How Being a Parent is Like Being a Hobbit

I read The Hobbit (1937) by J. R. R. Tolkien, number 16 on the BBC book list, several years ago, after The Lord of the Rings movies came out.  I wanted to know what the fuss was about, although I didn’t really like the movies and I was not willing to read the LOTR trilogy.  (I’ve since ventured into reading those for the BBC book list.  Click to see my posts about The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers.)

the hobbit cover
I’ve been prompted to write about The Hobbit because my husband and I finally watched the three-hour movie (only the first half of the book!) that recently came out.  We enjoyed it, but what stood out to me were the characteristics of hobbits.  Bilbo in particular is a homebody, somewhat anti-social, and afraid of change.  He has big hairy feet, too.  I teased my husband that he was a hobbit, for all of the previous reasons.

But in some ways we are all hobbits.  Change is hard.  Rising to the occasion is something many of us shy away from, especially if that involves fighting “dragons” or entertaining many unknown houseguests.  We tend toward the easiest path, the path of least resistance.  We like to be in control of our circumstances.  We may even stay on the outskirts of a situation because we don’t have control, and we prefer to wallow in our anger or self-pity.  Bilbo does this when Gandalf’s guests take over his home; he feels trapped and surrounded.  He cannot enjoy their company or act as a good host because he’s too wrapped up in the mess, the noise, and the disorder.

I find myself sometimes acting this part with my children.  I get exasperated when after having vacuumed and mopped the floors, they then get out the paint supplies and splatter colors everywhere (while creating beautiful masterpieces) or they clumsily eat food, leaving a pile underneath the table, for it is hard to wield big forks with little hands.  I could stand to be less like Bilbo in these moments.  I could stand to forget how much work it was to get things clean and instead enjoy my children and laugh off the small stuff.

From this crazy beginning, in which a Bilbo is fearful and irritated, he learns of a quest.  It is the typical hero cycle.  He must journey.  And since I’ve compared Bilbo’s irritation at being dragged into the situation in the first place to motherhood, I might as well take the metaphor further.  Motherhood is also a journey, a hero’s journey.  It follows the hero cycle (which I discuss in detail in my post on Harry Potter).  According to an academic essay called “Spiritual Awakening through the Motherhood Journey,” motherhood has a myth surrounding it that may be negative.  But the authors, Aurélie M. Athan and Lisa Miller, say instead that “Motherhood is in fact an opportunity for creative spiritual growth and transformation in women.  This potential lies latent in the intense emotional experiences of mothering which are identical in quality to those described by William James as essential to religious conversion” (p. 17).  (This intrigues me for many reasons, but Williams James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experience just came in the mail for me yesterday, and I’m excited to read it.)  Athan and Miller go on to compare the mothering experience to the hero’s journey.

I find the concept intriguing, that mothers (and fathers) could be undertaking a quest or a spiritual journey as they parent.  And I think why The Hobbit continues to enthrall us is because we all journey, as Bilbo does, and we all go through heroic quests, sometimes small and sometimes large and lasting our entire lives.  To live is to journey heroically.

I found the article on motherhood as a hero’s journey in volume 7, number 1 of the Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, which is now called Journal of the Motherhood Initiative.  I bought it at the academic conference I attended in Toronto, Canada, in June.  It is the publication arm of the Motherhood Initiative for Research and Community Involvement and corresponding conference.  It is a way to write and think about motherhood academically and to explore the experience of motherhood through scholarship.

Anyway, sometimes we undertake that journey (of motherhood or parenthood) reluctantly.

Sometimes it is frightening.

Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do.

Other times somebody blows their nose on us, as the Orc blew his nose on Bilbo.

Sometimes we must fight either literally, with ourselves, or mentally, to press on in the journey.

Sometimes our friends are there to back us up.

Other times, we must go it alone.

Sometimes the kids have insects in their mouths.

Sometimes you have to keep the wolves at bay.

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you.

Sometimes you walk in circles.

Sometimes you lie to save yourself.

Sometimes you go without a shower.

Sometimes the journey seems too long and too hard.

Sometimes you have to hide.

Sometimes you have to go last.

Sometimes you have to keep going without being able to see where the pathway leads.

Sometimes you get to rest.

Sometimes you’re surrounded by elves; other times they are orcs.

Sometimes you want to turn back.

Sometimes you don’t understand the language.

 

Being a parent is very much like being a hobbit.

 

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50 thoughts on “How Being a Parent is Like Being a Hobbit

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  1. I enjoyed your post, and applaud your choice of edition – this is one of my favorite versions of The Hobbit. It was published by this publisher in a green version and a gold version, both with a slipcase. I like the green a bit better.

  2. I love it! 🙂 Parenthood is like being a Hobbit, and to broaden that, being human is like being a Hobbit also. The Hobbits are more human than the humans are in Tolkien’s books. I’m glad you liked The Hobbit.

    I just finished your friend, Josh’s book, The World’s Strongest Librarian. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but once I got that far I really enjoyed it. My favorite part is when he learns what he learns about movement – it was a real poignant moment to read what I think I’ve known all along but seeing it in print it just highlights how simple and profound it can be. His journey with faith was also interesting and I like that he ends up proudly an investigator. What a great way to approach life! As a scientist, I totally am an investigator, although I’ve never thought to call myself that. What struck me most about this was his positive portrayal of the church and family interactions regarding his faith and lack of faith. My own story regarding faith was not positive and I got nowhere near the same reaction from my past church and my family, which makes me envious of the support he has, but it also challenges me to re-frame my story in a more positive light instead of dwelling in how damaging it was then, and to recognize the support I did receive in unlikely place and be grateful for it. I’m super grateful to have won this book in your giveaway also, or it may not have blipped my reading radar. Thanks!

    1. I’m so glad you liked Josh’s book! You are right about that important point of being an investigator. Hopefully, we are all investigators in life and that curiosity to know more stays alive. I am also glad the themes of his book resonated with you. Thanks for telling me your experience!

  3. A very well written post! I so totally agree! However, I also agree with Denise regarding the fact that the Hobbits are more human than the humans! I had considered it in that way, but it’s true! 🙂 And really, each of our stories is that of a heroic journey, is it not? But perhaps especially with regard to parenting…so much unknown and all new territory, no matter how well we prepare ourselves! But in my opinion, definitely one of the very most important things we do in life, though it is definitely NOT necessary to raise children to be a hero; heroism comes in many varieties! Thank you, Emily, for such a thoughtful post!

    1. Thanks! I absolutely agree. I started writing in that direction, where to journey in life is to be heroic, but there were just so many “funny” parallels to parenting that I had to focus in on that more. And yes, hobbits are definitely exaggerated characterizations of humans, which I think is why we are all so drawn to them!

  4. I’ve never really thought of myself as being a hobbit. But, after reading this blog post…

    Great post! I really enjoyed it and look forward to reading more of your work!

  5. What a great piece! Love,love love the Hobbit comparison. Mine has certainly been a heroic journey through motherhood…and continues to be (sometimes you want to turn back, sometimes you keep on going without knowing where the path may lead). It’s the awareness that’s brought to it that changes everything. That lifts everything up to a higher level.

  6. I love that quote – “Motherhood is in fact an opportunity for creative spiritual growth and transformation in women. This potential lies latent in the intense emotional experiences of mothering which are identical in quality to those described by William James as essential to religious conversion” – it is so true and so sad, at the same time, that our current society tends to miss this truth and has since the feminist revolution – there is value in what Mother’s do because they shape the character of each next generation – SOOO important.

    1. I would argue that feminists want to recognize invisible women and the home as a workplace or site of important work. Many women do feminist work in order to bring recognition to what women do in the home as important and that it should be valued. That quote actually came from two feminist scholars. Oftentimes it is larger culture and society that says “public” is more important and male is higher in the hierarchy. Although feminists in the 1970s made many gains for women in terms of the public workplace, feminists now (including myself and many of the scholars and activists I’ve read) want women to be valued for their choices, whether that be motherhood, domesticity, activism, etc.

      1. Agreed. I believe feminism has perhaps evolved to support a woman’s “right to choose,” as it were, whatever that means to each individual. Unconditional positive regard and support!

        1. I really intended to get back to this comment much sooner, but life intervened.

          Interestingly, I remembered this string of comments when I was talking to a woman in my writing class – she’s dealing with health problems now that she’s in her sixties, but in her heyday of work and busy life in the 1970-80’s when feminism meant she could work any job a man could work and the mantra of the day was that women could have it all – she married, had two children, traveled the world as a newspaper editor which meant long work hours and caregivers for her children. Her comment, now that her children are grown and she has grandchildren? “They fed us a crock of bull. You can’t have it all – if you work outside the home to succeed as a woman in a man’s world, you give up something. That something for me was children who were raised by other people and seem perfectly happy now to have their own lives apart from mine. That is something I’ll never get back.” This from a hugely successful newspaper editor credited for breaking many of the “glass ceilings.”

          I also remember in the late 1980’s-90’s that women who stayed home and had children were considered less successful than women who made their mark on the corporate world. That viewpoint is probably the main one I reacted to in my first comment.

          I’m glad to see that feminism has evolved to the point where the value of a woman in the home is again recognized. The pendulum always swings back – but perhaps this time it won’t swing as far back to that place where the only place for women was in the home or as far the other direction where women’s only success was measured out in the market place.

          I think this digital age is a great time to live, we can be at home, be productive, market ourselves and still have a life with people we love. Not that it’s easy, but having worked in the corporate world for twenty plus years, this offers benefits being out of the house all day did not offer.

          It’s also important to remember – there are seasons in life. The season of life that includes small children does not last forever, ergo, the restrictions that come when small children need so much attention will not last. There will be new freedoms as well as new restrictions. The point always is to be the who God made us to be – whatever the life situation in which we find ourselves.

          1. I agree! And I completely understand your reaction. I think there are different forms of feminism that get lost in the kind that made the pendulum swing so far. It does swing back and forth, and we can only hope that it lands somewhere in the middle. But what it really comes down to is choices for women. If they choose to go to work full time and have others raise their children, that should be theirs to make. If they choose to be at home, that should be their choice as well, not forced or not judged. It seems that this issue brings out some black and white thinking, that we, as women, have to be one thing or another, but the truth is that we are human beings (created by God, as you say), and that we are complicated and cannot be reduced to one label or another. And I think responsibly we should be aware of how our choices affect others, whether that be our children or the women who leave their own children to watch others. But I agree that there are seasons for things. I’m in one of my own right now with young children, and I’m looking forward to the season of children who do not throw tantrums! 🙂 It makes for long days at home with them.

            1. You point is well taken and right on point – we have choices and in making choices we need to understand the ramifications of those choices. I would hope girls and women are savvy enough these days to not just buy into some push of society without understanding where their choices lead, but I’m afraid that human nature being what it is, each generation has a journey to take and mistakes to make on it’s way to wisdom. As a woman who’s been traveling my journey for more than six decades, I can tell you that your season with little one’s tantrums will be gone before you know it. Meanwhile, hang in there!

  7. Love the book. We all are Bilbos, whether we are parents or not. I felt for ol Bilbo when he had all the unwelcome house guests at the start. Thanks Emily, BTG

  8. Brilliant. My wife also calls me a Hobbit; hairy feet and I would much rather stay home than go out. We have a seven month old daughter so we’ve recently set out from the shire 🙂 I identify with pretty much all the ‘journey attributes’ you listed, and despite the uncertainty of the journey it’s awesome;I wouldn’t go back for the world.

  9. Funny enough, I’m just now getting back to this post due to dinner, potty time, bed time, and an emergency trip to the store for diapers and snacks for a car trip tomorrow. I read it in about three stages while feeding baby food and putting on socks. I do think I take more for my trips than any of Thorin’s company. However, I enjoyed the comparison and really think it makes for a good comparison. It also reminded me of my 2.5 year old and maybe why she doesn’t want this whole potty thing to work out.

    1. Martha, I finally had a chance to watch that video and oh my it is hilarious! So funny. And it made me realize that there are actually 3 movies instead of 2. Is that right? Wow. Just wow. Maybe they should just make a tv series… 🙂 I think the part about assembling an IKEA dresser was my favorite.

  10. I agree with you EJ, a great analogy! one that I had not thought of but very sound. I look forward to reading more of your work. Just saying… 🙂

  11. A great comparison. To see it this way is great self-awareness. I continue to be amazed at the journey of parenting, especially the transitions involved as the children get older (our youngest just turned 18). Nearing the end of the parenting journey (carrying on your idea) is a lot like Bilbo coming back home to the Shire or the image of Frodo and Sam in LOTR, having shared tremendous joy and sorrow, exchanging ‘knowing’ looks…like…yeah, I know…Thanks for writing this.

    1. You are right. As I wrote this, I wondered if it could apply to parents of older children and even grown children, and you’ve taken the metaphor that way for me. Thank you!

    1. Thanks! I feel just the opposite of you toward the book and the movie. I often wonder, though, that if I didn’t like a book, maybe I could reread it at a different time and have a more positive reaction to it.

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