Tuesday 15 September 2020

Stepping into motherhood

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I was recently part of a conversation on Facebook where a woman was asking for parenting resources particularly for her as a mother who was new to gentle parenting and wanted support and encouragement from other mums.  One of the commenters replied asking why she would need resources particularly for mothers as "it's all parenting".  A couple of other people who replied also seems confused as to why anyone would want resources specific to mothers.  This was really disheartening for the original poster who just wanted some links to resources that might help her embrace this new philosophy. It also made me sad that Christian mothers couldn't see that parenting a child as a woman or parenting a child as a man are two different things and that each has value.  Of course there is a massive amount of overlap which is why most parenting books are helpful to both mums and dads, but to deny that there are any differences at all seemed to me not only unbiblical (the Bible makes it clear that God created us with different unique gifts), but also reductionist, reducing us from our unique and sacred roles as mothers or fathers to an all encompassing and homogenous "parents".  It's also just plain unhelpful for people seeking resources suited to their sex. 

This denial that women and men have spiritual and emotional differences and needs is also happening in churches, women are rejecting sex separated groups and ministry, often preferring everyone together all the time. Long gone is the mothers union.  Why are women rejecting women's ministry?  Why do they see no value in women gathering together in a space of shared experiences? 

I am sure I have some beloved readers who are feeling their blood pressure rise as they read this thinking I am talking about gender stereotypes.  I'm not.  I am not talking about how mothers should be staying home cleaning and cooking whilst dads should be the ones going out to work, nor am I saying mothers should be the soft ones who offer comfort and sympathy whilst dads should be the tough ones dishing out discipline and rough housing. The debate over whether and how male and females brains are different and whether these differences are social or biological will probably go on for decades, even some of the most respected thinkers haven't been able to draw concrete conclusions, but it is my belief that there are differences between men and women, fathers and mothers that go beyond our reproductive organs, hormones and social upbringing.  This stems from my own personal observations and experience, and from my perspective as a Christian which looks to the Bible for truth about things that science cannot explain.  The Bible is consistent in the picture it paints of what it means to be male and female and the fact of them being different, not that women in are in any way inferior to men or that women and men shouldn't do things together or that there are many things that are the same for women and men, but that God made us different for a special reason. 

So all that to say (as a disclaimer!), what I want to discuss here isn't whether men and women, mothers and father are different (you can safely assume that I believe they are) what I want to discuss is why some Christian women would question the value of resources specific to mothers and fathers, men and women, why they would reject the Biblical (and may I say rather wonderful) ways than the sexes differ in preference for a homogenous application of spirituality and treatment generally.  

So why are women rejecting women only spaces? And why are women not seeing the value in resources and support tailored to their unique roles as mothers? 

Maybe women aren't just rejecting women and mother only spaces and specific resources but they are rejecting womanhood and motherhood altogether. I see this in the way we treat periods (pretend we aren't having them, treat them as a huge inconvenience, take hormones to eliminate them etc), breastfeeding (hide it away, minimise it as much as possible or decline participating at all etc), pregnancy (expected to carry on as if nothing is happening, talk about the pregnancy as it is is something the male partner also experiences "we're pregnant!" etc) and childbirth (unnecessary intervention, mistrust of a woman's ability to birth, rejection of physiological childbirth due to fear etc), women are rejecting the very functions that make them women (and just to clarify I am not saying that women who do not experience these things are any less women.) I talk about these more in my series on Patreon HERE .  There are several reasons why I believe women are rejecting womanhood:

  • History of marginalisation, oppression and persecution: Aside from a few ancient maternal societies, women have been marginalised, oppressed and persecuted by men.  Is it any wonder then that they want to reject those things that define their femininity?  By avoiding women's only groups, by rejecting the idea that resources designed specifically for mothers or fathers are of value women can feel like they are moving away from this historical oppression.  Women can hope then to be treated exactly the same as men, be treated as their equal. Women and mothers are perhaps trying to shake off the negative historical connotations of womanhood and motherhood, those gender stereotypes I mentioned earlier, plus the stereotypes of servitude and weakness.
  • Pressure to be an economic contributor: Motherhood has no immediate value to the economy, so it is not supported by government or businesses.  In fact whole other businesses have been created on the back of women returning to work (childcare).  The message that paid work is the only work that is of value is deeply ingrained into our modern society and into the psyche of women.  Many of my mother peers have never had the role model of a mum at home to affirm their own desire to be with their children, and there are no celebrity role models for motherhood.  Also women feel guilty about staying home when their husbands are in paid work (as if looking after your children is a holiday!). 
  • Sexualisation and objectification of women's bodies: Most women don't want to be constantly sexualised and objectified, yet this is the image we constantly bombarded with in the media and from society.  We are told that our worth is in our ability to excite the male gaze and if our visage doesn't do this we are spent, rejected and useless.  Some women find their sense of worth through being objectified in this way and when their bodies do not fit with the stereotype of what is sexually acceptable they lose their sense of worth.  Women who don't feel this way and never wanted to be sexualised to begin with are stepping away from womanhood in order to avoid the sexualisation of our bodies. We think if we can be more like men then we won't be sexualised and objectified by them. 
Historically women were marginalized and oppressed by men because of our biology so the obvious solution to this is to reject it (as mentioned above) Clearly this hasn't worked.  Women are still oppressed and marginalised, maybe we in the west are married off as children, or sent to huts during our periods or refused positions of power in businesses, now, instead we oppress ourselves.  Instead of being oppressed by the patriarchy we now kowtow to the economy, we think we are free because we are no longer tied to the perceived slavery of domesticity, but we are enslaved anew byt out own chosen economic servitude. Stepping into motherhood, grabbing it with both hands and embracing everything that it is is the most empowering thing I have ever done.  Making that choice, not because I am forced to by a society that expects women to stay home as it did in the past but because I know in my heart that being a full time mother is the best thing I can do with the time I have with my children when they are little. 
As Sally Clarkson says in her book Desperate:

"Understanding that the best and most lasting "work" I would ever do was wrapped up in my call as a mother gave me a grand scope for my life such as I had never known before.  I began to see that the nurturing of my children was my great stewardship in every part of their little lives: accepting them into my arms and bearing the responsibility for their health from feeding at my breasts; developing their emotional well-being by encouraging them to attach deeply to me as infants; stimulating their brains by talking with them, touching them, snuggling with them; and predisposing them to know the love of God by building pathways in their brains.  I was just beginning to grasp how profound God had created the role of mother to be."

If we, instead of criticising women who don't go back to work; encourage and uplift them, we ultimately uplift the role of motherhood for everyone. Maybe in the future we will see a generation of women emboldened enough to choose full time motherhood as a role that is just as valid (and maybe even more so) than returning to paid work, even if only for a short time (but perhaps longer that the government approved maximum of a year)  How about we petition the government for longer maternity leave, fully paid rather than free childcare so we can return to paid work? If we made motherhood a desirable option  maybe more mums who wanted to stay home would feel empowered to make that choice. 

There is already a movement towards accepting different body types, embracing our stretch marks, marvelling at our baggy skin, but the market for body hatred is still going strong. We have a long way to go before women feel strong enough to reject whatever the current fashion is for a sexy body, before women are strong enough to say with confidence and truly believing that enough is enough, women are beautiful in their own right, the approval of men isn't what makes us beautiful. 

I imagine a future where we truly celebrate our stretch marks and loose skin, not as a token gesture towards body acceptance, but as badges of the amazing things our bodies have done. Maybe if we were excited about our first grey hair, our first wrinkle as a mark of achievement, a sign that we were one of the lucky ones who lived long enough to get them, we would feel like our female bodies are a thing of wonder to be honoured, treated with care and love.  Our bodies are just fine as they are fabulous in fact.  Your loved ones aren't going to love you any more for whiter teeth, smoother bellies or thinner thighs, they love you just as you are, and anyone who would love you more because of these things isn't worth having in your life, lets stop being handmaidens to the patriarchy by continuing to spend money on these things, by continuing to agree that this or that is more beautiful. Embracing our bodies with all their natural oddities and differences is the first step towards accepting and embracing our womanhood and motherhood. Imagine if, because of how we talked about and treated our bodies today, we nurtured a generation of girls and boys who really believed that natural bodies, in all their variety were beautiful.  Imagine a generation who rejected cosmetic surgery to make themselves all look the same.  It just takes us being brave enough to say that yellowy teeth are ok, that baggy bellies are just fine thanks, that thin lips, flat bums and small/big/low/wonky breasts are just as good as any other kind, to dismantle an entire industry! 

We have all this within our power if we choose to embrace our womanhood and our motherhood, to join together with other women who feel the same.  I want to encourage all women and especially mothers who feel like rejecting women only spaces, groups, ministry books etc, because of some sense of discomfort with these things to carefully examine their subconscious, step deeply into their discomfort, and consider the reasons why they feel this way because I am not convinced it is a simple as preferring male company and feeling like we are the same. Joining with other women is one of the most empowering acts of sisterhood a woman can claim, as artist Sark says: 

"The circle of women around us weave invisible nets of love that carry us when we are weak and sing with us when we are strong."

So today consider the women around you, we all have something in common;  a shared experience of being women and mothers. We are united by the shared physical experiences we all have an understanding of, puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, motherhood and just simply the lived experience of being a woman in this world which comes with much that men can never fully understand (having not lived it) including the oppression by the patriarchy, the fear of male violence, the power of the media and beauty industry to undermine our confidence, and the pressure to make money by a society that says this is where you find value.

If you are struggling to find women to connect with, keep persevering, there are women out there like you, with similar interests and passions, keep looking, keep going to those toddler groups, those women's craft afternoons, those NCT meets, those breastfeeding, babywearing, cloth bumming groups, keep searching till you find your tribe, it's out there I promise.  I think we could transform the world by grasping womanhood and motherhood with two arms, by really honouring the role of motherhood and the unique and marvelous gift it is to the world.  You are not wasting your time or your skills by embracing motherhood when your children are little, it is the best thing you could possibly do with this one wild and precious life.  You are not any less of a person when you embrace your womanhood, sisterhood, motherhood, let's embrace it now, let's step into it, lets uplift others who are doing it, it can be wonderful and rewarding and empowering and it might just be there for the taking. 

We rise by lifting others.