28 June 2012

Your big chance: from the CSPP inbox

From a deaconess student doing a research project on mercy:

 I wondered if you might have any insights or suggestions of things you wish the church offered to you! . . . I would love to hear any ideas you had, or if you'd even want to pose the question to your readers, of how the church/a deaconess/other women in the church could help and support moms like you both spiritually and in day to day needs. 

What would you like to tell this lady? I'll leave my comments in the, um, comments.


Rebekah said...

I think it's important to recognize that the at-home mom is the rarer species of mom, and although that has many challenges, it is the privileged species. All the blather about fulfilling careers does not apply to most working mothers. Most women are just working in whatever job they can get to stay in the black, and frankly, it looks pretty rotten to me. I work hard to stay on top of stuff, and I'm here all day long with nothing else that I have to do unless I voluntarily take it on. Although I am lonely, and the care of children is a maddening task, and it is easy to feel disrespected, I have the easier job. So first, I think a parish caregiver should assess the real situations of mothers in her parish and respond to them, not to an ideal.

In that light, I feel that my own requests of the church should be limited. I think that a mother-oriented act of mercy which would be appreciated by most families is postpartum care, particularly help with meals and possibly also childcare or household help for isolated families (with sensitivity to the comfort level of the family in regard to those services). Mothers of multiples, those who have c-sections, and those with numerous children may be in particular need of assistance during the postpartum period.

Many mothers are also quite unwell during pregnancy. It would be nice if a lady from the parish were able to make an inquiry letting the mother know that it's OK to be honest about how she is doing, what her illness or injury is, and what kind of help the household could use.

Mercy care is needed for mothers and families who suffer a miscarriage, a stillbirth, or a child's illness.

The church does not serve families by adding to their activity list. Most families are SO BUSY with all the junk their kids are in. They do not need "Family Nights." They need actual family nights, which is to say, nights at home with their families. The church should not be among the entities demanding that everybody be loaded into the car and dragged somewhere. Families have to do that all the time. Let church be church, and families be families. Let the church be the place where families are given what they need, and the thing most families need (besides forgiveness ha ha ha) is TIME.

A voice on the phone belonging to someone the family doesn't really know from the church office is artificial. Mercy care is all of us noticing each other, being moved by the needs of our brothers and sisters, and helping them as we are able. This should occur naturally in churches. A deaconess can facilitate that where it is lacking.

And, you know, don't be jerks to people with lots of kids. Or people with not that many kids. Or people with no kids. Or PEOPLE.

I think the best way for the church to support mothers spiritually is the same way it can support all people spiritually: by encouraging an active sacramental life, including private confession and absolution.

Incidentally: our family is very well cared for by our parish. It is common for people to offer to transport one or two of our children to events to which they have been individually invited, to take kids to church when I am home with a sick one, to bring us garden/food surplus, to give us hand-me-downs, to rejoice with us when we have another blessed announcement, to assist us when we have a new baby, and generally to be sensitive to the needs of a family with many children. I'm sure much of this is due to Dad being the pastor, but regardless of the motivation, we are very blessed to be in the care of such a thoughtful and generous parish. They should write an informational pamphlet. :D

Angela said...

All of the above...I will add "encouraging women to ask for help when they need it." My husband had knee surgery in January when I was 30 weeks pregnant with baby #4. I requested assistance with meals and our wonderful deaconess arranged that for the day of surgery and the rest of the week. When my pastor called to check on husband he thanked me for asking for help. "People want to show mercy, but they often don't know what to do." Looking back, I should have asked for assistance with schlepping husband to PT in the weeks that he couldn't drive, and with picking my kiddos up from school on days that I had midwife appointments. Recalling that time, with the occasional days where I found myself weeping on the floor from sheer and total exhaustion, it is obvious that I should have asked for more help. I kind of felt that if no one was offering then they didn't have time, or that they didn't think I needed help.
I often lament that my mother didn't seem so all-encompassed by the day to day household and child wrangling "stuff". Half as many children probably helped, but she also had my grandmother and three of my aunts living within 10 minutes of us. There were people around to watch kids during appointments and errand running. So many people live far from family, and I often yearn for an extra hand when I need to be two places at once. A list of people who would be willing to watch a few kiddos once or twice a year would be tremendous. The thing I miss most about my days as a work-outside-the-home mother is the pre-arranged childcare. My husband had the kiddos from 6 am 'til noon, leaving me time (and sick leave) for things like going to the dentist or visiting with a therapist for postpartum depression. I think that the stay at home mom could be immensely helped by small gifts of time. If a deaconess would be willing to color with my kiddos for a bit I could do things like private confession. I would not be offended if our deaconess were to ask me both how I can help others, and how I need help. For her to have a record of offers and needs and then facilitate those within the congregation could be very useful.

Angela said...

I should add that I have crossed paths on CSPP with my own church's deaconess - my comments above should not be interpreted as criticism or critique. She is lovely and does a fantastic job of aiding the congregation. I really just had not thought about the church offering assistance in day-to-day situations.

mz said...

I particularly would add postpartum emotional support. One reason I suffered so terribly with PPD and PP anxiety was due to a lack of an active, compassionate listener in my life. I am blessed tremendously by familial support with household tasks and child care for appointments, but when it came to dealing with the overwhelming feelings that birth and parenthood dredged up, they were seen as a problem in need of fixing. A little validation, empathy and a gentle nudge in the right direction (confession) probably would have done me a world of good.

Megan said...

I'm going to think more about it, but my first thought is a pew buddy for adults with littles who are alone in the pew on Sunday. An adult on each end of the pew goes a long way in keeping a toddler in check. And if said toddler is just DONE and needs to go to the cry room there is still someone with the kids. Recently a very sweet (kid-loving) 17 year old has become my pew buddy, and I sure miss her on the Sundays her family misses church.

Katy said...

Seconding what Megan said about "pew buddy." We acquired a childless couple back when my husband was sub organist in the summer months. Now they are permanent fixtures in our pew, even though he doesn't play anymore, and have become good friends (we had them over during the holidays and exchanged small gifts). Instead of sympathizing or disapproving silently, HELP.

Consider those who travel a distance for church each Sunday. I am going to disagree with Rebekah and say I love family events at church, because they allow us to get to know other families with whom we can't really visit during the week. Maybe she means monthly or weekly ordeals, which would be a bit much. Any social events are best after church or weekly services, instead of on a separate day.

Encourage hospitality--people asking other people to their homes. We love it when people ask us to dinner after church (both planned and unplanned), because it gives me some rest before the drive home. (Although I can imagine some families would be stressed out by lengthening the day away from home...)

Stephanie said...

Thanks, ladies. These are great thoughts!

Anonymous said...

Rebekah said "The Church does not serve families by adding to their activity list." I agree! Even after *one* church service (with or without doughnuts) I need a nap!

mz mentioned "postpartum support." Sometimes "hospitality" can mean a listening ear - for an hour, if needed. And a box of kleenex. Also, there are post abortion and post-trauma victims all around us.