Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Welcome Cami Ostman and Susan Tive with a Guest Post on "Motherhood In and Out of Religion"

Welcome Cami Ostman and Susan Tive, authors of the anthology: Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions.  In today's guest post, Susan Tive shares her views of motherhood from two very different perspectives, that of Orthodox Judaism versus Mainstream America.  There's some surprising lessons to be learned.  Please comment with your thoughts! 

My Orthodox Motherhood
Thoughts about Motherhood In and Out of Religion
Susan Tive

While many of my non-religious and atheist friends might not want to hear this, I’m going to say it anyway: My years of motherhood inside Orthodox Judaism beat, hands down, my experience parenting within mainstream America.

I’m well aware that my experience and opinion won’t make a whole lot of sense to many; how can a restrictive religion provide a mother with a good environment in which to raise her children? Aren’t we all happier living a free, more permissive, modern American lifestyle than following the traditions of our ancestors?

An unquestionable “Yes” was what I had presupposed before I became an Orthodox Jew at the age of 25.

As a young college age woman in the mid-80’s I chose a path that went against the grain of my generation. I chose motherhood over graduate school. Having lost my own mother in my late teens, I was excited, even anxious, to become one myself. I did not feel that I was being asked to sacrifice “self” for ‘family’ in making this choice. Motherhood and individual growth were compatible and there seemed to be no reason to choose between the two.

However, a harsh reality took hold during my years as a young mother. The slings and arrows of judgmental questions and unsympathetic stares from friends and strangers took their toll. “When are you going back to work?” friends asked with no knowledge that I had put in more hours than was legally allowed at their own jobs. “What are you doing with your life?” “Are you really thinking about having more?”
In the mid-80’s it was not cool to be a young mother. Even the vocabulary was changing: Young women were supposed to be breaking the glass ceiling, wearing power suits, and on the pill. Children were their reward for when the degree was finished, the house was bought and a good chunk of retirement and college savings were salted away. Women could then consider starting a family and struggle to conceive a brood if they still wanted one.

I had done it all wrong. Backwards. No one viewed motherhood as a legitimate or worthwhile profession for a young woman.

According to Orthodox Judaism however, I was right on schedule, maybe even a little late. When I showed up at my first orthodox event, a Hanukah party, I was the one with the fewest children in tow. The other mothers had three, four, even five children. No one asked me the dreaded questions about what I really intended to do with the rest of my life, or made me feel like I had some awkward skin rash or large M etched across my forehead.

I felt welcomed, accepted, and appreciated as a mother. I did not have to explain myself or justify my identity. Parenting as a full time job? They understood this from life experience. These orthodox women smiled and did not judge, they accepted us into the fold, into the family of the Jewish people, and we belonged.

Early on I was taught that the home and not the synagogue was the center of Judaism. There was a keen understanding of the power that lies in the small and often overlooked interactions we have with our children and partners in our homes about the simplest and most mundane things. The outward ceremony and songs of public worship and community gatherings were important, but Orthodoxy recognized the vital influence women had in their own household and tried to support us in utilizing this power to benefit our families, and by extension, the entire community.

This recognition of the value of being a mother was the opposite of what I had found in the secular world, where the main focus was on celebrity, extravagance, and crass materialism. The home was rendered boring and mundane, raising children a job that was better suited for low-income women and nannies. Motherhood boiled down to biology. Cooking and cleaning were labeled drudgery, and in the course of one or two generations many of the traditional outlets for women to express their ingenuity, intelligence, and creativity were trashed and replaced by MBAs, law school and corporate management.

As a mother in the (orthodox) community, I was given responsibility not only for my own family but for the well being of the community itself. I served on the board of the day school, hosted guests and dignitaries, raised money, took classes, traveled, and planned and executed events. My skills and abilities were not only valued but they were put to use. When I had a problem, the rabbi was there. When someone in the community was ill, died or needed help, we would all rally. When a holiday, a wedding, or a birth was to be celebrated, everyone generously came together to make it happen.

These community events were a natural part of our lives, we were responding to what God told us to do. It wasn't about ‘want to’ or ‘like to’ -- living this kind of life simplified our decision making down to learning and remembering what God had already proscribed for us to do as women, as mothers and as community members.

It would be untrue to say that I miss Orthodoxy, but I do miss many aspects of the supportive community I experienced while living within it. I think that the secular world and mothers within it could benefit from adopting some of the practices that flourish within religion. Mothers don’t need restrictive rules to get people to cooperate and help one another. Mothers have enough in common that they should be able to come together, even with glass ceilings and power suits to contend with.

Author Bio(s):

Cami: Cami Ostman is an author, editor, life coach and a licensed marriage and family therapist with publications in her field. She blogs at 7marathons7continents.com and on thepsychologytoday.com blogger team. She has appeared in several publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Fitness Magazine, Adventures Northwest, the Mudgee Guardian in Australia, and La Prensa in Chile. Cami is a runner and a dog lover who lives in Bellingham, Washington.

Susan: As a writer, editor and researcher Susan has worked on a variety of academic articles exploring psychology, feminism and religion. Susan’s interest in these subjects led her to become an editor for several non-fiction titles including Faith and Feminism and Rachel’s Bag. Her new anthology Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions will be published in April 2013 by Seal Press.

Find out more about these ladies by visiting them online:

Cami's Twitter: https://twitter.com/camiostman

                                     Book Summary:

Beyond Belief addresses what happens when women of extreme religions decide to walk away. Editors Susan Tive (a former Orthodox Jew) and Cami Ostman (a de-converted fundamentalist born-again Christian) have compiled a collection of powerful personal stories written by women of varying ages, races, and religious backgrounds who share one commonality: they’ve all experienced and rejected extreme religions.

Covering a wide range of religious communities—including Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Calvinist, Moonie, and Jehovah’s Witness—and containing contributions from authors like Julia Scheeres (Jesus Land), the stories in
 Beyond Belief reveal how these women became involved, what their lives were like, and why they came to the decision to eventually abandon their faiths. The authors shed a bright light on the rigid expectations and misogyny so often built into religious orthodoxy, yet they also explain the lure—why so many women are attracted to these lifestyles, what they find that’s beautiful about living a religious life, and why leaving can be not only very difficult but also bittersweet.
Paperback:  328 PagesPublisher:  Seal Press (April 2, 2013)ISBN-10:  1580054420Twitter hashtag: #SLWExtreme

Beyond Belief; The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions is available as a print and e- book at 

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