Mothers Meeting the Challenges
A MAJOR challenge for many mothers today is working secularly to help provide financially for their family. Moreover, for one reason or another, some also have to rear their children without another’s help.
Margarita is a single mother in Mexico rearing two children by herself. “It has been difficult to train them morally and spiritually,” she observes. “In the past my adolescent son came home from a party half drunk. I warned him that if it happened again, I wouldn’t let him in the house. So the next time it happened, with much pain of heart, I locked him out. Thankfully, he didn’t do it again.”
Soon afterward, Margarita began studying the Bible, which helped her to instill moral values in her children. Now both of them are full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
When Husbands Go Abroad
Many husbands in less-developed countries move to more prosperous lands for employment, leaving their wives to raise the children. Laxmi, a mother in Nepal, says: “My husband has been abroad for seven years. The children are less obedient to me than to their father. If he were here on a regular basis to take the lead, it would be easier.”
Despite the difficulties, Laxmi is meeting the challenge. Because her education is limited, she has arranged for tutors to help her older children with their schoolwork. However, she pays particular attention to their spiritual education by conducting a weekly Bible study with them. She holds a daily discussion of a Bible text and regularly takes them to Christian meetings.
Mothers With Limited Education
In some countries another challenge is a relatively high rate of illiteracy among women. Illustrating the disadvantage of being an uneducated mother, Aurelia, in Mexico, a mother of six, explains: “My mother always said that women were not meant to study. So I never learned to read and couldn’t help my children with their homework. That hurt. But since I didn’t want them to suffer as I had, I worked hard to get them an education.”
With even a limited education, a mother can make a difference. The saying is true: “Educate women and you educate the teachers of men.” Bishnu, in Nepal, a mother of three sons, used to be illiterate, but her desire to learn Bible truths and teach them to her children caused her to make a real effort to learn to read and write. She saw to it that her children did their homework, and she regularly went to their schools to discuss their work with their teachers.
As to their spiritual and moral education, Bishnu’s son Silash explains: “The thing I liked most about her efforts to teach us was that if we made mistakes, she would give us Bible examples to correct us. This method of teaching was effective and helped me to accept the counsel.” Bishnu has been a successful educator of her sons, all three of whom are God-fearing young men.
Antonia, in Mexico, a mother who is raising two children, says: “I only went to primary school. We lived in an isolated village, and the nearest secondary school was a long way off. But I wanted my children to have more education than I did, so I devoted a lot of time to them. I taught them their ABC’s and numbers. My daughter could spell her name and write all the letters of the alphabet before she went to school. My son could read well by the time he went to kindergarten.”
When asked what she did to give them a spiritual and moral education, Antonia explains: “I taught them Bible stories. Before my daughter could speak, she could communicate Bible stories by using gestures. My son gave his first public Bible reading at our Christian meetings at the age of four.” Many mothers with limited education are meeting the challenge as educators.
Combating Harmful Customs
A custom among the Tzotzil of Mexico is to sell their daughters into marriage at the age of 12 or 13. Often girls are sold to a much older man who wants a second or third wife. If the man is dissatisfied with the girl, he can return her and get his money back. Petrona was faced with this custom as a child herself. Her mother had been sold as a wife, had borne a child, and had been divorced—all by the time she was 13! That first child died, and Petrona’s mother was sold two more times afterward. Altogether, she bore eight children.
Petrona wanted to avoid such a life and explains how she was able to do it: “When I finished primary school, I told Mother that I didn’t want to marry but wanted to continue my schooling. Mother told me that she couldn’t do anything about it and that I should talk to my father.”
“I am going to marry you off,” Father told me. “You know how to speak Spanish. You know how to read. What more do you want? If you want to study, you’ll have to pay for your schooling yourself.”
“So that is what I did,” Petrona explains. “I embroidered cloth to get the money for my expenses.” That was how she escaped being sold. After Petrona grew up, her mother began to study the Bible, and this gave her the courage to inculcate Bible-based values in Petrona’s younger sisters. From the mother’s own experience, she was able to teach them the sad consequences that result from the custom of selling young girls in marriage.
Another custom among many is for only the fathers to discipline sons in the family. Explains Petrona: “Tzotzil women are taught that they are inferior to the males. The men are very domineering. Little boys copy their fathers, and they say to their mothers: ‘You can’t tell me what to do. If my father doesn’t tell me, I won’t obey.’ So mothers cannot educate their sons. But now that my mother has studied the Bible, she has had success in instructing my brothers. They have learned Ephesians 6:1, 2 by heart: ‘Children, be obedient to your parents. . . . Honor your father and your mother.’”
Mary, a mother in Nigeria, also comments: “Where I grew up, the culture of the people does not allow a mother to teach or discipline boys. But following the Biblical example of Lois and Eunice—Timothy’s grandmother and mother—I was determined not to allow local customs to deter me from teaching my children.”—2 Timothy 1:5.
Yet another custom commonly practiced in some countries is what some term “female circumcision,” now generally called female genital mutilation (FGM). The operation removes part or most of a girl’s genitalia. The custom was publicized by Waris Dirie, a well-known fashion model and special ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. In accord with local Somalian custom, as a child she was subjected to FGM by her mother. According to one report, between eight and ten million women and girls in the Middle East and Africa are at risk of undergoing FGM. Even in the United States, an estimated 10,000 girls are at risk.
What beliefs underlie this practice? Some think that the female genitals are evil and that they make a girl unclean and therefore unmarriageable. In addition, cutting off, or removing, the genitals is looked upon as insurance of the child’s virginity and faithfulness. Failure by the mother to perpetuate this custom may incur the wrath of her husband and the local community.
Many mothers, however, have come to realize that there is no legitimate reason—religious, medical, or hygienic—to support this painful practice. The Nigerian documentary Repudiating Repugnant Customs reveals that many mothers have courageously refused to subject their daughters to it.
Indeed, mothers all over the world are successfully protecting and educating their children in spite of many challenges. Are their efforts truly appreciated?
[Box/Picture on page 5]
“Study after study has shown that there is no effective development strategy in which women do not play a central role. When women are fully involved, the benefits can be seen immediately: families are healthier and better fed; their income, savings and reinvestment go up. And what is true of families is also true of communities and, in the long run, of whole countries.”—UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, March 8, 2003.
UN/DPI photo by Milton Grant
[Box/Pictures on page 8]
She Made Sacrifices for Us
A young Brazilian man, Juliano, says: “When I was five years old, my mother had a promising career. With the birth of my sister, however, she decided to leave her job in order to care for us. Counselors at work tried to dissuade her from leaving. They said that after her children married and left home, everything she had done for them would be lost—that she was investing in something that would bring no return. But I can say that they were wrong; I will never forget her demonstration of love.”
Juliano’s mother with her children; at left: Juliano when he was five
[Pictures on page 6]
Bishnu learned to read and write and then helped her sons to get a fine education
[Pictures on page 7]
Antonia’s young son gives Bible readings at Christian meetings
[Pictures on page 7]
Petrona is a volunteer at the Mexico branch of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her mother, who eventually became a Witness, is teaching Petrona’s younger siblings
[Picture on page 8]
Waris Dirie is a well-known spokeswoman against female genital mutilation
Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images