"well, there are all different types of families out there, and what works for one family won't work for another. Fortunately, there is no right or wrong way to parent, just a way that works for you."
I usually hear it from people who think I've gotten too judgemental about parenting topics in a forum or on social networking sites. It is the parental equivalent of the person in a religious debate dropping the "judge not, lest ye be judged" bomb and thinking they are clever when they don't like you telling them they have misinterpreted scripture or don't have the authority to make the scriptural interpretations they are clinging to. When it is launched, it gives the appearance of being very charitable and kind while it is actually hyper-subversive... taken out of context, it essentially negates the message of right and wrong that permeates the very Bible they are quoting from. And so it is with the parenting quote.
And it cracks me up, because it frequently comes from very good, very wholesome, believing women. I have this parenting issue a lot since returning to the Church.
Ironically, when I was a protestant, we seemed to have much more unity on the parenting front than Catholics do that I encounter. This was encouraging, pleasant, and so helpful for new moms! Sure, there were a few sideline crazies who didn't subscribe to the same parenting theories, but across the country and even across nations, all the mothers I met seemed to basically be on the same page on certain issues.
What issues? Well, women will make issues out of anything, but here are a few: Should a woman work outside the home? (Not if she has kids and can avoid it.) Should a woman and a man share the housework load half and half? (Not if he works full time to support her.) Should a woman breastfeed? (Yes.) On demand? (Yes.) Should she plan schedules for her kids and family? (Yes.) Should parents co-sleep? (Not unless they don't mind not having any privacy in their marriage or have the ability to get it elsewhere.) Should she spank her kids? (Yes.) Should her children bring toys, food, and books to church? (No.) Should she homeschool? (If she can.), Etc.
Now, I 've been told many times that I generalize too much when categorizing people. But when I returned to the Catholic Church, there seemed to be three camps. The first is the uber orthodox traddie mamma who always has ten or twelve kids (including a baby) in tow, wears denim jumpers or stern looking dresses, homeschools, headcovers, and virtually vanishes when mass is over, never to be seen again until the following week. Her husband is usually a little scary looking or somber. Her kids are always well behaved and totally amazing. There are several variations on this theme at most parishes I've been too, and some parishes, especially the ones that offer the extraordinary form, have an abundance of families like these.
Second is the "finger in every pie" mamma who seems to be at every Parish spaghetti dinner, small group, and rosary. She usually has one or two kids, and has no problem wearing either jeans or nice heels to mass. She likes the Novus Ordo a LOT, seems to have no idea what the extraordinary form actually is, and is really good at organizing committees and meal trains. Her husband is on the parish council. Her kids, though generally pretty good and well behaved, seem to be a little bored at mass, have been caught texting during a homily once or twice, and enjoy talking to other kids their age much more than adults or any of the children they might encounter at mass.
And then there's the crunchy mamma. She usually goes to all the events but gripes at all of them about how she can't use the nursery because her babies need to stay with her, nurses til her kids are four, and talks about homebirth and placenta encapsulations at the dinner table. She usually has twelve kids and homeschools too, but instead of order she brings the chaos. Her husband is either a saint or a pushover.
Now, I love every one of these precious women. I really, really do. But there is only one of them I would ever consider taking parenting advice from and that is the first category. Why? Because of the three, they are the only ones who have children who truly seem like little saints-in-training, and husbands who fulfill their God-given role to lead in the home.
I've heard these women be accused of being artificial or hollow, prideful or pharisaic. And they can be! But most of them seem to have also discovered some kind of powerful secret in life that enables them to follow Catholic teaching and to be open to life without worry. How is this? They know the secret of serenity: faith, hard work, prayer, and detachment from the world.
So why is it wrong to say so?? Clearly they have reached a place in life where they have succeeded at marriage and parenting. I've heard parents say they wouldn't want their kids to be so.... orderly, helpful, etc. because then they woudn't be being "themselves." I've heard people whisper that those mothers must go home and beat their children. I have heard people say that the older children in those families, who help very much around the house and seem to enjoy doing so, are being "robbed of their childhood" or somehow denied a "normal" childhood. And I disagree (Usually. There are exceptions to every rule, right?)
Having spent a large part of my life inside these types of homes, I can assure you that what I've witnessed has been nothing short of glorious-- true joy resides in these homes. Sure, they have the same temptations and issues we all have, but their peace literally reverberates and their visitors experience it. They do not have the problems that typically families in this world experience.
Now, I've seen much, MUCH smaller families-- and even couples who don't have kids--- exude the same peace and joy, so rest assured 'I'm not saying that it takes a large family to know how to live. But I am saying that when it comes to parenting advice, I'm going to take the advice of the moms around me who have upwards of six-twelve kids, their full sanity, an adoring husband (and by adoring, I mean proud. Not necessarily doting), and lots of joy. I'm going to take the advice of the moms who have raised children who have grown to be chaste, patient, persevering, hard working, gentle, kind, and godly. That's the kind of kid I want.
Maybe other Christians don't want that-- but it seems to me that we would. After all, what does the Bible say the fruit of the spirit is?
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." (Galatians 5:22-23)So when it comes to parenting discussions, it seems obvious that we should be looking for parenting "experts" that teach us to teach our children these things. Not how to raise kids that have a hard time sharing, throw fits, act wild, don't think ahead, don't know how to work, forget to say their prayers, are rough or mean with others, and have no self-control. Which is exactly what I see when I watch children being raised with these "new" parenting theories, usually deemed "gentle" or "grace-filled" by the Christians who promote them.
Sadly, like the lack of Catholic bible study materials that has permeated the past thirty years or so of Catholic experience, there are very few Catholic parenting materials that teach these things, despite an abundance of snippets and wisdom that promote their opposites found in encyclicals and scripture.
Parenting is the single most important task of the majority of Catholics. Catholic priests who must take care of families must have ideas and a basis for practical advice as much as parents. While it's deplorable that these materials are not readily available, I believe in God and I know that there is no teacher like the Holy Spirit. I also know that there is an abundance of practical information on every topic-- more than one person can really absorb in his or her lifetime--- in the Bible.
Mothers, do not be afraid to think that there is right and wrong in an issue as important as parenting. Fathers, do not be afraid to remind your wives. Priests, do not be afraid to preach it. If there is right and wrong in our every day choices, how much MORE so in our parenting choices?
Do not waste your time looking for answers in people who bring you SOME truth, but not the whole truth, in people who consider one part of the child but not the WHOLE child. Yes, every family is unique and distinct, but every family is also called to raise children who love God, serve Him, and do His will.
There is not always a "right" answer in practical measures because, as we know, every family is different and faces unique challenges. In that respect, I understand the above quote and agree with it. One family, for example, may co-sleep when another may not, and this has to do with finances, with cultural norms, with space, with work schedules, personal preferences, and any number of other reasons. There is no way that we can judge who is right or wrong based on their decision to co-sleep because that is none of our business. We are not them, we do not know.
Nevertheless, that's not the way the quote is intended. We do not know what's going on in other people's families, but that does not excuse us from seeking nothing less than perfection and holiness for our own.
There is a right answer in that we should all be sharing a common vision and hope for our future. We should all be facing the same expectation of our children, no matter what their personality differences and individual "needs." We should all be in agreement that some things are good for children and some things are not, that some things grow our children and other things do not, that some behaviors are appropriate and others are not. It is mystifying to me that modern parenting theories are subscribed to by Christian women, who should know better, because the Bible has clearly told us that these very theories will arise and will be followed by people
...because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Romans 1:25)
There is nothing new under the sun, so let us parent our children, and do it right: with morality, virtue, and long-term vision in mind.