what we want for our kids: gender equality

This blog post is part of a series, considering what we want for our kids. If you haven’t read the previous posts, then please click here for the first post, which will take you to the others, as what follows will make more sense in context.

Oh, and here’s a disclaimer (I could have written a few): this is not a complete theology of gender! It is deliberately and unashamedly focused on how we as Christians raise our children to promote gender equality.

This is perhaps the most sensitive of the three ‘sub-heading’ topics I’ve written after the seemingly controversial post about whether it was OK for my daughter to aspire to being a mum. I decided it was wise to break that one down into the three areas I felt were potential sticking points: status, financial security, and now gender equality. And, let’s face it, most of us get more than a little bristly at the thought of women being expected to fulfil stereotyped roles, so it was no surprise that, at face value, my words were challenged. But as Christian parents, how should we aspire to, and encourage, gender equality in our children? What is the basis of this equality? And what does it look like in practice?

1) Gender inequality is an outcome of the Fall. Sexism can work both ways, but as the issue usually involves the dominance of men over women, it is this that I’m going to focus on. And the fact that there has been such dominance throughout history should come as no surprise to any Bible-believing Christian:

To the woman he said,

“…Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”(Genesis 3:16)

In other words, gender inequality is not ‘just because’. It is a direct consequence of our sin. God designed us to live as equals, side by side, with a joint mission to accomplish (Genesis 2) but sin brought an inequality to the relationship between the genders that will never be resolved until the new heaven and new earth. And this was not just a curse on women. The suppression of women throughout history will have undoubtedly lost the world a whole host of strong female political leaders, breakthrough female scientists, wise female strategists and inspiring female artists – it is men, as well as women, who have suffered this loss, and therefore the curse is felt by both women and men.

2) The curse of gender inequality will always be present in our world. For every win of the feminist movement, there are a handful of ‘new’ and discriminatory practices taking root in all corners of the globe. Some are old practices recently brought to the attention of the media (FGM for example) – others are new. Twenty years ago the pay gap between men and women may have been larger – but at least women didn’t have to worry about social media trolls and increased online sexism based on how they looked or what they believed in. One demon is abolished, and another is birthed. It’s because, quite simply, gender inequality is a product of the Fall, a result of our sin – so, as long as humankind remains sinful, it will remain discriminatory.

3) The belief that gender inequality is part of living in a fallen world is both sobering and hopeful. Just because discrimination will remain till the end of this life doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight against it. On the contrary – because it is not of the Kingdom, therefore we do not subscribe to it. We have been saved, and life in the Kingdom starts NOW – so, just as we fight against poverty, war, racism, hatred and other results of the Fall, so we must also practise a different way when it comes to gender discrimination. We go about our lives as equals – and teach our children to do the same – challenging any discriminatory behaviour when we encounter it – not because of a secular feminist agenda, but because equality is a characteristic of God and His kingdom.

This is all well and good if it actually ‘works’ – but, of course, because we live in a gender-biased world, our children will be subject to all sorts of influences outside our control, and even we as ‘gender-aware’ parents probably imbibe some of the unhelpful gender-skewed culture around us without even realising. So how do we remove our blinkers and start to teach our children God’s way when it comes to gender? Here are two important perspectives which have been important to me while thinking through this issue:

  • Godly feminism is about who we are – i.e. children of God, rooted in Christ – not what we achieve. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus” – Gal 3:28. Are we teaching our children that they are valuable, not because of gender or achievement or subversion of gender roles, but because they are made and loved by God? Realistically, it is highly unlikely that my daughter will ‘just’ be a mum when she hits adulthood – real life usually demands a salary of some sort, and besides, I have every belief that God has given her the most incredible gifts to contribute to wider society, as well as her own children (should she have them). But if my opinion of her is based on what she ‘achieves’ according to the world’s views, this doesn’t show her the God who loves her because of who she is. It also devalues the role of motherhood, every bit as important as fatherhood, and not something to campaign against just because there are ways in which some families and societies are ordered which do constitute a form of female suppression. Nowadays, investing in motherhood can be a true feminist option: a ‘right’, a ‘choice’ that many have the freedom to make to whatever extent they like. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – but, rather, let’s be willing to think creatively and boldly about family, work, vocation and the Kingdom of God. It may not look as we imagine.

 

  • Godly feminism is not about trying to get one over everybody else – and those of us who call ourselves Christians must resist a worldview of unhealthy competition and ladder-climbing. The Bible’s teaching on equality is radically different: it is that, rather than compete with one another, we all submit to one another. The problems come when this submission is not equal. The Biblical model is that women submit to men, men submit to women, and we all submit to Christ (Ephesians 5:21 says “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”.) The world says we reach equality when we strive to equal the achievements or status of the opposite sex – but the Bible says we reach equality when we self-sacrificially serve each other’s needs. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” This – not aspiring to be better than everyone else, but serving each other’s needs – is how true equality is achieved, and will be achieved in the new heaven and new earth. Are we teaching our children to respect others, of all genders and backgrounds? Are we teaching them to serve sacrificially and without reward? Are we teaching them not to think less of themselves, but to think of themselves less?

Drawing these perspectives together, we see that the Biblical model of gender equality is based on healthy amounts of self-worth and humility. A distortion of the former leads to oppression of others – a distortion of the latter leads to being oppressed by others. Neither results in equality.

As Christians, we have a unique basis for these two qualities. We have self-worth through knowing that God made us, that He has entrusted us with caring for the world, that He so desperately wants a relationship with us that He sacrificed His only son in order that we could enjoy life with Him forever. We have humility because, in light of these truths, we realise that our skills and knowledge, our passion and vision, are so small in comparison to the God who gave us life. And we are aware of all the ways in which we hurt this God, this ever-loving, slow-to-anger Father – how we don’t deserve to sit in His presence, yet are able to do so through grace alone.

So, in light of this, with regards to our parenting:

1) Let’s affirm our children’s self-worth as much as possible. Christian parents, this is an easy job if you’re reading the Bible with your kids, as there’s so much packed in there about our identity being in Christ. We are so totally precious and loved by God that our gender is not even a consideration when totting up our value. When my kids do things that make me proud – winning ‘Star of the Week’ or getting full marks on a spelling test – I praise them, but always make a point of telling them that even if they were the worst behaved that week, or got 0 on their test, I would still love them just as much. It’s a little crass, and I always cringe as I say it, but I’d rather do crass than raise children who associate their value with their achievement.

There is plenty of gender discrimination in the world and, sadly, in the church – but I think much of it stems from how women are seen and treated in their families. A woman who has a secure base – parents and/or a husband/partner who believe in her – will find it easier to overcome discriminatory obstacles in everyday life and in the workplace. Raise your girls (and your boys) to be confident in the abilities God has given them. And raise your sons (and your daughters) to honour the gifts God has given to the women (men) around them. If you’re married, model a positive relationship of mutual respect and division of labour – your children will model their future households on this. Show your children how they deserve to be treated – and show them to recognise signs of ill-treatment.

2) Let’s encourage humility in our kids when relating to others – and let’s model it ourselves. We often think that we need to raise our girls up to believe they can do anything – but it’s equally important to raise our boys to understand what it might mean for them to allow girls to do anything – a stepping aside, a demotion, a position which holds little ‘status’ in the world’s eyes. Far from the arrogance and ladder-climbing we see in misogynistic cultures (and, occasionally, in some secular feminist writings too), teach your boys and your girls to follow Christ’s example, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7).

The most humble person in history was a man – Jesus Christ – and, if we look to him, we will find enough self-worth and humility to serve one another as equals. I relish the day when gender discrimination will be a thing of the past – but, for now, let’s be encouraged by the work of the Holy Spirit in us and our children, shaping us to be more like Jesus, who stood for equality right up to death.

 

For the first time in five years of writing this blog, I’ve received editorial help from another, so feel it only right that I should credit her here. Thank you, wonderful friend, for reading this through, for your gracious comments and wise alterations, and for articulating on my behalf where I was getting tangled in knots.

 

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what i’m into – april 2017

It’s been a silent month on the blog, and I know many of you were wondering whether I’d passed across the Jordan due to excessive Creme Egg consumption during March. Thank you for your concern, and I’m happy to report my status as ‘alive’, although with far fewer teeth than one month ago. Here’s what I did in April, in between unwrapping (and demolishing) foiled eggs.

Books
suzuki.jpgI properly read Everything Depends on How We Raise Them, which I mentioned dipping into in January. It was good to complete as, overall, it did give me a broader idea of the Suzuki methodology for teaching Early Years – but the numerous sweeping statements, and lack of evidence to back up many of the claims left me wanting more, so I hope I can find a few more thorough Suzuki textbooks to guide me through. I’ve yet to blog about how our experience of Suzuki has benefited our adopted boys – perhaps this month, fingers crossed? (I realise this is a fairly hollow gesture, coming from the girl who has blogged approximately not-at-all since the last ‘What I’m into’, but hey.)

hunter.jpg

I also began my first ever Hunter S. Thompson book – suggested to me in my Year of Books by an ex boyfriend. (And of course you always do what your ex tells you – that’s a thing, right?) It’s interesting – but more next month, when I’ve finished it. Suffice to say it’s not my usual read but I’m rather fascinated by it.

Food

As hinted last month, we dabbled in a bit of low-carbs eating this month: a crustless quiche went down well with half the family, and courgetti was a hit with everyone (most of the kids didn’t notice it wasn’t spaghetti), although no one told me how much courgettes shrink during cooking so next time I’ll purchase a small allotment’s worth. This is the spiralizer we have in case you’re thinking of investing in one – it works a treat and is easy to clean – even for someone allergic to washing-up like me.

I think the low-carbs interest wore off later into the month as I realised that no one actually wanted to eat like that apart from me. So I took down an old May edition of BBC Good Food magazine, and tried a few things like spinach and goat’s cheese puff (success with two-thirds of our family), black bean meatballs with stir-fried noodles (100% family approval rating – this doesn’t happen often) and a flexible leftovers tortilla, which I planned for a Monday so we could use up the veg from our Sunday roast. Although, of course, after several years of making roast dinners and never cracking the secret of how many veggies to cook, this happened to be the one Sunday where I got it so very nearly right, and therefore had precious few leftovers for the leftovers tortilla. So it was just a tortilla. And not a very authentic one. The kids’ Spanish teacher looked at me rather oddly when I said there’d be tuna and pesto involved.

In the same magazine, I also rediscovered this amazing recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese which is just SO good and I don’t even care that it’s not the right season for comfort food.

We loved being the guinea-pigs for our friend Guy’s new pizza oven over at his bistro. The sourdough pizza base is AMAZING, and the toppings all fresh and yummy. Local friends, if you haven’t been to Guy’s then hurry round as quickly as your feet will carry you – it’s pizza and a cocktail for a tenner on Wednesdays throughout the summer. Happy times.

Articles

Not a huge amount this month, but two Marathon-themed stories stood out for me. One was an old college friend, Jackie, who got married early on the morning of the London Marathon, then ran it with her new husband, dad and cousin. Why? Because she’d been diagnosed with cancer just days after her now-husband had proposed to her. She took up running as part of the recovery, and has now done several runs to raise money for cancer charities.

The second was from a friend who didn’t even run, due to unexpected ill health this year, but his perspective is refreshing and inspiring. Read Ed’s brilliant article on putting Jesus above running.

Oh yes, and this article about why women clergy lead so few large churches gave a lot of food for thought.

Music

This month has seen me enjoy the Pitch Perfect soundtracks (again), Norah Jones, The Carpenters and (always) the Postmodern Jukebox.

BUT April was dominated by the sound of my 7 year old Mister tinkling the ivories, learning to play by ear. He shows little interest in learning the pieces in his piano book, but loves playing Vindaloo, which a friend taught him last year, so I decided to give him the first three notes of Bless the Lord O My Soul to see what he could do with them. With a bit of assistance here and there, he got it sounding great! We’re now on to the Match of the Day theme tune, which he’s nearly mastered. The challenge is finding more pieces in C which can sound good with one hand – and which he knows. Any suggestions, please share!

Geeky muso moment alert: the link above is the original version, or at least closer to it than the current version of the theme. As I listened, I’d never spotted quite so many Afro-Caribbean elements to the music, and used this as an opportunity to enthusiastically educate (read: bore) Mister with details of post-war immigration to the UK and how fusion music develops. Fun!

Screentime

The Producers Poster

This month we watched a couple of Matthew Broderick films – the cult 80s classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and the 2005 version of The Producers. Yep, my life doesn’t really involve staying up to date with films. We enjoyed both, though, especially Ferris. Oh, and I did make it to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast – there’s one current film for you – which was pretty good.

On TV I caught up with ‘Child of our Time’ on iPlayer, which I find intriguing and frustrating in equal measure – intriguing insights, but frustratingly short – I’d love to have heard more on each teenager. And, along with every other person in the country, I blubbed my eyes out to Rio Ferdinand’s moving documentary on becoming a single dad through bereavement.

In other news…

I did a talk! A real, live one with a mic and audience and everything!! And it took me approximately seventy thousand hours to prepare. If this is ever something I end up doing more of, I’ll need to build a time-machine. The theme was ‘Saying yes to God’, and I covered eight reasons we often say ‘no’ to God, countering each with a Biblical truth. Maybe I’ll put it into some blog posts in the future…the mythical future where I remember I have a blog, and manage to convert all the blog posts in my head to real, actual blog posts that people can read. You know the one, right?

I went to see Evita with some friends – how exciting! 2017 WILL be the year I go to more theatre productions.

I ran a successful school disco, reminding myself just how much junk food small kids can put away, and updating my knowledge of chart music in the process.

And THEN my daughter’s Reception class put on an Easter performance and it was the cutest thing and made me cry like some massively hormonal mama four days after childbirth. Honestly, those kids could do nothing but lift a single finger in the air and I’d be weeping inconsolably. Having had two kids pass through Reception, the kind teachers are used to it by now. By the time this whole sorry debacle is replayed with child no.4, I swear they’ll be handing me a box of tissues on the way in.

We enjoyed SUMMER this month too – notable by its absence for the rest of the year. It lasted approximately 2.5 days and was glorious. And by glorious, I mean 15 degrees. We packed in as many meals outdoors as we could, including a homemade cream tea. Have now packed away shorts till 2018.

I enjoyed my annual phone chat with my godmother, who I rarely see. She’s wonderful, and I basically treat our conversations like a free therapy session. We spoke for five hours, into the wee hours, and it was all totally worth the shatteredness the next day.

We were visited by a new health visitor who is also a MAN, and I got a little bit stupidly excited about this. It made me wonder whether being excited by gender stereotypes being reversed is, in itself, a form of gender inequality. Answers on a postcard?

I did a whole load of gardening this month, which (shhh, don’t tell anyone) I’m actually starting to enjoy. It started as a necessity in that we have sizeable front and back gardens, a massive border which resembled the aftermath of a hurricane due to a Giant Hedge being removed some time ago, and a husband who is more likely to learn where the sewing box is kept and proceed to make outfits for all six of us in this season’s colours and fabrics than to pick up a spade. But now I find myself wandering slowly round friends’ gardens, nodding and ‘mmm’ing as they explain what everything is, when it was planted, how well it flowers, how many slugs they had to fend off last year, and so on and so forth. I’ve found myself recognising a few plants when meandering the grounds of stately homes, and learning how to comment on them by name in a casual “Of course everyone knows this” tone of voice, when just a year ago I couldn’t tell a hydrangea from a hyacinth.

I’m a bit of a Project Madam, and tend to start things I don’t have time to finish. This month I determined to finish updating the kids’ scrapbooks (a ridiculous Project which I’d never have started if I’d known how many kids we were going to end up with). And I actually managed this – if you understand that, by ‘finish updating’, I actually mean ‘use up all the photos I’ve managed to print out’. There are still huge gaps and nothing yet for 2017 (and precious little for 2016, come to think of it), but it’s a start.

I then started on Project Two, which was to sort out our garage – a project which was started (or intended to start) a year ago, and which has taken up more hours than I care to mention. It doesn’t sound exciting, but I could just die with happiness at the beautiful amount of space it’s created. Anyway, the project ran a little bit into May, so you’ll just have to wait till next month for the Before and After photos.

Am I getting old? Yes, absolutely. I’m surprised I haven’t hit my forties yet with all this plant-recognition and garage-sorting and general fuss over keeping up with the music the young people are listening to. Next month I’ll have bought a sports car and pierced my navel.

How was your April?

Linking up, as always, with What I’m into over at http://www.leighkramer.com – check out her post, and others!

truly safe? (what we want for our kids: financial security)

My first post in this series, on wanting a great career for our kids, threw up a whole load of complex ideas and thoughts – so much so that I’ve broken them down into three main areas. The last post was on status, the next will be on gender roles – and, right now, I’m looking at financial security.

I think probably many of us are happy to admit we want ‘financial security’ for our children as they fly the nest and become independent – but when we stop and question what our definition of ‘security’ actually is, we might find ourselves becoming unstuck.

For example, we may think of things like: having a job which pays the bills, being able to buy a house, paying into a decent pension scheme or having a savings account. But are these things actually ‘secure’? The financial crash of 2008 is not so far into our history that we should forget that these things can and do go wrong. Financial ‘security’ in this sense can never be 100% secure.

However, when Jesus said “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matthew 6:19), I’m not sure it was so much a comment on how insecure these treasures are, but on how secure Kingdom treasure is. He goes on to talk about wordly treasures being destroyed by moths and rust, or stolen by thieves. Well, in this age of online banking and increasing numbers of cashless payments, the first two dangers aren’t so relevant, and the third is certainly a lot harder than it was in Biblical times – but the point here is that however secure we make our worldly treasures, however advanced our technology and alarm systems and police presence – still Kingdom treasure is way more secure. Why? Because it lives with God, untouched by any of the threats that could endanger earthly treasure.

So, if not placing our security in finances, then in what? I take “treasures in heaven” to mean a variety of different things, all with the common strand of being an ‘investment’ in our relationship with God. It could be an ongoing prayer relationship, a moment of revelation through Scripture, a word or a prophecy over our lives, a deepening of our walk with God, a powerful worship experience, a fresh idea for enabling God’s blessing to be poured out in a community, the unity of a group of Christians working together for good, the delight of seeing a friend come to Christ for the first time, or draw closer to Christ, the joy of addictions being broken, debts paid off, abusive relationships come to an end, the triumph of good over evil…and I could go on. Any investment in our relationship with God is safe forever – 100% safe, 100% secure.

So onto our children…do we really want them to have ‘financial security’? I certainly want mine to have security, but it seems that this probably doesn’t come from finances. Indeed, it seems that in trying to aspire to the wrong sort of security  for our children, we may actually expose them to more danger. Whilst we try to protect our children from financial failure, we may be opening them up to temptations and distractions which may draw them away from Jesus. Is that what we want for our kids? Or do we want them to know and enjoy a life thrown onto God the Rock, knowing His security and trusting in His provision?

At this point, the financially prudent amongst you will be saying, “Yeah, yeah, that’s all very well – but how does faith pay the bills?” Well, I could tell you about our friend who worked two years for our church unpaid. It was tough – but God sustained him through free accommodation and the occasional financial gift from others. I think this friend would tell you that one of the things God was crafting in him during this time was a simpler, more sacrificial lifestyle, and a greater awareness of the value of material things, having grown up in a fairly affluent home. I could tell you about my friends who raise their child on one less-than-full-time salary – but still make ends meet. Their story is one of rejecting what the world tells them their child ‘needs’. I could tell you about my friends who, due to great generosity throughout their adult life, entered their 70s in a rented property, unable to buy their own home for all they’d given to others. God provided them a fantastic home with low rent, guaranteed till they go to be with Jesus. Their story is that when you seek God’s kingdom first, ‘all these things will be given to you as well’.

Do you see? When Jesus asks us to invest in heavenly treasures, He doesn’t just abandon us to it, but comes good on His promise to provide everything we need. Perhaps the reason we don’t teach this to our children is because we’re not quite sure we believe it ourselves.

I hope you know of stories like this in your own life, or the lives of your friends. If not, perhaps you need to make a few new friends! In any case, as I raise my kids, I know I need to be very careful about what sort of ‘security’ my lifestyle promotes. Here are some ideas to avoid this:

  1. Read the gospels. OK, so I’ve said this before. But there’s no counter-attack to the values of our society than Jesus’ radical lifestyle and claims. As we get to know better the Jesus who had nothing, yet wanted for nothing, and as we read about the topsy-turvy generosity of the Kingdom (a young boy giving his packed lunch for a crowd of thousands, a widow giving her last remaining coins), we can’t help but be transformed into Kingdom-investers.
  2. Practise these values with your kids. Consider carefully your material purchases for them. Kingdom kids will not have everything their friends have. Model this yourself, and nurture it in your children. My kids see me wearing second-hand clothes, and know that there’s no shame in preloved!
  3. Tell, and re-tell, the stories of God’s generosity in your life – to your kids as well as to yourself.
  4. Hang around with others who have faith-filled stories to share. Let your kids see that Jesus is 100% secure, and totally unshakeable. He will not succumb to a financial crash!
  5. Practise generosity. Kids are SO good at this – they just can’t see any reason why they wouldn’t give all their money away to kids who need it! (They don’t have to pay the bills – this probably has something to do with it!) Research charities and missions around the world. Watch the news with your kids, so they can see true suffering. If opportunities arise, take them to places where they will experience those who are suffering, first-hand. I was shaped by such trips in my teens.

Friends, we do this together. I fall into the trap of wanting salaries, savings and pensions as much as the next person. These things are not sinful in themselves – of course they are often the main way God provides for us – but they’re not what we prioritise. I’ll say it again, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). We don’t need to worry – He has it all in hand.

what we want for our kids: status

One of the wonderful things about blogging is the buzz of excitement when people really engage with something you’ve written. The first installment of ‘What we want for our kids’, dealing with the concept of ‘career’, attracted a lot of discussion, not least because the example I chose (my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’) raised several gender questions.

I’ve re-read the post a few times to check it said what I meant – and I’m satisfied that it did. So I’m not about to qualify what I wrote – but the dialogue that ensued made me realise that I needed to cover ‘career’ in more depth. So, instead of racing on to other topics, I’m going to break down ‘career’ into three related blog posts: status, financial security, and gender roles – starting with status.

These are not easy blog posts to write, and I suspect they’re not easy to read, but I feel so strongly that we parents need to have these conversations. Thanks for the comments – please keep them coming!

 

Status 

There is a difference between what we aspire for our children and what their futures will actually look like. Perhaps the difference will not be so great, or perhaps we won’t struggle to adjust our aspirations as their future starts to pan out differently to how we expected. I mentioned here that part of our adoption training asked us incisive questions about what we wanted for our children’s future. Why? Because, after years of experience, social workers know that parents can be massively disappointed if their children don’t achieve what they were hoping. And the same children can experience guilt and/or a sense of failure. And all these feelings can manifest in a wounded parent-child relationship as the child grows into adulthood – or, worst case scenario, a broken relationship.

So it is vitally important that any status aspirations we have for our children are founded on the right principles. For me, and I know many of you, these principles need to be Biblical – but whichever faith or philosophy you get your principles from, they need to be fluid and broad enough to allow our children to find their own way in life, whilst also clinging to the knowledge that things might not turn out that way, and being prepared to prioritise our relationship with our child over any differences of opinion. Love must always win.

The example of Missy aspiring to parenthood was not the whole story. I deliberately left out the other aspirations she has (to be a teacher, to run Londis!) because the point is not “What will she do besides being ‘Mummy’?”, the point is “Am I OK with her status/salary being less than what I’m expecting it to be?”. And I need to be. Why? Because we all know people for whom life has not turned out the way they (or their parents) planned. I know adults who haven’t been able to pursue their first-choice careers because they’ve found themselves caring for a disabled child or partner. I know adults who are plagued by mental and physical ill health, and cannot fulfil the demands of a paid job – even if their gifts and intellect are striking. I know adults who have sacrificed their own careers in order to support the demanding career of a partner – some have taken jobs well below their capability, some have stopped paid work altogether. For the sake of their families, many adults do not do anything that the world sees as impressive or boast-worthy – even if they could have done, given another set of circumstances. If all my daughter did as an adult was be a mummy, perhaps because she encountered ill health, or married someone with a demanding career, or (God forbid) her life was cut short, would I be OK with that?

Here’s my suggestion: not that we avoid aspiring for ‘status’ for our children altogether, but that we consider carefully what ‘status’ we are talking about. The world defines status in terms of prominence, fame, achievement, awards, qualifications, management level, responsibility and so on. But if we call ourselves Christians, we’re subscribing to a totally different idea of ‘status’, because our very aim in life is to allow God to transform us into His likeness, and we see what this is in the person of Jesus Christ, who had the highest status possible – and yet rejected it for the sake of his calling. Paul talks about this in my favourite Bible passage:

“[Jesus], being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 6-8)

Are we prepared for our children to take the ‘very nature of a servant’ as they grow up? Or are we encouraging them, however subtly, to use what God has given them ‘to their own advantage’?

At the dedication services for each of our children, we have answered this question, “Do you dedicate ___ to God, so that even if God were to call them to a life of great sacrifice, you would neither complain nor hold them back but seek only God’s will for their lives?” I’ve previously imagined this ‘great sacrifice’ to mean some exciting and dangerous missionary role overseas, something where my children are esteemed within the Church for their great faith and courage. But that, in itself, is still a type of ‘status’ which is an unhealthy aspiration for my children. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see my children do that with their lives! But what if God called them to patiently endure MS, or depression, or recurring cancer? There would be no medals, no accolades, not much ‘on paper’ to show what they’d achieved – and yet, by God’s standards, they would have achieved ‘status’. James 1:12 says:

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”

Friends, the choice is there. Will we aspire for our children to receive the crown of status in this life, or the crown of life in the next? I’m praying, for myself and my own children, that the crown of life will be the status we prioritise as we raise them – in our speech, our actions, our encouragements, our career advice. There is nothing better!

Find the next post in the series here.

am i ok with my daughter aspiring to ‘mummy’? (what we want for our kids: a great career)

img_20170223_211934Every once in a while a familiar article sweeps its way through the press. From whichever angle it’s coming, the premise is that children whose parents ‘don’t work’ are less likely to work when they grow up.

Although I know that the article is mainly referring to a demographic of which I am not part, it still makes me bristle and ask a thousand questions. What is ‘work’? Does work have to be paid, in order to make it worthwhile? Why must we all do paid work? What is the value of parenting? What if the work of a stay-at-home parent is more visible to their children than if they were going out ‘to work’?

Last year my daughter came home from Nursery with a smiling photo of herself holding a chalkboard saying ‘Mummy’. Apparently, the teacher had asked them all what they wanted to be when they were older. I expect I should have felt honoured that my daughter had watched me at work and wanted to replicate. But largely I felt like I’d let her down. Here was a sharp, articulate, opinionated, creative, funny and thoughtful little person, with a huge range of talents. Why was she not aspiring to ‘more’? Later on, I was able to see the full display of children’s photos in the classroom, with all the chosen careers of a bunch of 4 year olds. They ranged from ‘cleaner’ to ‘teacher’ and ‘doctor’, with the odd ‘pirate’, my personal favourite. My daughter’s response, however, was in the minority.

Of course the irony was not lost on me, and within seconds I realised my double standards. Here I was, having made a deliberate decision to break my paid career in order to raise our children myself, never feeling like I was wasting my education, intelligence or talents in doing the demanding job of crafting small people into becoming confident, happy, selfless members of society, shouting about the pros and pros of this lifestyle to anyone who would listen – and yet, for my own daughter, this same decision was apparently going to cause me a lifetime of disappointment.

The truth is, of course, that none of my children could ever be a disappointment to me – but, if I’m totally honest (and this series is about just that), then I would love them to discover exciting and satisfying careers – and motherhood just doesn’t seem to cut it. Money is not my motivation, although it is for more parents than would like to admit it. (My husband, a former student pastor, was always shocked at the number of students from apparently Christian homes whose parents were putting pressure on them to enter well-paid professions.) For me, the career thing is about finding yourself, discovering what you’re good at, and learning how to contribute your gifts to society. I suppose that what it eventually comes down to is my need to know that I’ve passed on valuable talents to my children. They reflect me – in genes, in upbringing, in the experiences I’ve opened up for them. If they can’t do anything brilliant with this cocktail, then I’m frightened for what it says about me.

But if it’s ultimately about gifts and talents, why can’t I reconcile myself with the idea of my daughter (or my sons, for that matter) using their innate abilities to become wonderful parents, crafting the next generation as I’ve taken pride in crafting theirs? Perhaps I’m actually more concerned with status than I’d like to let on.

Can you relate? Do you hope and pray your children find careers which fulfil and satisfy them? Do you long for them to achieve financial prosperity through their hard work? Or status and recognition in their field of expertise? Would you be ever-so-slightly disappointed if ‘all’ they chose to do was a voluntary job, looking after young children or a sick partner? If they chose a low-paid job for a church or charity? If they went overseas and lived by faith?

Let’s try and pull out a few ideas which might help us overcome these unhealthy leanings towards our children’s careers:

  1. Read the gospels and allow yourself to be changed by them. I don’t need to tell you how unconcerned Jesus was with status. Listen, if my son was Jesus I’d be the proudest Mum alive – and yet he had no academic qualifications, no impressive CV, no management role, no salary. And he invested time in others who had little or no status when it came to their jobs. He also lost patience with those who were successful in the world’s eyes. What do we really want for our kids? Success with man or with Jesus? Success in this life or the next?
  2. Admit it’s your problem, not your child’s. This is huge. Say it out loud to God. Admit it, repent, ask for His help going forward.
  3. Confide any fears you have regarding your children’s future to a close Christian friend. Being accountable to one or two others is such a great model, found in Scripture, not least because it removes the blinkers in our own lives. As well as admitting your fears to God, admit them to your closest Christian friend so that they can pray for and with you about these issues too – they probably won’t disappear overnight, so we can do with all the help we can get.
  4. Pray, pray, pray that your children would become knowledgeable of, and confident in, the gifts God has given them as they grow older. Pray that they would end up in jobs which used these gifts. As we pray, God changes us, so I strongly believe that if we pray for what we know we should, then eventually we find ourselves praying for it because it is what we want.
  5. Spend some time with those you know who do ‘alternative’ careers – whether that’s something unpaid, or low-paid; a caring job or administrative role; something which the world does not deem ‘valuable’ enough to assign a salary to. Talk to them, listen to them, hang out with them – how do they see themselves? Why have they chosen this path? Are they any more or less satisfied? Do they crave money, power, responsibility and status? Opening our eyes to the varied ways in which people work will give us broader perspective as our kids grow and we help them navigate their own careers.

Your child is also God’s child. Like you, He wants the best for them. Unlike you, He created them and designed them to be the way they are. If we would only learn to trust Him with our little people then we might discover all sorts of new definitions for ‘great career’.

This is part of a new series called ‘What we want for our kids’. You can find the introduction here and the next post can be found here. Please share it on your social media channels if you’ve found it helpful. Ta!

adoption: fourteen months on

img_20170105_112556It should say enough about our experience of adoption that this blog post was supposed to be titled ‘adoption: six months on’. Being around eight months late with everything has become a feature of the past fourteen months.

There you go, enough said. We’ve adopted kids, and now we have no time. Job done.

The end.

***

What? You want a refund? Blog not long enough? Oh go on then, ye of much time to spare.

Actually, unplanned though it was, the timing of this blog post is apt. Monkey and Meerkat were fourteen months when we brought them home – and it’s now been another fourteen months. This feels significant to us: they’ve been with us as long as anywhere else.

The main challenge for us has been the increase in family size – not the adoption. Did I mention that tasks run just a little bit overdue nowadays? That we have zero time for anything we need, or want, to get done, other than just keeping going from day to day? I’m sure the sadder sides of adoption will rear their multiple heads many times over the coming years – but during this last year-and-a-bit, it’s mainly been about just coping with two more kids, not to mention learning how to parent toddlers again. I mean, it had been a whole THREE YEARS since we had a 1-year-old and, you know, parent amnesia and all that. You remember the first steps, the cute giggles, the trips to the park and the holidays. Funnily enough, our brains are wired to forget about the crayon graffiti, the electronic gadgets destroyed, the items you always thought were too big to be flushed down the toilet. So we’ve been re-learning all those useful things like the lengths a 2 year old will go to in order to obtain some E numbers, or how to re-set your laptop screen when it’s been rotated 90 degrees.

The four kids thing has been massive. I both love it and feel ill-suited to it – in equal measure. “How do you do it?” people ask. I either shrug my shoulders and say, in a resigned sort of way, “I have no choice” or answer, matter-of-factly, “Well, I don’t iron and I don’t sleep”. People think I’m joking.

Of course, adoption has been a subtext of the last fourteen months. Things happen, and you ask “Is this because of the change in carer?”, “Is this because they know I didn’t birth them?” “Is this an effect of their experience in utero?”. We’re not totally oblivious to this. But, largely, the year has been about the usual sorts of parenting things: nurturing, loving, setting boundaries and expectations, planning, and trying to do the best for each of the four tiny individuals in our care.

img_20161124_130401The fine line between empathy and boundaries has been a tricky one to navigate. To start with, I think my approach to any difficult behaviours or stubborn refusals was empathy. Then it became short-tempered impatience. Then the guilt came, then I did a combination, then I didn’t know what to do.

I still don’t get it right each time – who does? But as I’ve got to know my boys better, I’ve been better able to sense when a cuddle or some reassuring words are needed, and when a firm re-iteration of the expected behaviour (and/or consequence) is needed. It took a wise friend to remind me that kids need a consistent approach. Yes, they’re adopted, but they’re also 2 years old, with all the important boundary-pushing behaviour that comes with this age. They need to know where they stand, what’s acceptable and what’s not – and perhaps I’ve shied away from this in the past year, not knowing quite when to parent them according to my adoption training, and when to parent them according to my experience with the older two.

The sibling attachment took much longer than the attachment to us – but oh gosh, when it finally arrived it took my breath away! From the start, the boys attached well to us, their parents – of course attachment is a gradual process and, month-by-month it got stronger, but we certainly don’t feel the boys have had any issues here. And I’m sure it was a gradual thing with Mister and Missy too – the boys never disliked them, and the older ones always doted on their younger siblings – but Monkey and Meerkat didn’t instantly attach to their big brother and sister. If physical affection was refused then the older ones either didn’t notice, or were too patient with their new brothers to get upset.

But in the last few months, there has been a noticeable change. Monkey and Meerkat now take the initiative in giving physical affection to their older siblings. They are keen to say long, effusive goodbyes when Mister and Missy head off to school in the morning, they chat about them all day long, and get excited to go and pick them up each afternoon. The amount of wrestling, chasing, role-play and general trailing them round the house has been so fun to watch. At least for the moment, genes don’t matter one bit to any of them. They’re three brothers and one sister, having fun growing up together.

img_20161127_122629
Because this is what happens when you have a big sister.

It’s not just us who adopted. I’m so grateful that our friends and families have welcomed our boys into their lives on the same basis as Mister and Missy. I wish I could put into words how amazing it’s been to witness the bond developing, for example, between Meerkat and his Nanny – no words for why or how the two of them click, they just do. It’s like the boys have come into their new extended family just expecting to be loved – they’ve given out love, and been richly loved in return. Why would they expect anything else?

The boys are not just our sons, they’re grandsons, nephews, cousins, godsons and friends to a much bigger group of people. Perhaps, like us, our families never thought it was possible to develop a family bond with people who didn’t share the same gene pool. Well, I think we’ve all learnt something. Some day, I guess, the boys may suffer identity issues relating to their adoption. They will want to know more details about, and maybe meet, their birth family. We’ll support them wholeheartedly, but it’s good to know that however this turns out, they’ll always have a wide and supportive base in this family.

img_20170130_085416Love doesn’t stem from pregnancy, labour or breastfeeding. On a basis which is so regular I feel almost ashamed to admit it, I stare at Mister, all 7 years of him, and can’t believe he’s the same Mister as the big red baby I held in my arms after my first labour, laughing in disbelief that this tiny being could now exist outside of me. When Missy is bossing her brothers around or articulately disagreeing with some aspect of my parenting, I can’t believe she’s the same Missy as the screaming missile who flew out of me five years ago, and took some calming down from the shock…so much so that I thought I’d never be able to calm my own baby.

But when I look at Monkey or Meerkat, I don’t tend to think of their entry into this world – not that I don’t ever think of this, the bits I know, of course I do. But that part of their existence belongs to someone else, and I would never take it from her. No, I think of the day we met them, how curious Monkey commando-shuffled through to the hall of his foster home to see who was at the door (is it the postman? or my new parents?). How Meerkat was content to sit and play and wait for us to come and join in. How they both belly-laughed when their new dad put a toy on his head and made it fall off. I think of them then, and I see them now, and I feel equally proud of how far they’ve come, how confidently they walk and run, talk and listen, sing and dance. I didn’t carry them, birth them or breastfeed them. It doesn’t matter. It actually doesn’t matter. They are loved.

When I first felt God’s prompting on adoption I blurted out, “But I can’t do it, I don’t have that much love”, to which the answer came frustratingly clearly, so clearly I didn’t have an excuse. “But I do. And I will give you all the love you need.” And He has done.

They are loved. So loved. And I know this hasn’t come from me. I’m weak and powerless, and my own ability to love is so flawed and self-centred. No – this love has to have come from a Higher Being, the One who created love and is love, the One whose own beautiful love story centres around adoption, the only One whose love is entirely and unreservedly self-sacrificing. What a privilege to receive and give this love.

what we want for our kids (surely just health and happiness, right?)

Going through the adoption process was a massively reflective time for us as a family, and one discussion which I find myself mulling over even now, two years on, is that of parental expectations. Of course when you have a birth child, you can think what you like about that child. You can dream away, and have high expectations, and no one’s going to stop you.

To give them their due, the assumptions you make may well be based on genetic evidence. If you and your partner both went to University, for example, then chances are that your child will do also. If you’re particularly sporty, or musical, or dramatic, or business-minded, then it’s not entirely out of the question to expect that your child might have these traits as well.

As we were preparing to adopt, however, we were challenged to dissolve any expectations we might have about the sort of child or children we might parent. They would not share our genes. They might struggle academically, they might suffer from mental health issues which hindered them in life, or in their career, and they might not meet our expectations. So, the conclusion was: drop those expectations!

Er…easier said than done.

I go through life believing that if I say “I love my kids just as they are” loudly and often enough, then that will quell any sky-high expectations for them or their futures. But then I realise that, deep-down, some of these expectations are so entrenched that they’re near impossible to shift, much as I want to.

Cue a shiny new series for this blog in 2017: “What we want for our kids”, where I want to continue this discussion, attempting to remove the blinkers from my own fuzzy parenting, and hear from you fantastic lot on your experiences too. Some of the areas I hope to cover are: financial security, marriage and kids and a good education. It’s all very well saying we just want our kids to be happy and healthy – but do we mean that? Wouldn’t a small part of us be just a little disappointed if they flunked their GCSEs, or never met The One, or didn’t have kids?

I find this all really challenging stuff, and it won’t be easy to write – or read, for that matter, so if you want to stop following me right now, here’s your get-out clause. But I know it’s important to start the conversation, to say these hard words, to feel God’s gentle nudge as I’m reminded, once again, of my own selfish tendencies in parenting.

I’m aiming to start in the next few days with the first installment. Please comment – here or on Facebook – I’d love to know it’s not just me who struggles with these things.

(Oh, and I’ll try and do Funny, to save it all getting a bit heavy. This post hasn’t had any Funny, and I apologise. Praying friends may wish to intercede on my behalf for the Funny to return. Thank you.)

Click here for the next post in this series.