Superwife, the Catholic version.

http://stlouisreview.com/article/2017-08-18/faith-home-sacred-act

We have a woman here whose life is so easy and uncomplicated, but yet whose faith is so brittle that *loading a dishwasher* is untenable without a saint’s image to pray to.  O-kay!

The evil here is that a woman in the life religious is not the same as a mother of young, closely spaced children.  Such a mother ostentatiously and vaingloriously holding herself out as equivalent to a cloistered nun (who, incidentally had a pretty interesting and short life, but one that didn’t feature much in the way of dishwashing or linen folding) is morally and spiritually dangerous.  In the life religious, the twenty or thirty tasks that make up a baseline of homemaking are split among many women rather than just one.  And this is partly so that the beauty of the small things in domestic upkeep for a group can be understood and comprehended more completely.

Birthing human small things with souls and hearts and chasing them around and then feeling aggrieved about loading a dishwasher is not a sign of spiritual discontent.  It’s simple and normal and human.  But as usual, the bar is set at “housewives, if you’re not performing at the level of VIRGIN SAINTS YOU NEED TO STEP IT UP LIKE MEEEEEEEEE”.

This is far more of a problem than the Lori Alexanders of the world.

 

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25 thoughts on “Superwife, the Catholic version.

  1. Some snippets from the article:

    –Louis was 32 and Zelie was 26 when they got married.
    –Of Louis and Zelie’s 9 children, 4 died in early childhood.
    –Zelie was a lacemaker. “Zélie was so successful in manufacturing lace that by 1870 (12 years after their marriage) Louis had sold his watchmaking shop to a nephew and handled the traveling and bookkeeping end of her lacemaking business.”
    –Terese lived with her wet nurse’s family until she was 15 months old.
    –Her mother died at 45 of breast cancer when Terese was 4. !!!!! (My mom had and survived breast cancer in her early 40s and I have a 4-year-old, so that’s really close to home for me.)
    –Pauline, her sister (older by 12 years) was her second mother after her mother’s death.
    –“When she was nine years old, in October 1882, her sister Pauline who had acted as a “second mother” to her, entered the Carmelite monastery at Lisieux. Thérèse was devastated.” GAH!
    –“In October 1886 her oldest sister, Marie, entered the same Carmelite monastery, adding to Thérèse’s grief. The warm atmosphere at Les Buissonnets, so necessary to her, was disappearing. Now only she and Céline remained with their father.” Terese was around 13 at that point.
    –“Thérèse also suffered from scruples”

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  2. Another thing to notice about this type of Christian mom blogging is that dishwashing, one of the few things that technology really obviously reduced the work load for, is a recurring bugaboo. Not the remaining household chores that technology helps with but which aren’t really much different than 100 years ago, like sweeping and scrubbing, but the one that really does save time despite more possessions. These women are holier than you, and maybe even some of the nuns they claim as their spiritual peers (and as, implicitly, then, authority over you the reader), and they haaaaate the one chore that really is not that hard to knock out with small children underfoot. That’s very interesting.

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    • For some reason I can’t reply to the article so I’m going to reply here, but I’m replying to a lot of different things in the thread.

      I get that if a person hasn’t been soaking in this whole subgenre your reaction seems extreme but I am totally with you. I am SO SICK OF LISTENING TO PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT DISHES. Dishes qua dishes are a 100% solvable problem. It is a discrete task with a beginning and an end and it’s one that kids can take over and be completely responsible for very very early.

      I don’t think that what is going on is someone with an easy life freaking out about nothing though, I think that if someone is freaking out about dishes it’s not really the dishes. They’re angry about being stuck with yet another repetitive chore in a life that is nothing but unacknowledged and financially precarious drudgery.

      This is one of the places where people reject women’s complaining about domestic work, because everyone has to wash dishes and it’s not really that big a deal. And I think one of the reasons you’re reacting to the dish-whining so strongly is that failing to articulate what the real problem actually is reflects poorly on people like us who are making a larger analysis and allows people to reject what we’re saying as whining too.

      This is the reaction I had to reading “The Feminine Mystique,” interestingly; “omg shut up you whiners” more or less. But that’s because the problem isn’t scutwork; the problem is assigning the scutwork to a class of people in a way that denies that it is work and permits society to endlessly offload everything that isn’t getting done onto mothers until it’s actually impossible to do it.

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  3. And on to the dishwashing article

    –I have to say, I have had a Madonna near my kitchen sink for the last 19 years.
    –There’s a bit of a formula used by many female writers, namely, “here’s the spiritual truth I found in some mundane thing”. It’s somewhat less compelling once one has read a dozen of them.
    –I hate dishwashing, too, especially the crusty pots. I kind of have dishwashing PTSD after years spent fighting my mom about it as a teen. Happily, my husband and kids mostly do them now, and husband insists we use a lot of paper plates. Yippee!
    –“Over our kitchen sink I hung a print of St. Therese of Lisieux doing the dishes.” That’s adorable!
    –“I look to her while loading the dishwasher and muttering to myself about cereal-crusted breakfast bowls.” Rinse them out a little right away so they don’t get crusty.
    –“My 3-year old loves to wash dishes. He wields the sink sprayer like a fireman’s hose. He digs out clean cups from the cupboards so he has more to dunk in the soapy bath.” That is adorable! I remember begging to do dishes at slightly older–oh, childish innocence!
    –At our house, the 4-year-old adores Swiffering. We also have cleaning help twice a month, though…
    –“All of them teaching what I keep trying to learn: that the humblest, dirtiest acts of our days are the most sacred.” I certainly hope not.

    And now, to TPC!

    –“The evil here is that a woman in the life religious is not the same as a mother of young, closely spaced children.” Indeed. In fact, getting to focus 100% of one’s attention on dishes (perhaps while listening to a podcast), is something of a privilege.
    — “In the life religious, the twenty or thirty tasks that make up a baseline of homemaking are split among many women rather than just one.” Right.
    –“But as usual, the bar is set at “housewives, if you’re not performing at the level of VIRGIN SAINTS YOU NEED TO STEP IT UP LIKE MEEEEEEEEE”.” This is basically the rule of this particular genre, though, so I won’t fault this particular author. 1. Have minor obstacle 2. Overcome it. 3. Share. And if lucky, 4. use pay from article to pay for cleaning lady.
    –Come to think of it, this is also basically the formula of 1950s-1980s family sitcoms: have minor obstacle, resolve it in 23 minutes, hug!

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  4. “We have a woman here whose life is so easy and uncomplicated, but yet whose faith is so brittle that *loading a dishwasher* is untenable without a saint’s image to pray to. O-kay!”

    I believe it’s one of the rules of the inspirational mommy post genre that you only get to talk about one minor struggle per article.

    So, she could have one broken arm, four children under five, a half-built house, a dying cat, a bedbug infestation, and a husband out of work, and she’d only get to talk about the dishes.

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  5. I’m kind of hogging your thread, but here’s one more thing that you might want to talk about at some point: conservative Christian writing about motherhood and homemaking as a pyramid scheme.

    Women write inspirational stuff about being mothers of large families…which enables them to afford their large families.

    See also the Duggars.

    On some level, I think it’s OK (I appreciate Simcha Fisher’s writing a lot), but I think we have to be very clear about what is happening, because it’s obviously not a model that is going to work if everybody is doing it. We can’t all sell each other books of inspirational devotions and we can’t all land reality shows.

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    • She has three kids and works full time, part of which is selling this stuff. Her style is very specifically Catholic, the whole having three or four kids, but never, ever more, usually working near-full or full-time, but framing themselves as still f/t SAHMs, often homeschoolin’ ones too.

      The glossy blog, the careful use of pictures, the invocation of “you too can be just like a nun, but with kids!” as a major theme. Ironically there are real similarities in form and structure to a lot of Mormon mom blogs, even down to not having too many kids to more easily provide a good crop of curated pictures of “more than two”.

      What she’s doing is not the same as fundie moms who look tired even in their curated pictures. This is a different pool.

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      • “the whole having three or four kids, but never, ever more,”

        To be fair, she mentions on her blog about suffering with infertility and then also losing twins.

        I do agree with you though that the “professional” mommy blog writers are often less than inspiring and not nearly as interesting as a lot of blogs written by women in the trenches who aren’t trying to turn motherhood into an income opportunity.

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  6. ““We have a woman here whose life is so easy and uncomplicated, but yet whose faith is so brittle that *loading a dishwasher* is untenable without a saint’s image to pray to. O-kay!””

    This is a little harsh and I really don’t see anything in the article that suggests that her “faith is so brittle.” What exactly is wrong with seeing ordinary things anew through spiritual eyes that point out that they do in fact convey a beauty, a joy and a sacredness behind the veil of the mundane? If seeing things that way gets you through the day, tempers the surly attitude, and brings more peace to your spirit, how is that being a “superwife”?

    It’s very much part of the Catholic Church’s spirituality to see that God uses the humble elements of ordinary things to reveal the Divine. Many, many saints have recognized that lived this reality and they do have much to teach us. The saints in convents or those among the laity aren’t so untouchable that the housewife can’t find her own inspiration in what they teach or in how the Church gives such great care to the vessels and linens used for the Eucharist. The home is the domestic church, after all.

    I didn’t see so much as a hint in that article that she was saying “But as usual, the bar is set at “housewives, if you’re not performing at the level of VIRGIN SAINTS YOU NEED TO STEP IT UP LIKE MEEEEEEEEE”.” Nope, all she was pointing out was how finding the sacred in the ordinary helps give deeper meaning to the mundane duties of our days which in turn brings more peace and joy to your heart. There was no judgement in the performance of other moms nor was she saying you had to be at “saint level” in your performance. I’m in big trouble if you can’t find inspiration in the saints without rising to the levels of holy perfection that they reached in their lifetime.

    Quotes from the article that show the point she was making

    ” I love the reminder that caring for the vessels of the altar is an act of reverence. It nudges me to see cleaning up after family meals as an echo of the Eucharist.”

    “Saints help us learn the patient, plodding secrets of the spiritual life: That small acts hold great love, that no task is too ordinary for God, that faithfulness is the repetition of love.”

    “In this least-loved task of my day, shall I follow her lead and do small things out of love?”

    “Maybe all it takes to see the holiness of our work is fresh eyes. The wisdom of saints, a preschooler’s joy, the pastor’s faithful service. All of them teaching what I keep trying to learn: that the humblest, dirtiest acts of our days are the most sacred.”

    You wrote

    “The evil here is that a woman in the life religious is not the same as a mother of young, closely spaced children. Such a mother ostentatiously and vaingloriously holding herself out as equivalent to a cloistered nun”

    Well, I guess that that would be evil if she was saying that her life was the same as a religious or if she was “holding herself out as equivalent to a cloistered nun”, but she isn’t doing anything like that in the least. Spiritual truth is spiritual truth and it is just as true for the cloistered nun as it is for the housewife, so to quote a saint who says “God walks among the pots and pans,” or “Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next,” is to point out a truth that applies just as much to the executive of a large company as it does to the housewife and everyone in between. I hardly think that looking at your daily duties from this perspective would make them more burdensome but rather would help them seem much lighter.

    I know, I know. This kind of thinking doesn’t solve the problem of the housewife thinking she has to do it all without help and do it to the nth degree of perfection. But this article wasn’t looking at the problem of “doing it all” it was just addressing the fact that “life in a household requires rolling up sleeves and doing whatever dirty work needs to be done” so we might as well see things through their spiritual reality while we do it.

    AmyP –“All of them teaching what I keep trying to learn: that the humblest, dirtiest acts of our days are the most sacred.” I certainly hope not.”

    While I agree with you that they might not be the most sacred especially in comparison to attending Mass, receiving the Eucharist or going to adoration, the saints do, in fact, teach that these humble, dirty duties can be highly beneficial to the soul if we approach them with the right attitude of doing it for God or because He asks it of us.

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    • She is getting paid money to write this while claiming to be a full time housewife and stay at home mother (even though she works full time). Her whole schtick is contradicting her own persona and wrapping it up in overwrought religious language. Sometimes a dirty spoon is just a dirty spoon. Why not thank God the dishwasher is so efficient that this “least-loved” task doesn’t take very long and gives her time to show her love for her family in ways that come easier and are more joyous to partake of?

      She claims to be thrilled by scrubbing floors and folding laundry. Come on now. You would call this out, and rightly if it was Team Protestant pulling this schtick.

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      • “She is getting paid money to write this while claiming to be a full time housewife and stay at home mother (even though she works full time). ”

        While I admit, I’m not a reader of this particular lady, I don’t see anywhere that she claims to be a full time housewife and SAHM. Her bios clearly mention that she works and has authored some books. Her writing does focus on being a mother and the spirituality of that but I don’t really see how working means she doesn’t have anything to say about mothering or doing household tasks that must be done whether one works or not.

        “Sometimes a dirty spoon is just a dirty spoon. ”

        Sure and most days most of us just get on with it and don’t think that much about it. But there are days in which a dirty spoon is the straw that breaks the camels back and it helps if you can draw on inspiration from spiritual truths pointed out by saints or even just remembering to be grateful for what you do have.

        “Why not thank God the dishwasher is so efficient that this “least-loved” task doesn’t take very long and gives her time to show her love for her family in ways that come easier and are more joyous to partake of?”

        She does make a similar observation, “If I borrow just a teaspoon of his joy, my perspective shifts. I see the gift of hot water running through a faucet. The privilege of plates heaped with food. The abundance of a house full of family to feed.” There are many inspiring ways of looking at the same situation. Looking at it one way doesn’t exclude another.

        “She claims to be thrilled by scrubbing floors and folding laundry. ”

        Really? It seemed to me she was claiming to not be thrilled with it but is in the process of learning to see there is a beauty and sacredness in it.

        “Come on now. You would call this out, and rightly if it was Team Protestant pulling this schtick.”

        Not if they were making the points that I see this author making and ones I happen to agree with. There are many mommy-guilt inducing blog posts out there on both sides but IMO, this isn’t one of them. You can admit that housework is boring, mundane, or drudgery while at the same time learning to see that despite that, there is a sacredness in our ordinary duties even when it’s hard to see.

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    • To continue on with my other reply, why is it always about how hard the easier homemaking tasks are and how easy the hardest ones are? Why is “hey this gives me more time to do things I enjoy and this is an amazing blessing” never the frame, but “Here’s how I have to pray my way through five minutes of dishwashing, goodness gracious it’s so harrowing!”

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      • “To continue on with my other reply, why is it always about how hard the easier homemaking tasks are and how easy the hardest ones are?”

        Is it? I do think that the more repetitious ones are the ones that get written about the most because they are the more relatable to the day-in-day-out lives of more people. Other than some of the more heavy-duty spring cleaning type tasks that are only done sporadically anyway, I don’t find most housework physically difficult but I really, really find it mind-numbingly boring and unrelentingly repetitious. (Despite that, I try to keep in mind the spiritual value it has)

        “Why is “hey this gives me more time to do things I enjoy and this is an amazing blessing” never the frame, but “Here’s how I have to pray my way through five minutes of dishwashing, goodness gracious it’s so harrowing!”

        Because dishwashing isn’t harrowing but it does suck lemons. Even if the modern day version does make it easier than in the past and is a blessing compared to it.

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        • On reflection, this is one of those tasks that can vary a LOT.

          For example, if the kids are in school, my husband is on a business trip, and we don’t eat dinner at home, we will have maybe 1/2 or 2/3 of a dishwasher load a day. It does take about 5 minutes to deal with.

          However, during long school breaks when we are all home and eating all our meals at home, it adds up to a minimum of 2 full loads a day, and it’s much more time consuming, especially considering cooking and cleanup time. My husband definitely sings the blues on those days, even with kid unloading help.

          The whole shop-cook-clean up-dishes cycle when we are all at home and have to cook is astonishingly time-consuming. Just degreasing the stove top takes a long time.

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              • No, I’m pretty sure I lie within the normal, average-woman range on this particular task. Loading or unloading only takes about 2 minutes either way. When the kids were literally underfoot and sometimes broke dishes trying to help out, then it took closer to 10 minutes, but I also never had 3 load days during that time, as they used very few dishes themselves. Sometimes we barely had one load.

                Dishwashing is one of those things I have never heard a woman offline have the issues with that Christian mombloggers do. They only lament when it isn’t working because handwashing is a headache with the amount of dishes most households rip through these days. (Secular mombloggers don’t talk much about dishwashing as far as I’ve seen and if anything are happy to let them pile up, so to speak.)

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                • TPC said:

                  “(Secular mombloggers don’t talk much about dishwashing as far as I’ve seen and if anything are happy to let them pile up, so to speak.)”

                  That may be a bit of a tell that there’s not a lot of home cooking going on/not a lot of time at home during the day.

                  Maybe secular mombloggers see themselves as more SAHMs and less housewives? Or their husbands do dishes?

                  Jenna Andersen/That Wife is an interesting exception that may prove your rule. On the one hand, she’s a very secular internet person (ex-LDS), but on the other hand, she does apparently get pretty operatic on the subject of how terrible dishwashing is (despite normally not having kids at home during the day). It literally can’t be as bad as she says.

                  Maybe dishwashing gets all the hate because it’s the one home task that has to be done every day? (My husband and I used to leave dirty dishes in the sink for days when we were young married grad students with no dishwasher, but let us draw a veil over that historical chapter.)

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      • TPC said:

        “To continue on with my other reply, why is it always about how hard the easier homemaking tasks are and how easy the hardest ones are? Why is “hey this gives me more time to do things I enjoy and this is an amazing blessing” never the frame, but “Here’s how I have to pray my way through five minutes of dishwashing, goodness gracious it’s so harrowing!””

        That’s an interesting point. Some possibilities:

        –If you talk too much about how much fun you are having, people will think you’re not actually working. (For example, despite being a typical introvert, I LIVE for group zoo trips or playdates, which are both enjoyable and enriching.)
        –If you’re not currently suffering or complaining, people will think you don’t do anything. (In years past, I’ve seen a lot of guy hate directed at moms of small children hanging out together at Starbucks–as if it wasn’t a very small part of the moms’ days.)
        –If you homeschool and complain about it, people will think you are bad at homeschooling and ask you why you don’t quit.
        –If it’s a non-standard task or something that mother didn’t do, people will wonder why you are doing it at all.
        –The actually hard stuff with little kids is gross and boring. For example, my last trip through potty training has taken literally longer than the Siege of Leningrad. I just checked my old blog archives, and the previous time I potty trained a kid, I had literally 41 different posts devoted to the subject (I know this for a fact because I numbered them on the blog). OH MY GOODNESS. Nobody wants to read about that.
        –It’s not actually kosher to make a living selling transcripts of “discussions” with your balky teen or husband.
        –If your teen has a serious problem (drugs, sex, abusive relationship, eating disorder, mental illness, etc.), it’s not a good idea to share it with the world.
        –Dealing with special needs can be hard, but again–it’s not a good idea to share your struggles in real time with the world under your own name and picture.
        –If your kid is having friendship problems, that’s not a good thing to share.

        So, yeah–I get why we hear so much about the dishes.

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