When I was pregnant with my first child, I worked full-time as the editor of a newspaper produced by The United Methodist Church. Every week I'd write all the articles (because the staff was... nonexistent) and I'd take all the pictures and then I'd edit what few articles came to me, and after all that, I'd design the entire newspaper single-handedly. I don't say this for kudos. I know well enough that I did a great job with what I had. But there was a man at my workplace who expressed, quite bluntly, that once I had that baby in my belly, I was not going to be a very good worker. I would be less desirable as an employee, he said in so many words.
He made his point in many different ways. With commentary on how once a mother has a kid, she can't really focus much on her work, because there's the kid competing with her work for attention. With little asides about how much children change a mother's life. With point-blank reasoning that he couldn't be sure I'd even work once the baby came, even though they were paying me to produce a newspaper every month. (What exactly would I do? Sit in my office and daydream about sleeping? Well, yeah, that's probably true.)
And then I had the baby, and guess what? I did the same exact job the same exact way, except I learned how to juggle more efficiently. I put systems in place. I didn't get sucked into time vortexes, because there wasn't time to get sucked into them. I did exactly what I was expected to do and then some. I found a way to be a good mother and a good employee, like many women before me have done.
So now I have six kids. And it's still the same old story.
Husband and I, in a former life, were traveling musicians, and recently we were asked to share our music at a church venue. And then, at the last minute, we had to bail because the people asking us to lead -- who also were not paying us for our time -- could not take it upon themselves to provide childcare that would keep our kids safe while we led others into a worship experience.
Now. I know I have six kids. I know it's my responsibility to take care of my kids. But when you ask me to do you a favor, the least you can do is make sure my six kids are cared for while I'm doing it. I'm happy to do favors. I'm not happy to let two 3-year-old twins run around a sanctuary and flip over pews and put their fingers in light sockets just to "see what happens."
Sadly, this attitude -- the one that says once you become a parent you're no longer very useful to us -- is not as rare as you might think. We see it in our churches that don't provide the relief of childcare for young parents and in our workplaces that make us work grueling schedules instead of flexible ones and, also, in our very streets. When my family is out and about, people walk up to us at random, as if it's any of their business, sharing delightful comments like, "These all yours? My God," and then roll their eyes and walk away. (My favorite is, "Wow. What do you do? You must make a lot of money to support all these kids." Nope. We just work hard and do our part, and money takes care of itself.) People regularly see us (because we're quite a spectacle -- two parents dragging six boys away from the curb so they don't get run over by the cars speeding through town) and shake their heads and dismiss us as "those people." They ask what we do and hear that I'm an author and they look at my kids and they can't let themselves believe it (glazed eyes are the telltale sign), because no one could possibly get any work done with six kids at home. Husband tells them he's a video marketing guy, and they dismiss him because he was that guy crazy enough to have six kids.
Well, you know what, world? Just because we have six kids doesn't mean we've lost our value to the world.
I'm still the same person I was, give or take a few pounds. Actually, scratch that. I'm not the same person at all, because in their living, these children have scraped and shaped me into the person the world needed me to be, so that girl I used to be nine years ago? She's not nearly as cool as this person I am today.
Not only that, but my children have value. They're little people who care about bugs getting smushed and the trash people throw on the side of the road and the way their friend got really sad at recess today, and, if you're the 3-year-olds, plunging the toilet before every flush. If the world is going to just dismiss us, it's missing out on a helluva lot.
So next time you see me out and about with my entourage of children, don't assume you know who I am or what my intelligence level is. Don't assume you know anything about me at all. Don't assume, most of all, that I have traded my value as an individual person for becoming just a family unit from here on out. Of course we're a family unit. But we're individuals, too.