In the past year the media has too freely and shamefully labeled numerous stories about and conflicts between mothers with the dreaded title, The Mommy Wars. We’ve heard this phrase mentioned when Hilary Rosen accused Ann Romney of never working a day in her life, raising the ire of incalculable stay-at-home-moms.
Many articles about The Mommy Wars have been endless, usually pitting women against one another who make different choices in child-rearing. The truth is we women participate in and contribute to this war daily. We debate one another over an endless list of topics:
- Breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding
- Breastfeeding for 6 months vs. 3 years
- Working vs. staying at home
- Co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping
- French-style parenting vs. Tiger mom parenting vs. helicopter parenting
- Organic meals vs. frozen chicken nuggets
- Public school vs. private school
- Public school vs. home school
This is just the beginning. You name it; we women will use mommy war strategies to create a standard by which we and everyone else must raise our children.
It’s an old story
These days, the landscape is stained with the frustration of women who have been judged, criticized, and attacked for their choices. But none of this is new. We can trace this war back to the beginning, as far back as Genesis.
Sarah, childless and advanced in years, took matters into her hands and gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to her husband to conceive. As soon as Hagar became pregnant, Sarah immediately became jealous and rage swelled within her (Genesis 16:4).
The first battle of the Mommy War began here and escalated after Sarah gave birth to Isaac when the two women were clamoring for blessings and protection for their sons.
Confession of a mommy warrior
I confess I enlisted in this war long ago, perhaps as early as my first pregnancy when I planned on a natural childbirth and scoffed at my boss who scheduled a C-section around her work travel schedule.
Since then, I’ve lacerated others with my tongue, assumptions, and my thoughts (“What is she thinking allowing her children to say/do/eat/play with that?!?”). I’ve made many judgments about moms without fully comprehending the complete picture of their lives and why they have to make some of the choices I wouldn’t necessarily make in my own life.
I’ve also wounded myself when I’ve compared my life and parenting to those of others. When I’m around my mom friends who balance part-time or full-time work, bake gourmet cupcakes, run marathons, cook 3-course meals, and all the while managing a household with outwardly well-behaved and calm 3+ children, I can’t help but relegate myself to the loser pile.
I’ve also been on the receiving end of some painful jabs by others. I’ve endured many smirks and barely concealed looks of disapproval when one of my boys has a meltdown after I answer “no” to a simple request.
I’ll never forget the time when my younger, colicky son screamed uncontrollably in the middle of the grocery store, prompting a woman to look at me as if I was an idiot, then irritably suggested I feed him.
When I tearfully informed her that he had just been fed, changed, had a nice long nap, and cried like that pretty regularly, she looked as if she swallowed a whole humble pie. After that, I made most of my weekly grocery trips at 10 pm, sans children.
Whose standard is it anyway?
Why exactly do we moms contend against one another? The Mommy Wars find their origin in the heart of each mother and the sinful act of comparison when we weigh our performance against standards created by ourselves, the media, psychologists, and countless others.
We either torment ourselves for not meeting those standards; as a result, we’re more susceptible to lashing out at others for their so-called successes.
Or we go to the other extreme where we become quite proud of our own achievements as mothers; we then judge others with condescension and disapproval for not meeting the same standards as ours.
Though mothers try to live up to different standards created by the world, we mothers in the Christian faith only have one standard-bearer: Jesus Christ. Knowing Christlikeness is a process, we should think more about grace rather than creating preferred standards.
The Gospel is the new standard
Nothing we can do will earn our acceptance before God. The Gospel tells us one tiny sin becomes an infinite transgression against a holy God, meriting His wrath.
In His mercy, He saves us through the perfect work and life of Christ, who never sinned. Our perfection, being declared perfectly just, rests completely on Jesus. He gives us credit for His perfect life while taking on the punishment we deserve.
Despite knowing and trusting in this truth, Christian moms often find themselves in one of two opposing places. We live as self-righteous Pharisees, content with our good deeds for the day.
We think we’ve earned points with God when we read our Bibles, pray, attend church, speak kindly to our children when they disobey, cook healthy meals and keep a clean house. We then become sinfully critical of other mothers who don’t have their act together like us.
On the other side of the spectrum, we beat ourselves up when we fall short in countless ways: becoming irritated with our bickering children, forgetting to pay the electric bill, snapping at our husbands when they don’t help around the house, etc. We go so far as to wonder how we can call ourselves Christians when we had an epic failure of a day.
Rest assured we can have peace and joy knowing Jesus was perfect for us. He loves us on the seemingly perfect day when we have devotions, make homemade bread, and find joy through trials. He also loves us on the crummy day when we can’t find the strength to pray and can barely cook a frozen lasagna in the microwave.
The solution is the same on both the best and the worst days: we go to the cross and seek forgiveness for when we’re prideful and critical or when we’re defeated and feel hopeless.
Gospel motivated encouragement and accountability
In no way am I advocating mothers relinquish holding one another accountable; however, we need to ask ourselves, “What’s my motive in holding this mother accountable?” Are we approaching her with a genuine desire to help, or to condemn? (See Matthew 7:1-5).
We should approach each other with hearts motivated to assist and encourage each other, as God has called us to build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14).
If I see a mother keeping her child up all hours of the night and neglecting time with her husband, the most loving thing I could do is come alongside and offer ideas to give her child rest and her husband some much needed time.
Similarly, I’m in dire need of my sisters in the faith to lovingly point out my blind spots in parenting. In my church, I see women giving one another ideas on how to save money, cook, bake, love their husbands, balance their jobs and motherhood. There’s no judgment there…just a desire to be a blessing.
Many roads – one goal
Imagine if we transplanted a 1970’s mom and her child to 2012. This mother would possibly be vilified by many mothers today. She only had formula to feed her child and an army cot for a crib.
A few years later, this mom fed her toddler TV dinners, Coke, and other processed food for weeks, especially during a dark valley of divorce and single parenting.
She did so many other things “wrong” by today’s standards, yet by my estimation, I’m convinced my mom was one of the greatest mothers ever.
In the bigger picture, God isn’t concerned about whether we cook organic or practice attachment parenting. What concerns Him is our sanctification and holiness.
God just as easily sanctifies us whether our children are in a public school or are homeschooled. He can also save our children regardless of how well or badly we raise them. He simply asks us to be faithful and obedient, for our good and His glory.
I think I can speak for many mothers; we’re tired of fighting in and being injured by this Mommy War. We’re ready to lay down our weapons, surrender ourselves to Christ, declare peace, and try to listen to and edify one another.
Christ won the Mommy Wars when He defeated sin, death, and all of our imperfections through His death, burial and resurrection. Our union with Him means we’ve won because He won. We can celebrate our victory and triumph with Christ and because of Christ!