Somehow I pictured having a baby would take who I was and turn me into something else.
Because you get that, as a single woman. “A woman’s highest calling…”, “Never felt such love…”, “Most rewarding thing I’ve ever done”, etc. etc. These are accompanied with lots of precious pictures of an adorable tiny baby wrapped so chic in white swaddle blankets, or sleeping peacefully on your chest, with the most romantic smoky bags under your eyes that make you look like a beautiful, tired, angelic mother.
There would be the cliché negatives of course–the sleepless nights, the restricted social life, the pain of childbirth. All of these would also go to work at changing you into A MOTHER.
This elusive title that only people with children can claim.
I feel like 95% of what we hear about marriage and motherhood, especially in our Mennonite culture, makes both seem like these exclusive, members only clubs. They have their own set of wonderful character traits you acquire simply by signing a marriage certificate or having children. And you won’t truly understand until you join yourself, sorry. You can build character outside of these, of course, but it won’t run as deep and pure, because you know, being married to a man and going through labor just transforms you!
I believe this is partly due to our misconceptions about what the “highest callings” of womanhood actually are, but that is another discussion altogether.
Now, before you get all defensive, let me say (and I can say this since I am married AND have a kid, ha!) that OF COURSE marriage and motherhood and labor and sleepless nights transforms you! I am not arguing that or trivializing that experience. I’m not saying those are not valuable, Biblical roles!
I am just proposing that those are one part of a bigger picture, and not as exclusive for growth as is perceived.
I wish there was a way I could shake all of those presumptions off of my shoulders, because I find them debilitating. And I believe they make us exclusive and spiritually arrogant in a sneaky way.
We have an infuriating disposition to swing between feeling defensive about where we are in life or obnoxiously superior.
If you are widowed or single or a stay-at-home-mom, I can’t truly identify. I can’t. I would be arrogant to assume so.
I bet you know love and loss and joy just as deeply as I do. Even if it looks totally different. There is no objective way to measure individual selfishness, contentment, loneliness, or personal sacrifice. No blood test that measures how well you love. I choose to assume you are right where God wants you to be.
In the same way, just because you are a mother, work outside the home, and love your child does not mean you can identify completely with me. Your life is not my life. You are not me. Your life experiences are different.
I bet you know love and loss and joy deeply as well.
It is so easy to measure everyone else by our own individual life experience. If marriage was way more transforming that you expected it is hard not to automatically assume that everyone else feels this way too. And if becoming a mother was a pure, refining fire that turned you inside out, it is hard to imagine anyone changing so deeply without that experience.
Can I recognize that for my friend Emily, years of chronic illness, missing high school memories, and having to move away from family and friends, was probably as spiritually transforming, if not more so, as my last year as a mother, even if it didn’t look the same? She certainly has encouraged me in the last year as I have struggled with motherhood because she understands sacrifice, selfishness, and fatigue.
Or what about my sister-in-law Janessa? I am fairly certain if you ask her she would say that moving across the ocean as a young girl, embracing new cultures and languages was just as difficult/rewarding as getting married, only in a different way, because God used both to mold her. She teaches me so much about social justice, the importance of the Holy Spirit, and how to not freak-out when your husband has a crazy idea.
I am not advocating that we stop expressing and marveling at the ways God changes us. We don’t need to stop talking about how marriage and motherhood transform us. Not at all. We need to celebrate them. I am simply wondering if there is a way to keep it in balance—to look a little broader. In our own lives and in others.
This is not a new discussion, I realize. This has all been said before.
Maybe we just need a reminder once in a while.
A reminder to listen a little better. A reminder to tone down some of the exclusive language we throw around. A reminder to stop asking only married ladies with children to take teaching roles in women’s ministry. A reminder that even if we can’t identify with each other in practical aspects, we can surely benefit from each other’s wisdom on the deeper, universal battles of doubt, identity, sacrifice, and how to live out your individual calling.
You know, I don’t feel like my capacity to love is magically deeper since I had Merek. If it has changed over time it has been a long process that included my sleepless nights in Slate Falls, my longing for friends as a missionary child, my marriage to Justin, and yes, partly through Merek, but a thousand other experiences as well. Honestly, I am still as selfish as I was as a single woman. If not more so.
I guess all of these convoluted thoughts were just to say that sometimes I think we miss the whole picture of womanhood because we get caught in a narrow view of how God works, in relation to our gender.
I would love to hear your ideas.