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
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.
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?
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.”
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.
Hazy heat blurs the green tree leaves, the stillness of the air stifles. Memorial Day evening—hot, humid, muggy…all those summer words associated with living in the South. Now, when it is this hot, I usually have my day all planned out—sit on my ass, in the A/C, and read. A lovely reading chair, books to finish and begin, and access to ice, but Little League games interfere with my perfect plan.
So, Plan B: lawn chair, battery powered fan, book(reading The Great Gatsby), and Moleskine notebook. I’m somewhat famous for bringing books and writing materials to just about every potentially boring event(a.k.a when my child isn’t playing, doing, etc. I really only care about watching my kid).
Simply put, I dislike being bored.
But then the sun blares down upon the pages, my hands sweat from holding the pen, and I’m forced to watch the game, or better watch the parents at the game. I squirm from the excess sweat hoping that when I get up from the chair that I don’t look like well…I have incontinence issues. It was really that hot, I promise. I looked like a hot mess.
That’s when it starts again.
My people watching diversion turns into compare myself to everyone else obsession. Other mothers with perfect air, lovely brown tans, sporting their spaghetti strapped tank tops. None of them playing the “check your shoulder for the bra strap” game. Aww, shit, I’m looking down at my legs white wishing I had worn shorts more before this evening. Of course, their perfect children ate perfectly well-balanced meals before the game while mine will eat what I can quickly throw together after the game.
I’m slowly wilting under the intense heat of comparison. Worst, I’m doing it to myself.
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?