Motherhood and Not-So-Simple Simplicity

By guest blogger  Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I always used to find it challenging to live out the value of simplicity in a contemporary Western context.  Now, as a mom, I find it nearly impossible.

I am blessed to be the mother of a twenty-month-old daughter and another little girl due in two months.  I desperately want them to grow up in a home that honors and reflects the values of Jesus — values which I believe are oftentimes in direct conflict with the images of traditional domestic success in this country.  And yet, as a mom who is entirely in love with and predictably devoted to her children, I struggle to disregard the pressures and compulsions of the mommy/baby industry. I want to live simply, but I also want to provide my daughters with “the best…” (insert noun here: nutrition, cognitive development-enhancing toys, opportunities in life, etc.).

From the moment I found out that I was pregnant with my first daughter, I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of stuff associated with having a baby.  Merely setting foot in Babies“R”Us made my head spin: playpens, bouncers, bottles, strollers, electric swings, toys, books, CDs, DVDs –how much of this stuff did my baby actually need?  Having lived among babies in Africa and Latin America, my assumption was “not much.”

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Photo courtesy of MorgueFile

For the first few months of my daughter’s life, my husband and I were immensely proud of the fact that we didn’t own a crib.  Initially, we made use of a thrift store bassinet, and when our baby outgrew that, we simply put her on blankets on the floor.  “See,” we thought with satisfaction, “people who fill their homes with baby stuff just aren’t trying hard enough to live simply.”  But then she started rolling.  Virtually overnight, I went from spurning the entire concept of a crib to declining a free crib because it didn’t adhere to current safety regulations (even though I knew four children had happily slept in it throughout infancy).  I wonder: would Jesus consider that to be conscientious parenting or lamentable wastefulness?  I may feel a sense of righteous indignation at the ways in which our consumerist culture preys upon a mother’s desire to provide the best for her children, but I can hardly deny that we are easy prey!

Even without being goaded by marketers, my own weaknesses cause me to fall short of the ideals of “Simple Living.”  Before my daughter’s birth, I was delighted to receive a homemade diaper wipe kit — a kit I only ended up using once.  When she began eating solids, I planned to prepare all of her baby food from fresh ingredients — but laziness, in the form of many store-bought jars of pureed concoctions, prevailed.  And, most scandalously, I confess that I never did figure out cloth diapering.  Our monthly delivery of disposable diapers (“environmentally-friendly” though they may be) always triggers a fair amount of hand-wringing guilt in me.

As my daughter grows older and we anticipate the birth of our second child, the issues surrounding Simple Living and parenthood grow ever more complex.  My husband and I frequently remind ourselves that we want to live our lives and raise our children in a way that would only make sense in light of the Gospel.  But what does that mean?  Given our limited finances, how do we balance our commitment to charitable giving with our commitment to our children?  Right now, those questions arise when we consider whether or not to spend extra money on organic food or a better stroller, but I know that tougher decisions loom ahead.  Do we pay for music lessons?  Do we enroll our kids in private school?  Do we travel abroad with them?  For me, it all boils down to a basic conundrum:  How much is justifiable in the name of providing for our children, especially when one of the things we’re trying to provide is the value of Simple Living?

If you know the answer to that question, please tell me!  I suspect, though, that this is one of those opaque moral areas requiring perpetual personal discernment. I’ve discovered that the terrain of parenting changes abruptly and dramatically with each new stage of my daughter’s development.  I must constantly re-adjust the lens through which I view my vocation as a mom in order to stay focused on what is most essential to me: giving glory to God through this gift of motherhood.

Daily, in matters both trivial and profound, I fail to do so.  But I take comfort in the words of Scripture: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)

“Approach God’s throne of grace with boldness.”  I take this message to heart.  A certain sense of boldness is necessary for me to approach the Eucharistic table each week, laden as I am with a disposable-diaper-clad toddler and the weight of so many daily failures!  Yet the God of mercy and grace invites me to come and be nourished… and so I do, confident that the only way I will ever achieve authentic simplicity is with and in the One who simply loves.

This week’s guest blogger, Nicole Steele Wooldridge, has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since they were neighbors (in body and spirit) in Chicago, Ill.  She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, daughter, and very pregnant belly.  She spends her days chasing a toddler, working at a community college, and struggling to live out this thing called discipleship.

3 thoughts on “Motherhood and Not-So-Simple Simplicity

  1. When Liz and I were first married, we decided not to buy a clothes washer and dryer because we could not pay cash. One day in Sears we discovered we could by both for less of a monthly payment than we were spending monthly at the laundromat. If you and Eric are living “simply,” as I am sure you are, your children will have no choice but to do the same. Nice post,
    Uncle Bennie.

  2. Nicole—llent reflective honesty=a life worth living! Great job putting the creative tension into understandable thoughts that many parents likely struggle with….

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