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Stop Parenting According to Popular Opinion

Why popular opinion, social media, and online advice can derail parents

It’s election season, and the news is filled with pollsters and predictions of what the nation thinks. However, a different form of polling happens every day throughout America. Moms poll their friends and social media community on everything from how long to breastfeed to whether they discipline their children too harshly.

Motherhood has always been filled with guilt. There are endless ways to feel as if you don’t measure up, fueling the fears that you are irrevocably messing up your child. No one gives you a formal parenting evaluation, but almost daily you are confronted with evidence that someone else seems to be handling motherhood better than you are. Your neighbor only feeds her children homegrown vegetables. Your friend’s child has mastered the violin by age six. Your mother-in-law gives you that stoic look that says more about her disapproval than she could have written in a novel.

There’s no manual for motherhood, so we muddle through, hoping our best effort will be enough. How do you know what to do when your toddler throws a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store or refuses to eat anything other than mac and cheese? Is homeschooling really better for your child than traditional schooling? As the middle school and teen years approach, the stakes seem higher. Should you let her go to prom with that guy? How do you know if your son is looking at porn? The questions are endless, and so are the opinions.

In the wake of insecurity and uncertainty, the online world provides instant advice and feedback. You can create your own straw poll on Facebook on any parenting issue you face. If you’re brave enough to voice your questions and failures, an army of women is available to tell you how to do it better next time.

How Reliable Is Public Opinion?

One of the most entertaining and depressing trends in our country is the ambiguity of public opinion. Fickle American citizens flip flop on issues and candidates for no apparent reason.

That same ambiguity exists if you parent by public opinion. Most people form their parenting opinions on their own experiences and the pressure of what’s trending in the moment. What makes us think that likes on Facebook and comments on a mom blog will help us make wise decisions? Here’s a shocking truth: The majority is usually wrong! Jesus taught that the road to destruction is wide, while the road that leads to life is narrow and few find it (Matthew 7:13–14). His words not only apply to salvation, but also to living wisely.

If you make parenting and other important life decisions based on what your friends think, you may be making some big mistakes. The trends of culture are constantly changing and rarely emphasize the qualities that really matter in parenthood. Proverbs 17:24 reminds us, “A discerning person keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth” (NIV).

Remember, You’re Not Running for Office

I recently heard a candid mom of three young children voice what many believe but won’t say out loud: “I want to be my children’s friend, not their mom. I want them always to feel free to be themselves around me without feeling like I’m imposing what I think onto them.”

Parenting is not a popularity contest nor is it a democracy. God has given parents authority to teach and train their children. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away” (NIV). I love children, and I adore my three sons. Their curiosity and frankness make me smile. Within them, I see wonderful traits and gifts. However, I also realize that they did not come into this world choosing what is best for them. There is no shame when a child is foolish. They naturally choose ice cream over broccoli and selfishness over kindness. The tragedy is when adults are foolish because they have never been taught otherwise. Doting parents allow kids to “trust their instincts” rather than teaching self-discipline, delayed gratification, and respect for God’s authority.

Parenting should never be characterized by harshness or cruel punishment. Even moments of discipline need to be communicated with understanding. However, our job as parents is to correct lovingly and teach our children wisdom. The moment we try to be their friend or garner their approval, we have wandered from the sacred call of motherhood.

Parenting will require making many decisions that cause your children to be very unhappy in the moment. The same child who used to cuddle with you may even call you “the worst mother in the world.” While these words sting in the moment, remember that they just might be evidence that you are doing something right. The writer of Hebrews noted, “No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way” (12:11).

The Only Vote That Counts

As a young mom, I was shackled with guilt and fear. If social media were available, I imagine that my insecurities would have tripled. Even with a doctorate in psychology, I knew I wasn’t up to the task of shepherding three young lives. Some nights, I cried into my pillow over a kindergarten birthday party I’d forgotten, losing my temper and yelling at my kids, or the prospect that my children might get cancer because we couldn’t afford to eat organic.

One night, I sensed the Lord saying to me, Juli, I don’t intend for you to parent by a spirit of fear and regret. I hardly knew a mother who truly felt free, but everything in the Bible told me that this was not God’s intention. So, I began to ask, to seek, to hope.

The Lord taught me two truths that have sustained me as a mother since that day. First of all, I am not called to raise perfect kids or to be a perfect mom. God has simply asked me to be faithful, leaving the results up to him. Secondly, God has promised to give his wisdom to anyone who sincerely asks for it. I hold the Lord to that promise almost daily. Some days I ask for wisdom and other days I plead for it.

My three boys are now 18, 16, and 12. Although I live with daily love and concern for them, rarely do I worry. I know that God is gracious to provide wisdom for each day, and he alone holds their future in his hands.

What if we spent more time caring about what God thinks than caring about the cacophony of opinions swirling around us? What if we spend more time searching his Word than we do comparing our parenting journey to everyone else?

Proverbs 24:3 says, “A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense.” I believe that this proverb thousands of years ago holds a simple, profound truth. There may be no harm in learning a thing or two from Facebook, but stop parenting by public opinion. If you want to be a faithful mom, seek God’s wisdom. Start your day by asking him to guide you, strengthen you, and sustain you.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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