American Indian women have long been honored with the name “life giver” for their gift of motherhood to the tribes. In addition, most Native American women were masters at making beautiful blankets, baskets, pottery and jewelry. They gathered materials to build homes for their families and understood the curative properties of wild plants to heal the sick. American Indian men knew women were the source of life and acknowledged that their wisdom and strength was essential for group survival. Thus in modern times, we are no different from our European counterparts going to great lengths and personal expense to make sure our children have the best clothes, schools, lessons, coaches, and more.
We begin economizing the moment our are born in order to save money and set it aside for the best of college educations. We surrender our own personal wants, preferences and even needs so that they will have everything necessary for a successful future. In fact, most of us would literally give our own lives for our children because no sacrifice is too great; surrendering all for the sake of something or someone. It is the act of giving up, offering up or letting go. Sacrificing our preferences should never compromise biblically, theologically or doctrinally but often requires us to make adjustments in order to accommodate generationally and systematically.
Sacrifice is a way of teaching the next generation to think unselfishly and possibly recognize common ground in terms of deference and preference. Deference is a learned and practiced submission based on conviction, or politely giving in to another, or courteous respect whereas, preference is based on feeling and tradition.
The idea that women, Native or otherwise, have to make those choices every moment of every day while men don’t have those same commitments or time constraints. Mostly, men don’t end up splitting their mental lives between the two worlds of home life and work life. They can close the door on each to go to the other. Women, on the other hand, have to juggle both together and make decisions for children, family members, close friends, (and themselves) that effect the outcomes for everyone.
Recently, I had to make the decision (preference) to leave my job and forget about pursuing my doctorate studies to save my seventeen year old daughter, who suffers from drug induced psychosis. How the effects of her drug and alcohol addiction (failing school, cutting, paranoia, attempting suicide), on the emotional life of the mother, grandmother, and aunt can drag down even the strongest of women, and bring about surprising decisions for the woman as well as the child who is struggling with addictive behaviors. Yet, there are opportunities that arise from spending time in the emotional world of the addictive child: learning what brought about the addictions or acting-out behaviors and working through those to the closer bond between mother and child.
Subsequently, most women would not have the resources or mental fortitude having to deal with addiction in her own family or intimate circles. We live in a hurried and harried throw-away world of Western society. The don’t-give-a-damn world of materialism and ego in American cities and society and how it contrasts to the slower and closer-to-the-land life of rural communities. We still have those in America, but they are becoming more and more commercialized with the emphasis on “new” and “modern” causing society to move further away from core family values.
I have since moved my daughter and I to Umbria, Italy, in a small farm community far away from the pull of negative influences to start again. She is surrounded by people who love her and who want to help in meeting her needs, including a doctor to manage her depression.
Slowly, she is preparing to study for the General Education Development Test (GED) to graduate high school later this year; and talks about a career in fashion design or marketing. Her recent change in attitude is a far cry from when she first arrived a few weeks ago, calling me “stupid” or telling me how much she hated me for taking her away from her “friends.” Her final act of defiance was drinking an entire bottle of wine before breakfast hoping to be sent home to the states. I was angry and I cried, I almost gave in, but by conscious design, deference was the understanding, part of me knowing it was her perceived failed identity and the wine talking.
Others have suggested putting her in a group home till she turns eighteen (the throwaway world), but according to preference, the act of feeling and tradition, she has begun to take her place within the Circle of Women, learning, listening and giving; and learning to say I’m sorry – which she did!
Julianne Jennings (Nottoway) is an anthropologist.