Saturday, May 28, 2011

mothering labels

How do you define yourself?

There are a million different ways people define themselves to others and to themselves. Profession, address, family, religion, education. All of these can play a part in defining us. In the realm of motherhood, it does not seem enough to define oneself simply as mother. Cute t-shirts with slogans such as "I get my milk from Mum - not just any old moo!" proclaim the proud Breastfeeding Mums. You can buy decals for your car to advertise that the travellers within enjoy a family bed - the Co-sleeping Mum. Ezzo Mothers press their copy of Babywise on you and sing the praises of routine. Attachment Mums adjust their sling and suggest routines starve children of love and affection. Homeschooling Mums speak about schools as state sanctioned child abuse while P&F Mums bake madly for the next bake sale to raise funds for the library and well up with tears as their child plays a tree in the school concert - thriving in the community of school. Don't even start on vaccination, circumcision, home birth and elective c-sections. The millitant on all sides sure that their way is the best way.

And then the battle lines start.

And that's where I START to have problems with the way we define, or label, our mothering.

Call me a little odd, but I feel that as mothers we need to be comrades rather than enemies. Honestly, the truest desire of each mother is to do the best she can for her child or children. Isn't it? Different education, cultural cues, histories, values, desires and personalities mean that how "doing the best we can" for our children looks is different for each of us. Yet our labels, our definitions, are so often a source of pain and distress. And they can also impair our ability to mother effectively.

Here are some of the problems that I have with parenting labels.

Reducing our parenting to labels, can reduce our parenting to formulas
. When my friends who are first time parents call me for advice they often come away frustrated. They want an answer to a question like "How do I get my baby to sleep?". They want formulas. They want me to say "Do XYZ and your baby will sleep through the night in approximately one week". Here's the rub. I can't do that. I can say about a dozen different things that have worked but for me but I cannot garantee that any of them will work for that particular baby. Because babies aren't machines, they are people. Some brave people have put down what works for them in raising children into writing which has helped many, many people. However, almost invariably, their words hae been twisted, misinterpreted, abused and over simplified. At times, to disasterous effect. Children are people, not machines. Life is LIFE, not an exam where we get each answer right or wrong. There is no cheat sheet. Following the "rules" of a certain movement, childraising expert or parenting style will not ensure your mothering turns our right.

Which brings me to my second point.

Clinging on to labels can prevent us from clinging on to Jesus. We don't want to fail at this parenting caper. The stakes are too high. So that sentence I just said 'Following the "rules" of a certain movement, childraising expert or parenting style will not ensure your mothering turns our right.' is liable to scare the crappers out of us. The natural question that follows is what WILL ensure our mothering turns out right? Here's the really scary answer...Nothing. We can do everything right, we can raise our children in the way they should go, we can do every single thing in our power to lead them to Christ but the truth of the matter is our child's relationship with God is just that, THEIR relationship with God. Now I have about a million different things that I do in order to raise my children in a way that encourages them to know God and I strive to learn more of how I can raise them well but this knowledge that the decision to follow Christ is theirs and theirs alone drives me to my knees in prayer - which, as a mother, is exactly where I should be. Rather than totally relying on a label or movement or expert or ANYTHING, perhaps we need to rely on God alone. After that, take what's helpful and loose the rest.

Hiding behind labels can make us judge others. Through fear, we start to judge others. We see a child throwing a tantrum in the supermarket and think "Hmm, someone needs to set better limits/ensure their child gets more rest/cut down on their sugar intake/fill in other blank". A mother confides her exhaustion after a sleepless night and we think "well, if she would just co-sleep/control cry/get a better routine/fill in the other blank she would get more sleep". We hear about tragedy striking another family - a child making horrible choices, a child being diagnosed autistic, a child suffering abuse at the hands of a family friend. Nodding sagely we comfort ourselves that it could never happen in OUR home. That only happens to families who don't homeschool, who immunise, who allow others to babysit. Fear that what happened to them could happen to us drives us in to the shell of labels and formulas. Superiority replaces humility and compassion. There is nothing wrong with offering advice - especially if it is asked for. There is something wrong with thinking that we have all the answers. There is something wrong with sitting in judgement over hurting parents.

Being focussed on our labels and self-definitions rather than people can lessen our ability to minister to others. I have a friend who I have known for years. This good friend is passionate about her beliefs and convictions - which is one of the things I love about her. A while ago, this friend was convicted that circumcision of infant boys was wrong. Several times a week links to anti-circumcision articles and clips would appear on her Facebook feed. Almost every time I logged on, I would be confronted with lists of reasons why circumcision was wrong and links to graphic video of circumcision. Personally, my sons are not circumcised. We have many reasons for this, which I am happy to discuss with anyone interested, but it got to the point that I was frustrated and annoyed by the confronting nature of the links so I did what I suspect most people do in that type of situation - I hid her Facebook feed! The language used in many of these articles was accusitory and provocative and I, who shared the conviction, was completely turned off from any information they may have contained. Language which deliberately provokes or accuses will not help other parents learn anything useful from us. Language which supports, uplifts, empathises and encourages is the type of language which should be exchanged between mothers.

An "us and them" mentality can alienate others and limit us. If a course of action you have chosen as a parent is at all countercultural you probably have encountered criticism and opposition. One way people who have experienced this show support to one another is to band together. You can find a web forum or online support group for pretty much any choice you make as a parent. There are playgroups, clubs and organisations supporting every lifestyle and parenting choice out there. There is nothing wrong with this, until exclusionary or judgemental statements and jargon becomes a part of our every day vocabulary and all our friends look exactly like us in philosophy and practise.

Defining or labeling ourselves in a certain way can stop us from being flexable.
I homeschool my children and I love it. It makes me happy, it works for our family and it is, at present, the best choice for our family. If, tomorrow, God tells me to put my kids in school - I will. And it will not change who I am as a mother. It will just give me less excuses to avoid housework! I believe the safest and best place for my family is where God wants us to be. I don't co-sleep with my kids other than in cases of illness or bad dreams. It simply doesn't work for me. I don't sleep well with babies or kids in my bed and my Beloved and I enjoy our quiet, personal time together kid free. However, if this changes one day, it will not rock my world as a mother. It will not change my definition of myself. Because while I am a mother who homeschools, I am not a Homeschooling Mum. I am a mother who chooses not to co-sleep, not an anti-co-sleeping Mum.

I have learned over the years that I only need one label, one definition, for my motherhood and myself, and it is Saved. And I think the sonner we learn that, the sooner we will be able to support each other as sisters in Christ rather than drawing battle lines on the playground.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mothers are not perfect, just blessed

So it is mother's day tomorrow and Hallmark is going crazy. At this time of year we start out with the flattery and idealised statements.

Statements like:

Mothers are the one person who can substitute for anyone but nobody can substitute for. I'm guessing I don't get an RDO then. Not only do I have to be Mum to my sons, I also have to be Dad, girlfriend, wife, child, grandparent - basically every significant relationship in their life as needed too. I DON'T THINK SO.


God couldn't be everywhere, so He created mothers. So I need to be God now, no pressure there at all I am sure I can live up to that one. Excuse me while I go and rock in a corner and gag uncontrollably.

At times like these I remember that Anna Jarvis, the woman who initally campaigned to make Mother's Day a nationally recognised holiday in America, spent her family inheritance campaigning AGAINST what the holiday had become.

Now don't get me wrong, Mother's Day is an excellent opportunity to recognise and affirm mothers. The Bible often recommends affirming women verbally and publically. Proverbs 31, for example, asks that we "Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate." (verse 31) but the Bible also has a few words to say about flattery. If you flatter someone you "Lavish insincere praise and compliments upon (someone), esp. to further one's own interests" If my kids were to give me a card saying "To The Perfect Mother" I would accept it in the spirit intended of course, but I would also be thinking "suck up!". Because nobody knows better than them my imperfections as a mother.

The truth is, not one of my children will grow up without scars from what I did or did not do. Motherhood is a daily invitation to step up, be a better person, make good choices and grow and heal my own heart. And I don't always RSVP in the affirmative. I fail. I pray that when the appropriate day comes, I have the humility and compassion to be able to fully and completely apologise for my short comings and failures, of which I have many.

But the good news is: God CAN be everywhere.

He promised me once that nothing will happen to my children that He and they can't handle together. I am not everything to my children and I do not have to be. To tell me that I am is flattery and a curse.

For me, sincere praise must be true, specific and measured. "Mum you are the best cook in the whole wide world and everything you make is magic" vs. "Mum, thanks for putting the extra effort into that dinner tonight, I really liked the potatoes done that way." The first is flattery, the second makes sure those potatoes get cooked often and makes Mum real warm and squishy on the inside.

So tomorrow, if you are going to praise your Mum, please make it real. I would prefer my children recognise the real blood sweat and tears that I put into raising them than they go for the hallmark syrup.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Some Arguments for an Elected Head of State Examined

I need to confess something. I am a royalist. Yes, I know, not a popular stance in this day and age but there you go. The debate has been revisited because of the Royal Wedding and some of the arguments put forward by those for a republic have amused and confused me somewhat.

* We need an elected head of state because the Royal Family is dysfunctional and full of scandal.

* Ummmmm, yes. Because there has never been an elected person who had a scandalous affair in the history of the world.

* We need an elected head of state because Prince Philip says racist, embarrassing and ill informed things sometimes.

* Yes, because there has never been an elected person who said stupid things (why do you think comedians all voted Bush in for a second term in the States?)

* We need an elected head of state because the Royal Family's role is largely ceremonial.

* And what, exactly, are you proposing an elected head of state does that is different to a largely ceremonial role? Come back to me on that one when you have a good answer.

* We need to have an elected head of state because the Royal Family costs us money.

* Yes, an elected head of state will work for free I'm sure. They will live in a housing commission house, drive a Ford Fiesta and never, ever need to travel internationally.

* We need an elected head of state because the Monarchy has done some dreadful things in the past.

* So has Parliament. White Australia Policy anyone? Stolen Generation? Vietnam? If we are going to get rid of the monarchy based on the choices of past Monarchs, we need to get rid of Parliament based on past Parliaments.

* We need an Australian head of state because the Royal Family are FOREIGNERS and do not reflect Australian Values.

* Perhaps instead of debating the Republic issue at this time, we need to put our time and energy into working out what those Australian Values are and exactly how Australians are going to behave toward foreigners. Seeing as there is a section of our society that can't seem to tell the difference between an Indian Student who brings thousands (collectively millions) to our economy and Osama Bin Ladin perhaps we need to be putting funds in to PAYING TEACHERS and BUYING MAPS FOR SCHOOLS rather than changing the head on our coins.

Do I believe that a Constitutional Monarchy is the BEST model for Australia? No, I do not. I do, however, believe that it is the best model that we have AT THIS TIME. And until we are moving toward a values rich, positive model that reflects an Australia that I can be proud of, I am not moving anywhere. The Republican Movement is all to quick to point out the problems with our current model but it is rare to see any solutions offered. Rather than running away I want to be, at the risk of sounding like a certain obnoxious red-head, moving forward. To an Australia I can be proud of.

Personally, I love and admire the Queen. I think she is a role model for women, leaders and Christians all over the world. She quietly worked with others to enable them to end apartheid in South Africa, something she gets very little credit for and expects no credit for. Her work in world politics goes largely unnoticed. She is like Dr. Who but in a nice frock with corgis. Prince Charles is highly underestimated and he works HARD to serve the people of the Commonwealth. He earned a great deal of respect from me when he and his current wife publicly repented of their sins before marrying. That could not have been easy. William seems to be shaping up to be quite a nice young man too. HOWEVER, rather than whose bottom is on the throne my concern is with the political model under which my country currently operates which I believe is one of the very best in the world. And although we benefit from a "good" monarch our laws largely protect us from a "bad" one. Perhaps one day our country will have grown up enough to stand on its own, but I believe that the massive issues we are currently facing (racism, our treatment of asylum seekers, the crisis within the Aboriginal population to name a few) show that we ARE NOT READY to formulate our own political system.

Perhaps one day we will be, but not yet.