Mother’s Day and The Hunger Games
Does every girl dream of being a mother when they grow up? I have four girls, and I can say from personal experience – it’s a mixed bag. Even my own history testifies to the ambiguity in answering this question. When I was young, I wanted to be the first woman president and I wasn’t going to get married, or if I did, I wasn’t going to take HIS last name! That way I could also be the first King of the United States – my maiden name is King. I don’t remember being interested in having kids at all. If I played those schoolyard games of picking out future kids’ names, it was only to fit in and go along with the crowd. Perhaps it was growing up as a child of divorce, passed back and forth between abusive and alcoholic homes that soured me to having kids. Who knows. My sister was the one who wanted to get married and have kids. Maybe it was because she fell in love in High School. But, the odds were not in her favor.
In The Hunger Games Trilogy, Katniss never dreamed of getting married or having kids. She couldn’t imagine bringing children into such a bleak world. The dystopian imaginary of Suzanne Collins is a reality for many. I love how Suzanne Collins deals with the romantic ideal and the myth of the “good mother”. Katniss did not have a typical “good mother” role model – a reality for many that makes Mother’s Day a difficult day to celebrate. While I don’t hate Mother’s Day in the way that Anne Lamott does, I appreciate her critique of the holiday.
I appreciated the intricate interaction of free-will, cultural/social pressure, and destiny in The Hunger Games Trilogy. Katniss stubbornly clings to her independence and desires to choose for herself whether and whom she marries, while faced with the extreme pressure of The Games to conform to the expectations of the world around her. Many girls are pressured to marry – in some cultures they are even forced to marry or sell themselves for what feels like the salvation of their family. Katniss resists the injustice of such a forced marriage arrangement, yet is willing to consider it as an option to protect those she loves. I was a little disappointed in the ending when Katniss confesses, “I know this would have happened anyway.” This line gave the sense of some sort of inevitability that minimized her choice (I won’t tell you her choice in case you haven’t read the books). But, the ending also represented a sense that Katniss had finally reached a level of self-awareness that allowed her to make the choice of a partner that best suited her. Isn’t that what we want for our girls – that they will have choices and that they will choose the partner that best suits them? And, that they would have the freedom to choose a career or choose to raise a family or both?
Collins did a good job developing the character of Katniss to have a legitimate choice between two young men who genuinely loved her, balanced with the possibility of choosing neither of them. The complexity of the character development was well done with Katniss loving both Gale and Peeta in different ways and for different reasons, showing us that the romantic ideal is not often a reality. Love is a choice. Loving and being loved in return is not a given. The tension and the uncertainty was well played, even though it felt a little bit like the “Team Edward” vs. “Team Jacob” rivalry in the Twilight Series. Fortunately, the rivalry in The Hunger Games was a bit more realistic, exposing the possibility that life circumstances may prevent romantic love from flourishing.
One thing that frustrated me about the Twilight Series was this notion of a soul mate – or the sense that one person is destined to be with another and can’t survive without them. While it may make a good story, I wonder if it sets our girls up for unrealistic expectations in regards to choosing a life partner. The idea of a soul mate – or someone we can’t live without – makes love and marriage almost inevitable and gives a sense that there is some cosmic matchmaker who knows what’s best and will make it happen. It also gives a feeling of incompleteness – I’m not enough unless I find that one person designed to complete me. I don’t think this is the way love works, nor am I convinced it’s the way God intended for love and marriage to work.
When my girls dream and talk about their future husbands and kids, I dream with them and celebrate their choice of kid names. But I also push back a bit. My sister wanted to get married and have kids, yet at age 50 she remains single and childless. Was it because her first love died in a car accident before graduating high school? Was it because of the abuse when she was a girl? We could speculate about the reasons, but I don’t think that would be helpful. Most people say really stupid things to their single friends over 40. The reality is, we don’t always get what we want. So, I ask my girls, “What if you never get married?” “What if you can’t have kids?” We talk about options, choices, reality.
I didn’t even imagine having kids until after I committed my life to Christ around age 17. I gradually started opening up to the idea. If that’s what God wanted, I was willing to consider it. But, I was planning to remain single and go to the far reaches of the world for the sake of the Gospel. In my church culture there was this subtle message that marriage and child-rearing was a woman’s primary call and function – some sense of “this is why God created women.” Well, sometimes the message was not so subtle. I had friends who were part of the Quiverful movement – a movement of couples committed to having as many children as physically possible with God’s help and without the use of any birth control methods. I knew others who were intentionally childless because the end of the age and the tribulation were certainly near! After reading A Full Quiver, the argument made some sense to me, though the fear of an impending apocalypse was tempting as well. Four kids and a “quiverful” later, I am not so persuaded by either argument. I chose to marry and have four children – and my choice was largely influenced by love and hope – love for my husband and hope in a better future than my past predicted. Love changes things. Hope changes things.
So, what’s a mother of four girls to do? Do I wish marriage and motherhood upon them? Do I pray that someday they will meet Mr. Right, have children and live happily ever after? Honestly, that’s not my prayer for my girls. For centuries motherhood was the only sure way for a woman to find value and have a place in society. Times have changed. My prayer is for my girls to choose and be chosen for roles that they are best suited for – whether raising a family or having a career or both. I pray they would find their value and worth in their identity in Christ, not in their roles or in what society expects of them. I pray they will reflect the image of God in their choices and that they will be faithful to their true selves. I pray they will resist pressure from society or cultural systems that are in opposition to God’s Kingdom vision. I pray they will choose to participate as valuable and valued members of unified communities of cooperative friends of Jesus living lives of creative goodness for the sake of others.