Moms are leaders of their children, giving vitality to the nervous system of the family.
I remember over a decade ago, I had joined a 24-hour fitness club so that I would feel obligated to exercise. One early morning I was dutifully on the treadmill and some news commentary show was on all the big tvs. There had been a school shooting and the anchors had a guest on to explain why school shootings were becoming a thing.
The guest presented what seemed like a logical explanation of how the breakdown of the family is a root cause of school shootings. It made sense. Suddenly, however, the anchors began shouting him down.
“What are we supposed to do about that?” the fellow shouted. “We need to protect our schools. Kids are being killed. We need a solution yesterday.”
So the guy’s theories were dismissed not because they were invalid, but because they offered no quick fix solutions to the immediate symptom of a systemic pathology.
Next up, the anchors brought on a guest to talk about gun control.
For the rest of my time on the treadmill, I didn’t even turn on my own podcast or audiobook. I felt like I had just had a glimpse of why America is falling apart and why it would continue to do so. No one is interested in understanding or in reality, just in quick fixes that promise to keep everyone safe and comfortable.
Fast forward a blink or two and we have 2020. Supposedly, Eastern Washington was the conservative side of the state, an (ineffective) foil to Seattle, but perhaps its ineffectiveness was due to more than population numbers.
When Anxiety Makes the Rules
It became clear that the priority of the community was safety and comfort more than understanding or reality or principles. Whatever you think about it, just do what they say to get us back to normal ASAP. Whatever you think about it, just don’t rock the boat. Who do you think you are to ask disruptive questions about the medical industry, the government’s motives, or the constitution?
The priority is making as few people upset as possible, so since you can be calm and reasonable, don’t upset the people who can’t.
Hence, the weakest dictate the positions of the strong.
It happens in society because it happens in families first.
Our families fell apart long ago, and we’re still experiencing the rippling downstream consequences.
We don’t want to see the connection because it turns out that even though there is no quick fix, we ourselves are not stuck. We are responsible, and we don’t want to be.
We are responsible in the place God has put us. We are responsible within our own family, and our own family does matter and will make a difference.
The Job of a Mother
Motherhood has been undercut and diminished for so many successive generations that most moms today don’t even know what it means or looks like to be a mom. They don’t know what childhood is for or what motherhood is for.
Mom’s job is not to keep her children safe and alive until adulthood. Mom’s job is not to ensure her kids get good grades in a good school.
Mom’s job is to pass on a culture and a connection, to bring up children into responsible adulthood, to nurture and cultivate the full humanity of as many as come into her orbit.
In Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin develops an understanding of what the true church is and what it’s job is by calling it the mother of all Christians. God is our Father, and the Church is our mother.
As I read this section again this week with my high schooler, it struck me once again that we are hamstrung culturally and ecclesiastically because the metaphor of motherhood hardly even communicates anymore. In fact, I found it helpful to work the metaphor the other way. What Calvin says is the Church’s responsibility, I must live out as a mother.
”For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep up under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives.”
Calvin wants us to know we are behooved as believers to be part of a local church. For his metaphor to have its intended effect, however, we also must realize that mothers have a social function inherent in created reality. It’s no social construct that can be deconstructed and reconstructed or that can be transferred to a father or remade into some other imagined construct.
When it comes to the family, we will work with reality or against it.
In Calvin’s explanation of the Church’s duties, then we can reverse-engineer his metaphor to see what our duties are as mothers:
- We bring new people into life.
- We nurture new life when it cannot sustain itself.
- We care for and train the immature so that they can come into maturity themselves.
- We educate, passing on the faith and wisdom of our heritage.
- We call our children to account when they rebel.
I like to say that women are the backbone of society, but one reason I return to that phrase is that women need to have a backbone to be a backbone.
What is a strong mother?
Feminism has sold us a lie about what it looks like to be a strong woman. They took what a strong man looks like and said we had to be strong in the same way to count.
Now, there are principles of strength that do apply to all humans, regardless of sex.
However, women have a different calling and design than men on purpose. We may be the weaker sex, but we are not therefore given a permission slip to be weak.
To fulfill our calling and responsibility as mothers, we have to know what we’re about and have the boldness and courage to raise up a bold and courageous next generation in a world that is quick and eager to sabotage any and all attempts to state clear and obvious truths.
Our society requires us to affirm, conform, and definitely not upset the weakest and most troubled amongst us. However, what would help them most is hearing the truth spoken in love (which is not affirmation), no matter how much they rage against it in the moment.
A strong mother can handle a twelve-year-old son. She can let him rage and argue and resist while holding her line, calling in her backup, making him run laps to discharge his energy, and not taking his awkward and explosive growth period personally.
A strong mother passes on the truth and teaching we have in Scripture, refusing to water it down or compromise. She demonstrates to her children what it means to hold everything up to the standard of Scripture, not hold everything up to how we feel about it or how we want everything to work out. Her primary question is not, “how does this make me or you feel?” but “What is true? What is right? What does it look like to obey God’s Word here and now?”
A strong mother can withstand childish pushback. She can make her children unhappy in the short-term because her vision is for the long-haul. Her confidence is not at the mercy of her children’s responses. Her identity as a Christian woman remains distinct from her children. Her happiness is not bound within theirs.
Mothers must discipline
When I was having babies, internet mom blog circles raged against spanking. It was nothing new. I remember hearing it when I was a kid.
As a kid in a functioning Christian family, duly spanked by a mom who could stand up to her kids and who was also committed to being home with them all the time, I rolled my eyes at the poor people who couldn’t make distinctions between discipline and abuse. Sure, no discipline is pleasant at the time, but afterward I knew the peaceable fruit.
So although my husband and I kept the practice we had received from our parents, that we had refined and amended further in line with the discipleship we received, many of our peers gave it up. It took courage to admit that you spanked because you were bound to get pushback. Perhaps someone would call CPS on you. So, those who did spank hid their practice and avoided talking about it.
So the internet drama won out by pushing the faithful into hiding.
Now, no one even talks about whether or not to spank*. It’s not controversial because new parents today would never dream of it. They have no category for discipline. They only have two categories: praise or abuse.
Their children are the worse for it. Children need parents who know how to be in charge. It is not true that spanking is a power tool to show who is in charge.
Spanking is a loving tool of correction to make the consequences of wrong felt swiftly and quickly – so it can be made right swiftly and quickly. It is a process of training that one can only use if you have the guts to inflict short term pain in order to avoid long term pain.
Be the grown up
Recently I heard a young man — and father — say that growing old may not be optional, but growing up is.
That’s true. Many people never do grow up. Many people fear growing up because they’ve never even seen it done.
Grown ups choose to do what is needful and right rather than what is comfortable and easy. Grown ups take responsibility and make things right even if it’s not their fault it went wrong. Grown ups prefer long-term, meaningful payoff over short-term pleasure and ease.
If we as mothers are not grown ups, how will our children ever be?
Taking our children into adulthood is our job. We have to go first.
It will be uncomfortable. People on the internet will be horrified and dismayed. Friends and relatives will doubt you.
It’s ok. Have the courage to be the adult your children need.
Take responsibility for the functioning of your own family. Be the backbone. Connect the body to the head.
There is no quick fix for society today. There is only taking responsibility for your own family and then seeing where God takes you — and your children — from there.
It matters. It’s worth it.
Courage to be the adult in the room
I had to write this after reading the Introduction (again) to Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman. I will be leading a discussion through this book inside Scholé Sisters’ community, Sistership.
Moms often lack the nerve to be the leader with their kids, but the truth of the matter is that Mom’s ability to homeschool is dependent not primarily on her own level of knowledge, but on her level of leadership and backbone with her kids. You can outsource teaching as a homeschooler, but you can’t outsource the role of Headmaster.
Your husband is the board of directors. He can take on extreme discipline cases, but it’s on you, mom, to maintain discipline and morale daily — which doesn’t happen by caving to the math tears. If you can’t hack leadership, you can’t homeschool effectively.
So we at Scholé Sisters want to equip moms to be better leaders of their children, better mothers and educators who are willing to put up with resistance for the long-term good of their people.
We’d love to have you join our study, happening October 23, 2023-March 4, 2024, with plenty of catch up weeks and holiday breaks built in.
We aren’t going to tell you what to do, give any quick fix solutions, or instruct you in discipline techniques. Instead, we’re going to read and discuss 4 books, so we can all — and each — learn and grow:
- Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman
- Art of War, Sun Tzu
- The Golden Key for Life & Leaders: The Idea of Office, Kornelis Sietsma
- Leadership & Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box, Arbinger Institute
We’ll have weekly book discussion threads, monthly “Faculty of Friends” sessions, and monthly zoom meetups.
I have so much more to say about motherhood and this book, Failure of Nerve. I’m looking forward to this study.