Well, it’s building again. That pressure to do the right thing, to do it the best way, to prove your worth is on the rise. Where does it come from? From women’s mouths, popular books, sub-cultural norms to your ears–actually straight to your heart. The words marinate in your heart until you believe it and act in pride or until you are shamed because you are not enough and you embarrassed because you have fallen short again. This must be something really essential–you think. Or has someone else pushed it as essential?
Motherhood. Until I was first baptized into this “secret club,” I never realized the pressure to fit there, the pressure to perform. It starts almost as soon as you get pregnant or fill out the adoption papers. “Surely you are going to do….A thoughtful mother would only plan this way….Are you going to feed your child that?….You let your children go this long between feedings?” “I will only do natural birth… You are going to put THAT into your body?” “You are going to name your child that?” “Godly mothers do…I only use natural products…”
I was 36 when I gave birth after many years of infertility, and I will be 38 with my second. I had some maturity under my belt, but that little teenage girl who was worried and timid about “fitting in” and would did not know who she was looked me in the eye in the mirror as all of these expectations came rushing toward me. I had NEVER felt so much pressure. There was a lot of opportunity to feel so much pride in my decisions–when I thought I chose to do something “right.” There was also a lot of opportunity for me to feel “less than” from the club of mothers around me–things I chose or did not choose or could or could not do.
It is interesting how many trends can become en vogue in just a short span of years. Right now, I see many young women in their twenties in the serious evangelical realm going for natural and home births. I totally respect people for choosing that for themselves. This is obviously something you pray and decide seriously about (as with many decisions in motherhood and child-rearing.) I have then seen women who are crushed and feel like they have failed at a major point when a health issue prevents this (and they have to have a C-section or go to the hospital) and they lose that goal. I see people who are drawn to sleep training and parent-directed (AKA Babywise verses people who are very into attachment parenting (AKA Dr. Sears). There can be a lot of judgement and shaming between those camps–I felt that when we decided to carry through with a Babywise philosophy. There is MUCH MUCH MUCH pressure to exclusively breastfeed–which is a wonderful thing, but the pressure I took on myself from outside sources and wanted to work for me nearly crushed me as my body would not produce what was needed. I truly believe the pressure that I internalized (yes–I take the responsibility) nearly put be over the edge with such deep postpartum that I could not see straight. I could go on and on and on…You get the point.
This is my concern…Somewhere along the way, we have made choices into essentials of our identity. “If I do not do it this way, my whole identity is shattered.” We get on this proving ground and lose our minds and hearts. And, as children grow, the proving ground changes but we still act as if our identities are essential to our decisions within the parenting realm. It may be how we discipline our children or how we interact with them or what we expect from them at certain ages or what we expose them to (homeschool, private school, public school.) I’m kind of getting the hives just writing this. Because we cling to making the “right” choices as our identity, then we must enforce that with others. We judge them in our mind, hearts and with our mouths because they are not doing things our way. We think they are less than because in order for us to continue to gain our identity and worth from these things, they have to be wrong or get on board and think we are right. We make things essential that are side issues.
So, as the pressure mounts, yet again, on this uphill climb in pregnancy and mothering, I remind me and others of what is essential. The essential piece to our identity is the Gospel–whether we are single, married, jobless, parents, CEO or stay at home mom. We do not prove our worth or acceptance to God by what philosophy we adhere to or birth plan we choose, whether our children sleeps in the bed with us until they are 6 or is in the crib the first night, whether we breast or bottle feed, whether we give immunizations or feed kraft macaroni or organic. All of us are going to fail as parents because we are human, fallen, sinful creatures. We can lean hard into the Lord from day one and do everything “right”, and our children will sin and rebel and break our hearts. We can royally try to do it on our own without the Lord, and our children are going to sin and rebel and mess up. It is what we cling to and remember in our triumphs and our failures that will shape our hearts and our children’s hearts. Who does our help come from? Where do we go for our essential identity? How in our failures and our children’s failures do we point them toward the hope of the Gospel?
Our children will get the message from us loud and clear as to what we think is essential to our identity (and, in turn, theirs). They see what we cling to and what crushes us when it falls apart. So, from the beginning, I encourage those on the journey with me to be on the journey together, encouraging instead of accusing, making the gospel essential and not side decisions, loving instead of comparing. Will you come with me?