Saturday, September 19, 2015

Not everyone has an AND, and not everyone needs one

There's a new social media campaign out there designed to empower Mormon women, and some things about it I like. It's explained here:

Here's a quote, of things that I totally agree with:

This campaign is not about telling women they can “have it all.” There’s a significant difference between “#EmbracetheAND” vs “#EmbraceYourAND.” Changing out “the” for “your” places emphasis on the fact that the specifics of a woman’s multifaceted and integrated life–the pursuits she seeks, the roles she fills—will all depend on that individual woman.

It’s about believing that God does not place limits on our possibilities and our influence. Living an AND life is about embracing a life of abundance rather than living with a scarcity mindset. It’s about asking God, “And now, what would you have me do?”

It’s about embracing the answers that come as a result of asking this question. Living this type of life requires a great deal of confidence in God, His capabilities, and His knowledge of us as individuals. Sometimes the answers require us to expand the ANDs in our lives, sometimes they necessitate a change in direction, and other times, they compel us to focus more on the quality of our ANDs than the quantity.

It’s about recognizing our capacities, but believing that we can be more with God’s help.

It’s about letting go of specific timelines and realizing that we have a long time to be and do many things.

All that I agree with. I wish everyone would do this with their lives. What better use of our lives can we have than by embracing the design of it that God intends, since He wants our happiness most of all--even more than we do--and He has a vision of who and what we are and can do.

 Unfortunately, that beautiful statement (above) is followed directly by this statement:

It’s about expanding the notions of womanhood beyond only wifehood and motherhood—and knowing that this expansion does not mean we are deserting our families.

Somehow, that makes the first quote, and the whole article, seem to be saying that when you ask God, "And now, what would you have me do?" the answer is not going to be "Quit your job, drop out of school, and have another baby." 

But often that is the answer. 

And for most women raised in today's society, that answer takes a much greater faith and confidence in God and His answers than having an AND does. It's hard when God says, "What I want for your life is for you to just be a mom."  "Just a mom" is embarrassing.  Nobody takes you seriously if you're "just a mom." I've found myself avoiding admitting I'm a full-time mother because it's so embarrassing to say, "I'm a mother." I'll tell people "I'm a writer" or "I am an instructional designer" or "I'm developing a free online school for gifted children" in a heartbeat (even though I rarely have time to work on any of those things) before I'll confess to being a full-time mother.  Nobody takes you seriously as a human being with things to contribute to the world, the church, or society if you're "just a mom."  "Just a mom" is lower on the social totem pole--even among other mothers--than working in a daycare, as a janitor, at a call center, or as the cashier at a thrift store. ANYTHING a woman does outside the home has more prestige than being "just a mom."  Being "just a mom" is not socially acceptable, even among church members. Even among other family women. (I still remember the man who said to me, "My wife likes to contribute to our home, so she kept her job."  As if raising children is not contributing to a home? Who said money is everything?)

I know this movement is important to some women. Some women are concerned when they can't have babies or never get a chance to marry, or when they have fewer babies than they hoped for, or when their babies are grown, that doing something else is cheating their families, and they need to be given permission to seek God's will and follow it, even if it means having a career or traveling to Africa or whatever they are inspired to do. Those women need to feel free to embrace that there is an AND in their lives: I get to be mother AND ____, and that's okay with God. 

I just find it equally important to acknowledge and accept that some women are inspired to forego careers and "just be a mom."   Being a mother full-time and exclusively is not embracing a scarcity mindset, and it's a shame to define it as such. (And, actually, never marrying and having a job full time your whole life, or being unable to have children, or being disabled and never marrying and just living at home your whole life is not embracing a scarcity mindset, either, and we should never make people think it is.)

Here's the problem with #embraceyourAND: it implies that all women should have an AND that takes them outside of being primarily (or even exclusively) a wife and/or mother. While I greatly admire my sister-in-law who raised six kids while maintaining her career, I also greatly admire another sister-in-law who quit her successful career so she could be a successful wife (and now mother, too). Both were following God's will for them and neither should be condemned for that. Not the one with the AND and not the one without.

I am concerned that this campaign will make women who have been inspired to drop everything to focus on family and home feel like they are not enough, that they are not valuable, and they are not complete women without some AND. Like we can't just be a mother and wife; we have to be a mom AND a ________ or we're failing.  And we have to do it all right now, not sequentially (this now, that later).

And for all the young mothers who are already struggling, this is not the right message. The right message is that when you are rocking your baby you ARE doing something, and what you are doing is enough. It is good and important and eternal and can be much harder than other choices. It is doing something, and you don't need an AND. It is enough.

Having and raising babies is the single most important thing I will ever do in my life. I anticipate doing a lot of other wonderful things--writing books, staging plays, running homeschool enrichment programs, getting my school up and running online for free education for anyone in the world. But none of that is more important than having and raising my babies. I don't need an AND to be valuable. Raising babies and being a wife is doing something, and it is enough. 

I am concerned that women are being told to hire out their most important, vital, and eternal duties to childcare so they can have an AND--so they can "accomplish something" or "get something done." As if raising children isn't doing something or accomplishing anything or getting anything done?

What's wrong with embracing motherhood if that is what you're inspired to do? Being a mom is enough. While some women might feel inspired to have an AND, and we should encourage them to always follow their inspiration wholeheartedly, some of us are inspired to an #ANDthen, doing motherhood and wifehood pretty much exclusively for this part of life, and then other things as life changes, and some people are inspired to do motherhood and wifehood exclusively for their whole lives. And that is enough. Those are the most important things, anyway, and it is a horrible curse on our society that those are considered shameful, stupid choices for women. Those are the most ennobling, glorious choices and we should not be ashamed of them. It's not stepping down, it's not belittling, it's not demeaning. Being a wife and mother is wonderful. It's important work that can easily take all your time and energy. And there is no shame in it. 

You are not failing if you don't have an AND. You are not broken if you don't even want one. There is nothing wrong with embracing womanhood including wife and mother. To take a page from the feminists: We don't shame men for embracing being husbands and fathers--we celebrate when they do that. Why do we shame women for embracing being mothers? This makes no sense.

Some women can have an AND.  But you don't need an AND to be happy, successful, or follow God's path for your life. Be willing to embrace your AND if that's what God asks to you to do. 

But also be willing to give it up, if that's what God asks you to do.

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