All My Children?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 57 seconds

Today, lots of interesting things happened.

I was telling my daughter that we’re going to pass by the bakery on our way home, to get some croissants for my students (and us!). And she said, “You get lots of stuff for your students.” And I said, “Yeah, they’re like my children. You’re my full-time child and they’re my temporary children.”

She thought about this for a minute, and then said, “You know, Yasser is like my quarter brother.”

Yasser is someone I met on Twitter who then became my friend, and joined us in MYFest and is now a student in my class and an intern in my department.

I told her that new faculty at AUC were also like my children. Why is Yasser the only one she feels is her brother?

And she said it’s because I spend so much time talking to him asynchronously on WhatsApp… and I’ve known him for a million years.

I laughed, because I only met him like five months ago. And she said yes, but MYFest was intense and everyone who was part of MYFest it feels like I’ve known them forever.

Quarter brother 😁

I always thought it ironic that someone like me, known for my “maternal” personality, ended up with fertility challenges. I’ve been perceived as “maternal” (and see myself that way) since I was very young, and I have so much capacity for that. But now I think God gave me just the one child, so I could still have room left over in my heart for all the others who need my care. I think if I had many more full-time children I would expire from the effort of caring for them? I don’t know. Maybe I’d get more efficient at it, because I don’t think people who have more than one child are less caring towards their students or anything 😁

In any case, I don’t think I should use the term maternal in an educational context without problematizing it. Because although Nel Noddings tends to use maternal love as an example of relational care, especially in a context of a more powerful and less powerful pair, I do agree with Tronto that this is a problematic depiction of care. Although relationships exist in dyads, we are not, even in our pair relationships, in a vacuum. There are complex, intricate care relations going all around and how equitably or inequitably they are distributed influences who carries heavier affective burdens. I also know the term maternal sounds ummm belittling to the other, conveys a sense of “I may know what’s good for you better than you know what’s good for you”. And of course I use that with my child a lot. Less so as she grows older, hopefully. I use it with my students, but hopefully much less than I do with my child because they’re young adults and I think respecting them is important, trusting them to make judgment calls is important.

I’m not going to lie. I do love them as if they’re my children.

A bit after the earlier conversation about Yasser being my quarter son happened, I was in a situation where I was asked to share a transformative experience. And I shared the story of how I met Yasser and how we became friends, and how he is both my student (formally in my class) and my teacher (about disability justice).

And similarly, my biological child is one of my best teachers.

As a faculty developer, I have been teaching teachers since I was in my early twenties. I taught people who were my own teachers just a couple of years earlier. Now that I’m older, I guess many of the new faculty are younger than me, which suddenly feels so odd to me!

I recently decided to ask a new faculty member to help me design a workshop because a lot of what I wanted to say was related to conversations I’d had with him about challenges he was facing. And I learned so much from the process, and learned how to present to my institution the kind of theory and research I do in my scholarship but usually never share inside in its pure form. When we gave the workshop together, a participant told me it helped to hear the abstract concepts from me and have someone bring in concrete examples from their own practice.

All this to say that we have so much to learn from people who are less experienced than us, younger than us, and I hope that no one ever feels less respected by my maternal instincts towards them!

Header image of two little girls walking in the grass from Pixabay by Cherylholt https://pixabay.com/photos/girls-children-friends-kids-young-462072/

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