Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Shared Motherhood

Due to the intensity of my work here, I have sought out evening outlets that allow me to release the sadness and tension of trauma and allow me to sleep well. Some times this involves playing with my puppy outside. Sometimes reading a book (that is not about trauma). Some times it involves finding something “fluffy” to watch on television.

One of my fluffy finds recently has been a show about polygamy. I will admit it is my second one. I am not a polygamist. I don’t identify with it as a lifestyle, or religious stance. I am not in any way excited for Aaron to have several partners. However, there has been something in these shows that pulls me in, and when I was talking with Aaron about it, it became clear to me what it was.

These women, the “sister wives” share a bond and a connection that really in my opinion has nothing to do with the husband. They have chosen to live in an intentional way that offers them the opportunity to share motherhood. They live with the absolute security and satisfaction that their children have other mothers who will always love and care for them. They consider the children of their sister wife their own children. They find companionship in the daily tasks of living, from household work to faith, to parenting, and finances. They live in a way that makes sharing a pervasive and ordinary part of life.

This is not so unlike another little escaping habit I have formed. There are hundreds of blog networks and pod casts that have been created by mothers. Mothers who want to share their experiences, their life challenges, their faith, their joys and sorrows. And in a very different way, they are also living in community....finding friends and connections in the virtual world that they understand to be real, exposing very intimate, close, and shared experiences of everyday life.

In this framework, I, too, have been blessed by the ability to share my experience of motherhood with so many, and to do so in a way that my own Mennonite faith dictates: by living in community. There are so very many examples, but here are a few:

-I have shared motherhood with my husband. As a full time stay-at-home Dad, he has taken on the primary care role with our children. It was not uncommon for me to call home from work and ask what they were doing. He would respond by saying they were “nursing and reading Mothering Magazine together.” The fact that he referred to giving her a bottle as “nursing” was initially a joke around the house, but I later understood it to be his way to express the intentional and strong way he felt connected to our babies.

-Living far away from Grandparents made me very grateful for the child care co-op that we organized within our church community. Once a month, two couples would keep all of the kids for four hours while the others could go out on a date, or spend some quiet, uninterrupted time at home together. I am thankful for Jan, Jon, Amy, Matt, Eric, Yolanda, Sid, Sarah, Cheryl, and Bob, Tom and Martha for giving me that time and for mothering my children.

-Informal and numerous child care and meal swaps with Rachel, Sara, Megan, Kristin, Cheryl, Aimee, Andi, Christy, and other neighbors and friends alike.

-A very generous friend, who longs to be a mother who would without hesitation welcome my own children into her house and leave them special Easter treats as her way of mothering them.

-Bittersweet coffee gatherings with mothers and fathers after drop-off on the first day of school.

-An almost twelve year tradition of weekly meals prepared and shared between two families.

-Feeling the freedom and comfort to let my mother or sisters or brother have my children and love them unconditionally.

-I remember getting together to can peaches with Beverly, Cheryl, Yolanda, and Kristin so that our children could taste sweetness all winter long, and also so that we could honor a child that did not make it into this world.

-Elizabeth, who came to cook for and play with my children while I was sick in bed and Aaron was unavailable.

-I am so thankful for Lu Ann, who spontaneously took my kids to the pool, or magically put a pint of fresh salsa or cranberry relish in my fridge when I would get home from a long day and need something fresh.

-Sara and I would nurse our toddlers all the way through the Sedgwick County Zoo and then come home together to fold each others’ laundry and keep one another company. Many afternoons turned to evening meals shared and later evening conversations and connections.

-Spending time with Kristin and her enthusiasm for mothering only magnified my own. Whatever creative parenting ideas sprouted from our conversations were met with “Oh, yes, we can do that! Sure we can” And then we did. Joyfully.

In the last fourteen years, I have been privileged to call myself a mother. I have found so many mothering mentors that have helped me. Joan, Susan, Deb, Lois, Ruth, Vicki, Ellen, GB, Jeanne, Mary, my many aunts, and so many more have been the spirits that help to guide my path, to encourage me, to help me to understand this privilege and responsibility.

I think my own mother taught me well how to parent with open doors. Her house exhibited openness, literally and figuratively to so many different friends, children, pets, and strangers. Her willingness to let other people in helped me be open to giving and receiving love from so many.

I have lent my kids to numerous babysitters, teachers, coaches, mentors, and friends, and so many of them give my own children the best that they can to nurture them and help them grow. They need feedback, attention, tender loving care, encouragement, inspiration, and challenge. And all this happens without me.

No wonder when I am in a crowded, busy place, where it may be easy for my kids to get lost, the advice I most often given is “Go find someone that looks like a mother. She will understand. She will help you.” And while I am quite sure that this does not keep them 100% safe, I feel secure that they will likely be shepherded and mothered right back to me.

It is a blessing to reflect on the many mothers who have shared this journey with me. I am grateful and humbled by their generosity, and I feel deeply committed to doing the same for others whenever I am given the opportunity to share motherhood. My faith draws me into community; sharing our resources, our food, our feelings, our dreams our ideas and yes, our children too.

*** There are women who have shared this journey with me who I have not mentioned by name. I am sorry. You are not any less important than those that are listed, and I thank you deeply.***


  1. What you just wrote about, I'm c.r.a.v.i.n.g!!! Your community is quite the gift to everyone in your family. I think I might move to Newton.

  2. Mother on, mi Amiga! How nice it feels to be included in your list. How good it is to know raising our children is so much more than a singular endeavor.


  3. What a gift to share this journey with you!

  4. this is beautfiul. and true.

    claire, come on down.

  5. this is so fascinating to read . . . my brother & sister-in-law recently had their 2nd baby and are the only ones of their local friends to have any children (they also have a 3 year old). I told my sister-in-law how I started in Newton, surrounded by other mother's that shared and honored each other, talked about having birth plans, immunizations, organic foods and nursing. what a community of support. my husband "nursed" too (but it wasn't a joke, I just smiled softly when he said it). Jen, I love how you drew the correlation between your experiences and Sister-Wives. I too am fascinated by the show. I love the honesty, the way they joke and show frustration, and the role they each play: the organizer, the bread-winner, and the one that loves to cook and can pull out baby teeth. (I am rooting for the latest (4th) wife to find her role, her contribution to the family.) I don't want other "wives" or "husbands" around my house either - but I respect and understand their family. Thank you again, Jen, for processing in print and giving me food for thought with my coffee this morning.

  6. I hope to be a part of that life-sharing you describe if/when you come back to Newton.

  7. Yes, you will, Karin, and you are. Thank you so much for the mothering you have given to me, your understanding as an MCC alumna of the pain and adjustment issues has been so helpful and loving. I look at pictures on your blog and feel like we just missed each other. We often talk about how we want to know Abram and Mabel better when we get home!

  8. Jen, you are one of the key people who helped me feel support and love when we moved to Newton and as I was learning to be a mother...thank you for this. I miss our long days of visiting. Love you!

  9. Jen, you are exceptional at building community. I have fond memories of our Wednesday homeschooling, childcare co-op, time at the creek, etc. Thank you for sharing your family with us!