Amongst the Christian conservative community, there has been a major change in parenting in this past generation. More than ever, Christian conservative mothers are staying home with their kids. Homeschooling has increased to an estimated 2 million students nationwide. It has increased 7 percent in just three years. Of those who homeschool, more than ever have taken a very active role with their children. There is a rise in homes going agrarian or more “natural.” Breastfeeding vs. formula feeding has been growing steadily. The involvement between the mother and her baby amongst certain families has even received a label: Attachment Parenting. This usually involves some forms of nursing on demand, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, and not letting a baby cry it out.
Many of these parents whose desires to be involved and to be self-sacrificing also seem to be followed around by aggressive guilt-trips to “not miss out on their children’s childhood” biting their backsides. There are a lot of blog entries, memes, and articles going around with similar themes. And while the blogs make excellent points for those addicted to technology and entertainment as well as for the fast-paced distracted parent, I also sense a lot of needless guilt being placed on women I know. And I know a lot of sincerely lovely mothers who are beating themselves up!
I’d like to be the devil’s advocate for a bit and remind you of the flipside of the matter. How many of us have seen movie after movie where hard-working dad is pictured as the bad guy because he won’t give the finger to his over-demanding boss, losing his job rather than miss his kid’s baseball game? I’m seeing many of my peers walking around with their heads down over articles they’ve read about how they’re bad mothers because little Emily plays at a friend’s house an afternoon a week or because they go to women’s retreats twice a year with their church. A woman at my Bible study spent the entire end of our time together in tears the other day because she was convinced she was a failure to her children because she had to work a job a few mornings to help make ends meet in this rough and frightening economy.
Don’t get me wrong. We are in a fast-paced gluttonous society, a society with entertainment out the wazoo, a society where we can live a false virtual life as easily as anything real. We meet time and again those lazy, uninvolved, and workaholic parents. We have even been some of them ourselves.
But, on the whole, this does not describe conservative, Christian, homeschool America. Not the homeschooling America that I know.
I think our parents’ parents came from a generation of people where family couldn’t always be first priority and where men went off to war, and women were concerned about getting liberated so they worked 9-5 jobs, and where children were labeled “latchkey.” And so, as is the human way, I think that we schooling-at-home-minded couples have swung far to the other spectrum of things. How many of us, dear women, are run entirely ragged where we can’t even leave our homes for months on end due to the fact that, even though our bodies says stop, we, deep down, feel like we would be failures if we quit having children? How many dear sisters are not getting sleep for over a year after having a new baby because, if the child cries, it means they need food NOW, even if it’s in the middle of the night every night for months on end? (And I’m not talking about a real physical need or concern, but allowing the child to get their own way purely because they want it.)
As a conservative community, I think some of us run around worrying we’re going to miss something, worried our children aren’t going to be “attached” enough. If I can say, “I want my baby and young child to be truly attached to me above all else,” I’m saying I promote idolatry. I’m just not hearing, from my own mouth, “I want my child to be attached to God. I want my child to go to God with their needs.”
Sweet mothers, are we scared that if we aren’t there for that child every moment of every day – and night! – that the baby is going to have an underdeveloped moral conscience that will lead to all sorts of horrors and sins in the future – an emotionally scarred child?
Who told me that I am a mini-god, in charge of the spiritual well-being and conscience of another human life? I am not omnipresent. No matter how much I want to be, I cannot be all-in-all for that little life. Nor would I want to be. Not if I call myself a Christian.
And I’m not telling my ultra-caring and loving friends not to sleep with their child or not to be Attachment Parents. I don’t care what it is you do – and you shouldn’t care so much what I do. There is nothing in the Bible saying one is right or one is wrong.
But the Bible DOES talk about fear – and that’s what I want to get at. As a culture, are we Christians desperately afraid? Do we parent out of fear? Are we afraid that we’re going to screw something up from birth and that somehow it’s all about the mothering that makes the human being? “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) That Bible verse doesn’t mean love more obsessively. It means love perfectly. Are our children idols? Do I disguise idolatry and obsession with my children by calling it “being attached”?
Co-sleeping can be a special thing, for sure, but “Let the marriage bed be undefiled.” (Hebrews 13:4) I’ve never really thought of this meaning an actual bed before, and the Scripture really is talking about sexual intimacy with your spouse, but could your child be coming between that? Maybe not, however, it might be wise to make sure you’ve asked your husband, “Are you upset that you have to share a bed with a child year after year and don’t get that special sleep time with me? “ How many of us, as well, never, ever go on dates? Do we say “We don’t want to leave the kids” or “We may miss something important with the child” or “It’s just not that important” or “We just can’t get out; someone might need us.” Does our marriage get thrown by the wayside during the childhood years? Are we truly being obedient to the Lord and His calling for our life while parenting? Or are we throwing everything else He might have planned for our family aside to give the kids what they want?
How many of us, dear, conscientious women, go on Internet fast after Internet fast, or even cell phone fasts, claiming that our twenty minutes a day on Facebook, or our desire to keep up on current events, or our emails to Christian sisters are “taking me away from the kids. Face it, I don’t have time to do anything but feed the baby right now. My body isn’t my own – or my husband’s! ‘Tis the age! All else goes out the window except for the kids for a few years.” I’m not talking about real laziness, selfishness, or addiction here – and we all need to evaluate our hearts – but it’s silly of me to think there’s something bad about letting the child learn to play by herself for an hour a day, letting her learn that she isn’t the center of the universe! Do you know what would happen if I went on an Internet and cell phone fast? I would break my mother-in-law’s heart. She lives hundreds of miles away and no information is too much when it’s about her son, his wife, and her granddaughters. If I didn’t post my gobs of pictures, if I didn’t give her a call every so often, I would be shutting her out of our lives. So some afternoons the kids actually get placed in a playpen and play with each other, or sit at a table with their shelves and shelves of books so that I can think about someone outside of our home for a little bit. Once a week or so, I have cards I write too. At that point, the kids know that Mama is going to be inaccessible for a half hour or so because the girl who just lost her family in a car accident is just a bit more important right now. Writing a card really is such a small thing to do. I try to time it during their nap, but, if I need to sleep along with them, I’m going to do that too. I’m going to miss out on their childhood more if I’m grouchy as a bear because I’m sleep deprived.
No one has time for each other any more. The children have extracurricular activity after extracurricular activity. Little Madison, Jacob, Jack, Emma, Isabelle… All SEVENTEEN of the kids have THREE sports each! (Don’t you feel this way some times? Am I sure I don’t have seventeen children – because where on earth did all of that food go? And they must all have at least three sports! ) Mom isn’t a self-sacrificial mom if she doesn’t drive each one around hours upon hours each week. Far be it from her to say, “This is not a profitable and God-glorifying use of my time – or our time as a family.” Some would say she would be selfish for thinking so. “They’re only kids for so long. How can you miss any of it? You stand out there in the rain and cold every single Saturday and cheer them on!” SOCCER MOM! SOCCER MOM! Soccer… zzzzzzzzz (She’s exhausted now!)
Meanwhile, the church suffers. No one has time for church activities. No one has time to run them. How many of our young moms aren’t getting invited over for a meal or don’t have someone come and hang out with her, when parenting, in its newness, is scary and overwhelming and she’s crying out for help? How many of us never “get the kids together to play”? Very few of us even make the drive to go see people.
“I’d love to,” the homeschool mom says, “but I’m sorry. I just can’t get everyone out the door. It’s too stressful. Our school day would be ruined. You don’t eat what we do. You don’t run your home like I do. Your kids don’t look and act like my kids. I really just don’t want to. It’s too much work. We’re not organized enough to make it happen. ”
Okay, nobody really says all of that. Instead, everyone just uses the big bad B word. BUSY.
“We’re just too busy right now. I know I should be reaching out to you and discipling you, but it’s all about my kids right now” – and they know it! – “I’m too busy making them kings and queens of their own little worlds.”
Yeah, we probably don’t admit that either.
A New York Times article stated that, while Generation Y’ers are closer to their family members, they’re also “coddled, disrespectful, narcissitic, and impatient.” They’ve never learned to wait for anything, never learned delayed gratification, and use Mom and Dad as slaves. The unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds is at 17.6%. They’re unmotivated.
Families, I really feel that we, instead, should be serving together, teaching our children to look outward and recognize needs, to be able to discipline themselves instead of crying for every need and expecting Slave Mama to fix it immediately. To take initiative. As church activities shut down around us, I’m startled that the sheer amount of young people doesn’t lend itself towards more of us serving and running the ministries that used to be led by our parents. “Do hard things” is a motto that has been trampled upon by our children with earbuds listening to their iPods who didn’t see it right in front of them. The parents, as well, are burned out homeschooling and catering to the needs and activities of said young people. I could also say much about the woman who physically lets herself go, never exercises, and becomes very unhealthy, causing a danger for herself because she doesn’t get any time away from the kids. Husbands need to help out there!
The Bible doesn’t talk about nursing babies on demand or scheduling them. It’s just not a moral issue that needs to divide people and cause discord. It just isn’t. Let it be.
There are also no references to “Do not miss out on thine children’s childhood.” Instead, we mainly see that godly children are called to obedience, respect, and propriety. Parents are pretty much only told to discipline their child and to “not exasperate their children, instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
We see Timothy, at a young age, jumping into ministry with Paul. Rhoda opens the door for the apostle because she is sitting with church members praying for his release. A little boy who listened to Christ for possibly hours on end donates his own lunch basket to feed the multitude. The Proverbs 31 Woman has a business buying and trading! She is not too busy to do anything but coddle the kids. The early church was very focused on evangelism, ministry, and serving. Why have we fallen so far from that because of our fears about parenting that lead us to idolizing our kids and ostracizing our friends and church members? Reading about the lives of many key missionaries, whole families would leave and evangelize together. I know of one family who limits their children’s Christmas presents, instead deciding to involve everyone in choosing gifts for poor and underprivileged kids and going to their homes to distribute them. Their children have learned that their wants are not the center of the home. They are taught early on to look outward.
Hard-working and well-meaning mothers, I feel so badly that you’re being guilted into feeling that if you let your kids play on their own, give your babies some formula instead of just breastmilk, not wear them constantly in a sling on your back, if you schedule to feed them only every three hours, and actually take the time to go once a week to a Bible study or volunteer in the community that they are going to grow up feeling emotionally deprived, love-starved, or become willful, disobedient children. Do we, unfortunately, find out too late that our husband’s needs have not been first priority and that we have become doormats for our children to rub their messy bottoms on? Do I do this to try and not lose their love and devotion? Is this actually about ME and what I get out of being a parent? Do I want them to be attached to me to satisfy my desire to be loved?
Or do I just think that I control their souls? Is the devil using headlines like, “Don’t miss a thing! What are you doing getting on Facebook for those fifteen minutes a day, you worthless mother? How dare you schedule time for friends? Don’t you realize you’re missing everything! Worship childhood! Put it above your personal devotions. Put it above your marriage. Be afraid of something happening to your child – be so afraid that you forget to trust in the Lord, and instead trust in yourself as a mother, in that ‘intuition’ that proves you always can handle it and you know best!” Is he using such thoughts from the conservative community, that are often well-meaning but get taken too far, to guilt us into thinking we’re failures and into training our children to be “narcisstic, coddled, impatient,” unable to keep a job, unable to see needs in others’ lives, unable to do hard things, and egotists? I’m very much struck with the fact that it would be better for my girls, even, to do less play and more service. More chores, more good hard work, and more self-sacrificing of their own!
“The king’s heart is in the hands of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1)
So often I have used that verse to remind myself not to fear the decisions made by authorities, but does He only hold the king’s heart? Does He not hold all of ours? Should I remind myself of this verse to not fear the choices my children make as well? I could be the perfect parent who shares the gospel each and every day, who teaches my child selflessness and service, and who is a shining example of Christ’s love in action – and yet my child could still reject the Lord and become a criminal. It will have had nothing to do with whether I regularly took Internet fasts to devote a fifth hour to playing with them. Only the Lord is in the business of changing hearts. (Ezekiel 36:26) Only the Holy Spirit can woo the soul. It is up to us to teach them and admonish them in the Lord, to tell them about Jesus who died for them, and to faithfully and often brutally point out that they are sinners – that there is nothing good in them. My girls are not little perfect princesses who deserve the moon, they are flesh who deserve hell. Deserve hell but are loved. By a perfect God. Cling to HIM, not to me. Become fully attached to the Lord who will never let you down, will never sin, and who will always be with you. Even when Mom just cannot – or should not. Even when Mom rightfully puts Dad first. Even when Mom sends you off to college or bravely lets you leave the nest. Even when Mom says, “You can’t live in the basement any more. Go get a job. You’re going to have to pay for your cell phone bill yourself from now on.”
Let’s all go on a date with our husbands this weekend (Even if we use up the available babysitters amongst us!) I’m going to have to part with the girls for a couple of hours even though it’s in my nature to want to be the clingy, fearful, controlling mother I talked about. Yet let’s attempt to regularly head out on dates with those hard-working husbands! I also think it’s good that I regularly drop them off in the care of others so that I can enjoy an hour of Bible study with women who spur me on towards love and good deeds. Let’s all, if we are able, jump in our cars and drive the distance to go visit a church member in need. I even set my phone to vibrate with new Facebook notifications while I was waiting to receive word that a dear sister in Christ has had her baby because I want to rejoice with her! Even though I stay at home, spend hours of my day with them, and have begun homeschooling my daughter – even though I’m part of conservative homeschooling America, I have just been so convicted to not give my girls a headstart in rejecting humility. My life, and the life of our family, does not revolve around them. Like myself, they are one cog in this wheel labeled Glorifying God and Pointing the World to Him.
Also, if these little princesses of mine really are the wonderful things whose time on this earth and in my home is not worth missing, wouldn’t I want to direct them to bless others with some of that childhood?