As I write this I’ve taken my baby and my computer over to my parent’s house and requested an hour of their help watching my son so that I can write this essay. Here is the tension of this issue!
I’m having all the feelings. Ever since I’ve become a mother again, this issue of how to participate—not just in society at large (breastfeeding or diaper changing in public, et. al.) but in professional environments—with my child present has come up again and again. I’ve pursued the topic rather militantly I have to admit; I really struggle against the feeling of not being able to do things because of my infant child. Like work, or attend meetings and public forums, etc.
I think pagans are leaders in our society in a lot of ideological ways; we can write new stories of how we all live together because we aren’t held to a single cosmology. And I think a lot of those stories include reclaiming and redefining power and participation: who has a voice and how. Among the obvious beneficiaries of this revisioning have been a lot of women: in holding up the Goddess as a sacred narrative, things like motherhood become sacralized as powerful and vocational rather than demeaning and requisite. And that reallocation of power brings up all sorts of tensions with how mothers* exist and participate in society.
A couple weeks ago I was a guest speaker at my friend’s church. I am finishing up studies (#almostanMDiv) at the Unitarian Universalist seminary, and have been exploring sharing my pagan experience in that congregational setting. I’ve given the same sermon twice before, and it’s gone really well; however this time the magic didn’t quite happen.
And it’s because I brought my kid. He screamed his little head off when I tried to leave him in the nursery, having full-on entered separation anxiety mode. I ended up leaving the pulpit both before and after my sermon to tend to him, which had the whole performance coming off rather unprofessional.
Like I said, I’m having all the feelings. Guilt for not showing up professionally, especially for a good friend. Frustration that “professionally” means I can’t also care for my child. Resignation that sometimes reality trumps ideology. And conviction that there are shifts we can all make to revision this phenomenon: how do we build structures societally so that caregivers and small children can participate rather than hide away?
I know, in reflecting on this particular experience, that there are many things I could have done to make it better. I should have been realistic about the high likelihood my son would scream when left in the care of another person, and communicated that, in advance, to both my friend and her childcare team. I definitely should have obtained their consent to such an arrangement (my screaming son in the childcare room the “price” of my being able to preach that Sunday) before coming to preach.
Or, I could have said no to the gig. It was too much for me to be in the role of the pulpit speaker as well as the mother of an 8-month-old child. But see, whenever I think this way, a deep part of me growls “no!” and I’m certain it isn’t entirely my ego. I have something important to share, and I am perfectly capable of sharing it now— it just requires me leaning on the people around me for support. And I think my voice is worth that support—I think everyone’s voice is worth that support. It is just damned hard to ask for, because it is so hard to justify from where we live right now.
So the questions I’m left with, again, are these: what would it look like if “professional” was inclusive of multiple roles, like the childcare of infants? How might we structure our society to make space for primary caregivers of infants to participate in the workforce, or at least allow them to contribute meaningfully in professional space? What stories can we envision that change the exclusion narrative to inclusion?
Admittedly, my particular story wasn’t so resoundingly successful. But, in sharing it, I’m seeking my own learning and growth- and maybe a stepping stone on the pathway to visioning something better. Here’s one that inspires me!
Here’s another story [skip to minute 24], embedded in the soundbytes of the “audience”: a small child wails intermittently, causing occasional distraction from the speaker, Dr. Andrea White. What you don’t see is that she is the child of one of the presenters (my personal favorite) Dr. Monica Coleman. This panel is worth listening to for it’s kick-ass theology alone, but it is also a critique via tension of how to show up “professionally” (i.e. to get work done) while also functioning as “mother”, and what that puts on the rest of us.
What do you think? How do you think about and/or experience child care?
*A better term here would be “caregiver” to navigate the problematic gender assumptions associated with the word “mother”; but given that I’m writing from my perspective I’ll use my word and recognize here that the same issue exists for all caregivers of small children.
EDIT: So, as I reflect on this more, it occurs to me: my son and I rocked solo traveling to reach this gig. I’m talking 4 flights total without incident. I mean, the Universe aligned for us kindly, but also we made the best of it. So what was so different, why were we suddenly incompetent for that 2-hour stretch of time at the church, when we were demonstrably so competent during all of the traveling?