Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Musings From Another Mother: Ashton.

Since becoming a mom, I've felt more spiritual, and definitely more connected with other women. I wanted to pick the brains of some of my friends, and share their musings here on this blog! I believe that if we collaborate, with the intention to grow, we can all benefit. I am constantly inspired by the women I surround myself with, both in the "real" world and the "virtual" world.

One of my New Year's intentions is to share thoughts and opinions from a diverse group of women on this blog.  Of course, to be cohesive with the subject matter, I will invite women who identify themselves either as feminists, spiritual entities, or mothers. Ideally, all three. Hehe.

My musings can be repetitive. I'm opening the conversation to include musings from other women.

In January, I showcased my friend, Janelle. For February, I'm showcasing another inspirational mama, and another friend of mine. Ashton.

I remember meeting Ashton in middle school. We were both in LEAP. Now, she lives in Tennessee, and is a wife and mother to 2 daughters. She's always been thoughtful, as well as thought provoking. This format of writing reminds me of our journal-sharing days back in 6th grade with Ms. Shaw! Her responses to my questions inspired me, but I can't say I was surprised.



What's your definition of a "feminist"?

To me, a feminist hopes for and fights for equal treatment for everyone, regardless of gender. However, I often extend my feelings of equality to race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, ability, religion, etc. Equality for all! 

Do you consider yourself a feminist?

Absolutely. I experienced a true "feminist awakening" a few years ago and am constantly exploring ways to push myself and encourage others around me to pursue fairer treatment of all. Plus, I mean, I have two daughters, and having them has really opened my eyes to different expectations across gender. 

How has empowering yourself as a woman made you a better mother?

I think it makes me very aware of things that I want to be different for my daughters and other daughters in the world. By empowering myself I don't allow anyone else's expectations of me (or motherhood, really) to decide what is right for me and my family. And, hopefully, I am setting an example for my daughters to follow that nothing is off limits to them. 

Side note: The other day, Olivia told me that she may or may not want to get married when she is older but she does know she wants to be "an artist, a zookeeper, and a mother- and ride a motorcycle" and I thought, "okay, I'm doing alright with this motherhood thing."

Do you feel closer to whatever you call the Higher Power since a having a "feminist awakening"? Further from? Ambivalent? Do you think feminism and spirituality are related, or have nothing to do with one another?

I am a Christian and I definitely feel closer to God since becoming a mother because I now have a better understanding of unconditional love. I have never felt so connected to anyone like I do my daughters and I believe that is how God feels about us. 

For me, feminism and spirituality are related because they are both the greatest influences on my life. My belief in God and belief in the love He has for me and all of his children strengthens my feminist beliefs in equality for everyone.

What do you do and what encouraged you to get into your line of work?

I work as a behaviorist for a local firm. I work primarily with children with developmental delays that impact their behavior and their families. Typically we help target and reduce problem behaviors and teach children socially appropriate behaviors to get their wants and needs.

I taught special education in a Title 1 school in Nashville for 2 years and would often have great success with the kids in my class (most of whom had emotional or behavioral disorders) but I realized quickly that without consistency across environments and caregivers, most of that work comes apart. I wanted to work across people and places to help make the child as successful as he could be, so I went back to school at Vanderbilt and earned my M. Ed. in Special Education and Applied Behavior Analysis.

What's your greatest struggle being a professional and a mother?

For me, I am passionate about both my work and my family- and the hardest part is determining who to give what, when. Right now I work mostly afternoons and evenings which cuts into time with my children, but I have a flexible schedule, mornings off with my husband, and weekends at home with my girls. So, it's irregular, but it's our normal.

How does your role in the home affect you professionally?

I am fortunate to have a husband who sees me as his equal in all aspects and supports me. When I thought about going back to school he encouraged me and helped make it work out financially. When I work until the late evening I never have to worry if the kids are fed or in bed on time. I do not have to be the primary caregiver, house cleaner, and also a full-time working woman.  We share all responsibilities evenly and rely heavily on one another, and it's something that I think makes our relationship so unique. We both have jobs that we are passionate about (he's a full-time musician) and we both encourage and support one another to do that and have a family.

What spiritual practices//habits//routines do you incorporate into your life? How do you bring spirituality to your family life?

Given our crazy schedule, we do not have a very set routine. We attend church on occasion and pray before the meals we eat together. We read the Bible and talk about the parables and Christ's message of loving others. But that's about as far as a routine goes.

The biggest practices we are incorporating into our family life are practices of generosity, gratitude, and stewardship. We try not to be over-consumers (nearly everything we purchase is second hand) and we try to teach our children not to be wasteful (we recycle like crazy). We communicate with our children that not everyone has what we have and we live in an excessive society, so we are constantly purging things from our home and donating them, as well as trying to reduce the amount we bring in. We donate time and money to causes we support and I have definitely seen that rub off on our children. We are trying to teach our children to value people, not things, and to value their world. And so far it's working out nicely.

Are you raising your kids the same way you were raised, from a religious standpoint? 

No, not really. The foundation of the beliefs I was raised with are the same but in practice our beliefs are much different. 

What are you keeping the same and what are you consciously changing?

We are Christian, and we believe God loves everyone, even those who are different from us. There are many things I was taught as a child that does not sit well with me as an adult and, to me, those things do not speak God's message of loving others. I do not believe that women are subservient or that homosexuals go to hell. I don't believe that God is a Republican (or a Democrat, for that matter) or that God blesses us with monetary things. I believe God meets our needs, sure, but I do not believe that if I'm "in His favor" I will be given a rich, healthy life. I mean, look at the life of Jesus. In case you cannot tell, the "prosperity gospel" makes me sick. In summary, if I truly believe that God loves me more intensely than I love my own, imperfect, children, I can't believe many of the things I was told as a child being raised in an Evangelical church.

I think one of the greatest things I am changing is the way I respond to people different than I am. For me it's not, love the sinner, hate the sin, it's just love the person. We don't teach our children to be tolerant, we teach them to be compassionate. One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton (she's basically my guru) says "traffic is to be tolerated, people are to be celebrated." We don't want our girls to have the attitude of "well I'm still nice to so-and-so even though they do that" because to us that's not the message of Jesus. We don't describe others to our children as being good or bad- and we are teaching them (and ourselves) to turn judgment inward (reflective) instead of outward. I want to question the way I treat others and show God's love, not the decisions others are making.

Oh, and there's also that thing where we tell our children God is both our Father AND our Mother. If we believe we are "created in His image" we can't believe that half the population is different from that image.That's pretty different than what I was taught as a kid.

What is the difference between religion and spirituality? 

I think religion is (most) people doing the best they can to put into practice their spirituality. And to me, spirituality is this deep rooted sense that something greater than you exists, whether that something be a purpose or a being, that depends on the person experiencing it. I think religion and spirituality can exist in the same person but I've also seen them one without the other. 

What do you think happens when we die?

I wish I knew, but I just have this reassuring feeling that whatever it is, it is peaceful. I believe in an afterlife but I don't know what that looks like, but I do believe that my family will be there and we will live in the presence of God. I just imagine it will feel like being really, really loved. If Heaven happened to be an endless beach with an eternal sunset and an umbrella drink, I would be okay with that too.

How do you talk to your kids about the big questions?

We are a pretty direct family, so when my kids ask something, we answer it. If we don't know the answer we tell them we don't know the answer. We always ask them the same question back like "what do you think about that?" I think our communication has always been so open with our kids that there hasn't been many big questions, but rather a series of small conversations saying what we believe, why, and what we do about it. We also don't lie to our kids so hopefully that keeps lines of communication open as they get older.

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