Tara, a new wife and soon to be new mother, wrote a great post about taking care not to elevate certain life experiences (childrearing and marriage) above others, particularly in their ability to teach commitment, cooperation, and selflessness.
Although I have been married ten years, I have no children. The question of kids always comes up, and with new acquaintances I answer simply: “No, I don’t have any. You?” Often this statement causes an awkward pause. In my Uncharitable Mind Reader moments, I interpret the pause as a mental process wherin the person tries to decide if she should feel sorry for me, or question my priorities. Once a stranger, after the pause, cheerily corrected me: “Yet!” she said. “You mean you don’t have any children yet.”
Yowch! Motherhoodisthepinnacleofwomanhoodism creates some major cultural minefields for me, despite my desire to raise a few mini-mes.
Tara’s post reminded me of some thoughts I’ve had on women’s experiences, and in particular, the experiences of christian women in the protestant church setting. The old strategies of discipling women by preparing them for marriage and motherhood have become inadequate. The reality is that marriage and motherhood are becoming smaller and smaller portions of womens’ lives. We are marrying later, postponing children longer, and having fewer children. We are also living much longer, and often outliving our husbands. An 85-year-old woman may have spent 45 years as an adult without children in the home. She may have spent 40 years or more of her adult life without a marriage partner. In the meantime, she may have travelled the world, earned multiple college degrees, led a nonprofit, patented a magic trick, started a business, taken up gardening, and helped raise a few grandchildren.
Limiting our support of women to mid-day Bible studies and Christian parenting classes just won’t cut it. My current church does not provide any gender-specific ministries as far as I know, which is one solution. But the protestants might could learn a thing or two from the Catholics on how to support single or childless people.
I have always loved, in principle, the idea of convents and monasteries, because they so unequivocally value the lives and experiences of those who do not marry. Convents in particular have the potential to create a community that is as nurturing as a family for women, while still giving them the opportunity for leadership, meaningful careers, and spiritual guidance. Because the religious communities are under the official umbrella of the church, their members are accorded as much or more respect as married women.
Contrast this with the (gradually becoming less?) typical protestant view of singleness or childlessness as a temporary situation to be waited out. Well, many women are “waiting” for decades. In the meantime, real life is happening, important decisions being made, and characters being tried and forged. The organized church is missing some wonderful opportunities.
Now. Caveats, as usual. The reality of some of Catholic organizations is that people abuse their authority, both within the walls and without. There can be secrecy, oppression, extremism, and abuse. The stories in the paper and from family and friends illustrate it over and over. That said, if religious communities for unmarried people worked the way they were supposed to (and I expect that some do), existed in much larger numbers, and were supported out of church budgets, people would flock to them.