Motherhood & the Meaning of Life

This weekend I sat in a circle of women. Wise women who gathered to support my amazing friend, a spiritual guide and companion, who is seeking to expand her practice. The circle included spiritual leaders and seekers, grandmothers and mothers and aunts.

When it was my turn to speak, I found myself saying that I’d come because I believe in the power of women. I believe in the power of women in circles, in groups, in pairs, alone. I believe in women’s wisdom and women’s spiritual work. And, for my own part, I am so frustrated with my own inability to be useful: to find a place where my talents, my passion, my willingness to show-up-and-tell-truth can make a difference.

While my host nodded with me, other women in the circle took the time to say something else.

Art from http://blogs.forbes.com/sabrinaparsons/

Art from http://blogs.forbes.com/sabrinaparsons/

One, an active clergywoman, said: nothing is more important than the time you spend, right now, with your child. No work you might do is more important. You should focus on being a mom.

Another woman said: I heard you say you were frustrated and you know that being a mom is the most important job you’ll ever have.

I was so angry.

Angry and betrayed and incredulous.

SERIOUSLY?

Motherhood is not a career. It is not a job. Yes, it is work. Hard work. Important work. And I am honored and delighted and beyond grateful that I get to be a mom. But. Motherhood is NOT a career. Not for me.

If you met a stranger who had kids – a man – at a party, and he shared with you about being between careers and being frustrated with finding work, would you say: “well, you know, fatherhood is the most important CAREER you’ll ever have.”

Didn’t we have that women’s rights movement – that FEMINISM thing – like forty years ago? Haven’t we covered this gender shtick already?

And what about my daughter? Is it healthy for her to be my meaning, my purpose, my essential contribution to the long arc of human existence on this planet?

No, no, no. I don’t believe it is healthy for a parent to use children as their raison d’être.

I know that what my friend told me later (as I fumed) is true: the reaction of these women was about them, and not about me. Born in a different generation, motherhood as a career may work for them, or perhaps seems like the only choice. But I am still angry. I know what it feels like, as a daughter, to be a mother’s reason-for-being, and I resent it. I never liked being my mother’s everything, and I don’t want to lay that burden on my daughter.

And, call me selfish, but I WANT TO BE USEFUL TO THE WORLD. I have talents and gifts and passion and ambition and I yearn to make a difference. Not just in one life – my daughter’s – but to my community, to the world.

Someday, sooner than seems reasonable, the time of diaper changes and school drop-offs will have passed, and my daughter will be an adult, on her own. What will my adult daughter have learned from me, her Mutti, about what it means to be a woman, to be human?

I want my daughter to see her mother helping others, speaking out, challenging institutions of oppression, working for justice, nurturing community for future generations.

I want to be fully myself.

I want my daughter to be fully herself.

I want us to be what I know we already are: powerful, powerful women.

***

Is parenthood a career for you? Why or why not? What is your reason for being?

Here Where I Live: Poverty, Responsibility & Other People’s Kids

I meant to tell you this days ago. In fact, for the past week I have been falling asleep writing this blog post in my head. But: the girl has been unimaginably fussy (rash on her torso? teething?), my knee has been hurting, the cat has needed to go in and out a million gazillion times, laundry is piling up, light bulbs in the bathroom burned out, the changing table shelf broke, and on and on. But here I am, FINALLY.

This post started with a study by Tufts University that “it’s the quality of housing – the presence of peeling paint or cockroaches, broken appliances or damaged walls – that most strongly predicts a child’s well-being and development.” Maybe this doesn’t seem like news, because we have a strong stereotype of the “projects” from movies and television. Crime happens there. Kids struggle to succeed. Drugs deals abound. Not surprisingly, the study found that “children in more derelict housing had lower average reading and math skills. They had more emotional and behavioral problems.”

But this kind of derelict housing? It is here where we live. Walking distance away. (Side note: did you know that  23% of Oregon kids live in poverty?). On my day off, I leave the house to go do whatever it is adults do when they aren’t caring for small children or working. I don’t actually know what it is adults do (sleep deprivation having wiped such memories from my brain), so between the necessary grocery shopping, thrift store forays, and library visits, I often end up simply parked by the side of the road, savoring the freedom to sit in silence without being tugged, needed, or whined upon.

Family winter warming shelter at our church. Photo by Human Solutions.

Family winter warming shelter at our church. Photo by Human Solutions.

Sometimes the side of the road finds me in front of an apartment complex on a busy street where I experience a trifecta of confusing emotions: a) relief: thank heaven I don’t have to live here, b) guilt: wow, some other family DOES have to live here, and c) concern: what should I be doing, if anything, about the quality of housing in my neighborhood?

Before I can untangle all those thoughts, I have to talk about the comments that people posted in the article on housing. Vicious, judgmental comments that blame poverty on poor people, make assumptions about priorities and choices, and assert that poor quality housing is a form of intentional, parental neglect.

Reading the comments made me cry. Do we really think so little of one another? Haven’t you ever looked for a place to live and had the experience of realizing that ALL YOU COULD AFFORD was a place you would not willingly choose to live, IF you had the choice? Can we really be so hard-hearted toward other human beings, to other PARENTS?

I don’t mean to be naive. Of course there are indifferent parents, people caught in addiction, and abusive families (in both rich and poor neighborhoods…though we don’t judge the rich neighborhoods the same). But all people, regardless of circumstance, are still real human beings who are deeply beloved by the Holy All who made them. I believe that God made everybody. And God loves everybody the same. In fact, if the Jesus stories are to be believed, God might even love the people who are parenting in poor housing a little bit more, because they need more love.

I have more to say about this. I want to talk about how racism intersects with poverty. I want to remind us that institutionalized oppression makes and keeps people poor.  I want to share my hopes for the church where my family has settled, here in Northeast Portland, and the winter warming shelter we host for homeless families. And I want to find out how we can work together to take responsibility for our neighborhoods.

But it is late and I need to sleep.

So I will sign off this post, throw a load in the wash, comfort the girl when she wakes without her bottle (tragedy!), rub my sore knee, and let the cat out. And while I stand on my dark porch stoop and look at my neighborhood, I will wonder: what can I do? How can I bring more love? How can I let more love in?

I don’t have the answers, but I do know, with deep conviction, that families are not just numbers in a study, and their struggles to find decent housing are not someone else’s problem. They live here, where I live, and our lives are connected. So I’ll start here, where I am —  holding out my heart, offering up my prayers, and in these words, making a commitment to find answers and take action.

(Hey, is that what adults do on their days off? Do good work for their community? Hmmm…. )

***

What is it like where you live?