I find myself in an interesting child-raising season. When my boys were toddlers and pre-schoolers, the families we spent time with seemed to be on the same page. We all emphasized sharing, manners, healthy snacks, and reading before bedtime. But now that our kids are early-elementary-school aged, it seems our differing "theories" about how to best raise children are causing some chinks in the armor. We no longer collectively agree on the best route to take. Unwittingly, instead of being content to find my own direction and wish others well on their child-rearing quest, I have ended up in arguments and confrontations trying to convince women I respect that they are doing "it" wrong.
I am on the front lines of the "mommy wars," weapon drawn, ready to strike the opposition. And I'm not even sure why.
Mention mommy wars to any parent on the planet and they'll likely map out the opposing sides they most closely resonate with: breastfeeding versus bottle, co-sleeping versus crib, working versus stay–at-home, public school versus homeschool, helicopter versus free range. Players in the "us versus them" war change, and as long as we continue to take the bait the battle will range on. But exactly who is baiting the otherwise rational, articulate, adult women?
The Enemy, that's who. And he's been laughing his way to the bank of broken souls ever since he drew these arbitrary lines in the sand.
Like all wars, there is profit. For the Enemy, pinning us against each other means we have (much) less time to fight pornography, sexting, designer drugs, alcohol abuse, bullying, and a host of other unsavory distractions stripping our children of their morality. How can we keep up with what our kids are doing when we're busy keeping up with the latest gossip on whose parenting strategies fell short of the mark? And we're certainly not loving our neighbor as ourselves when we feel superior in light of someone's struggle.
Reach out with compassion and support
The brutal causalities in this winless war are our kids. We don't all have to agree on every facet of child rearing to be on the same side. Instead of wasting precious energy forming allegiances against families who choose a different path, we can support each other's unique journeys and stand in the gap to form a stronger bridge to salvation. It seems preposterous to me that I'm arguing about style when I should be celebrating substance. But the differences in our parenting styles should pale in comparison to the strength of our fundamental values— until we end the bickering among believers, how in the world can we hope to reach the parents and children who don't even know God?
When I become convinced my worldly views are a roadmap to success, I realize turning to God's manual is long overdue. I need to look no further than Ephesians to see how we're called to do good things and support one another while keeping an ever-watchful eye on grace:
For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10)
We were created for good things. When considering how to end the mommy wars, I can think of no greater good than to reach out with compassion and support to the opposing side. While taking umpteen pictures of your little guy on a school field trip, why not get some super cute close-ups of a child whose mom is at work and email her the shots with an encouraging note? You'll make her day! If you're a working mom who would love to come home to a meal that isn't spelled p-i-z-z-a, why not reach out to a stay-at-home mom who is known for her creative cuisine and see if you can't offer her a job preparing freezer-ready meals. She'd love the extra money and you'll love the food! Good things come in all shapes and sizes, and opportunities to encourage one another are often closer than we think.
Model respect and grace
If we are to raise children who obey their mothers and fathers, then we must model this virtue by respecting other parents' lists of dos and don'ts. I've heard countless stories of mothers trying to undermine one another by providing classroom snacks that are prepared with allergens, showing movies at sleepovers that are not age- or content-appropriate, and quizzing children on their multiplication tables because they go to a different school. The message we send to our children, and to our neighbor's children, is that our way outranks your way. Isn't that exactly the same behavior we seek to correct in our own homes? When we obey the rules and standards our adult community puts in place and do not sneak in our own agenda, we reinforce the importance of valuing every parent's authority.
We must also model grace to our children and to those around us. How many of us secretly (or not so secretly) build a case for why our parenting style is superior and therefore the "right" way? Have we not held up our children's "good things"—honor roll, team captain, first chair in band—as proof that we have earned God's favor and are blessed? Hard work, due diligence, and efforts that result in accomplishment should be celebrated, of course. It's exciting and heart-warming when our children do well and we want to praise God for his blessings. But we must also remember that the honor roll student can get pregnant, the team captain can get caught buying beer, and the band star can shoplift. There's no guarantee that our parenting style (or anyone else's) will prevent children from acting like, well, children. As God has shown us his immaculate grace, so should we show grace to families who get caught up in sin.
The mommy wars are really nothing more than a division from our unity and solidarity with Christ. Each of us has been wonderfully and fearfully made, and so have our children. As they sing out, find the "right" choir to put them in—according to your divine right as their mother. Whether that be at the breast or with a bottle, in homeschool or at public school, by your side in the kitchen or while picking them up at daycare, you know the tune by which your family finds its groove. Enjoy your dance, and clap along as others find theirs.
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Helen Coronato is all about homeschooling her two boys, loving her husband, spending time with her girlfriends, and trying to become more like the person Jesus intended her to be. Check out her projects and connect at http://www.helencoronato.com.