Saturday, October 4, 2014

Host Culture Mommy Wars

We've all heard lots of talk about "mommy wars" and the various ways that mothers often end up competing with one another. Recently there was an excellent post at A Life Overseas about missionary mommy wars, but I recently realized that not only do we feel special pressure as missionary moms, as well as pressure from our home culture, but we also feel it from our host culture! In my efforts to "become all things to all people,"  I've found that the cultural requirements of Russian mothers have really impacted me. If I am not careful to listen closely to God, I can feel like there are just that many more "requirements" upon my shoulders in order to succeed at motherhood.

My children looking Russian (Mommy points for managing appropriate winter least for this picture... oh but wait, we can't tell if my son is wearing obligatory tights in the picture or not... the verdict is still out...)

Here are a few of the things that are "required" of good mothers in the Russian culture: Children must always be dressed appropriately for the weather (according to Russian standards, of course.... a.k.a., WAY warmer than we dress our American kids... I always mess this up.); mothers should take their children out to walk or play at least once but preferably twice a day, year-round; children from about age 2 must be "socialized" by attending pre-school for a minimum of 5 hours a day; children from pre-school age should also be involved in enrichment activities often including a foreign language, music, dance, art, technology...; mothers should take their children to various doctors every month during the first year of life, if not more, as well as every time they have anything more than a slight cold all throughout their school years, and nothing should ever be self-treated; babies should have the right kind of (very expensive) stroller; birthday parties should be a large to-do; little girls should have beautifully braided hair on the first day of school and other holidays; children should have the opportunity to go on an extended vacation "out of the city" every summer (often to a rustic summer cottage in the countryside), preferably for a month or more...

First day of first grade and faux fancy braids. Braided pig tails are fancy, right?!

Here are our kids picking berries out in nature when we, too, went on vacation to a summer cottage...for four days. Shhh!

Having four kids as opposed to the traditional one or two, these standards would not only be difficult to adhere to, but pretty much impossible. I often feel initially judged by mothers when they find out that I don't do A, B, or C, like all of the "good mothers," and often find myself explaining the differences of living life with a larger family. Sometimes moms are very understanding, and other times not. I find that there is a fine balance between striving to become all things to all people for the sake of the salvation of others, and becoming all things to all people for the sake of the salvation of my own pride. Just like in all of the other mommy-wars, I need to remember to seek the Lord and His gracious requirements of me in my mothering rather than measuring myself by the requirements of my host culture or anyone else.

What are the mommy-war issues in your host culture? In what ways have you been able to become all things in non-competitive ways? What areas are some areas where you have had to resist getting caught up in mommy wars?


  1. Oh, yes! I understand this so well! We once had someone tell us that at first he thought we didn't even love our children. That was because I let them play in the dirt at camp. (I don't think you mentioned that Russian/Ukrainian children are always immaculately clean?)

    Resist? Sometimes I try to explain that raising a group of children is different from pampering one. Often I try to keep up appearances a little, if that makes any sense. I mean things like dressing them right on the outside, but letting them wear whatever they want (nothing!) under their coats.

  2. I totally understand the socializing thing. When my son turned 2, it was just automatically assumed that we would put him in nursery because we could get 16 hrs a week for free. Going to mum and toddler groups are a big thing in England, too. But it's not really my "thing..." so we don't go.

  3. This is so funny! I had major culture shock upon arriving in El Salvador and learning that in Latin America women dress up all of the time. I'm talking make-up, perfect hair, slacks or dresses, and super high heels. It's crazy watching women trying to navigate the sidewalks in towering heels, but somehow they manage it! These other moms look amazing and gorgeous just to pick their kids up from school! I've had to learn a lot more about make-up and about trying to look more presentable. No more runs to the grocery store in yoga pants because I might run into a mom from school! Birthday parties are also huge and kids are expected to dress up for those. Another issue is how much parents medicate their children. I hardly give my kids anything and other moms think I'm crazy for not taking my kids to the doctor for every cold. Now I like to think that I "blend in" a little more than when we first arrived, but I still haven't worked up the nerve to buy huge high heels!

  4. Yes, Phyllis, the dirt! So funny! My kids thought it was the best thing in the world to get to splash around in the rain and puddles in Seattle this past Spring. They never really get to do that here in Russia!

    Chrysti, that is so interesting that England is so into socializing! Yet another way that the US and UK differ in unexpected ways. I don't think US culture feels that early socialization is quite so vital, does it? I am glad that you feel the freedom to do what is best for your family.

    Danielle, wow, that is a lot of pressure with the dressing up ! Not to mention the time that must be added to each day to get ready to go outside. Russian women also dress up a lot more than in the US, but not nearly to the degree that you're talking about I don't think. The missionary dress-code is so different from country to country, isn't it? Post a picture whenever you buy your first stilettos! =D

  5. I just thought of this again, as I was getting our daughter ready for her music lesson. Last time her teacher told her to dress more warmly, even though she was fully within the range of what people are wearing now. We're not all the way to winter coat weather yet. And, our daughter rides her bike to music school, so she gets hot along the way. Our solution was to put her coat in her bike basket and tell her to stop and put it on right before she gets to school. I told her that we're dressing her for her teacher, not for the weather. A "good mother" would have just bundled her up... and probably have taken her to school in a taxi or something.

  6. That's hilarious, Phyllis! Perfect solution. I do something similar going to detski cad/pre-school. They of course have to have the obligatory inside and outside clothes, but I find it such a hassle to have to change right when we get there when the only distance we've gone outside before arriving is from the door to the car and the car into the school. I usually dress my daughter in her inside clothes at home and just hope nobody notices that she hasn't changed upon arrival. Then I hang her outside clothes for her to change into when they go outside. I feel like such a rebel. Ha ha! =)