Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: mother

Please Don’t Try to Be the Best: A Letter to my Daughter on her First Day of Kindergarten

Last week, I bought your first backpack for kindergarten (not your first one ever—you had one for preschool). While we were shopping, I thumbed through the spiral-bound journals, remembering when I was eight years old, and my mother bought me my first scented diary. I let you pick one out for yourself and you chose a light pink one with a unicorn, the words Make today magical scrawled across the front.

That night, you stayed up far past your bedtime. You wanted to write in your notebook, but you’ve only just learned how to write the alphabet. So you pulled out your Richard Scarry book and copied words from it.

Richard Scarry

Hippoelephantzebra.

Then, you wrote your oft-repeated motif from your fourth year of life,

Mom love. Love moma.

IMG_20180412_103000

I thought you would sleep in the next morning.

But there you were at 4:00 a.m., standing next to my side of the bed. You didn’t touch me to wake me up. You just stood there until I opened my eyes to the light of the hallway.

“Henry’s talking, Mama. So I’m going to write in my notebook now. Are you going to do yoga?”

It turned out that Henry was just sleep-talking, but I got up anyway since I usually get up early to exercise. To you, exercise always means yoga. But instead of yoga, I lifted weights while you copied words into your notebook while eagerly watching me lift weights to my workout DVD. After fifteen minutes, you joined me in lifting weights.

Kind of.

You picked up a two-pound weight with your right hand.

Since this happened to your left elbow a few weeks ago.

Felicity cast

You and I “worked out” together. You, with a 2-pound weight and a haphazardly stretched resistance band. Me, with 10- and 20-pound weights.

And when we were done at 5:00 a.m., we took a walk down the street, you wearing your brand new backpack. With the tags still on.

You told me about how excited you were to start kindergarten and all of your plans about what you would put in your new cubby in your new school. You recited all the steps that will be involved in getting you to your new school.

“First, I’ll get up in the morning and get dressed. Then, Daddy will take me to daycare and I’ll eat breakfast. Then, someone will drive me on the bus to kindergarten. And then what, Mama?”

We went over the steps several times, our sneakered feet moving quietly across the pavement, the moon high in the early morning sky.

Of course, by 1:00 p.m., you completely crashed at naptime.

***

I’ve learned a lot about you in the first five years of your life.

You’re like me.

Caring. Lover of books. Curious. Persistent to the point of Stubborn. Strong.

But you’re also not like me at all.

You’re a Natural Born Leader. Optimistic. Super-sociable. Pusher of boundaries. Observant. (You can spot a tiny cricket, hiding behind the vacuum cleaner, from across the room.)

Some mothers say they love the baby years. Some say they love the toddler years (though I think they’re few in number). Others love the preschool years. And although I had moments when I couldn’t get enough of your newborn smell, I have to say…

I think I’m going to love the school-age years.

***

Here’s what I want to say to you as you turn five on your first day of kindergarten.

If I cry when you leave, it’s not because I wish you were still a baby. Still small enough for me to encircle in my arms. Still young enough to believe that I can keep the moon from fading from the early morning sky so we can walk together, uninterrupted for hours.

If I cry when you leave, it’s because I’m so excited for you.

To learn to read and write.

To find out what interests you, makes you curious, drives you crazy.

To dive into math and science.

To figure out how to build friendships and make amends.

To solve puzzles.

To fail.

To make bad decisions, and (hopefully) learn from them.

You won’t understand this just yet, but someday you will:

Please, please, don’t try to be the best.

Please, please, don’t try to be perfect.

There will always be someone who is better at something than you are.

I don’t care if you get all A’s. I don’t care if you’re the best at clarinet or soccer or gymnastics. It doesn’t matter to me if you’re class president or voted Best Artist.

Please, please, don’t live your life according to ways that you think will earn my love, my attention, and my respect.

You already have them.

Find what you love to do. Find what you’re good at. Try lots of different things. Read lots of different books. Ask questions.

But most importantly, don’t serve yourself.

Serve humanity.

Do good. Follow a higher calling. Keep your moral compass pointed north.

Don’t create a life that leads you down a path of wanting more money and more power. It’s futile and unsatisfying. And it will never be enough.

I’m so happy for you.

Happy that I get to be a witness to it all.

Love,

Mom

Pieces of Parenthood # 1: A 2018 Multi-Media Journey into Parenthood

I love writing.

But finding time to fully develop and organize a written blog post has proven to be… challenging.

Full-time work. Two kids. House. Life.

It usually takes me at least three or four hours to craft a post that I publish on this blog. And let’s be honest, I’m really stretched for finding that time.

But I really love writing.

So for 2018, I’m going to try a different format and reach beyond the written word.

The theme of the year is “Pieces of Parenthood.”

Each week, I’ll share a picture, a video, a sound file, or maybe just a short written post. The theme of these posts is to give the reader a glimpse into what parenthood looks like in this version of life that our family lives. Since these pieces of media will be curated, I’ll present them like an art exhibition.

Admission is free.

So, here we go.

Pieces of Parenthood # 1: Infant feeding

Format: Digital picture

Feeding is a central theme in the care of infants. It is one of the three-pronged components of an infant’s life: feeding, peeing/pooing, sleeping. To feed a baby is to love a baby. My 11-month-old son is in the midst of transitioning to solid foods. As such, his primary caloric intakes comes from formula (soy-based, to respond to lactose intolerance). In addition, he eats three bowls of some kind of solid, blended food. In this photo,  I capture the moment just before I mix together some baby oatmeal cereal with a blueberry/pear blend.

On his face, you can see the eagerness with which he reaches for his food and his recognition of the person who is offering the food.

IMG_20171231_134852

“Infant Feeding”, 1/1/2018, S. Tjaden-Glass

Week 8: Is There Room for Motherhood in Feminism?

A few weeks ago, a friend emailed me a link to a blog post by Samantha Johnson, called “When I Became a Mother, Feminism Let Me Down.” She argues that while feminism prepared her to break barriers and pursue any dream she desired, it did not prepare her for motherhood.

Motherhood was not considered to be one of those many dreams of feminists. Feminism has railed so hard against the culture of homemaker/breadwinner that now, there doesn’t seem to be much of a space to stand inside of feminism while you are a SAHM (stay-at-home-mom, for those unfamiliar with the lingo).

Johnson writes,

We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept. We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home.

Ouch.

But I have to agree.

Before having a child, I saw myself as a successful product of feminism. I had a Bachelors and a Masters degree. I had a full-time job at a university. I had presented at state and national conferences in my field. I had married a man who was also a feminist. He was the cook in our marriage, for God’s sake.

Check, check, check. And kicked-ass-while-doing-it, check.

By societal standards of success, I was doing very well.

Our culture is very good at instilling the idea that for anything important, you should engage in some kind of education or training. But the subtext underneath all of this required preparation for a career (and the pride from all of my accomplishments while engaging in that career) is that no preparation is really needed for motherhood.

Either because it’s so easy that anyone can do it? Or perhaps there’s nothing much that you can learn before actually becoming a mother?

Both of which any mother can tell you is far, far from the truth.

In my twenties, I had privately viewed the work of mothering as not as difficult as the job for which I had worked so hard to be prepared. On an arrogant day, I might have even been so bold as to believe that mothering also wasn’t as important or valued.

My logic went like this: Millions of women are mothers, but how many women can say they teach English as a second language? And if I was doing something “less” than my what I could with all of my capabilities, wasn’t that a step backward in life? How much time would I have to take off from work before I could jump back in? Would I still be able to travel and present at conferences?

Would I be as proud of myself for being a mother as I was being a teacher? Would “mother” be a title that I would use to introduce myself to others at parties? And if not, why not?

And then I turned 30.

Tick. Tock.

***

Having a child changed our lives for sure, but our changes haven’t mirrored some of the national trends.

Unlike many American women, I didn’t have to quit my job to stay at home with the baby. We live in Ohio, where the cost of living is still very reasonable and the commutes are not bad. We make enough money jointly to be able to afford daycare (even though it’s still extremely expensive).

But I can’t deny that I’m not reaching for the stars anymore. I’m doing my job but I have to admit, I bristle at the thought of working evenings and weekends. And gone are the days when I would fuss and fret over a task until it was “just so.”

Unh-uh. Ain’t nobody got time for that anymore.

Sometimes, I think about the trajectory of my career now that I’m in the middle of “small-child-dom.” It would be nice to do something a little different than what I’ve been doing for the last twelve years… but good health insurance.

Ah, to rise so “high”, only to be stymied by family responsibilities and health insurance.

“High” is in quotation marks, of course.

That’s exactly the problem. The modern vision of what it means to “succeed” never, ever depends on having children–although plenty of “successful” people have kids. Children are definitely part of the vision that we have for a modern American family (and if you don’t have kids, people definitely notice and make comments, regardless of the reason).

But when was the last time that you watched a movie where a character was being portrayed as “successful” and that character’s success depended on their role as a parent? (See the bachelor version of Nicholas Cage in The Family Man.)

Usually, the plot of the movie is that the character needs to discover that, hey, being a parent is actually a hell of a lot more important than the job that makes you money (See Adam Sandler in Click!).

***

All of this reminds me of a recent episode of the podcast, On Point with Tim Ashbrook. In the episode called “A Scathing Critique of Contemporary Feminism,” author and writer, Jessa Crispin explains that feminism has gotten away from one of its main goals–to change systems of oppression. Instead, it has become a movement that seeks to elevate women further and further into the upper echelons of systems that have benefited mostly men. Instead of changing the system, feminism has inspired some women to not only join the system, but rise higher and higher inside of it. While it works out fantastically for those women (what company doesn’t love to brag about how many women it has in upper management?), it leaves the rest of us in the dust.

Or perhaps more fittingly, either unemployed or underemployed.

Her commentary gave me a lot to think about.

In the feminist view, what is “success?”

How do we talk to our children about what it means to be “successful?” And what changes do we need to make in our own minds about what success is so that we may instill a different understanding of success for the next generation?

rosie

First Trimester

I knew it was true before the test.

I knew the feeling of that tiny, dense star settling in.

Laying its roots.

Sensing its first lines of communication.

Even though the tests had been coming back negative.

10 days past ovulation.

11 days.

12 days.

13 days–I’ve missed my period.

14 days.

Then, at 15 days, the faintest of lines.

Tiny. Wondrous.

Terrifying.

So terrifying.

You’re four weeks pregnant, the app announces. A tiny cluster of cells, burrowing, hopefully in a good location. I feel twinges and fullness, a familiar Oh, right. That’s what it was like. I begin teaching my fifth (and final) seven-week term of teaching for the academic year. I make plans to accomplish everything that I can do ahead of time before the hard weeks set in.

You’re five weeks pregnant, it tells me. A tiny tadpole, the neural tube forming. I wonder how many days I have left before the cloud of nausea overwhelms me. I look back at my previous pregnancies and chart out my symptoms to help me make an estimate. I worry about not feeling much yet. Then I tell myself to be grateful.

You’re six weeks pregnant, it tells me. The heart starts beating. The symptoms begin. I leave work early to sleep and sleep. I read about a gorilla dragging a three-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. I watch parents mirror the same aggression, ripping the mother to shreds with their judgment plastered across social media.

You’re seven weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs move into place. The symptoms build. I stop exercising at 5:00 a.m. I spend mornings trying to establish equilibrium with my nausea while teaching 8:00 a.m. classes four days a week. I tell myself that I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far. I read about the Brock Turner rape case. It makes me more nauseous.

You’re eight weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs develop. The symptoms peak. Mundane teaching tasks take all my concentration. I battle hunger and nausea hour after hour after hour. Trial and error. Carb or protein? Water? No water? Constantly queasy, wave after wave after wave. I wake up at 2:00 a.m., hungry, nauseous. I eat crackers in the night.

I read about another mass shooting, this time in Orlando. I watch the familiar script, that we’ve all been trained to follow, play out in detail after agonizing detail on social media. I’ve just about had enough of the argument that more weapons = more safety.

Then, a diversion: more parent-shaming as a toddler is attacked by an alligator at a Disney resort.

 

And then, the ultrasound.

 

The beauty of a tiny flicker in the center of its chest.

The unmistakable wahn-wahn-wahn-wahn.

166 beats per minute. Good rate. Chances of miscarrying now are much, much lower.

I relax.

You’re nine weeks pregnant, it tells me. The tail disappears and the hands forms. The symptoms continue, with just the slightest hint of weakening. I put away my size 6s. And my size 8s. It’s size 10 for right now. I think about how much longer I can hide this.

I watch Democrats start a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. I read about Brexit, shocked and dismayed.

You’re ten weeks pregnant, it tells me. The baby inside me looks like a baby. It is tiny and translucent, but complete. I look in the mirror and I know I need to start telling people soon. I’ve put away my fitted dress shirts. I’ve taken out my stash of maternity clothes, now three years in hibernation, but every summer shirt was bought for my third trimester. They are huge. So I buy some larger clothes to get by.

I think about telling my co-workers, but then I decide against it. What if I lose this one, too, just like the last one? Am I ready to have those conversations with everyone?

I’m not. I’m really not.

So as the last day of my teaching contract passes for this academic year, I turn in my final exams and final grades, pack up my snacks at my desk, and unceremoniously bow out of my teaching responsibilities until mid-August. Without sharing the news.

You’re eleven weeks pregnant, the app announces. My baby begins to open and close its fists. Its bones begin to harden. I’m officially living in someone else’s body. On some days, my lunch sits in my stomach until 7:00 p.m., my digestion moving at an absolute crawl. Everything causes heartburn. Everything. I’ve given up on coffee. It’s just too painful. I want to eat protein and more protein. I want nectarines, grapes, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, anything high in vitamin C.

Screw it, I think. I put away the size 10s and embrace maternity jeans.

I stop reading the news. It’s too depressing.

I hear my baby’s heartbeat again at my next appointment.

I relax more.

We visit some friends who have just had their second baby. They are hosting a Fourth of July cookout. A gaggle of kids take turns diving into the inflatable kiddie pool, despite the overcast skies and cool temperatures. My friend’s tiny newborn sleeps curled up on her chest, tucked into a baby carrier. It makes me smile.

I wish this whole pregnancy were already over and I were in her same position. I’m already exhausted with this whole process and I’m not even out of the first trimester. I want to be able to eat a normal meal without wondering how long it will sit in my stomach. I want to run like I used to, early in the morning, three miles. I want to sleep through the night without getting up to pee at least three times. I want to take medicine when I get a cold. I want to have a cold Guinness from the tap on a summer night.

I want a spicy tuna roll. Badly.

Of course, I know that the postpartum period is even rockier for me than pregnancy is, but in this moment, I just want to be beyond where I am.

I feel like I’m getting too old for this.

But dwelling on all of this doesn’t make it go faster. It just robs me of my gratitude.

So instead, I fix my attention on what I will do during these next six weeks, while my daughter is in daycare, while I continue to grow a human being, and while my body finishes the exhausting job of creating a placenta. (And, God… it is.)

I will read. I will write. I will exercise on my own schedule. I will take care of myself and hopefully dive into some creative project that heals my soul enough to swallow another year of new rules and policies and mandates that don’t lead to better education.

You’re twelve weeks pregnant, the app tells me. The baby now has reflexes and will squirm away if something prods it. I think I’ve learned the new rules about how to eat and feel okay in this new body of mine. It’s humbling to bow to the truth that someone else is steering this ship again.

I’ve forgotten how hard all of this is.

I turn on NPR again to catch up on news.

More shootings. More death.

I rest my hand where life is growing.

I think about what I might write about all of this.

 

If you liked this post, check out my book Becoming Mother, a great gift for first-time moms.

Mother’s Day Morning with a 2 1/2 year old

Mothers’ Day morning. 9:00 a.m.

You want some coffee, Mommy?

 

So she brings me cookies…

 

 

And more cookies…

 

 

And when I ask for an update on the coffee situation…

 

 

But I finally did get my coffee. And a whole lot more.

 

Mothers Day 2016

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms.

God, the Mother

God, the Father. God, the Son. God, the Holy Spirit.

“God the Father” Gottvater Veronese, Paolo. 1528-1588.

 

Adam, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Moses, Samson, Saul, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi, Matthew-Mark-Luke-John, John the Baptist, Jesus, Saul/Paul, Peter, James, Philip, Simon, Jude, Andrew, Bartholomew…

jesus-washes-feet-of-disciples-02

 

And then there was Eve, Sarah, Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Mary, Mary Magadalene… These are the ones I can remember.

Looks like I left out three of them...

Looks like I left out three of them…

***

How we imagine God makes a difference.

How we imagine God’s followers makes a difference.

***

For man did not come from the woman, but woman from man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but woman for the man.” 1 Corinthians 11:8

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed and the Eve. Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” 1 Timothy 2: 11-14

***

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church, where such verses were summoned forth as rationale for explaining the subjugation of women according to the Bible. But I always had a problem with these verses.

Man did not come from woman?

It was clearly a reference to the creation story in Genesis. I understood that. And at the time, I believed in that story. I was taught to read the words of the Bible literally and not get lost in the sticky web of interpretation.

Read the words. Believe the words.

But I could not understand why the apostle Paul was so adamant to throw the creation story in the face of the reader. Man did not come from woman? Give me a break. Men come from women all the time. It’s called birth.

But Eve was deceived, not Adam.

Who cares? I’m not Eve. Hadn’t I been taught that I was responsible for my own actions, not the actions of my ancestors?

I just didn’t get it. Why was it so important to blame women for the fall of all creation?

***

During my senior year of college, I was reading some chapter in a linguistics textbook about the “rhetorical situation”: speaker/writer, message, audience, and context. Then, it struck me.

Women were not the authors of the Bible.

The authors were all men. The people who got to make the decisions about what to put down on paper–they were all men. Men got to decide which women would be mentioned and how they would be represented.

But then, new questions opened up: Why were women left out of Bible stories? Why were their stories less worthy of telling? How had women ended up so powerless in societies throughout the world? Had it always been this way? Were men just naturally stronger and better at organizing political and economic systems?

***

When I wasn’t studying and reading for my other classes, I spent a lot of time in the stacks at the library. Not kidding. I was on a quest to learn more about the origins of Christianity, and I was determined to come away from college with some answers. The more I read, the more I added to my reading list.

And I came across this book:

When God was a woman

This book rocked my world.

The author, Merlin Stone, pieces together archaeological evidence and primary texts from a number of ancient civilizations to present a narrative of a grand shift in how people imagined God. In 25,000-15,000 BCE, many civilizations all created similar religions, ones in which the chief divine figure was a Goddess. She was called different names, but in all of these societies, she was revered for her powers of fertility.

Why fertility?

Because we worship what is important to us in our time and in our place.

And fertility was a power so great at that time that it was worth worshipping.

At this time, people didn’t recognize the relationship between sex and reproduction. The idea of paternity was non-existent. Therefore, women were seen as powerful because they had the greatest power of all: the power to give life.

Because paternity was non-existent, children were raised both by their mothers and the community. Mesopotamian societies at this time had mostly matrilineal descent patterns, with children tracing their origins through their mothers. Inheritances were passed from mother to offspring.

In addition, societies that worshipped a Goddess were typically relatively peaceful agrarian communities. Labor was not spent on making weaponry, but rather on growing food, care-taking, and leisure. In short, the Goddess of these communities mirrored what they people valued: the ability to produce and reproduce.

But things shifted.

Stones states that a group of “northern invaders”, also known as the Indo-Europeans, entered into Mesopotamia in wave after wave of invasions for 1,000 to 3,000 years. The timeline is not completely clear since writing systems were not used until about 2400 BCE. This is why we don’t know as much about the Goddess religions. No one was writing it down. The most prevalent and convincing evidence of this time period are the statues of the Goddess found in numerous civilizations.

Ishtar, goddess of Bablyon, 19th century BCE – 18th century BCE

Indus Valley Terracotta Figurine of a Fertility Goddess, Pakistan/Western India Circa: 3000 BC to 2500 BCE

Indus Valley Terracotta Figurine of a Fertility Goddess, Pakistan/Western India Circa: 3000 BCE to 2500 BCE

Venus Fertility Goddess from Falkenstein Austria 6000 BP

Venus Fertility Goddess from Falkenstein Austria 6000 BCE

Mother goddess Nammu, snake head Goddess figure, feeding her baby - terracotta, about 5000-4000 BC, Ubaid period before the Sumerians

Mother goddess Nammu, snake head Goddess figure, feeding her baby – terracotta, about 5000-4000 BCE, Ubaid period before the Sumerians

However, the Indo-European invaders enter the historical record around 2000 BCE, when they established the Hittite civilization in modern day Turkey. Historical accounts of these invaders call these groups of people, “aggressive warriors, accompanied by a priestly caste of high standing, who initially invaded and conquered and then ruled the indigenous population of each land they entered” (p. 64).

Among these warriors were the ancestors of Judaism, which explains a lot of the imagery used in the Old Testament to depict God. (trembling mountains, lighting, fire, etc.) Just as the Goddess mirrored the lives of the people in Mesopotamia, the God of the Indo-Europeans mirrored the lives of the Indo-Europeans. Their God was a young, war-like god. He was a “storm god, high on a mountain, blazing with the light of fire and lighting” (p. 65). Because these people originated from mountainous areas in Europe, they had probably interpreted volcanic activity as supernatural events. Therefore, it’s not such a stretch of the imagination to see how and why the Indo-European God was seen as a god of fire and lightning.

And because the Indo-Europeans were engaged in constant invasions of occupied lands (i.e. what was important to them was conquest), it’s not difficult to understand why the God of Indo-Europeans was a war-like God.

As the Indo-Europeans moved into the area of Mesopotamia, they brought with them their war-like practices, their religion of the storm god, and their patrilineal social organization (if their God was a man, didn’t patrilineal descent seem natural?). As they fought against the societies that worshipped the Goddess, they won. They crushed the previous civilizations with their advanced weaponry.

But it took longer to crush the religion.

***

I won’t go into all of the details of When God was a Woman (it’s far too detailed to do it justice in this single post), but I will summarize Stone’s account of how the Goddess religions were crushed and the new Indo-European God was revered.

As I mentioned before, the idea of paternity in societies that worshipped a Goddess was non-existent. Eventually, people figured out the connection between sex and reproduction. As the Indo-Europeans won more and more land and power, they sought ways to destroy the old religions that stood in their way.

One specific practice of the Goddess-worshipping societies that especially bothered the Indo-Europeans was their sacred sexual customs. In some Goddess religions, temples offered space to people to have sex, which was a form of worship to the Goddess of fertility. Some women lived their whole lives in these temples and were considered holy women. Although the paternity of their children was unknown, their children were not considered illegitimate. They simply took their mother’s name and acquired her status.

This drove the Indo-Europeans nuts. It was completely incompatible with a patrilineal descent system.

After all, how could a patrilineal system be maintained unless the paternity of children could be certain?

And in order to determine paternity…

you have to control women.

More specifically, you have to control their bodies.

Stone suggests, “it was upon the attempt to establish this certain knowledge of paternity, which would then make patrilineal reckoning possible, that these ancient sexual customs were finally denounced as wicked and depraved and that it was for this reason that the Levite priests devised the concept of sexual ‘morality,’: premarital virginity for women, marital fidelity for women, in other words total control over the knowledge of paternity” (emphasis in the original, p. 161).

So the challenge of the Indo-Europeans was to end the sacred sexual customs. And they did so through demonizing the worship practices of the Goddess religions, which then gave birth to taboos and shame surrounding women and sexuality.

***

It’s not hard to see that the Indo-Europeans were successful. The thought of women freely having sex with whomever they choose elicits words of shame like, whore, slut, prostitute, while men who engage in the same behavior are called studs. Women can’t enjoy sex too much (or risk being labeled nymphos). Women are more judged for having sex before marriage (girls should be virgins at their weddings, but boys are expected “to sow their wild oats”) and outside of marriage (cheating men can be forgiven, but cheating women will be forever shamed.)

***

Hearing this narrative of the predominant religions that once existed and comparing them to the major religions of today helped me understand that there is nothing natural about seeing God as a father. Seeing God as a father makes sense when we see the world through the lens of a patriarchal society. This view of the world is further upheld through religious texts that were written at a time when the Indo-Europeans sought to assert their superiority over the older Goddess religions.

Understanding this helped me to read the Old Testament with different eyes. The authors of the Old Testament were writing from a place of inadequacy. The religion that they were offering people of Goddess-worshipping societies did not appeal to them. Although the Goddess-worshipping civilizations were conquered, their hearts remained true to the religions that had shaped their world for several thousands years.

The writers of the Old Testament were writing for the purpose of redefining their current reality–a reality in which other, more established religions around them conflicted with their long-range goals of asserting widespread domination.

They were writing to redefine “normal” and “natural.”

And they succeeded.

 

***

As a Christian, I say “God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit” in the liturgy.

But in my mind, I add, “God the Mother, God the Daughter, God the Holy Spirit.”

And when I say “God the Mother” to myself, I feel differently about my relationship with God. When I imagine God as a mother, I feel nurtured, accepted, and loved, regardless of my actions. When I imagine God as a father, I feel fearful and judged, like I must be on my best behavior. That I must put on a good show and not disappoint. (I should add here that my own father was nothing like this. I think my psyche hearkens to archetypal portrayal of fathers in our culture.)

Of course, God is neither man nor woman.

But how we imagine God makes a difference.

***

 

Other reading if this topic interests you:

  • Armstrong, Karen. (2004). A history of God: The 4,000 year quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 2nd ed. Gramercy Books: New York.
  • Stone, Merlin. (1976). When God was a woman. Harcourt Brace & Company: Orlando.

We don’t care for them because we love them

In The Philosophical Baby, philosopher and psychologist Alison Gopnik says this: “It’s not so much that we care for children because we love them, as that we love them because we care for them.”

I first felt the truth of this statement when my daughter was around two months old. It was a golden October afternoon. My daughter was fussing. For her, it was a clear sign that she needed to nap. Badly. I cradled her. I shushed her. I rocked her. I hummed to her—all in an effort to help her understand that she was tired. I even told her, “Shhh… You’re tired.”

Within a few minutes, her eyes fluttered and then closed.

I watched her peaceful face for a few moments. God, I love this child, I thought.

But a shadow fell on that moment—because I knew that it hadn’t always been that way.

The cliché is that a mother’s love is born the moment a child is laid into her arms. For me, there was certainly a euphoria that delivery was over and that I was holding a child—especially after two days of labor. But should I call that “love?”

Because if I call it “love,” there’s definitely a problem. Because that “love” ended.

After a few days, that wondrous rush had faded away and I was left with the incessant task of nursing an infant. Sleep deprivation, a hormone crash, and outright insomnia darkened that nova of euphoria. What I felt in those first days of new life—whatever we call it—was gone.

And so in those early, difficult days of new motherhood, I had to lean on something else in the absence of euphoria. I needed something to pull me through the darkness, the ardor, the ceaseless hours. So I focused on the task of care—both caring for myself and caring for my daughter. I nursed until I couldn’t nurse anymore. I cared for my swollen parts, my torn parts, my painful parts. I tried to sleep. I ate well. Every moment of those weeks was spent in the task of care.

And after all of that caring, I can say that the motivation to care for my daughter didn’t truly begin with love. Love wasn’t really what I felt at midnight, 2:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., and 6:00 a.m. when my newborn needed to eat. Beneath my heavy eyelids weighed down with exhaustion, what I felt was a sense of duty to help this tiny person who needed me so much. It was obligation. This person belonged to me. This person was a part of me. So I had to care for her. Even though I was exhausted. Even though I was in pain. Even though I didn’t know when I would sleep or shower next.

Even though.

Even though.

Even though.

I cared for her because she needed me.

Love didn’t have a brilliant beginning. It didn’t own a designated minute hand on the clock like birth did. Love grew like my child had during pregnancy: slowly and quietly. Like my daughter, love wasn’t born fully developed or realized. It would grow. It would change. It would strengthen.

In those first weeks, I grew to be the expert in my newborn’s gestures—her facial features, her grunts, her habits—I started to realize that something had shifted. All that caring had become the most important part of my life. I began to say things like, She likes it when you hold her this like or She’s not hungry. That’s her tired cry. When someone would return my crying baby back to my arms, she calmed.

I realized that not only was I meeting her needs before my own, but I was enjoying it. I had grown to love taking care of her. Soon, the tasks of caring became easier. It freed energy for me to see, to notice, to appreciate. God, this baby is amazing, I thought. How could she already look like her father? How could she already have some of his facial expressions? I wondered what she would be like five years from then or what her voice would sound like. What would she like to do on a Saturday afternoon?

I could imagine how love would continue to expand beyond the boundaries of the uniqueness of your child and branch out into a deep appreciation for the beauty of life’s simple complexities.

But it all started with a simple aphorism, a statement that has been weakened by overuse, yet it remains the truest way of explaining how a mother’s love for a newborn grows. “Love is putting someone else’s needs above your own.”

And so I believe that Gopnik was right.

You don’t care for your baby because you love them.

You love them because you care for them.

%d bloggers like this: