I think I’m finally at the age where I can look back and say, “Yeah, my parents were pretty damn awesome.” I’m starting to realize it more each time I visit home (it probably helps that I don’t actually live with them anymore!).
My parents have attended Independent Fundamental Baptist churches their whole lives, and I attended with them until college. I’ve seen IFB churches at their best, and, unfortunately, I’ve seen them at their worst (if you’re not familiar with the movement, this list covers the basic stereotypes. Not all these things are true of every church- I’ve been in some great ones actually and am not writing this post to bash the IFBs- but these are the things that make the IFBs infamous).
I learned a lot of unhealthy things in IFB churches. And since my parents chose to attend those churches, I always thought they believed the same things.
But, looking back, my mother has almost always been a source of truth in my life (as I’ve shared before). Her wisdom and influence is what made me the woman that I am today.
So, here are a few things that I didn’t expect to learn from my Independent Fundamental Baptist mother:
My body is not shameful: Unless you want a lecture, don’t bring up the subject of breast-feeding around my mother. That is her soap-box of choice. She fully supports the right for a woman to publicly use her mammary glands for their intended purpose. She is constantly reminding people that a woman breast-feeding her baby was once a popular subject for artists to paint. Why? Because it’s beautiful.
She also taught me modesty- not because she thought I should “make sure my brothers in Christ don’t stumble.” No, she taught me modesty because she wanted me to respect myself and appreciate my body as my own (as opposed to belonging to any man). She was never legalistic about the subject, and as I grew older, she let me decide for myself what “modest” was.
Sex happens: My parents kind of failed when it came to teaching me about sex growing up. I learned from the internet at 16. Then my mom awkwardly said something like, “You know how all that sex stuff works, right? I don’t have to tell you, do I?” a year later.
But my mother has more than made up for that mistake in recent years.
I was shocked when I came home from college one summer, went shopping with my mom and she said, “Do you need me to buy you any condoms?”
I said no and quickly changed the subject. But, since then, we’ve been able to talk about the subject with each other. And you know what? I’m glad my mother was aware of the reality that, hey, people have sex. I’m glad that my mother wants me to know how to be safe if I do have sex. She wants me to be abstinent, of course, but she realizes that abstinence is difficult and sometimes people slip up. Let’s be real here- sex happens. And my mother taught me to be smart about it.
Every woman should learn to be independent: I’m not sure if my mother could be considered an egalitarian (though she sure as heck will stand up to my father if she thinks he’s wrong- and I think he appreciates that about her). She does the cooking and most of the cleaning at our house. She was a stay-at-home mom for awhile (though she worked off and on again as well).
But if you ask her whether or not women should stay-at-home, this is what she’ll tell you: “You don’t have to. It’s up to you. Personally, I think it’s nice if you can. Getting to stay home with your kids is rewarding- I wish I could have stayed home more. But go to college, get as much work experience as you can. Because even if you become a stay-at-home mom, you need a back up plan.”
She is always telling me, “You could marry the greatest guy in the world. But he might become a drunk later in life and you might want to leave him. You’ll need a back up plan. Your husband could die or get in an accident, leaving him unable to work. You’ll need a back up plan. Your man might lose his job, or his job might not be enough to pay the bills. You’ll need a back up plan.”
I’m not sure I’ll ever become a stay-at-home mom, but I’m glad my mother gave me permission to pursue a career. And I’m glad my mother taught me the importance of self-reliance.
You never know what another person’s been through: My mom has a gift- she can empathize with anyone. Children, elderly, homeless, abusive men, abused women, divorcees, teenagers, preachers, gay people, Muslims, …I mean, really. You wouldn’t believe the insight this woman can have sometimes.
I am not blessed with this gift. Empathy doesn’t come naturally to me- I have to work hard to understand people. But my mom taught me that empathy is worth the work.
It’s okay to spark controversy: Usually when you start a conversation about a subject like “hell,” people get all fired up (pun intended…the use of the word “spark” in the bold print above? Another pun intended).
But not my mother. She and I had a long conversation about it. She respected my questioning, and added her own (I actually learned that she doesn’t believe in the “traditional” ideas about hell which was surprising). She wasn’t afraid to rethink the traditions. Rob Bell could have written a book about our conversation.
My mother has always taught me that it’s okay to question- even when the questions make people uncomfortable. We can talk about anything from evolution to gay rights with each other. She may not always agree with me, but never puts a damper on the passion that I have for questioning.
My mom was probably the clearest model of a strong Christian woman in my life. Perhaps your parents provided you with similar models- I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from them. Or, perhaps your parents weren’t as influential in your life as my mother was in mine. If that’s the case, what role models did you look up to instead?