The conversation around gender is in the spotlight; in many circles it is hotly debated. Gender and marriage, the effects of too much of one gender, even gender and self-identification are just a few of the conundrums many are trying to navigate. And then there is the fear that straying from the norm might be harmful; children might be affected; our very cultural legacy might be marred. Wow, that seems like a lot to wrap our collective heads around.
In a time when studies show the health benefits of social bonds created by friends and family and the effect those bonds have on longevity (love makes us healthier and live better and longer), doesn’t the very act of allowing these debates to divide friends and family seem counterintuitive? At worst, it has the tendency to disconnect us from the very human networks that might be a catalyst for better health and longer, more fulfilling lives.
This gender debate has taken different forms over the millennium. When I grew up in the seventies, gender roles were being debated in a different way – should mothers continue to stay home with their children or be allowed to work in the same industries as their husbands?
As a child I learned first hand that parents aren’t relegated just to “motherly” and “fatherly” things respectively. I remember my father fixing our breakfasts, setting up car-pools, mending our clothing, and working with me on homework while my mom was in another city finishing her graduate degree. (Ok maybe he took our clothing to the dry-cleaners to get mended.)
This brief part of our childhood was the impetus that led my kid sister and me to wish our dad a Happy Mother’s Day and our mom a Happy Father’s Day. The wish was meant as an all-encompassing way to celebrate something deeper than parenting gender paradigms. It was to acknowledge our mom’s and dad’s unique ways of expressing a fuller male and female type of Love.
This idea, radical for some even now, was not so for Mary Baker Eddy, a woman in the late 1800s who went against commonly accepted roles relegated to women. She discovered and founded a protestant religion, published a best-selling book, 3 magazines and an international newspaper; and, all of that in a day when women couldn’t yet vote. Referring to the Divine as “Our Father/Mother God”, she made it clear that God was not only infinite but that infinitude had to include both genders.
But she didn’t end there, the conversation around gender was a conversation about Love and the qualities each individual expresses as an image of Love. She writes in her seminal book, “The intelligent individual idea, be it male or female, rising from the lesser to the greater unfolds the infinitude of Love.”
This unfathomable Love that rises above gender might seem a bit too religious for some. But when it comes to celebrating Fathers and Mothers on a specific date, no one is celebrating the things parents do wrong, they are celebrating the highest parenting qualities; all the things that parents do right. And one way to distill that down to a single idea is to define parenting in terms of Love. We are celebrating how much parents love and how they express that Love.
So, what if we let go of gender roles when it comes to, say, parenting and instead look more at the myriad ways and the depth Love is expressed. The implication? Parenting no longer becomes about which parent does what, how many parents are involved or what gender they are, but instead how each parent is engaged in more effective ways to love.
That’s just what a friend had to do years ago when his daughter informed him and his wife she had made the choice to live the rest of her life as a man. This child then later married and adopted a child. To overcome his initial disapproval of that choice and fear for his child’s future, my friend realized he needed to see things differently. So, he chose to see all the ways his child reflected both female and male qualities – qualities created by a God who is both Father and Mother. In this way he let go of assigning roles to gender and instead saw and felt the importance of the love his child expressed as a spouse and a parent. This wasn’t done overnight, but with slow, incremental steps he was able to change his perception and just love more.
In doing this, he himself was able to set aside the commonly assigned role of a father and cultivate the more motherly qualities of compassion, acceptance and unconditional love. His experience then became about his growth in Love, not just someone else’s decisions about gender.
If we are looking at physical traits alone – gender found in body parts, strength in muscle mass, beauty in a 3-tiered number that starts with 36, or height/weight ratios – then we are shooting too low in how we define not only others but also ourselves.
Will wishing dads Happy Mother’s Day alone heal the current conversation on gender? Probably not. But the recognition that we are, in the highest sense, both moms and dads, able to express the spiritual love that comes from a divine and infinite source, may go a long way in uplifting the conversation about gender to something that is true about all of us.
David Price writes on the connection between health, thinking and spirituality. A former attorney, David is the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Colorado. David is also a Christian Science practitioner with an expertise in prayer-based healing.