I Don’t Always Love Being a Mom, and That’s Okay

art-backlit-beach-256807

I’ve followed Shelia Gregoire, a Christian blogger at To Love, Honor and Vacuum for a long time. I really appreciate her stance on sex in marriage, focus on healthy churches and take-no-prisoners stance on abuse advocacy. I deeply respect this woman and her kind, but honest approach to the very hard questions that can pop up in life. She posted this blog earlier this week. I’m not someone who can really relate to this reader’s question – I was very excited to be a mom and definitely wanted to have kids. Still, I’m not the most, um, maternal person, I guess? It really wasn’t so much the question this reader posed or this blogger’s answer that made me stop in my tracks, but more the question she posed when she shared this post on her Facebook page. Sheila effectively asked, “Why are so many moms exhausted, and what can we do to help?” That’s what really made me stop and think.

I don’t always love being a mom. I like to succeed at things, and there are too many stubborn variables in parenting for me to always knock it out of the park. I’m not someone who would ever say that I savor every minute of motherhood and always look at my children with awe and wonder. I don’t like to play with kids, really. I wouldn’t even say that my emotional life revolves around my kids, though a good part of my time is spent with and for them. Though I didn’t hate pregnancy, per se, extreme morning sickness made me dread a good part of it. I had postpartum depression that got so severe that it led to the decision to stop having kids. (C’mon, 7 is a LOT!) Still, if you asked me what the most meaningful part of my life is, it would be parenthood, hands down. I cannot ever imagine NOT being a mom, and I wouldn’t want to try to wonder who I would be without what I’ve learned from my kids. Not the same person – that’s who.

So, how does someone like me – someone who I think you could reasonably assert isn’t the most ideal candidate on paper, mostly do okay? That’s the question this post made me ask myself. I think there are a few things that have made my journey a bit smoother and helped me be a more effective parent.

  1. I am real. I think so many moms get caught up in having everything look good on the outside and not showing any cracks. Can you imagine if you just thought that everyone’s marriage, for example, was sunshine and roses and nobody ever fought but you, and oh, my gosh, if my husband leaves his socks on the floor one more time, I’m going to throat punch him! – WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?! Nothing. You’re normal. I think moms hold themselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection, when the truth is they’re normal and life isn’t always pretty. Embracing that as a strength is probably the best thing I’ve ever done as a mom because it takes SO much pressure off and frees up my energy for things that are actually helpful and productive.
  2. I don’t really care at all what other people are doing. Most of my friends have their kids in tons of sports and activities, and I just don’t. It doesn’t work for me. If my kids really want to do something, I will help make it happen, for sure, but I honestly feel zero pressure to push them to do things because “it’s the thing to do.” And, if they’re resistant and it’s unessential? Pssh…not even going to spend any energy there.
  3. I try to look at the big picture. The fact that I don’t always love being a mom doesn’t really bother me because I really don’t consider that the point at all. I find fulfillment in motherhood, but it’s no picnic. At the end of the day, raising kind, decent productive people and learning a lot about myself in the process is more the point for me.
  4. It’s not about me, necessarily. I think one of the biggest points in Sheila’s post was that being a parent means being the adult. I struggle to always wear my big girl pants as a mom, but it is always my goal. I think we’ve become a society that wants everything quick and easy rather than difficult and lasting. I think the trick here is to be willing to do things that are actually best for your kids and their future and not necessarily the things that make you LOOK good.
  5. I know that it is vogue and, I don’t even know what, to completely sacrifice yourself for your children to the point where you feel bad about having “your own life.” I’ve pretty much rejected that. I have hobbies that I spend a lot of time on. I spend money on myself without guilt. I go out with my friends and give a lot of focus to my husband when he’s home. While I can see how someone might perceive this as being in conflict with the prior point, in my experience, this makes me a better, more stable and more available mom to my kids.
  6. Independence is literally my best mom friend ever. I remember being pregnant with #4 and visiting my husband’s friend whose 10-year-old spent a good 15 minutes nagging his mom to GET HIM A DRINK. Sorry to yell, but I just cannot even wrap my head around that. My 11-year-old regularly makes his siblings breakfast and can pretty much follow any recipe. My 5-year-old can make toast and peanut butter sandwiches. I encourage my kids to do whatever they can for themselves as soon as possible because there’s lots of them and one of me, and we’re all happier and more confident when the load is spread around. Being a slave to the whims of one kid let alone multiples just isn’t sustainable, and that’s nothing to feel bad about. A less-stressed mom and capable kids is a win-win in my book.
  7. I have community. I have lived around my sister pretty much my entire adult life. When I didn’t have built-in help at home, I had her to depend on. I’ve always sought friendships for advice, support and commiseration. As a bit of an introvert, it definitely helps me feel less alone and more supported.
  8. I’m adaptable and willing to change up anything that is causing angst for me or my kids. I’m pretty committed to the idea of homeschooling, but my 15-year-old is my second child now that has gone to public school. Both decisions were for the absolute best for both me and my sons. I was super nervous both times, but I had zero regrets in the end. I am pretty stubborn about my kids being good people, respecting boundaries and taking care of responsibilities, but most anything else I will change up or let go when needed.

Like I always say in posts like this, none of this is to suggest that any of these ideas are right for every reader. I’m not anything special. I don’t know more than any of you. I’m not a better mom, and I don’t have it more figured out. Some women really thrive in environments that register as “traditional mom things.” I think my biggest point is that not all of us do, but that you can still be successful and find ways to thrive anyways. I’m a big believer that we’re all the “right mom” for our own kids, and that whatever strengths we bring to the table can be employed for own good and for the future of our children. While I don’t always love being a mom, I’m a pretty okay mom. I don’t have to always love my job to love my kids.

Advertisements

Belief and the Color Blue

beauty-bloom-blue-67636

Untangling the webs that weave together through your life is an interesting process. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? But, one of the most interesting questions that I have chewed on over the last few years is this one – “Is belief a choice?” There are dozens of talks and articles in Mormon vernacular that suggest that choosing to believe is synonymous with looking for the good in things. Doubters are painted as Negative Nellies. I have come to believe, however, that belief isn’t a choice at all.

Let me explain using an analogy (because we all know that I love them.) If you were to look at the photo that I chose today, what color would you say it is? Blue? What if I were to tell you that, historically, there is no word for blue in any ancient language? I’m not suggesting that blue did not exist. I think one would be hard pressed to prove that the sky has changed as history has progressed – it’s most likely exactly the same as it’s always been. Still, for hundreds of thousands of years, people did not distinguish blue. This is incredibly bizarre, I know. I have no idea what color people called the sky or ocean or blueberries. But, it wasn’t blue.

Imagine living in a world where blue wasn’t recognized. (For the sake of our analogy, let’s make the assertion that all other colors were known.) I suspect that some blues would get lumped in with green or purple while others might even lean grey or black. This would be the norm – the paradigm held by everyone in society. If you were to pick yourself and plop yourself down in 800-something in a community that didn’t know blue, could you cease to see it yourself? If you were persecuted for being someone who saw blue, could you make yourself fit into a paradigm that no longer saw it for the sake of conformity? (If you could, I don’t think it would be good for your mental health to be that disconnected from your actual reality.)

In my experience, belief is like the color blue. Either you do or you don’t. Either you interpret available information based upon what you know and see it one way, or you pull from other information that makes you distinguish it differently. Belief is based upon your background, the way you think, the way you see and interpret evidence and your life experience. If you don’t see blue, you don’t. If you see it, no amount of mental gymnastics can make it disappear.

I believe lots of things about lots of different subjects. Many of my beliefs have changed over time as I have learned new things or understood things differently. Some of my beliefs have not shifted much at all as my life has progressed. While I can certainly choose to not explore any new information on any particular subject and be more likely to keep my beliefs from altering, I can’t actually choose how I believe about something. My brain either sees it one way or sees it the other based upon what information I have available to me.

I’d like to take credit for this light-bulb moment like it was my own little glimmer of genius, but it turns out that this is a long-discussed question, and I’m not even particularly original in my conclusion that you can’t choose what you believe. When I did a quick search of “Is Belief a Choice” for this blog, there was a variety of perspectives that ranged from religious discussions to psychological approaches all of which are quite interesting and worth consideration.

I understand that the way we feel about belief is, well, a belief. I understand that it can be incredibly frustrating to have a loved one or friend believe differently than you about something fundamental (boy, do I ever!) In my experience, people don’t upset the apple cart on purpose, especially when they’re riding in it. If you find yourself in a situation where you just want to blow a fuse in frustration because you can’t get through to someone, I invite you to take a deep breath, look up at the sky and squint your eyes until it becomes green. Just kidding – do it until you remember that we’re all unique and understand the world differently based upon our own unique experiences, and then rejoin the conversation with fresh eyes (maybe even blue ones?)

 

We Can Break the Silence

black-and-white-black-and-white-depressed-568025.jpg

This week, a woman took her own life. I don’t know her, but she travels in some of the same circles I do, and it’s given me pause. While I didn’t ever talk to her, this event is incredibly heartbreaking to me. I can’t tell you all the details of her story because I don’t know them. I won’t even say her name or give any more information because this story isn’t mine to tell and there are real people affected by this. What I can say is that this woman had experienced a faith transition and was in an unexpected and unplanned for mixed-faith marriage. This cuts me to the core and hits so close to home because, you see, I am also in a mixed-faith marriage. My husband is still a believer (though quite nuanced) in the truth claims of Mormonism while I am not.

This is the first time I have really come out and said this in any open forum. I’ve hinted. I’ve danced around it. I’ve even been quite bold in some of the statements I’ve made. But, I’ve never been completely transparent about this. I don’t owe this information to anyone, really. Faith and how a person relates to it is quite private and personal. While I’m nervous to publish this, I find myself compelled to do so. For no other reason than the fact that I have come to believe that silence can be deadly. I know this woman’s battle. I know what she fought, can imagine how she felt and understand what would cause such a deep and cutting tragedy. Because I’ve been there.

There is a incredible shame in religious community associated with “losing one’s faith.” It is seen as an act that only happens to the lazy, the unmotivated, the weak. You haven’t tried hard enough. You didn’t study enough. You don’t know what you don’t know. This is a narrative that hurts people, and it is deeply unfair. Until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you really do not understand. (And, if you ever do, I’ll be the first one to step on that path with you because it’s incredibly lonely to walk alone.)

I’m in a good place right now. We spent many months redefining our marriage, but I know this woman’s pain. My daughter had surgery in July and was given a too-generous dose of hydrocodone. I made her flush it as soon as her pain was manageable, partly because I was concerned about its addictive nature, and partly because I was having way too many days of despair to trust myself with it in my home. This is hard to say out loud. However, it is the reality of a faith transition. When the emotional bottom drops out of your life and your most trusted loved-one feels it as a personal affront, it is devastating. When you would do anything to just go back to the paradigm you had for so long, but you are unable to force yourself to see things in the way that you’re supposed to, and the person you trust the most to hear your innermost thoughts reacts to them with anger and defensiveness and hurt, the fear and loss and heartache are unimaginable.

I am one of the lucky ones. My husband has processed this in a pretty healthy way. We’re differentiating. We’re focusing on the health and well-being of our marriage and family. We’re doing our level best to work as a team and support each other. Many, many families are not this lucky. There is no current narrative in Mormonism that allows for people to step away from the faith with respect, dignity or honesty. (This recent devotional given by Elder and Sister Renlund is a perfect example of how this is still preached in such a harmful way.)

So, why am I talking about this now? I don’t need anyone to respond to this post with sad faces and worry that I’m lost forever. (If you think that and don’t want to have an honest and open conversation with me, please keep the random response to yourself.) I don’t want anyone to glance at my husband and feel sorry that he has to be stuck with me. (Even now, I think he’s happy to be married to me most days.) I don’t intend to start proselyting anyone with my thoughts or beliefs outside this blog (which any of you can choose not to read.) If we meet in person, I’ll talk about the same benign things I always have – my kids, schooling, what’s going on in your life, what we may have in common. However, what I do want is that this woman and others like her will not die in vain. I hope that what I have to say will strike a chord and that it might, in some small measure, change the way that you interact with the people like me in your life. If you hold callings and leadership positions, I hope that you will choose to support the families in your congregation wherever they may fall and not make them the punching bags of a dogma that is long due for reform. I hope that feeling crushed to death by abandonment, public punishment and shame becomes the exception in our communities rather than the rule. I believe that it’s what Jesus would want.

Finally, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I did not lose my faith because I couldn’t hack what we went through this last year. I experienced my faith transition due to extensive and intense study of church history via primary source records about two years ago – a good year before the details of our story became public. The two events weren’t really related in any significant way. I likely would have attended as a silent non-believer indefinitely had there not been extenuating circumstances, and none of you would have been the wiser. (I would put money on the fact that there’s people in your congregation right now that are doing so.) I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m not out to drag anyone down. (I would actually prefer not to share the specific details of what I’ve studied because I have no desire to complicate other people’s lives.)

In life, one of the most consistent expectations we can have is that it will change. We can not always control how things change, as much as we try. There is a deep unfairness in putting people in a box where there is an intolerance for natural change. As the foundational building block of society, I believe that there should be no institution that should get a higher priority than the family and that its destruction ultimately undermines the strength of everything, including our churches. While it may not always be possible to be helpful in every situation, I think we can all make a commitment to be the change we wish to see in the world. To borrow a medical term, every one of us, in any faith, any community we may travel in, can first, do no harm. We do not have to continue to make this experience so painful that people choose to end their lives rather than walk through it. People are going to walk through it. Put down the stones and take their hands.

An Ode to My Daughter

anniversary-art-birthday-269887

Tomorrow is my oldest daughter’s birthday. She is turning 20 which just blows me away. If you would have asked me as a young mom to guess which child would be the most difficult based on how they were as babies, she would have gotten number one billing. For the first two weeks of her life, she kind of just couldn’t decide if she wanted to be here. Once her breathing sorted itself out, she spent the next year of her life as the most colicky and sad little baby. I remember one particular morning we woke up and she refused to nurse. She was still very young – 2 to 3 months old? – so this was very concerning. She would just cry and arch her back and cry some more. I finally called my husband to come home, and we put her in the car and drove around until she was drowsy enough to forget to be mad and just eat.

My middle son was born when my daughter was 8 years old. I’m not sure what the trigger was with his birth, but she developed severe and acute anxiety right after he was born. Things that had normally been happy things in her life, like piano lessons, became battlegrounds as I tried to convince her that nothing horrible was going to happen. Some things I had to make her do, sometimes kicking and screaming and peeling her out of the car. But, I didn’t force her to participate in anything optional that she didn’t want to. The anxiety improved gradually over time as I both pushed and accommodated. She was well into her teens before she would sleep over to a friend’s house, however. While she is still a naturally cautious person that likes routine and predictability, you would never know that she struggled so much with this as a child.

I’m a pretty traditional mom. I haven’t spent too much time at all when raising my children worrying about whether they like me or whether we’re “friends.” I’ve just tried to parent them responsibly and raise them to be good and decent people. As my oldest ones have morphed into adults, however, I’ve found that the time, effort and headaches I’ve poured into them have naturally transitioned into a mutual like for who they are, and I think they feel the same about me. (I’m an unbelievably pleasant person when I don’t have to be in charge of you, apparently.) Outside of having grandchildren (which I’m eagerly anticipating!), I think this is the greatest bonus of being a parent – the silver lining that makes every sleepless night oh, so worth it.

I love all my children for their unique place in our family and the world, but it’s probably no secret that I find my girls easier. My oldest daughter is no exception to this statement. She is my right-hand girl. My mini-me. My reliable and responsible sidekick. We have the same taste in clothing and colors and decor. (She is the easiest person to shop for because I literally can just buy her what I would want in her size. Ha ha ha! It’s only the fact that she’s tiny that ensures that my closet is safe from plundering.) She’s smart and pretty and funny and, most importantly, kind. She has become a valuable employee at both offices she works at, quickly filling a gap that was desperately needed and becoming a reliable drafter for her bosses.

So, today is my reminisce day. My day to look back over the years. My day to feel deep and intense gratitude that this girl is mine. I know that she’s right on the cusp of being up and out and flying the nest for good (she technically could already, but she’s willing to put up with me complaining about her not helping enough in exchange for ridiculously cheap rent,) but I’m sure she’ll be back a lot. For now, we’ll buy her a cake and sing to her like we have since she was a baby. Except she’s not. She’s a woman, and I’m so proud of her! Happy Birthday, beautiful girl! I’m so glad I’m your mama!

 

Just Rip the Bandaid Off

blur-door-factory-451.jpg

I’m late writing my blog this week (story of my life anymore) because we went to the local high school last night to catch the encore performance of their production of Disney’s Newsies. It was a great show, and we got to see the best of what the public school environment has to offer kids. I’ll be going back to the high school today to enroll my almost 16-year-old son as a full-time student. If he has half as positive of an experience, I will feel very lucky indeed.

This decision was a long time coming. While I think it’s the best one for all of us, I’m still¬† nervous about it. My oldest son went to public school for his entire high school experience, and he did totally fine. He struggled with motivation and expectations which resulted in a few failed classes that put his ability to graduate in question, but he finally pulled it out in the end. He was completely oblivious to the social pressures. I’m not so sure that will be the case with my younger son. He’ll probably do fine academically and struggle with social skills. We’re taking that chance, though, because something has to change.

I’m not looking forward to enrolling him. The local principal isn’t exactly homeschool friendly, and the last thing you want to deal with when making a pretty dramatic shift like this in your schooling relationship with your child is someone looking down their nose and voicing the fact that you are failing in some way with your kid. I already feel it, thanks. Please just take his paperwork and do your job. Maybe she will, and maybe I’m just projecting. It’s possible. As a parent, you’re supposed to be able to be everything that your child needs, and we’re clearly not. He needs more structure, more expectations and more accountability than what we’ve given him. I hope they have it, and I hope it’s enough to wake him up, but at least we’ll all get a break if nothing else.

That sounds awful. I know it does. I told my husband the other day that it’s only been the last hundred years of history that mothers have been expected to manage what is essentially an adult male with raging hormones and zero impulse control. (Seriously, he’s like 6′ 2″.) It’s not fun for me. I don’t feel like I’m any good at it or that I have what it takes. I also feel like I’ve honestly and truly put 110% of my effort into directing and correcting him, and I need help at this point. He’s not my only child, and I have to have something left at the end of the day to parent them.

So, today I will put on my most professional and pulled-together face, gather our papers and go enroll my son is public high school. I’ll let whatever is said that could make me feel worse about it roll off my back, and we’ll get the job done. He needs a change. I need a change. We all need a change. There are resources available, and I’m taking them. I hope that it is just the medicine we all need at the end of the day. I know that it will at least give me enough respite to fight another day for both him and my other kids. Wish us luck.

Lifting Your Hands Toward Holiness

audience-blur-bokeh-976866.jpg

It’s 8:30 at night, and this blog is due for publication in the morning. Some days I have been chewing on something and just need to gather it up and lay it in print. Days like today ebb and flow and nothing is settling. (I’ve been sewing all day and, dangit, I’m proud of what I produced today! Follow me on Instagram @rosazerkle if you want to see my crafty side.) I’m sitting on my bed listening to my husband listen to a Christian band on YouTube. Contemporary Christian music is my husband’s absolute favorite genre, and he listens to it a lot as he works. He found a new band today, and it’s really good. I feel emotion in it.

In many ways, I am religiously homeless. I live in a space right now where I don’t know where I want to settle. When you’ve been chewed up and spit out by what used to feel natural and comfortable and yours, you become very wary of anybody and anything that makes promises that you can’t verify. I’m not someone who can’t take direction or change an opinion, but I’ll be damned if I hand my life over to anyone else’s authority again that isn’t worthy of that faith. I don’t know what this means. It’s equal parts liberating and disconcerting. I had a friend ask me the other day if I was looking to visit a new church. I had to tell her that I didn’t know. I don’t know if it’s the right time for that.

One of the challenges of my marriage right now is finding our touch-points and rediscovering what the roots of our relationship are. I think every couple does that, but we’ve become so mindful about it. We had the most beautiful Christmas this year. (I’m not even going to be modest – I killed it!) Months before, I was talking to my teaching partner (she teaches; I take notes.) and mentioned that I had never been to a concert and that my husband loves Christian music. She sent me info on an artist that was going to be playing this year about an hour from us. On Christmas morning, my husband opened a calendar that I had lifted from his own desk and wrapped up with the tickets to see Mercy Me, his second favorite Christian artist. There were tears – something that I haven’t accomplished very many times with very many gifts in our marriage. (I filmed it and begged him to let me put it on Facebook. He was such a good sport!) I felt like a million bucks to give him such an amazing surprise, and I can’t wait to share this experience with him.

For our anniversary this last year, my husband took me to a “hand-raising church.” It was the first church I had ever been to in my entire life that wasn’t some flavor of Mormon. I’m 41 years old. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t feel like home. The live band was new and different, but a little too much to feel like a church to a multi-generational Mormon girl.

What does it mean to “feel like church?” What is that magic ingredient that makes you feel spiritually fed, full of gratitude, with an eye looking toward something greater? I’m softly and quietly watching and waiting for it. But, this music flows around me, and it feels like church to me. Sitting here on my bed with my drowsy 5-year-old boy pulling on my arm and making me type one-handed feels like beauty. Having my 7-year-old daughter sandwiched on the other side breathing holiness in my ear is a voice that I recognize. Feeling my husband inches away from me finding the home church of this band on Google Earth is comfort and peace and love. I hope that God authors all these things. I think He does. After being born and bred in a system that makes it their literal business to provide explanations and answers, one of my most profound realizations has been that the beauty is in this mystery. There is so much that I admit I don’t know, but I find that the more I see that, the less I feel like the knowing is the point at all. Maybe, the gift is in the journey, and I’m right where I need to be after all.

What’s Wrong With the Modesty Message?

adult-child-dress-1140907.jpg

When you’re raised in Mormon culture, you hear a lot of messages about modesty. Modest is hottest!! Just say no to porn shoulders!! This subject has been ruminating on my mind quite a bit and more especially lately because it was brought up in the marriage group I participate in. There are some issues that break on faith lines, but I don’t think this is one of them. I think women tend to be more bothered by this regardless of their level of orthodoxy, but that is most likely merely because they are more aware of it. My own opinions about how modesty is promoted in religious contexts have evolved a lot since I was a teen myself and as my own daughters have grown toward the autonomy of adulthood. So, what IS wrong with the modesty message?

  1. Shouldn’t it be their body, their choice? Although this hasn’t been something that’s been a part of my parenting for the duration, it has evolved over time to become a message that even my youngest children are very familiar with now. Simply put, I don’t own my children. I teach them my values and dialogue with them about pros and cons of potential choices. But, at the end of the day, it IS their body, and it IS their choice. (Seriously, if people ask their name and they don’t want to share it, I don’t. If you try to coerce them to hug you, Mama Bear comes right out.) The modesty message reinforces the idea that body choices don’t belong to the individual, and that’s a problem for me. My kids don’t need to think about who might be looking at and assessing them whether it be me, my husband or their church leaders, friends or neighbors. You can’t be comfortable in your own skin if you’re not sure who’s in charge of it.
  2. It puts all the pressure on girls. I have sat through countless young women’s lessons about dress, decorum and standards. (And, based on what I’ve observed, the boys don’t focus on this. Statistics show that teen girls receive six times as many modesty messages as teen boys.) I’ve seen people sit in front of a classroom and hold up specific people as examples of either what to wear or what not to wear. (Seriously, ewwww.) Modesty is promoted as the idea that we are worth more than an objectified standard (which we are.) However, objectification cuts both ways. When girls hear over and over that they are better without their shoulders showing, that is pretty objectifying. I know girls that have stopped participating in church activity because they’re so tired/bored/annoyed by the one-dimensional nature of this message. In addition, the modesty message suggests that girls need to worry about what boys think, and that if they aren’t careful, they could be responsible for someone else’s poor decision. This is pretty gross to both men and women, frankly. Men are better than that and, if they’re not, the absence of a tank top is certainly not going to inspire them to be decent because it’s a much bigger problem than anyone’s clothing choices.
  3. There is no cultural context. Simply put, modesty means different things to different people in different environments. It is the cultural norm in some countries, for example, for women to be topless to promote bonding and easier access to breastfeeding for their babies. In sharp contrast, Victorian cultures found ankles to be titillating which seems downright ridiculous in our modern era. The only difference is context. I think it is pretty shortsighted to preach modesty as if this context isn’t fluid. It is. (Did you know that the 1964 BYU Homecoming queen wore a sleeveless dress? Yep. It was pretty common in that cultural context and not considered taboo at all.) Our children, both boys and girls, would be much better served to learn self-respect, responsibility and accountability than to focus on a checklist of dress standards.
  4. It interferes with the development of healthy sexuality. This is an issue that I don’t think most young women really understand because, sadly, it only begins to rear its ugly head when they are adults. The standard modesty message does not promote healthy sexuality. It promotes the idea that “good girls” stick to a narrative that is prescribed, and they are broken and used if they don’t. Except, once a girl is married, then the narrative changes. The problem is that girls can’t flip that switch overnight, and many, many religious women find themselves mired in shame, heartache and misunderstanding with their partner because they literally do not know how to be comfortable as sexual beings. This is so, so sad to me. (How I escaped this attitude myself with my background is a miracle to me.) And, again, young men don’t get this same message. The modesty message gives a wink and a nod to the idea that boys will be boys, leaving the majority of the long-term burden of this consequence to women.

I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not a treatise on what anyone should or shouldn’t wear. In fact, it is just the opposite. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who follows a strong internal compass. I just happen to think that every person should feel free to choose these priorities themselves. I don’t always approve of everything that my kids wear out my door. I hope that my children will choose to invest intimacy in a long-term, committed partnership that includes marriage because I think there’s pretty practical benefits to doing so. We talk about these things, and I give my kids my opinion. But, I am pretty dang defensive about anyone who tries to leverage cultural messages in a way that is unhealthy to them. I haven’t always recognized the modesty message as harmful, and I internalized an awful lot of it myself as a teen and young adult woman.¬† But, when you know better, you do better, and I hope to give my kids better than what I got in this department. For the rest of my readers, maybe it will, at the very least, provide a different perspective that will give you something to think about. Could we do better? Is there a healthier way? I think so.