Mothers

Poetry: Picture of a Family after Cavafy

Micael Nussbaumer/Shutterstock

There’s a photo he carries for long journeys
like this one, for trips on loaded market lorries
where the passengers take their seat, perching
on top of cargo, or sitting on crude benches
inside the buses coming from Sudan with names
like “Best of Luck” or “Mr. Good Looking.”

As the road rumbles from Chad through Cameroon
to Nigeria, toward another year of medical school,
he always reaches into his inside coat pocket
and brings out the folded 4x6. Sees his brother,
with the latest jeans from the capital and a maroon
hoodie zipped half-way up, one leg placed forward
and his head tilted back—an “attitude” he’s learned
from movies and music pipelined from America.

Sees his mother, bright pink polyester swirling
around her figure, and remembers how she woke
before dawn to make him fangaso for his trip.
He sees the lines he and his brother have caused,
drawn into her face after years of worry,
fatherless years of selling produce in the market
and begging relatives for support. He sees the slight
twist of her mouth, the triumph of a mother
shining through the sorrow of leave-taking,
the promise for her child to have a better life.

Aaron Brown, author of Winnower, is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife in Lanham, Md.

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July 2015
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Congrats, Mom! Now, Back to Work

photographee.eu / Shutterstock
photographee.eu / Shutterstock

LAST NOVEMBER, when my daughter turned 2 weeks old, I returned to full-time work. Five days after her birth I was on email. Within a week I was taking work calls. I wasn’t a workaholic. I was a new mom without paid family leave.

Several years earlier, when I was single and singularly focused on my career, I’d been hired as a contractor for the United Methodist Church to direct a grassroots campaign on maternal health. I never stopped to consider what effect my employment status might have if I decided to have a child of my own. When my husband and I got pregnant, I faced the stark reality that there were no policies in place to protect or support me.

Sadly, my experience is commonplace. A recent report revealed that one in four U.S. women return to work within two weeks of giving birth. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects employees’ jobs for up to 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child, only about 60 percent of U.S. workers meet the eligibility requirements, including only 19 percent of new moms. And since the FMLA does not require employers to provide paid leave, those who are eligible and need time off do not always take it because they cannot afford the loss of income.

With no federal paid-family-leave program and only a handful of states with their own, churches and other employers that do provide paid parental leave are left to foot the bill for it. Oftentimes they offer this benefit exclusively to their highest earners. The United Methodist Church, for example, does have a national parental-leave policy of up to 12 paid weeks, but it is only available to pastors. Staff of the denomination’s agencies, such as the one I work for, are offered up to 18 days of paid leave, after which they must use accumulated vacation or sick days or take unpaid leave. But as a lay person and a contractor, I was not eligible for either policy.

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'Mommy, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger'

Image via /Shutterstock

We think it's wrong for a woman, much less a mother, to be angry. And so when anger inevitably, righteously, hits us — with its cousin fatigue and its brother frustration — we don't know what to do except to bury it beneath a smile that gets thinner and weaker as the day winds on.

We all get angry, though. It is a function of being human, and I daresay without anger we would never have won women the right to vote, school desegregation, or any other host of advances that came about when people got righteously angry and unleashed the power of justice and the Holy Spirit.

So be angry when you are angry. The Bible says so. Do not be ashamed to say, in the moment, "This is not right. I'm angry."

How Moms Set Children’s Spiritual Compass and Why it Matters

RNS photo by Alexander Cohn
Eliza Lamb and her daughter, Madeline, at their home in Queens, N.Y., on May 4, 2015. RNS photo by Alexander Cohn

Religious identity used to be “inherited.” “Cradle Catholic” is shorthand for born into the faith; within Judaism, the faith is passed through a Jewish mother to her children unless they grow up to proclaim a different religion.

But children don’t just inherit parents’ spirituality, says psychologist Lisa Miller in her new book, The Spiritual Child. She writes that the essential sense of a transcendent power in the world — one that will love, guide, and accept them and wrap them in a protective layer of self-worth -– has to be nurtured.

For the Mothers Whose Children Won't Come Back

Mothers of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. Via CNN

Men and boys of color are 21 times more likely to be fatally shot by the police than their white counterparts. Of the 1,217 deadly police shootings that occurred from 2010-2012, men of color between the ages of 15 to 19 were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while the rate for white males the same age was only 1.47 per million.

This pattern is not new. It is old and repetitive. And it is sickening.

To the Women of Syria

I wish I could sit beside you on a cushion on the floor and have a cup of tea with you. I would like to snuggle your baby in my arms. I would like to hear your story. I know you have a sad story, and if I heard it, I would weep.

I know you are good and loving women. I’m sorry you have lost so much. I’m sorry you had to come to a country, a city, and a house that is not yours.

I can imagine you in your own country, strong women serving others. I can imagine you making beautiful food and sharing it with your family and friends. I can imagine you caring for your mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers and friends. Just the way I do.

Because that’s what women do. We are compassionate. We give. We serve. We protect. We work hard to make the world better for the people we love.

Wherever I go in the world, I discover that we women are very much alike. We may have different clothes. Different languages. Different cultures. Maybe our skin is a different color. But in our hearts, we are the same.

That’s why we can look into each other’s eyes and feel connected. We can talk without using words. We can smile. We can hug. We can laugh.

And sometimes, we can feel each other’s pain. I have prayed that God would help me feel your pain. I wish I could remove your pain. I wish I could help you carry it.

Last night while I prayed for you, I remembered a story about Jesus Christ. In the story a woman who had been suffering for many years came to Jesus. She was sick, and nobody could heal her body or comfort her mind. People had given up on her. But she believed that Christ could heal her, if she could just touch his robe. So she pushed her way silently through the crowd that followed Jesus. And finally, she touched his robe.

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A Big Thank You to the Heroines in our Lives

Mother and daughter, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com
Mother and daughter, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

Women do a lot of work: Moms, grandmothers, aunties, sisters, daughters, wives, teachers, coaches, and any additional caregiving, mentoring position that fills in our lives. Take a moment to pause and reflect on the number of women who have helped you become the person you are today.

In the latest Shriver Report, NBA star LeBron James writes a meaningful tribute to his mother, Gloria, honoring her dedication as a parent and the sacrifices she made in raising her son as a young single mom. Because Gloria was just 16 years old when LeBron was born, they lived with his grandmother. When Gloria’s mother passed away three years later, she and her young son were on their own.

Still a teenager, Gloria did not have the support, education, or resources to sustain her family. The house was lost, and she and her son moved around frequently — a dozen times in three years — counts LeBron.

He writes that “My mom worked anywhere and everywhere, trying to make ends meet. But through all of that, I knew one thing for sure: I had my mother to blanket me and to give me security. She was my mother, my father, my everything. She put me first. I knew that no matter what happened, nothing and nobody was more important to her than I was. I went without a lot of things, but never for one second did I feel unimportant or unloved.”

In effort to model Gloria’s example of devotion, LeBron now takes an active role by helping other kids of single-parent homes through the LeBron James Family Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

“The truth is that everything I’ve learned about being a parent to my boys … I learned from my mother,” he writes in his letter of appreciation to her. “Everything I know about being loving and caring, and sacrificing and showing up and being present in my children’s lives—I learned all of that from her example.”

Without his mother’s influence, would LeBron be the same LeBron?

Mothers, Families Tell Struggles of Living on Minimum Wage

Jar of coins. Photo courtesy Balefire/shutterstock.com

The stories pastors, chaplains, and charity workers too often hear behind closed doors and through frustrated tears are being brought to light. Acting Secretary of the United States Department of Labor Seth Harris has hit the road to listen to people struggling to get by on the minimum wage. 

Courageous people are publicly coming forward to tell their stories of personal pain, indignity, and frustration in the interest of creating the will to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour by 2015.

 

 

Change From Within

ON A MILD morning in July 1997, a group of women gathered under the spreading arms of a great neem tree in the village of Malicounda Bambara in Senegal, West Africa. While children played nearby and others rested on their mothers' laps, a woman named Maimouna Traore spoke to the group.

Like most women in Malicounda Bambara, Traore had never gone to school as a child. Opportunities for education in villages like hers were scarce, especially for girls. But one year earlier, a program called Tostan (the word means "breakthrough" in the local Wolof language) had come to her village. The women enrolled in the Tostan program met three times a week, engaging in lessons on literacy and math, health and hygiene, problem-solving—and, most important of all, human rights.

Addressing her words to Molly Melching, Tostan's founder and the one American present among them, Traore said that, before the program, women in her community did not understand human rights. They did not know that, like men, they have the right to health and well-being, to speak their minds and offer their opinions. With their new understanding of these concepts came courage. They invited Melching because, after much thought and discussion, they had made an important collective decision: to end the practice of female genital cutting (FGC) in their community.

Melching was speechless. Rarely discussed openly, FGC, the complete or partial removal of female genitalia for non-medical reasons, is a long-held and deeply entrenched custom in many villages of Senegal, as well as in 27 other African nations. Known locally as "the women's tradition," it has been regarded as among the most critical moments in a girl's life, preparing her for marriage and making her a respected member of her community. To not cut one's daughter was unthinkable—setting her up for a lifetime of rejection and social isolation.

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