Tag: motherhood

The Wicked Stepmother

Missy

As you all know I’m a big Survivor fan and part of the reason I love the show is while it is fabricated and packaged as entertainment, it is also an interesting window into human nature.  We see the way people behave when eating 100 calories a day, pushed to extremes and how they interact when forced to make choices that service themselves and the group.  That is fascinating to me.  The power structures, social customs, group theory and patterns that develop are interesting and the fact that every winner has been different is a testament to the show.  There is no one way to guarantee a win because what is effective in a game amongst one group may not be in another.

For me season 29 was a disappointment.  This is partly because I loved the previous season 28 so much.  We had so many dynamic personalities in Cagayan that made it fascinating (and hilarious) to watch.  This season San Juan Del Sur I never bonded with anyone (or hated anyone).

But it had its appeal and curiosity factor as every season does.  And one of the interesting threads was a mother daughter pair named Missy and Baylor.  Missy was announced on the show in her introduction that she had been married and divorced 3 times.  I’m not sure why this was such a big deal?  Surely there have been Survivor men who have been married that many times and it was never brought up?

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From the beginning it seemed like the show was disdainful of Missy for her marriages even though I didn’t really see her doing much worthy of that disdain.  Certainly in the world of Survivor villains she was very thin gruel (and if they had the footage we would have seen it!).  She did protect her daughter (who I also didn’t ever see proof that she was that bad) but I didn’t think much more than any other person protected their loved one in the game.

She may have been a real jerk but this was not proven in the footage I saw, even the extended footage outside of the show.  There was really only one spat Missy had with Reed where he called Baylor a brat and there was a brief exchange. But again in the world of Survivor it was nothing. I could probably think of about 100 players who have been more obnoxious and villainous in their seasons.

The reason I bring all this up is in the finale Reed, a Broadway actor, got up in his jury speech and obliterated Missy as not only a bad mother but ‘a wicked stepmother’.  Here’s the speech:

So he defines the wicked stepmother as ‘the eccentric woman who comes in and makes demands on everyone for the things to which she feels so entitled”.  Again, that may have been Missy but it was not shown in the edit of the show and I believe if it entitled behavior was there it would have been shown.

Missy was the one who made the rice and they had to barter to get more (a Survivor first) but Reed was a beneficiary of more rice so you think he would be grateful for that?  So she didn’t like her daughter being called a brat on national tv?  That makes her a wicked stepmother.  Again, in the world of Survivor villains she was so not wicked.  For instance, Kass from Cagayan was way more critical, entitled, condescending and judgmental.

It really bothered me to see a woman criticized for playing the exact same game that many men have played, especially after she refused to give up after an ankle injury.  You think the show would have treated her as a hero (they don’t have control over jury speeches but still the tone the last 3 episodes was very Missy critical and yet I never was convinced she was doing anything that bad).

The reason why I mention all of this (because I know most of you don’t watch the show) is because I think it is emblematic of our societies strange view of maternal instinct, motherhood, femininity and womanhood.

survivor-caramoan-dawn-meehanThis is not the first time a Survivor Mom has been raked over the coals.  The worst time was Dawn Mehan in Survivor Carmoan who was forced to take out her dental implants and apologize to a fellow contestant (something men who have backstabbed people have never been asked to do).  People were very tough on Dawn because they felt she had betrayed them.  She was the Mother on the island and then had used that relationship to manipulate her own spot in the game.

Again if a Father figure had done the same thing like a Bob Crowley or Tom Westman it would be seen as great game play but not for a mother. We just expect mothers and ‘mother figures’ to behave in a particular way, which is decidedly unfair as all women are not the same and not all maternal instinct manifests itself in the same way.

Dawn was also very emotional which did not help her game but I kind of get that too.I would probably also be very emotional if I was hungry, tired and away from loved ones. I think her emotional state only made people hate her more.  Missy showed that even if Dawn had not been a cry baby she would still have been looked at as a bad mother for simply playing the game as the ‘mother figure’. Dawn received incredible backlash after the season including death threats and the most vile of insults forcing her to take down her social media all together. Other people have played the game poorly and not received such backlash but other people were not a mother of 6 children. It’s just a different playing field.

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Over at Entertainment Weekly Melissa Maerz has a great article called ‘Survivor’: Why that ‘wicked stepmother’ speech enraged me’. 

She says:

” I have no beef with mothers defining themselves as mothers. I’m a mother, too, and proud of it. It’s the question of who is branding women that way, and why, that makes me uneasy”

And then she says

“the term is “rife with contradictions”: “On TV and in movies and in modern fiction, mothers are frequently portrayed as protective yet focused on the trivial, wise yet neurotic, sexy yet sexless, monumentally important but deeply silly,” she writes. Worse yet, we villainize mothers for failing to live up to the standards set by the latter-day Donna Reeds we see on screen, even though those contradictions make those standards impossible.

Mothers can be anything, we’re told, as long as they’re both that thing and its opposite, and as long they’re not any one thing too much

Going back to the broader sociological discussion (again why I like Survivor) do we put Mothers and motherhood on too high a pedestal?  Do we expect women to be perfect and to never be self-serving or make mistakes? I kind of think we might. Most of us would have a much harder time forgiving an insult from a mother than a father.  Why? I guess because our fathers typically don’t raise us and teach us what is right and wrong (even in extreme patriarchal societies Mothers do most of the teaching and caring of children).

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Perhaps because Mothers are our consolation and sanctuary from the world they are put on the pedestal, almost more a saintly role intervening in our behalf against the evils that surround us than a real person?  I guess in some ways that is a good thing but it seems part of growing up is seeing your parents as flawed creatures who did their best but made mistakes too.  I think that’s why Reed’s speech felt so off-putting and immature to some of us. She was doing the best she could under tough circumstances but clearly she was not the motherly figure he expected her to be.

It was interesting in exit interviews yesterday Baylor said she felt her Mom was bullied. She said normally she was the one going to her Mom for comfort from the meanness of the world but this time it was her Mother receiving it and her doing the comforting.  In that respect perhaps it was a healthy experience for her. Again helping her see her Mom as a real person and not just her role as a mother.

I guess I get annoyed when anyone tries to put me in a mold and I feel that is what happened here.  Missy did not fit the mold of what Reed and others see as a ‘mother’ so that made her wicked despite showing little to no actual villainous behavior.

If I have children or participate in child rearing activities I do not want to be pressured to behave in some socially acceptable way.  I want to be me and the best mother I can be for me. Luckily I do not have people voting on my mothering like Missy did but it makes me sad we are so closeminded in 2014 in what behaviors are befitting a woman and womanhood.

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Wasn’t the whole point of feminism to allow women to be themselves, to be whatever they wanted to be? Why does that not include a wide spectrum of mothering styles and personalities? Why must we have one way and if you are different you are wicked and wrong? I guess that’s what bothered me the most about Reed’s speech it said to me ‘there is only one way for a mother to behave and you did not act as you should’.

Melissa Maerz ends her article with a challenge to Survivor and to all of us to throw off the Motherly stereotypes and see people for who they are not an idealized vision of who the perfect mother should be:

“Maybe it’s not Survivor‘s fault that Reed has such a twisted view of motherhood. Even so, it’s time for the show to stop devoting so much airtime—including a big chunk of the reunion—to rehashing unfair stereotypes. And it’s time for Survivor‘s host, Jeff Probst, to stop defending them…

Just because she has a daughter doesn’t mean that Missy has to be a great role model in the game—though, in my mind, she is one.”

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I couldn’t agree more. In a boring season she was a fighter and certainly deserved better than to be attacked and lambasted as a villain for her best efforts to win a game.  It just shows how much more work we have to do to break down gender stereotypes and accept people as people not classifications. It will never go away completely but we can do better.  We must do better.

(At least it is good to see many in the cast come to Missy’s defense.  Reed was trying to perform to the TV audience and was probably purposefully dramatic and over-the-top but it certainly didn’t win him any points in my book but I am not a reality tv producer looking for drama…)

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Nanowrimo: Writing a Mom

frazzled mom

So for the month of November I am going to be posting sections of my book so hopefully I can edit a little along the way.  As I have previously said on the blog there are 2 main characters, Marnie and Becca.  Becca is a stay at home Mom, army wife with 4 kids.

I want to share with you my introduction to Becca.  As I’ve never been a stay at home Mom can all of you give me some feedback?  I’d really appreciate it.  You can message me if you feel more comfortable.  Don’t worry about offending me.  I’ve got very thick skin.

I haven’t had a chance to go over grammar so this is mainly on character and realism of the scene.

I will also be posting my introductory scene of Marnie probably tomorrow.  Fun!

So here goes, Becca:

Becca introduction

“Sir take a look at the scene?” Spencer says as he shows me the human view screen.  I can see Marnie and Becca.   They both look like they have been run over by a horse.  Tired, haggard, worn out.

Becca is at her home surrounded  by her four kids.  “Mommy,  TJ won’t leave me alone.  He’s bothering me”

“That’s not true.  Julie won’t stop bothering me” says JT

“Ugh.  Would you both stop bothering me!  Geesh.  Could the 2 of you get along for one second!”  Becca says with a hint of sarcasm.

“Mom, I have a book on hold at the library.  Can we go pick it up?” Callie her 8 year old was brilliant but very persistent when she had a request.  “Can we?  Can we?”

“I don’t know.  Cal.  I will try.  Can you go with a friend?  I have to make dinner?”

“Wa, wa, wa, wa”  The baby Addie falls and bangs her head as she crawls into the kitchen.

“Mom, can we go.  Can we go?”

“Callie if you ask me one more time we are never going”

“What.  That’s not fair”  Callie begins to cry and storms off.   Grabbing the baby  Becca tries to calm her and kiss her forehead.

“Poor thing.  Here’s some kisses”

“JT pulled my hair”  Julie yelled pulling at Becca’s skirt.

“Look you go to your room, and you go to your room” pointing at JT and Julie.  “I need you to think of how lucky you are to be a part of a family.  Your father is counting on you to keep our family going while he’s away”

Becca’s husband is in the army and was on the tail end of a service deployment sent to help at Hurricane Teresa in Mississippi.  While grateful that her husband had the chance to serve other people and the country sometimes she wished he could serve her more.  Being a single Mom was hard.

“Look everyone the babysitter is coming and I am going to come in an hour and you are all to be on your best behavior. You’ve got it?”

Seemingly right on cue the phone rings.  “Mom” “JT says.  It’s for you!”

“Hi Mrs.  Richmond it’s Claire and I’ve got a temperature and don’t think I can make it tonight.  I’m sorry”

Becca’s heart sunk “What?  How come you didn’t’ call sooner? Now it will be too late to get anyone else?”

“I’m sorry but I kept hoping I would feel better.  I really am sorry”  Claire says with a cough into the phone.

“That’s Ok.  I hope you feel better.  Take care.  Bye”

“Bye”

Becca didn’t know if she was going to cry or scream.  Tonight was to be her night off.  Her night off to spend with her friend Marnie, her best friend from the time she was 8 years old.  Lately it had seemed like they were living such different lives and they hadn’t seen each other for months.  Something like this would always happen.

As she began to call Marnie’s number Addie pulled at the phone and began to cry.  Babies seemed to know when they were just being held and not the center of attention.  Everything was a mess.  Everyone in the house basically hated her at the moment and her long anticipated relief was going down the tubes it was almost too much.

“Hi Marnie.  I have bad news”

Chapter 3

“Bad news?”  Marnie would like to say she was surprised by Becca’s call but she’d learned to never buy tickets in advance for anything with her best friend.  Reliable was not her middle name.

“You have to be kidding!”

“No.  The babysitter called and she’s sick.  There isn’t time to find anyone else.  The kids are all upset and I have to make dinner.  I’m really sorry”

“This is the 3rd time you have canceled on me.  It’s not easy for me to free up time in my schedule” Marnie begins to say and then changes her tone not wanting to cause a scene “It’s ok.  I understand”

“Let’s keep trying”  Becca said in an exasperated tone.

“Ok.  Love ya”

“Love ya back”

Why Mothers Day is Hard

So today I cried after church.  I cry a little bit after thinking about it.  Why you ask? It’s silly really but I missed my old singles ward and particularly my old bishop.  I almost always had a good relationship with my singles bishops.  Not anything too clingy but just they knew my struggles and I could go to them when I was hurting for advice and counsel.

I have found that to be almost impossible in family wards, both that I have been in.  They’ve been kind but not the sense of ownership and stewardship over me that I saw in singles ward.  As someone who doesn’t have much priesthood in my life I really miss that presence.  My father is really my only source for guidance and he is in California which sometimes works, sometimes not.

Today I wanted to talk to the bishop about Mothers Day.  Last year I went to the singles ward for Mothers Day and it was so fabulous and uplifting.  Mothers Day in family wards is rightfully a celebration of mothers.  Normally that is a good thing.  I also don’t think that everything should be about me.  The Moms deserve their moment in the sun.  No doubt about it.

Here’s where I struggle.  First, you hear on Mothers Day a million talks about how nurturing and motherhood is an innate part of womanhood.  This makes me feel like we all have to be what I call ‘ooey and gooey’.  I’m just not that way and it is certainly not natural.  I know God accepts me but that doesn’t stop me from bristling when I hear those kinds of talks.

Second, it is a fact of my faith that you must get married and have a family in order to reach the highest level of exaltation.  That is true for both men and women, so a righteous married woman is further down that path to be with Heavenly Father than me, a righteous single woman.  You can say no, no, you can make covenants later.  Well, that is later and they get to make those covenants now.  Sigh…

Third, I know the chances of me being able to have a baby on this earth are extremely small and the older I get the smaller they get, so the talks about how great it is to have children can be painful.  I’m not the most baby-yearning person in the world but it does hurt sometimes that the option probably won’t even be available to me.

Fourth, Mothers Day is a day where you have to hear over and over again ‘look what righteous thing you don’t have’ and I can only take so much of that.  We basically put motherhood on the same level as the priesthood; however, a man can progress in the priesthood through their own righteous activities; where a woman can only get so far.  This can be very frustrating.  It is true but frustrating.

Now, no need to panic.  I know the church is true but that doesn’t mean my life doesn’t feel discouraging at times.

So, today I felt sad.  Sad about Mothers Day and I wanted to talk about whether I should come next week to do my calling or go to singles ward again like I did last year.  I wanted to talk to the bishop and get some counsel on how to deal with this week every year.  When a meeting proved impossible, I felt sad.  I think that’s ok to be sad. Its part of life.

Luckily I have a Heavenly Father who knows me and loves me and an earthly father who is ALWAYS behind me 100%.  Still, Mothers Day is hard and I miss my old singles ward and my bishop.  No getting around that.  Missing is a natural human reaction and I am oh so human.  I am not like Moroni and able to cope without both Godly and human support.  Sigh…

Btw- I have the best Mother a girl could have. Happy Mothers Day Mom!

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Nurturing

Just a comment- this post is mainly for my LDS friends but feel free to read on either way!

So I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of nurturing.  In the Mormon church nurturing is frequently the top verb used to describe women.  The Family: A Proclamation to the World even says “Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.”

Despite the frequency of this verbage and its clear importance, the actual meaning of the word is a little fuzzy.  I bet if you asked 100 Mormon women you would get 100 close, but sometimes strikingly different answers.   Recently released General Relief Society President Julie Beck created great controversy in 2007 when she said:

“Nurturing mothers are knowledgeable, but all the education women attain will avail them nothing if they do not have the skill to make a home that creates a climate for spiritual growth. Growth happens best in a “house of order,”

and, “Mothers who know…bring daughters in clean and ironed dresses with hair brushed to perfection; their sons wear white shirts and ties and have missionary haircuts.”

So, according to Sister Beck learning to nurture is more important than any other kind of education, and yet still what is it exactly?  Surely, it is more than learning to iron and brush hair to perfection!  Sister Beck goes on to say “Another word for nurturing is homemaking. Homemaking includes cooking, washing clothes and dishes, and keeping an orderly home.” (Also, couldn’t homemaking be a home of one?)

Well, this confuses me even more because is not the standard of an orderly home completely subjective?  I know people that even at our cleanest would find my parents home very cluttered and those that would see the reverse.  And even if this is the definition is that something to build an eternal life and purpose around? Some of the most righteous homes I’ve been in were dirty, cluttered and even chaotic.To give Sister Beck more credit I am sure she would agree.  As all general authorities she is required to teach an ideal and let us govern ourselves.

However, it still doesn’t answer the question about nurturing.  What is it and how is it best expressed? Oftentimes I feel when it gets defined as homemaking it limits the scope of the word to those who are what I call ‘ooey goey’.  Meaning they see a baby and coo.  They want nothing more than to have a home with tons of kids and husband who provides for them. I loved reading Stephanie Nielsen’s book but she is totally that way, which is great.  I’m not down-grading this in any way.  In fact, I quite envy it but its just not me right now.

In fact, I’ve never been like that.  I’m much more of a realist when it comes to family life and have never had a huge innate desire to have my own children.  There are a lot of reasons for this but there it is.  I’m open minded and willing to do whatever Heavenly Father asks but I don’t crave it like some girls.

For some single girls I know not having children is the great sorrow of their lives, and I just don’t feel that way.  I don’t have a great sorrow. I’m happy with my life.  This contentment sometimes feels wrong, like I should be desiring for these things more, but what good would that do me? I’m not avoiding them…Hmmm?

This makes me wonder- do I lack this essential trait of nurturing that is supposed to be so natural to women?  Sister Beck seems to answer yes, saying quite bluntly:

“Mothers who know desire to bear children”.  and again “Faithful daughters of God desire children.” That doesn’t make me feel very faithful…Hmmm?

There has to be more to it than that…

I honestly don’t know the complete answer and I wonder what Sister Beck would tell me to do?  I’m sure she would be sweet and lovely but I wonder what advice she would give?

I always felt a connection with Martha in the Mary and Martha story in the New Testament.  Am I a Martha who is focused on the more practical, instead of the intangibles like Mary? What can I do about that? Hmmm (Also, couldn’t the Mary/Martha story refute some of the perfectly ironed and brushed mothers Sister Beck describes above?)

I’ve always loved this painting and have a copy in my dining room to remind myself to focus on the Lord and not the business of the world. Minerva Teichert Mary and Martha.

The fact is we don’t know why some of us are given certain personalities, natures, desires and others aren’t?  We don’t know why some are given certain opportunities and others are not, but isn’t it a comfort to know that God knows? 

Even though I occasionally feel guilty and more than a little unfeminine for my personality, I know that God accepts me and see’s my efforts to be obedient.  99% of the time I am comfortable with who I am and what my role is in God’s plan. When those 1% moments happen He is there showing me my worth.

That said, I still don’t know 100% what it is I am striving for? I was talking to a friend the other day and she said I have nurturing qualities in ways that don’t necessarily involve babies such as entertaining, cooking, making friends etc.  This was a very comforting thought.  Perhaps I will enjoy certain parts of nurturing more than others.  I am sure the priesthood enjoy and feel adept at certain responsibilities more than others.  Nobody is perfect (and how boring would that be if we all were!).

More my style with kids! LOL

In the new book Daughters In My Kingdom about the history of Relief Society they give the best definition of nurturing I can find:

“Nurture is a rich word. It means to train, to teach, to educate, to foster development, to promote growth, and to nourish or feed. Women have been given the great privilege and responsibility to nurture in all these senses.  Sister Julie B. Beck taught about the role of nurturing: “To nurture means to cultivate, care for, and make grow. Therefore, mothers [should] create a climate for spiritual and temporal growth in their homes.”

I think I might have stumbled upon the answer- to nurture is teach, to educate.  That is something I’m great at! I’m a really good teacher (maybe not as much for kids but I’m learning).  When I left the singles ward 😦 I got an email from a girl saying:

“I just wanted to say thank you SO much for all of the Sunday School lessons you taught. I always looked so forward for you to teach. I have learned a lot from you and I know I have heard other people say that too!

You have such a wonderful personality and a very strong testimony. It is evident in the way you teach and the wonderful attitude you have! Keep up the great work and never stop being the wonderful person you are!”

Maybe I’m not so bad at nurturing in this form. Hmmm?

I think of book club and how I have fostered an environment of discussion or teaching cooking lessons to my sister and her friends or writing this blog to hopefully share and teach.  Is this not nurturing? It seems so different than Sister Beck’s definition?

I don’t know if I have it 100% figured out but I’m on to something. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not about knowing everything but about continually learning.  For me at least these questions are not faith altering but faith refining. If we do not ask questions than we will never grow and our faith will remain stagnant.

Even the pioneer women there were some who became doctors and published newspapers, and others who had 15 children.  They weren’t all the same, but it seems like they were all good at nurturing.

What do you think?  How do you define the word nurture? What is the end goal of nurturing in regards to womanhood and progression?

Some varying talks on this topic-