The Regretted Child
The Struggle To Keep Families Together
The Rihanna Test
The death of sexual intimacy usually coincides with the purchase
of the minivan, the worst idea a wife could ever have. In the
ongoing struggle between emotion and intellect, most wives I've
met sabotage their family's future by alienating a man from his
manhood, forcing him into maroon or tan Plymouth Voyagers and so
submerging herself in motherhood that she denies him the
mystery, thrill and hunt of his glory days. To many a married
man, the arrival of the minivan signals his best days are behind
him as the decay of his relationship with his best friend takes
It's emotion versus intellect. The desperate woman married to the man who has emotionally checked out, but choosing to see what she wants to see rather than admit she's actually alone in every way that counts, and, worse, that she's not nineteen and not built like Rihanna. Her prospects for happiness and security are totally screwed if she lets reality in. So she goes on pretending this man who barely speaks to her, who spends the majority of his time in the basement or the street, who never seems satisfied or emotionally invested— this... child... who once pursued her like the house was on fire, who professed love and devotion over and over, who stood before God and made a vow to her, but whose interest in her has waned to what's for dinner— she goes on deluding herself that things are fine. Admitting, even to herself, anything close to the truth would be emotionally catastrophic. She keeps her mask on, heads for church.
Conversely, there’s the guy whose manhood has been beaten to death by a woman suffering rabid Mommy Disease. He's allowed her to become his mommy and she's allowed herself to become his mommy. She looks like his mommy. He has to ask her permission to get a ham sandwich. Mommy, can I have a ham sandwich? She treats him like a child, must approve all of his activities and expenditures, and he's somehow decided to check his penis at the door and actually, my God in heaven, pay good money for a minivan. He allows Mommy to run rampant just to keep peace in the house, but in keeping peace he's not protecting his family: for the family to be strong, the husband, ideally, should be a man. Denying him his manhood, even by virtue of his own cowardice, erodes the household's foundation.
And he's not helping her. No warm-blooded woman wants to be Mommy. They want to be Rihanna. They hate Rihanna because Rihanna has that body and that face and can sleep with literally any man in the world, including her own husband. But she has retreated into Mommy because Mommy is safe. The authoritative, pushy, demanding woman, the edge of threat most always in her voice (even when she's joking), is a cry for help. This is an enormously insecure person. This is someone who wants to be desired and loved and romanced and dragged off to bed but, failing the Rihanna test, their self-image hampered by the reality of child-bearing or the march of time, has had her worst fears confirmed by her mate's capitulation to her Mommy act. She's browbeaten him into accepting her matriarchal position, and his surrender is damming condemnation for her, a validation of her worse fear: that she is, in fact, not Rihanna. She is Mommy.
Retreating Into Mommy: Failing The Rihanna Test.
Most every single mom I've ever dated was a ticking bomb, a
person devastated by wrong choices. These are, to my experience,
wonderful women who've borne children to the most knuckle of
heads: thugs, lowlifes, idiots. Most every single mom I know is
emotionally scarred and totally vested in being Mommy. Mommy is
their armor, their shield. It becomes, ultimately, their entire
identity, with a kind of role reversal where Mommy begins
gaining emotional sustenance from the child instead of vice
versa. The reason so many moms, single moms most especially, are
so aggressive, hostile, and inordinately over-protective of
their child is that the child is all they have. They've been
hurt and wounded by everyone else. These lonely, needy women
have what I call Mommy Disease, where their entire sense of self
is completely vested in the child in an unhealthy way. As the
child grows to adolescence, the relationship almost always
becomes toxic as the adolescent's normal evolution is to pull
away from and rebel against Mommy. Mommy experiences that as
rejection and tends to flex unreasonable authority over the
child, causing the child to rebel even more. In the end, it's
not about the child at all, it's about her: Mommy. The child's
emancipation is threatening to her because, the more quiet the
house becomes, the more she realizes how lonely she's been all
these years. She becomes forced to deal with the very thing
she'd been running from most of her life.
In this passage from her book, Secret Survivors, therapist and author E. Sue Blume is referring to sexual abuse of children, but I imagine her point is similarly true of mommies who become emotionally dependent upon their children. Blume writes, “It is abuse because it does not take into consideration the needs or wishes of the child; rather, it meets the needs of the other person at the child's expense. If the experience has … meaning for another person, in lieu of a nurturing purpose for the benefit of the child, it is abuse.”
And, of course, I am the enemy. I have a penis, therefore any opinion I have is ultimately worth less than one offered by someone possessing ovaries. Single mommies usually encourage me to bond with their kids and then use the kids as a weapon when we have a disagreement: Mommy is mad at Priest, therefore the kids aren't even allowed to call. It's this stupid power struggle; them trying to beat me into submission, into a capitulation to their Mommy Act, while I'm trying to see them as human beings, worthy of and able to give love. And, know something? If they win, if they beat me into submission, their interest in me evaporates. Many of these women could never truly love a man who, by consequence of such surrender, confirms her own worst fears about herself. The body of evidence seems to suggest many of these woman can only get truly lathered up over men who seem impervious to their Mommy Act: men who will ultimately mistreat them.
In creating disciples of Christ, one of the church’s most important responsibilities is to strengthen and sustain families. However, often in our practical application, the church does the exact opposite, pulling the family apart with constant busywork and too many activities scheduled at the convenience of the church rather than the sustenance of the family. It is the rare pastor or ministry leader who wonders, “Is this too much? Are we pushing too hard?” Who steps back from the calendar to get the Big Picture of how all this chaos adds up.
Ironically, ministry can often be one of Satan’s most effective weapons. The enemy can and often does use the pretext of ministry to wear us down, wear us out, and divide our families. Families that are already over-taxed, over-scheduled, over-committed and overwrought.
The Bible lays out specific responsibilities husbands and wives have to each other. God views the marriage covenant as a sacred trust. You’re not dating anymore, bonehead, you’re married. Setting her adrift as a workaholic soccer mom is not love. Sisters: henpecking him into leaving you is not love, either.
God never promised us Happily Ever After within our relationships. He couldn’t have, because our sinful nature prohibits such perfection. Human relationships, whether friendships or romantic entanglements, will always come with drama. They will always be about struggle. Rather than tell your kid that lie about Prince Charming, it’s best to talk about the real differences between boys and girls—not just anatomy but emotion. Teach her how to navigate those thorny differences and what to expect. Teach her what the Bible says about the conflicts between men and women [Genesis 3]. God, in fact, promised us the opposite: a life of hard work and conflict. "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword," Jesus said in Matthew 10. "...a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me."
Family Time: Pastors: stop allowing meetings to be scheduled on Saturdays.
The Church Calendar
I know a lot of married people. I know fairly few happily
married people. Of those who are happily married and long-term,
the overwhelming majority of them are mature Christians. By
“mature” Christians, what I mean is Christians who actually have
a relationship with Christ. Who actually own a Bible and who
actually read it. A thriving relationship with Jesus Christ is,
by no means, a guarantee that your marriage will work (writes
this divorced pastor), but if you are looking to stack the deck
in your family’s favor, having a Christ-led home is essential.
Many churches schedule stuff just to keep people busy. The folks making up the church calendar are often retirees and older women whose husbands have long ago retreated to the basement and the Lazy Boy recliner. These are, more often than not, women who do not have great, thriving sex lives. Women who are masking, as they learned to do, the emptiness in their own lives. Most pastors, anxious either to appease these people or fairly indifferent to what these auxiliaries are up to, rubber stamp most of this process, and so the church calendar is often created by the most dysfunctional folks among us: under-sexed Mommy and GrandMommy types starved for attention. Their kids are either grown or over-scheduled by their schools and community programs, and they contour the church’s calendar to fill in those gaps in their lives. They keep busy, keep running, seven days a week, so this way they won’t have to notice how little their actual life resembles the dream they impatiently pursued years before.
The church should be in the business of keeping families together, not pulling them apart. The church calendar should be designed with family in mind, building in days of the week—Saturday most specifically—where the church will absolutely not intrude on family time. For most families, Saturday is the only day they truly have to themselves. The only day they can sleep in, the only day they can have a lazy morning, toss the ball around, read the paper, run the dog. The only morning of the week the entire family is flopping around the house in their jammies. And the church routinely rips families from this, regularly breaking up Saturdays with rehearsals and meetings.
The church schedule should be designed to consolidate meetings, events and activities to maximize facility usage and attendance. We shouldn’t be dragging folks down there five days a week or making families choose between spending time together or fulfilling useless and unproductive church obligations. Rushing and rushing and sacrificing for Ushers' Annual Day doesn’t necessarily please God any more than simply helping your son with his homework.
Our men are most especially guilty of this, as, by the time a man has been married a year or two, sex with his wife becomes exponentially less thrilling than it was when they’d tempt God by sneaking off before the rings were exchanged. Her focus is the kids now, and his lack of enthusiasm for her is often received by her as rejection, driving her to mask her disappointment and put all of her energy into Mommy tasks. And, the more she becomes Mommy, the less interested he is in her as a woman, so she digs in even deeper as Mommy, using Mommy as a shield while making excuses for his bad behavior.
This is why many “Male Chorus”-style choirs meet on Saturdays. Most of these men are the church’s power brokers—the deacons and trustees. Most are retired or nearly so. Most of their children have grown and moved on, which is why most of these types of groups sing, almost exclusively, old Mighty Clouds songs from the 60’s. It’s where they are, emotionally and spiritually, 1965. Back when life was good. Before the kids came. When their wives weren’t their mothers but were their lovers and the game was all about catch and release.
Now these are men who sit in basements all day, watching game after game while waiting around for the week to begin. To these men, Saturday is absolutely no different from any other day of the week, which is to say they are not involved much in the life of their families or wives. She's upstairs or she’s gone shopping or to the church. He’s in the yard tinkering with the car. These people are living separate lives, nostalgic perhaps for 1965 and the thrill of new love, but having long ago resigned themselves to their fate. And these are the men making the most important decisions at the church. These loveless, selfish, non-giving men who, much like children, simply take and take and take and take from the women in their lives while giving fairly little.
This is why the church calendar is so jacked up. The people writing on it are damaged. Their motive is to fill blocks of days with stuff just because there are blocks of days to be filled.
The church can’t force families to spend the day together. The church can’t guarantee the divorce rate will go down. But the church can and certainly should design its calendar with a simple purpose: keeping families together. The church should not be the reason families are jumping out of bed and splintering off in different directions first thing Saturday. The church should stress family time, family devotions—how many families even have a devotion time?
The church should be working against burnout, scheduling regular time-out days or even entire weeks where all church activities are suspended in favor of families spending time together. And I don’t mean a church picnic, which requires Mommy (it’s always her) to work herself to death preparing and then you get to the picnic and the brothers are playing dominoes and the sisters are over yonder and the kids are running around and the teens are either not showing up or trying to sneak off somewhere.
I’m talking about real family time. Families spending that time with each other. Talking to each other. Loving each other. This is where we fail. This is why I insist there will be no regularly-scheduled practices or meetings on Saturdays at my church. Promoting family values should mean a lot more than gay bashing and ballot initiatives. The church should inspire people, should change the way people think, not advocate passing laws to force people to do this or not do that. The religious right is so off the mark, so very lost in their own pompous self-righteousness, that they miss the point that if their focus were truly on the family, there’d be no gay marriage in the first place. And, rather than making disciples, they are making laws. They are advocating political solutions to spiritual problems.
Family values should promote the idea that the church should not be in the business of tearing families apart. Passing laws banning things is easy. It’s much harder for the church to take a look at itself, at how it has traditionally positioned itself within the family structure, and see its own mistakes and how Satan uses the church, itself, as a weapon to destroy families. And how we just let him do it.
Finally, we need to see beyond the mask many of our sisters wear to church each week. So very many of our sisters are crying out for help but none of us can hear them because we see what we choose to see. But, usually, the mask she wears is just an opera mask—one of those little domino masks on a stick. Her pain is fairly evident; we just need to be willing to see it, willing to get involved, and wiling to take some ownership of the church’s part in perpetrating it.
Christopher J. Priest
28 January 2007
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