Can I beg for your grace while I try to tackle a difficult hypothesis? Our society doesn’t really value mothering. We give it a lot of lip service, but we do not give it a place of true honor. It’s a business that we prefer be either prettily packaged or conducted behind closed doors. And things that we like to keep hidden or obscured are things that we have imbued with shame.
Mothering is a job akin to plumbing or being a janitor in terms of its place of honor in our culture. In fact, there are a lot of similarities. Moms are people whose everyday lives revolve around cleaning up the messes that others create. We deal in diarrhea, vomit, urine and bodily fluids of every variety, literally becoming intimately involved in the biohazardous excretions of others. People may admit being a mom is a difficult job and we may recognize it as essential to functioning society, but we don’t want to invite one to do business while we’re dealing in the more elegant arenas of life. You don’t invite your plumber to traipse through your house fixing your toilet when you’ve got the ladies from the garden club over. I think the same is true of motherhood for most settings in our culture.
Publicly stating that our culture places shame on motherhood will invoke vehement replies that there’s nothing to be ashamed of about being a mother. And that’s absolutely true. There’s not. But don’t you agree that the reality is the messy business of raising human beings is something that is publicly palatable when it’s sugar-coated with humor or puffy sweet like cotton candy, but not when it comes to us raw and unprocessed? Woah to the mother who changes a poopy diaper on a mall bench, nurses a fussy baby in a community meeting or has to manage the outburst of a tantruming toddler in the grocery store. It becomes painfully evident through the glares and stares or coldly-composed, turned-away faces, that most people there would rather you take your child and your parenting behind closed doors where it won’t bother or offend others.
Parents face stony faces, eye rolls and derisive sighs when we show up at airports, restaurants, movie theaters… Having children in tow in our culture is a social liability, not an honored position. And even the prettier side of mothering can be met with scorn if it reaches a level we consider inordinate. Think about the subtle way we take less seriously working moms who display too many kid art projects or “take advantage” of flexible scheduling to get to her kids’ activities. We pity a woman at a cocktail party or a couple at dinner with nothing more “important” to offer than anecdotes about their children.
But maybe I am just hyper-aware of all this because somewhere deep down inside, I myself felt struggle with feeling shame about being a full-time SAHM. For a long time it was all I did and I didn’t feel like I was doing it all that well. I had pictured what I would be like as a mom and my daily reality just simply did not measure up. I wasn’t productive enough, patient enough, quiet enough, giving enough, satisfied enough, fulfilled enough, cheerful enough to be a “good” mom. There is a way that we can be shamed by others and a way that we take shame upon ourselves. For me, I think I experience both in motherhood. And as the years go on, I am learning to separate the two and properly dispose of them.
But for now, just looking at the way that society places shame over motherhood, I think it has everything to do with the deeply mucked up way we assign value in this world. What we honor is that which is lofty, not that which is common. What we glorify is that which is polished, not that which is broken. The dignified, the noble, the strong, the rich, the mighty, the famous, the beautiful….these are what our culture elevates. So as a child, when I imagined what it meant to be created by God for a purpose, I pictured myself being made famous, beautiful, noble, or dignified in order achieve exceptional things. Instead, motherhood made me feel duller, weaker, poorer, obscured, dumpier, frumpier, bumpier and grumpier. Through motherhood, failing in my expectations of it and the world’s, I was stripped of everything that I thought I had that was of value to the world. What good could I be to anyone in this state, let alone the God of the Universe?
And then I remembered. Hebrews 12:2. Perfect, spotless, pure Jesus purposely, deliberately took on the dirty, putrid mantle of shame. And with it, he did the most beautiful and meaningful thing in all of human history.
He was despised and rejected–a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Isaiah 53:3
Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Hebrews 12:2
If Jesus’ ultimate purpose here on earth was accomplished by him being brought low, obscured, stripped bare, broken physically and emotionally and dying a shameful death then certainly my lowly, obscured, stripped bare brokenness is not a barrier to being used by God. In fact, maybe this spot of weakness and brokenness is exactly where all of the best stuff happens.
Shame or no shame in mothering, what the world tells me my time and my work is worth does not have anything to do with the reality of its eternal value.
When has your place of shame actually been a place of honor?