I had no idea when I had my first child that I had entered into a new subculture full of unspoken expectations, judgment and searing competition—this thing called parenthood. I remember being a little uncomfortable when a nurse came into our prenatal classes to talk about breastfeeding in a way that made me squirm in my seat. She told us about using her breast pump in the passenger seat of a car while her husband drove—because breast milk is that important.
And so I entered into the Mommy Wars (a phrase I detest). The only way I knew how to deal with the feelings of guilt and inadequacy I had as a working mom was to turn my anxiety onto the families around me. I thought of all the reasons why it was good for my son to be in day care. I thought of all the ways kids with stay-at-home parents might be disadvantaged. I desperately sought for solid answers that told me I was making the right decisions for my child.
I soon realized this did me no good. For we, as parents, are all in the same boat, and none of us know how to deal with the storms that rock it day in and day out. None of us know how to deal with the constant pressures of parenthood—the mind-numbingly boring days that somehow still leave us exhausted as well as the days we’re so busy we think longingly of the days we could sit down and read an entire book. No one knows what to do when our child throws a monster tantrum in front of the entire Confirmation class and their families and the deep shame makes us feel as if we’re standing in front of them stripped naked. We’re all terrified that someone will find out our most terrible secret—that we struggle with parenting and sometimes we don’t do it right.
A hard part of parenting is the lack of outer awards and accolades. No one gave me a medal for breastfeeding my kids. No one cheered when my son became potty-trained or read his first word. I didn’t get a certificate the day he took the big step onto the bus for his first day of kindergarten. And so we try to compete, for as long as my child is developmentally ahead of another, as long as I breast feed longer than another mother, as long as I worked hard enough at labor to avoid the dreaded c-section, as long as my kids only eat organic food—well, then I must be a good parent. Because otherwise, how would I know?
The truth is that none of it matters. Parenting makes us all crazy, and we all struggle. Parenting has a wicked way of turning us inside ourselves, shrinking our worlds into a few rooms of a house or apartment, cutting us off from the world around us. We find ourselves spending our days looking up the merits and safety of various sippy cups on the internet (not that I’ve ever done that). We start to look at other parents as sources of competition rather than support. We have to fight against the isolation and panic, for the media saturates us with messages that we need the newest book, toy, organic food, and on and on…otherwise our children are doomed!
Thankfully, this lifestyle is not sustainable. God calls us to community, and the church has the fantastic opportunity to give people the gift of relationship. I am so grateful for the mom’s group at my church. It is a group focused on shared struggles and rejoicing in each other’s achievements—a counter-cultural message. I left the last meeting I attended saying, “They know what it’s really like, and I’m not the only one who feels this way.” This is God’s community.
The church also calls us out of our isolation. A clear message in Scripture is God’s desire for us to care for the vulnerable around us. This includes not only our children, but all children. What if we took the time we put into, say, searching for the right sippy cup, and gave it to organizations that support needy children? What if we lifted up the single mothers who are working two jobs and still can’t afford decent child care? What if we took the energy we put into competing with other parents and worked to make early child education available to all kids? God calls us out of ourselves into the world around us. In doing so, we will teach our own children they are not the center of the universe. We will also teach them compassion and the joy found in serving others.
“The little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” Matthew 19:13-14