Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The mothering is the mission

I read something today that infuriated me. And I had to stop and wonder why. Then I began writing in my head and had a very strong urge and some downtime today to actually write at the computer. I've long thought that I just shouldn't write exactly what I think when I'm angry. Too often, I practice restraint of tongue and pen to a fault.

I'm trying something different today. 

I read a piece titled "Myopically Mothering My Own as Mission?" Now, I feel like this author could be a very nice woman. And what she says has some merit. However, the very headline sparked a hot flame of anger as I quickly realized that this was to be yet another criticism of mothers. But this time couched in how God wants you to mother your children.

Oh boy.

She writes that whether or not mothering our children is “missional” depends on how we’re defining it. To her, "missional" means getting outside of ourselves to move toward others. She described her own privileged family and others like it as a private insular existence that is apparently at odds with that definition.

I disagree with her. A lot.

I think that being a mother is a very special mission. All of it. The 3 a.m. feedings, the cleaning of messes, the wiping of noses, tears and bottoms. And I think that this private insular existence is God's original classroom design whereby children are taught in the most secure, stable and loving environment how to treat others. God gave me a very specific job to do right now. It happens to involve being near constantly available to three small children. It is a mission of self-forgetting. Our children are others and they exist to make my husband and I more tolerant, compassionate people. And the ripple effect that all of this has cannot be underestimated or downplayed.

This so-called myopic work is not keeping me from doing God's work. It is God's work. If you want to get all scriptural about it, there is just as much a mandate for parental responsibilities as there is to care for, advocate for and love the poor, powerless, sick and your enemies. And, as a parent, I will tell you that your children will be all of these things on any given day.

She doesn't elaborate on what exactly she believes is wrong with how some women mother their children and live their Christian lives. She does, however, give a few examples of mothers who are doing what she believes is missional work. A few women are teaching their children ways to change the world, one woman through a global campaign to help the poor. All these things are noble and can make you feel really good about what you're doing for God's kingdom on earth.

Honestly, though, at this stage of my life, so-called mission work winds up being just another thing to feel guilty about not doing. And, frankly, I'm exhausted. It is more than a little insulting to be told that being absorbed with caring for my own young children in a very needy stage of their lives is myopic.

They are no less deserving of love, compassion and resources than any other child of God. Yes, we are more privileged than some. Yes, we are grateful. Yes, we share what we have materially. But more importantly we share what we have spiritually in the acts of kindness and compassion and patience and tolerance that are much, much harder to give routinely than time and energy and material wealth that we give to strangers.

My mother refused to get over involved in church programs when we were growing up. Doing anything at the expense of our family's sacred space was out of the question. She knew, as I do know, that the most important work she did for God at that stage of her life was for her family.

You could almost bet on the bad behavior and popularity of my peers based on how often their families were at the church. There really is a reason for the preacher's kid stereotype. As a friend of mine told me over and over again, if you're not making it at home, you're not making it.

It's easy and more immediately gratifying to give your time, energy and money to an organized cause. It is much harder to continue to give those same things to children when the fruits of that labor are slow in coming.

It is easy to feel compassion for those who are sick or poor. It's difficult to practice compassion with a 2-year-old hellbent on puncturing your eardrums with her shrieks.

It is easy to donate and deliver items to the poor. It is much harder to share your breakfast morning after morning with the children when all you want is something, anything, to yourself.  

By focusing inward and upward, I see more clearly what God's will for me is. As a Christian, my commitment is to make his will my mission. Right now, that mission is reflected in the six little eyes that stare back at me from the breakfast table every morning.


Kelley said...

I would suggest linking to this article in your post. I felt I couldn't really understand you until I read her piece. I was interested to find it on Red Letter Christians, a place where I have been reading a lot lately.

I agree with you. I feel that the main purpose you are trying to achieve with parenting is to turn out kind, compassionate, thoughtful, responsible, etc. new citizens of society, or new missionaries themselves. (I say all of this without having attempted parenting--I reserve the right to change my mind about anything parenting-philosophy-related in the future!)

However, knowing what I know about this website, my guess is that she was trying more to make a point about teaching kids about the less fortunate rather than attacking moms. (Though it certainly didn't come across as well as it could.) I think you acknowledged that. I almost want to just tell her, We're arguing semantics here, lady. (Which she acknowledged to some degree, referring to what definition you use.) Without doing the work at home, the kid will never get why you're sponsoring the kid in Africa. And yes, you're right, your kids ARE others. You teach Fiona to be kind to Danny and Owen and she'll practice it better outside of her family. Original classroom indeed.

Did you comment on her post? I think you should.

Josee said...

i should have added the link. it slipped my mind!

as a parent, i do see the subtle digs in how she referred to setting up train tracks and wiping oatmeal as not enough like mission work for her taste. that is part of the job and i contend that spending time helping a child construct train tracks or taking the time to wipe oatmeal off the table all contributes to creating a stable, loving environment in which a child can thrive. and the way she writes about this makes me think she's looking for personal fulfillment through mission work rather than fulfillment of God's will. wiping oatmeal and setting up train tracks in and of itself is not fulfilling, but the long term rewards for me and for a world sorely needing to see God's love in action are fulfilling.

i should comment on her post. once i figure out how to not sound so insulted! thanks for commenting.

Tracey said...

Beautifully said. I totally agree...I feel like this is a general theme in our society, with the focus being on what you are doing out in and for the world while the importance of what parents are doing in the home is downplayed. And the reality is what we are doing in the home, for and with our children, IS what we are doing for the world. As my husband likes to say, "I figure if you want more good people in the world, you have to put them there yourself."

Kelley said...

Tracey, I love this!

As my husband likes to say, "I figure if you want more good people in the world, you have to put them there yourself."

Never had the words before!

Carolyn said...

I think I understood the article differently, and maybe this is because I actually know the woman who wrote it. I think the idea is that being in mission to the world (which is a part of our faith) should be a part of how we parent. That how I love my son and what I teach him and how we spend our time as he gets older and understands how fortunate he is is part of the mission. I shouldn't leave him at home and go care for the poor...if he's old enough, I can take him with me and use it as a chance to teach him experientially, rather than just talking about it. I don't think this is easy when you've got three, such as yourself, and the youngest is still so little. But, I don't think she was bashing mothers. I think she was giving us some food for thought.

Josee said...

carolyn, i'm glad you weighed in. i did feel a bit uncomfortable being angry about this piece when i knew that you probably knew her. (i actually know of her through another friend.)

the reason i felt that mothers were being bashed was the use of the word "myopic." it is not a flattering word used in this context. with so much dysfunction in families these days, even in families within the church, i would submit that doing the hard work of growing a strong family is mission work in itself. yes, mission work outside the family is important, but to separate the daily work of family life from other kinds of mission work is neither necessary nor helpful to mothers. It's all one in the same to me, but I did not get that impression from what she wrote (even though she may feel that way).

Carolyn said...

No, I'm glad you posted! No reason to be uncomfortable and I think I do agree with a bunch of what you said. I also don't think she's advocating more involvement in "church" but just more awareness of what's outside her family. Possibly she used the word myopic because she felt her own parenting had been that way. I don't know. I think there's probably a healthy middle, where we love our kids and try raise them well in the midst of community wherein they learn to be kids that care about other people and those less fortunate. Where mission to our kids and mission to the world are actually closely linked because we do them both together. Which might be what you're both trying to say.