March is Reading Awareness Month and a fitting time to discuss literacy in the United States, particularly among urban and minority families.
The impacts of literacy begin at a very young age—reading to children increases their vocabulary skills and improves reading comprehension. Faltering literacy rates among youth have a dramatic impact on where we end up later in our lifetimes.
Statistics provided by the National Assessment of Adult Literacy, say that two-thirds of kids who aren’t reading well in fourth grade will end up on welfare or in jail and have a 78% chance of not catching up to their reading benchmarks. Sixty percent of juvenile delinquents and 80% of adult inmates are illiterate.
The Value of Education
Although learning disabilities (such as Dyslexia and ADHD) can impair one’s ability to read fluently or at a higher grade level, Clark Atlanta University professor Torrance Stephens says poverty often leads to illiterate youth and adults. “[One of the] main misconceptions is that these people don’t value education,” says Stephens, who has worked in public health and education and with minority literacy in the US and Africa for 30 years.
“What I have found is that from the elderly black and white women I worked with in my earlier years, to the women of child-bearing age I worked with in Nigeria, to the ex-felons, they all valued education and knew its importance. But in each case, economic factors led them to leave their formal education.”
Stephens, who has published several books including The Legacy of the Bush-Obama Keynesian Dialect and Income Inequality in America, remembers an elderly African American woman explaining how she left school in fourth grade to sharecrop and help her family. Her story is similar to that of many ex-convicts he has worked with who indicate, “they had to assist in providing for their families, thus school would have to be a loss and they hit the streets hustling.”
The National Commission on Adult Literacy says that reading from a young age is one way to keep our society from losing the important skill of reading. A report published in March 2015 by the Pew Research Center on Hispanic Trends showed that 80% of blacks had visited a library or bookmobile in their lifetime compared to 83% of whites. But with high school graduation rates topping out at roughly 50% in urban areas, it’s clear that frequency among racial and economic groups are not the same.
College graduates and those with household incomes over $100,000 are most likely to frequent a public library. Children who don’t have examples of avid readers in their life are less likely to become literate on their own.
It may appear strange that literacy is still inaccessible to some Americans in an age where the Internet has brought so much content to our fingertips—content which usually must be read. The vast majority of Americans from the poorest urban areas to high-scale suburbs have cell phones, granting them access to a gold mine of information, but Stephens suggests that real-world examples are still missing.
“In this instant culture dominated by emoji’s and 140-character thought spaces, reading—real reading—that requires thinking and comprehension takes a back seat. The challenge of getting people to read in an increasingly television-dominated culture is a major difficulty,” he says.
“I saw everybody around me reading daily; everyone had a library card and we were in the library weekly. I know parents tell their kids to read, but I don’t know if we as African Americans really encourage our kids to read, or even set the example. I suspect if you tell your kids to read, and watch the NBA or some music awards show, they will replicate your behavior and learn by example, especially if they never see you pick up a book.”
Making a Difference
The Read Aloud campaign challenges parents to read to their kids for 15 minutes every night before bed, something that 13 million children won’t experience on a daily basis. The 10-year campaign challenges families to “Read Aloud for 15 Minutes. Every Child. Every Parent. Every day.”
It’s an important task that sounds simple but can be incredibly difficult in an urban home where one or both parents may not be present and problems in the surrounding area can negatively affect the learning environment. There are also countless programs geared toward reading awareness and combating illiteracy, including AmeriCorps, Literacy Partners, The Wallace Foundation, and local programs run by state and city governments.
Over 2 million New Yorkers alone cannot read, which limits employment opportunities, quality of life, and makes it virtually impossible to pass good reading habits to children. Stephens says that many people believe literacy programs are daunting, but taking classes at a local program is a great way to overcome the challenge of illiteracy. Many programs are volunteer-run, and always in need of more hands.
This March, contact your local library or government and ask about ways to get involved with your community’s literacy efforts. Help promote a literacy campaign, give to a reading organization, or become a tutor. The Literacy Information and Communication System has an online directory that lists reading advocacy programs in your area.
Why is reading awareness so important? “A country’s wealth is almost directly related to a country’s literacy rate,” Stephens explains. “Literacy is the ability to read and write, which are strong predictors of individual monetary worth and future lifelong earning potential. Two, literacy is a very strong protective factor against getting arrested and/or involved with the criminal justice system. On an individual level, greater literacy is positively associated with increased cognitive development such as better problem-solving ability which means the more reading exposure the longer brainactivity will remain robust.”
Back in the day, I used to watch this show called, Scrubs. Do you remember it? You know, Donald Faison and some other people? To be honest, I just watched the show for Donald Faison because he was from Clueless, and I loved the movie Clueless when I was younger. There was one thing I loved most about the show — the theme song. I love theme songs in general. Perhaps that makes me weird, but, whatever. Anyway, the theme song for Scrubs went like this:
I can’t do this all on my own. No, I’m no, I’m no superman.
I’m no superman.
I loved the song so much that I looked it up and put the full version on my iPod Nano. Remember those? I’m taking you back down memory lane, aren’t I? The song is by a band called Laslo Bane. I think I played that song at least 25 times a day when I was in high school. It really resonated with me because I was that girl who always felt like she needed to be superwoman. I thought that I needed to do it all, be it all, and do everything perfectly.
I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way.
I think part of the reason we tend to have this mentality is because our society tells us that we have to be perfect. Our society tells us that the key to success is to be “busy” and to run ourselves into the ground and to live off of coffee and little sleep. Our society makes us feel like we should be able to do everything perfectly and without help.
This is especially true in the Black community and even more true for us Black moms. This is especially, especially true for Black, Christian mamas. We strive to be the perfect Proverbs 31 woman, so we hold ourselves up to the highest standards and then pride ourselves into achieving those standards with absolutely no help. We are the keepers of the household, we are the makers of the meals, we are the cleaners of the spills, and we do it all without showing an ounce of our exhaustion. If we ask for help, we are viewed as weak and, of course, that is a no-no.
I became a mom 3 months ago, and now that I’m a mom, I have had many moments being trapped inside the “supermom mentality.” I was convinced I didn’t need help when my daughter was first born. I felt like I needed to do it all and I needed to be perfect while doing so.
It took me crying out to God in a state of exhaustion to realize that we put this mentality on ourselves. Who is telling us that we have to be supermom? Besides society and pressure from social media, there is no written document that states that we have to conform to this “supermom mentality.”
I’m here to tell you today that you don’t have to do it all. You don’t have to be supermom. That’s what the Holy Spirit is for! Our God is the One who wants to do it all and be it all for us.
“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT)
Do you see that? We GET to be weak. Holy Spirit wants us to! No more of this strong front, dear friend. Lean into Christ. Be weak. And let His grace be sufficient for you.
You may be thinking, I hear what you’re saying, but how? I just can’t let myself be weak, or I don’t know where to start!
Girl, I hear you. Let’s talk about it.
Ask the Lord for help
It sounds simple, but of course it isn’t. Hear me out. It can be hard to ask someone else for help. Personally, I don’t want to impose or inconvenience someone, so I just try to do everything by myself. When I had my daughter, I didn’t ask anyone for help except my husband. But, The Lord knew that I needed so much help as a sleep deprived, postpartum mama. He sent me help that I could not refuse. I would receive text messages from faithful friends telling me that they were on the way over to drop off some food. I didn’t have to ask them for the very thing I needed. Holy Spirit guided them to help me when I needed it the most. All I had to do was receive it with open arms and be thankful. When you ask God for help, He will meet you where you are and send you help just as you need it.
Lean on your spouse and loved ones
Mamas, your spouse and loved ones are there for you. They WANT to help and your partner NEEDS bonding time with his child, too. And, of course, your family and friends enjoy spending time with the little ones as well. I know it can be hard to not be the overbearing, overprotective mama bear. Trust me. I’m guilty of this, myself. I have a tendency to hover over my husband instead of just letting him have his time with our little one. Hello? I should be napping as soon as he gets home and takes her! Why do I feel the need to keep hovering? Better yet, why do I feel the need to ask myself, “What needs to be done now?” instead of taking the opportunity to rest. Now, I’m not discouraging productivity, but there is nothing wrong with saying, “no” to those dishes and taking time to recharge when you can.
Also, just talk to your spouse about how you’re feeling. Don’t keep it in. He doesn’t expect you to be supermom, I promise.
Say yes to what matters
Everything is not created equal. As women, and especially as moms, we often say yes to everything. We try to do everything and do it all well. Then, when we get burned out and realize that our efforts created mediocre results. We need to learn to only tackle things that truly matter on a daily basis. For me, that sometimes means putting aside working on the budget to help my stepson with homework. Or, that might mean saying yes to quality time with my spouse and saving that phone call for tomorrow. When we choose just a few things to focus on and do well instead of loading our plates with all of the things, we won’t feel so stretched thin and the “supermom mentality” will fade.
Mamas, we need to realize that our spouse and kids are who’s important. Not what society expects of us, not what we see other moms posting on social media, not what our friends are doing with their kids, etc. Our kids don’t care if our hair is messy or if the house is clean. Our spouse doesn’t care if our kids are perfectly dressed or if we were able to finish that load of laundry today. Our spouses love us and our kids just need us. They beautifully accept us as we are. In their eyes, we are their supermoms. And I know that I don’t have to finish all of the chores for my husband to see me as a “superwife.”
Jesus loves us the same way. He meets us right where we are and gives us grace. We have nothing to prove. Nothing.
Now, go take a deep breath and hug your kiddos. They love you.
Do you have additional tips for today’s busy moms? Share them below.
Each year, more parents send their young child to elementary school equipped with a smartphone.
For instance, the percentage of third-graders who reported having their own cellphone more than doubled from 19 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2017. Similar increases took place for fourth-graders and fifth-graders. About half of fourth-graders and 70 percent of fifth-graders went to school with a phone in 2017.
Parents often cite the ability to easily reach their child as the major advantage of giving them a device, which they view as a safety issue. “Stranger danger” and sexual predators are often the first risks that occur to parents. Some public schools are adopting policies that limit personal contact between students and teachers. But bullying and cyberbullying are more common concerns, and in my 2017 research, I found that that giving a young child a cellphone increases the likelihood that the child will either become a victim of bullying or a bully themselves. This study of approximately 4,500 elementary school children in the U.S. found that having a cellphone in elementary school was associated with being involved with both bullying and cyberbullying, both as a bully and as a bully/victim. A “bully/victim” is a child who is, at different times, both a bully and a victim of bullying.
The research found that while more than half of third-grade bullies carried cellphones, only 35 percent of children who were uninvolved in bullying did. Even more dramatically, three-quarters of third-grade cyberbullies carried cellphones, compared to only 37 percent of third-graders uninvolved in cyberbullying. Results were similar, but a little weaker, for fourth- and fifth-graders.
It may be that results were strongest among the youngest children because of their relatively more limited ability to understand how communications works in a digital setting. For example, in my field work at the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, I’ve learned that teenagers are wary of emotions escalating quickly online, realizing that such emotions can lead to fights and bullying. However, younger children typically haven’t yet learned this lesson. It was this gulf that motivated me, with a colleague, to create a children’s guide to getting their first cellphone.
Kids can learn to use cellphones safely, and there are practical steps that parents can take to minimize their young child’s odds of involvement in bullying and cyberbullying, along with cellphone practices that can help ensure the overall well-being of their child.
Here are a few tips:
1. Establish ownership
The phone is not your child’s – it’s yours. Thus, you always have the right to look at it. By checking your child’s phone, you may detect messages or posts that can suggest involvement in bullying or cyberbullying. A 2012 MacAfee study found that half of kids changed their online behavior if they believed their parents were checking.
2. Take cellphones out of dinnertime
A 2014 study from researchers at McGill University found that family dinners helped protect kids from bullying. Dinnertime can be a time to connect emotionally, even when no conversations of deep importance take place. It can also be a time to discuss challenges and difficulties, and to debate solutions and strategies, with input from the people who love you. Unfortunately, family dinners can be easily interrupted by notifications or messaging from cellphones. For that reason, a “no devices” rule at the dinner table can help promote family connections that are protective against bullying.
3. Limit use during homework
Listening to music can be OK, but watching videos and TV shows or playing games shouldn’t happen while homework is being completed. Studies that look at multi-tasking agree that it degrades memory, learning and cognitive performance.
4. Don’t allow use before bedtime
It’s been well documented that bright screens right before bed can delay or interrupt sleep patterns. Sleep problems, in turn, have been linked to becoming involved in bullying. To promote healthy sleep and reduce the odds of bullying, help your child practice good sleep preparation habits by putting away digital devices an hour before bedtime. If they want to read from their device, use an app that has a UVB filter or dim and “flip” the screen to a black background.
To help your child stay asleep, devices should be kept outside the bedroom overnight. Even if your child intends to sleep, a buzzing sound or vibration can wake him or her up. It can represent a strong temptation to send messages, chat or play games.
5. Set a good example as a driver
Encouraging kids to put down the phone when they are in a car can literally be a lifesaving habit that can begin in elementary school. A review of statistics noted that cellphone use is the second-leading cause of distracted driving. Each day, 11 teenagers are killed as a result of texting and driving. To lessen the risks of this happening in the future, parents can teach young children to not use their device in the front seat of the car; it can be a place to talk, instead of a place to text.
6. Instill responsibility
Carrying a cellphone isn’t a right – it’s a privilege. As a parent, encourage responsible cellphone use by linking digital privileges with responsibilities. Show children how to budget internet time with apps like unGlue. Teach your kids that discussing social problems is part of being mature enough to carry a cellphone. And consider having your kids pitch in around the house to “earn” their digital privileges.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.
As a single mother of two boys, we have serious work to do in the Black community and there are some very deep wounds festering among us. I sense hurt, resignation, resentment, anger, confusion, and emotional fatigue.
Though we may disagree on root causes and solutions, I believe there’s one thing we should all be able to admit: single parenting and the attendant and antecedent dynamics are longstanding and complex, especially as they relate to relational issues between Black men and women. I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do think I have at least some level of understanding of these issues, and a degree of empathy for both sides. So in that spirit I offer some words to us all.
It’s futile to attempt to dialogue on the issue of single mothers, their children, and the men who fathered those children, without speaking truth into the situation. So from that point I begin.
Some Hard Truths
1. Strictly speaking, mothers are not fathers. This is true whether the parents are married and raising a child together, or separated. The truth of this statement lies not only in function, but in form. To insist that somehow mothers can be fathers is to ignore some very basic realities.
Fatherhood, like motherhood, originates and is defined not just by what a parent does, but also by who the parent is. So then, gender is a foundational underpinning of parenthood. Men are fathers; women are mothers. Acknowledging this truth in no way minimizes or detracts from the unavoidable reality that there are some women who do things that we would traditionally associate with a male role in a child’s life, just as there are some men who perform some of the actions associated with a female role.
But there’s more to parenthood roles than what we do; indeed what we do, and how we do it, is bound to be influenced by who we are. For example, I can teach my son to shave or tie a tie. I can show him a razor, explain how to put the shaving cream on his face, what to do if he nicks himself, etc. I can cover all the technicalities of the process. His father can explain those same things to him, using exactly the same words I use. But it’s not just about the mechanical process; it’s equally about the nuances that come out while father and son are going through this ritual. His father can tell him about the first time he shaved, who helped him learn how to do it, how it feels to get razor bumps. As a man, his father can help our son identify as a man who now does things that other men do. These are things that as a woman, and by virtue of the fact that I am a woman, I simply cannot do. We desperately need to come to terms with this because as long as we resist this truth, we perpetuate a number of undesirable consequences. These are just a few of those consequences:
• We short-circuit the identity formation and development of our children. It’s important for kids to understand how men and women function differently in families and in society.
• We potentially rob fathers of the opportunity to fully grow and develop in their role. Sometimes all a man needs to step up is for the mother to step back … even just a bit will often be enough.
• As women, we overtax ourselves trying to fill roles we weren’t designed to operate in. If we are indeed the only parent in our child’s life, then of course there are actions we must do. But we can do them while acknowledging that as a woman, there will be something missing because we are not a man.
• Sometimes people and resources that could fill some gaps in our child’s life go untapped because we believe that we are indeed mother and father. Simply put, we don’t look for what we feel we haven’t lost.
2. Mothers and fathers both need to determine if they’re really putting the needs of their children first. I know this one is challenging. So much hurt and pain often passes between parents that our emotional baggage piles up on our sons and daughters, and we often don’t realize what’s happening. When fathers are absent or uninvolved, it causes an incredible strain on everyone involved, including grandparents, siblings, and other extended family members.
But the strain is equally damaging when mothers are hostile, resistant, or overstressed. Let’s commit to being better parents. We must ask ourselves some tough questions, for example:
• Am I willing to let the other parent perform his/her role in the way he/she wants to and is able to? Or do I insist that my child’s father/mother parent like I do?
• Do I pray for my child’s mother/father, that they will be the parent my child needs? Or have I made it difficult to pray because I have unresolved issues that I can’t let go of?
• Do I consistently support the other parent’s efforts, no matter how small I think they are? Or do I instead focus on what I believe the other parent leaves undone?
• Do I make every reasonable effort to overcome obstacles that challenge me as I try to be a good parent? Or am I making excuses for why I’m not taking care of business?
• Do I accept constructive criticism and feedback from the other parent on how I could make our relationship and interactions as parents healthier, and then work diligently, and without resentment, to address those issues? Or am I more interested in being right and winning arguments?
• Do I have a martyr complex? Do I find reasons to refuse help so that my child will see me as the better, more committed parent, and therefore shower more love on me? Or am I actively seeking the other parent’s input and suggestions with a true intention to work with him/her?
Pray, Think, Talk
There are, of course, many more questions that will give us insight on the position of our hearts. But the ones shared here can at least get us started on a road that leads to more transparent, effective parenting. In a future column, I’ll outline some additional ideas to keep the conversation going.
So, what do you think?
Do me a favor. Read this article all the way through, and then put it aside for 24 hours. During that time, pray about what you’ve read and how you feel about it. Ask the Lord to give you insight on what applies to you and what He wants you to do about it. Then read the article again. Please share your thoughts by commenting at any point in this process.
When I first found out that my wife was pregnant in early 2008, I immediately went into preparation mode.
The worst thing that I thought could happen to me at that point would be for me to get caught being unprepared as a dad. I was amazingly active in reading the pregnancy books with my wife, and knowing which milestones were coming up. I knew what the baby was doing in her tummy at all times.
As the months went on I even talked to people and listened to their stories about birth and parenthood. I heard more than a few stories about dads that were so overwhelmed by the miracle of birth that they passed out in the delivery room. As I watched the group laugh as the dad told that story, I decided right then and there I wasn’t going to be that dad. I had to do the research. I needed to be prepared and have no surprises in the delivery room, so I did the only thing I knew how to do. I googled YouTube videos of child birth! I sat and watched dozens of them until I could stomach the sight of this miracle without being the dad that passed out. Nobody wants to be that guy. I made it through the delivery on my own two feet and witnessed the birth of my first-born child.
I held her in my arms and shed a very manly, single tear. Just one. I didn’t wipe it at first I let it drop to about mid-cheek level to allow myself just a touch of vulnerability in the company of others. My first thought while holding her was a strange one. It was a bit morbid, but very real.
I looked her in her squinty little eyes and I said to myself, “If I don’t take care of her, she will die.” The responsibility was mine in that moment. Since she couldn’t feed herself, I couldn’t forget to feed her, or she would die. Since she couldn’t roll over on her own, I couldn’t forget which side to lay her on, or she would die. When she started to roll over I had to be lightening fast to catch her from hitting the ground after she rolled too far off the bed. I had to take care of all of her needs, even beyond the physical. If I didn’t tell my daughter she was loved, lovable, and beautiful, and that her worth was high beyond anything that anyone else could afford, then she would die a spiritual and emotional death. I had to supply her needs. I could NOT afford to come up short.
On my quest for information and experiences from more seasoned parents, I heard from most, if not all of them, that no matter how prepared I was and how hard I tried, there was going to be something that I would get wrong. Something was going to slip through the cracks. I refused to accept my own mortality in this manner. I needed to find out what some of these fathers were not doing and do just that. One day it hit me like a ton of bricks. It’s Dad’s job to be the “bad guy.”
Moms have an amazing amount of fanfare surrounding them and their day. The fanfare is much deserved for all that they do. You have heard the story of how she carried you for nine months and went through “x” amount of hours in labor. You’ve heard about how you destroyed her waistline and worried her half to death. You have been made well aware of the trials of breastfeeding and sleepless nights. You’ve heard it all. The moms know how to lay it on thick.
Moms hold you when it hurts, make sure you get that thing you want, move mountains and make things better. Moms get to be the “good guy.” That’s why Mother’s Day is always AWESOME! Flowers, candy, cards, commercials, months of anticipation, great and thoughtful gifts…Moms get the works. Father’s Day is just a month later, and I never know it’s coming until maybe two days before. Nobody reminds you. Nobody asks what you want more than a week out. Nobody buys big expensive gifts for Dad.
You want to know why dads famously get neckties for Father’s Day? It’s because they just want to make sure you have something to wear to work so there’s enough money to get Mom a really good present next year. Father’s Day could come and go and nobody would notice. Why? Well, nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.
Moms tell you that you can be anything you want to be, while dads get to tell you, “You can’t be an astronaut with straight D’s on your report card.” He wants to teach you how to work hard for your dreams because they won’t just come to you. Moms run out on the field with the Band-Aids and Neosporin when you scrape your knee in your soccer game. Dads get to tell you that you can’t quit the team just because you’re tired of it. He’s trying to teach you commitment.
Moms pick you up when you fall off of your bike, but dads make you get back on it even while you’re still in pain. He’s trying to teach you perseverance. Dad delivers the punishment, the butt whoopings, the taking of car keys, and the groundings. He tells you there’s no way you’re going outside looking like that. Dad is the “hater,” the skeptic, the lesson teacher, the long lecture giver, the layer of the smack-down, and Mr. I Told You So. Dad is the “tell me your plan” guy. Dad has to be the “You can’t date that guy” guy.
Dad has to diagnose dumb ideas and come up with better ones. Dad says, “Do it better,” and he has to tell you hard truths about yourself. And whenever you get to be a little too much for Mom to handle, how does she get you back in shape? She says, “I’m going to call your dad,” and you straighten up. You’ll thank Mom first at your graduation and while Mom is the reason you made it there, Dad is the reason you made it through. Dad is the enforcer. Dad is the bad guy, and nobody throws a parade for the bad guy.
So if you’re a dad and you’re sitting there a month after a spectacular Mother’s Day with an ugly tie fresh out of the package or getting ready to open a brand new Chia Pet, remember this… Being the bad guy isn’t just a job you take because nobody else wants it. It’s a calling. God fathers us the same way. God takes the blame for every bad thing we do to ourselves. This is what the great dads are made of. This is also why there just aren’t that many great dads. Nobody signs up to be the bad guy at a thankless job, but we’ve seen the statistics. Everybody needs a dad.
Nobody will admit it, but everybody needs someone to tell him or her the truth to their faces without blinking. No matter how hard or harsh that truth may be it must be told. So be Dad. In the midst of those that would kill the messenger, be Dad. This is not to say be hard on them for the sake of being hard on them. But in love, in fairness, and in honesty fulfill your calling. Don’t grieve your children but sharpen them and equip them for the things you see coming.
The Bible says, “For the LORD disciplines the one he loves, and He punishes each one he accepts as His child” (Hebrews 12:6 NLT) Just as our Heavenly Father does we should discipline the ones we love. We should also remember the example of God when punishing the ones you love, and not forget to love the ones you punish. Be unwavering without being unforgiving. Listen before you say no, even when you know it’s going to be a “no”. Be strong and consistent in your love. Get on the cross for your children. Embrace being the bad guy. Be Dad.
What are your plans for Father’s Day? Share them below.
Motherhood as ministry is not limited to personal spiritual growth. The biblical definition of ministry, as communicated by the Apostle Paul, is rooted in the growth and health of the body of Christ: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13 NKVJ). In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul’s conversation is expanded to highlight the importance of each gift within the body of Christ as necessary to the proper functioning of the body. Within these definitions of ministry is the understanding that each person within the body of Christ has been uniquely gifted so that the church would be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ: wholly loving, deeply selfless, and totally reliant on God. Although the Apostle Paul does not explicitly name mothers in his litany of ministers, what would it mean for the church to take seriously the role of mothers in the growth of the church? Moreover, what would it mean for mothers to take seriously their roles as mothers—even the seemingly mundane aspects of motherhood—in the overall growth and health of the church? In particular, the ministry of mothers to mothers is of utmost importance.
Nobody Told Me the Road Would Be Easy
If we are honest, motherhood is not always an easy journey. It is downright hard some days. This truth rarely gets told, but one night this truth unfolded before our eyes on the nightly news. Miriam Carey was a 34-year-old African American woman who was fatally shot by police after a high-speed chase from the White House to the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Her story was gripping, not because of the location where her life came to a tragic end, but because she was a young mother a long way from home driving recklessly with her one-year-old daughter in the car. In the days following the event, the new outlets reported that she was suffering from postpartum depression. The diagnosis was later changed to postpartum psychosis. Miriam Carey was a young mother suffering after one of the most joyous occasions in a woman’s life. And if the truth is told, Miriam Carey may have been suffering alone, but she was not the only one suffering.
According to the American Psychological Association, postpartum depression is “a serious mental health problem characterized by a prolonged period of emotional disturbance, occurring at a time of major life change and increased responsibilities in the care of a newborn infant.” Postpartum depression affects between 9 and 16% of women. It is more serious than the “baby blues” which affect most women after the birth of children. It can be prolonged, lasting up to two years postpartum. It can be emotionally painful. It can be physically paralyzing. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression can identify with the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” (from Psalm 42:5, NKJV). Surely there are new mothers in our churches dressed in their Sunday best while suffering deep within just like Miriam Carey.
Sadly, within the body of Christ, we do not always know how to handle mental illness, including postpartum depression. As Terrie M. Williams, author of Black Plain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting, writes, “Too many of us believe that our pain is a kind of punishment for our flaws, that maybe if we were better people or better Christians we would not be suffering.” This is where the ministry of motherhood is vitally important. When I think about Miriam Carey, I wonder where were the mothers in her life? Where was the community of mothers praying with her? Where was the community of mothers telling their truths about the realities of motherhood?
There are three key ways in which mothers can minister to one another during this time: prayer, plain talk, and presence.
First, the ministry of motherhood requires that mothers pray for and with one another. Scripture teaches, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:17, NKJV). Depression of any kind is not a sin, however, God does not call us to live in a prison of grief. There is power in praying with another mother. If you are suffering in any aspect of motherhood, tell the truth about your situation to another mother that so that she can pray with you and for you. There is healing in prayer. God inclines His ear to the cries of His children. And while your suffering may not be miraculously relieved through prayer, you will feel God’s presence in the valley, and God will lead you in a direction to get adequate help (see Psalm 23:4).
Second, the ministry of motherhood requires that mothers tell the truth to one another about the realities of motherhood. Many mothers suffer a tremendous amount of guilt and feeling of inadequacy, especially in comparison with other mothers. If women tell the truth about the daily joys and grind of motherhood, perhaps many others would be set free. No one shared with me how difficult breastfeeding would be in the first few weeks of my daughter’s life. I felt alone and inferior because I was having trouble feeding my child. I now share my experiences with other mothers so they know they are not alone, that they are more than adequate, and that there is hope.
Lastly, the ministry of motherhood requires mothers to be present with and for one another. This can be especially difficult in an age of texting, tweeting, and status updates. Motherhood can be an isolating experience, and our society has abandoned the ethic of care that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As mothers we should connect ourselves with other mothers face to face. This can be through play dates which minister to mothers as well as to children. It could be a mother’s only date. Many mothers, especially stay-at-home moms, are thirsting for adult conversation. If there is a mother who is struggling, offer to help her out: grocery shopping, washing dishes, or cooking a meal are easy ways to help her overloaded schedule. When mothers are present for one another families are strengthened, which helps strengthen our churches and communities. This is the heart of ministry.
This subject is deeply personal to me. I am an ordained minister. Prior to the birth of our daughter 18 months ago, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay home from my position as an assistant pastor for a time to nurture and care for her. There were moments of insecurity and challenges, balanced with moments of intense joy. The biggest challenge was coming to the understanding that what I was doing was holy work. It was easy to qualify preaching, teaching Bible study, and counseling grieving families as ministry, but I had a difficult time seeing motherhood as ministry. This vocational tension, coupled with shifting hormones, led to a period of postpartum depression.
But God sent some mothers into my life who prayed for me, encouraged me, and told me the truth about motherhood. Their witness, alongside the support of my husband, the help of a therapist, exercise, and rest ushered me into wellness. Now, not only do I value the ministry of mothers, I engage in the ministry of motherhood, praying with, supporting, and encouraging mothers who need strength for the journey. If you are a mother struggling through the terrain of motherhood, get with some mothers who can encourage you out of their experience. And when possible, encourage another mother in her journey. Motherhood is not a perfect experience, but through it, especially when mothers minister to one another, we are being conformed into the image of a perfect Christ.