I have lived in the Nashville area for over ten years—from my early days of marriage into my current stage as a mom of two grade-schoolers. I haven’t had family living nearby during any of those years. My kids see their grandparents as much as possible, but I lack the pleasure of being able to drop the kids off for a night out or of sitting down over coffee with my mother or mother-in-law to talk about my struggles of the moment. I have my mom on speed dial for emergency cooking questions, but there are many days when I wish she could be in my kitchen, demonstrating how to fold egg whites into my waffle batter. But, while she is not close in physical proximity, I know I am blessed to have a close relationship with my mom. A large number of my peers cannot say the same.
Many in my generation find themselves away from home and in need of a motherly mentor, and this inspired one Brooklyn woman to develop a new business model—Need a Mom. Nina Keneally, a mother of two grown children living in the midst of twenty-and-thirtysomethings, saw this opportunity after younger adults began confiding in her about their personal problems. In her piece on this topic for Slate, writer Helaine Olen quotes Keneally as saying, “’There are people who have a mentor in their professional lives; now I am doing that in their personal lives.’” So for $40 an hour, Keneally will talk you through parenting issues, teach you to sew a button on a shirt or demonstrate cooking techniques.
Whether her business takes off or not, the media immediately jumped on this idea, and Keneally’s story was featured in newspapers and morning shows around the country. Similar in many ways to a “life coach,” the Need a Mom business touches on our innate need for guidance and counsel. But unlike a life coach, this model takes an existing relationship—that of mother to child—and capitalizes on what many people lack in their own families.
Indicative of our society’s obsession with quick fixes, the whole idea of purchasing time with a personal mentor is saddening. To buy into this idea, one must accept a world in which meaningful relationships are rarely developed apart from the exchange of goods and services—and really, what kind of meaning is that? People and their time become commodities to be bought and sold because there is a demand, and someone is willing supply the desired goods. But Keneally makes it clear that she is not a mom or grandmother substitute. She is a not a friend. She is a coach, a counselor, a professional.
When I was thinking about this story, I remembered a friend from high school who so admired Elisabeth Elliot that she wrote and asked if she might spend a day with her. Elliot graciously accepted, so my friend rode the train from D.C. to Boston to spend a day learning from the wisdom of this godly woman. I love that my friend had the gumption to do that, and it is telling of Elliot’s character that she welcomed my friend into her life. No money was exchanged, and surely Elisabeth Elliot had little to gain from giving a day of her busy life to a seventeen-year-old. Yet she did.
Yet while hiring a mom is not the solution for our lack of mentoring relationships, perhaps neither is reaching out to the well-known Christian writers and speakers of our day. I don’t think my friend was wrong for spending the day with Elisabeth Elliot; in fact, I would love to have had that experience. But neither do I think Elliot was the only godly woman to whom she could have reached out. Rather, I believe our churches are full of women who have loads of practical and spiritual wisdom to give, if only we will ask.
I was reminded of the surrogate mothers in my own life as I pulled out our Christmas decorations this year. My tree skirt is the product of a loving relationship with one such woman, who my kids deemed “Grandma Jan,” as she has been their local grandmother since they were tiny. In the early days of my marriage, I had few Christmas decorations, so Jan came to my apartment and taught me to sew by making a tree skirt. She has taught me much more in the subsequent years of our friendship, and she is just one of a number of women who have poured into my life.
While Titus 2:3-5 is far from the only biblical passage applicable to women, it does have wisdom for those of us on both sides of these potential mentoring relationships. Its existence in Scripture indicates that younger women need the counsel of older women, and that older women need to share that counsel. I love the church for many reasons, not the least of which is that without it I would lack the relationships I have with so many women. I understand the desire to pay for time with a mother figure, because if I had not had these women in my life over the years, I would have missed out on so much.
Surely this is an opportunity for the church to meet the needs of the world. Young women are searching for guidance, and all we have to do is strike up a conversation at the gym, the store, or the cul-de-sac to begin building those relationships. And we can even do it for free.