Dear Church: Stepmother Isn’t a Dirty Word

Dear Church,

You may not remember me. I haven’t stepped across your threshold since March, and it has been even longer since we met regularly. Quite frankly, we may have never met again if  the quiet whisper of Holy Spirit or guilt or whatever doesn’t stop urging me to return. I feel the need to find a community of believers again. But like so many, I’m painfully broken and scarred and nervous about coming back. 

And you took great pains to push me aside, to leave me out, to let me know I don’t belong. I saw you roll your eyes when I stood up to be recognized as mother, then you had some balls for wanting to me to serve in your nursery. I left when I didn’t fit into your mother club because I haven’t yet shoved a new life out of my uterus. Perhaps, I made you a bit nervous when my kids were gone every other Sunday and claiming them as mine and not acting like a stereotypical stepmother.

For years, I mothered or if you prefer step-mothered my children(I will always and unabashedly refer to them as mine; they are a part of my soul and fiber and being even though we share no biological DNA). They lived and ate and slept and learned in my home, our home. I ignored the sleepy groans, the “I don’t wanna get ups.” We drove to school and slaved over homework and traveled to the beach, the mountains, even Disney World. For those years, I invested full-time in being a stepmother who didn’t resemble Cinderella’s stepmother. I loved as I know how to love because the Bible never really says directly how to be a stepmother.

But now, I’m mothering on the weekends, over the phone, sometimes, through email. I’m closer to the norm than I would like, but it is reality for now.

Maybe, this makes you a bit more comfortable. My new stereotypical stepmothering existence, a parent on the weekends, free and childless during the week. Or not. I understand why you may think I don’t deserve any recognition because parenting on the weekends must be easier. Hell, it’s practically part-time. But you don’t understand this: no parent is ever a part-time parent.  I worry from afar, and I hope the homework gets done  and video games and television kept to a minimum. I see the pain for my husband after phone calls when the kids cared more about the television than talking. Sometimes, they are flat out rude. How is this any easier? We both know it isn’t.

I have watched you my entire life glorify, exalt, and praise mothering as long as it existed neatly inside your idyllic family picture. Not all families do. I wish you could see how you have pushed those of us “non-typical” families and parents to the fringes. Sometimes, we leave and never come back. Perhaps, you will never understand stepmothering until you stop treating it as some dirty word.

Stepmother isn’t a dirty word, but “forgotten” is.

For many of us stepmothers, we feel forgotten and lost in your church circles, your Christian parenting/family blogs. We look for some small in road to the conversation about the struggles we all face as parents–whether we have “step” in front of our parental title or not. Whether you dear church like it or not, we are still a part of you, and we beg for a seat at the table, to be part of conversation about parenting and loving. We want you to hear our stories and understand us.

 

Redeeming Cinderella’s Stepmother

Today, I am honored to be guest posting for Rachel Held Evans. I am sharing my thoughts on faith and step-parenting. 

Redeeming Cinderella’s Stepmother

Summer by Mark Askins

No little girl ever wants to be Cinderella’s stepmother. We dream of princes and balls and weddings and babies, but all of those things would belong to us first. We would mother our own biological children, not someone else’s. No one wants to be a stepmother.

 

The Bible doesn’t offer us a shining example of a stepmother. We could posit that Sarah was the stepmother of Hagar’s son Ishmael; however, she forced both Hagar and Ishmael to leave after the birth of her son, Isaac. Not the best pattern to follow. Literature isn’t kind to us either. We give away poison apples, prey upon feeble-minded men, and force servitude upon the stepchildren. Even the Greek playwright, Euripides said that “it is better to be a serpent than a stepmother.”

 

I am stepmother, not a stereotype.

 

To read the rest of this post, please head over to Rachel Held Evan’s blog. I’m part of her series Faith in Parenting.

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In which I am the Outsider

I am the outsider.  

Photo courtesy of Alejandra Mavroski and Flickr Creative Commons

Foam meal cartons, chicken tenders, green beans, slaw filled to them brim. The price includes a dessert, a Pepsi, and the feel goodness of supporting a struggling family. A typical benefit dinner in a typical small Southern town. We have no dinner resturants so Friday night benefit dinners draw the whole town to the Fire Station. We eat around folding plastic tables where fire trucks usually slumber. Our mouths too full to talk at first, then we swallow and the flurry of words spills out.

All round us people laugh and talk and smile. Men slap each other on the back, and women swirl from table to table hugging, greeting, chatting. My kids join the throng of friends, classmates who have escaped the stuffy building for the cool, muggy outside air. Soon my husband disappears like the others gone outside. I’m alone. Even in the crowd of people, I’m alone. I scan the crowd, but all of the faces look familiar and strange. But the conversation still buzzes around me.

Yes, I live in the small town, everyone knows your name town. The epitome of rural life. But only if you were born here, only if your kin have lived on the same street for years. Not for people who hail from another state, another city, another small town like me.

I am the outsider.

Scene change, the pews forest green or blue or red, whatever in vogue color for padding. A dewy morning, a Mother’s Day morning. The church filled with children and their mothers, grandmothers, wearing corsages of red and white flowers. We sit in the back pews and admire the special Sunday school crafts for the mothers. Crafts, I won’t be given. The “I made this for mom” or “you’re not a real mom, you didn’t have any kids” cut like daggers, but I’ve heard them ever since I began doing this full time mothering thing.

During the service, all mothers stand recognized for another year of loving, giving, sacrificing, and I stand too. I feel the looks of the other women not so comfortable with the word “step” in front of the word “mother.” Perhaps, I make them uncomfortable since I became a mother through my husband’s divorce. Perhaps, they  put too much stock in Disney’s Cinderella. I don’t know, but they don’t say anything. Silence speaks more than words.

Sometimes, they ask when it will be my turn. To have a baby, to procreate, to legitimatize my role as mother. I joke about only wanting puppies or kittens or something called a career or now’s not the best time(not sure if there ever is). Perhaps, it is impossible for people in the church to fathom how a 30 year old’s biological clock isn’t sending out its usual siren song–babies, babies, BABIES! Maybe, mine’s just broken. Again, I’m left on the fringes. Outside the safe, normal realm of being a mother.

I both loathe and love being an outsider. Perhaps, it is just easier to watch, to sit back and wait, to avoid hurt. I have grown accustomed to being on the fringes.

I am the outsider.

 This post is part of Joy in This Journey’s Blog Link up: Life:UnMasked. Join us and link up your story too.

 

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Monday Musings: March 26

Good Morning, Monday,

I’m not sure if I want to get up and greet your chill, ignore the labor of your siren song, but I really have no choice. I’m up and writing and working. Shooing children out the door for school, sipping coffee. The lone bird song filters in through the office window sparkling with joy–joy that I am positive you, Monday, did give to her!

Today, I ponder these words by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Women:

“an unhappy marriage is often very advantageous to a family, and the neglected wife is, in general, the best mother.”(56)

What are your thoughts? Does an unhappy marriage mean we are better mothers?


Unicorns, Rainbows, and Zombie Jesus

Crisp evening air, the Buick whirred down the four lane road headed toward town. A girl’s night out with Grandma, Ashley, and me. Sitting in the backseat, Ashley chats about her Barbie dolls, her unicorn storybook, the Disney Princesses–all sweet, innocent girly things. Her very essence wrapped up in one long car ride, and I’m thankful for a moment to listen, to hear her non-stop banter about her favorite things. Until she asks:

“Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Cause I just don’t get it.” 

Photography by Mark Askins

A pause, silence chokes out everything else. I fumble for a reassuring “yes, He did.” Perhaps, the easy answer will end her questions for now, but it never does.

“But wouldn’t that make Jesus a Zombie?” she asks unabashedly. “If He dug out of His grave, then He’d be a zombie. But all the pictures in Sunday School show Him next to a big rock.”

She waits quietly for answer, any answer more than my emphatic “yes, He did.” But I say nothing. Not for lack of “right” answers, my Christian college education gave me all of those with the bonus of Bible verses supporting all of those answers, but I’m not sure exactly how to explain something that I don’t firmly grasp either.These moments, I wished I could simply believe all of those easy faith answers. I wish I didn’t need to question everything that I have been taught about God and Jesus and the church. But I do. I need a safe place to ask, but sadly, I haven’t found it yet.

And it scares me to think that my daughter, with all of her questions, won’t have a safe place either. Already, she’s asking hard questions. Questions, theologians still debate and wrestle with, not to mention so many of us in the church. I’m thrilled that she didn’t accept a clichéd response and kept asking, but I worry too. Right now, she’s a child, and it’s okay for children ask if Jesus is a Zombie because he came out of his grave, but what will happen when she is older. When asking such questions will cause the church to shun her, reject her curiosity, and perhaps, force her to leave.

Will the church still be as unwelcoming to we doubters, we askers of questions? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But what gives me hope is that she won’t be alone. There will be other Christ followers asking hard questions. Others chronicle their journeys through the labyrinth of faith. For now, she talk about unicorns and rainbows, but I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of Zombie Jesus.

This post is part of Life:Unmasked from Joy in this Journey. Click here to read other contributions.

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There Is Grace for School Fundraisers

 

Mornings sneak up on me. Alarms buzzing, leads to kids whining about school, their breakfast choices, their daily routine before they can be herded out the door to school. Today, amidst the whole morning chaos, the school fundraiser booklet appears on my desk. Standing in her blue denim skirt and purple shirt, she pleads for me to fill out all seven forms.

 

Not this morning, I can’t fill them out now cause I don’t have time” I say hoping I could fill them out later. Her precious face scrunches up, bursts into the half whining, half crying mode. Somewhere between snotty sniffles and tears, she chokes out how she won’t get a green plastic frog if she doesn’t turn in the forms.

 

But I want that frog,” she cries. There is really no point in telling her that we can get a similar green frog at the Dollar Tree sans a magazine subscription. The temper tantrum reached its fullest, and I silently prayed for time to speed up so she can go to school. She pouted on the tan sectional sofa and tied to manipulate her brother into buying a magazine so she could get a plastic frog. Again, she failed. Again, the tears started. Again, I prayed long and hard for 7:30am to come.

 

Why must every fundraiser have some dumb ass prize? She doesn’t need it, and I don’t need the headache. I simply did not have the strength to deal with the tantrum much less hurry to fill out the materials. My body ached from a restless night of sleep. I saw every hour. My head still swimming with work related needs. The last thing, I needed this morning, was to be reminded that didn’t have all the school related stuff together.

 

But sometimes even amidst the chaos, grace rains down. I drove to work. Over the still waters of the lake, the sun sparkled across the water, and I was perfectly content, happy. Like the embrace of God shone melted the morning’s temper tantrums, I felt deep down the happiness of utter contentment. Quietly, I thanked God for my work, my art making, for this happiness.

 

 

By some fluke, my temper tantrum throwing daughter did get a frog. At that moment in the car line, she too was perfectly happy and content.

 

Life: Unmasked
This post was written for the blog carnival Life:Unmasked at Joy in This Journey. Feel free to share your blog post or story in the comments, or send me an email if you wish to remain anonymous. 

Summer’s Sinister Sister: Immodesty

summer beachphoto © 2008 reonis | more info (via: Wylio)

 

Sunshine sticks to the skin through the adhesive called humidity.

Long hot days, short muggy nights. The gift of summer—watermelon days, fresh truly vine ripened tomatoes, relaxed schedules. Summer and I have a love/hate relationship. I love days by the pool, beach, or camping. Summer loves to give me sunburn, sluggishness, and a chorus of the “I’m bored’s.” But I expect these. With the ubiquitous social media presence, I have also come to expect something else—the passive/aggressive tweet, Facebook status on women’s modesty or lack thereof. Always from a male, always with subsequent comments or mentions praising the return of modesty. And like every year, a chorus of amens. Goes something like this:

Parents, we need to dress our daughters modestly so that she(always a pronoun malfunction here) doesn’t cause other young men to stumble.

(I’m always tempted to insert a snarky reply: “if all these young men are stumbling, maybe someone should get their eyesight, inner ear balance checked. Sounds like a health problem to me).

Can you hear the chorus of amens, preach it brothers?

To be clear, I am not against modesty or wardrobe limitations. What I take umbrage with are these condemning statements directed at particular woman who will never be able to defend herself from her social media assailants. Too make matters worse, most of those encouraging the “modesty” comments are from Christians. Christian men who proclaim to want to lead their families, wives, churches to be more Christi like. How is it Christ like to attack another? If you have the balls to write it on Facebook, why do you refuse to speak to said woman about the issue? I will even give you the benefit of the doubt that maybe you don’t know this person, but would she be comfortable reading your status/tweet?

 

When Christ confronted the woman in adultery, He never disparaged her, discussed her failings with the disciples. He spoke to her. Somehow, social media has made it so much easier for us to band together, condemn those who have trespassed on our moral code, and find others who corroborate our views. In the most passive/aggressive way, just like this post, just like those scantily clad ladies, just like those judgmental men—we all need forgiveness, we all must practice love.

 

Question: How are we Christians using social media to be more judgmental? How do we do something about this?

 

Puppies Make Better Moms

We Made it—HELLO, FRIDAY! While I spent extra time and wasted gas this morning heading to a doctor’s visit that was canceled(arrgh), here I am celebrating Friday again.

 

Like so many Fridays, I participate in Lisa-Jo’s blog carnival Five Minute Fridays!

Since Sunday is Mother’s Day, Lisa-Jo has chosen an appropriate theme. But first, the rules:

 

  1. Write on the topic for 5 minutes only!
  2. No Editing, No Revising, just let it all hang out!
  3. Link up over at The Gypsy Mama and encourage another blogger.

 

So, easy, now here is the writing prompt:

 

Motherhood should come with……

 

Start:

 

Motherhood should come with a puppy.

A soft bundle of fur, over-sized paws, and a cold wet nose. I hear each one of you mother muttering—yeah, another thing to take care of along with a house, new baby or in my case two stepkids, husband, and whatever else happens to be causing tension and stress. A puppy? Why yes, every mom needs a puppy.

 

Because motherhood doesn’t always hold unicorn and rainbow moments.

 

Motherhood should come with a puppy for those times when children say hurtful things. The things that eat away at your heart. Bruise your love and cause those wet pillow nights. A puppy can soothe your aching, feeble heart when it is broken. Hopefully, after those moments, tears will turn to smiles and laughter.

 

 

Motherhood should come with a puppy for those days when kids mutter under their breath and roll their eyes at our lameness. Puppy just wags her tail, eats whatever we provide, and never asks for the designer jeans. In fact, the puppy will want to snuggle and cuddle until the rough patch is smoothed out, apologies accepted, and finally love wins out.

 

Motherhood should come with a puppy for those in between moments of children’s anger and your frustration and the return of hugs and cuddles and laughter.

 

Yes, motherhood should come with a puppy.

 

 

Stop!

 

Celebrating Women: Looking To the Future

Feminism, VDay 2007 and Mephoto © 2010 Julie Jordan Scott | more info (via: Wylio)

 

Where do we go from here?

 

As women, as mothers, as daughters, as sisters… how do we move toward a better future for women? As this Women’s History Month ends, we have chronicled our personal journeys through feminism, shared our struggles as feminist parents, reminisced about women writer’s we adore. Part of me is a bit sad to see this wonderful time of sharing stories—women’s stories, lives, and celebrating the wide diversity inherent in our gender. This month, we celebrated the silenced, the oppressed, the too often trivialized voices of women. We thank each of you participated, wrote, supported us championing this Celebration of Women.

 

But we must move on….

 

We cannot stay here, revel in our past glories of feminism, or continue to rehash our past life journeys. We must move forward. So, where do we go from here? What is the one thing we can do today to improve the lives of women—for us, our daughters, mothers, sisters? While I pondered this one thing, I kept hoping that some great epiphany would descend from heaven, ignite the fire of mind, and reinvigorate my muse. But I must apologize that I have no such epiphany. There it was. The one thing, we women can do.

 

We must stop apologizing for being women.

 

We must stop explaining, apologizing, making excuses for being a woman. Why should we denounce our gender’s unique qualities? We apologize for that special time of the month. We apologize for our overly emotional needs. We apologize for maternity leave. We apologize for our choices of career, family, breast feeding vs. formula. We apologize for championing women’s causes. We apologize for being strong women. We apologize for being submissive women. We spend more breathes apologizing for how nature made us. Why?

 

For too long, we have divorced our identity from its source—our gender’s uniqueness. We feel that we must differentiate between women’s causes, women’s rights and human rights or human causes. Women’s rights are human rights not a bifurcation based upon gender. But we women continue apologizing for wanting more rights for women, for equal pay, for equal humanitarian aide.

 

Today, we stop apologizing for being women.

Hello, I’m Feminist Parent


Early in my graduate school career, I read Elizabeth Flynn’s piece “Composing as a Woman.” This one piece of writing sparked a whole new fervor for feminism. Not the outspoken feminism of the 1960’s, but a more intellectual, refined push toward celebrating gender differences rather than creating a unisex society. I will admit that I still adore this piece of feminist composition theory(I will also admit that I adore reading various theoretical viewpoints about composition, rhetoric, etc. I’m geek. No denying that one.). Elizabeth Flynn focuses not on achieving gender equality in the composition classroom, but giving voice to those on the margins, seeking and celebrating differences, understanding not everyone communicates in the same manner.

But this is supposed to be a post on feminist parenting not rehashing old graduate seminar papers. For me, parenting is similar to the composition classroom or a piece of writing. As a former composition teacher, I had to learn how to celebrate difference. I guided my students to find their writing style, not to simply copy my writing style. But at the same time, I gently encouraged these students to hone their writing skills, to use correct mechanics, to revise their writing. A good composition teacher always points her students in the direction of their unique voice, a refined voice.

 

Feminist parenting is much the same way. My two children(stepchildren but I’m the one raising them) have unique viewpoints, talents, interests. Each one has a unique story, a story intricately bound up in differences. My son firmly believes he wants to design LEGOS. My daughter wants to bake cupcakes with ice cream frosting. By no means are these two life stories the same. Frankly, I’m happy that they don’t want the same things, the same life goals. There is something truly beautiful about seeing their unique life stories blossom. More than anything, I want them to choose the narrative arcs of their stories. Now, I know their stories will be far from perfect, full of mistakes in syntax and form. But they will be living their own stories, not my story forced fed into them.

With the caveat, I do not take an entirely hands off stance when it comes to their life story writing. A feminist parent encourages differences in stories but always gently revises. Revision of ill-tempered traits, poor habits is not conformity. Simply put, it allows my children to see their stories more clearly. Through gentle guidance, I point out their strengths, listen to their whims, and engage in their unique interests. Feminist parenting, for me, comes down to one sole statement:

 

Together, we craft and revise life stories.

Through the beauty of difference, I choose to parent as a feminist. Giving my children a discursive space to grow and mature, to write beautiful life stories.

 

Question: How do you help your children find their unique life story?