In May I gave birth to a beautiful girl; my oldest will be 2 this month. My children are the joy of my life. And I'm glad I feel that way now, because some day they will be teenagers.
By the time I finally got married at age 32, I had spent decades thinking about becoming a mother—something I'd always wanted. I had analyzed and overanalyzed how I would discipline, which virtues I would emphasize, and what educational philosophies I would follow.
I thought I had pondered everything.
And then I joined a neighborhood e-mail discussion group for parents. I was soon a witness to the Mommy Wars. Originally, the big battle was whether women should work outside the home. Now the wars engage a wide range of parenting questions:
Is it better to raise children in the city or suburbs? Should you breast-feed or use formula? If formula, which type? How much should you nurse? Do you want to join a "nurse-in" to protest bans on public breast-feeding? Are Cesarean sections evil and overused, or modern-day medical miracles? How much effort should be made to avoid products containing the chemical Bisphenol A? Does an environmentally conscious consumer purchase disposable or cloth diapers? Is it your civic duty to send your children to public schools? Or is it an unconscionable act of abandonment when you live where I do—in Washington, D.C.?
The wars show no signs of abating. In April, The Atlantic set off weeks of debate after publishing "The Case Against Breast-feeding," a lengthy lament about the sacrifices of parenting. And late last year, we witnessed the Motrin Moms saga when the drug company posted a snarky online advertisement about how its painkiller helps ease the pain associated with carrying children in wraps and slings worn on the body.
The ad was posted on a Saturday. With its suggestion that baby-wearing is nothing more than a fashionable trend that hurts your back, it didn't exactly motivate mothers to purchase the product. By that evening, moms all over the Internet had organized protests and boycotts. By the next day, the ad had been removed. These fights are vicious.
And they're odd. We live in a society that wouldn't dare pass judgment on even deviant sexual practices, but we can't let women make their own decisions on how to diaper their children.
Much of the hype comes from the all-consuming nature of motherhood, causing sleep-deprived and overworked moms to focus on childrearing to the point that crazy fights seem completely normal. And much of the angst reflects our fear that if other parents do things differently, they will pass judgment on the decisions we've made.
How should Christians think about the Mommy Wars? Vocationally. You may have heard vocation used as a synonym for occupation. But Martin Luther used it to talk about every Christian's calling to particular offices through which God works to care for his creation. We serve our neighbors as employees, yes, but also as citizens, parishioners, and family members. Through our web of relationships, we are the instruments by which God works in the world.
So, for instance, God heals us by giving us doctors and nurses. He feeds us by giving us farmers and bakers. He gives us earthly order through our governors and legislators, and he gives us life through our parents. God is providing all these gifts—but we receive them from our neighbors.
Parenting is one of the most important vocations we can be given. Yes, the obligations of childrearing are difficult, but when the duties are fulfilled with the knowledge that we are doing the will of God, our reward is great. Luther wrote that fathers should not complain when they have to rock a baby, change his diaper, or care for the baby's mother, but instead should view each act as a holy blessing.
God has placed me as the mother of my children. So long as I'm not sinning, I am free to serve my children as I see fit. I have the responsibility to feed my children, but I can fulfill that task by slaving away in the kitchen to produce a five-course meal or by ordering out for pizza. I have the responsibility of making sure my children are educated, but I have the freedom to do that on my own or by sending them to whichever school my husband and I pick.
Sure, we all have a role to play in upholding community standards and making sure our neighbors' children have their needs met, but we should also be careful not to intrude on others' vocations. Just as we wouldn't rearrange colleagues' offices or tinker with their computers, neither should we presume to know best how they should manage their families.
So if you're an overwhelmed mother, wave the white flag of surrender in the Mommy Wars and enjoy your vocation and the freedom it provides.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
More on parenting is available in our family topic area.
Earlier Mollie Ziegler Hemingway columns are available on our Throwing Inkwells page.
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