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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Ann Voskamp

Why I've let my cleaning lady go

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” bucks the feminist manifesto and says what many mothers have long known to be true. There is no having it all. Something always gives. While I don’t agree with all of Slaughter’s assumptions or conclusions, I like her assessment that the women we consider as “having it all” are either: a. Self-employed

b. Rich

c. Superwomen

I’m grateful for Slaughter’s upfront admission that we can’t really make her life - or Sheryl Sandberg’s life (COO of Facebook) or Marissa Mayer’s life (CEO of Yahoo) for that matter - any kind of point of comparison for the rest of us, who don’t have the means to afford round-the-clock childcare or housekeeping.

But even if we were to eliminate rich from our calculus, we still have that nagging category of superwomen, those built from some kind of superior bionic material.

Women like Ann Voskamp.

Ann Voskamp writes a beautiful blog, has published a bestselling book, travels and speaks for Compassion International, and homeschools her six beautiful children.

If all this (extraordinarily humble, I might add) accomplishment weren’t enough, on her blog, Voskamp alludes to trysts with the Farmer.

Where, oh where, does she find the energy?

In this article, Ann explains her process for writing, one aspect of her life that I find myself particularly interested in. Apparently, she’s up with the roosters and farmhands (a.k.a. her children) at 5 a.m., writing a couple of hours in the morning before her long day of homeschooling and housework begins. She’s back at the computer at 9 p.m., often writing until 2 a.m.

And what does her life’s example have me thinking?

I am a schmuck.

The truth is, these discussions of women having-it-all and the comparisons they engender produce an inevitable kind of self-reproach. And that self-reproach is likely unmerited. Comparisons of one life to another are the absolute WORST standard of measurement. We simply cannot understand and measure all the variables of another woman's life.

Take again as an example, Ann Voskamp. Yes, the woman is, by all accounts of those who’ve met her and heard her speak, filled with the Spirit of Jesus. And we know what Jesus does with the bread and fish of our lives given in His hands. He multiplies them. I’ve long believed this – that though my resources are greatly inadequate, surrendered to Him, they can become sufficient for the purposes for which He intends. Voskamp is a shining example of this: capacity increased for the glory of God.

It is also true that the month before her book deadline, Farmer husband assumed the responsibility for ALL of the housework, laundry, cooking and homeschooling.


Families are equations, and one helpful husband can go a long way toward contributing what a woman is able to do outside of the home. I’m not advocating that this is necessarily their role, just simply stating that this is the way many women accomplish what they do. They have someone at home helping.

Which leads me to the reason I titled this post, “Why I’ve let my cleaning lady go.” For seven years, I’ve had help with my housekeeping. I’ve shelled out thousands of dollars to have someone help me scrub my toilets and mop my floors. Weekly.

I want to feel guilty about it. According to Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing up Bébé, we American women make an Olympic sport out of guilt. We valorize it, says Druckerman. That is, we actually feel better for feeling guilty. It soothes us, this rhythm of guilt. If we can’t fix the causes of our inadequacy, at least we can wallow in it.

But I want to tell you I’m letting my cleaning lady go, less to assuage my stricken conscience, and more to dispel the “superwoman” myth. I am often called this, though I know this has less to do with who I am or what I accomplish, and more to do with the fact that I have five children. People just tend to assume there is something heroic and saintly about you when you have lots of kids.

As I’ve now admitted to you, I’ve had help. Invisible help. You didn’t know to factor that into the equation, did you, when you felt that reflexive impulse to compare your life with mine? And now you know: I’m not superwoman, just a woman with a little bit of means. I guess Slaughter was right after all.

For the last seven years, I’ve been buying back time with the help I’ve hired: time to write, time to serve, time to have people into my home, and discretionary time to paint my toenails. My husband is not Farmer: his job is year-round demanding and inflexible. That’s the equation of our family, which is why for the past seven years I’ve hired outside help rather than relying on him. (I don't mean to make him sound unwilling, just busy.)

This fall, because all of the children will be in school full-time, I’ll have the time that I, for the last seven years, have been buying back and no longer need the outside help.

I could be made to feel guilty about that, too. But that’s a topic for another day’s post.

Suffice it to say that most of the women we think to be "superwomen" aren't. And feeling like a schmuck next to these women is inordinately unhelpful. It's produces self-incrimination of the worst kind, resulting often in paralysis. If I can't do it like them, I shan't even try.

Remember that your family is a unique equation.

Remember that God grants each woman varying capacities.

Remember that comparisons are lethal.

Stay faithful in your particular calling and context.

And most importantly, hear the gospel's invitation to lay down your pursuit of the cape. There are NO superwomen in the kingdom. Just children and the least of these.








Guest Post by Audrey Michel: "Gulp. . ."

Audrey posted this yesterday on her blog: I thought it needed public comment from me. . . "Those of you who have read my Mom's blogs, you probably know why I put that title. You're probably thinking,"Wow, Audrey, you FINALLY published a post. Your Mom does it practically every day." Exactly. It's not exactly easy having a mom who:

1. Never gets writer's block.

2. Always gets her writing done.

3. Stays focused.

4. Can write about her guilt and shame in two seconds.

5. Uses perfect metaphors.

6. Publishes every or every other day.

7. Can whip a story from the smaller things.

8. Has access to the juiciest news articles and reports.

9. Knows about a million pastors.

10. Follows God perfectly.

(End of blog post.)

So, my darling daughter, eleven and blooming with beauty. You are a treasure, a joy, but as I told you yesterday, it's not fair for you to compare yourself to me. I've lived twenty-seven years longer. That's more grey hair to my credit. . .as well as a bit more practice writing.

But you're said something we all think: we secretly worry that we're never to be as good as the person we admire (and sometimes hate).

Which brings me to the question of hard work and commitment. Can any of us ever have anything without working for it (Jesus' love excepted?)

The daily writing I've been doing here (well, almost daily) is commitment, plain and simple. Not talent, not magic, not steel-plated courage. Just yesterday, I drove through traffic and decided that I was fooling no one. I was not a writer and should give up this stupid game of pretending. Had we been back in Toronto, it would have been a day to fight the temptation to throw my laptop to the bottom of Lake Ontario. Here in Montreal, I suppose I'll have to settle for the Lachine Canal.

Audrey, listen to me. Your life is a garden: good things grow by the sweat of your brow and the rain that falls from heaven. Sweat, rain; work, rest. God's grace will prompt you to DO things (grace, grace, begin always there) and do them you must, with as much courage and commitment as you can. For me, that thing is writing. It's not always fun. It's not usually easy. And while sometimes there's magic spun, it's not usually so. That's OK, too.

And by the way, I've borrowed that garden metaphor from Ann Voskamp. It's this morning that I read this from her book: "I may have always known that change takes real intentionality, like a woman bent over her garden beds every day with a spade and the determined will to grow up something good to strengthen the hearts." 

So I'm not as clever as you think I'm am. I'm just reading, listening, trying to pay attention to my life and God who is present and near. Today, I have this word from the Scriptures: "But I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father" (John 14:31). There it is again: listen, do. Rain, sweat. Grace and effort growing like tall shade trees in your garden.

I love you. Keep writing, daughter.

(And P.S., does knowing a lot of pastors help someone write better?)



"Time is a relentless river. It rages on, a respecter of no one. And this, this is the only way to slow time: When I fully enter time's swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. I can slow the torrent by being all here. I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. And when I'm always looking for the next glimpse of glory, I slow and enter. And time slows. Weigh down this moment in time with attention full, and the whole of time's river slows, slows, slows. . . And blind eyes see: It's this sleuthing for the glory that slows a life gloriously. It's plain, bubble straight through: Giving thanks for one thousand things is ultimately an invitation to slow time down with weight of full attention. In this space of time and sphere, I am attentive, aware, accepting the whole of the moment, weighing it down with me all here."

--Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Counting my own gifts this quiet morning:

161. mentors whose acquaintance I might never make, authors who've given of their words and shaped me

162. pockets of quiet in my day for writing

163. loud and boisterous giggles as two small boys wrestle

164. a daughter asking night after night, "Can we talk?"

165. a husband listening, really listening

166. friends across years and maps

167. Your unbelievably MARVELOUS timing

168. warm radiators, down comforters, cozy slippers

169. more freedom, less fear

170. an invitation for dinner, all SEVEN of us!

171. the hard work of committing: and Your Spirit to gently encourage and prod

172. a writers' retreat in the future and a friend to make the long drive with

173. crispy bacon

174. fevers gone, and a little girl with color back in her cheeks

175. Big Love: for my messes and failures and greatest hypocrisies

176. writing: to find and be found

177. the perfect fall beauty - leaves still clinging to trees and bright sun to warm the afternoon hours

178. encouragement

179. provision and impermanence

180. a quiet Saturday morning - everyone still tucked in

Catching Your Breath

God's way with us is waiting. A friend, speaking at a local women's event, had, in six words, summed up profound spiritual truth.

In the last several days, when in my best efforts to race and accomplish and check something off my list, I've been halted. Stopped. Forced to wait.

I've waited behind long lines of traffic as I've slowed to a stop because a noon-day construction project is underway. (Really? Must we repair the roads in the middle of the day? Can we be less considerate to those of us demanding that time surrender to our relentless demands?)

I've waited at the deli counter. He's new and friendly, I tell myself, all the while staring down the manager's smiling picture who promises me the best service and the highest quality products. I compose a speech I will deliver when I fortune to meet him, apprising him as to how more efficiently train his employees and staff his deli counter. The minutes evaporate, and when the sliced turkey is handed to me and he apologizes for the delays, I nod and assure him, "No problem." Liar.

I wait at the post office. Audrey had gathered rocks from our camping trip (in September!) and had packaged them each individually in envelopes for her friends in the States. I have exactly nine minutes to accomplish this errand before I race to pick the twins up from preschool. The women behind the counter feels each envelope quizzically.

"What are you mailing here?"


"Oh no, I'm sorry, but these aren't properly packaged at all." And then she begins to meticulously explain which bubbled envelope would have been more appropriate, how much they'll each cost to send, and I'm wearing my, oh-thank-you-for-your-helpfulness kind of smile, while the clocks on the wall inform me of the minutes ticking away in Tokyo, Paris, London, and New York. I don't have time for this, but there's absolutely no interrupting her.

I race and I hurry, and it doesn't matter that I'm no longer homeschooling or that the writing project is finished because there's. never. enough. time.

Ann Voskamp's words from her book, One Thousand Gifts, have articulated what I've long felt.

"I speak it to the God: I don't really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to laugh long, time to give You glory and rest deep and sing joy and just enough time in a day not to feel hounded pressed, driven, or wild to get it all done - yesterday. . .  I just want time to do my one life well."

And so I realize that I've been racing these past ten years of raising this brood of kids. It's a game I've played and mastered: how to squeeze one more efficient minute from this, my tube of time. And here, in this new season of kids in school and three quiet mornings a week to myself, time has slowed, but I'm still breathing hard. It's what I've known. It's familiar to me.

And I learn that breathing is hardly involuntary. Catching my breath will take resolve. Slowing is a discipline. Waiting is a gift.