Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Over at Salon, Emily Matchar asks: “Why can’t I stop reading Mormon housewife blogs?” (Hat tip to Julie Rodrigues, who offers an eloquent answer over at VirtuousPla.net.) Matchar writes:
Their lives are nothing like mine—I’m your standard-issue late-20-something childless overeducated atheist feminist—yet I’m completely obsessed with their blogs. On an average day, I’ll skim through a half-dozen Mormon blogs, looking at Polaroids of dogs in raincoats or kids in bow ties, reading gratitude lists, admiring sewing projects.
And, she reports, she’s not alone:
Two of my closest friends—both chronically overworked Ph.D. candidates—procrastinate for hours poring over Nat the Fat Rat or C. Jane Enjoy It. A recent discussion of Mormonism on the blog Jezebel unleashed a waterfall of confessions in the comments section from other young non-religious women similarly riveted by the shiny, happy domestic lives of their Latter-day Saint sisters.
Yup. I’ve been there. I was an overworked career woman when blogs were only just beginning to spring up, so my drugs of choice were lifestyle magazines and websites. But I recall sitting in the office break room with female coworkers, poring over glossy images of cutting boards laden with chopped vegetables, cakes slathered with homemade icing, and other domestic scenes. In between talking about the merits of PostgreSQL versus other open-source relational DBMS’s, we’d imagine what it would be like to spend a day perfecting a homemade spiced latte recipe, or to sew a gorgeous new cover for the couch on a whim.
We weren’t supposed to like this kind of thing. In theory, we were already living the dream: Earning good money, living on our own, advancing in careers that we enjoyed. We we had complete freedom and were dependent on no one. Most of the women I worked with had impressive graduate degrees, in fields like computer science and electrical engineering. Yet we were intensely drawn to these beautiful images of domestic life—and, in fact, almost every single one of the women I worked with during this time is now a housewife who either doesn’t work or only works part time. Nearly all of us left our careers to stay home and raise kids. Why? It’s for the same reason that so many women of all different backgrounds are drawn to blogs that feature images of a family-centered, faith-filled life:
This is what real living looks like.
One of the great surprises of the human life is that complete autonomy makes you miserable, and it’s only when you give yourself fully in the service of others that you’ll find lasting happiness. It is a counter-intuitive truth that taps directly into our spiritual selves, which is why people of faith typically understand it best. What made me and so many other women drool over these images of life inside a bustling home was that our souls recognized something true and good, and they promptly shook us and screamed, “YES! THAT!”
I still have all the same interests I did when I was working, and still pursue those things as hobbies (I recently won the Nerd of the Year award for writing a PHP program just for fun). But, like the Mormon mommy bloggers, my faith has shown me that this is not what life is all about. There’s a reason that people who work are paid to do so: It’s a sacrifice. Their salary is a compensation for the fact that they’re taking time out of their real lives to be there.
Of course, those of us outside the job world work too, and we often toil harder than anyone. My life as a stay-at-home mom of five young kids is much more challenging than my life as a single working woman was. And, certainly, my real life is far less perfect than the Photoshopped and cropped pictures that show up on lifestyle blogs; if you look up the term epic fail in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of me trying to bake cookies with my kids. But that essence I sensed behind all those gorgeous images of domestic life is here in my actual life in abundance, and experiencing it firsthand is even better than I could have imagined it would be. Spending time with people you love, celebrating the little moments of life together, being free to engage in all the hard work of loving and living that transforms a house into a home—this is what life is all about.
Back in my career days, I thought that living life to the fullest meant racking up impressive credentials and being as self-sufficient as possible. But the universal truth that I stumbled across in my own life, that bursts from the pages of countless mommy blogs by women of faith, is that the meaning of life is to give, to share, and to open yourself to the point that your life becomes inextricably entwined with the lives of others.