It would take a lot for me to change my mind about allowing men to be alone with my children.
Seven years counseling women recovering from all kinds of horrors experienced at the hands of men, a season that coincided with my first seven years of motherhood, instilled in me a firm belief that men should not be caregivers for kids. At least not for mine.
Yet this month, for the first time ever, I hired a male babysitter.
In years past, not leaving my children with a man seemed like a no-brainer: Most sex abusers are men, so I figured if I never left my kids alone with one, then the odds of victimization would go down. Easy enough.
But in this new season of ministry I'm in, my fears, which I previously called "common sense," have been challenged by the warm, fun-loving way so many of the young men in my church community care for my children.
One of these men recently returned from a trip to Africa. When we went to visit a couple who had had a baby, my friend seemed reluctant to hold the child, even though I knew he had extensive experience with kids. Later he told me, "I have never held a white baby. White women don't like men to hold their babies. In Africa, I had kids all over me all the time. It's different here."
What he said was distressingly true. And I was one of those women he referred to.
I've started to ease up on my "no males" policy, but the transition has been difficult. Old fears surface unbidden. Yet as I slowly let the young men in our church into my life and watch them interact with my kids, my policy seems unnecessarily rigid. I am raising two boys who need responsible role models in their life. How can I not want to foster healthy male relationships like this? And why would I cheat these men, whom I had observed closely for several months, of the opportunity to grow as future fathers, just as my many years of babysitting helped prepare me to be a mother?
My gender bias became even more distressing as I started to draw parallels between it and the way many churches make decisions about how and where women can serve. Every woman in ministry knows how unfair it feels to miss out on an opportunity simply because of our sex. And yet by not allowing the men in my church to play a role in mentoring my kids, I was imposing similar unfair limits on their service merely because of their gender.
There are some rules that make sense to me for all children, like background checks, two adults in every room, and diapering guidelines that protect little ones from abuse. But when it comes down to making sweeping decisions based solely on gender, I'm starting to see that what I had viewed as common sense decisions were really fear-based rather than Spirit-led.