Saturday, November 30, 2013

Our Lives in Ornaments: 2013 Edition

In my last post, I described the many wonderful entries into this year’s Ornie Competition, leaving out only the three that belong to Jeff, Alexa, and myself. As the blog owner and author, I decided to reserve a post just for ours.

In the past, I have picked out Alexa’s ornament entirely on my own. Because I view these ornaments as memory keepers—visual reminders of the key themes and events of our lives, holding the memories and bringing them back to us each year—I didn’t want hers to be a childish “I like cats so mine is a cat!” theme when there have been more pervasive and meaningful currents running through the year. This year, however, I knew that she is old enough to have a preference, and she deserves to have her voice heard when it comes to the ornament that does, after all, represent her year. At the same time, though, I knew that we never would pick one for her—and if we did, it would be of the “I like cats!” variety—if I simply sat her down in front of a computer screen showing all of this year’s Hallmark ornaments and had her pick her own.

My compromise for her this year was that I picked two themes. Then I picked two ornaments, one for each theme. Then she picked the one she wanted from those two. The ornament that she rejected was a Noah’s ark ornament, complete with animals walking up the gangplank. In my mind, this ornament represented a couple of things—her love of all kinds of animals and the focus we’ve had this year on teaching the Bible as Truth, different from the other stories we read. It also represents both of our homeschool curricula, as Little Hands to Heaven has a week-long unit dedicated to Noah and the b-b-boat, and Sonlight P3/4 includes a Noah’s Ark graphic novel-style book.

(c) Hallmark. The ornament Alexa didn't choose.

The ornament that Alexa chose is a more specific representation of the beginning of her “formal” (to the extent that our homeschool is formal, which it isn’t) education. Her ornament shows a Mama Snowman … er, Snowwoman … holding a Baby Snowman … Snowbaby? … on her lap while reading to her. This scene represents the feel of our homeschool, though in our case, it’s more often that we’re lying on the carpet together while reading, rather than sitting in laps. And just like in our family, there’s a little cat sitting beside the reading pair. Oh, and do you want to know why Alexa chose this ornament instead of the Noah’s ark one, which I expected her to want because of all the animals? It’s because this ornament had a cat, and the Noah’s ark one didn’t—so Alexa got her “I like cats!” ornament after all. It paid off for her, too; she was the winner of this year’s Ornie Competition.

Alexa's 2013 ornament: Reading is "Snow" Much Fun!

Jeff’s and my ornaments appear very different from each other, but their themes are so similar that I will describe them together, at least at first.

This year was an odd combination of peace and chaotic stress for Jeff and me. It started out a little stressful, but nothing unusual or worrisome—we were in the throes of preparing for our third intercontinental move. Upon our arrival here in Kosovo, we settled in more quickly than we ever imagined we could. We made friends. We felt at home. It was amazing how peaceful our lives seemed.

Then, things began happening in each of “our” countries. The Egyptian army ousted President Morsi, who had been elected democratically but who was ruling dictatorially. The Muslim Brotherhood refused to go quietly, set up massive protest camps, and began attacking Egyptian Christians and their property. The Embassy of the United States underwent another mandatory evacuation, affecting friends of ours. In Cambodia, election results were disputed, protests—intended to be peaceful—broke out, and the possibility of violence loomed large. I received messages from friends there asking about how the American embassy would assist in case a mass evacuation of American citizens became advisable.

In the United States, continued leaks from a traitor damaged Americans’ perceptions of the intelligence agencies whose mission is to protect them, endangered those agencies’ ability to fulfill that mission, and caused a diplomatic furor that affects all Americans abroad, not just diplomats and their families. A political standoff resulted in a government shutdown, and the vitriol directed against federal workers—who did not in any way cause the shutdown; that was the politicians—was even more strident and widespread than I imagined it could be.

And, finally, here in Kosovo, in this place where the vast majority of the local population loves America and Americans; in this place where we met a young Kosovar man who joined the United States Marines out of a sense of gratitude to our country, who served honorably, and who even renounced his Kosovan citizenship in favor of American citizenship because it was asked of him in order to increase the ways in which he could serve; in this home where we felt (and still feel) such a sense of peace—here in Kosovo, two young American women were viciously attacked because they were here as missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS; known to most Americans as Mormons). In the aftermath of that attack, I became aware that Islamist extremism is on the rise here, and this place, though peaceful, is not as peaceful as I had assumed.

Deborah's 2013 ornament: A Wish For Peace

My ornament for 2013 reflects the turmoil that our countries have experienced this year and the hope and wish that I have for them—for all four of them. My ornament is an amber dove, inscribed with the words “one hope … one wish … peace.” It is the heart cry of a mother, a wife, and a friend.

Jeff’s ornament this year is in honor of those who work to make my wish reality. It is no secret that we are political conservatives, and that there are plenty of federal jobs that we believe should not be federal jobs. But there are many federal workers who work quietly, in the background, for the same or even less pay than they could earn in the private sector, and their goals are to provide for the security of the United States of America, to protect her people from threats of which we may not even be aware. These federal workers—all federal workers—were demonized this year by people who don’t understand what they do or why they do it, but who would be severely and negatively impacted if they were to stop doing it. It seems only appropriate to me that Jeff’s 2013 ornament is a figure of Batman, swooping down to save the day, in a move that would be characteristic of him even during the events of the movies The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, when he was demonized by the people of Gotham City, on whose behalf he never stopped fighting. Likewise, many of our federal workers did not stop working—did not stop fighting—even during the shutdown, when they were being vilified and when they didn’t even know if or when they would be paid. Like Batman, they continued to protect us from threats, our blissful ignorance of which allowed us the luxury of demanding that they stop.

Jeff's 2013 ornament: Descending Upon Gotham City

A child’s pleasure in learning, in reading, and above all, in cats. A woman’s wish for peace. And a man’s determination to keep fighting the good fight no matter what others think. Those are the things for which 2013 will be remembered in our family.

Ornie Competition: Extended Family 2013

As long-time readers of this blog know, our family participates in an annual tradition known as “The Ornie Competition.” It was begun many years ago by the family of Jeff’s stepfather, and we’ve participated ever since our marriage in 2006, more often than not via internet-based video conferencing. Each member of the family picks out a Christmas ornament that represents his or her year, then presents it to the group. The patriarch (Jeff’s stepfather) decides in advance who will judge the competition, and a determination is made as to who has the best ornament that year. Criteria vary from year to year (often depending on the judges’ personal preferences), but factors that generally work in favor of particular ornaments include whether or not it was handmade, the ornament’s attractiveness, how well it fits the theme identified by the individual who chose it, and—the key factor—the quality of the story and presentation that accompanies the ornament. The competition traditionally is held on Thanksgiving Day or, in recent years, the day after Thanksgiving.

There were several amazing ornaments this year—I am grateful that I was not chosen as a judge! I don’t always tell about all the ornaments here on the blog, but they were so good this year that I do want to mention all of them.

The toddler's ornament, photo courtesy of my mother-in-law

Our first ornament was from our newest participant: the toddler son of Jeff’s stepsister and her husband. This adorable little boy loves to “cook”—he pulls out pots and pans, fills them with real and pretend food, and stirs away. His favorite toy is his kitchen set. This budding chef’s ornament was a highly appropriate pan, with a fish inside it. Since one of his few words is “fish,” and he says it excitedly whenever he sees the ornament, it was even more appropriate.

The father's ornament, photo courtesy of my mother-in-law

This little boy’s father is a television producer. He had a rough year, from late last year to earlier this year. We don’t know the details because of a nondisclosure clause in the final settlement, but he was sued by a very powerful man and spent the year working and hoping for justice and waiting for this difficult chapter in his life to close. Now, the chapter is closed, and he seemed satisfied with the (unknown to us) details of the final settlement. His ornament was an open book, with the scales of justice resting on the pages.

The mom's ornament*, photo courtesy of my mother-in-law

Jeff’s stepsister told us that she has settled into motherhood well. Her life and job are full of stress, and her favorite moments of the day are those spent with her little boy. He grabs a book, brings it to her, and sits in her lap while she reads it to him again and again. These moments of peaceful bonding with her son are commemorated in her ornament: a brunette woman reading to the little blond-haired boy in her lap.

My mother-in-law's ornaments, photo courtesy of my mother-in-law

Jeff’s mother gave us all a scare a couple of months ago. She went into the hospital for an angioplasty, with the intent of having a couple of stents put in. The relatively routine surgery took a drastic turn for the worse, however, when her blood vessels demonstrated their fragility by breaking during the procedure. She was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital that was equipped to perform the emergency double bypass surgery that saved her life. She submitted two ornaments this year: an ambulance to commemorate her first (and hopefully only) ride in an ambulance; and a handmade one that shows a heart with a stitch in it (representing her mended heart) on one side and, on the other, the name of the cardiac center where the emergency surgery occurred. She showed it to one of her rehabilitation specialists, who asked her to make one for her as well. My mother-in-law’s doctors will be receiving these ornaments as a small thank you for their dedication and skill.

The husband's ornament, photo courtesy of my mother-in-law

My mother-in-law’s husband has been wonderful, both during the emergency itself and during her recuperation thus far. He ensures that she rests at home, with him doing the bulk of the household work, and that she gets the precise amount of exercise that her doctors recommend for her rehabilitation. He comforts her, reassures her, and encourages her. He already had committed to moving away from an area he loves so that she could be nearer to her grandsons, and now with her health situation, he has committed to doing even more of the work involved in that move (which has been delayed for an undetermined but planned-to-be-short period of time while she regains her strength and they wait for their house to sell). His ornament memorializes the work he has done as his wife’s caregiver since her surgery.

By luck of the random draw, our little nuclear family—Jeff, Alexa, and myself—were the last three to present our ornaments this year.  I could include ours in this post, but it’s getting a little long, and I’d rather devote one post to just our ornaments. Stay tuned; ours is coming up next.

Related posts:
Our Lives in Ornaments: 2012 Edition

* I edited the photo to remove the toddler's name. I'm just not comfortable sharing the names of children who don't belong to me. I left in the name of Jeff's stepfather, however, as it's been shared on the blog before and his wife told me it was ok.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Two Months

Hmm. Apparently it’s been over 2 months since I published a blog post. That may be a new record for me. There probably are a few reasons why it’s been so long, but the top two come to mind pretty easily.

The first is that it’s just so easy to live here. My most prolific blog-writing times are right after I move to a new post, as I process all the newness of the place. I did write several posts soon after we arrived here, but I don’t think it was as many as I usually write early on at a new post. Frankly, after living in Egypt and Cambodia, Kosovo just doesn’t feel “foreign” enough to inspire those getting-adjusted posts! My neighborhood feels American, the supermarket feels American (though I don’t use Google Translate nearly as much—read: ever—at American grocery stores), I no longer am a minority in terms of race, and to top it all off, I settled in socially much more quickly here, due to a great embassy community and quick contact with my traditionally sought-out group, the missionaries. So I just don’t have the amount of processing and adjusting to do here as I did in either of our last two posts.

The second quick and easy reason why I haven’t posted in so long is that I’ve felt very busy. Homeschooling only takes up 30 or so minutes each day, but somehow it feels like it takes much more time than that. And—at the risk of sounding elitist—it has been an adjustment for me to be cleaning my own house again. We were able to hire an absolutely wonderful full-time housekeeper in Cambodia for a price that inspired her to do a happy dance in my kitchen and that also was lower than we would have had to pay for a one-morning-a-week cleaning service in the States; domestic help here also is less expensive than in the States, but it’s significantly more expensive than in Cambodia, and we decided that it made more sense for me to clean the house myself here. But it does seem to take a lot more time than it really should, probably because I never really have focused a lot of effort on learning to be an efficient housekeeper. It’s past time to change that. In addition to teaching Alexa and cleaning the house, the active social scene here has contributed (in a good way) to my feeling of busy-ness.

As if all of that weren’t enough—and it shouldn’t be, though it is—I’ve also been spending a good bit of time looking up recipes online. I’m contemplating a major change in my diet and have started taking small steps in that direction. I don’t buy into the pseudo-religious idea that our distant ancestors’ diet was perfect and that all modern innovation in food production results in poison, but I am beginning to be convinced that there is more about our food that matters than calorie count and whether it’s a protein, carb, or fat. It was an easy sell that whole, minimally processed foods are healthier than foods that are highly processed, added to and subtracted from. After all, it’s pretty intuitive that a whole apple provides more nutritional value, with fewer calories, than a similar volume of apple juice or applesauce that has had sugar and preservatives added and fiber removed; it’s also easy to see that refined sugar offers little to no value in exchange for quite a few calories. It was a harder sell, but I’m beginning to come around to the idea we may be better off limiting or avoiding specific other foods as well, in particular grains. The jury is still out, but I have been looking up paleo recipes—these recipes always avoid grains, legumes, and highly processed foods. They usually avoid dairy as well. I’ve found lots of good recipes and have started limiting grains—I’ve found that a couple of days without grains results in me feeling more tired but still better overall, with less stomach discomfort. (Every website I’ve read has said that it’s normal to feel tired and even headachy when switching away from a grain-based diet, as the body adjusts to getting more of its calories from fats than from carbs.) I’ve never had major issues with my stomach, but I have felt mild to moderate discomfort so often that it’s come to be normal, not even something I notice or complain about, but I do notice its absence when I avoid grains. I’m not ready to take the plunge into a completely paleo (or primal, if you prefer) lifestyle, but I’m gradually moving more in that direction. To be honest, I probably won’t ever go fully paleo, but since I do seem to feel better with fewer grains, that’s what I’m going with for now.

I also have spent some time recently looking at options for Alexa’s PreK curriculum next year. (I’m considering this year preschool, next year PreK, and the following kindergarten.) I like Sonlight’s P4/5 package as a base curriculum, but even if I add the kindergarten language arts to it, I think the phonics instruction will be too much review and not enough new material for her. So I’m considering purchasing a separate program to teach her to read, possibly All About Reading, or for a more economical option, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons or The Reading Lesson: Teach Your Child to Read in 20 Lessons. We’ll probably use Handwriting Without Tears PreK. I haven’t gotten around to looking at the math options yet, but we'll almost certainly work through some of the Mathematical Reasoning workbooks that are included in Timberdoodle's preschool and PreK curricula; we'll probably start those sometime this spring.

That’s most of what’s been filling my time lately and why I haven’t been posting much. I’m not sure when I’ll start having more time again—or inspiration—so I apologize now if it’s another two months before I post again.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Homeschool Update

It’s been a while since I posted here, and for the most part, I have good reasons. We were in the United States for the whole month of July, and I took a break from blogging in order to enjoy time with family and friends and to accomplish the necessary tasks associated with trips home—mostly shopping for various items that are difficult to obtain here. When we returned in early August, it was time to catch up on the housework, a task that was made more difficult by our worse-than-usual experience with jet lag.

And of course, we’ve started homeschooling. We started our year on Monday, 12 August, using the Little Hands to Heaven curriculum published by Heart of Dakota. Overall, homeschooling is going very well. When I asked Alexa, the first day, if she wanted to do school, her first response was “No! Lexa doesn’t want to go to school!” After I explained that she didn’t have to go anywhere, that we could do school right here at home, she was eager to try it. She watched as I took the curriculum guide and children’s Bible (The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes) off the shelf and excitedly announced, “It’s time to read!” I explained to her that we would read, but first, we would pray and ask God to help us learn, and then we had a finger play to do, after which we would read from the Bible.

Those always are the first three things we do—pray, do the finger play, and read the Bible. (The finger play is a rhyme that teaches the sound of the letter we’re working on that week and reinforces the Bible story; for example, the first one started with “A-a-Adam! Can you believe? God made the animals, and you and me.” It has motions to help the student both enjoy and remember it.) After that, the activities vary a little from day to day. Every day, there’s a letter activity of some sort, a Bible activity that teaches other skills while coordinating closely with the Bible story, and a musical selection from The Singing Bible. Once a week, there is an art activity, an active exploration (for example, during the second week—“B/Noah’s Ark”—we put different items in the bathtub to see what floats and what doesn’t), a devotion from Big Thoughts for Little People, dramatic play (in which we act out the Bible story), and a math activity that also ties in to the Bible story (but that doesn't always have much to do with math).

Alexa always asks to read first, but I always refuse. The opening prayer isn’t part of the curriculum, but I believe it’s important, so we do that first anyway. I like to do the finger play next, as the curriculum is written, because it provides an overview of the whole week’s Bible lessons. The Bible story itself consists of what we adults would consider only part of the story—during week 2, we didn’t read the entire story of Noah in one day. Instead, we read it in five parts: Noah builds a big boat, the animals go into the boat, it rains for days and days, Noah and his family are safe, and proud men build the Tower of Babel (ok, this one didn’t totally fit the Noah-themed week, but I’m impressed with how well they’ve gotten each story into a five-day format). So by doing the finger play first, we get the overview; then we move into the specifics on which the rest of the day’s activities focus.

I honestly did not expect Alexa to enjoy school as much as she does. She often doesn’t like to do the wild, crazy physical play that’s typical of preschoolers, as she has an aversion to acting “silly,” so I expected her to resist the finger plays. Instead, she enjoys them, often asking to do them again, and she readily shows them to her Daddy in the evening. She also is learning from them—she already recognizes all of the letters, which limits the usefulness of some of the other activities, but she’s learning the sounds letters make through these finger plays. She also loves some of the other activities, during which she’s learning skills like cutting and gluing. And she’s still asking me to repeat last week’s active exploration activity—“Lexa wants to see what floats!”

I am happy that we chose to start school with Little Hands to Heaven. It’s very much the sort of activities I would expect in a good Christian preschool, but with the added benefit of being able to do it at home. We started out thinking of this curriculum as our test curriculum, to see if Alexa is ready for preschool (she most definitely is!), and as a supplement to whichever main (read: more expensive) curriculum we would choose. However, Alexa is doing so well and learning so much from this curriculum that I’m convinced it would serve well as a sole preschool curriculum.

We’re still not going to use it that way, though. The difference is that I’ve started thinking of the other curriculum—the one that was supposed to be the main one, with Little Hands as a supplement—as the supplemental curriculum, with Little Hands as the main one, providing the phonics and concentrated Bible learning that I want Alexa to have this year. I’m able to have this change in thinking because of another change we’ve decided to make.

Last time I posted about homeschooling, we had decided to use the preschool curriculum developed by Timberdoodlealthough a strong part of me still wanted so badly to use SonlightJust a few days after announcing that decision, I met a mother here who uses Sonlight to teach her now-kindergarten daughter. She kindly offered to loan us the instructor’s guide for Sonlight’s P3/4 (3/4-year-old preschool) curriculum so we could look over it and make a truly informed decision about its strengths and weaknesses. She told me that her daughter’s favorite subjects are math and science, and as a kindergartener, she’s learning basic addition and subtraction. I gratefully accepted the loan, and as I looked over the guide, I was surprised. While there really didn’t seem to be much math in there, the science books impressed me: Our Animal Friends at Maple Hills Farm and The Usborne Flip-Flap Body Book. There also was a book for social studies—Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day?—and there were poetry books. There even were a couple of games to help with spatial relationships (a math skill) and memory. The bulk of the curriculum did consist of fairy tales, classic children’s stories, and other literature, but the basic building blocks of science, social science, and even math were in there. Truth be told, I liked what I saw of Sonlight’s science better than what I saw of Timberdoodle’s.

As I looked through Sonlight’s P3/4 instructor guide, I felt more drawn to it than ever. I wanted Alexa to hear these stories. But I also wanted Alexa to have the best possible preparation for the most important task of school: learning to think critically—to understand, evaluate, and use information. So I looked again at the Timberdoodle curriculum, and I realized something: There are three reasons why I was so drawn to Timberdoodle in the first place. What are those reasons? Simply put, they are Language Lessons for Little Ones, Mathematical Reasoning, and Building Thinking Skills. There certainly are other things in the curriculum that look fun, educational, and interesting, but the main reason I had gotten hooked on the idea of Timberdoodle was these three workbooks that lay a groundwork for critical and mathematical reasoning skills. And I wanted Alexa to begin learning these skills early, just as much as I wanted her to hear and love those stories in the Sonlight curriculum.

I told Jeff what I had found in the Sonlight instructor’s guide. I told him what I had realized about the attraction that Timberdoodle held for me. I asked him to look through the Sonlight materials and to look again at the Timberdoodle website. I wasn’t confident that we had made the right decision, but I also wasn’t confident that we hadn’t. I needed his wisdom and his direction. Jeff looked at all the information I had found, and he agreed with my conclusions: We want the Sonlight curriculum, and we also want explicit teaching of those reasoning skills from the Timberdoodle workbooks.

So we have a new plan: We’re currently using, and will continue to use for this academic year, Little Hands to Heaven as our primary phonics and Bible curriculum. We have ordered Sonlight's P3/4 curriculum, and when it arrives, we will add it as a literature and science supplement; of course, we’ll use the full curriculum, so there will be more than literature and science added. Whenever we decide all three of us are ready—probably sometime next spring or summer—we will add the three workbooks from Timberdoodle as a critical thinking and mathematical reasoning supplement; we're not convinced that Alexa is ready for workbooks just yet. We don’t have a concrete plan for next fall, the beginning of Alexa’s PreK year, but there is a good chance that we’ll continue using some pieced-together curriculum consisting of parts (or all) of one or more curricula, plus an early handwriting program and possibly a beginning math program. We’ll decide the specifics of next year’s curriculum after we’re farther along into this year and can see more clearly what works best for our little learner*.

*Part of seeing more clearly what works best for our little learner will involve applying information that we expect to gather from Cathy Duffy’s book 101 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum, which I ordered last night on the recommendation of a friend who’s been homeschooling successfully for years. She told me that the first half of the book helps the reader to determine the learning styles of both the student and the teacher. It also introduces the reader to different philosophies of education and how those philosophies work with different learning and teaching styles. The remainder of the book reviews homeschool curricula with various approaches. After reading this book, we may decide to forsake all three of our current curricula, we may decide that we stumbled upon the right mix from the start, or we may decide anything in between.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

In Defense of Men

Over the last few months, I have heard and seen several things that have bothered me. Here are a few of them, the first five that come to mind:

  • On Facebook, I saw a male friend asking for recommendations for a new pediatric dentist. His reason for leaving his kids’ current dentist: He had not been allowed to make an appointment for his child, because “mothers should make appointments, not fathers.”

  • Also on Facebook, I’ve seen several memes regarding husbands, fathers, and men in general. I suppose they’re funny if you agree with the underlying premise that men are incapable dolts who have life easy … but if you don’t, they fall into the same category as jokes that make fun of people of different races, different religions, or different hair colors (I’m thinking blonde jokes)—you know, the ones that get you tarred and feathered for being offensive. Here are some examples:

Misandric Facebook Memes

  • Over Father’s Day weekend, I heard a chorus of well wishes for fathers … and also for single mothers, because they act as both father and mother to their children. Over Mother’s Day weekend, I heard not a word about fathers, single or otherwise.

  • In a conversation with a man who married, had a son, divorced, was a single father with custody (I believe), re-married, and now is happily married with multiple children, he expressed dread at the thought of watching the movie Courageous, widely acclaimed in Christian circles for its portrayal of husbands and fathers. His reason: when he was a single father, he experienced firsthand our society’s disdain for fathers and worship of mothers.  It was just as bad, if not worse, in the church as in society at large. I'm not sure that he mentioned the movie Fireproof, produced by the same church, but he could have, as it portrays pretty well the view that all problems in marriage are the husband's fault, regardless of the wife's behavior.

  • At church, I listened to a sermon on authority and how we should submit to proper authority whether we want to or not, because “there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Romans 13:1, ESV). The speaker talked about how we should submit to the government, whether we want to or not (Titus 3:1). The speaker talked about how we should submit to our supervisors at work, whether we want to or not (Ephesians 6:5-7). When it comes to submission within the family, however, there was no mention of wives submitting to husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24) or of children submitting to parents (Ephesians 6:1-3) except to lay the groundwork for talking about men’s obligation to love their wives as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25-28), which they are required to do perfectly enough that wives and children always will want to submit to them (???*).

I’m well aware that to the majority of people, only the first item in the list above is a problem. But do you see the pattern that I see? There is a general attitude of disrespect for men, and not just for specific men who have earned disrespect. Men seem to be disrespected unless and until they earn respect; meanwhile, it is assumed that women should be respected unless and until they prove otherwise, and they may well be considered deserving of respect even after they prove otherwise. This problem exists even in the place where I, for one, would have least expected it: the church. In fact, in my interactions with believers and non-believers, it seems that Christian women often show less respect for their husbands than do non-Christian women—but because they deliver their scathing criticisms with a joking smile, or in the guise of a prayer request, it’s perceived as perfectly acceptable. Christian men often do no better: they send “man up” messages that indicate that if only men were man enough, good enough, godly enough, then their wives would respect them. It’s the men’s fault, you see; if they aren’t respected, it’s because they haven’t earned it … but try treating a woman with disrespect until she earns something better. There’s a double standard here, and this one works in women’s favor.

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this trend is that people don’t notice it. The speaker at church didn’t even seem to notice that he placed unattainable leadership burdens on men while removing obligations from women. People don’t think twice about the little girl wearing a t-shirt that proclaims “Girls rule; boys drool!” or “Anything boys can do, girls can do better!” But change the genders on those shirts, and you’d have widespread outrage. When it’s come up in conversation and I’ve stated that Alexa is not allowed to wear shirts with this type of statement on them, I can predict the reactions: Almost all women and many men—almost all men if there are women other than me in earshot—look at me as if I’m crazy. Why in the world wouldn’t I want Alexa to absorb such empowering messages? But when I’m the only woman around … often, the men simply say “Thank you.”

Before we left Cambodia, a friend wrote me a very sweet note expressing her friendship and her appreciation for me. At one point, after acknowledging that this nomadic life can be difficult for me, she wrote: “But you speak, always, so highly of your husband, I never hear you complain, and I really admire how much of a team player you are with Jeff and his career.” It struck me then … I also never heard her complain about her husband, despite the difficulties she was facing as they entered the life of overseas missionaries, and many of my other friends there didn't either. Some did, one badly enough that even Jeff, who rarely saw her, noticed and took offense on behalf of her henpecked husband. But most didn’t. And yet, having grown up in the United States, surrounded by the influences there, it doesn't seem normal to us for women to refrain from complaining about their husbands. We were enmeshed in a small, self-selected community in which most of the women treated their husbands respectfully, and yet it remained noteworthy. Over the course of our lives, it has been rare for a woman not to complain about her husband, to make a conscious decision to share his strengths and help cover over his difficulties, to support his career; it has been rare enough that it was noted, even in a subgroup where it's much more common. Those things aren’t an incredible level of respect—those are the bare minimum courtesies that we should give each other if we claim to have any respect for each other at all.

I used to think it was funny to hear and read stories of the stupid things men did. Now I think about the men themselves—do they think it’s funny? Would they share those stories themselves? If Jeff gave me stories like that about himself, I wouldn't share them. None of us deserve to have our dirty laundry aired in front of the world, to experience that humiliation of knowing that all our friends know about our poor decisions or our incompetence at certain tasks. Yet women share these stories about their husbands all the time, and the world cheers them on.**

I used to sympathize with women who had such large problems with their husbands that they regularly shared prayer requests—full of information about his failings—with anyone who would listen, sometimes with an entire Sunday school class or even an entire congregation. Now, I more often sympathize with their husbands. Please don’t misunderstand; I do believe that it can be appropriate at times to request prayer for difficulties involving a spouse, but those situations should be handled carefully and discreetly, with specific prayer requested only from a single good friend who can keep it quiet and who generally is supportive of the marriage and of both spouses, or only from a pastor or other church leader. I’m a fan of the unspoken prayer request if more prayer support is needed.

I guess what it comes down to, simply, is that men deserve respect too. Men are capable human beings too. Men and women on average have different strengths and weaknesses, with significant individual variation, but just as we women don’t want men to judge us by our weaknesses, we shouldn’t judge them by theirs. Just as we don’t want humiliating stories about us shared with the world, we shouldn’t share humiliating stories about them. Just as we don’t want men to make fun of us, to criticize us publicly, or to make disparaging remarks about women in general, we shouldn’t do those things to men either.

Our society as a whole is hard to change for the better. It’s hard for any one normal, everyday person to change the way men are portrayed in movies and TV shows. It’s hard for any one normal, everyday person to remove the misandric messages from t shirts, Facebook memes, and cartoons marketed toward young girls. It’s not only hard; it’s impossible for one normal, everyday person to change those things.

But it is possible for one normal, everyday person to change his or her own life and sphere of influence. It is possible, and even relatively easy, for one person to refuse to watch movies and TV shows that portray men as incompetent buffoons. It is possible to refuse to buy misandric t shirts, to refuse to share or like misandric Facebook memes, to refuse to allow children to watch misandric cartoons. And it is possible—and crucial—for one person to change the way he or she speaks about and to men in general and the specific men in his or her life.

I know I’ve talked mostly to and about Christians in this post, and I haven’t said half of what’s been swirling around in my head for the last several months. But, please … whether or not you’re a Christian, whether or not you believe that wives should submit to their husbands, whether or not you’re a feminist … please, think about the words you say, the actions you take, and the products you purchase. Do you really believe the often unspoken premise? 

Think of the men you know—are they really incompetent buffoons? If they aren’t, don’t watch that sitcom that portrays them that way, and don't share that misandric cartoon or joke.

Ladies, think of your husband—is he really such a fool? And if he is, do you really want to broadcast it, because how does it reflect on you that you chose to marry a fool? If he isn’t, or you don’t, then don’t post that Facebook status telling the world about the stupid thing he just did, and don't tell your friends about his failings. Protect his dignity; it’s your dignity, too.

Pastors, think of the men in your congregation—are they really doing such a terrible job as husbands and fathers that they need you to heap more condemnation on them (even if it is in the form of “encouragement and tips on how to do better”) than they already get from society and maybe even from their wives? If they aren’t doing such a horrible job, then maybe you could try telling them what they’re doing right, the same way you tell women what they’re doing right, and maybe you could help both men and women by telling both men and women what they could do better.

Think about your words and your actions. Think about the beliefs that underlie them. And if those underlying beliefs are ones that you wouldn’t openly admit that you hold, then reconsider those words and those actions that flow from them. If you wouldn’t stand on a street corner and announce that your husband is an idiot, that all men are imbeciles, or that men are worth less than the paychecks they bring in, then please, don’t announce it in less direct ways either.

*The speaker seemed to think that this idea—that wives and children always will want to submit to a husband and father who is a good leader—flows directly from the instructions to men in Ephesians 5:25-28. I’m not sure where he came up with that fallacy. Ephesians instructs men to love their wives as Christ loves the church; Christ is to be their example. But when you look at the example of Christ and the church, you see that despite Christ’s perfection—which extends to His role as leader; He’s the perfect leader—we as Christians do not always want to submit to His will, even though His will always is the best thing for us and even though we are commanded to submit. If Christ’s perfect leadership isn’t good enough to make us always want to submit to Him, then it’s pretty clear that the quality of the leadership isn’t the problem—we just don’t want to submit, period. Wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, with no escape clause in case he isn’t a good leader; that’s why I advise women to be very careful whom they marry and to be sure that they’re willing to submit to their future husbands before they become wives. (I know that many of my readers, Christian or not, do not believe in wifely submission. If you are not a Christian, I fully expect you to disregard this advice, even though a Captain-First Officer model of marriage also works very well for non-religious couples. If you are a Christian and do not believe in wifely submission, or believe in a pretense of it in which the wife is required to submit only when the husband is leading her where she wants to go, then ... I'm at a loss, as the Bible is very clear and explicit in this command.)

**I'm not a complete killjoy; I do recognize that there are some hilarious stories that the men themselves are willing to share, and of course I don't object to the men sharing them, or to their wives sharing them with the husband's approval.