A Screwtape Letter to a 2020 Mom

My dear Wormwood,

I’m delighted to hear how well it’s going with your subject- this young mother of yours.

Although, I must admit, you mentioned something in your last letter that I believe demands more of your attention. You mentioned she joined a tennis group? This may seem like a little thing, but it very well may be a doorway into her prioritizing her own needs, which we cannot permit.

The good news is, the motherhood department here has been working tirelessly for decades building a cage for mothers- a cage made of their own guilt. Guilt will be the name of the game, a tool you must never stop utilizing on your subject. I believe it will be easy enough to guilt her into quitting her tennis club.

(You seem to be on the right track on the guilt front already, I got a good chuckle when you mentioned that you even got your subject to feel guilt over listening to music instead of a spiritual talk while she cleaned her house. Hilarious!)

Your subject’s religiosity will play nicely into our goals with guilt. What you want to do (and this should be quite easy) is every single time she gets an idea to do something for someone else- her kids, her husband, her neighbor, the PTA, anyone- make her think that idea comes directly from God every time. Then, she will start to feel immense guilt every time she fails to seize the opportunity, which will be plentiful. And here’s the real key- you must then make her think that her guilt and shame comes from God too. You know as well as I that that side is incapable of producing shame, but the religious are very confused about this. This confusion has been playing into our hands for centuries. (curse that Brene Brown woman for her counter-shame movement!)

Then whenever your subject gets an idea to do something for herself- take a bath, read a book, go out to lunch with friends, join a tennis group, anything she would enjoy just for herself – make her think this is selfish and does not come from God. While these ideas do not come from our side, as you know, make her think they do. Have her put everyone else’s schedules, needs and desires before her own. When she is tempted to ask for something she wants, gently whisper in her ear the word “selfish.” Even if it is just for 30 minutes a day! Always make her think it is selfish.

We’ve been working for decades disguising the cage of relentless selflessness for women as moral truth- relying heavily on the idea that a woman’s entire purpose and identity is to be a wife and mother. And while these roles do produce genuine love, affection and fulfillment, we twist it so its so wildly off balance that once she becomes a mother, she disappears. Poof. Just like that, she’s no longer a person. She is just a pair of hands. Just a shoulder to cry on. Just a listening ear. Just a maid, a chef, a chauffeur, a servant to do the bidding of everyone around her.

When I brought this up before, you assumed that surely she would just ask her husband, friends or family for help. As surely you’ve noticed, we’ve been quite skillful in spreading the idea that moms SHOULD be able to do EVERYTHING without help. A few decades ago, things were a little easier for moms. They sent their kids out to play all day guilt-free, they didn’t take as much personal responsibility for their kids’ constant success, they didn’t feel the need to prevent every failure and sadness, and worst of all, they often formed tight-knit communities of support and assistance. We were negligent I admit, but now? Well, now, I’m quite proud of our team’s efforts in the cages we’ve built for moms. She must do everything, be everything for her kids, never let them fail, never let them be upset or sad or disappointed AND she must never ask for help. The community department’s work ensuring lack of community and neighborhood cohesion have been working tremendously in our favor I must admit.

Heck, moms these days won’t even let their kids watch TV anymore without guilt! We’ve got them so convinced that putting their children in front of television and video games means they are failing as mothers, that they feel bucket loads of guilt for screen time even while they cook or clean. Even though their own studies are showing that moms are devoting more time to their children than they ever have in history, STILL moms think they should be spending all day with them with no breaks or help at all. I must admit, we get quite a kick out of this. We’ve got it so that even when a mom takes a fun vacation without her children, instead of relaxing and enjoying herself, she feels so guilty for not being with her kids that she won’t even enjoy the trip!

And if she ever does get it in her head that maybe she deserves a little more fun or help, always point her in the direction of someone who needs MORE help or MORE fun than she does. She’ll think, “Well, at least I’m not like so-and-so.” Comparison always plays to our favor- whether she finds herself superior or inferior- we work with both.

I mentioned in my last letter that in my experience, the two most powerful tools to use on women are the titles of “selfish” and “fat.” You asked what “fat” has to do with anything. And the answer is …… Nothing! Absolutely nothing my dear wormwood! But we’ve essentially got this so locked down for women, we’ve got them fearing weight-gain so much, that there is no need to do virtually any work on this front. Society basically ensures that she will be so afraid of becoming fat, so full of shame when she gains even 10 pounds, that we’ve kept women locked in shame around their bodies for centuries. It keeps them from making friends, from joining hobby groups, from starting businesses, from having sex, from believing in themselves. Basically, it works on auto-pilot now. You’re welcome. Ha ha ha ha, just think of what women could do and become if they stopped spending such copious amounts of time and energy fixating on improving the appearance of their bodies! They’d have taken over the world by now. Oh, its such fun to watch Wormwood!

Always keep the big picture in mind, our goal is to keep her locked in insecurity by never letting her know her own self-worth. Make sure you tie her sense of self-worth to her children’s happiness and success everyday. Tie it to her to-do list as well. Make her think she is worthless unless she is productive, unless her house is clean and modern, unless her clothes are fashionable, unless her body looks like as it when she was 16 years old, unless her children are making top grades, have lots of friends, never fight with their siblings, always do just what they are asked when they are asked, and eat kale. And if she is ever tempted to ask for help, remind her that she is worthless unless she does all of this herself. Whenever she fails to accomplish any of those things, remind her that all of her friends can do them all effortlessly so there so something wrong with her and she should hide herself.

Above all, never, ever let her know of her innate, unconditional worth. Never, ever let her start listening to her inner wisdom. Always have her search outside of herself for her worth and for her answers.

I must go now Wormwood, but next letter, I will answer your questions about her relationship with her husband- there are so many misunderstandings working in our favor on that front!

Affectionately yours,

A Third Way

A few years ago, on some of my readers’ recommendations, I read the book “How to Not Hate Your Husband After Kids.” I mostly read it to review on my blog (and was ready to make it clear to anyone that who saw me reading the book that I do not in fact hate my husband).

I never did write that review. Why?

Because I kind of hated that book at the time. Actually I despised it. It brought up VERY uncomfy truths. Truths that I tried to stuff way down in the dark so I wouldn’t have to confront them.

It was chock full of statistics and studies like the one that showed that single women with no children did a little more than 10 hours of housework a week, and married women with no children did a little more than 17 hours a week. The only difference? The presence of a husband, which costs women seven hours of housework a week. For men, the situation is reversed. They did LESS housework once married.

Or the one that showed that despite more and more women entering the workplace – working and earning the same amount as their husbands- they were still doing twice as much childcare and housework than their husbands.

Or the one by the labor department that showed that husbands, on average report spending almost double the amount of time on “leisure activities” than their wives each week.

Like, how dare this author point out all these things that I was ACTIVELY trying to ignore? The nerve.

I wasn’t ready to face these things yet. I felt like my peace and stability relied on my ignorance. If I owned up to the facts, that women are not treated as equals in their own homes, I would become a ball of raging hellfire. I would never come out of it. I could do nothing to fix it so I would ignore it. I NEEDED to ignore it.

When things went wrong, I could take personal responsibility for them! I could listen to my life coach podcasts and just change my thoughts! Yes yes my thoughts are what is wrong here! Surely my thoughts were all to blame for this nagging sense of hierarchy of which there were two positions and I was on the bottom.

Just think happy thoughts, think happy thoughts.

And that worked sometimes.

But slowly things started to rip at the seams. You see my bubble of ignorance where my own thoughts were always to blame for all my struggles left out one important factor: SYSTEMS. Yes we are responsible for our own thoughts but our thoughts do nothing to explain or examine SYSTEMS. Systems built centuries ago to keep men thriving. Systems we are still living with today.

And if women’s struggles were all the fault of the individual woman- I started to notice some patterns that looked awfully coincidental….

I noticed an awful lot of moms whose husbands get to take sick days and lay in bed all day but when the mom get sick? Their days must look exactly the same because who else will make lunch for the kids and put the baby down? I noticed sick days don’t exist for mothers.

I noticed an awful lot of women who before they go running in the morning or go to a girl’s night must first ask their husband for permission. Meanwhile, there would be no need for him to ask his wife for permission to spend his time how he wants.

I noticed too many women whose husbands get to leave on week long work trips or fishing trips with literally nothing else to do but book a flight and pack. Meanwhile if she wants to go on a trip for even one night, she has to ask a neighbor to babysit the littles during the day, hire a sitter for the afternoon, make freezer meals beforehand so people will know what to eat, and beg and then thank her husband profusely for “watching the kids” and “being such a nice husband.”

I know too many of these women (heck I AM often one of these women) to think that it is all our thoughts that are the cause of our burnout. That’s not fair. We can be BOTH responsible for our own thoughts AND acknowledge that they system we live in is not set up to help wives and mothers thrive as much as husbands and fathers.

It is easier to stay asleep to these systems because what to do when you wake up? Be an angry blazing fireball of feminine hellfire? I mean, we’re not ruling that out but that’s not very appealing to most women. Most women don’t want to be a raging ball of hellfire so they suppress their anger. They stuff down their frustration. They turn a blind eye to the inequality in their own homes. They keep the peace.

Does this mean women are never jerk faces to their husbands? Of course not.

Does this mean all men are taking advantage of their wives? Certainly not.

It means that we need to acknowledge that we’re coming fresh off of CENTURIES of gender dynamics where women were literally considered the property of their husbands.

And we don’t recover from that in just a few years’ time. We don’t recover from that in a few generations’ time.

We don’t need to stay asleep to truth. We don’t need to ignore the presence and history of unfair systems. Because doing so will keep us stuck repeating patterns that have no goodness or beauty in them. We can’t change what we won’t SEE.

The truth will set us free.

It will just piss us off first.

Here’s the main point I wish to make today: our only options are NOT either resentful accommodation to keep the peace OR raging hellfire. Our choices are not either to be a doormat or to be a blaming critic. We do not have to choose between staying asleep or ripping our husbands a new one.

There is a third way.

The third way is called integrity. It is called mature love. It is eyes wide open. It involves being educated about our history and our present and not running from the reality of patriarchal systems and norms in our world. It looks like not supporting oppressive systems. It looks like becoming equal partners with our husbands instead of submissive peacekeepers.

It looks like loving our choice in companion AND holding them to a higher standard of integrity so we can create something MORE beautiful together. It looks like making room for two people’s dreams in a marriage, not just the man’s.

How do we begin?

The path to the third way begins with knowing our own self-worth deep down in our bones. It begins by KNOWING we are worthy of respect and we are worthy of our desires. We hold fast to that self worth and then present it to our spouse with strong backs, soft fronts and heads held high. It looks like taking Brene’s advice to not shrink, not puff up, but standing our sacred ground.

And (here’s an uncomfy one) it looks like recognizing that we’ve been complicit in a system that runs on the fuel of continuous sacrifice of women. And recognizing we no longer want to be complicit in this system.

It looks like telling the truth about how we feel and asking for what we want without apology AND without resorting to criticism and blame. It looks like respect. It looks like courage.

And most of all, it looks like love.

It looks like love for your spouse AND yourself AND the system you are creating together.

I believe there is a more beautiful existence out there for us, let’s forge it.

Want happy kids with a high self worth and a healthy sexuality, who love themselves and hate racism??

In the past six years of blogging, I’ve learned a little secret of how to get people to care about whatever marriage principle I’m writing about:

Include some benefit for their kids.

I’ve learned when I say things like, “Hey, studies have shown that the strength of your closest relationship does more to predict your life expectancy than your health, air quality or income.” People say, “Oh interesting.”

But when I say, “Hey, studies have shown that the stronger your marriage, the happier and more stable your kids turn out.” People say, “WHAT?!?! HOW CAN WE STRENGTHEN OUR MARRIAGE?!?!”

By FAR the most feedback and interest on my weekly Sex Question Wednesdays is not when I talk about how to make our sex lives better, it’s when when I talk about how to make our KIDS have a healthier sexuality.

Likewise, when I talk about negative emotion intolerance, my audience shrugs indifferently. But when I say “here’s how we increase our kids’ negative emotion intolerance”….. those are some of my most popular posts.

I find this phenomenon fascinating. It never fails. I don’t have a mommy blog, but I can see why mommy blogs VASTLY outnumber marriage blogs.

Its as if we’ve given up on our ourselves and all our hopes and dreams now lie with our kids.* We care FAR more about our kids’ happiness than we do about our marital happiness. The irony of course is that a happy marriage IS how you raise happy kids.

Speaking of ironies, here’s a few more:
– The way we teach our kids emotional regulation IS TO BE EMOTIONALLY REGULATED OURSELVES!
– The only way to teach our kids that sex is positive and beautiful is if SEX IS ACTUALLY A POSITIVE AND BEAUTIFUL THING IN OUR LIVES!
– The way we set our kids up to develop healthy stable relationships, is TO MODEL A HEALTHY STABLE RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR SPOUSE!

We cannot fake this.

Believe me, I have tried.

I’ve tried to get my kids to care about cleaning. But my attempts to make them care about keeping their rooms tidy when mine consistently looks like Hurricane Lazy just blew through, fall flat.

In the end, who we are and what we care about, not what we say, is what is going to influence our kids.

Personal story time.

This summer, I’ve seen a lot of questions and discussions on how to talk to our kids about race. These are good and appropriate questions and discussions, but here’s the thing, unless we, their parents, actually truly care about racial equality, our kids won’t either. They’re not going to remember those three conversations we initiated, they’ll remember and internalize the hundreds of conversations we had about the house or the neighbors or whatever it is that is on our mind all the time and pops out of our mouths without forethought.

Many, many years ago for a book club we read Nurture Shock. In the chapter about race it said it’s not enough to say to our kids, “everyone is equal, we love everyone.” They mentioned a study where a first grade class was arbitrarily divided in half. Half wore red shirts all week, the other half blue. At the end of the week, researchers asked each group a series of questions. Both groups reported thinking that their shirt color group was smarter, kinder, harder working and better in every way than the other color. If we don’t PROACTIVELY teach our kids otherwise, they will have this same tendency with skin color, especially factoring in white privilege. We have to teach them the history of oppression and privilege.

I read this and can honestly say this was the first time I put any real thought into what I was doing to teach my kids about race. I felt called out. I thought I was doing good to say, “Everyone is equal, we love everyone.” I didn’t know what else TO say. It seemed so tricky and hard to talk to them about it. I didn’t want to accidentally say the wrong thing.

Fast forward seven years and I care now about racism in a way I never did then. I started noticing and caring and reading; and with time, I started to see my own privilege bubble. To say I’m embarrassed by my former small-mindedness is an understatement.

All that to say, now I care about racial equality. And I care not just to make my kids anti-racist, but I strive FOR ME to be anti-racist, independent of any benefit to them. I’m not saying I’m perfect or I’m doing enough, it will be a life-long endeavor, but I do CARE.

So this summer talking to my kids about race felt like a night and day difference to talking with them seven years ago. It doesn’t feel tricky or hard. I don’t stop to wonder if I’m saying the wrong thing. I don’t scratch my head and think, “What do I say?” It feels more like, “How can I NOT talk to them about something that is consuming so many of my thoughts?” I don’t flounder for words, I say what is on my mind and heart. They saw me crying when footage of George Floyd broke. They cried with me. Our conversations never felt forced or awkward or formal, they flowed as a natural extension of something I care about.

Yet another personal story:

I experienced the exact same thing in teaching my kids about sex. With my oldest, I was so nervous and anxious, so desperate to say just the right words- to get her excited, but not too excited, ya know? It felt so tricky. My confidence in my ability to tread these waters was so low, that I actually copied an exact script from a how to talk to your kids about sex book and brought NOTE CARDS to have a conversation with my daughter. Yikes…..

As if I thought my words would speak louder than the anxiety oozing out of my tone, dripping off my body language, flowing from the formal awkwardness, and duh, my note cards.

I was hoping to bring my daughter up past my own level of development. I was hoping to instill in her a positive relationship with something I didn’t yet have.

(and I know there are a few of you out there with this same hope, since when I told of this epic failure in my stories, not 1, not 2, but FOUR of you DM’d me asking for my script……. 😛 )

Over the next few years I did a lot of work in improving my own relationship with my own sexuality. Consequently, teaching my second daughter about sex didn’t feel forced or awkward. And it isn’t just a one-time conversation, it’s an on-going flow of something I think a lot about. My excitement for her sexual development is genuine instead of laced with palpable anxiety.

This I know: if we want to teach our kids to love themselves, we don’t do it by finding the right words to teach them about love – WE LOVE OURSELVES.
If we want to teach them forgiveness, WE FORGIVE.
If we want to teach them to apologize effectively, WE APOLOGIZE.
If we want our kids to be good spouses one day- WE BECOME A GOOD SPOUSE.
If we want our kids to care about racial equality, we have to care first.
If we want our kids to have healthy sexuality- WE must develop a healthy relationship with our own sexuality.

Good parenting doesn’t look like I once thought it would- it doesn’t look like endless self-sacrifice, rigid discipline and formal sit down teaching sessions. It’s so tempting to believe that if we set enough rules and have the right scripts, we can control our kids turning out just the way we want.

But rather, good parenting, I’m realizing, looks an awful lot like letting go of trying to control my kids and refocusing those efforts onto my own learning and growing and developing into the kind of human I hope they one day become.


*Friendly reminder, we are worthy of having dreams and developing ourselves even if there wasn’t one lick of benefit for our kids. We are worth self development for our own sake! I mean our own development and pursuing our dreams will ironically always benefit our kids, but even if that weren’t true, we’re allowed to develop for our own sake!

The Danger of My Anger…… Intolerance

Do you want to hear about something I was so epicly wrong about that I’ll never get over it??

I was wrong about anger.

I used to think I was morally superior to people because I never got angry.

When people in my life or online would be angry I would skip along my merry way preaching “Always accept. Always forgive. Never be angry.” La la la la la

via tenor

It was nice and cozy in my happy little bubble of anger suppression.

I used to delete social media and news apps whenever heated things were happening (cough, cough election season). My finger was so quick to click “mute” on my friends who posted their political opinions with exclamation points and caps lock.

I couldn’t hear and consequently didn’t try to understand VALID concerns because all I could hear was anger.

I thought this was because I was the ultimate peacemaker.

I listened to my calming apps. I meditated. I would look at the yelling and arguing and think, “Can’t we all just get along?”


I would pat myself on the back smugly thinking, “Good job self! Good on you for being above getting angry over things. You know that worse than any political/moral issue is fighting and anger.”

I can see where I was coming from, but ultimately, I was wrong.

There ARE very legitimate reasons for folks to be angry. My intolerance to anger didn’t protect me from its influence, it actually kept me stuck. It kept me from LEARNING and GROWING. My intolerance to anger wasn’t a virtue of mine, it was a roadblock. It kept me from needed growth through self-confrontation, listening and putting myself into someone else’s shoes.

I’ve learned that tolerance of anger is like a superpower.

Now, instead of running away from difficult topics with my hands up screaming, “Aahhhhh! Anger! Must flee!” I can listen. I can make it not about me. I can look PAST someone’s anger to discover the longing and dreams they are expressing UNDERNEATH their anger (I mean not always, I am human). I can SIT WITH MY OWN anger without needing to suppress it or numb it (I mean again with the human thing).

Upping my anger tolerance has been so critical to my growth as a human.

So, how does one gain this super power of anger tolerance?

I don’t have a formula, all I have is my story.

Sit down.

I will tell you my tale.


Sitting with my angry self

So there I was skipping along in my never-angry land of bunnies and rainbows (which some therapists call toxic positivity land….. killjoys.)

The suppression and blocking out were working pretty well until a few years ago, I finally met my match.

I finally had something in my life that I just. couldn’t. get. over. All of my self-help books and life coach podcasts were failing me!

Why couldn’t I get over this?!

I was so unfamiliar and ill-equipped at dealing with my own anger, that I finally admitted to myself I needed some outside help. I set an appointment with a therapist.

I went in with my pen clicked and my notebook open.

Ok doc, hit me with my 3-step program to get over my anger please. Where’s your pamphlet on forgiveness and acceptance? Just tell me how to get rid of my anger and I’ll do it!


Instead of my requested ‘here’s how to get over your anger in 3 easy steps’ pamphlet, she responded, “What if instead of convincing yourself out of your anger, you sit with it? What if you become it’s student? What if you ask your anger what it’s trying to teach you?”

Say whaaa?

I don’t have conversations with my anger! I jump on its head Donald Duck style, until it goes down so deep inside of me that no one has to see it or confront it (including me).

But she assigned me to use my little notebook to become a student of my own anger- to notice what triggers it and write it down. To notice how it feels in my body and write it down.

And I’m nothing if not a good student.

And do you know what? It turns out my anger wasn’t my selfishness unleashing itself and parading all over my best self. It wasn’t my ego vomiting up my inner darkness I tried so hard to stuff down.

Rather the anger I couldn’t shake was all about injustice, people being treated poorly. It was about incorrect information and oppression. My anger wasn’t a selfishness parade, it was more like my conscience tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Hey, something isn’t right here, pay attention to this please.”

Turns out my anger is actually pretty smart.

I learned so much about myself by journaling out my triggers and sitting with my anger.

When I didn’t have to fear my anger, it could teach me. When I didn’t have to numb my anger, it didn’t hold its power over me.

Over time, my therapist helped me see a glaring truth- it wasn’t other people’s anger that was the problem, it was my own intolerance of anger that was the real problem.

And I was SO SURE other people’s anger was the problem!



Because, gosh its easier to live in happy la la land and dismiss angry people (including myself).
When I learned this, I started seeing how my own anger intolerance kept me stuck in every area of my life (if you didn’t follow directions up there when I told you to sit down, take a seat now, these might hit close to home):


This one is tender, I’m still very much working on it. But my #1 mistake in parenting isn’t too much screen time or a lack of quality time with them or not teaching them responsibility, it’s anger intolerance.

When I am intolerant of their anger:

  • I give in to their whining just to keep the peace.
  • I teach them to numb their own feelings with food and screens because I am uncomfortable with them.
  • I appease the loudest child instead of treating them all equally.
  • I take their tantrums personally and make it about me.
  • My interventions in their arguments aim to stop the fighting, not forge connection and reparation.
  • I make them afraid of their own feelings because I am afraid of them.
  • I teach them not to listen to their hearts, but to obey so that everyone (including mom) is happy.
  • I teach them that anger and sadness is a problem to be fixed instead of an important and natural part of life to learn from.


I’m working on it.


Right. Remember that bit at the top of this essay when I talked about how I used to think myself morally superior to people who got angry…….?

Guess how this tendency served my marriage?

On a scale from no big deal to big yikes?

It’s a big yikes.

I used to think I didn’t have to listen to Rich when he was angry. I got to be the smug one telling him to “just calm down.” If he was angry, he was in the wrong.

You know Dr. John Gottman? That psychologist who can predict whether or not a couple will get divorced with 91% accuracy? One of the main ways he makes these predictions is by counting how many times a bid for attention or connection gets responded to and how many times it is dismissed or ignored.

He found that happily married couples respond to their partner’s bids for attention or connection 86% of the time. Couples that would later divorce? They only responded to each other’s bids for connection 22% of the time.

One of the main reasons couples turn away instead of turning toward each others’ bids is because often bids for attention can be wrapped in anger.

It is easy to dismiss a bid to clean up your socks or for more free time when the person requesting says it in anger, but it’s still a bid.

Marriage masters are able to see what the longing underneath the anger is, and respond to that instead of the anger.

I’m working on it.


This is another tender one.

The amount of times I should have backed someone up in person or online but kept quiet because I didn’t want to appear like I supported anger?

The number of times I dismissed someone’s opinion because they cursed while saying it?

The number of times I judged people’s opinion because they sounded angry?

The number of times I didn’t trust myself to state my own opinion because I didn’t want to appear as an angry cynic??

These numbers make my heart hurt.

I’m working on it.

Lest you think the whole point of this post is to say, “Everyone should be angry MORE!”


I must say I think Brene Brown was right when she said that anger is a great catalyst, but a crappy companion. We should learn from our anger, we should let it catapult us into action, but clinging to it as our companion will make us blind and sick.

I still want my kids to not fight and not whine, but I am learning to tolerate their anger instead of NEEDING to squelch it because I can’t handle it.

I still prefer when Rich is in a good mood, but I’m learning to allow him to feel whatever he feels without NEEDING to convince him out of his anger because I can’t handle it.

Often I still look at the fighting online and say, “Hey, can’t we all be a little kinder?” But now, it comes from my conviction that respect and nonviolence solve problems better than blame and criticism; rather than my own intolerance of yelling.

In sum, I was wrong. There are good reasons to be angry. Angry people’s opinions are valid and need to be heard. Whether its my child, my husband or a Facebook friend, their anger is not an excuse to dismiss them or judge them.

And I’ve learned that the best way to learn to tolerate other people’s anger is to learn to tolerate my own.


Want to ditch your shame? Take a closer look at your cultural values.

We’ve talked about defining our individual core values, we’ve talked about how helpful it is to understand our partner’s core values (understand their values and you’ll understand their behavior).

Now, I want to talk about a crucial category of values that often get overlooked, our CULTURAL values. We all have different ones. They could come from a family culture, religious culture, ethnic culture, national culture, political culture or societal culture. The core values of your most prominent cultures during your upbringing are the ones most likely still dictating a lot of your unconscious behavior and opinions today.

I’ve been doing A LOT of digging into my own subconscious these last few years, and I’ve found if we really want to understand a lot of the anxiety and shame we live with, we need to
1. Identity the values of the prominent cultures we were born into.
2. Determine how these cultural values have impacted our lives.
3. Decide if we want to continue upholding those values or not.

A few examples:


In the book The Soul of Money, Lynne Twist illuminates one of our core, driving values as a capitalistic society is the idea that more is always better.

When I first read the book, this idea didn’t resonate as being part of my life. Being the moralistically superior individual that am, I smugly imagined myself to be above valuing the pursuit of more. I’m not some richy rich always needing the latest trend! But as the weeks and months passed after reading the book, I started to notice just how pervasive this value- that more is always better- is in my everyday life.

I mean wouldn’t it be great if my house were a little MORE tastefully decorated? Doesn’t my bathroom need to be MORE modern? Wouldn’t it be awesome if my husband was a little MORE patient? MORE helpful? MORE happy? Wouldn’t it be better if my kids cleaned MORE? Were MORE hard-working? MORE obedient? And gosh, couldn’t I ALWAYS use MORE time, MORE energy, MORE fun, MORE patience, MORE kindness, and MORE self-control???

I stared at my life like the Genie stared at Aladdin when he realized he had been tricked into giving him a free wish- my eyes bugged out and my mouth dropped to the floor. “Wait a minute” I thought, “I didn’t choose this value! I’ve been duped! I thought my core values were supposed to be MY choice? Something that developed naturally out of my personality or my conscious inclusion? Who gave me this value that was affecting my hourly life anyway?”

My culture of course.

I decided I didn’t much care for how this valuing of MORE was making me show up in my life- as never satisfied. I decided to try to chuck this value and consciously replace it with an abundance mindset. “I have enough. My kids are enough. I am enough.” are mantras I find myself needing to repeat often to overcome my cultural value that more is always better.

(other societal values I’ve found worthy of examining: productivity, convenience, progress and liberty)


Now for a value I was handed that I wish to keep.

In the family culture I was raised in- acceptance and adaptability were among our core values. My parents are CHILL. They don’t get upset. Like ever. They are very even-keeled and mild mannered (often when my sister was pestering me, I wished they would be a little less mild-mannered 😉 ). When something would go wrong in our family- my dad lost his job or our tire blew out, my mom’s characteristic shrug was minutes away with a, “Well, what can ya do?”

We’d accept, then we’d adapt.

I love how undemanding my parents were. I love that I never felt they were disappointed in me, how accepting they were of my mistakes, and how unconditionally loved I felt as a result of their accepting nature.

I’m not as good at it, but I try to hold onto their value of acceptance in my life and in my parenting.

Quick note here: I don’t mean to pitch any of these values as morally superior. Each and every value has its up sides and its shadow side. Sometimes MORE really is better! Some marriages NEED more respect! We often need MORE self-compassion!

And there is certainly a dark side to acceptance. We can be so complacent we don’t take action when action is needed! (I also was never grounded growing up, and probs should have been).

The reason values are SO useful is because they help us to understand ourselves and every other human around us. It is tempting to say that some values are better and some are worse, but really, every value in it’s extreme is destructive and a healthy version of every value is useful.

Wanted to make that clear before I tackle my next example:


My primary culture growing up -above being American, Texan, above even my family culture- was/is the LDS culture.

Obedience is a core value of Mormonism. Two of our most-used mantras are follow the prophet and choose the right.

I grew up not seeing obedience as a value some resonated with and some didn’t, but as an undisputed way of life. THE way.

Its just been in recent years that I’ve thought to examine this value more closely and its effects on my life.

Many of the effects have been overwhelmingly positive- obedience kept me safe, gave me a strong sense of unity and belonging, pushed me to be better, to sacrifice and grow. I’m thankful to have been raised in a culture valuing obedience.

But now, as an adult, my clinging to obedience has also made me tragically judgmental. It’s made me perfectionistic, prone to wallow in shame when I couldn’t obey well enough (which was daily). It made me close-minded- often not taking into account the thoughts and experiences of others since there is ONE right way to do things. It made me outsource my conscience- relying on rules and expectations instead of my own inner light to make decisions.

I bless my past spent valuing obedience AND now choose to place it FAR further down on my list of values that govern my decisions.

Here’s the take home: often we are so used to swimming in our own cultural values that we think those values are just the way things are. I thought the pursuit of more, acceptance and obedience were just life.

But they don’t have to be.

Taking the time to 1. name our cultural values, 2. examine their effects on our lives- both the good and the bad and 3. consciously choose whether we want to uphold those values or release them – is life-changing work.

It changed mine. I feel more free, more fully me, more able to lean into my unique gifts and values and ditch the shame.

I’ve also found it extremely instructive to ask my husband about the core values in the different cultures and family culture he grew up in. It explains SO much of his behavior that is confusing to me.

Homework: Journal out what were your primary cultures growing up? What were their values? How have those values served you and how have they held you back? Which values do you want to keep and which do you not want to keep?