Women’s Discipleship and the Mommy Blogosphere

ethereal woods

Confession: Even thought I’m a SAHM, I don’t read many mommy blogs. Most of my exposure comes through social media when friends share articles and craft projects. Despite my distance, I do have a proper awe for its power. It is so powerful that it can sell books, purses, essential oils, jewelry, and nail wraps in a few simple keystrokes. It is so powerful that is has propelled SAHMs to stardom and financial success. In 2014, it even inspired a feature-length movie.

What I’m beginning to realize is that church leaders may not be equally aware of its power. Two weeks ago, conservative uber-blogger Tim Challies asked readers why a piece he had written, “Why My Family Doesn’t Do Sleepovers” went viral. He seemed surprised that it was his most shared post and was still garnering attention even months later.

All I could think was, “Welcome to the mommy blogosphere, Tim.”

The influence of this niche demographic presents an interesting challenge for those involved with women’s discipleship. Statistically, women make up over 60% of church attendees, but given the fact that (especially in conservative denominations) church leadership is overwhelmingly male, there’s the real probability that church leaders might underestimate its influence on their congregations. Books, church services, and organized women’s ministry are probably not the primary forces shaping the young mothers in your church. Because of this, there are some things that leaders need to understand about the mommy blogosphere:

1. How Women Share Ideas

Do you remember the old joke about how women go to the bathroom in groups? It’s funny because it pinpoints something that we observe to be true: women are more group-oriented than men. Sociological studies predict that women will make moral choices based on relationship while men will tend to make them based on regulation. (The book Preaching That Speaks to Women  by Alice P. Matthews includes a chapter entitled “Preaching for Moral Decision-Making” that nicely summarizes relevant research.)

As a general rule, ideas circulate differently among women than they do among men. Women encounter and embrace new ideas through their social networks, both virtual and physical; they are also more likely to share ideas the same way. The conversations that happen at play group or in the comment section of their blogging communities are just as real and just as influential as the conversations a pastor will have with his staff or formal mentoring group. This means that Christian women are more likely to encounter problematic teaching through their online homeschool group than by reading Rob Bell’s latest offering. And given their season of life, it’s also more likely to be offered to them in the form of “parenting tips” instead of in an obvious theological package.

2. Blurred Lines

Secondly, the mommy blogosphere often blurs doctrine in the name of good household management and successful families. I’m not talking about doctrinal subtleties that have stymied theologians for centuries. I’m not even talking about the difference between Reformed and Arminian soteriology. I’m talking about core beliefs, like what makes a Mormon or Muslim home different from a Christian home.

Over the last forty years, as family structure has taken a liberal turn, the conservative church has doubled-down on teaching men and women to pursue healthy families. The only problem is that we’ve spent more time talking about application than we’ve spent teaching the doctrine that undergirds our applications. Women have been taught to be good wives and mothers without being taught how Christianity defines good. So when women venture onto the blogosphere, “good” is defined by having beautiful, obedient children, a well-run home, and being a stylish, attractive wife. Even if you achieve these things through decidedly unorthodox doctrine.

This doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t follow non-Christian bloggers. One of the few mommy-bloggers I do follow is a Mormon mother (of six!) who is a designer living in France. But as I read her advice, I must remember that Mormon theology has a shaped her understanding of family, even if her choices end up looking very similar to mine.

In order to navigate the mommy blogosphere, women need more than encouragement to be “good” wives and mothers. They need to understand how orthodox Christianity shapes their domestic choices—whether it is the doctrine of imago dei or the Incarnation. As Gloria Furman has written on more than one occasion: If her Muslim neighbor can follow the same parenting and marriage advice as a Christian woman and still end up being a good Muslim woman, then the advice is not truly Christian.

3. Tendency to Legalism

Finally, the mommy blogosphere is a perfect environment for legalism to flourish. Mothers (and fathers) enter parenthood already overwhelmed. They are engaging in the most significant work of their lives–work for which they feel completely unequipped. So when a blogger offers a message of “do this way and all will be well,” you can bet that she will have an instant following.

And because young mothers are novices, they also tend to be insecure in their own choices. This insecurity reveals itself in the need to regularly remind themselves (and other people) that they are doing it the “right” way. Whether it is eating/sleeping schedules, the best way to potty-train, educational choices, organic food, or the choice to immunize or not, the mommy wars are waged one confident blog entry and Facebook post at a time.

Even if a church doesn’t encourage such legalism, the young moms in the pews encounter it every time they log onto the internet. Initially they may feel buoyed by the clear standards; they will finally know “how” to mother! But all too soon, they will fail to meet the standards and become depressed and discouraged; or worse, they will meet them and become confident in their own abilities and judge other mothers by their own righteousness.

Thankfully, as easily as the mommy blogosphere can propagate bad teaching, it can also promote the grace and freedom found in Christ. You are reading this piece on a blog, after all. So instead of policing what women read, leaders are better served by simply honoring and promoting the gifted women who are speaking truth into this demographic.

If you have women who blog in your church community, affirm their calling and point others to them. If you have older women who know the difference between “good” parenting and Christian parenting, find ways to connect them with younger moms. And more than anything, understand that the young mothers in your pews need abundant helpings of grace. They do not need more domestic tips or craft projects; they need what the rest of us do—Christ Himself.

By Hannah Anderson

28 thoughts on “Women’s Discipleship and the Mommy Blogosphere

  1. Hannah,

    Found this through Tim’s site. Fantastic article and you were able to put into words the thoughts of so many of us who see the benefits of mommyblogs, but also see the risks. I love how you encouraged the church to reach out to these moms who do write because I haven’t seen encouragement from my end and have been discouraged from those I know within the church because of depravity.

    Keep on encouraging. Keep on promoting grace.

    Stefanie

  2. Thank you for this, Hannah! I agree whole heartily. The very reason I started blogging was to get the freedom of the gospel into this mommy blogging world. It’s a busy, exhausting place…and we need more blogs out there that are reminding us as women and mothers that we can drop the “to do” lists and rest in the finished work of Christ.

  3. Hello,

    Thank you for writing this. It was refreshing to share the freedom that Christ brings in all areas of life. This is something that a few friends and I are passionate about. Thank you for your insight.

  4. Thank for this! This really helped me understand my wife better and will hopefully give me a more effective way to interact with the blogs she likes other than “good blog” and “bad blog” I hope you all do more about blogging because it is a huge influencer for us and honestly we don’t hear people engaging in this way. Thank you so much for your voice. I wish there was 1000 of you.

  5. THANK YOU so much for this. You have given me a lot to think about… I was asked recently to be part of a blog, and what you said distills the concerns I have over the blogosphere and whether it can support yet another voice. Perhaps it can (and should), if it’s truly Christian and not moralistic.

  6. Hannah — thanks for this. I would say, though, that in my experience reading women’s blogs (as a male, and a husband and father), for every blog that encourages legalism, there’s another that goes in the opposite direction and encourages a muted form of antinomianism. How many women’s blogs have I read, from Christian moms and wives, that regularly say something to the effect of, “My life isn’t perfect — in fact it’s a confused mess — my home isn’t orderly — my kids are often unkind and disobedient — I rarely spend time in the word and in prayer — and I sorta feel bad about it — but Jesus has forgiven me — so my lack of repentance in these areas is somehow okay — it’s not a big deal that things just sorta go on like this for months and years on end, with no change.” Except actually it’s not okay. It is a big deal, if it’s a pattern.

    Surely somewhere in the middle lies the truth — our homes are places with sinners in them, so they will fall short of God’s glory 100% of the time. But that can never, ever serve as an excuse for resignedly giving up the attempt to actually obey God, to be conformed to the image of Christ who gave himself for us that we might become more and more like him, to the glory of God.

    • Chris – I don’t think Hannah’s arguing that that’s not sometimes the case. The point of this piece, and others we hope to publish, is simply to call out the trend of women in general, and moms in particular, leveraging blogs, and relational conversation with women about what they read there, as a somewhat integral part of their daily sanctification (or spiritual survival!). It’s a newish channel. What flows through it could be all different kinds of helpful or unhelpful. The example you offer is a different kind of unhelpful. (One additional point that could be made is the way different denominations and geographical regions will influence which voices are loudest and which side of the law/grace pendulum someone leans against too heavily).

      Per Hannah’s recommendation, the solution is not to try and ban/discourage women from writing or reading in the blogosphere, it’s more like positively encouraging them to do it thoughtfully.Frontload women with good teaching, equip and affirm women with thinking and writing gifts to use them, and equip women to help each other read and apply what they read with active, intentional discernment that keeps the gospel the main thing. Not to toot our own horn, but that’s really our goal with this site – to capture the attention of women, and lay and full time leaders of women’s ministries, and offer resources and thinking on Scripture that moves women from the gospel as a construct, to the gospel truly lived out, transformatively, through every season of life.

      • Unless I’ve badly misread the original post (and having re-read it, I don’t think I did), I don’t think I’ve misunderstood the point of the post — which is what you’re suggesting.

        One of the three things Hannah was emphasizing concerning the “mommy blogosphere” was the tendency towards legalism (point #3). And I’ve certainly seen that. But the aim of the post was to help church leaders to recognize some important things that feature prominently in the mommy blogosphere, one of which was unhelpful/unbiblical teaching (a la legalism). And so, I would argue that my post is very much in keeping with the idea that bad doctrine easily flourishes there, and so easily influences women’s theology without the knowledge of the pastors. Hannah was emphasizing one side of the “bad teaching” coin; I think it’s important for folks to recognize that legalistic teaching isn’t the only danger out there, that there’s another sort that appears to be flourishing, as well.

  7. This is a really great article and one I hope many young moms will read. The only sentence I struggled with was: . ‘This means that Christian women are more likely to encounter problematic teaching through their online homeschool group than by reading Rob Bell’s latest offering.’ It might have been more accurate to say the women’s mommy blogs or play groups than homeschool groups. Also, the problematic teaching can be just as bad as Rob Bell’s…not more so.
    But this is a needed warning to women, thanks for writing it.

  8. I do wonder if part of the problem is the desire to “Christianize” everything. Very few people seem to think they need to find Christian recipes if they want to prepare a meal. We understand that we can get good recipes that turn out well from non-Christian sources. So why we do feel like we need Christian housekeeping advice or Christian decorating advice or Christian child-rearing advice? In many practical areas of life–the things that “mommy blogs” often cover–I think we get into trouble as soon as we start thinking that “Christian” advice will be better than “secular” advice. That’s just not true, in many cases.

    That isn’t to say that there aren’t unique responsibilities that Christian parents have. We do. We are to teach our children the faith. But, I just don’t think that means that we need to always seek out a uniquely “Christian” way to do things. For example, my youngest is 6 months, and is really in need of some sleep training at this point. Now, there’s certain some Christian context that I can think of this within: I am in a position of authority in her life, because of God’s order for the family, and because of that it’s my responsibility to lovingly guide her in many areas, including sleep. But, non-Christians could come up with a similar justification, and my personal favorite resource for this is a book by a non-Christian doctor who provides wonderful, practical advice that has really blessed my family when we used it with our younger kids. So maybe sleep training is not something I need to view as a Christian issue, but just a parenting issue, and that God’s common grace means that I can get a lot of information and wisdom for that issue from all kinds of sources. And maybe if I tried to come up with some sort of uniquely-Christian sleep-training plan I’d just end up muddling all sorts of things up. Instead, I can see my uniquely-Christian responsibilities to my children as centering around teaching them the faith, and relax in other areas (sleeping, eating, housekeeping, discipline, etc.) and realize that there’s many ways I can approach practical matters and many sources from which I can find wisdom for those practical matters.

    • This is a fantastic comment! I agree that often we Christianize things unnecessarily, and really just make life more difficult than it has to be, while neglecting the benefits of common grace. Thanks for writing!

      • Well good, because every blog that does make money from blogging is not worth the time it takes to read them. Maybe your blogs are different. I certainly hope so. This is the first post of yours I’ve ever read, so wasn’t talking about you. But I am talking about mommy blogs and their multitude of sponsored posts or long lists of products that “help” the blogger to be a better wife or mother. All with just a tiny affiliate fee. Gag. Women should run from that.

  9. Hear Hear!!! Thank you for this, I couldn’t agree more! Your last line nails it on the head. We women need more of Jesus in our daily reading, whether it be online or in a book. We need Jesus Himself! :)

  10. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” Romans 2

    The Muslim neighbour has the law written on her heart. She may parent the same as the Christian woman.

    • Absolutely agree with you. My concern is that natural law is being packaged as uniquely “Christian.” A Christian engineer & a Muslim engineer will follow basic laws of physics without applying a religious dimension to them. In the mommy blogosphere, household management is equated with spirituality. I could have been more clear.

  11. What is a SAHM? I’m guessing home-schooling mom…but the first 2 letters?
    Thanks for the good post. I’m a mother of 7, ages 9-27….the blogosphere wasn’t around when I got started as a mother, but home-schooling magazines did their part in occasionally encouraging me and usually weighing me down with endless high standards and extra -Biblical criteria for being a good mom. I’m deeply grateful to the Lord for helping me to learn to live more in His daily grace in recent years.

  12. Wow! Wonderful post. You’ve hit the nail on the head here. Just like Eve, I really longed (lusted/coveted) wisdom in an ungodly way in my early married and mothering years. My questions, instead of being directed, like Titus 2 says, to Godly women around me, were answered by blogs, whose authors I did not know, and quickly became a stumbling block in my marriage and faith. Legalism was so comforting, to find I could measure my righteousness by my outward actions, and I could find those measurements reading pithy vignettes of moms like me! Oh the turmoil I caused between my husband and I! I am very hesitant to regularly follow any blog now, for the main reason Paul states: 2 Tim 2:13-14 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. Also, with six kids, I don’t have much extra time! Thank you for putting some faithful biblical words up for us ladies to be encouraged by!

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