marisa: It was a very easy extension from being a home birthing, co-sleeping, extended breastfeeding mother - but those are even unrealistic ideals for some. Mainstream moms look at that and say "Oh, well, good luck with that.” And then you start homeschooling, which is unfathomable for many. Then you have to begin to excel at homemaking, cooking, being a submissive wife, and oh my gosh. When I started homeschooling, I wasn't even reading Christian stuff. I leaned towards Waldorf and unschooling right off the bat. But I started feeling like, as a Christian, my only option to have a successful Godly family was to do it the ‘christian homeschool bookfair way’. Because they know what they are doing, right? And you can't get far in reading Christian homeschooling writers before discovering Vision Forum. 

Samantha: I knew that I wanted to homeschool even before I had kids - I heard about it reading Mothering. But when my oldest was at the age when I was supposed to "start" homeschooling her, I heard RC Sproul interview Doug Wilson about his book the Lost Tools of Learning (which is about the Trivium model), and so for a few years I was into The Well-Trained Mind and the Bluedorn's Teaching The Trivium.

Marisa: And how did that work for you on a practical, daily basis?

Samantha: I liked the Bluedorn's focus on starting academics later, but all I ever accomplished with WTM was to make the complicated notebooks with all the dividers, and I think my daughter studied Egypt 5 times because we kept getting derailed and I always thought we needed to start again from the beginning. So, in other words, it was a total failure!

Marisa: Hahaha, studying Egypt 5 times...

Samantha: Maybe three times? No, the failure was me trying to fit into that mold. I actually came across the whole Godly Mothering stuff later than this point...The Way Home was it for me for a long time, and it really wasn't till the blog scene took off that I got super into it. The problem was that at the time I was most involved in that kind of Proverbs 31 thinking, I was in the period of my life when I was actually kinda successful at it for a while. Then the cracks started appearing, and I started learning more about the gospel of grace and Christian liberty.

Marisa: I've never felt successful at any point being contrasted with the Proverbs 31 woman, because my house was always a disaster, and everyone told me I was lazy. (Later, I began to receive a little more compassion when the health problems I was dealing with began to get worse.) I feel like I've only been able to be a decent homemaker in the past couple of years. Organizing and preparing meals has never been easy or intuitive for me. Sure, I could identify with P31's entrepreneurial side; definitely more relatable for me. But that isn't what is valued. That's too feminist for them, really.

Samantha: One problem I had with Mary Pride, though, was what I saw as pressure to have a cottage industry of some kind, as if that was one of the "musts" for a homeworking wife.

Marisa: I think she is one of the few that focuses on it, though. The more Above Rubies-type publishing says that you really need to just forget about everything else and be a mom. In fact, one of the blurbs of advice I wrote for her All The Way Home reprint was to base the home business on your husband's strengths. Because then the business doesn't center around you.

Samantha: I just know that I tried several times to have cottage industries (selling handmade dolls, handbound books, handmade cards, etc.) and all the household duties conspired with my already poor time-management skills to make me a bad businessperson. I was always late getting orders out. I think that Mary Pride must be like Edith Schaeffer, in that they must be high-energy people to accomplish so much.

Marisa: We were just supposed to train our children to be our little cottage industry robots, and delegate it to them. 

Samantha: But then doesn't the husband feel a pressure to have a home business, even if he is more the worker-bee type?

Marisa: Well, they create the mystique of the father that wants to “turn his heart to the children and family", and be home with them. They elevate that ideal for them, whether they were interested, or gifted, that way or not.

Samantha: Man, my biggest problem with the whole Godly wife subculture is actually how it can subtly make wives dissatisfied with their husbands, because they aren't living up to the Godly Patriarch role.

Marisa: Yes, I've seen and heard it from wives many times. I really don't know a single man who does fit that role in real life.

Samantha: The most annoying thing is how the most prominent ones we see on the blogs seem to already be somewhat wealthy. Most husbands I know have to work hard for a living, and can't take off for trips to celebrate America's Godly Heritage in Williamsburg, or can't afford a library of first-edition leather-bound Puritan Classics.

Marisa: I know. There's a certain elitist, racist element to that particular niche. So at this point in your mothering career, what would you tell moms who are learning about homeschooling, checking out blogs, and suddenly feeling frantic because they don't have a family worship time?

Samantha: First of all, I would tell them to be cautious if they are an easily influenced person, or a person who has a problem with guilt. I would tell them to remember that they will probably end up having grander plans than they will be able to see through. Have compassion on yourself, on your children, and your husband. 

One thing that I realized, as I went through my midlife crisis, was that so many of these books, blogs and stuff focus on the actual logistics (how well we fulfill our role, especially, how pleased our husbands are with us) rather than on our heart attitude towards it all. They don't exactly ignore that, either, but I didn't see enough about how discouraging life can be in general, and how exhausting and discouraging the homemaking life often is. 

When I got into my crisis phase, I finally acknowledged that I had indeed poured out my life for these people, which is what I am supposed to do. For some women, pouring out their lives might actually mean a cleaner house, more regular meals, because they have more energy, or are more gifted in those areas or whatever. For me, I have borne and nursed and cleaned diapers and vomit and not slept through the night for literally a decade. I have watched hours of ball-throwing and bed jumping, encouraged all kinds of creative activities, listened to worries, fears, ideas, etc.

How this kind of life looks in practice will be different for every family. There is no such thing as "Christian" education, or "Christian" homemaking, or "Christian" marriages - there are only Christians doing these things, and from what the Bible tells us about life in this fallen world, we can expect all of it to be tainted by sin.

Marisa: I feel like women need to realize where there gifts are earlier on, so that they can realize what a vital part of the Body of Christ they are. Gifts aren’t always these tangible talents, like singing or painting: but we do have places of strength that flow with greater ease than others. My house might be a disorganized mess sometimes, but I know I’m strong in other areas that bless my family. That doesn’t mean one woman’s gifts make her better than me, or more Godly, it just means we’re different. Seeking advice and inspiration from others is fine, if you have learned how to take the tidbits that work and discard without apology the ones that don’t.  For me, that just came over time and lots of prayer.


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