Moms on Trial: How Judgment Became Today's Parenting Advice
It's not yet 6am, and I am ticking today's to-dos off the list. I add mayonnaise to the mental grocery list and feel life breathe hot on my neck. These past 11 years, I've given birth to five babies. Most days, the responsibilities heap like laundry and sit heavy on my chest while the sun sleeps.
Motherhood is hard work. It is a sacred calling as well. So I can appreciate Michelle Obama's recent remarks at the Democratic Convention. "My most important title is still 'mom-in-chief," declared the First Lady. I can also be made to agree with the woman who tweeted post-Convention that she longed "for the day when powerful women don't need to assure Americans that they're moms above all else."
With her claim as "Mom-in-Chief," the First Lady may have regrettably played into the hands of a society that demands performance reviews from its mothers. Although we do not agree on the standards to which we judge our public moms, it is true that we feel the presumptive imperative to do so. As discussed here on Her.meneutics, Marissa Mayer, new hired CEO of Yahoo!, was both hailed and criticized when she announced in July that her maternity leave would be a "few weeks long" and that she would "work throughout it." Ann-Marie Slaughter, with her Atlantic article, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," inspired simultaneous fury and applause when she admitted to having made professional concessions for her family's sake. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, mother of two, has made herself national hero—and villain—with her public entreaties for more women to fill leadership roles in the workplace. The commentary on Mayer, Slaughter, Sandberg, and Obama are only the most recent examples of how we publicly scrutinize our moms.
We've reached no truce in the Mommy Wars, which pit professional mothers against those who stay at home. But the question of appropriate work-life balance tends to obscure the more dangerous implications of the public conversation: By mounting lines of maternal self-defense, we're assuming the legitimacy of the de facto mom juries and implying that defense is itself a reasonable response.
First, the mom juries must be challenged. As Christians, we need to resist the impulse to judge. Even if we could decide on the universal criteria to which we could hold all moms—and we can't, apart from the general biblical mandate of love—we recognize that all such judgments would necessarily rely on external measurements, which God himself grants are misleading (1 Sam. 16:7). Raising children isn't raising chickens. You can count eggs, but you can't objectively measure a mother's performance. Within the church, we will agree that motherhood is sacred work, and we will want to inspire one another in our roles as mothers. However, it is to the Lord whom we must ultimately answer for our choices.