Thursday, April 21, 2022

ABC Post 15--Ask Aunt Dorcas--Moms and Product Pressure, Part 2

 This is the second post addressing this question:

Dear Aunt Dorcas—

I have five small children, and I get really frustrated with the pressure on young moms to use certain cleaning and health products, usually from MLMs like Norwex or DoTerra. I’m part of a few big chat groups with Mennonite moms, and most of the vocal women on such platforms tend to send the subtle implications that a good mother should be always looking for better health, better cleaners, and better hairspray. And I feel like a freak for just thinking a clean scalp is what’s most important. I’m doing good if I can pick up detergent or shampoo at Walmart. One day I decided to ask the group if I’m as unusual as I feel like I am. I thought maybe there’s other moms out there like me. But the admins deleted my question! So then I really felt like a freak. Do you have any advice for me?

--Kayla

Aunt Dorcas plunges back into a fiery topic.

Let's talk about peer pressure.

Moms are probably the most passionate people on the planet. Having babies brings out the mama bear in all of us, and everything matters. We want only the best and safest for our babies, which makes us fierce and often vocal about many subjects.

Moms also observe what other families are doing, and sometimes their [our] passion for the Right Way To Do Things leads them to be much too interested in what everyone else is doing. Not only do they judge other families, they speak their opinions out loud.

Worst of all, they lose track of what is their business and what is not.

The particular issues come in waves. Suddenly everyone is buzzing about a topic and has a strong opinion. Then that wind blows itself out, another takes its place, and people look back and think, “I can’t believe she got after me about that.”

Back when homeschooling first gained popularity, you either homeschooled, or you didn’t. People camped on one hill or the other, ready to die there. You had to be ready to defend your educational decisions, because someone was bound to ask you exactly what you were doing and preach at you why that was wrong.

Particularly with Covid, homeschooling has become much more of a fluid endeavor. Public school students stayed home and connected online, and private schools had a wide variety of responses. Families often formed co-ops or pod schools.

People don’t seem to be quite as concerned any more about what everyone else is doing. Instead, they’re trying to figure out what works for their children, picking among many options.

That is as it should be. Other people’s education choices are not your business.

Other subjects that used to be the source of intense pressure in my young-mom days included birth control, natural childbirth, home vs. hospital births, breast vs. bottle feeding, putting babies on a four-hour schedule, cloth vs. disposable diapers, learning-to-read curriculums, discipline methods, Home Interiors products, and anything related to Bill Gothard’s teachings.

A sweet Christian woman sat down with me one evening and tried to convince me that we should follow Bill Gothard’s monthly schedule for having sex, which included not using contraceptives. She told me how rewarding this was for her and her husband and wanted to know if we followed it. God help me, I didn’t have the skills to tell her this was Not Ok. I just sat there squirming and horrified.

I hope you’re also horrified. I’m also guessing that you’re thinking, of all these subjects: That is no one’s business but your own! Why would ANYONE think they had any right to not only ask what you did, but tell you what to do?

Thirty years from now, that’s what you’ll think when you remember that moms used to pressure each other about essential oils, Lemongrass Spa, and Amway L.O.C. And about vaccines, gentle parenting, organic food, Windex, fantasy books, and candy.

[Disclaimer #1—if children show up at your house or Sunday school with bruises and lice, then it becomes your business, and you need to speak up. The occasional lollipop or screen or synthetic garment or GMO or Suave hair spray, not so much.]

I didn’t have the strength or the skills, back then, to tell opinionated people that I don’t discuss these subjects. I didn’t realize they were crossing normal social boundaries. Instead, I felt left out, guilty, confused, resentful, unspiritual, and really weird, like there was something wrong with me.

Some of you enthusiastic product promoters are thinking, “I would never put pressure on anyone! I just like to talk about this because I believe in it, but they can decide whatever they want.”

Trust me, there are people like Kayla the letter-writer and shy, sensitive women in your circle who feel left out, guilty, confused, resentful and unspiritual, but they don’t have the strength or the skills to tell you to stop talking. It would be a kindness if you understood.

However: at the same time, you shy young moms and Kayla, I have to break it to you: this is ultimately yours to solve.

Let me say what I would say to my 26-year-old self:

My 26-year-old self, with Amy

“It’s ok if you disagree with everyone around you, or if you really don’t know what’s right. Others are allowed to think whatever they want, but if they don’t use breastfeeding or cloth diapers and you do, it’s just because they’re not you. You are not less spiritual, or more. It’s ok to not be the same!

Some people make you feel pushed and coerced and guilty. They don’t take hints. You won’t be able to change them, so you’re allowed to walk away, avoid them, or change the subject. Do what you need to do for your own peace. Seek out the people who accept you even if you disagree.

You can also unclench your jaw, open your mouth, and form the words: ‘This is not something I discuss.’ Seriously, you have permission, and you have what it takes.

Or, “I’m not interested.” Or, “We can’t afford it.” Or, “No, thank you.” Saying No, says my friend Simone, is a muscle that grows stronger with use.

Tell yourself, as my friend Esta does, ‘It’s just platform shoes.’ In other words, a passing fad. Wait it out.

It’s hard to be different, to be judged and pitied, to feel left out. However—sorry to break this to you as well--this isn’t the last time you’ll need to stand alone. Some of us are destined to be outliers our whole lives. You’ll feel convicted to wear a mask in Covid times when almost no one else does, and you’ll be glad for all the practice you had in standing alone.

After you turn 50, you’ll quit caring so much what people think. At age 60, you’ll lose all your filters and will say whatever you please. The pushy people will duck into the restroom to avoid YOU.”

---

GO GRAB SOME COFFEE, OK? This is long.

--

Here’s what I see as the biggest differences between the mothering issues back then vs. now: First, the conversation is more hostile and the confrontations more personal, especially online. Second, if Greta Yoder and I disagreed about diapers or breastfeeding, neither of us benefited financially from convincing the other.

Today’s mom-discussions, especially online, often involve someone with a financial stake in the debate, and that makes it turn weird really fast.

The admin who shut down Kayla’s question [on an open, general-purpose moms’ forum], was herself an MLM dealer. That is ethically troubling.

---

Many of the health and cleaning products promoted by young moms come from MLMs.

As mentioned before, MLMs are multi-level-marketing companies. They focus on a particular product which is sold by individuals rather than through stores. The distinguishing feature of an MLM is the pyramid structure, where members not only sell the product but recruit other sellers whose income affects the income of everyone up the chain.

This is different from the “middle man” in other businesses. For instance, our family business is one of the middlemen, along with CHS and a few truck drivers, that earns money when you buy a bag of 5-grain scratch at Bi-Mart. Each middleman provides a specific service or product, such as bagging or transportation.

Many MLM consultants insist that the system is ethical, and their position is profitable.

Frankly, I don’t know how to square this with statistics I read of exploitation and financial loss. This website says, “According to research at the FTC, a whopping 99% of recruited sellers lose money in an MLM venture. That means just 1% actually turn a profit.”

You could also look up cautionary tales about LulaRoe.

I'm guessing that the statistics are better in the Mennonite world because of the community structure and our history of successful small businesses.

At the same time, I've seen a lot of enthusiastic signups quietly go away within a year, with women blaming themselves. "I just didn't put the work into it."

---

You may well ask how it’s any of my business if women want to sign up with MLMs. I don’t think I’d have given it much thought, except in the last two years I’ve received probably 100 or more personal/private messages from sweet little strangers, most of them Mennonite, wanting me to sign up with their company or buy their shakes or come to their online party. Almost always, they sound very polite but also desperate. 

It feels like something unhealthy is going on, and I don’t think the consultants are at fault, so I suspect the current business model is flawed. That’s why I felt it was my business to say something. I'm concerned about women my daughters’ ages, not only the ones pressured like Kayla the letter writer, but also the ones who seem exploited by something they signed up for.

You may be thinking, “Relax, Boomer. Messaging is a normal business practice now.”

If that’s true, why is it only the MLM women who message me, not the seamstresses and basket-makers?

Twenty years ago, when I used to go to my friends’ DOTS parties, we ate and made cards and had fun, and it was ok if I didn’t buy anything. The dealers were never pushy or so desperate that they approached strangers to sign them up. What has changed? And how does this contribute to the pressures that young moms are facing?

MAYBE GET SOME MORE COFFEE HERE, AND A DEEP BREATH.

This will surprise you, judging by your conclusions from the previous post: While I’m uneasy with the business model, I don't think that buying from an MLM, or signing up with one, is necessarily wrong. In fact, I loved DOTS rubber stamps, and later I mention a few products I still like and buy. However, I would suggest thinking through the following questions before joining or continuing with an MLM company.

[Disclaimer #2--the numbers here might not show up on your phone.]

1.       Is this a product I personally like and use? Is it unique and of high quality?

2.       What is the company’s track record? How long have they been around? How does their business operate?

3.       Can I make a decent income only by selling if I don’t want to recruit?

4.       If I become a dealer only to get the products at a discount, is that ok? Will I lose money? Will I be under pressure to sell more or to sign up others? [An ethical company will let you sign up for the dealer discount for an affordable price and only buy for yourself, with easy-to-meet quotas.]

5.       How much of our savings will it take for an initial investment? Can we afford to lose this?

6.       Do I feel under pressure to do more, sell more, and contact more people? Does the company make me feel like a “bad” rep?

7.       Was I persuaded by promises of lots of income and trips to Cancun? Is this happening? If not, does it feel like it’s my fault no matter how hard I work?

8.       Am I ok with the tasks involved, such as training new sellers, speaking in front of a group, or figuring my taxes?

9.       Do I have a stash of products in the garage that I don’t know how I’ll ever get rid of?

10.   Does the company control what I post on social media?

11.   Do people come to me wanting more of the product, or do I always have to initiate the conversation?

12.   Do I send Instagram DMs to strangers or Facebook friend requests to potential customers? Do I feel compelled to do things to recoup my investments, even if it feels humiliating?

13.   Do I feel compelled to talk to friends and family about my product, even when it’s not appropriate, such as at church?

14.   It’s illegal for doctors to make money off the drugs they prescribe. Do I have a similar conflict of interest in my concern for others’ health, in that if they do what I recommend for their allergies or headaches, I will make money? If so, how will I navigate this?

15.   Am I allowed to disclose the ingredients in a product I’m selling, particularly if a potential buyer has allergies?

16.   Is this product essentially the same as something at Walgreens for a fifth the price, like Vitamin D or Vicks?

17.   Do people suddenly leave when I walk into a room? Do they unfriend/unfollow on Facebook and Instagram when I talk about my business?

18.   If I hear of someone who’s sick or injured, do I encourage them to buy my product? [Best answer: No.]

19.   Do I have enough “cushion” in my business that I can gift a container of my product to someone who’s sick or injured, if I think it will help them? [Best answer: yes.]

20.   Is most of my social life centered around sales events and parties?

21.   Am I ok with different views on my product in particular or on MLMs in general, whether in person or online? Do I make moral judgments about people who use other products?

22.   Is the time commitment working well with my other responsibilities?

23.   Do my husband and children have serious misgivings about this venture?

If your answers indicate that this is an ethical enterprise that you and your family can afford, that meets a need, that preserves your dignity and ethics, and that won’t alienate you from your friends and church, then go for it.

[Disclaimer #3—I have to ask myself many of those same questions when I self-publish a new book. #1 is always tough. So are 5 and 9. Number 10 is one reason I’m hesitant to sign up with a publisher.]

Let me tell you five examples of MLM representatives who did it right, in my opinion. They met a need with their product but were never pushy or desperate or judgey. They did not take on significant debts to become dealers, at least to my knowledge.

1.       Ten years ago I attended my niece’s wedding in Ontario. We stayed at Susan Hochstedler’s house. I was so impressed with her shiny downstairs shower that I asked her about it. She told me all about this company called Norwex, and I have had a few Norwex cloths ever since.
We note that even though she was a dealer, she didn’t tell me this until I asked.
[Oops! Correction: Susan says, "
 I’m actually not a Norwex dealer. Just an avid fan and product user! " Well, her approach was convincing, dealer or not.]

2.       Probably 20 years ago I was at a quilting. I sat in a wooden kitchen chair, and when I scootched the chair closer to the quilt, the sections of wood came apart just a little and then pinched together on my thumb, taking off a chunk of skin.
It hurt like crazy.
Another quilter, Louise, quietly pulled a bottle of lavender oil from her purse and dabbed a drop on my thumb. It instantly stopped hurting!
Louise turned out to be a Young Living dealer and a great resource for products and information. I’ve kept lavender oil on hand ever since.

3.       Paul’s aunt Susie was the local Avon lady for years and years. To my knowledge, she never recruited a “downline.” She also wasn’t aggressive about giving me catalogs, but one time I tried Avon hair gel and loved it. That stuff kept my hair in a pouf for years, and I ordered more from Susie whenever I ran out. I was so sad when they discontinued it.

4.       My friend Hope is a Tupperware dealer. Once in a while she posts special sales on Facebook, and she has a display at a Christmas bazaar I like to go to. I know she’s there if I need something, but she’s never pressured me to buy or judged me for having Rubbermaid containers in my pantry.

5.       My niece Annette sells essential oils. I don’t even know how I found out. But I learned that, like Louise, she was a great source of both oils and information. Recently I bought a cleaning product from her that I use on my floors, and it doesn’t trigger my asthma. Yay! She doesn’t make me feel any pressure to buy, but she’s there if I need something. I appreciate that. She won’t judge me if I go back to PineSol because it’s cheaper. I appreciate that too.

Stretch. Eat some pistachios.

Three final pieces of advice:

If you are a privileged person who has money, time, and access, and you prefer Amway to grocery store products, then buy and use what you want. It is none of my business. Just remember that it isn’t your business what your cousins and church sisters use, so don’t bug them about using Tide on their families’ laundry, ok? They are still good moms who care about their children.

If you are a dealer and in despair about how much you invested and how slowly you’re paying it off, especially if you hate constantly initiating conversations, then cut your losses and get out. Sit down with your husband, make a financial plan, and move on. There’s no shame in changing direction. Wear old dresses for a year, eat lots of beans and rice, and clean with vinegar. You will be happier.

You might want to learn about the “sunk cost fallacy.” The Sunk Cost Fallacy describes our tendency to follow through on an endeavor if we have already invested time, effort, or money into it, whether or not the current costs outweigh the benefits.

Read more here. 

If you are too poor or busy or far away or uninterested for MLM products but move in groups online or live among women who swear affirm by Shaklee or NeoLife and put gentle Christian guilt on you every time you get together, the best option is to become assured in your own mind that you are doing the right things before God and your family, what you buy and use is none of your friends’ beeswax, and there are a thousand things that interest you more than chemicals lurking in 409. You’re allowed to say, “Actually, that is not something I want to talk about.”

They’re allowed to use Plexus. You’re allowed to not use Plexus. Let’s all be kind and talk about the lilacs blooming.

That’s what I think.

Next time: alternative ways to earn money from home, and recipes for simple cleaners.


You can read the other April Blogging Challenge posts here: Emily's and Phoebe's.
Dare I mention, after this post, that you can purchase our books? No pressure, but they're at this site.


27 comments:

  1. What an insightful, encouraging read. Thank you. I'm grateful when older, wiser women tell me it's okay to say no and draw boundaries.

    I think sometimes we get wrapped up in things like this and make it personal because we make our opinions and the products we use so much a part of our identity. We think our way is the way, instead of just one good way, and so feel threatened when others disagree or do things differently. Thank you for stepping on my toes occasionally and reminding me that what other moms really need most often is support and encouragement in what they already are doing, not more guilt and advice about how I think they could be doing things better.

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    1. Interestingly enough, other moms are more likely to listen to you if you offer support and encouragement.

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  2. I sat through this whole "long" post without coffee or pistachios (lol!) As always, you have communicated your wisdom on a sticky subject without sounding preachy or "my way or the highway." I appreciate that about you.
    I can testify to the "sunk cost fallacy." Fifteen years ago, we bought a restaurant. I quickly realized I was failing miserably at it...eventually understood that it was destroying my marriage. When our five-year lease was up, I had to choose between signing up for more years (to try to conquer this thing that was eating me alive) or getting out and saving my marriage. I chose Door #2. It was SO hard to admit defeat, but the cost of "winning" would have just been too high.

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    1. Bless you for making the choice you did. It sounds like neither option was pleasant, but you chose saving your marriage and probably your own mental health as well.

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  3. As usual, I agree with you and admire your phrasing. One of my most interesting Sunday School experiences came before COVID, when a farmer who raises marijuana brought CBD oil from her farm to offer to someone in the last stages of Lou Gehrig's disease, because it helps some people with his symptoms. I joked with my Dad that marijuana distribution in Sunday School was something I never expected to see, but that under the circumstances, it seemed very appropriate.

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    1. What a sweet story. I'm so glad that CBD is becoming more mainstream.

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  4. My dear daughter in law in talking about vaccines and mom pressure mentioned that never ever does a mom vaccinate out of a desire to harm her children, and vice versa. We all for the most part do our best for our children. Good posts...

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  5. A voice of reason in a world of madness! Thanks!

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    1. You're welcome, and thanks for coming by.

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  6. It irks me when people I know send a friend request on Facebook and then use it only to promote their product. When that happens, I unfollow them.

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  7. I really appreciate this post. It is needed. I get so weary of constant WhatsApp posts of those who are (desperately?) pushing their MLM product. Or Facebook. But at least on Facebook you can unfollow them. (Yay)
    The underlying reasons for being so pushy? Its nuanced, yes. I have found that the more times I gently say "no thank you" or remove myself from such influence, the free-er I become to do it the next time.

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    1. Good for you.
      The underlying reasons are definitely nuanced and complicated. But ultimately we need to control what we allow and what we don't.

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  8. Thank you, Thank you for permission to decline without guilt.

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    1. You're welcome. I wish I had learned it earlier.

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  9. Thanks for this. I’m a young mama who cares about making healthy choices and limiting toxins where I can…and I’m married to a financial guy who religiously opposes MLMs. What’s a girl to do? Well, she goes to Ebay and happily discovers that every Norwex product she could want is available, plus also cheaper. 😉 And I’m trying too to just be more like Grandma, back to vinegar and food from scratch and wearing things out. And trying to follow your good advice to keep my ideas to myself unless invited otherwise.

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    1. I laughed about your creative Norwex solution! Seriously, though, I'm sure your life is speaking louder than you know.
      Blessings...

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  10. The predatory aspect of MLM is what concerns me. I have had to block, unfollow, disconnect from many who do not take no for an answer. What is amounts to is the few “influencers” at the top and the rest are paupers working to make the few rich. Great wisdom Dorcas and seeking God’s wisdom for each individual is always the best.

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  11. Controversial response for your enjoyment😉 👇

    I think this is a really good article but my issue is that after MUCH research I genuinely believe most cheap cleaning products from the store, packaged foods & vaccines etc... are harmful to our health & its hard for me to sit & listen to other moms go on about their children's food allergies, asthma, eczema, their own struggles with their menstrual cycles, endometriosis, ttc, thyroid health, etc etc etc....without bringing up the connection with toxins & crappy food! I don't mean to come off as judgy & "your not doing life right" but just trying to convey truth & pointing them to root cause-something that conventional doctors just don't talk about enough! I think that health does follow a universal truth like everything else in the world...like one can say vaccines or not & you're doing what's best for your family but ultimately truth exists & somebody is wrong🤷‍♀️
    While I personally don't sell MLMs because of reasons you talked about, I do believe that alot of people that do have good intentions & genuinely believe in the products they are selling. & I think we should be careful in judging people's motives...I don't think all of them are in it for the money...if I were to do it myself it would be out of a genuine desire to help others with their health.
    That being said I'm a big vinegar/baking soda/water cleaner & I've been on the other end of the spectrum-as in feeling like the weirdo extremist because I say no to toxic cheap fragrances & I don't care if my laundry doesn't smell like some fake ocean breeze lol & everyone else is out proclaiming "you do you!"

    My overall point is that there is truth & saying "what works for you is ok" doesn't always feel like the most loving thing to do...even if it comes across as a little pushy😬 i think every mom owes it to their family to do a little research in what their putting on/in their families...that sounds harsh & unkind but I don't just take my pastors word for it about Jesus & so I make it a point in my life to take that extra time & not just always trust the experts.

    One could argue that toxins/clean living isn't a moral issue but I believe that we are supposed to steward our bodies to the best of our abilites-that includes diet & learning what is good & what's trash. Often we are just lazy & do what everyone else is doing & what's easiest but I believe as Christians we need to be doing better!

    End of rant...whose triggered now😂

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    1. You have a very good point here, and I remember facing something very similar in a setting where my children's little friends basically ate candy and maybe Spaghettios, and I could hardly stand it. I felt like I needed to Speak Truth about nutrition.
      After going through some really hard things myself, I realized that when you're overwhelmed with sickness, allergies, poverty, and depression, and just trying to survive, you don't have the strength to figure it out and work on solutions.
      Please know that how you are living your life speaks loudly. Also, anything you can do to support and encourage other moms, without trying to "convert" them, will help them get to a place where they can think better and make better choices.
      Bless you for doing what you're called to do for your family.

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  12. Thank you so much Dorcas! Even at 61 years of age, I had been feeling such guilt over not placing a Melalueca order to my friend because it costs so much money. Or not ordering from friends who sell Young Life, Shaklee etc. I've been told I'm not being a good steward and oh is that hurtful! I have all purpose lemon vinegar cleaner "cooking" on my counter. I also use cleaners like Lysol and Clorox because my friend blesses us with such products and this mama is happy to receive them. Nuff said!🙂

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  13. This was an excellent post, and the comments & responses were as well. Thank you!

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  14. Amen! Thank you for being a voice of truth, reason and common sense! So very well said!

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