in search of a flatter stomach? the mixed motivations behind fasting

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It is becoming customary, at the start of January, for our church to take some time out, corporately and individually, to pray and fast for the coming year.

Coincidentally, January is also the time I’m keen to lose a few pounds. With Christmas out of the way, I can start planning our summer holiday – and, despite the fact we can’t yet bring ourselves to fly somewhere exotic and warm with our 8-6-3-3 combination of kiddoes, I feel like I need to have a bikini-ready body.

The fact that we will probably end up in Anglesey is beside the point.

If, at some unknown point in the future, I might wish to expose my midriff on a crowded beach, fasting is going to be helpful.

And therein lies the problem. Perhaps the reason that many of us don’t fast is that we’re a little bit scared of doing it for the wrong reasons.

Perhaps we have a complicated relationship with food, and fear that withholding it from our bodies will be more about controlling ourselves rather than allowing God to have control.

Perhaps we are desperate for God to respond to our prayers in a particular way, and fear that fasting will feel like bribing our ‘cosmic Santa’ God to give us what we most desire.

Or perhaps fasting simply feels like ‘work’ within a faith-based salvation. Surely our grace-filled God can’t demand that we carry out such an ancient religious ritual?

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I misunderstood fasting for years. I did it – occasionally – because I thought it was a helpful practice, but I didn’t really know why. Nowadays, however, it’s becoming an important spiritual discipline in my life.

On the eve of Ash Wednesday, when many of us might be planning to fast something for Lent, perhaps it’s helpful for me to share what God has taught me as I’ve plodded along:

  1. Fasting is expected (see Matthew 6:16-17). Like prayer, it is not an empty trapping of our religion, but something Jesus upheld which brings us closer to God. Unlike prayer, it doesn’t need to be part of our daily routine (Jesus didn’t fast every day as far as it is possible to tell), but should be a regular part of our lives.
  2. Fasting doesn’t have to be food! Anything which we love, crave, spend a lot of time on, or claim to be addicted to, can be withdrawn as the spiritual discipline of fasting. Social media, alcohol, screentime, a particular TV show…this is particularly helpful when a food fast is not recommended (e.g. in pregnancy, while breastfeeding or where particular health issues are present).
  3. Fasting doesn’t have to be as extreme as 40 days in the desert. It could mean certain times of day (e.g. not snacking between meals, or not eating until the evening), for a few consecutive days (e.g. no social media during a particular week), one day a week (e.g. no TV on Sundays), or for a specified period (e.g. giving up chocolate for Lent).
  4.  Fasting reminds us how much we have. And we have a lot, especially here in the UK. If we never fast, we run the risk of taking what we have for granted, assuming it to be an unchallengeable fact of the modern Western Christian’s life that we are ‘entitled’ to these possessions or that luxury. But God may have other ideas.
  5. Fasting helps us to relinquish our idols. It says to God that we are more serious about him than about food, alcohol, sex, social media, TV, or anything else we may feel is becoming an idol. But I think it says more to ourselves. Fasting reminds me that God is worth more than these things – and that, much as I believe I ‘need’ chocolate to get through each day, what I really need is God’s word. (Matthew 4:4)
  6. Fasting creates long-term habits of holiness. If we are serious about allowing God to develop a more Christ-like character in us, then I think fasting will be involved somewhere along the line. Several years ago, I gave up my favourite soap opera for Lent, using the time to read Isaiah instead. I’d been addicted for nearly 20 years, and was gripping on tightly. But the six weeks without it made me realise I didn’t even want to return to it. The grip was gone, the addiction was gone, and I was free to pursue God a little more than I had before.
  7. Fasting realigns our priorities. It keeps us focussed on God in this distraction-riddled life. I pray more when I’m fasting – because every time I feel a pang of hunger, or desperation for whatever it is that I’ve given up, it’s a reminder to pray. So if there are big needs in my life, or the lives of those close to me, fasting is a great way to prioritise spending time with God, offering Him these prayer requests, over any of the other ‘loves’ of my life.

I often picture the Christian journey as a pair of closed fists, holding tightly onto life and independence. As we mature, these fists gradually release, as God gently works in us to loosen our grip on the things which hold us back from loving Him completely.

Fasting, for me, has become a way of submitting my fists to God, asking that He will open whichever fingers necessary in order to let go of what is holding me back, and make more space for that which He would want to develop in me.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 3:12-14)

I would like to encourage you that, even if your motivation to fast is mixed or complex, please allow God to work in you through this important discipline. God doesn’t need our  fasting – but we probably do.

And, despite what images come to mind when you hear the word ‘fasting’, the Bible assures us that a life lived for God is more joyous, more full and more exciting than any alternative. Go for it!

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being a writer: one month in

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Last month, I shared with you my exciting but rather daunting sense of needing to pursue freelance writing during 2018. Since many of you seem to believe this is my calling more than I actually do, I thought you might be interested in an update.

I began the year with a day-and-a-half per week of child-free time. Not much, if you include all the other jobs which mount up with a large family, not to mention commitments at church and school. I determined to ‘protect’ my half-day for writing – but who was I kidding? That would never be enough. That half day has quickly become the full day-and-a-half, and housework and other stuff just gets fitted in whenever. (Or left entirely.)

Even in the first month, I’ve been busy. Of course most of this work isn’t earning me anything, but it’s giving me valuable writing practice in a variety of contexts, an insight into how different publications operate, helping me to find appropriate writing networks and avenues for future writing, and (much as I hate to say it) getting my name out there.

I’ve had to be disciplined. I’m working for myself. No one is going to call me in for a disciplinary if I don’t show up or meet deadlines. If I want to do this, I have to actually do this. I have to write even when I’m not ‘in the mood’, I have to utilise the time when my boys are at preschool, and I have to set myself deadlines in order to get anything done. The collaborative blog or writers’ magazine won’t notice if I don’t submit anything in time for them to consider it for publication – but I will.

That said, I enjoy the freedom. It’s great being able to justify working in coffee shops (no distractions like being at home!) and be there to collect my kids from school. How many jobs are like that? And of course I do sometimes use the child-free time to meet up with friends, catching up with writing in the evening, so all this is good.

I’ve been reminded, in various ways from various sources, that money or fame are not my goals. I’m writing because I’m called to write. In fact, at this stage, I wouldn’t even call it a ‘calling’ – I’m writing to test out what God might be calling me to do. It’s hard not to dream of writing bestselling books, or becoming a well-respected Christian social commentator – but I feel that this season of my life is about God shaping me and working in me as I draw close to Him (and write).

But I’ve also enjoyed writing my first paid piece! It was such a joy to write, although I can’t yet share much about it here. When it’s published, you’ll be the first to know! It’s wonderful to be paid for something you love to do.

And I’ve realised how I need to do some self-promotion. Which is hard. I mean – who actually enjoys selling themselves? Approximately no one. (Except maybe Donald Trump.) It feels so unnatural to be pushing myself forward – especially when I’m often plagued with feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy. But, for all the advantages of working for yourself, this one disadvantage is necessary and worth it. Perhaps one day I’ll even get good at it.

I also submitted my first book proposal! I’m really not sure I’ve sent it to the right person – although I love this publisher, I don’t think that what I’ve written is up their street. But I had to try! And I’m totally convinced by the idea, so if they say ‘no’ then I’ll be knocking on other publishers’ doors until I find someone who agrees with me!

I’m getting more confident about talking of myself being ‘at work’. It’s hard when I’m not dressed in heels or a suit, or dropping my kids at breakfast club, or going out to work – or even getting paid for most of what I’m currently doing. It’s just not a very obvious kind of work. But it is still work, and I’m becoming braver at dropping it into conversation when necessary. (“Sorry – I’m working then.”)

How can you help?

It feels wrong to ask, because you – as my faithful blog readers – are the foundation for everything I’m doing now, and the reason why opportunities are starting to come about. I am so grateful to you all for every encouragement you’ve ever sent. But there are three very quick ways you could help me to build my online platform, helping to raise the profile of my writing and gain opportunities with other publications:

  • Please follow me by email if you don’t already! There should be a place you can do this in the right-hand column of this blog. The advantage for you is that you don’t have to keep checking back on the blog or social media for new posts – they will automatically be pinged into your Inbox when they’re published. (Of course you don’t need to read them all!)
  • Please like me on Facebook if you don’t already!
  • Please follow me on Twitter if you don’t already!

Thank you so, SO much! And, as always, your feedback on this blog is so much appreciated. (Also don’t forget to enter the giveaway before 11pm tomorrow!)

 

sexuality, faith and the art of conversation (review – and a GIVEAWAY!!)

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It’s been on my mind for a while now that, whilst there is a place for debate and argument when it comes to the ‘grey’ areas of Christianity, we would do better to find ways of living alongside those who take a different stance to us, rather than relentlessly trying to persuade others to adopt our own viewpoint.

After all, Jesus said, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

Call me a crazy fundamentalist, but I think Jesus had a point. We gain nothing by arguing people into submission. We gain much, however, from conversing with our brothers and sisters, listening to their views and sharing ours. The deep love which can be experienced through relationships where there are differences can be highly attractive to those who observe it.

So I was delighted when I discovered, last year, that Stephen Elmes had written a book which was encouraging just this sort of open conversation on a subject close to my heart – sexuality.

Quite simply, this book is wonderful. The friend who lent it to me offered the proviso, “It won’t give you any answers – just more questions”, but I’m grateful for this.

For eight months of 2014, Baptist pastor Stephen Elmes led a working party in his church to discuss the issue of sexuality, with the aim of ‘considering how a local Baptist church might respond to those who live with same-sex desires and seek to follow Christ’. The results formed the main research vehicle for a dissertation Elmes submitted for a Masters degree in 2015.

This book alternates four strands, woven together to make a whole: summaries of the working party’s discussion, pieces of theological writing by Elmes, true life stories (names changed), and fictional conversations with a non-Christian protagonist ‘Alex’, whose role is to question Elmes’ research methods, and make sure no stone has been left unturned.

I loved a lot of things about this book. The gracious, gentle tone of its author. The compassion and love which flood every chapter. The engaging, ‘storyteller’ style at which Elmes is adept; the book prompts and challenges its readers, but feels easy to read. However, most of all, I liked hearing the reasoning behind those views which are different to my own on this issue. It gave me more understanding, and I hope it will give me more humility and openness when discussing this issue with others in the future. It’s a book all Christians should read.

A slight niggle of mine was that we never got to see the response which Elmes’ working party fed back to their church. Perhaps this was because such a response outside of its proper context could have been easily misinterpreted – and, with such a sensitive subject, this could have far-reaching consequences.

Whatever the reason, it would have been helpful to include some ideas of what a church’s response to those with same-sex attraction could look like. The book ends with ‘to be continued…’ – so perhaps this gives hope that we’ll be reading more from Stephen Elmes in the future! (In fact, I only just noticed that the book’s title bears the heading ‘Part One’, so I would think that a sequel was happily inevitable!)

Yes, perhaps this book won’t give you ‘answers’. But perhaps answers aren’t what we need. Perhaps a deeper awareness of the questions can help to formulate a response which is compassionate, God-centred and Christ-exalting. This book leads you to believe that such a response is possible. I thoroughly recommend it.

If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, simply comment here on the blog (Facebook/Twitter comments won’t be entered) by 11pm this Thursday, 8th February. I’ll use a random generator to pick a name, and put a copy in the post a.s.a.p. Good luck!

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Disclaimer: All views are my own. I did not receive a free copy of the book in return for this review, and haven’t been bribed in any other way. But if enough people buy this book upon my recommendation, maybe Stephen Elmes will buy me a glass of wine if we ever meet 😉

 

tim keller, feminism, disney and a whole lotta chocolate… (what i’m into – jan 2018)

Books

Totally by chance, I’ve fallen into a little pattern with some of my reading this year.

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Daily…I am reading The Way of Wisdom (Tim and Kathy Keller). It was a no-brainer, really, having enjoyed their My Rock, My Refuge devotional last year. Honestly, I can’t recommend these two books enough – a great-value devotional (£10 will last you all year!) which packs a punch and yet is short enough to fit in to even the busiest parent’s routine.

Weekly…I am reading The Hole in our Holiness (Kevin de Young) with my housegroup. The premise is that we evangelicals love to prioritise grace – but what about holiness? Why is it important? Surely we’re saved by faith, not by works? And yet isn’t holiness all about obedience which is about…works? There are study questions for each chapter which are helping our weekly discussion. I won’t say we’ve agreed with all his emphases or his style in places, but it’s certainly stimulated a really helpful and lively discussion.

Monthly…I am reading Hands-free Mama – a book recommended in my Year of Books (from 2015 – oh yes, I’m still working through that wonderful list!). There are twelve chapters, and the author recommends taking it slow, one per month over a year, in order to reflect and change habits. Chapter one was all about spotting the moments in our kids’ lives that we might be missing because we’re on our phones or devices, or ‘just’ doing this last bit of laundry or clearing up – the chapter has been in my head since I read it – it’s so practical!

AND our Book Club started this month! I’m so excited! Our first venture was a piece of classic chick-lit – The Chocolate Lovers Club (Carole Matthews) – shallow characters, underdeveloped plots, lots of sex – you get the idea. It wasn’t a totally unenjoyable way to spend a week, but several of our members couldn’t finish it. I guess I’m more shallow than they are.

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Last but not least (from the ridiculous to the sublime), I read Sexuality, Faith and the Art of Conversation (Stephen Elmes). This book is just a little bit wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that I’ll let you look it up for yourselves, and write a full review of it sometime soon.

Food

Mainly eating up Christmas chocolates. And I remembered why these are my hands-down favourite biscuits in the whole entire world (by eating most of a whole box myself). Not a dud in the whole pack. Genius.

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Music

Nothing. Too busy reading and eating chocolate.

Articles

Ditto. Maybe I should just start deleting some of these headings?

On the blog

Actually, a bit of action here. So it turns out that I’ve been spending January reading, eating chocolate AND writing. I kicked off with my round-up of 2017, then pondered the traps we can fall into when making New Year’s resolutions.

I shared with you my exciting news for 2018, wrote about how being a SAHM isn’t mutually exclusive to being a feminist, and suggested five fun things to do with your family during Lent.

Go on…make yourself a brew, put your feet up, whack cbeebies on and have a read! You know my blog stats want you to!

Stage and Screen

I didn’t get my backside in gear to book any stage shows for January, BUT I made up for it with ridiculous amounts of telly. January is the month I catch up on all the stuff I didn’t get time to watch over Christmas. Praise God for catch-up TV.

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Films-wise, I enjoyed The Hundred-Foot Journey (although it got a little less believable towards the end), The Red Shoes (pretty dark, late 40s psychological/emotional thriller), The Hangover (better than it sounds, but nothing to write home about) and Big Hero 6. This last one was my son’s choice on a sick day, and I’d never watched it all the way through before (parents rarely get this privilege), so I didn’t realise just what an incredible movie it is. Kudos to Disney for doing something very unlike their usual offering. (Which, of course, is also incredible – just in different ways.)

I indoctrinated my lovely friend with the ways of Pitch Perfect by going on a mate-date to watch the third installment at the cinema. It worked – she’s now seen the earlier two films and has converted to fan status! I still reckon the first film is the best – but the humour certainly doesn’t fail in the later two films.

TV-wise, the hubby and I really enjoyed Feud: Bette and Joan – about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s ongoing dislike of each other. In addition to the gripping storyline (which I realise will have fictional elements), and fabulous cast, I’m interested in what it says about Hollywood’s attitudes to women in film (both on and behind camera) in the early 1960s. It’s still available, but only for a few days, and has eight episodes, so hurry if this kind of stuff interests you!

Lastly (phew!) anyone interested in adoption, fostering and the effect of trauma on kids in the classroom, should watch a fantastic clip on The One Show, shown Wednesday 17 January. It’s just a few minutes long (starts around 11 or 12 minutes in), but offers a real insight into the struggles adopted and fostered kids have in school. I’ll say no more except these kids are far more likely to get excluded than kids who aren’t in care. Have a watch.

In other news…

I’m a writer! Kind of. Still struggling to believe it a bit. But there has certainly been work (and will even be a paycheque at some point in the next couple of months), and I’m enjoying pushing doors and seeing opportunities I never knew were there. Already I’ve learnt loads.

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…I went on a fabulous Women’s Day organised by a local church – it’s an annual event, and this was my fourth year. Great teaching from Nadine Parkinson, food, worship – and, of course, several hours away from my darling kiddoes. Not to be sniffed at.

What have you been up to in January?

Disclosure: Affiliate links not included in this post because I hate Amazon.  If you click throughany purchase you make doesn’t result in a penny for me. But you’re welcome to buy me chocolate next time you see me as an act of left-wing solidarity OR as a thank you for recommending some totally awesome resources which have, obviously, changed your life.

Linking up, as always, with the lovely Leigh Kramer’s What I’m into series.

five fabulous things you can do with your family this lent

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After the long Autumn term – which feels like it’ll never end – this term, by comparison, goes in a flash. Linger in January for a moment too long, and suddenly it’s Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and BANG! We’re into Lent.

I love using the seasons and festivals to make some family traditions and – more importantly, for me – draw my family closer to Jesus. But our family life right now is so manic that I live day-to-day, with little forward planning. I’ll get to Shrove Tuesday evening with nothing prepared to get my littlies through Lent, and think “Dammit! I wanted to make MEMORIES!” In protest, I will give up Pinterest and every other vehicle designed to make parents feel rubbish, and bury my head in the sand, pulling out the odd tradition whenever it fits or I remember.

So – this year will be different. Yes it will! Lent starts in three weeks, and I’m determined to make the most of it. If you fancy finding something family-oriented to teach your kiddoes about Lent, Easter and the Christian tradition, I’ve pulled together a few tried-and-tested ideas for you here:

Use ‘Follow Me’ for stories and creative activities. Check out my review for more detail, but allow me to give the bare facts here: it’s fun, it’s flexible and Amy’s done the hard work for you, so all you need is this book and (occasionally) a few basic props or materials – nothing you can’t find around the house. You can pick and choose what works best for your kids – everything’s designed to make you consider a Bible story from different perspectives and angles, and you simply choose what appeals. Whether you want something to use every day, or just once a week, this resource works well. I reckon it’s best for primary-aged kids, and probably slightly younger too – we used this two years ago for our then 4- and 6-year olds, and are planning to use it this year for our 3-3-6-8 combo.

Make a Lent prayer tree. You can do this any way you want! Click here if you’re interested in how we did it for a few years. Basically you pray for a different friend or family member each day – it can be as simple as mentioning them by name, or you can print out some photos to keep things visual and stimulating for your little ones. We used this when our kids were very young – babies and toddlers, but obviously as your kids grow, this idea becomes more about them verbalising their own prayers.

Sign up for 40acts. This is a wonderful and practical way of developing kindness, generosity and selflessness through Lent, and is a great fit for creative/industrious children who prefer to be doing rather than listening. You don’t have to follow a particular faith to enjoy and get lots out of 40acts! Last year Missy did it, and she raised £80 for charity through selling cakes and cookies she’d baked herself. With our help, she researched which charities to donate to. The best part is that the actual poster containing the 40acts is FREE – you just download and print it. (If you want to buy ‘Exploring Generosity’, a pack with more resources and stickers to go along with 40acts, you can do so here.)

Start a gift-giving tradition. Yes, I know our privileged Western kids have way too much as it is, but hear me out on this one. If Lent is supposed to be a time of focussing on, and drawing closer to, Jesus, then perhaps one of the most wonderful, yet simplest, traditions we can start for our children is to give ‘Lent presents’: something to help them in their faith journey. Last year, on Ash Wednesday morning, my children woke up to an unexpected gift at the breakfast table. Mister, then 7, received his first unabridged Bible (we went for this one, which is a very clear translation for early readers), and Missy received the Exploring Generosity kit mentioned above. We, affluent Christian parents, spend so much on our kids each year in clothes, toys, hobbies and interests – how much more, then, should we be prioritising generous investment in good-quality resources to help them develop their faith?

Use this Lent Family Creative Journal from Engage Worship. This is a simpler (and cheaper!) resource to take you through Lent than Follow Me. There’s not as much material to work with, but that takes the pressure off having to do something every day. It’s just as creative, with lots of different activity suggestions, but you may need to put in more effort to actually do them – think of it as the scaffolding for what could be a really explorative, creative Lent if you’re prepared to add the bricks.

Of course the random picking of odd traditions here or there as you remember is a fun way to go as well! None of the above ideas are necessary in order to cultivate a prayerful, God-centred family life – but I hope they’re helpful to those of you who have the time and desire to try something different this year.

Over to you…which great Lent resources or traditions can you recommend? Have you used any of the above? I’d love to know what you end up trying out!

can i be a feminist and a stay-at-home mum?

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I’ll be honest: feminism didn’t really play a major part in my life until recently.

I’ve been pretty fortunate not to have known any gender-related obstacles at work or at home. I haven’t suffered abuse or harassment at the hands of men, nor have I been prevented from doing anything I wanted to do because of being a woman. I’m one of the lucky few for whom the battles and struggles of previous generations of women have paid off. It’s not that I was oblivious to the ongoing need to fight for gender equality the world over but, as for my own battles, they’d already been fought, and won.

So perhaps it’s interesting, or perhaps it’s unsurprising, that I’ve been forced to think about feminism a whole lot more since I chose, in 2009, to take on a role which for centuries women were obliged to take, with no alternative option available to them: that of the stay-at-home-mum.

Over the last 8 years, I’ve seen a lot of friends become mothers, and many of them have felt torn between family and work – it’s such a strong compulsion to want to be excellent at both that the tension is nearly tangible.

So, if you’re reading this in the middle of the night whilst feeding your baby, or in a stolen moment between building Duplo towers and playing yet another Orchard Toys game, and you’re wondering where your feminist values have gone and what’s happened to your brain – this is for you.

Essentially I think we emphasise the wrong aspects of feminism.

Firstly, feminism is often associated with the need for women to be climbing the career ladder, excelling in whichever field they’ve chosen – so it’s no wonder that when we stop and have kids, take time out, or take a lower-paid job so that we can be around for their needs, we feel like we’ve failed as women. We have been culturally-conditioned into thinking this is largely what feminism is about, because one aspect of feminist campaigning in the West is, quite rightly, the campaign for equal pay and opportunities in the workplace. But this is just ONE aspect. And, really, it is about women who WANT to become top in their business being able to do so. It is not about forcing miserable women into a job they don’t want.

But of course what if you WANT to become top in your area of expertise, but have sacrificed this in order to devote yourself and your talents to your family? How do you deal with this tension? Well it would take many more blog posts to deal with this issue, but – for the moment – let me suggest that in a 40-year working life, there may well be time to do both. And, regardless of whether there is or not, perhaps we need to remember the importance of those early years in a child’s life, and the incredibly challenging job of nurturing a small child, meeting her needs and helping to regulate her emotions until she can do it for herself. (Why Love Matters, by Sue Gerhardt, goes into much more depth about the potential impact that a rocky start to life can have later on. I highly recommend it!)

Leading on from this, feminism is often misrepresented as shunning the role of the mother. Again, there’s a misunderstanding here. Should fathers be encouraged to see themselves as equal parents, every bit as important in their children’s lives as mothers? Absolutely they should. Should we be working to change attitudes – ours and other people’s – regarding stay-at-home-Dads, making them welcome at groups and social meet-ups? Absolutely we should. Should workplaces seek to become as family-friendly as possible, allowing Mums AND Dads the flexibility of sharing childcare? Absolutely they should!

I’m aware that there are some feminists who genuinely do not value the work of a parent. I’m a genuinely easy going person, but I’ll tell you for free: I don’t have a lot of time for these people. And that’s to put it nicely. But, on the whole, feminism supports the important job of raising the next generation – it just doesn’t believe that this job should fall exclusively to Mum. Neither do I. It just so happens, in our family, that everything works out nicely for my husband to be the full-time earner, and me to stay at home with the kids. He’s happy and I’m happy.

Stay-at-home-mums (and their partners) can practise feminism in the way they co-parent. I make lots of parenting decisions each day without consulting my husband, because if I had to call him every time I was facing the dilemma of what to serve for lunch, or whether my son should wear red or blue trousers today, neither of us would get anything done. But the longer-term decisions, the ones we have the luxury of pondering for a few days or weeks – those are ones we make together.

In addition, for the hours he’s around, my husband is a proactive, fully-involved parent and family member. He does stuff with the kids, he does housework, he researches stuff we need to buy – all the things I do solo while he’s at work. Financially, we don’t have such things as ‘his money’ and ‘my money’ – his salary, plus child benefit and working tax credits, all go into our shared account, and we’ve never even spoken about whether I’m allowed to spend this money or not, because it’s taken as read that we are a team. He earns the money, I care for the kids. To put it in crass, financial terms: if I didn’t have him, I’d be struggling to afford to raise my kids. If he didn’t have me, then he’d be paying one heck of a bill for childcare. So we are equal contributors to this family.

I am no less a feminist because I am a woman and I am the one who is at home. I am a feminist because I belong to a family in which my husband and I play equal roles. Your family maybe doesn’t look like what I’ve described above – in fact, it probably won’t, because there are as many different ways of doing family as there are families. But I hope you feel there’s a sense of equality in your family life. This is feminism – not some bizarre notion that mothers shouldn’t ever stay at home with their children.

Thirdly, feminism is about educating the next generation. And how better to do that than to take some time out to do the job yourself? Perhaps there are some nurseries out there who actively seek to raise young feminists, but it’s not something I’d expect to see on most childcare websites. As a stay-at-home parent – mum or dad – you can be responsible for imparting good moral sense to your children, which includes teaching equality.

And this isn’t just for your daughters, by the way. I’m very grateful that having a daughter has prompted me to think about these issues more – but I sure as heck don’t want my three sons growing up as misogynistic dinosaurs either. Because sexism is often about men’s attitudes, rather than women’s, it is so important that we take seriously the job of raising our little dudes to respect and honour those around them, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other differentiating characteristic.

Personally, for me, I’ve found stay-at-home parenting to be a wonderful way of being able to take time over teaching these sorts of values to my children. Of course many people do this amazingly whilst working part-time and full-time, but my point isn’t to elevate one way of doing things over the other. This is written for those of you who are at home, but feeling frustrated. I want you to know that you have a unique opportunity to raise the next generation of feminists, equalists, whatever you want to call them. You may not receive pay, promotion or recognition of your work – but please know that it is vitally important to society that you do so.

Finally, feminism is for men too. Traditionally, it was a bunch of women challenging the status quo – and thank God they did. But, at its heart, feminism is a movement which preaches equality of the genders. This is something we need to pass on to both our daughters and our sons, and discussing with our other halves too, making sure that, however we divvy up the roles of bread-winning, childcare and household duties, we run households founded on equality.

As a Christian, I see this equality running throughout the Bible and, although every day is by no means a joy or an intellectual challenge, I am satisfied – for now – to pursue my role as a feminist stay-at-home with grace and determination.

teaching, stay-at-home parenting, and the attempt at a return to work

Before I had kids, my life-plan seemed very simple. I would spend my 20s getting as far in my career as possible and my 30s at home raising kids. Once they were all in school, I would return to full-time work, and resume the ladder-climbing.

The early career plan worked – I was Head of Department at 25, and by 26 was teaching at post-grad level – and the stay-at-home-mum thing has suited me well too.

But it wasn’t very long into parenting when I realised that full-time work would probably not be my bag for quite some time. What would be the good in making myself available to my kids during their preschool years, then subsequently preoccupying myself with a stressful job during their primary years? Who would be there when they finished school? The shoulder to cry on if their day hadn’t gone as planned?

Of course it is possible to do both – I know people who hold down full-time work and have great relationships with their kids. But I guess it is not without sacrifice, fatigue and stress – and it is rarely out of choice. And, importantly, much as others are great at making it work, I know that I couldn’t do it.

So, for a while now, part-time teaching has been what I’ve been aiming for. Although my youngest boys don’t start school till next year, I’ve spent the last year gaining work experience, making contacts, exploring my options. When you’ve had nearly a decade’s maternity leave, you can’t really take anything for granted.

And this is what I’ve found: I can’t pick up where I left off. Career-wise, your late 20s/early 30s seem to be the point where you specialise in something, become a bit of an expert, take on some management. I spent my late 20s/early 30s taking my kids along to toddler groups, weaning them, potty-training, playing with them, socialising them. So, unless I want a career in childcare – which, by the way, I don’t, despite having what feels like a childcare institution here at home – I don’t quite know where I fit in anymore. What once read as an excellent CV for a 28-year-old, now seems unremarkable for a 36-year-old.

I’m a strong believer that we don’t need to plan too far ahead in our lives as long as we know we’re where God wants us right now. In fact, in my experience, the road ahead often seems a bit foggy and unclear – and I think God uses this to build our trust in Him. I’ve felt His pleasure as I’ve devoted these last few years to being at home for our children, and actually I couldn’t care less about the financial sacrifices, reduced pension, or career suicide I may have committed. I would never, ever make a different decision. Professionally, I may not have any specialised knowledge of an area of teaching which would make me more employable – but I’ve widened my knowledge and skills through a large amount of volunteering over the last few years which I’d never have been able to do had I been working in a paid job.

Leaving this in God’s hands, I received an unexpected bit of paid writing work at the end of last year, for an organisation I have a lot of time for. I hadn’t given up hopes of ever returning to teaching, but there were precious few jobs going, so this offer made me wonder: If these guys are willing to pay me for writing, maybe other organisations would be willing to pay me, too?

With the twins doing a few more hours at preschool this term, now seems like a good time to push open a few doors and see where God wants to take my writing. I’ve registered myself as self-employed, gained a few useful contacts, seen some potential writing opportunities and even started to collect some deadlines (YES! Like a real writer!).

I’m not really sure what else to say, except I really owe this to you, my lovely and far-too-kind readers. I’ve never considered myself a writer. I enjoy it, but then I enjoy a lot of things. I don’t identify, for example, as a ‘TV-watcher’, or a ‘strategy-game-player’, or a ‘chocolate-lover’. (Actually, I do identify as the latter. Frequently. But not the others.) So now I’m having to force myself to believe that I can do this. I’m having to push myself forward (which is never fun – who enjoys self-promotion?). But you, with your wonderful encouragement and kind comments, have given me the boost I’ve needed to make this first step.

It may all fall flat on its face. And that is FINE. It actually is. I haven’t had to make a financial investment to start this ‘business’ – it’s just me and a computer. So if it goes pear-shaped, that’s fine, I’ll just pick myself up and try something new. But it feels daft not to try. Like I said, the road ahead is often foggy and unclear – but God knows the future, and as long as we’re following His footsteps in the present, I believe He will uncover the future when we need to know it.

And probably not a moment before.