Every now and again, even I get shell-shocked by what I see in the broader culture. Having come out of feminism 15 years ago and having read hundreds of books and thousands of articles on feminism, society, culture, and the family, you’d think nothing would surprise me. But sometimes God just pops my eyes open anew and reminds me what this battle is really about.
One of the myths we strive to bury is that the homemaker is simply a sweet little washer of dishes, flitting about the house in pearls and heels and smiling vacantly over the back fence at neighbors while hanging laundry. That pop culture image persists to the point that even those of us who are totally committed to being at-home wives and mothers still sometimes start to view ourselves through the Mrs. Cleaver lens and wonder if what we’re doing really matters. I’m here to tell you loud and clear, “Oh, yes, ladies, it does.”
I was out most of last Saturday afternoon for the Major Monthly Grocery Restocking, taking along my eldest son, my four-year-old twins, and my baby daughter. As we worked our way through one store after another, taking little guys out of car seats and grabbing shopping carts, I began to notice something that left a sick feeling in my stomach for the rest of the day. If it had happened once, I probably wouldn’t have noticed–but it happened everywhere we stopped. Even my eldest son turned to me a couple of times with questions in his eyes as we passed by what apparently has become commonplace while I wasn’t paying attention: the public family fight.
At our first stop, with little people loaded into buggy seats, I passed by a couple who were arguing back and forth with increasing volume–right in the middle of the parking lot. I can’t even remember what they were fighting about, but they kept it up as they walked to their car, arms loaded with shopping bags. They didn’t seem to notice anyone else in the crowded lot but just kept bickering with ugly scowls on their faces. Now, I’m no baby. I’ve seen people fight before — but not in such a public place or at such volume. When I was growing up, my parents absolutely did not allow my siblings and me to carry on disagreements in public. We were taught that it was disrespectful of the other person and rude to those who would have to listen to us. All squabbles had to be solved privately and quietly with restoration of fellowship in mind. My father’s family motto was “Unity,” and we knew he meant it. He and mom displayed this all through their marriage. I am sure they disagreed sometimes, but they always talked privately and stood together once a decision was reached. I never, ever saw or heard them fight.
So I passed this couple and shook my head slightly at the spectacle. But what I took for an isolated incident started to multiply itself over and over again as the day went on. In particular, we must have passed half a dozen mothers yelling at their children or making ugly remarks in an effort to get them to behave. Now, readers, I am most certainly not an angel and have definitely had moments of frustration with my own children — but what I witnessed was full-on screaming and nasty verbal bites, all for the public’s consumption. Then something happened that made everything click in an “ah-ha” moment.
I had set down some bags of groceries next to our van while I loaded littles back into their seats. A little boy (probably six or seven years old) walked between my van and the next car in an attempt to reach the other side of the parking lot with his mother following behind him. He stepped right on my bags of groceries, then shot me an annoyed look. Instead of apologizing, his mother snatched his hand and proceeded to drag him around me, snapping at him to “hurry up.” My mouth gaped as I looked wordlessly at my eldest son. And that’s when it hit me: As a nation, we have finally fallen into “default parenting.”
When we don’t make a deliberate effort to train our children and prepare them for adulthood, we just fall back on the “default,” which is either total laxity or whatever we see modeled in the pop culture (TV, movies, etc.). The cultural meltdown I witnessed all around me that day is simply the fruit of a generation of default parenting. This was almost unheard of when I was growing up (even in the crazy 1970s). If I’d stepped on someone’s bag of groceries, my mother would have stopped me, then directed me to look the lady in the eyes and apologize for stepping on her things. She would have checked to see if I’d broken anything and offered to replace it if I had. Then, as we walked away, she would have talked to me about the importance of watching my step and especially of making sure to take care of other people’s property. And I’d have internalized that, filing it away for the next time I encountered a similar situation.
I just don’t see that happening today. After the bag-stepping incident, I started really watching other families to see if this was an isolated moment or a trend. I grew more and more heartsick as I witnessed half a dozen mothers and fathers turn a blind eye to foolishness in their children, ignore outright disobedience, or simply drag offenders out of sight while shouting at them to “behave.” So I turned my view inwards.
How often have I fallen into the “default” because “Mama’s busy right now, honey” or because “I just have to get this load into the dryer first?” As I thought back over the preceding week, I could single out incidents where I’d ignored something, thinking I’d “catch that later” or “remind him not to do that.” I thought of the day my middle daughter had pouted and stomped out of the room when I’d told her she couldn’t do something. I knew I needed to pursue her and work out the problem, but I had bread dough all over my hands and two four-year-olds hanging over the bowl, salivating. I’d shelved the incident with “I’ll catch her in a few minutes.” But I didn’t. I forgot. Life went on, and I lost that opportunity to reach my daughter’s heart and disciple her.
This goes for husbands, too. Do we make an effort to communicate lovingly and thoughtfully? Do we bring up disagreements privately and work through them with patience? The trip from private arguments to public parking lot squabbles isn’t a long one. Running in default mode, we’ll get there sooner rather than later. And culture will follow us, because culture grows out of the family and how its members treat one another.
Gals, what we have to strive daily to do is to be Deliberate — that means putting down the armload of towels or washing our hands and looking that child in the eye and making contact. It means grabbing our husbands and saying “thank you” rather than waiting for an occasion to express gratitude. It means taking the time to communicate culture, because that is really what we are doing. We look around at our culture and wonder why it is coming unraveled so fast. Where did the civility go? Where is chastity? Why are people wearing pajamas to Target? Well, I think we have to look in our own mirrors first, and this is why what we do as stay-at-home wives and mothers is vital. Responsible, thoughtful adults don’t just appear out of thin air–they come from those little people sitting around your table right now.
We are the builders of culture. We are the makers of civilization. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to live in a slap-dash culture made of balsa wood and glued together with watery paste. But that’s exactly what we’ll get if we continue to parent by default or keep the home by default. Let’s be deliberate. Let’s be purposeful. And when we fail, let’s admit it to our husbands and our children, because that’s also how we build the future, one conversation at a time.