It was a Thursday morning at a women’s ministry breakfast, and I arrived in a haze of sleep deprivation. I was an exhausted new mom and thankful for the break, so I settled into my seat, munched on some breakfast casserole, and turned my attention to our speaker. The woman on stage was cute, put together, and very creative. She had come to us with an innovative idea, which was getting our kids to eat healthy by making their food look fun.
This woman had all sorts of ideas for arranging our kids’ food. She showcased a panda bear of beans and rice, and a lady bug made of sliced apples and raisins. It was really quite amazing. I never would have thought of such a thing, and I’m sure my kids would love it.
Now, for some of you reading this, this is your thing. You are creative and you love to cook. This idea is right up your alley. I, on the other hand, shrunk under the table. I was barely surviving my days in one piece, and I don’t like cooking, so this was NOT my thing. The longer our speaker talked, the higher I could feel my blood pressure rise.
At the end of the presentation, I wondered if the women at my table felt the same. Just in case, I turned to them and whispered loudly, “YOU KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THAT!” Like I was saving them from something. On top of everything else, the last thing they needed was to spend their time sculpting a Mona Lisa out of ham. Right?
What I didn’t recognize at the time is that some women thrive on those creative flourishes, while others don’t, and neither is right or wrong. We all have our different gifts and strengths, and that diversity is a good thing.
Unfortunately, we exist in the age of the “mommy wars.” The pressure to keep up, or validate ourselves, leads us to belittle and judge one another. In order to affirm our choices, or cover up insecurities, we criticize other parents for parenting differently than we do.
I think that’s why I responded so harshly to that speaker. At the time, I thought it it was frivolous. I also thought it was one more brick in the massive load of expectations our society has for women. In hindsight, I was mostly just insecure. I didn’t have the time or talent for that project, so I dismissed it as silly. My limitations kept me from seeing the beauty of her idea. I couldn’t admit that it might help some women liven their day, adding color and fun to a monotonous afternoon. I couldn’t appreciate how the speaker was using her God-given talents to bless her kids.
In short, my weaknesses and limitations became a barrier to love.
I think this insecurity is what fuels so much of the mommy wars. Thankfully, the gospel has an answer for it, and it’s a bit more involved than the simple command not to judge. Instead of encouraging us to leave other mothers alone, the gospel has this to say about the mommy wars: The competition, the expectations, the keeping up–God nailed it all to a cross. How we parent cannot justify us, and how we fail cannot put us to shame. It is finished.
What’s interesting about all this is that the “mommy wars” are not new. Not the heart of them. In Jesus’ time, people measured themselves and judged others by what they did, just like we do today. The religious leaders believed their good works were a sign of success. They drew strength and confidence from their deeds, and you better believe they were competitive about it. Of course they compared themselves to one another! Of course they kept tally of one another’s failures! Of course they wanted to believe they were the best! That’s what humans do.
Into that rat race, Jesus stepped in, and instead of feeding into it by trying to be the best, he laid himself down. Jesus, who was perfect, who could have demonstrated his perfection with the flick of his wrist, submitted himself to humiliation and death. He lowered himself, in order to raise us up.
That is what it looks like to end the mommy wars. We lower ourselves in order to lift others up. That means embracing our weaknesses instead of being ashamed of them. It means celebrating other parents’ strengths, and learning from them in humility. It also means appreciating the diversity of parenting styles, instead of feeling threatened by them.
The mommy wars are an endless cycle, unless we intentionally reverse them. The only way to reverse them, is to lower ourselves. To stop competing. To stop trying to keep up. Admit your failures, and rest in the peace that God’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). That is what it looks like to parent differently, and it’s the only way to undermine the crushing expectations of the mommy wars. I also suspect it is one of the best ways we, as Christian parents, can be salt and light in a striving world.