Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Blessed Be the Womb that Bore You and the Breasts that Nursed You

"Blessed be the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you." - Luke 11:27. There must be a reason that both mothering functions were separately honored. Many of us were born to women who, for one reason or another, were unable to "feed" us, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically." Very few of us can do all of these jobs and do them all well, especially for more than one child.

Many months ago, I wrote about stopping abortion through community mothering, and a minister friend who had spent years in Africa, said that children in Africa have many mothers. The birth mother is mother #1. He did go on to say that polygamy is also part of the family life in Africa, but that's another issue.

Coincidentally, a friend from another country was recently telling me about a time when the mother of her godchildren had to be away for an extended period of time to take care of a family medical emergency. My friend, who had never had nor wanted to have children of her own, stepped in as the "mother." There were times that the smallest of the children could not be soothed by any means; she instinctively put them to her dry, but welcoming breast. The babies were soothed.

Many years ago, in some areas of the country, slaves were required to do much of the mothering, never being honored as "other mothers." There is still a disproportionate number of "other mothers" being paid near-slave wages to tend to the children of the wealthy. Shouldn't we be honoring these "breasts that nurse" our children as "mothers" to them, giving them a share of our resources proportionate to the importance of the task they are taking on themselves?

I was blessed with a middle age in which I don't have to earn my own living. This freed me up to have time and energy to devote solely to being "another mother." I have tutored a perfect stranger's child in reading. I have "nursed" four grandchildren, a godchild, and the children of many neighbors and friends. I have also been refused the role as godmother by a church authority that clearly didn't understand the nature of the human elements of faith.

Both my daughter and daughter-in-law are teachers of children with special needs. My daughter's charges are from extreme poverty; those of my daughter-in-law are what we refer to as "special education" children. Both of them not only mother their own children, but participate in "mothering" many other children in their neighborhoods and schools. Both of them are in strong parenting partnerships with their spouses and several close friends, so they are able to also specialize in their own areas of "mothering" expertise.

It is time to rethink what "mothering" means and how it should be honored right here on earth. It is not enough that we write flowery verses singing of a mother's love. It is time that we impress upon our society the desperate need to be prepared to not only give birth, but to provide for all the needs a human baby has in our ever more complex society. It not only takes wombs and breasts to bring up a human baby; it takes brains, immense energy, and a huge financial commitment.

Contrary to religious reasoning of the past, children do not reach the "age of reason" at the age of eight-years-old. It is not the responsibility of an older sibling to "take care of" their little brother or sister. Only responsible adults should be tasked with such an awesome undertaking.

The only way we actually show honor is by sharing our physical resources fairly. There are no master's degrees in mothering, and our society doesn't truly honor the efforts of anyone without a specialization. Community property, as established in some states, may begin to address the inequity in the "wages" for mothering, but not all states have these laws. The nature of the marriage contract should be discussed before any marriage license is granted. Why aren't the churches advocating for this in their social justice campaigns?

There are too many babies being born by those who live only by their animal instincts, procreating and acting as if the rest of society owes it to them and their progeny to be the "breasts that nurse" their offspring. We expect our teachers to do the work that should be done in their own homes and communities. The burden is breaking the backs of our teachers and our educational system.

Perhaps we, as a society, did owe some restitution for all the years that we robbed the slave's families of the mothering energy. I know many white wealthy women who have given untold hours teaching and otherwise "mothering" the children who have few resources at home. It is time that we are realistic about honoring the "other mothers" with resources and honest authority over the burdens put on all those who are responsible parenting partners.

The issue with our old patriarchal mindset is that women are to have all the primary parenting responsibility without commensurate authority or remuneration. If we are to participate in "mothering" the children of others, we should be able to limit the numbers that we will absorb into our hearts and homes. Our society has long been too complex to need a great deal more unskilled laborers. Why are we resistant to free conception control for these less-than-responsible sexually active people?

I have retired from "mothering" because the religious right continues to look at responsibility as a personal relationship between them and their "God." The individual rights advocates refuse to admit that they are part of a community that requires rules of justice in order for partnerships (parenting and other partnerships) to work.

The "blessing" I want for the efforts of my womb, my breasts, and my brain is justice, meaning shared responsibility, shared authority, and shared resources. This, I am blessed with by my husband who did not even father my children, but I know too many women, biological mothers, teachers, nurses, cooks, waitresses, housekeepers, waitresses, clerical workers who are not equally blessed.

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