Legacy of quiet service

My mum, Lenore Claire, coming up to her 92nd birthday, had a mini stroke 10 weeks ago that set in motion a spiral (ever downwards) of changes in her life – from overworked but determined provider and homemaker for my 94 year old dad, to a ‘client’ in a nursing home.

Mum has cared full-time for Derrick, the only man she ever loved, for around seven years; he has been increasingly dependent on her to be his eyes, his memory, his cook, cleaner and medical advisor.

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Dad’s 90th with my sisters Chris and Liz

Now all that has stopped. My parents have reluctantly moved to a nursing home in Canberra where they will be close to my sister. They have separate rooms so Mum has no direct role in Dad’s care and now relies on my wonderful sister for many decisions.

Mum has lost her daily routine of to-do lists and the security of her vital role, but she has also been freed from the 24/7 burden of keeping Dad alive.

With none of her daughters or grandchildren living in Sydney (how she must have talked to God about that!), my mother has missed out on weekly support –  phone calls don’t quite replace popping in for a cuppa and a ride to the doctor’s. My parents also missed out on church community when they moved to a retirement village in their eighties and never made new church connections.

So what does married life look like now for a woman who wed at 21 in the post war era, and contributed three children to Australia’s baby boom?

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Mum looking gorgeous as a teenager at around the time she met Dad

Who never had paid work after she married  71 years ago but who volunteered in various vital ways to church life locally and across the state. Who cooked and cleaned with zeal (I found over 20 different cleaning products in the flat when we were clearing it).

She has certainly fulfilled her vow to love in sickness and health, for richer and poorer – mostly poorer! As Dad has grown frailer and his mind has grown weaker, Mum must be confused and all I can hope and pray for is that she will find comfort and strength in God and in the next generations of her family.

Written on a chart on the back of the door to her new “home”, she answered the question,

“What gives my life purpose and meaning?” with seven words: My family, going to visit my husband.

In Canberra, my sister and her daughter and grandsons will provide news, laughter and diversion for my mother. And though she still follows the machinations of Aussie politics on the nightly news, her world is now focussed on family.

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Three generations: Mum enjoying time with her oldest grandchild Alexandra and me in Canberra sunshine last week

We should have managed the process of Mum and Dad’s declining health more carefully so that changes happened with their full involvement, but few people I know have avoided some sort of trauma in caring for aged parents (and mum and dad have been rather stubborn!) But that word ‘care’ is obviously key.  How blessed we are to have a family that works together and has the capacity to give time and love.

I know Mum prays for us all each day – may her prayers be powerful to bring hope and meaning to the very different lives of her three daughters, five grandchildren and 4.9 great-grandchildren. And may she, like Anna in Luke Chapter 2, rejoice in her legacy of service, knowing she is a daughter of the King.

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom to speak differently about gender inequality

Women in leadership in the workplace is a big issue – the gender pay gap, and women in leadership on Boards, in the Church and as CEOs are often news items. And the news is not good.

It is a minefield of dispute, on which the Church is rather quiet (probably because they still find the idea of women leaders a challenge).

There is a line in the Bible that says, “Trust in God. Don’t lean on your own understanding.”

Apparently ancient rulers used to appear in public leaning on trusted friends and ministers, not as sign of weakness, but to show that they were able to rely on trusted advice, acknowledging the wisdom of others.

It’s a great image of good leadership – relying on your team, taking advice, confident of your position yet avoiding hubris.

And it’s a surprisingly gender neutral picture too: even though I think we would envisaging an ancient ruler as a man, the concepts of teamwork and relying on the strength of others could apply equally to males or females.

‘Lean’ has also been given a modern twist when a few years ago Sheryl Sandberg used the phrase Lean In as the title of her book, in which she described how women needed to have ambition – to lean in and strive – if they wanted to succeed. And she should know, she is the COO of Facebook.

When women lead, should we do it differently? Or should we as Sandberg asserts, learn to lead more like men – to succeed on their terms (I am guilty here of over simplifying her argument but she does give lots of advice on how to overcome the disadvantages women face as a result of being female).

What could be a different understanding on these issues?

First of all, the pay gap. It’s pretty well established that men get paid more than women for doing exactly the same job. This is unjust. Full stop. High profile cases in the media and the film industry attest to inequality.

The World Economic Forum announced in November that it could take 218 years to bridge the gender pay gap.

1200 companies in the UK must now produce statistics on equal pay – and the first reports are not good. 74% of the firms pay men more than women and more men are in higher paid jobs eg CEOs or pilots or finance advisors vs administrators, cabin staff or bank tellers.

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This can be a crude measure – it looks at average wages for men and women in an organisation rather than like-for-like comparisons. This is an important distinction because there are many reasons for lower pay and we need to dig a bit deeper to make sure we tackle real gender unfairness in all its forms – rather than noting that cabin crew (mainly female) earn less than the pilot (mainly male) we need to see how we can change job expectations and opportunities. Easyjet has a great program to double its number of women pilots (from an appallingly low 6% to 12%).

Another limitation of the response to pay is that Western feminists tend to be urban and middle class, so the talk about pay disparity is about professionals. In my discussions with women in non-western contexts, talk about pay and access to household income is much more basic. I would love to see us standing in solidarity for women in factories in Bangladesh or women in villages in Zimbabwe who want enough money from their husbands to get a bus to the health clinic.

And in Australia when I played a small part in a campaign to get fair pay for women piece workers (paid for each piece of clothing they produced at home), it was interesting that unions were not really interested – the women were migrants with only a basic grasp of English and the union leaders were old school males. It is women like this who need pay justice as a matter of urgency.

Secondly, let’s look at women in leadership. We should encourage talented and capable women to lead. We should have special programs that overcome women’s lack of confidence. And we need to accept biology.

Some women want to work part-time or take time out as mothers or carers, putting career aspirations on hold.

We need to make it for easier for women to take up their careers again in their 40s or beyond, or to see ‘careers’ very differently. More men should be encouraged to make similar decisions without the stigma of being seen as lacking ambition.

 

It is NOT right to discriminate against women who have babies – and it is not right to look down on any woman or man who wants to work part-time so they have time for parenting as well. Part-time workers (who may want time for study, parenting, mental health, caring for aged parents…. the list goes on) are still seen as lacking dedication or commitment so talking about flexible working is vitally important.

Lastly, we need to look at the type of leadership we want. It’s not just numbers – we need to make sure that we encourage and appreciate women’s leadership styles.

This may be dangerous territory for me to enter because anyone who makes a comment about women being different to men can be accused of being sexist. But is it sexist to celebrate that women are more collaborative? Have stronger emotional intelligence and can articulate their feelings? Some of these behaviours may be nature and some nurture but we do need to appreciate the differences between men and women and recognise that when men and women share leadership, it creates healthy balance.

Such a recognition also frees men from the tyranny of having to be Alpha males. ‘Leaning’ is just as important for men as it is women – leaning on God’s understanding of issues, being a leader who is confident enough to ask questions of others and listen to their wisdom.

What would you like to see? Leave a comment or a story.