By the time I had children, I had spent a couple of decades thinking about what kind of mother I’d be. It began with me thinking I knew better than my own parents did. I have always been close to my parents but I questioned many of their decisions. I thought I had it all figured out. Spending years babysitting or being around friends who had already started having children only confirmed me in confidence. I questioned the way others handled food choices, discipline, clothing, you name it.
I thought I had it all figured out. My first child came along and I joined a neighborhood list-serv for parents. The list-serv is legendary — one of the nation’s best, in fact. We talk about parenting tips, trade baby gear, and gather together to help community members in need. But sometimes it’s awful. Sometimes people get involved in the dreaded Mommy Wars.
I’ve seen fights about whether women should work outside the home, how they they should treat their nannies, whether it’s OK to use formula, whether to breastfeed, how long to breastfeed, whether you’re a good mom if you don’t join a “nurse-in” to protest bans on public breastfeeding, etc. One of the most vicious fights was over whether it’s better to raise children in the city or suburbs. Another vicious fight was over whether parents should send their children to failing public schools or elite private schools.
And much of what passes for stories about mothering are really just continuations of this. Whether it’s “The Case Against Breast-feeding,” the Motrin Moms saga or the latest article alleging that working moms are more depressed, we’re in a never-ending battle of Mommy Wars.
What’s so crazy about all this is that we live in a society where people are loath to pass judgment on even the most deviant sexual practices, right? But God forbid we let a woman figure out how to feed or care for her child.
While I’ve never been the type to verbalize my judgment, I’ve obviously done this myself. Once I had children, I learned the value of sleep and I came up with a new understanding — parents should do whatever they need to do to get by. I think many parents — sleep-deprived and overworked — begin focusing on childrearing to the point that crazy fights are the next logical step.
What people need to realize, though, is that other parents doing things differently doesn’t mean they pass judgment on the decisions we’ve made.
In my religion (big ups for Lutherans, yo!), we have a very helpful tool for understanding this. It’s called vocation. It’s the way we view all the different relationships we have. We look at it like we serve God by serving others. This can be as a boss or employee, a daughter or mother, a wife or girlfriend, a neighbor or friend, whatever.
The point with parenting is that children are taken care of by parents. And so long as they’re not sinning, they’re free to do that as they see fit. So, for example, we don’t have the option of not feeding our children, but how we do that is up to us. We can slave away over a home-cooked meal or we can order out for pizza. We can breastfeed or use formula.
We have to make sure our children are safe but that means different things for different families. If you’re on a rural farm with perfectly healthy children you might have a different safety regimen than if you live in a city with a severely disabled child. Either way, you can figure out what works best for you.
As a parent, you have to educate your child. Whether you homeschool, unschool, send them to the neighborhood school, or get them into a private school — it’s up to you.
We all have roles to play in helping out others in our community and upholding community standards, but we also have to be careful not to intrude on others’ vocations. Just as you wouldn’t rearrange your colleague’s office or tinker with your friend’s computer unasked, neither should you presume to tell them how to manage their families.
So the next time some magazine tries to tell you you’re parenting wrong, just remind yourself of this handy concept and go on your merry way.