Lead On: Thoughts on Women, Leadership, and Motherhood

When my husband and I were first married, we fought. It wasn’t too much at first. (That came later.) In the early years, we fought about simple things like whether we’d watch TV on vacation or whether he should make a sandwich on the counter. One fight, I remember, was about menus.

A few months into marriage, I’d developed the irritating habit of asking him what he wanted to eat for every meal. I simply wanted to please him and to “follow his leadership,”  but one night, he’d had enough. “I don’t care,” he said. “Just make something. I don’t want to have to decide.”

Then he followed it up with this gem:

“Why are you even asking me? You’re so dependent now. It’s like you’re not even the same person you were back in college. Back then, you knew what you wanted and just did it. Now you ask me about everything.”

It was true. I so wanted my husband to be the leader of our home, and I so wanted to be a proper wife that I’d stopped making decisions without checking with him first. Even about what we were going to eat for dinner.

The question of gender and leadership is a sticky one for Christians. Recently, in response to Propel—an initiative designed to”help women internalize a leadership identity & fulfill their purpose, passion, and potential”–someone asked where conservatives fall on the question of developing women as leaders. But I’m not entirely convinced that this is a conservative or liberal question. Our applications of how and where women lead may divide us along certain fault lines, but the fact that women are made to lead isn’t up for debate. Made in God’s image, we were not made to be passive any more than He is.

We are actors.
We are agents.
We are makers.
We are leaders.

During those first years of marriage, I also taught ESL and American Culture in the corporate ex-pat community. Even in my early twenties, I excelled in this environment—as long as I was teaching one-on-one and could leverage my natural ability to form relationships. But the minute I stepped in front of a group, I failed miserably. I simply couldn’t convince them to do what needed to be done.

Fast forward a few years when I became a mother. Like in teaching, I found that the relationship of mothering came naturally—breastfeeding, nurturing, and learning to quiet fussy infants were not difficult for me. What I struggled with was directing them as they grew older, the very same thing that had made me ineffective in a classroom. I simply didn’t know how to lead my children so I ended up parenting them by response.

I’m convinced that part of my problem was that I had never learned the power of my own influence. After all, men initiate and women respond, right?  The husband sets vision and direction and the wife implements it, right? “Men are leaders; and women are followers.”

Unfortunately, this paradigm left me always in a position of waiting for a command or stimulus before I could act, even in motherhood. When my children cried, I jumped. When they wanted a toy, I ran to retrieve it. When they didn’t want to eat, I gave in. It took me years to fully understand that I was the one in charge of them. It took me years to learn that I was the leader.

But once I realized it, I finally began to grow up. Once I realized it, I transformed from a girl to a woman.

So often the question of leadership is framed in terms of the differences between men and women. But what if leadership isn’t primarily about the differences between men and women but about the differences between girls and women? What if leadership means taking responsibility for those around you and utilizing your God-given gifts to help them flourish? What if leadership is something that all of us do in various places and seasons of life?

What if leadership is simply about reflecting God’s own rule?

When I began to understand the implications of imago Dei leadership, it transformed my mothering. Not only was I made in God’s image, destined to reign over His creation, but I realized that my children were destined to reign over it as well. And it was my job to prepare them for their destinies. It was my job to lead them to their destinies.

Suddenly, I was empowered. Suddenly, I had the gravitas necessary to lead. Not because of my own sense of self-importance, but because of the magnitude of the task and the certainty that I had been called to that task. I had been called to “subdue the earth and exercise dominion over it” right in my own home. I was not the one being domesticated; I was the domesticator.

Today, I still struggle to manage my home and my children—not because my heart isn’t there, but because managing a home means leading and I’m still learning how to do that. But there has been a profound shift in the way I relate to my children. I set the agenda now. I make their bedtimes; I tell them what they need to eat; I control their screen time; and through it all, I’m teaching them how to navigate the world.

Because I am a mother, I am also a leader.

And the Winner Is…

Thanks to all of you who participated in my “Winter Blues” Giveaway. And thanks especially to those of you who shared it with friends.

Without further ado, the winner of the birdcage necklace and book is …

Holly Reed

And just because every good thing in life has a bit of a twist, I’ve also decided to send books to a 1st and 2nd runner up.

Donna Gabbard

and

Patti LeBlanc

Congrats all–feel free to put on a tiara and take a walk down the runway!

A Winter Blues Giveaway

Made for More AKannel

Image courtesy of Amy Kannel

 

I grew up in Pennsylvania coal country, just 30 miles north of the West Virginia border. My family has lived in the surrounding mountains for generations and are deeply connected to her verdant forrests, rolling hills, and awe-inspiring, breath-catching, I-can’t-believe-that-is-actually-real sunsets. It was and is a beautiful place.

Except during winter.

Somehow during the months of November to February, our beautiful county transformed into one massive ball of gray slush. It could be that the mountains trapped the clouds and simply held them over us. Or it could be that generations of coal mining and coke furnaces created an aura that we will never escape. Either way, our only reprieve was the occasional snowstorm when heaven spread a blanket of white over our nakedness.  But once the snow melted, the land reappeared muddied and scarred by the cycle of melt and freeze, melt and freeze. Few people washed their cars during these months so that eventually we all shared the same color vehicle: mud, ash, road-salt gray. Our shoes and boots also came in that finish.

At the beginning, we had the holidays to keep our spirits buoyed. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and–if it had been a good year–the Steelers’ run to the play-offs. But once the holidays were done and it became apparent that this was, yet again, not a good year, we’d settled into a collective depression, hunkering down until spring. Today I live several hundred miles south in the mountains of Virginia. The skies are less gray and spring comes sooner than it does in Pennsylvania, but even here, I’ve begun to notice spirits drooping with the mid-winter.

So I figured it was time to do something; it’s time to fight back the winter blues. To that end, I’m hosting my first giveaway. Over the next week, you can enter to win a copy of Made for More and a silver necklace. The pendant on the necklace is an open birdcage with a bird flying free, just like on the cover of the book. The image reminds us of the freedom we find when our identity is in Christ. Freedom from expectations, freedom from guilt and sin, and yes, even freedom from the winter blues. Miracles do happen.

To enter the giveaway, use the form below to do one of the following:

1. Go to my Hannah Anderson Facebook page and like it.

2. Share this link via Twitter.

3. If you aren’t on social media, leave a comment in the comment section below.

The giveaway will run until 11:59 PM (EST) Thursday, January 22, 2015 and I’ll announce the winner here on Friday, January 23.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

P.S. Men, this isn’t for women only. Imagine what a fantastic “just because I know winter is terrible and I love you” gift this would make for the woman in your life.

***NOTE: After you choose one of the three options, make sure you click the check-marked box on the form to finalize your entry.***

Long-Range Writing

“People—particularly women—need to hear that you can start late.” –Ursula K. Le Guin

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I had a fight discussion about the role my writing plays in our relationship. Truthfully, our discussion had little to do with my writing and a lot to do with the fact that we had both been neglecting our days off, had not been spending quality time together, and were in the middle of the Christmas season.

Fa-la-la-la-la. La. La. La. La.

Still, our discussion turned out to be a good thing if only because it gave us the chance to clarify what God and we both expected from the other. As we talked, I realized that I don’t consider writing a “job” so much as a low-risk investment in the future. Right now, despite my work, there aren’t a lot of immediate rewards; instead I’m counting on the fact that if I put my time in and slowly grow, they will come.

Like it is for so many folks, writing is a sideline for me. My full-time job (if you want to call it that) is being a SAHM & small church pastor’s wife. My day can include anything from running a pick-up/drop-off shuttle, babysitting, learning a new choir piece, discussing a finer point of theology with my husband, or simply being the only one in our family who can find the 5yo’s missing shoe. In our season of life, one of us needs to be available to handle whatever comes up.

On the flip side, this kind of flexibility also frees me to pursue writing in the in-between moments. But this in itself can also be excessively frustrating; especially when I wake up with ALL THE IDEAS only to remember that I’ve already committed to chaperoning the 2nd grade field trip to the science museum. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my writing probably won’t peak until I’m in a season when I can devote more time and more grey cells to cultivating it.

This could be depressing, especially since we live in a society that idolizes youth and believes that if you haven’t accomplished your dream (cue the rainbows and sparkles) by the time you’re 35, well then, honey, you might as well give up. But here’s the thing: writing is precisely the kind of work that can be cultivated over the long term because it’s the kind of work that requires keen observation of both the human condition and language. The kinds of observations that can be gathered while you’re diapering babies, working in an office, or chaperoning a field trip.

And while I can’t speak for men, I know that this is especially good news for women. A woman’s prime child nurturing years are in her twenties, thirties, and forties; the same decades that society tells her she must accomplish her greatest professional achievements. But this isn’t simply a problem for women who are married or raising children. Single women feel the pressure of finding a spouse in order to have the babies as well as the need to work a full-time job to keep a roof over their heads. Going it alone is not an easy thing.

So whether they’re exhausted at the end of the day because they ran after toddlers or because they’ve worked long hours to keep the budget balanced, women often end up at the same place: squeezing writing into “the-in-between” moments with no certain hope that it will ever amount to anything. Sometimes it seems easier to give up altogether. In fact, this piece, “10 Worst Dreams to Chase” actually suggests as much (see # 2).

But I’d like to suggest an alternative: Don’t give up; simply modify the dream to meet reality. And often, this means taking a long-range vision. Just like Katherine Paterson, P. D. James, and Laura Ingalls Wilder did; their first novels were published at 43, 42, and 65 respectively.

The tension between your day job and your dream to write is not a new one. The real problem is that too many of us aren’t content to simply write; at the very least, we want to make our living by writing and at the most, we want to be celebrity authors. This may happen for some, but whether or not it happens for you doesn’t mean that you can’t write.  And having a non-writing day job doesn’t mean that you can’t spend these years learning the craft, taking opportunities as they come, and squirreling away ideas.

This week, you may make writing goals for 2015. I plan to. But if you’re not careful, these goals will quickly mutate from opportunities to demands: demands that you get a book contract or make it onto a list of top bloggers by a certain date. Can I suggest another approach? Put away the calendar and simply write.

Write in the in-between moments. Write on the backs of school papers and discarded envelopes. Write about the things you know and the words you love. And then give them time to cultivate. Give them time to grow. After all, the acorn hidden in the ground doesn’t become a mighty oak in one night. But it might just become one after twenty-five years.