Let the Children Come to Me
Categories: Heathers Blog
I hate to admit this, but I guess when it comes to gender, I am a controversial person.
I have made a couple of controversial decisions in my life. The first was to get married when I was only twenty years old and in the second year of my first degree. A lot of my friends thought I was mad. It was a long time ago now, but I can still remember some of the cursing words that were spoken:
‘You’ll never finish your degree’
‘You’re too young to know what you want in a life partner’
‘Have you even thought this through? Are you some kind of dumb blonde?’
‘This is just the first time you’ve ever experienced being in love. Don’t make a life-long decision based on one serious relationship. Get more experience.’
‘You’ll get pregnant and your life will be over’
Etc … etc … etc
I say this with no air of pride or self-righteousness: ALL OF THOSE PEOPLE WERE WRONG.
Having said that, I understand that you know a lot more about yourself and the world and what’s involved in a long term relationship when you’re not twenty. And I know that for many people the decision to get married at a young age didn’t pan out the way it has for me. All of the well-intentioned advice was … well-intentioned.
There is so much well-intentioned advice around. So much of it doesn’t help us girls, as we try to navigate the smorgasbord of opportunities that we are fortunate to have: study, work, travel, relationships … children.
The second controversial decision I made, without intending to be controversial, was to train to be ordained in the Anglican Church. It was over ten years ago now when that journey began, and I had no idea at the time that my gender was going to be an issue that I would have to consider on the journey. I was much more naïve about the challenges that would be ahead of me on this path, than I ever was about marriage. There were questions that I would have to later answer which at the time I didn’t even know were questions …
What would be the cost, financial and personal, to my family?
How would having children fit into this picture? Would it?
How would working in ministry look alongside a husband also working in the church?
What does the Bible say about the role of women in the church and in the home?
What does being faithful to God look like, as a woman, in the church and in the world?
On this stuff the world around me was largely silent.
No well-intentioned advice?
It was either …
Or … the odd raised eyebrows, followed by … Silence.
I have made some mistakes along the way. I could have used some well-intentioned advice actually.
It was really having my daughter Mary (who is now one year old) that opened up for me a whole scale, brand new world of understanding my value, design and capacity as a woman, as a person and as a child of God. I have begun to understand the words in the Bible so much more practically and tangibly … and just in time, as I am now raising a daughter and working in an all-girl’s school as a Chaplain.
Unlike the journey to ordination, becoming a parent plonked me into a tidal wave of well-intentioned advice about how to be a woman, and yes, some raised eyebrows too … ‘Oh, you’re not doing controlled crying? Oh, are you going to feed your baby that? Oh, you haven’t enrolled her in day care yet? Oh, oh oh …. What do you mean you’re not managing to keep your house immaculate, grow organic food, advance a career, go back to study, have quality and quantity time with your child and husband, stay sexy and change the world on three hours of sleep? What’s wrong with you? When are you having another one?’
Here’s what I reckon: women need to stop trying to be God. That’s A. You can’t do everything coz you’re not God, that’s A, Even when you are fabulous and amazing, which we all are.
B. We are different to men; not less valuable, not less intelligent, not less capable of leadership, but we are different. Gender is not a social construct, it’s the way God made us, and it should, therefore, be something to enjoy and celebrate (if this is true, which I think it is)!!! Having said that, for something that isn’t a social construct, we certainly have managed to socially construct a lot of ideas around it.
C. Stereotypes don’t help.
D. The divide between man and woman, masculine and feminine, would be experienced in a far more positive way if we could break down the divide between the home and the workplace/marketplace. For example, ‘Stay-at-home mothers’ don’t actually stay at home! Or at least, they shouldn’t for the whole day – that is a recipe for social isolation = bad. They go to the park and to play-groups and to the shops and the doctor and to visit friends and family, which is all part of the job. What’s more, ‘working mothers’ don’t only work in their workplace, but also at home, which is partly a workplace. The idea that work is away from the home and that the home is somehow a place of leisure and sanctuary from work is only partly true. It’s not completely true for women and I think if we were honest, it’s not completely true for men … at least , the men who do housework, pay bills, fix stuff, get woken up when babies are crying at night.
I could go on … but I think it will suffice to say this: contraception has enabled us women to study and have careers, which is great, but babies and domestic work are not the enemies of female emancipation. Let’s be feminists who are opposed to violence against and discrimination of women, but not feminists who take it too far … who say the only way we can have equality is if we can eradicate the differences between men and women … which means somehow starting a family without letting the work involved in that in any way get in the way of staying competitive in a man’s world.
And I’m not saying women should have to sacrifice a career to be mothers when men don’t have to …. I’m saying LET CHILDREN GET IN THE WAY. Whether you have them or not, whether you are married or single, let them get in the way, under our feet, in our cafes, throwing food around and being generally distracting. Because if we don’t, we shut women away and we force them to sit in boxes, at home, or in the workplace. And they aren’t nice boxes. And they aren’t edifying.
And we tell them marriage is a trap, instead of a joy.
And we see babies as a barrier to life, instead of the gift of life.
And we ask them to war with their biological clock.
And we demean part time work as though it were less valuable.
And we pretend unpaid work isn’t work.
And we have no idea how a woman can be called to leadership if she’s married and having children and submitting her life to the love of her life.
Have you noticed that our culture is a little bit child-adverse? I have been the person who wanted those annoying people with prams to not be in my way at the shops, I have to admit. Now that I am that annoying person, I guess I know what it feels like to be treated like you are in the way because you have a child. Yes, children these days seem a little attention-seeking and spoilt, but I can’t help but think that if they’re desperately seeking attention, maybe we should give them some attention and stop structuring life in a way that says to them: ‘You’re in the way and you’re slowing me down’.
This is a feminist issue. Structuring life in a way that says success, fulfilment and progress can only come when children are out of the way, kind of puts women in a pickle.
Jesus got it. When his followers tried to get the snotty-nosed rug rats out of the way Jesus told them not to. “Let the children come to me”, he said (Matthew 19.14). This tells us that he regarded children as important and valuable, but it also tells us that in his world, women and children are not second class citizens. Coz guess what, if the children aren’t allowed to be part of the very important adult theological discussion time, then all those mums, aunts and grandma’s don’t get to be part of it either. Coz they have to whisk them away and leave the men to their business.
Knowing that I am valued and included by God, as a woman, means that I don’t feel like I’m missing out when my husband goes to work and I work at home raising my baby. It also means, that I don’t feel excluded from other work, from other kinds of fulfilment, or from all the ‘grown-up’ business, coz I can bring my baby with me … she is welcome and so am I.
I’m sorry, girls, for all the times the church told you, with words or silence, that your child (and you) were not welcome to the grown up stuff. I’m sorry if you have felt shut away colouring in pictures of Jesus welcoming children in shut-up rooms, because you didn’t feel welcome in church. I’m sorry if we didn’t challenge the notion that marriage and children will set you back in life, unless you make them second and third on your priority list. I’m sorry if we were silent about gender because we were too afraid to challenge our society’s attempts to deconstruct it. I’m sorry if we role-modelled unbiblical stereotypes.
Let’s create spaces where women can juggle work within and outside of the home, bring children to meetings, skype during nap time, work from home and access support at work and at home. It might slow us down sometimes. It might make us a little less productive, but you know what, small price to pay.
And anyway, I think Jesus can handle it. Did you hear what he did with five loaves and two fish? You should see what he can do with five minutes and two nap times in a day.