Raising a Jonathan

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I grew up with all women, and it was pretty much like you’d expect it to be. We had long, complex relational talks. We went on sassy road trips while everyone was on their period. We fixed our own appliances. We didn’t really miss having men around.

Then I gave birth to a beautiful son.

Nothing could have prepared me for him. Motherhood, in any form, is daunting. Raising a boy when all you know is women is terrifying.  When I imagined motherhood, I saw myself championing my children in a world where they would be underdogs. That’s what my mother did for us, teaching my sister and me not to let any man tell us what we couldn’t do.

It never occurred to me that I might have one of those men under my care someday.

Unless the world changes drastically in the next eighteen years, my son will grow up to have more privilege than me. He’ll be welcomed into church leadership positions where I am not. He’ll make $1 to my 77 cents. He’ll see himself represented positively in media and politics. He won’t have to worry about sexual harassment, body shame, or fear of violation. He may not have an easy life, but gender and race won’t be obstacles for him.

My son doesn’t need the scrappy lessons of my childhood. He needs to learn how to handle his privilege.

On one hand, I’m grateful that he won’t face as much adversity. On the other, I know how hard it can be to recognize and steward your privilege. When you don’t have to deal with race or gender issues on a daily basis, it’s easy to become a myopic jerk about them. I’m white, straight, and able-bodied, and it’s taken me almost 26 years to erase the blind spots that those advantages have afforded me. And I’m certainly not done yet. Every day, I’m learning how to lay down my privilege or use it to benefit someone with less.

My husband and I often talk about “being a Jonathan,” a reference to the Biblical story of Jonathan and David. The two are unlikely friends: one is the son of the king and the other has been anointed by God to be the future king. Jonathan, the legal heir to the throne, has every reason to work against David and protect his own privilege. Instead, he constantly defends him and gives him his royal robe, armor, and sword. Jonathan lays down his right to the throne in favor of seeing David’s potential realized, and it changes history. David becomes the greatest king of Israel and sets the stage for the arrival of Jesus.

I love this story: one man uses his status to serve, aligning himself with God’s plan to uplift the underdog, and salvation comes to the world. It’s exactly what I want to teach my son.

I want my little boy to know that he can share his privilege. I want him to learn how to listen without interrupting. How to help without condescending. How to differentiate between what he’s earned and what he’s been born into. How to level the playing field for women and minorities, to give them a fair shot at success.

I want him to raise up the Davids of this world—the would-be kings and queens, the ones God loves and for whom He has great plans. I want him to value serving others over protecting his own self-interest. I want him to know that this is the ultimate form of leadership.

Having a son is scary to me, because I know how much is at stake. I could teach a hundred daughters how to scrap their way through a world that isn’t fair, but that wouldn’t be enough to change the system. Men, white people, straight people, and able-bodied people have to get on board to make the world a more equitable place.

Take, for example, the issue of rape. We can teach our daughters a bunch of ineffective ways to avoid it, or we can teach our sons not to rape. We can remove “boys will be boys” attitudes and teach them instead about consent and respect. If taking advantage of women became unacceptable, we’d see a lot better statistics than what we have today.

My son has been born with the power to change the status quo, and I pray he’ll use it.

I pray he’ll look to the story of Jonathan and to his own father, who loves to serve and advocate for the underprivileged. I pray that my mothering will show him the way, encourage him along, and help him realize a world that I can only dream of. I pray that the Kingdom of God will come through him.

 

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