[Today’s guest post is from Natalie Collins, who blogs at God Loves Women, and can be found on Twitter as well. I asked Natalie a while back to write on her marriage to Baggy Collins, a marriage that does not fit the stereotypical expectations for a relationship between two Christians. She came through with this post, and it will be reassuring to some and an eye opener for others.]
Who are Natalie and Baggy?
We are Natalie and Baggy Collins. We live in the UK, in England. We’ve been married over nine years and have three children. When we got married, Natalie brought two children to the relationship, they were four and eighteen months and within the last year we gained a four-year-old when a family member became unable to continue parenting their child. Natalie is a gender justice specialist working freelance on addressing male violence against women and wider issues of gender injustice (both outside and within the church). Baggy is a stay at home parent. We were both raised in Christian families and we got married after God directly told us to in a rather miraculous and unconventional way.
How do you experience living in roles that are rather unconventional within Christian culture?
We love it! For the first four years Baggy worked full time and Natalie was mainly at home with the kids. This was great for a season, but as God began to call Natalie into the work she now does, our roles began to shift. Baggy had been on a secondment and was about to re-enter a job he hated and Natalie was offered the opportunity of paid work that would allow us to be able to survive financially. After praying about it over a period of time, we discerned that was the right way forward. We have found Christians to be on a spectrum between “Baggy when are you going to get a proper job?” to “that’s a great way to live!”
When we first got married we found that Christian men seemed to struggle with the idea of Baggy marrying a woman with children. There were comments like “I couldn’t raise anyone else’s children” which is ironic, given that’s exactly what Jesus’ earthly father did. Within a few years of being married we really felt God called us to not attempt to have any children together. This seemed to surprise a lot of people. It wasn’t an easy decision and was done sacrificially but we felt strongly that the two children we do have needed to know that they were enough. And it felt quite selfish to need to bring another human into the world, just so we could experience a pregnancy and baby together. So Baggy had a vasectomy. (We would really advocate vasectomies as a feminist issue and one of the things men can do to be good allies AND good husbands!)
In the past few months we’ve had the interesting experience of our roles shifting for a while. After a number of years where Baggy had been a volunteer police officer (this is called a Special Constable in the UK) we felt God was calling him to apply to become a police officer full time. This led to a significant period of psychological and practical upheaval as we changed roles. For Natalie it was hard to give up the freedom of freelance work, and to become a full-time mum, for Baggy it was the shift into long hours away from home in a job which was extremely stressful and difficult to cope with.
We discovered that this new “role reversal” was actually not for us. (Natalie has written about this journey here: In the Dead End.) In the last month we have moved back to Baggy being at home full-time with the children, responsible for housework, finances and administration for Natalie’s freelance work.
We love challenging people’s perceptions of what men and women can or should do. Natalie is really gifted at the work she does and Baggy is brilliant at the day to day work of being at home and caring for the children. He loves supporting Natalie and together we can be a great team because we live according to our gifts not any arbitrary rules based on our genitals.
What would your advice be to people who feel called into unconventional marital roles?
Do it! Living differently challenges people in a way that offering an opinion can’t. It’s so liberating to spend your life doing something that you are truly good at, that you enjoy and that you can be confident God has called you to. It can be difficult to consider how your community might respond, especially your family and friends. However, if they care about you, then they’ll want you to be in the place that is best for you and your family and if nothing else, living out a different path may prove to them that this can be God’s plan for people’s lives!
How do your children experience this way of life?
They’ve known Natalie to work full-time, Baggy to work full-time and both of us to work part-time, for them it’s no big deal! We do a lot of explicitly talking about patriarchal expectations and gender roles in our family as well as the way we live. Natalie grew up in a Christian family that was quite extreme in various ways, but this was never explicitly explained as being different to how most other people lived. This meant she was ill-equipped to deal with how abnormal her life was compared to most other people. We want our kids to know that the world is ubiquitously oppressing women and girls and hurting men and boys through toxic masculinity. We want them to be as equipped to deal with patriarchy as they are at crossing the road safely.
What are the pros and cons of the way you live?
Perhaps we should start with the cons…? Due to Natalie’s work being freelance, we don’t have a secure or guaranteed income. However, we also experience this as a positive because it means we have to practically trust God every day for everything. We have to expend energy challenging people’s presumptions about who does what, which again isn’t really a negative as it provides an opportunity for consciousness raising and helping people see there are different ways to live. The pros are that we love our life, we are living out of our gifts and calling, not people’s expectations. Most of all we are being obedient to God, and there’s no better place to be than where God is calling us to!