As I mentioned below, my post on sleep training netted some deeply anguished and angry responses, most of which I didn’t post because while I’m happy to permit critical comments, I tend not to publish comments I think you’ll regret when you calm down.
One commenter welcomed me, tongue-in-cheek, to the Mommy Wars. Of course, I’ve reluctantly been on the front lines of the Mommy Wars for over a decade now, since Parenting with Grace (the first and only book to apply the theology of the body to family life and parenting) came out.
Since we’re talking about anger today on More2Life, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the mommy wars and what’s behind the anger that drives them. I want to say, up front, that although I am very publicly alligned with certain factions in the battle, I have never intentionally tried to antagonize or shame any parent for the way they parent and, at any rate, everything I’m about to say applies equally to every combatant in the mommy wars no matter what side you find yourself on. If you have ever felt caught in the mommy war crossfire or ever borne a banner in battle, this post is for you.
MOMMY WARS: MISSING THE POINT
The more I read about these parenting battles the more I’ve come to see that they entirely miss the point.
You see, parenting is supposed to be about children. Period. We wouldn’t be parents without them , therefore it makes sense it should be about them. Regardless of the approach you take, the parenting style we choose should reflect our belief that this the best approach to take, not in general, but with this particular child. God gives us the children we need. We accept that gift by responding to the unique needs that child brings to the family and responding generously to those needs. If we do this, we create a “community of love” wherein we grow into more loving, responsible, people, and our children are challenged to be more loving and responsible people–first by our example, and later by the requirements we place on them through good discipline.
Unfortunately, for many parents, and especially those parents who are most vocal in the parenting wars, parenting is not about children. It is about them. It is too tempting to choose a parenting style that is going to make me feel good about me. To pick on my own crowd for a moment, I know too many parents who choose attachment parenting not out of a real desire to get to know their child better but because they have friends who do it at church and they want to fit in. Or because they feel like if they don’t do it they’ll be “bad moms” or bad Catholics. I also know plenty of moms (and dads) who choose Guarendi, or Dobson, or Ezzo, or Brazelton, or whomever for the same reason. The wars between the people who think this way about parenting are so intense because their parenting choices do not reflect a desire to be present to their children as much as they reflect a desire to find validation through their children.
MOMMY WARS: WHY SO INTENSE?
Look, everyone is insecure about their parenting choices. I get that. That’s normal. Everyone wants to do right by our kids and we’re all afraid, deep down, that we’re going to screw them up. Again, that’s normal. But people who exhibit this normal degree of parenting insecurity can look at other parents who are doing things differently, engage those parents in respectful discussions, and learn from each other. They evaluate what other parents are doing by how responsive those parents seem to be to their children and how they imagine behaving similarly might make them more responsive to their own children.
By contrast, parents looking to find validation through their children tend to act as if kids are secondary to other goals. They tend to ask questions like, “How can I parent in a way that allows me to have the life I want?” Or, “How can I parent in a way that allows me to have the family I imagine I’d like to have (as opposed to dealing with the family I actually have)?” Now, there’s nothing wrong with parents getting their own needs and wishes met…too, but these parents tend to buy into the idea that “as long as I’m happy the kids will be too” and they parent that way–whether its good for their kids or not. And if it’s not good for their kids, then its their kids’ fault for not getting with the program.
And then, they get online and fight with each other, because, “How dare you tell me that what I want for my life is wrong.” The Mommy Wars are so vicious because there is a subtext that no one is willing to admit. The Mommy Wars are really not fighting over the best way to take care of kids or being a good parent. The Mommy Wars are really about fighting over best way to get what parents really want (e.g., validation, a sense of accomplishment, psychological healing, etc.) while they also take care of their kids.
THE SOLUTION: SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM
I would like to make a respectful suggestion. I fully acknowledge that parents have needs and, furthermore, that parents have a right to have those needs met. But we can only find true happiness when the means we employ to meet our needs are respectful of the people we are in community with, including our children. When we try to do something else, inevitably it all falls apart. Whatever parenting style you choose should respect the best interests of your unique and unrepeatable child first. Then pray about the rest of the desires of your heart. Scripture tells us that if we seek first the Kingdom of God then the other things we desire will be given to us (Matt 6:33). Scripture likewise tells us that we seek the Kingdom of God in our lives by fully attending to the least (our children) first (Matt 25:40). When we do that, if we have other desires remaining (and most of us will) then we can bring them to God and let him teach us how to meet those desires in a manner that is respectful of our call to be fully present to the least first. And if we do that, the Mommy (and Daddy) Wars will cease because we will all stop trying to seek fulfillment through our kids, or in spite of our kids, and find fulfillment in meeting our needs while being present to our kids.
—Dr. Gregory Popcak is the founder of the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides Catholic tele-counseling services for couples, families and individuals around the world. Call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment with a professional, Catholic counselor.