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Have your own truck :: On empowering our children

Empower your children :: Sarah Bessey

When I got my drivers license at 16 years old, my dad and mum bought us two girls a 1979 Ford half-ton. Our truck was brown, it weighed more than a building, and we named him Frank the Gas Monster. I went to work at a little retail store in the mall 20 hours a week while in high school because we were expected to put gas in Frank  – no small task with dual gas tanks. (Yes, we lived in Alberta and old trucks were cheap back then, how did you guess?)

Since I was the only driver until my sister got her license, I had to shuttle my sister around, too – which wasn’t a problem since we were close in age, best friends, and we had the same social circle. I drove us to school, to church, to youth group events, to parties, to camping trips with our friends, out on double dates with our boyfriends.

Having a kid who drives is convenient for a busy family, absolutely. And it was great to have wheels. But the main reason why my parents made sure we had a vehicle?

They wanted us to be in charge of our own selves.

They were determined that we would never be reliant on anyone else for a ride home, especially not a date, especially if a date went bad. If we ever wanted to leave a party early, we got to leave when we wanted to leave. They knew we could be counted on to drive safely: it wasn’t an option for us to be getting into a car with God knows who driving like a bat out of hell.

They were determined that their girls would be in charge of their own agency and mobility at all times.

Having our own truck was empowering. 

Over and over throughout my childhood and girlhood, my parents intentionally empowered us to be in charge of our own lives.

I’ve thought about Frank the Gas Monster a lot over the past few years but particularly right now when the Duggar story is bringing a much-needed light onto the truth and consequences of patriarchal culture, particularly on women. And when you write a book like Jesus Feminist, you become privy to a lot of women’s tender stories. In the past few years, through email and in person, I’ve been honoured to hear from women all around the world, desperate to share their precious stories with someone. And so often their stories break my heart.

So many of the women I hear from grew up in that sort of Duggar-ish patriarchal church culture that did the very opposite of my parents. Instead of empowering their girls, they dis-empowered them. Well-meaning authority figures often removed their agency, their mobility, their independence, isolating them and then shackling them into dependence on the good will of the men in their life. Children were controlled, women were subservient to men, and the consequences aren’t hard to figure out.

I can’t tell you how many women I hear from who are trapped in abusive or unhealthy or broken homes but feel unable to leave because they simply have no way to support themselves or their children. And when life hasn’t turned out according to the “Master Plan,” they are filled with despair and crippled. Their lives are still dependent on the good will of a man. That theology might work okay when everything is perfect and everyone is doing what they are supposed to do, but let’s be honest: life happens. And if that good will departed for one reason or another, they were devastated, of course, but now they were also on a steep learning curve. No credit cards, no education (often homeschooled), no drivers license, lots of small children, and so on. The consequences of this damaging theology are legion but lately I’ve been reminded afresh just how much of a price women pay when they are kept powerless. (As a note, I am not an expert on patriarchal church culture at all but if you are looking for a place of support, I’ve heard excellent things about Recovering Grace.)

Now, my parents have always had a strong, beautiful marriage based on mutuality. And sure, like most parents, they wanted us to experience the love of another person, to get married, have children. They fully expected that to happen.

But they made sure we were able to take care of ourselves, too.

If we ever got married, it was going to be because we wanted to, not because we had to.

And if we ever wanted or needed to leave a marriage, we would be able to do so. If our husbands left us or, God forbid, died, we would be okay for the practical work of running our lives and caring for our children even if our hearts were broken.

We were empowered from a young age to make our own decisions and to own our own lives.

There were other ways that my parents were very intentional about empowering us girls. Their expectations were high for school and work ethic. We were expected to get jobs if we wanted spending money. If we struggled in school, we were expected to show up for extra tutoring and studying until we figured it out (chemistry was nearly the death of me). We were expected to go on to university after high school – even though that wasn’t their own path. We were expected to earn scholarships to help pay for our own education, this was no free ride. We were expected to study a discipline that would get us into a career that could pay the bills.

Most importantly, we were given freedom to fail when the stakes were low. We could make a few bad decisions with our independence because their reasoning was that it was better to fail while they were there to help pick up the pieces than to send us out into the world for the first shot at failure.

Those years at home are practice for an independent life after home.

My own tinies are still quite small but I do keep the idea of empowerment close by as we raise them. Right now that looks different than a big brown Ford truck obviously but we find age-appropriate ways to encourage independence.

I’m learning to keep my eye on the long-game: I’m not managing children, I’m raising children into capable and compassionate adults. I’m not doing the tinies any favours to keep them dependent on me for everything from laundry to food, learning to relationships. Teaching responsibility and encouraging independence takes longer to teach, and it requires a tremendous amount of faith to take the risk of setting them free to make mistakes, but it is so worth it. That big ugly brown truck is my shorthand to remember that I need to empower my children to be independent and own their lives.

Keeping our children powerless does not do them any favours.

 

This post is part of an ongoing series about the lessons I picked up from my own parents about parenting

 

Continue Reading · parenting · 26

Transformation by Interruption

Transformation by Interruption :: Sarah Bessey

By nature, by nurture, and by training, I’m a planner. I’ve always been able to make a plan, work a plan, stick to a plan. It’s one of my greatest strengths, a dedication that has served me well in everything from my former work in strategic development and marketing to my life now as a writer and a mother.

I can attest to the writer of Proverbs that it is wise to “do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house” (Prov. 24:27, NLT). I love an organized spreadsheet and a strong vision-mission-purpose statement. I will probably always be a planner because I find God there: it’s the gospel of joining with God to bring order out of chaos, perhaps.

Yet, I’ve experienced God most deeply when my plans are disrupted.

That’s how these things usually work. There’s a shadow side to our strengths, often discovered through some inciting incident outside of our control. We find God in the space between what we know to do and the unknown territory where our usual methods are useless. I call these moments holy disruptions. They’re the places where I run out, when I have to decrease, and then, wouldn’t you know it? I see Christ increase.

For me, motherhood has been the holiest disruption of all.

Read the rest of this post at Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics….

Continue Reading · Guest Post, parenting · 5

Here’s why I don’t feel guilty about being a work-at-home mum

 

There was a bit of a movement underway a few years ago: Christian women were signing pledges saying that they wouldn’t let their tinies see them on the computer. I think their intentions were mostly good – they knew they were distracted by social media in particular, perhaps, and so they wanted to give their best and primary attention to their children. That idea continues to hang on somehow, particularly in my line of work.

I understand it. Of course, 8 hours of Facebook or texting to the exclusion of fully being present with our families is damaging. And so I am wise with my time on social media, not only for their sakes but for my own creativity, health, sanity, and proper sense of perspective. (For instance, when my husband gets home and asks me about my day, I don’t like for my first answer to be, “well, you wouldn’t BELIEVE what this one guy said on Twitter or how many likes this Instagram picture of the kid I neglected all day received!” Not exactly healthy.)

But here’s the thing: I work from our home on a – wait for it – computer. My husband works out of our home full-time in a pretty demanding job with irregular hours occasionally. I am the primary caregiver for our tinies. Granted, we have a (very beloved) baby-sitter for two mornings a week while the older ones are at school, so that I can make phone calls, do interviews, try to catch up on email, and work uninterrupted for a bit of time, but usually I am at home, trying to get in a full-time job at the edges of our life.

Being a work-from-home mother can feel like a very inefficient juggling act, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love this choice.

Through trial and error, we’ve learned that our family works best in this way with one parent more fully engaged during the day, but I know that I am privileged to be a work-at-home mother. I work hard and we have made sacrifices so that this choice is feasible. I do not take it for granted, even though there are occasional afternoons when I pick up the tinies from school and then turn on Wild Kratts, hand them a plate of apple quarters with goldfish crackers, and then sit down to answer emails for an hour before supper. There are mornings when the baby and I take the tinies to school, and then come home to a wide-open toy box for her and an open laptop for me to write an article to deadline. When I am interrupted, there are times when I put my work aside, absolutely, but then there are times when I hand her a book and say, “Mum is writing, we’ll go to the park in an hour.  I’m not your cruise director, darling, find something to do.”

Early into our family arrangement, I had to take a long hard look at the narrative that it was a shameful thing for my tinies to see me on the computer.

And then, thoughtfully, prayerfully, we decided to call complete and utter crap on any more needless mum-guilt.

Here’s why:

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cooking supper. That’s part of our life – and in fact, it creates a great opportunity to be together, to prepare them for life, to teach, to have fun.

I don’t feel guilty when my tinies see me cleaning the house. Keeping our home clean and tidy is part of my life – and it is part of theirs, too, unless I want to have lazy and entitled teenagers someday. Can I get an amen?

I don’t feel guilty taking them along when we get groceries or pay bills or drop off library books or help others or any other of the chores and tasks and work that goes into running this little family.

Why not? Because work is honourable. Paid or unpaid, it’s good to work.

Maybe my prairie kid work ethic is showing. My grandpa raised our clan to know that truth: work is honourable. Now I’ve rounded that out with the belief that work is also a gift from God, part of our heritage as co-creators with God. Particularly when our work – paid or unpaid – is personally fulfilling, an act of creativity or beauty or usefulness. What a gift to be able to work!

So, is it a shameful thing for a mother to work on the computer while her children are present? Nope.

Not only is it not damaging to my tinies to see me – gasp! – working on the computer while they’re here, I believe it’s downright good for them.

Yes, it is good for them to discover right now that they are not the centre of the universe. To let them discover ways to entertain themselves – I’m not their cruise director. To let them see their dad choring around on a Saturday, make sure they grab a broom and sweep up drywall dust alongside of him. To let them grab a rag and a bottle of vinegar to pitch in with Thursday cleaning. To let them learn to fold socks. To let the tinies sweep the floors.

Welcome to being part of a functioning family, for heaven’s sake.

(This home doesn’t run by magic or pixie dust: welcome to the real world, darlings.)

In addition to that, we have decided it is GOOD for the tinies to see me loving my job, loving my work, being good at something, and actually doing it. To let them see me being faithful to my calling, let them see their dad empowering me to do it with his enthusiastic blessing, let them see it as part of our family’s gift to the world.

This is what we do in this family: we support each other in our work and in our callings and even in the things we just plain love to do.

Mothers are people, too.

(And, very quietly, I’ll also gently point out right here the privilege inherent in the idea that we can choose whether or not our children see us work.)

Let the tinies learn what it looks like to be a person, made in the image of God, working – no matter if our work happens on computers or at the laundry or on the job site or a pulpit or the classroom – as unto the Lord.

My tinies are proud of us for our work. They think it’s good and important.

 

Let them see us working: work is a honourable thing.

 image source

edited from the archives

Continue Reading · parenting, women · 19

I’m here, you’re not alone.

im here

I’m here, you’re not alone. Shhhh, now, I’m here. And with those words, I lift a crying baby up and out of her darkness. She’s unaware of where she fits in her life, perhaps, but I know just where she is. I’m never far from her, even though to her new mind I’ve disappeared every time I’m not in her line of sight, but that’s not true.

And so when she wakes up or when she’s lonely or when she’s hungry or just wants someone to hold her, to calm her heart, she cries out and I come to her and I lift her up into my arms, shhhh, I’m here, you’re not alone, I’m here, I’ve got you, I’ve got you, I say.

Oh, I’m teaching her something: I’m teaching her that I will always come for her. I’m teaching her that she is safe and secure. I’m teaching her that I am reliable, that she is believed, that I don’t believe she’s manipulating me or bossing me. I’m teaching my child that I am here and she is not alone. Dry your tears, small girl, I’m here, I’m always here. I will always come for you.

***

I’ve heard that most of our theology is autobiography. I think that’s true. I think we often project what we learned about authority or our parents, in particular, onto God. And then we often parent our children in the way that we believe God is parenting us. So if we believe God is a terrible judge with exacting standards and a trapdoor to hell, then that changes how we move through our lives, how we judge others, particularly our children. And yes, I think that damages people.

But what if we see God through the metaphor of a mother with a newborn babe? what do we see instead? After all, the metaphors for God’s love are diverse throughout Scripture but I’m often reminded in these tender days just after giving birth and caring for a newborn that I’m part of that metaphor, too, with my labour and my pain, with my ferocious protectiveness and my consuming love.

My entire body yearns for my child, watch us in these early days how we curl into each other, how I protect her, nourish her, comfort her, even how I delight in her – you’re seeing a glimpse of something divine here, I believe. Isn’t this one of the great gifts God has given us? A glimpse into how God loves us, a share of the joy, a sign and a foretaste of the Kingdom among us already. God in his goodness, sharing with us what it means to love so selflessly, so unconditionally, so completely.

***

In the Scriptures, there is one little thing often overlooked on Good Friday. In Matthew 27:51, we are told that at the moment when Jesus cried out and gave up his spirit, the moment he died, the veil in the temple that symbolically stood between God and man, the entrance to the Holy of Holies, was torn in two…from the top to the bottom.

There is no barrier between us anymore, the Holy of Holies is open to us all and it’s not because of anything we did or didn’t do. Because this was a rescue, this was redemption, this was the death that made death die, this was the moment when all of creation was redeemed as Jesus swept into the domain of death and hell, suffering and sickness, sin and horror, to cure us and then rise again victorious, Christus Victor.

And when I think of that veil being torn from the top to the bottom, now I imagine God sweeping into the world, like a mother to her crying child in the darkness with that physical yearning, gathering us up out of our loneliness and our hunger, our longing and our needs to whisper: I’m here, I’m here, you’re not alone, I’m here. I’ve got you, I’ve got you, I’ve got you, darling, I’m here.

photo by sharalee prang photography

Continue Reading · Easter, faith, Maggie Love, parenting · 24

Here we are again

me and maggie love

Here we are again.

At the hospital, the pretty young nurse with false eyelashes tells me solemnly that they don’t really recommend swaddling for babies anymore – “we like for them to self-soothe,” she says. That’s nice, I say. And I go on swaddling my babies, carefully, safely, lightly, but still: I know how babies like to sleep, snuggled in and held tight in these early days. There are plenty of days for learning self-soothing, these aren’t those days. I believe in spoiling babies: in snuggles and anytime-you-want comfort nursing, in warmth and being held close while they sleep like I believe the sun rises in the east and the necessity of a year of maternity leave. Schedules are over-rated, I find my way in the rhythms.

Here we are again.

I’m sitting in the corner of the couch, a nursing pillow wrapped around my soft and stretched out belly. I’m holding a hungry newborn to my breasts, guiding her to a full tummy and me to a full heart. We’re skin to skin, her mouth is searching, and I am the answer for her.

Here we are again.

Dashing into the shower in the early morning, determined to get dressed, put on make-up, brush my hair. I’m my father’s daughter: I believe in the small dignities to keep life steady in the midst of change and chaos. I hear his voice in my head, look good and feel good. So I make beds, I put clean clothes on everyone in my care, I empty the dishwasher, we eat at the table. Normal structures, normal routines, all around an extraordinary newness. It’s true, I do feel better but now there’s a houseful of people who all feel better when I feel better. I’m accepting of my status as axis for this family now, watch me keep us moving through the nights and the days while holding us all together. The laundry will never be done.

Here we are again.

With a gaggle of bright eyed children enchanted by the littlest one. If I had known how much easier it is to bring home a baby to a houseful of big kids…. well. It is. Easier, that is. It’s easier than three-kids-in-four-years, for sure. The big kids either want to help or get on with entertaining themselves, heading outside the surprising spring weather, leaving me in the corner of the couch by the big front window to “keep an eye.” I knock on the glass if I see anyone getting out of line and the guilty party turns to the window to grin and wave, “sorry, mum.” They come inside with grubby dandelions and detailed schedules for whose turn it is to hold her. I have comfort books (Anne of Green Gables), comfort food (beef stew and bread), and I have comfort television: Saturday  night and we watch Hockey Night in Canada by lamplight. My son holds his little sister and whispers his chants of “fight fight fight fight” during the game, wary of waking her. Earlier in the day, a sister reads books to her and I’ll be darned if it doesn’t look like this six-day-old baby is intently listening to every word she says.

Here we are again.

Gingerly walking, slowly healing, taking all help that is offered. I remember the first-baby-me, the one who wanted to be seen as capable and together, and bless her heart. What a waste of energy on independence. Now I eat meals other women prepared for my family and I praise them at the city gates. I lean heavily on my mother and my sister for disciplining my children, for an extra set of hands, for help cleaning the kitchen. I am humbled and so I receive from my people. I cry when my milk comes in and I sort through our delivery, my recovery, my emotions, receiving prayer and wisdom from friends. One day again it will be my turn to make the meals, to lay hands and minister with prayer and perspective, and a folded load of laundry, I will be ready.

Here we are again.

The house is at sixes and sevens and so at my own early bedtime, I move through the house restoring crayons to boxes, turning off lights, sweeping the kitchen floor, loading the dishwasher. How did we get so many washed-until-worn receiving blankets out during the day? I tuck in babies and big kids. I restore my own soul by restoring the place where I am right now. I slide into our bed and stretch out on my back, I turn to my husband, “I’m so glad I’m not pregnant anymore. God, this bed feels good.” He’s already asleep.

Here we are again.

The days are already melting into each other, one after another, too quickly somehow. I am wearing the same clothes again today, praising Jesus that leggings are still in style. Everything in the world feels a bit far away in these cocooning early days. There is plenty of time to re-engage in the world, to remember to watch the news, to answer emails as they pile up, I know this now. But right now I want a bath and a pint of Guinness, I want to sit beside the man cradling our last little baby in his strong arms and lean my head into his shoulder, memorize this exact moment, I want to stay here in this pause for just a while longer. It’s quiet in my head when I’m fully here.

Here we are again.

In the dark, in the wee hours, in the early light, nursing in the corner of the couch, the end of an episode of Gilmore Girls while the rest of the house sleeps and I lightly pat a baby’s diapered bottom into blissful sleep. We smell like baby soap, her hair puffs out like duck fluff. Her mouth is a triangle tent, her breath is an anointing. I could go to bed, I could go to sleep now, she’s ready for a long stretch of sleep. But instead I sit here in the dark, for just a few more minutes. She’s stretched out on my chest, curled up with her legs tucked under – she’ll only do this for another few days, I know, this newborn froggy-leg thing. I stay there, sniffing her hair, patting her bum, breathing slow with her for just a while longer. I can feel the earth turning, time is still moving.

Here we are again.

For one last time.

 

Continue Reading · baby, family, Maggie Love, parenting · 109