Motherhood – not for cowards
BY KAREN GLEASON –
Today’s mothers don’t have much time for soul searching about the deep meaning of motherhood. As in the past, the mothers of today shape the generations of tomorrow. Our influence passes through succeeding generations just as surely as any gene. Our schedules are so busy, though, we don’t often have time to consider how we mold our children’s lives.
I asked some mothers what they feel are the unique challenges of motherhood in the 21st century. Their answers covered the full spectrum of concerns, from the practical to the spiritual. My friend Kristy, a single mother of three children all under age 10, responded with everyday matters:
“With all the negative influences today, you have to trust God to leave your child anywhere. If you don’t have a trusted relative or friend, you have to seek other alternatives, if you can afford them on a single income. Thank God for my boss who tells me that I’m a mother first! My three greatest blessings are my kids–I wouldn’t want it any other way!”
My corps officer expresses oft unspoken fears and gives credit to God as the source of sustaining hope and strength:
“I believe that now, as in no other time in history, Satan is working to destroy families. As parents abdicate responsibility and children step away from their faith each member of the family suffers…Being a mother in the 21st century feels a lot like being a safety net. Holding onto my grandmother’s and mother’s wisdom and their faith and love, I combine that with strategies that will reach my children for the ‘kingdom.’ Motherhood isn’t for cowards!”
-Major Ronda Gilger
And finally, a reminder that some things never change…
“The challenge in the 1st and 21st centuries is the same–spend time with your children, listen, share family history…swashbuckle your sons, sing to your daughters. Assure them they can do anything, and that Mom is with them all the way.”
-Colonel Esther Sather
Territorial League of Mercy Secretary
A politically correct society
Many of my own challenges as a mother stem from our “politically correct” society. I am not raising my daughter in the same culture in which I was raised. There are obvious differences: I am a single mother, but I came from a stable two-parent family with a stay-at-home mom. I always felt grounded in my family. Now I feel rootless.
But other differences exist, too. Our government is unwilling to acknowledge its Christian heritage; our schools won’t talk about God and Jesus. My daughter’s school didn’t celebrate Christmas this year; instead, December was “human rights” month. The teachers still wished the parents “Merry Christmas” as we picked up our kids for Christmas (or is it now “winter”) break, but how long will this continue? The same thing happened at Easter, which wasn’t even mentioned, and “spring” break was over well before Easter. How will these subtle societal changes affect today’s children? What will our children believe in?
The lucky ones
The mothers above, myself included, are some of the lucky ones. While we have endured difficult times, we have found support from friends and family, and especially from God. What about the other mothers–the teen moms who are still kids themselves and have no skills to raise a child, and who often don’t have the support of their families? What of the moms and children whose lives have been devastated by domestic violence, drug abuse, and homelessness? Because of the overwhelming nature of these problems, these mothers are not equipped to raise their children to lead happy, well-adjusted lives. If they don’t receive help and rebuild their lives, their kids often grow up repeating the negative behaviors they’ve learned. Where can these mothers go for help?
Education and support at Booth
The Los Angeles Booth Memorial Center first opened its doors in 1899 as a rescue home for unwed mothers. During the past century, the center has evolved and now serves traumatized girls with a history of abuse or neglect. Today, the girls at Booth fall into one of three categories: non-parenting and non-pregnant, parenting, or pregnant.
By providing education within a secure, supportive environment, Booth helps the girls become self-sufficient. Education is the key. Booth has an on-site high school, and teaches parenting skills to all the girls. This is important since almost 100% of the girls here think they want to be mothers. Most of the girls who already have a child start planning for their second one when the first is about a year old. Motherhood is still seen as a sacred calling, and in many cultures motherhood adds to the status of a woman.
When I visited Booth, it was bustling with activity. Dr. Margaret Martin, the director, gave me a tour–there was a lot to see. We visited the on-site day care centers, one for the toddlers and another for the preschoolers. I met Pauline, who’s in charge of the toddlers, or as she says, the “mobile infants.” She’s committed to being there for the children and their mothers and realizes the importance of providing a stable, nurturing environment for those who may not have experienced this before.
The outside play areas are highlighted by the colorful murals of Marc, a young man who works with the little children. The murals are works of art, and add vibrancy and cheer to these areas.
The high school was another hub of activity. Here I spoke with 19-year-old Norma, who graduates this year. She came to the center when she was 5-1/2 months pregnant, full of conflicting emotions. She knew she wasn’t ready for motherhood, but she couldn’t go through with an abortion, and didn’t want to give up her baby for adoption. Booth’s “Mommy and Me” classes taught her to bond with her baby. “Everything’s different now,” she says. “It’s not just me now; it’s about my baby and me.” Thanks to the education she received here and the mentoring of her teacher, Norma has plans to study nursing. Booth helped her set realistic goals and gave her the tools she needs to achieve them. Most importantly, Booth restored her hope.
After passing through the boutique of baby products where clients can purchase items–Booth teaches the young women about budgeting–I talked with Dana Johnson, MSW, the intake coordinator. Dana herself is a young single mother of two, a 6-year-old and a 14-year-old. She shared many insights on motherhood today. Even in two parent homes, moms don’t have the opportunity to stay at home as in the past, she noted. This causes two major concerns: child care (there’s nothing for 14-year-olds), and quality time with your kids. What’s needed then, agreed Dr. Martin and Dana, are more family friendly work schedules to support our working mothers.
What plans does Booth have for the future? Dr. Martin hopes to develop a good follow-up program for their clients. When they reach adulthood, many foster children end up as part of the homeless population. Dr. Martin wants to be sure that Booth’s methods give these young women the lasting resources they need to provide for themselves and their children.
Empowering the family
Education and counseling are the foundation of Santa Fe Springs Transitional Living Center (TLC), which provides 28 family rooms, licensed child care, and recreational facilities. TLC opened in February of 1992 and has served about 400 families since then, or more than 1,000 people. Here, the clients are single mothers and their children, who are victims of domestic violence, drug abuse, and homelessness. The families can stay at the center for up to two years; most leave after 12 months. The program has an 86% success rate. The families who stay 12-24 months and allow the program to work for them are most likely to succeed. Most of those women are then able to find jobs averaging $10 an hour with benefits and can move into independent housing.
This success rate is generally permanent. Of 76 families graduated in the last three years, only one lost their permanent housing.
The women who come here are mostly in their twenties and thirties and most lack parenting skills. The center emphasizes the development of these skills as well as the importance of putting them and keeping them in practice consistently, which is something all parents can acknowledge. The kids don’t always respond to the new skills right away, since the parents have lost credibility with them. It takes time and work to undo the damage of the past.
Because of abuse, mothers and children suffer significant emotional damage. Many have low self-esteem–they’ve been made to feel worthless–and the mothers feel guilty because of their inability to provide. Some never had faith in anything; others had faith and lost it. TLC strives to build self-esteem and confidence and to restore hope in the future.
The center teaches parenting and life skills, including finance and budgeting, shopping and cooking, and even how to take the bus. The clients are provided with intensive counseling. To give them a faith they can depend on, TLC offers optional Bible study and devotions each day and chapel on Thursday evening. Those who participate regularly are among the most successful in the program. Most of the staff are committed Christians, working together to carry out the Army’s mission statement.
TLC succeeds because of education and support, but also because of the length of the program. Jon Henderson, program director, feels good about what TLC offers. He emphasized that the benefits of long term programs like this are often not fully understood or appreciated – this is the difference between giving someone a meal and changing lives, and is really worth millions in the long run. Referring to the cost of the program, he notes that “lots of programs are Band-Aids–although Band-Aids are cheaper than surgery, if you want permanent change, you have to pay for the surgery; otherwise there’s no real healing.”
Henderson believes the problems these women face are more common today than in the past because of the increase in single parent families and the more serious nature of drug abuse. Domestic violence continues to be a problem at all socio-economic levels and is often still kept hidden. Another concern is the lack of affordable housing, and one of TLC’s future plans is to erect some apartments on the property as semi-permanent housing for the families before they move to full independence.
Cindy Winebarger, day care director, shared thoughts and feelings about her work here. Each group has specific dynamics. In the present “house,” many of the boys show lack of respect for their mothers which carries over to all women. They’ve never seen their mothers treated with respect. Many times the girls will express anger at their mothers and will mistrust men. These children lack a man of integrity in their lives, a true father. TLC deals with complex emotions as well as negative learned behaviors that have to be unlearned. Cindy notes that it’s a sad reality that the children pay for the sins of the parents. The kids are often bitter and hopeless, and yearn for a more normal life.
The rewards come when a family is reunited, emotionally and physically. Sometimes a mom has lived apart from her kids. Sometimes the reunion is an emotional one, where mothers and children are able to bond. When you see children hugging their moms again, you know God is working miracles at Santa Fe Springs Transitional Living Center.
At the dawn of the 21st century, our society is vastly different than it was at the start of the 20th. Today’s mothers face tough new challenges. Some need help setting themselves on the right path with their families, and turn to The Salvation Army for help.
God’s love and redemptive grace are the forces behind the Booth Memorial Center and the Santa Fe Springs Transitional Living Center, and it is God who provides a constant source of strength and guidance for all mothers, whatever their needs may be. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.” (Psalm 32:8, NIV) The greatest of all parents is always available to help us.