30 September 2008

Her one finger. Not mine.

While I appreciate the efforts of thoughtful theologians to demonstrate that the care of children is not a lesser vocation, I resent the frequent characterization of women as being more personally suited to the task than men: her one finger, his two fists and all that. This may be true very generally. But it is not true of me.

The biological equipment is the extent of my inherent capability for the generation and care of children. I am impatient. I have a short fuse and a bad temper. I get bored quickly. I get annoyed easily. I'm much more inclined, less the constraints of conscience, to use my two fists than some kind of fabled preternatural maternal gentleness. I like to get deeply absorbed in impersonal tasks. I hate noise, I hate interruptions. I don't find children cute or amusing and I do not, on balance, enjoy their company. I don't like cuddling with the flailing, grubby things unless I'm darn cold. When people asked if I wanted to hold the baby back in the day, I said no.

For what it's worth, arguing that women are better programmed temperamentally to take care of children is, for many women, not persuasive. It's ultimately a practical point, which are usually not the most beneficial in theological context (because hey, if I'm not maternally gifted, I shouldn't be mothering, right?). I'm tempted to throw a "theology of glory" at it too.

16 comments:

The Rebellious Pastor's Wife said...

I've never heard the comparison of the finger to the fist, but I would have to say in the discussion that I am more temperamentally suited to raising my children has always left me running to the confessional, rather than feeling affirmed in my vocation.

The only thing that I can say that points to my being the one that should be here is the way my children crave my attention in a different way than they crave my husband, despite my grumpiness, my getting sensory overwhelmed, etc. The biological link is gone, and they grow more independent by the day, but they still crave ME.

Blogversary said...

Thank you! I get so annoyed when well-meaning theologians prose about the proper place for a woman.

My brother is stay at home dad. And, nothing has changed him more for the better than being the main childcare giver.

Just wanted to say I agree.

Rebekah said...

RPW, isn't that weird? I have no idea why my kids like me, but they do seem to.

Blogversary, I wouldn't say the theologians are wrong when they talk about who belongs where, but I do expect such clever fellows to restrict their theological arguments to the theological, and their human arguments to the widely evincible and rhetorically sound. ;)

Reb. Mary said...

Yeah...just hang around my house for awhile, and you'll see why the "she's more temperamentally suited to care and nurture children tenderly at home" thing is not a sound argument. Since I'm here, I rather wish it were true, but I'm not here because it's true. (the temperament part, not the vocation part...that much i can at least intellectually acknowledge.)

Gauntlets said...

The more diapers I change, the bigger my crown, right? Right?!?

Here's a mystery: The nicer I am, the more I'm punished--you should see the disaster these urchins wreak upon my house and the downswing in their behavior on my "Mother loves her little bunny!" days. I think on those "bunny" days they smell the phony, and think I've gone soft in the head. What comfort is found in the familiar scowl on mother's sallow face! ;)

Joy said...

Indeed, every diaper changed is a diamond in the diadem!

I am a sanctified wrestler, not Mary Poppins. I generally can't stand other people's kids and find my own annoying. When the eldest asks why I yell, I tell her it saves time. Thankfully I have a patient and forbearing dh who doesn't crumble to pieces when the house is the epitome of chaos (as it usually is).

Monique said...

You have no idea how good this post made me feel. I have told my husband on numerous occasions that I don't know why the Lord continues to give me children when I am so lousy at mothering.

AshleyEffken said...

The post is also a great comfort to me! As a young, unmarried woman, I have often worried-- given my own lack of anything resembling "preternatural maternal gentleness"-- about whether or not I will someday, after being married, make even a passable mother. But there is hope! Thank you for reminding me of that.

Karin said...

I appreciate the raw honesty of this post and I do think it also reflects on the issue of large families as well. Are we having more children because we just love and adore being stressed and impatient? I have had several people say to me on occasion that I must really love children when if they only knew that my patience and love for them is not exaxtly virtuous of anything! I may seem calm at the moment as I take care of ONE child but truly the screaming, not thinking ahead, irrational behavior of my children is not my favorite subject AT ALL! So thank you for this honest post. I think I will copy and paste it and keep it in my purse to explain my life to other puzzled people.....but then they might not understand even then.....

Rebekah said...

Well, girls, it's a good thing Blessed Martin Luther isn't around to hear that none of us are any good at this--it would break his poor, dear heart! :D

Ashley, I've found that kids grade with a great deal of mercy and really want their mothers to pass. :)

Pam said...

Sisters,
There is so much I want to say to you on this, I'm not sure I can condense it, even after pondering it awhile... deserving of its own blog, perhaps? ;D

1. Remember that it was Martin Luther who made this comparison, not Katie. He said a woman can do with a child with one finger what a man would need a whole hand (or two?) to do. Do you think Katie Luther would have said it of herself? I doubt it. My own husband has said this of me, and I have found it humbling, because I don't think I do so hot much of the time. But I am looking at my own sins, and my own idealism, and of course I'll NEVER measure up to that, not to speak of God's standards.

Whereas my husband is looking at me through saint eyes, those who recognize me and the children as forgiven sinners, just like him, and those eyes come only through GRACE.

2. Everything Rebekah has described of herself that makes her less than ideally suited to be mother, those characteristics to wich I think we can all relate, are really nothing so different than what all sinners struggle with, men and women alike--SIN NATURE. It is our sin nature that lets us be annoyed, bored, impatient, short-tempered, and pretty much anything the opposite of gentle. This is true in general, not just with regard to children. It all has as its source basic human selfishness.

So the different degrees to which this manifests itself for mothers, in their dealings with their children, I think, is largely affected by the influences of family background and culture, especially its encouragement or discouragement of selfishness.

We all are sinners, so how we were raised in the family and how we are influenced by the culture in which we live can either help us mature and learn to live selfishly
or selflessly. Think of others you know and I think you will see what I mean. There are those we look up to as great Christian examples, who give selflessly to others, and we only wish we could be more like them... but talk to those same folks, and they would tell you they have the same sinful condition you have and struggle every day too.

And there are those we see who live very selfish lives, the young people who must have it all, want to "have their freedom" before marrying (or not marrying at all), then children, if they are had, are only seen as a commodity, a possession, another notch in the belt of social status. That's why they are relegated to daycare, which I would more accurately term an orphanage, because they are wanted only for what they can offer, not to be the object of the love and nurturing. After all, mom and dad have more important pursuits to attend to, such as self-fulfillment, advancing one's career, having "my own life," etc, etc, etc.

Can anyone argue with me that we live in a culture that is all about self? I will dare to say it, because I understand every one of you to be a thinking Christian--
the mothering instict, tainted though it is by sin, is there, and our own culture has done a bang-up job of working against it, gleefully and easily turning out young women and men who have to work very hard at sacrifice, who can no longer discern between taking care of self, and allowing it to become a hook of excuse on which to hang every selfish desire.

Understand I am commenting generally, not personally, but we really would be foolish to believe that this aspect of culture has not permeated the church as well.
We are not immune!

3. All that said, we know the best way to teach is by example, and I frequently take comfort in the fact that at least in my weakness, my children cannot but know that mom is a sinner too, and even she needs Jesus' redemption. We have had that conversation so many times already with our children, and we have to apologize to them and be forgiven on a regular basis too.

Thank God you are a Lutheran, and you know that you can't win heaven by being a good mom. You don't have to despair when you feel like anythng BUT qualified for the job, because God knew that when He chose to bless you with children. He sent Christ to die for ALL that, and as He told Paul, "My strength is made perfect in your weakness."

We don't always know why or how, but He uses our weaknesses to His glory!

Jane said...

Posts like this are part of the reason I love you ladies so and tell the young moms I know to read your blog. :)

MooreMama said...

Pam - You Rock. Amen!

Rebekah - maybe because I'm new to this and maybe it'll wear off, but:
My eyes are opening to the Power of Mommy this week. I've always been the Aunt or the Auntie - good enough for now, but once the Mom walks in, I'm chopped liver. Until now. Now, I have a teeny bundle of pink and hair, and she loves me best. She'd rather be in my arms than in those of her grandmas, aunts, or even (gasp!) daddy. I've done nothing to deserve it. It's not because I'm any wiser or more cuddly than the next person. I'm just Mama.

Will she someday realize that Daddy is a better jungle gym and Aunt Roader is more fun and Grandma is much more maternal? Will she, in her teenaged business, forget to thank me for making sure that she has a hot breakfast or a ride to wherever? Will she take me for granted, and I her? Will there be times when we are at our wits' end with each other? WIll there be catastrophes that I can neither see nor prevent? Will I feel helpless and incompetant? Probably. But I'll still be Mama. And, when the chips are down, we all know that we can run to Mama, imperfections and all.

Pam said...

Oh, MooreMama, dontcha just LOVE that feeling? It is one of my favorites. So humbling, and so uplifting.

A month ago, one of our members held our little one, who at the time was eight weeks old or so.

She immediately turned to me, distraught, with a precious look of "Mom, where are you? Take me back!" I apologized sheepishly, as the gentlemen good-naturedly stated, "Didn't know you could spoil 'em THAT early!"

Inside, I was beaming. :)

Joy said...

And dontcha just love how, anytime the kids want YOU, it's because you've "spoiled them"? Spoiling is what happens when you neglect to properly care for something--when you set it aside and ignore its needs. Infants should want their mommies, and mommies should never think twice about holding them. It's called developing a secure attachment, people!

MooreMama said...

My refrain of late: "All the books say that you can't possibly spoil a child before (insert whatever age here). It is my job to provide for her needs and to make her feel as secure as possible."

If it means that I am always holding her, fine. If it means that she is constantly attached to my boob, great. (means she's growing!) If it means that she wants me over anyone else, so be it.

I've waited a long time to be the Mama, y'all aren't going to rob me of my fun.
(Not YOU, CSPPers, but Them - the Fun-Haters)

Yes, Pam and Joy, I am loving it. All of it. Even the sleep-nursing from 2-3:30 am.