In this age, when so much information is available at the touch of a screen, it’s easy to find good ideas, methods, and tips on motherhood. It’s also easy to develop an unnecessary, unhealthy case of introspection that leads to false guilt.
Let me explain. Take breast feeding for example. Or not breast feeding. One quick Google search brings up a host of articles on the scientific evidence that states nursing is better than the canned stuff. But say you’re a working mom, and to pump at work isn’t doable. So you decide to pump twice a day. Once before work. Once after. And supplement with formula for the other feedings. Then you read an article that says if you don’t exclusively breast feed, your child has a significant chance of developing leukemia in his or her lifetime (that’s a made up example, by the way – everyone feeding formula to their babies, cam down!).
Then a gal at church tells you she is reading a book on breastfeeding which quotes Dr. So and So as saying moms who don’t breastfeed are ten times less likely to develop breast cancer later on in life.
To top it all off, the Pope himself assures moms that public breastfeeding is acceptable.
You now feel deep down Mommy Guilt. You become overly introspective, hyper-examining your “true motive” for ever bottle feeding, and you come to the conclusion that you’re a miserable, wretched, selfish parent because while you breastfeed, you don’t breastfeed exclusively. A good mom (whatever that is – the lines are becoming fuzzy) would pump at work eight times a day if she had to, so her baby wouldn’t get leukemia. To prevent her own breast cancer. To gain the blessing of the Pope! Or maybe gain the approval of a close friend who puts out vibes of being a super mom — something you’re definitely not.
What’s happened here is that you’ve crossed over from using Biblical principles to mandate your parental decisions to using methods to mandate your parental decisions.
A principle would be that you feed your baby.
A method would be how you feed your baby: breast milk, goat milk, formula, a combination of all three, or whatever.
Methods are fine, and even helpful. What isn’t fine or helpful is mistaking a method for a principle. This produces the Mommy Guilt that every mom has probably felt at one time or another. Mommy Guilt says that because you don’t practice a certain method, you are a sinner, or at least not living up to your mommy potential in some way. When in reality, the only way you can sin in the feeding scenario I’ve laid out is to not feed your baby at all.
The method is not overly important. The principle is of utmost importance. What you feed your baby is a method that is flexible. That you feed your baby is a principle that is not flexible.
There are plenty of other scenarios we could talk about: whether to induce or labor naturally, whether to have a home birth or hospital birth, whether to “be reasonable” (at least in the eyes of our culture) and only have two babies or take the attitude that children are cheaper by the dozen. Or how about later down the road, when the decision must be made to either homeschool or enroll your kids in public or private school? The list is endless. Parenting is an ongoing exercise in decision making that takes knowledge and wisdom. So I’m not discouraging anyone from researching methods. What I’m discouraging is depending on those methods for some type of justification.As concerned and caring moms, it’s easy to let our methods morph into principles. I personally feel very strongly about several parenting methods. I used to be very passionate about the choice of milk I used for my babies. But it’s important to keep the main thing the main thing. And our choice of principles, not methods, are always the main thing in determining whether we are being good, godly moms. And the Good News? Even if we fail at being a good, godly mom (and we will!), there’s forgiveness. Being a good and godly mom does not justify us in the eyes of God. No good work of ours can do that. Only Christ’s work on the cross can give the gift of perfect justification. So if you mess up? Say you’re sorry to God. Apologize to your child, if it’s age appropriate. Then accept the forgiveness that is yours and move on.
Proverbs 22:6 lays out a Biblical principle for us:
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
Notice there isn’t a method stated in that verse, because methods fall under the category of Christian liberty. Moms are free to choose all sorts of methods without the fear of being a parenting failure. Train up a child in the way he should go? What way should he go? The way of Christ-likeness. The biggest target to shoot for is that: training up a child to first accept Christ, and then to walk in the newness of life and be like Christ. The methods of motherhood are at some level important, but none of them are the main thing.
Moms, justification as a good parent (or anything) does not depend on any method. Perfect justification, which is yours through Christ Jesus, cannot be taken away. Not even by committing a major parenting fail. So take it easy. Relax. And love your child by following Biblical principles for parenting, and pointing that child to Christ every day. If you are in Christ, you are justified, being sanctified, and will one day be glorified. Rejoice in that and go do something wild, like kick the cloth diapers to the curb (once they’re washed, of course), and pamper yourself by purchasing a case or two of Pampers.
Moms who are friends or acquaintances of other moms, consider going easy on your peers. Discussing methods is awesome, but it’s easy to make those you’re trying to influence feel about as high as a shredded kite on a windless day. Especially if they don’t share your passion about your method, or simply can’t, for whatever reason, adopt your method. Your mom friends need to be lifted up, spiritually. They need to be encouraged to train up their child Biblically, because while they’re concerned about and interested in methods, their biggest concern is whether their child will grow up to love the Lord – or at least it should be. And frankly, diapering, types of feedings, and other methods are trivial compared to the goal of training up a child in the way he should go.
As we grow in grace, may we all learn to discern the difference between principles and methods, relax, and keep the peace when our friends’ methods are not our own. ~Nancy Wilson, in The Fruit of Her Hands