Archive for the ‘respectful differentiation’ Category


soul sisters

May 10, 2013

Dear Mamas,

We’ve lost a sister. My friend Allison, who was diagnosed in winter, died on Tuesday. Her littlest is not yet out of elementary school.

She was quiet and tenacious and brave. Our friends gathered last night, held our hearts, and remembered Allison. It was her birthday. We were reflecting on her birth and death and wondered, how could we best honor her life in between? Her traits. Her strengths. The words that describe Allison.

But they are also words to describe you.

And me. And all of our sisters. Not identically. Not exactly. But there are pieces of Allison in each of us. The DNA of motherhood. Maybe you are quieter. Maybe your neighbor carries her stick-to-it-iveness gene to an extreme. Maybe your college roommate holds up her faith.

How can we carry her forward? We can begin on Sunday. On Mother’s Day. We each celebrate in our own way- if you have a toddler, you may be celebrating by going to the bathroom all by yourself. If you have a chatty preschooler, you may celebrate with an hour of silence. And if you have a teenager, it may mean getting them to hang out with you for an hour is something serious to celebrate.

Do what you need to do for yourself, Mama. Discover a way to ground yourself, reorient yourself. Find yourself.

Then find yourself in every Mama. Setting aside our voting records, our faith communities, our educations, our zip codes. Because it is easy to make assumptions about other Mamas. To judge them and to gossip about them.

Let’s not. Let’s be Allisons instead.

In the days ahead let’s reach out to the Mamas we know and the Mamas we see. The Mama who is too tired, too worn out, too worn down. The Mama who can’t imagine being a mother for one moment more, and yet does it anyway, because stopping isn’t an option. We’ve seen those Mamas. We’ve been those Mamas.

When we see a Mama struggling, looking even just a little bit lost, let’s reach out instead of stepping back. Let’s offer to carry her groceries to the car. Provide a smile of knowing as she stands next to a toddler who has melted onto the floor. Have a spontaneous sleepover for the friend of your tween so her Mama can breathe. And let’s reach out to the Mamas whose lives look perfect. Because none of us are.  And sometimes we are hiding behind façades that we’ve carefully constructed and forgotten to leave ourselves a way out. And let’s reach out for ourselves, because sometimes we are the ones who need help.

Mamahood isn’t always graceful. Mamahood isn’t always filled with song. But most of all, Mamahood shouldn’t be filled with isolation. Remember that Allison is in you.  When Mamahood is chaotic, call on her quiet. When Mamahood is draining, call on her tenaciousness. When Mamahood is overwhelming, bring forth her bravery.

On Tuesday we lost a Mama. One of our own. But there are billions more of us. Just think what we can do. So reach. Touch. Connect. And keep me posted.


The Land of Ying

January 15, 2011

It was the Cream of Tartar that led us over the bridge into the Land of Ying.

Eleanor had decided that she wanted to ‘do the dissolving experiment again’, this time venturing into compounds more exotic than simple salt.  So we prepared our laboratory and in the pitch black of winter (roughly 7:13 in the morning) we measured, stirred, mixed and observed.  We recorded the results of our experiments in two long columns – the substances that dissolved completely, albeit more slowly in cold water than hot, and those that remained unincorporated.  Science lesson: some things dissolve, some don’t.  extension lesson:  life is binary, an either / or scenario.  And our day would have progressed just as countless other days had, unfolding in ordinary ways, except she perused the spice drawer one final time and slowly, with careful consideration, chose the cream of tartar.  In the cold water it did not dissolve, nor did it persist as a lump of powder.  It spread throughout the glass in uniform suspension, creating a lovely, cloudy, pearlescent liquid.

In that moment, our entire analysis magically transformed.  The opaque white water stood as a profound reminder to not set our expectations of life into the rigidly restrained categories of yes /no.  Suddenly before us was an invitation to explore all of the areas in life that fill the in-between.  We accepted the offer and delved into a discussion of the beauty of gray, the place between black and white.  Why, for example, does St. Nicholas (clearly a paragon of goodness) smoke a pipe?  Why, in the Little House on the Prairie books, does Ma so revile Native Americans?

The human condition is a complex and nuanced state.  Yet as parents, in an effort to extol the virtues of our own value system, we often simplify and even vilify those who hold opposing beliefs as bad people.  While a bumper sticker can proclaim a pithy sentiment, it is often a shallow, sweeping generalization that minimizes an entire group of people.  It gets a laugh, but at what cost?  We need to show our children that those we love and respect make contrasting choices.  Even more, people we don’t know, people with whom we mightily disagree, are good folks who see the world from a different perspective and live accordingly.  (please know I recognize there are those who are off the end of the continuum of culturally accepted behaviors and beliefs).  Respectful differentiation is a complex practice that is rare in a world full of sound bites and snap judgments, hatred and self-anointed halos.

Respectful differentiation means we see the subtlety and texture of people’s lives.  We acknowledge the depth of their humanity.  As a tool, it allows all of us to live our own authentic lives while engaging in civil ways with those who hold varying beliefs.  The Land of Ying is a place we can see with our third eye, a place we can reach when we stop, take a deep breath, and remember that ultimately, we are all one.  Not yin.  Not yang.  The Land of Ying.

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