This morning I went to a woman's/mom's group at a church in town. They have a nice set up: child care for a suggested donation of $2; the moms go to their own room, where they help themselves to coffee, pastries and fresh fruit. Each week, guest speakers pontificate on the theme for that week. Today it was "Transitions in Motherhood." Someone with a microphone in hand elaborated on the specifics of the topic: entering the workforce after having children. After the speakers talked, each table of women discussed the topical questions for the morning.
I left depressed. "That was hard," I told Kate afterwards. Kate attends twice per month. "I don't know how you do that." The odd thing was I couldn't articulate fully what teh problem was. It's not like anyone said one specific thing that knocked the wind out of me. It was more the sum of little things expressed that helped to construct the big picture for me--a picture of the mindset of many of these women in regard to motherhood, marriage and friendship with God.
I've learned, for instance, that the new hip thing to be these days is "Real." "Being Real" is the end game, from the way the first speaker talked about it. "I wish I could get up here and say I'm perfect and I've got all my issues straightened out, but I don't," she confessed. "I'm far from perfect!" She laughed and smiled and ended her talk soon after that, leaving us with the impression that simply saying you're having a hard time in life is tantamount to dealing with it and getting somewhere. Later, when a question from an audience member was directed at her [How do you overcome what others will think of you? How do you start beign real?], the speaker crossed her arms over her chest defensively and shrugged. I don't know, she said. I guess I just realized that my friends still liked me even when I went through hard times.
Some of the women at our discussion table expressed appreciation for people who could "be real and say 'I struggle with that, too.'" But I wonder if politely saying, "I struggle with that" is the same thing as Being Real. Saying "I struggle with that" is easy for me and doesn't involve a lot of emotional risk. What's hard (and humbling) is calling Kate up when I'm about to start sobbing from whiny children, and tell her I can't handle it. When I think of Being Real, I think of prayer times I've allowed myself to speak, uncensored, and cry if I needed to. Scream if I needed to. But that brings up the issue of prayer requests at this mom's group, which are written down at the end of our table's discussion and then emailed to, presumably, all forty women at the meeting. A women at my table was having trouble with her stepchildren questioning her authority. Another has a child with a severe developmental problem. Another "needs wisdom" on how to confront her parents. We don't, of course, talk about any of those things other than to get the story straight in order to write it down. The mother with the child with the developmental problem only alludes to her concern over the cost of diagnostic testing and the fact that she is worried over her son.
What's also in the water at this church is the idea that wives are called to aid/abet/assist their husbands in whatever they so desire. If husband wants to start a restaurant, she should not argue. If husband wants to move to Kenya, she should say "Okay, honey. What should I pack first." The oft-quoted-from text this morning was the book "Created to Be His Helpmeet," which gives wives handy profiles of the three main types of husbands and how one should tailor her responses based on the kind of husband she has. As one discussion group member put it, "If I say that it'll make him mad. So I better not say it."
What some of my discussion group also found inspiring was the idea of a "Priorities Umbrella System." It looks like this. "My relationship with God comes first. THen my marriage. My relationship with God is like an umbrella that covers my marriage and my marriage is the umbrella that covers my children." "How do we put our marriage (i.e. our husbands) first?" one of the questions asked. Our discussion facilitator described how it's hard for her to be constantly thinking about showing more love to her husband than the children. "He comes home and I'm cutting the kids' food and getting the drinks at dinner time and [she enacts looking over her shoulder] i'm like, 'how was your day?' So then my husband feels left out and asks when he gets to have time with me...." In this scene she paints, her husband appears entirely inactive. He is not helping cut chicken or green beans for the children. It's almost as if it's completley her job to figure out how to balance everything, make the kids disapear for a little while so she can be with the hubby. In the picture she paints he comes off in a bad light, a little spoiled, with little agency other than to whine, yet getting dinner and his wife handed to him on a silver platter.