I’m a little nervous about this one, folks; it’s more opinionated than I’m usually comfortable with. In reading it, please just remember that — to quote my middle child — “I love EVERYBODY! Because that’s what God says to do!”
This week was blank on my blog calendar for some time. Finally, I posted a note for myself that said, “Something for Mother’s Day?” and left it at that. Then I fretted and stewed, because I’m just not inspired to write about Mother’s Day; I don’t get excited by this holiday. Some say, “Every day is Mother’s Day!” Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, but what’s definitely true is that I’m a mother every day; all that seems different about Mother’s Day is that my husband and kids get stressed out trying to thank me properly for my sacrifice. I’d much rather have moments of genuine thanks scattered throughout the rest of the year than delivered under pressure from Hallmark.
Also, I’m not interested in writing about motherhood as an institution. Motherhood has been around for a long time. Billions and billions of women have done it. Women have children, and then they raise them as best they can. Really, what is there to say other than, “It’s crushingly hard most of the time, but love balances it out?” I’d rather write about my own life experiences, my own thoughts and feelings, and hope that they make other moms smile or feel a little more okay.
Inspiration came, as it often does, in an unexpected form; in this case, it was this article that popped up on my NPR news feed one afternoon. The article’s focus is an argument against gay marriage put forth by Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation; according to Anderson, government legislates marriage because when a man and a woman get together, children may result. The government has an interest in making sure that children are permanently cared for by both a mother and a father, so that the government won’t have to provide child support later on. To quote Anderson, “Marriage is the way the state non-coercively incentivizes me to be in the institution that does best for children.” He believes that allowing gay marriage would weaken marriage as a “coercive” force for heterosexual couples.
Now, before anybody’s heart rate gets going (too late?!?), let me assure you of something: I’m NOT trying to use this blog to advance my own political or spiritual views, which are too personal and uninformed to be of much use in any dialogue. Ryan T. Anderson is a smart man who’s spent far more time pondering these issues than I have; Slate apparently called his book What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, “the best argument against gay marriage.”
To the extent that my political or spiritual views DO seep into my writing, it’s because they’re intertwined with my experience. So I AM going to write from the logic of my own experience. The NPR article got me thinking about families — the families I know. I don’t know the families that Ryan T. Anderson knows, but it seems that his reality doesn’t look much like mine.
Here’s my reality: I know families composed of a mother + father + kids. I know families who’ve lost moms and dads to death, divorce, or abandonment. I know kids who honestly might have been better off without certain mothers or fathers in the picture. I know unmarried people, and childless married couples. And let me tell you this: Some of the most delightful, polite, intelligent, and well-adjusted kids I know right now — kids who make my own kids look like hooligans — are being raised by two married mothers.
My experience is that the religion I practice doesn’t give me a whole lot of specifics on how to vote or how government should legislate. But it DOES give me a WHOLE LOT of specifics on love, and grace, and humility. Specifically, it tells me to embody these things.
So, I’d like to re-christen this Mother’s Day as “Family Day.” I think that we need to celebrate the brave, important, and incredibly difficult work of raising children — shepherding the next generation — that’s being done every day in any number of family configurations. I want to salute the mothers and fathers and non-biological “family members” who are in the trenches — either alone or together — doing their darndest to nourish little people.
I also want to celebrate the people who choose to remain single, and married people who decide not to have children. These are brave decisions in a culture that sets the “norm” at marriage and children. To make these choices requires a confidence and a self-awareness that I admire. It also frees these people to function as productive members of society — and in the lives of children — in ways that may be impossible to married or child-laden people. They’re still family.
I’m not sure on what evidence Anderson reached the conclusion that heterosexual marriage is “the institution that does best for children.” Marriage as father + mother + children is Anderson’s ideal, and it’s not a bad ideal: It’s the way my own life looks right now. But like most ideals, it’s something that many people don’t have. (I’m not convinced that it’s something that the majority of people throughout history ever did have). Advancing this ideal as something that’s so “best for children” that it must be the only legal option — that excludes a lot of people I know, and diminishes the wonderful love happening in all sorts of families.
So, what really “does best for children?” (After all, until fairly recently my own marriage — which is interracial — would not have been included among relationships that “do best for children.”)
Here’s what I think: I think we all need each other. My own children have a father and mother, but we certainly don’t do it alone — we can’t do it alone. It wasn’t until I had kids that I realized my children need so much more than just Erick and me; they need their grandparents, they need their teachers, they need every one of the loving adult friends and family members who surround them. No one family situation is truly ideal — sometimes your mother dies, sometimes your father leaves, sometimes you get two drunk and abusive parents — but I think if kids are surrounded by enough love from whatever source, then they’re usually able to take the best of that and make it through life in one piece.
So here’s to all the families and parents and just plain folks out there who are trying to “do best” for our kids. When it comes to kids, all we can do is our best, and our best will always be better if we do it together. Whatever comes at the start of the equation, More Love = More Love. Happy Family Day.