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