Earlier this summer I was at a bar with an old friend chatting about all kinds of interesting stuff. We share a lot of things in common. One thing in particular is that we’ve participated in Christian fundamentalist culture. Another thing is that we’ve each since split from that scene in a rather grand and thorough fashion. As we traded stories about the strange and oppressive things we’d experienced as lunatics, the conversation came around to how we now felt about the people in positions of power in our former home churches. In summary, not great.
I asked if he would ever want to tell those religious leaders how their words, actions, and attitudes had hurt him. He said no. He recognized that they were probably doing their best to be kind to him; that maybe even their judgment of his non-conformities was a sign of their love. As nuts as it sounds, I understood that. I mean, if you really thought someone you cared about was going to burn forever in hell (because, you know, you believe in that sort of thing) for what they were up to, you might get weirdly confrontational too. He said that yes, he was hurt by the way these leaders interacted with him, but said he had since let it go. He is flourishing in his life and work. What would be the point of hashing it out? And I had to agree; they probably wouldn’t be swayed or changed by whatever he had to say. If there is one basic life skill that those in power within patriarchal cultures really suck at, it’s listening with anything other than the intention to talk again.
But for some reason I couldn’t seem to arrive at his peaceful resolution. I couldn’t let it go.
“Does it change when you think about who will come after you?” I asked. “When you think of the boy who will sit opposite of them and hear the same things you heard?” He sat for a minute, thinking about it, and then he said “Yeah. Wow. Yeah, it really does.”
Even out at the bar, miles and miles from my home with a friend I’ve known since I was a child myself, I find that I am a mother more than almost anything else. I find that I am changed. And this most often accounts for the difference in the way I see the world. “Who will come after me” is crystal clear in my mind. She’s real. I’ve clipped her fingernails.
Of course, everyone gets to deal with surviving Christian Fundamentalism (insert your own strange and slightly-traumatic experience here) in whatever way they see fit. I’m certainly not saying that everyone should be required to go all Norma Rae on their past oppressors. What I am saying is that motherhood has made me different and that this difference matters. Motherhood has changed my mind and re-framed my worldview in a way that’s valuable. It’s also a change that’s easy to dismiss amid the warped discussion of motherhood in media and culture.
In my years as a fundamentalist, I lived shoulder deep in the stagnating knowledge that my mind was different than my male counterparts. Through high school and college I lived believing that my mind was less-than-male in most important ways. And now years later it seems that I wake up each day to a new iteration of the argument “women can’t be trusted to live in their own bodies, let alone lead nations, organizations, or families.” I have lived my life with the constant droning message that my mind is different and this difference is less.
Motherhood is often portrayed as a cognitive disability. The phrase “mommy brain” is used to denote a fried mental state, usually with a laugh over soiled diapers or whatever. And while I’m not going to deny the fact that spending (conservative estimate) 6-8 months sleeping for a cumulative total of 6 hours a night broken up into 2, 3, or (lucky motherfuckers) 4-hour chunks that are interrupted with blood-curdling screams and explosions of effluvia doesn’t support a sound mental state, I am going to say that neither does the life of perfect ease and unchecked accommodation that those usually deemed more fit for leadership have experienced. When I look at those in positions of power I don’t see a lot of mothers, and when I look at the world, I don’t see a lot of systemic concern for who comes next. And even with my “inferior” mind, I can put those pieces together.
So all of this to say, what it seems like I always want to say these days. I hope you’ll share your perspective more – be it at the bar with a friend or in a room full of potential voters. I hope you value the way your mind has changed. Your so-called mommy brain is necessary and valuable. It is badly needed to combat the overwhelming oppression and aggression that seems to daily encroach on us. It is powerful when used against dumb, selfish, leaders who have probably never clipped tiny fingernails, or realized the truly vast difference between 3 and 4 hours of sleep.
All this to say that maybe today would be a fine day to take a quick inventory of some of the ways your mind has been changed and shaped by your motherhood. And then rather than dismissing those shifts as useless apart from your work as a parent, you could put those differences to use in whatever ways occur to you for the larger good.
All this is to say that maybe you should be in charge.
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