Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Defining of Our Motherhood

Something that's been on my heart lately is the subject of how we as moms define our mothering. We're "breastfeeding moms," or "Babywise moms," or "working moms," or "stay-at-homers." We are "homebirthers." We do the extended rear-facing thing, or we do "non-GMO" food. We were safe and did hospital birth. We kept our sons "intact." We practice non-violent parenting. Or we practice "Biblical parenting." So many labels. So many philosophies.

I could totally fit in some of the above categories, and I'm even passionate about some of those philosophies. Very passionate. I do my "homework" on a lot of issues, and I try to pick what's best for my family. Some of my choices are ones that I believe are non-negotiables and are also best for all families, or at the very least, MOST families. But some are ones that I consider to be equivalent to choosing my favorite color as purple. OPTIONAL. Different for each family!

Sometimes my choices are misguided. Sometimes I change my choices and do different things for different children or at different stages. Sometimes I eat crow. Or sometimes I become more firm in my beliefs on Issue X, the more I study and "live" that issue in my mothering.

But you know what? For each of these "defining" issues, the commonality is that I'm trying to do what I believe is best for my family. And the hope and assumption is that each mother I know is doing the same thing. That doesn't mean we reach the same decisions, even if the goal is the same. We might both consider birth options and choose very different paths. We might regret those decisions and choose a different path the next time, but we each do what we believe is best based on the information we've been given.

Can we please, please, please stop defining ourselves primarily by narrow categories? I don't call myself a "natural birther" or a homebirther, though I've been given that label by others. I don't call myself a cloth diaperer, though I do use cloth diapers. I don't consider myself "anti-vaccine," though I have unpopular views on the subject. I could definitely fall into the crunchy mom category, though we circumcise *gasp* and our views on discipline (and the depravity of babies/children) are definitely different than the "peaceful parenting" philosophy that usually follows along with it.

I talk to moms who are embarrassed that they use disposable diapers, since they know I cloth diaper. I tell them they don't have to make my choice. I've honestly never understood the fear of cloth diapers that most women I have, but that doesn't mean they have to cloth diaper. Good grief.

Most moms I know are aware that I've done the whole natural birth thing (as if it's an event unto itself). They look semi-ashamed and drop their gaze as they mention that they ended up with an epidural (or c-section) after x number of hours of hard labor and miscellaneous complications. I've looked some of my friends in the eye and said, "You do realize that you worked harder in your labor than I did? You labored for 12 hours (or 16, or 30) without medications before you chose to use intervention. My longest active labor was 5 hours. Birth is hard, and you worked hard, even if you didn't have a "natural birth.""

Please, do your homework. Research birth options. Choose a provider that respects you. By all means. But do not be ashamed if you didn't have a perfect water birth with delayed cord clamping at some beach-side resort. Maybe you can look back and realize that there were factors that contributed to complications in your birth (or maybe nothing you could have done could have changed the outcome!), and maybe you will choose a different way "next time," but you did the best with what you knew, during a high-stress time, and probably with a lot of pressure from your care providers ;-).

Other moms could judge me for the non-organic cotton my children wear, the fact that we used disposable plates yesterday, or the fact that my children haven't done preschool and one of my children was "behind socially" as a toddler and preschooler.

As moms, WE CAN'T WIN. Not in the category competition. There are moms who will judge you for lame reasons. But we also judge ourselves. And sometimes our friends who make "weird, crunchy decisions" or "schedule mom" decisions are NOT judging their friends in the "other camp." Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We have to choose to make our decisions based on our instincts, not based on the fear-mongering and not based on popularity.

As a new mom of one, I could collect advice (mostly unsolicited) the way you collect water at a pool: very easily and rapidly. (Seriously, folks, sidenote: new moms, it gets better! The judging and the unsolicited advice does slow with additional children.) I was frowned on when I left my baby fussing for more than 2 seconds in a *gasp* infant carrier seat. I was also judged when my baby was crying and I chose to hold him instead of "train him to wait." I talked with a woman who thought I was unwise to use a birth center instead of a hospital; I talked with others who thought I should birth at home. I was given scheduling advice, and I was also given co-sleeping advice. I was asked at 2 weeks old if my baby was sleeping through the night yet (answer: NO). I was given advice to fully vaccinate, and also given advice to not vaccinate at all.

I honestly think most of these comments and the advice were well-intentioned. Women are passionate about mothering and they want to share their passions with others. Great! I love talking with other women about their mothering decisions. But I don't like the pressure or the judging. I've been in environments that are more supportive and ones that are more judgmental, and it makes all the difference.

As mothers, could we try to do a couple of things?

(1) Please don't judge a mother about a parenting decision that is not black and white. Even if it is an area that YOU see as right v. wrong, can we realize that there is a difference between clearly-defined child abuse and something like whether or not to vaccinate? Can we please realize that a mother is not defined by one or a handful of decisions she makes? She is not a "bad" mom if her child has tasted McDonald's fries!

(2) As mothers, can we please not assume someone else is judging us just because they're making a different decision or offering advice? This is where I really fail. It's so easy for me to impart motive to a comment someone makes that could be totally innocent. Not everyone is pointing their avocado at me. (Seriously, a great blog post. READ.)

Now let's go back a few paragraphs. I said we have to choose to make our decisions based on instinct, not fear. Well, yes or no. Let me clarify. We actually should make our decisions based on both. BUT. . .

The fear should be the fear of the Lord, not the fear of man. We should not make parenting decisions based on the fear of man. Do not schedule because your best friend insists you should. Do not avoid McDonald's because you don't want to be judged by your crunchy friends. Do not cloth diaper because you're afraid to seem "non-green."

We have the freedom to use our instincts (and even our preferences) to make our parenting decisions for  non-moral issues or issues that are only semi- (but not exclusively) moral. We can choose certain paths based on economics, health, practicality. That's okay! Just doesn't choose these paths based on fear of what other moms are going to think.

God gives mothers instincts. You are the mother of your child. No one else is. You know your child better than anyone else. God gives us instincts to know what they need and how they need it. Use that instinct. If your gut tells you "no," don't ignore it. Now, the human heart is deceitful and wicked, so don't exclusively trust your gut, but do listen to your gut. Don't let someone (even a doctor or other professional) bully or guilt you into doing something. You can always say "let me think about it longer and get back with you." You can always think and pray about a decision more. You can change your philosophy! You can cloth diaper one child, and then choose disposables for the next. You can formula-feed your first, and for your next you can line up support and education to make breastfeeding happen the next time, if you are able.

But our decisions should always be chosen under the umbrella of God's Word. That's where the fear of God comes into play. And this is what truly should define our motherhood. How often do we define our success for a day of mothering by how we measure up to the fruits of the Spirit? We rejoice that we did x number of loads of laundry, that our children didn't eat anything non-organic. We took our kids to play group to give them their social time. We made sure they only watched 30 minutes of television. We got through all our subjects in school.

Were we loving to them? Joyful? Was there peace in our home, as much as we were able? Did our children see Christ in us, or did they only see the Law without the Gospel? They need to see both! Did our children see niceness without true kindness? Kindness wants what is best for the other person, even if it's not what the other person would define as "nice." Kind is sometimes telling a child no, even if it's not "nice" to the child. (Bonus homework: do some word research on the difference between the two words!) But treating a child harshly and like your personal slave is not kindness.

Wow. That's much harder than being a cloth diapering mom. It's much harder than natural birth. It's much harder than putting your child on a schedule. We can't do it, moms. I don't do it; you don't do it. Yes, we may try, and God grants us successes and victories in the mess (praise God!), but we can't do it perfectly. We're commanded to run this race with perseverance, but we also know that we can't do it alone. We need Jesus.

Jesus came to die for the sins of His people.

But He also came to live the perfect life we should have lived.

He obeyed where we failed.
He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin.
He was tired and did not yell.
He was angry and only acted in a Biblical way.
He was weary and knew when to rest and when to persevere in tasks.
He was loving, and joyful.
He is our peace.
He was patient, and He IS patient with His children.

He's patient with moms: moms who fail at loving their children, moms who put earthly goals above heavenly ones. He is patient with us. But He calls us to something higher. He calls us to a holy life. He calls us to a holy life of laying down our lives for our children.

But He also says "come to me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." We have a Savior who loves us and does not define us by our categories. We have a Savior who does not let us excuse our failures, but leads us and guides us.

We have a Savior that we want our children to know. Can we look at our mothering and ask if our mothering shows our children where our hearts lie? When our children think of our passions, is Jesus one of them? Is Jesus our main passion? Or is Jesus lost in all the categories and all the other issues? This is something that I've been very convicted over the past several months and something I'm still sorting through. I see so much failure in my own mothering, and I wonder if my children see Jesus in me. Do they see the fruits of the Spirit, or do they see my psycho diet restrictions? Do they see my love of books but not my love of the Word?

But as much as I see my failures, I also see God's grace. I see how He's led me, how He's led my children, and how He continues to lead with grace and mercy and law. I see small victories, I hear my children's exposition of Biblical truths, I see their growing knowledge of the Bible and of God. And I see their growing knowledge of forgiveness as they forgive (many times a day!) when their mother chooses the things of the world over the things of God. We serve a great God who loves imperfect mothers. And He calls us to something higher. Pretty frightening and amazing, at the same time :-).