Sunday, October 16, 2016

My Role in Work Overseas and Being a Mother - Part II

I posted a meme on Instagram that said, “The most important thing you contribute might be someone you raise, not something you do.” Or something like that. A friend of mine pushed back and talked about how damaging it can be when our identity is wrapped in parenting, and the message this sends to our girls about where their identity lies.

I explained my thoughts but I deleted the post because I agree that it could send that message and that is SO NOT what I want to say. So - time for an update on my angsty journey in motherhood. My last post on this was nearly a year ago. 

Here I am, three kids, a fully stay at home mother. It is still tough for me. I am not playful and I like personal space, time to process, adult conversation, clear objectives, and desk work. This stage is still not easy for me to feel fulfilled in. I’ve written about that before.  

However, I am much more peaceful now than I was a year ago largely because of expectations. Last year, settling in to Manokwari, I expected to be out of the home much more than I was. I expected to be able to do more things while my kids tagged along. The process of adjusting to reality was rough because I felt I was failing in the kind of mom/woman I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a focused-at-home mom, I wanted to be a full time mom who was doing other things at the same time. Now I’ve faced the reality of my kids, their needs, their personalities, and their interaction with the local culture. I know that at this stage of their lives (infant, toddler, kindergartner) and without the time saving devices of the developed world, I spend almost all my time at home with my kids.

 Over the summer I also was given the great gift of hearing the hearts of some people I love. As adults they are processing childhood heartache, and there was a cry from each of them (all children of full-time Christian workers) of, “Where were my parents? Why weren’t they paying attention? Why didn’t/don’t I feel loved and safe?” It reminded me of the immense importance of the parent/child relationship at this stage. Since I did feel well-loved by my parents and I didn’t feel sacrificed on the alter of their work, it’s easy for me to forget how common that is. I love my kids and they are precious, sacred little people that need an immense amount of gentle love and attention RIGHT NOW.

And so there is some peace this year, despite not necessarily feeling more suited/gifted/fulfilled, I feel quite convinced of the importance of what I am doing right now as well as that this is exactly where God has guided me to be right now.

The other thing that adds to my sense of peace is a vision for the future. I am okay with doing this for a while because I don’t think it will always be this way. I have been accepted to a graduate program in counseling and I'll probably start classes a year from now (online) and in three years should have a degree. I see several clear ways this could be used here, and I get excited when I talk about it. Friends and family were great with their feedback about all of that this summer.  In the next couple of months I also am taking over a lot of the paperwork/administrative work for our organization – visas, legal things. This is an area where I have experience, gifting, and I can work from home. It is a clear way to help others, and that gives me a sense of being meaningful. It's a job I can put on a resume in the USA too. Totally adds to my contentment.

What bothers me in the midst of this is two things. First, that in fulfilling a stereotypical SAHM role, I will reinforce a stereotype that I do not agree with. I do not believe this is the primary work women are destined to do, where their meaning is derived from. I want my kids to see me doing a variety of things and be raised to see women as fully empowered members of the kingdom of God. I’m afraid I will not send this message well (like say, when Judah says Elly will grow up to be a good cooker like mom and he’ll grow up to turn on the TV like Daddy). As they get a bit older and less all-consuming, I hope to bring back in other elements of work so that they see both mom and dad working and both mom and dad in the home.

Secondly, I don’t want to send the message that this shepherding of kids is the immensely important work… of women. It is the immensely important work of PARENTS. Men and women both. The duties of kids and the home must be divided up and each family has to figure out how to divide them up, but the husband should be equally responsible. I am more content here because I have the unusual privilege of having a husband who was the stay at home dad for the first three years of parenting. I wish more dads would do that. Technically I’ve actually only been the primary at-home parent for a year and a half now. If you’re a married man reading this, please, please, sit down with your wife and consider how you splitting your household and parenting duties, if it’s healthy, if your wife is satisfied, and how you can fully empower her. Please, be your wife’s advocate.

I wrote everything above and then the very next day an album popped up on facebook of a meeting here of various people in the work we’re involved in here, along with our visiting supervisor. It’s the kind of meeting Isaac would avoid because he hates meetings and administration of all sorts. The man is a teacher and scholar at heart and he is SO fulfilled doing that right now. And he’s good at it. It’s cool. In any case, this kind of meeting is totally not his thing…. but it is mine. It’s a topic I’m passionate about, I want to hear what people have to say, I probably have things to say myself, and I
just want to be involved, you know? And yet I was home with three kiddos. My heart sort of sank and I had to sit back and evaluate those emotions for a while.

There is still a longing, and one of the primary lessons of this stage of life is that I tend to find my meaning and identity in what I DO. It is good to work, and it is good to work within our gifting. It is not good that when I am removed from that for a while, I struggle with feeling meaningless. My meaning should come from my identity in my Jesus. Sacrifice for my kids should be glad and beautiful, if it is the right thing at the right time. My prayer is that my kids are well-loved, I grow in my skill through this stage, and that I learn fellowship with Christ. 

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