Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Adults Standing on the Shoulders of Children

Has anyone else noticed that infants and children are held to stricter standards than the average adult?

I was thinking about this and realized it applies to many parenting practices across the board. For the sake of brevity, I've written about a few that are frequently discussed on the page.

For example, what is one of the BIG reasons people push for newborn circumcision? Because it would be unpleasant and painful for a full grown, sturdy man. Something a grown man is scared of and unable to tolerate, we force onto newborns!

Or how about, if you smacked anyone else in our society from any walk of life, even a convicted felon in jail, you'd be prosecuted for assault and labeled violent. But smacking your child is accepted as long as you are teaching your child a lesson. You just can't teach anyone else a lesson with smacking. So children, being young and innocent, make the most justifiable mistakes compared to what adults do (lying, stealing, cheating on an adult level), but only children get the most physical punishment.

And then I think about how, if I was crying, scared and alone in my bed, I would want my partner to come into the room and comfort me or check on me. If he didn't, I'd feel abandoned. If I talked about the incident with other friends, they'd all condemn him as being neglectful and coldhearted. "What if you were having a bad dream?" "What if you had fallen and needed help?" Yet we are expected to put our babies into their rooms, turn out the lights and ignore them until morning. To teach them a lesson we wouldn't accept from our partners.

Why is it that we hold our children to stricter expectations than ourselves as adults? Why do we treat adults, who are able to control their impulses and emotions, better than we treat children, who are still cognitively and physically developing?

Why is it that when an adult spills a glass, everyone laughs, says it's okay and helps clean it up? But then when a child spills a glass, he's ridiculed, shamed, yelled at or spanked and told to, "clean up your own mess?"

It seems the strongest, most capable, wiser humans are deserving of the harsher, more painful punishments and lessons. And the smaller, weaker and newer humans deserve the tender, protective, forgiving behaviors. Yet our society is the complete opposite when it comes to parenting expectations.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Spiritual and Corporal Works of a Mother

Inspired by comforting conversations I had with my own mom, I wanted to piece together some thoughts I've had on mothering as a symbol in our culture and the journey of finding dignity in our roles as mothers. This post has a religious context.

Whether you completed a degree, developed a career or not, most mothers at some point question their decision to care for another person 24/7, unconditionally and without any pay or praise. Mothering in our culture takes a beating, often portrayed as thankless, lowly and undesirable work that is to be avoided if you ever want to make something of your life.

Interestingly, this mindset has crept into the Christian community. Please note that I am not calling out or condemning anyone, but rather touching on the potential temptations and traps mothers might find themselves walking towards on their journeys. There is a stereotype, an image of the mother who feels her home is not where she belongs. Her family is second to missionary work, to going outside the home and helping others. She does not feel as if she is doing enough for God if she is "only" being a mother.

First, this does have a nugget of truth in it. We should strive to help others whenever and wherever we can in life. The trouble here is when it becomes an unacknowledged attempt to raise ourselves up from a perceived lowly status or when we neglect our primary vocation.

Buying into the societal message that mothering is lowly, worthless, burdensome and an obscure, unhelpful or wasteful job can lead mothers to feel as if they are not doing enough in this world. Despite most mothers feeling bogged down by the daily demands of raising children, despite being tired, overworked and constantly needed by children, many of us still feel the pressing desire to do more! We are not good enough is the message, and we blindly rise to the challenge at the risk of neglecting the most precious and important job of all.

When a mama is feeling down, when she feels unappreciated and perhaps even regretful for choosing motherhood, what is she to do? The rote response is to spend time on herself and on non-mothering roles. And this is an important and healthy option, don't misunderstand me. But in specific cases where the issue is stemming from a lack of respect for her role, absorbing herself in hobbies or people outside of her family won't heal the wound of inferiority.

When a mama feels she is worthless, it's time to practice the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.

The Corporal Works of Mothering
Cook a meal to feed your hungry children.
Respond to the cries of thirst day and night.
Change diaper after diaper and replace outfit after outfit.
Keep your home tidy, safe and welcoming.
Cuddle with your sick children and nourish them to health.
Connect with your child instead of detaching or punishing.
Celebrate every moment of every day with your children because you cannot stop death.

The Spiritual Works of Mothering

Model healthy and gentle ways of living to your children when they act out.
Show your children how to live virtuously.
Reassure your children frequently.
Comfort your children when they are hurt, scared, lonely or learning life's lessons.
When your teenager screams that he hates you, bear it patiently. 
Forgive every toddler bite, every childhood accident, every teen mistake.
Pray for your children daily.

Mothering is actually the most selfless, caring, dedicated journey you can embark on during your lifetime. You are called to 100% sacrifice, every day, all day (and especially all night) without recognition from society. Without praise and popularity, without pay and benefits, you will completely dedicate yourself to loving and raising another human being. You are, in fact, performing the most demanding, most important job on this planet. You are raising the future generation of this world. You are not lowly, worthless or undesirable. You are a mother.

And for those mamas of the faith, I ask you: why do you let the world shape your sense of worth and dignity? Why do you feel you aren't doing enough in your faith journey? Who in religion is most venerated? Who is most exalted? Who has the most statues, poems, pictures, songs and receives the most attention?

An uneducated, unemployed mother who only bore a child, breastfed and mothered Him.