Moms today are facing a major crisis. At least, that was the consensus among my two guests last Saturday on Up For Debate. But, authors Leslie Leyland Fields (Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt) and Candice Watters (Start Your Family: Inspiration for Having Babies) disagreed on both the nature of this crisis and its cause.
I thoroughly enjoyed the lively and thoughtful discussion we had on the program. However, as is often the case, one hour was not enough time to fully explore both sides of this issue, so I invited my two guests to further explain their views here. I think you’ll be challenged by their thoughts and insights. (By the way, if you missed Saturday’s discussion, you can listen to it online or download the podcast at the Up For Debate website.)
Leslie expressed that she believes Christian moms today are facing a crisis of guilt and inadequacy. What do believe is the basis of so-called “mommy guilt” and how should Christian moms deal with it?
Leslie: In the last 6 years, since I wrote “Parenting is Your Highest Calling . . and Eight Other Myths that Trap Us in Worry and Guilt,” I’ve traveled around the country speaking to many women’s groups, and in many of them, the majority are stay-at-home moms. I can attest to the ubiquity of guilt, depression and anxiety that women are experiencing.
At its root, I see two sources. First, young women are led to expect fulfillment and happiness through having children. They are unprepared for the reality of raising kids. When reality hits, and they’re struggling, and NOT feeling fulfilled, they believe something is wrong with them.
Second, mothers are implicitly or explicitly taught that their children’s success in life, indeed, their very eternal state, is primarily in their hands. So their every move with their child, then, has eternal consequences. This is not the gospel. This is a man-centered works oriented gospel, where we’ve taken on the role of God and the Holy Spirit in the home. No one can live under this gospel. It leads to depression, perfectionism and judgmentalism among mothers.
Candice: There’s a lot of pressure on moms to look, act, and even feel a certain way about their mothering. The explosion of social media finds moms comparing themselves not only with their next door neighbors, but also with every friend they’ve ever had from grade school to the present day. We ooh and ah over perceived perfections of others, even as we feel inadequate over not measuring up. This is false guilt.
We don’t have to measure up to the world’s idea of success. All we have to do is what God requires of us. But that, too, is beyond our grasp. God calls us to serve sacrificially and love with humility. When we feel guilty about putting our needs ahead of our children’s, or reacting in anger, or complaining about the work of mothering, that is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work convicting us of sin (John 16:8). It is God’s kindness that He leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
Romans 8:1 tells us “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Not only that, but if we are in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit at work in us to help us obey, to walk according to the Spirit, to put to death the deeds of the flesh, to resist the call of the world, and to die to ourselves so we might follow Christ’s example and serve those He has placed in our care: namely, our children.
Candice expressed that she believes Christian moms are in crisis today because they’re neglecting their kids to pursue personal careers and dreams. How can a mom tell if she’s crossed the line and her work is actually hurting her children?
Candice: God calls us to be faithful with the responsibilities and opportunities He sets before us. This is the essence of stewardship. The problem facing many Christian mothers of young children is that they’re being told that stewardship has to do with ministry outside the home. For the mom whose hands are full with diaper changing, bottle making, dishes washing, and laundry folding, she can feel like she’s failing to advance God’s kingdom on earth.
Scripture tells us just the opposite. God brings husband and wife together for the purpose of godly offspring (Malachi 2:15). But children aren’t born that way. It takes years of faithful discipleship and discipline, and even then, we are dependent on the Holy Spirit for the outcome.
What are the things only you, as Mom, can do? Do those things. And if you have extra capacity, energy, and opportunity for outside pursuits, do those things, too. But not at the expense of your primary assignment to your children.
Juggling is a common metaphor that captures the feeling of a busy Mom. There’s always more to do in a day than can be done. But ask yourself, of all the balls you juggle – mothering, working, time with friends, entertainment, church commitments, etc., which are the ones you never, or rarely drop? Which is the first to fall? If you find yourself cheating your kids in order to fulfill commitments at work, you’re likely crossing that line. Of all the balls you might drop, kids, especially young children, suffer most from a fall.
Leslie: Since the recession, women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of households. I assume we’re not talking about these women who are making mortgage payments and putting food on the table for their kids. Other women who are “pursuing their dreams” may be answering a particular call God has placed on their life – as it was for me when I began teaching and writing. So let’s make room for this and be careful with our judgments on other mothers and how they spend their time.
But if women are spending the majority of their time away from their kids by choice, because it’s easier than being at home, they need to look at that closely. Once we have children, our lives should change. Our kids need to feel loved and secure and nurtured in the Lord. We need to spend both quality time and quantity time with our children. If our kids are showing signs of neglect and neediness, slow down, however possible. Do all you can, through word and deed, to let them know they are your greatest priority. And always, no matter what, keep seeking the Lord’s will in your life—not your own.
Both of you referenced the “Proverbs 31 Woman” in Saturday’s show, but seemed to have different opinions about what moms should learn from her model. Would you explain what you believe the “Proverbs 31 Woman” teaches us today?
Candice: The message of Proverbs 31 is timeless. It teaches today what it has to women in every generation: work hard, be industrious, honor your husband, care for your children, steward your home and to do all of it in fear of the Lord and for His glory. It warns against vanity and self-seeking, modeling servant-hearted nurture and provision.
The Proverbs 31 woman shows us that Christian womanhood includes more than caring for home and hearth, but never less. The life of a Christian mom will include more than mothering. This will vary from woman to woman, and from season to season. But it’s not possible to have it all, all at the same time.
Proverbs 31 is not the model for a 1950s America that guided women away from the family farm or trade into domestic cul-de-sacs. Nor is it a contemporary model that encourages women to give their primary time and best attention to the workplace. Rather it is a vision of a thriving and fruitful life with home as the hub. The influence of a diligent wife and mom radiates outward to her own family and beyond.
Leslie: Here’s what we’ve done and continue to do in the Mommy Wars and far beyond: we’ve divided reality into two spheres: the home, which we consider sacred, and the “world out there,” the marketplace, which we consider secular. In this division, women are to stay at home tending the sacred hearth. But no such division exists.
All of reality—the home, the family, the marketplace—every inch of creation belongs to God and is to be returned to God for His glory and for the blessing of others. The Proverbs 31 woman moves about in both spheres, in the home, where she cares for her family, and out in the marketplace, where she buys and develops real estate, planting vineyards and selling the fruit. She is so successful in the business realm she is able to provide for the poor, as well as her own family. And her success and character in both of these realms is widely known, so much so that she is praised in public, at the city gates.
Yes, of course, love your children! The Scriptures make it clear that we are not to be consumed with our own family alone. Jesus warned us in several places that “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” We’re not to build our entire world around the kingdom of our family rather than the kingdom of God. The Scriptures won’t allow it.
Do you think church leaders should stay neutral on the so-called “mommy wars” – or is doing so shirking their responsibility?
Leslie: I think pastors need to teach the whole counsel of God. When right theology is taught, there’s no place for a divided universe. And there’s no place for a pastor to stand over his flock and make judgments of women based on what he thinks he’s seeing. His role is to study the Scriptures, love the people, exemplify grace, preach the whole counsel of God, and let the Holy Spirit work. His role is to lead us in our highest calling, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.”
It is from that pursuit of God, loving Him with all we have and are, that we are then enabled to love our children rightly. That’s the well from which we love our children appropriately, which means we are not looking to our children for our identity, for our purpose in life. We’re looking to the Lord.
When we get that order wrong and love our children and our home first, we’ve subverted the gospel and have elevated our own little family kingdom above the kingdom of God. God calls all of us to “Go into the world to preach and make disciples.” Making disciples begins at home—but it doesn’t end there.
Candice: God calls pastors to preach all of Scripture, showing how it points to His salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of Christ, and to teach His people how the gospel applies to all of life. But we shouldn’t expect our pastors to take up the topic du jour—whatever it is—on Sunday morning. Biblical preaching means opening the Scriptures and explaining what they mean, the way Philip did with the Ethiopian eunuch, in the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8).
This doesn’t mean pastors won’t have things to say about how the verses they’re expounding apply to our daily living. That’s part of good preaching. But, they shouldn’t come into the pulpit with a topical agenda. They are not there to say what they think someone should do, but to show believers what God says they must do.
Will this apply to how Moms and Dads order their work lives; how they care for their children; how they divide up the responsibilities? Yes. And it will require more than any of us can do in our own strength. But then this is the hope of the Gospel. Scripture call us to love others as Christ has loved us, to do all things for the glory of God. For those who are trusting in Him, He gives us the power to do it.