Motherhood & the Difficult Wisdom of Romans 14

We've all heard of (and likely experienced) the "Mommy Wars". As mothers, we can feel completely removed from other believers, if we make a parenting choice that is contrary to what they are choosing or what they chose. No matter where you live, if you're reading this and you're a mom, you've likely faced one of these issues, and may have butted heads with another Christian about it:
Stay at home vs. Career moms
Breast vs. Bottle

Spanking: Biblical or no?
Quiverfull vs. any limiting of family size at all

Schooling choices
Video Games
Sleep issues (co-sleeping, front/back sleeping)
How often children get baths
How soon to talk about x, y, or z with your kids
Sleepovers
Extracurricular activities

So many women feel beaten down for their choices. Or feel proud and combative about their choices. Or feel angry about other people's choices. Or feel bitter about other people's reactions to their choices. The thing is, none of those outcomes are good. Mommy wars are so very likely to end in pride, heartache, and frustration. With each other. With ourselves. And that's not the way we Christians are supposed to interact with one another.

There are some good things that can come when we share about our OWN choices. Curious people are satisfied. Confused people find more clarity. Unsure people may find sure footing (either in agreement or disagreement). Even people who are confident in their own choices may find their views/opinions sharpened and strengthened by hearing various other viewpoints. Sharing the biblical basis for our own decisions in parenting, home life, or marriage can be helpful for others who are either peers traveling the road with us, or for those who are slightly behind us on the road... to serve as guideposts for them as they eventually face some of the same choices in life.

But even in that (just talking about our own choices), we need to be careful. In electronic format, words can be so easily misinterpreted, and the same sentence can carry completely different meanings if read with venom or honey as the perceived "attitude". Here are some principles I see in Romans 14 (a chapter about Christian disagreement) that can be helpful for us mommies as we sort through and discuss these issues of motherhood, particularly online: (I'll share my own thoughts of what we can infer from each command behind each bolded main idea.)
  1. Welcome others. (vs. 1) - We are, in our flesh, unwelcoming. We are quick to section ourselves off into groups of those with whom we agree.
  2. Do not quarrel over opinions (vs. 1) - We are, in our flesh, argumentative. We like to be "right".
  3. Do not pass judgment on others (vs. 4, 10) - We are, in our flesh, critical and condemning. We like to be a part of "us" and not "them".
  4. Be fully convinced in your own mind (vs. 5) - We may walk around airing opinions that we aren't fully convinced of. We may have a tendency to not think through things carefully.
  5. Do not despise one another (vs. 10) - In our flesh, we may feel hatred for or look down on the people with whom we disagree. Though we are called to love, our disagreements can quickly deteriorate that love we are to have for one another.
  6. Remember that we will give an account to God (vs. 12) - Not only for our words, but for our actions and beliefs. We are quick to forget that we're each responsible for our own lives.
  7. Decide never to put a stumbling block in the way of someone else (vs. 13) - We can unnecessarily build walls or barriers between us and others.
  8. Don't intentionally and overtly do something to grieve another believer (vs. 15) - We can cause pain to others by our choices and words.
  9. Pursue peace (vs. 19) - We should major on the things that we can agree on with the Christians around us.
  10. Pursue what will mutually build up one another (vs. 19) - Find common ground and strive to sharpen one another in that area. This doesn't come naturally; we have to work at it.
  11. Even if you have peace about something, if it grieves another believer, don't make a show of it. (vs. 20-22)
  12. Whatever you do, do it in faith. (vs. 23)
Good stuff. It's amazing how the Bible really does speak into our lives, even from nearly 2,000 years ago. Any thoughts?

33 comments:

Julie said...

AAAACK! This post is entirely too timely in my life! I really appreciate these thoughts, though. :)

Just yesterday, I lost my cool with family--our son spits up a lot. (And not the projectile kind, just the regular ol' dribbly baby spit up.) But for some reason, everyone feels the need to excitedly point it out to us--"He's spitting up! He's spitting up!" I finally snapped yesterday, thanked everyone for pointing out the obvious to me, and left the room in a huff. I stomped up the stairs and called down to everyone--"And I'm also tired of everyone telling us how big he is!" So I had my 5 minute pity party, caused a huge scene, made everyone feel incredibly awkward, and have since suffered from guilt over my behavior. It is annoying--the things that you hear over and over...BUT, that's not really a good excuse for responding with sarcasm/anger, my favorites. :)

Our son is adopted and is also black, while we're just plain vanilla. So everyone also comments on that--most people are very nice about it, but they still say things like, "Oh, he's gonna be a football player!" or "There's little Stevie Wonder." (His name's Stephen...) OR my favorite: "Little Barack Obama." That one drives me over the edge.

I tend to keep my cool at the "right" places--church, with strangers. But at home, or with family, I just let it all go, and I always regret it.

My husband has been so wonderful to pray for me during these early weeks of sleeplessness and adjustment to having a "little buddy" 24/7. He and I have had a heart-to-heart about my attitude, and I'm excited to talk through Romans 14 with him. A WONDERFUL piece of advice that we received from our adoption caseworker, which applies to ALL mothers is that sometimes it is worthwhile to gently "educate" someone after they've made a particular comment about your child/mothering skills/choices in parenting--and other times it is best to just smile, nod, and keep on walkin'! Now if I could only follow all these good pieces of wisdom...

I suppose that we should all take time each morning to ask for God's guidance and a gentle spirit and to pray for other mothers in this area, as well.

Thanks, as always, Jess, for sharing the insights God's given you!

Kim said...

Julie - I know what you mean. Sometimes the only way anything gets through to my family is when I lose my cool, and then I feel horrible. Congrats on your new little one though, he sounds delightful.

Jess - I think Romans 14 is a much overlooked chapter that speaks to SO MANY areas of the Christian life, and that if we really abided by it, we'd avoid countless arguments over who is right and wrong.

Also? People argue about how many times to bathe a baby? If they're dirty, bathe them. If they're not, don't. What's to argue about there? :)

Love you.

Anna Grace said...

Thanks for this post, Jess. Know what's funny? This is more of a problem between my husband and myself! We're not parents yet, but are hoping to find out we're expecting anytime soon. (God's timeline is, apparently, slower than we'd like.)

For instance, I want to nurse our children, but my doing so in public would make hubby very uncomfortable, even if I'm 100% covered. This means I'll have to sit in a gross restroom while feeding my child, half the time.

With the quiverfull debate, I want at least five, plus however many adoptive and foster children the Lord will grant us. Hubby wants two. The end.

Hubby is adamant about public schools. I am adamant about home schooling. I remember what public school taught me and I can't handle the thought of my children being taught that way. But hubby is the head of the house.

So, I'd encourage moms who are talking to each other about various parenting choices to keep in mind that the wife may agree with you, but must honor her husband in her choices. Be sensitive to that, as well.

Kirstin said...

Excellent post, as always. I have been enjoying your blog for several months now, and am finally coming out of lurkdom.

I try to stay out of the mommy wars, although I have found that it is easy for a mommy war to get started over misinterpretation of my meaning online. :/ Oops. Not going back to that particular board again.

It has been frustrating lately to find myself in the middle of a mommy war going on in my husband's family. Sometimes I want to point out to the women in question that they both love their babies, they are both good mommies, and they both feel isolated staying at home, so how about setting up a playdate rather than fighting over how often an infant should be fed overnight...

Jess said...

Oh, Kim, you would be *shocked* at the comments that I've seen on parenting forums about bathing frequency. Seriously.

That all moms who don't bathe their kids every night are neglectful. That moms that do are environmentally careless, etc. It's absurd.

:)

Amanda said...

Great post, Jess.

The Lord has been softening my heart in this area lately. I have a (nearly) 18 month old son and I can be quite judgmental towards others' parenting decisions, and honestly, it's so ridiculous of me to be judging others on what they think is the best for their kids. Where do I get off doing that to other people, especially to friends and other believers? (I do have one exception to this that involves community health, but now is not the time or place!! :D)

And I know that we cannot change other people, but it would also be helpful if a friend or other, when announcing they're doing something unusual would not put down the conventional way of doing things or to say things like "well, I've done loads of research and came to this decision" because it sounds like the person could be assuming that someone else has not thought out how to care for their kids. (Whew that was quite the run on sentence!)

That's my two cents (well more like 89 cents, really. :D).

~Amanda

Terry said...

Bravo, bravo, bravo, dear Jess! What a wonderful post. I haven't anything to add. The beauty of God's word is that it defends itself.

I wanted to let you know that I answered your tag (finally!). Thanks for thinking of me. It was fun.

Polly said...

Good post, I love your analysis of Romans 14 on this topic. Perhaps I shall link to it sometime, if that's alright by you?

I think people forget that it's ok when others do things differently. And it seems that a lot of judgment stems from insecurity, perhaps?

Mothering is a relationship..I just wrote my best friend about this the other day when she was feeling judged. Perhaps I'll post on it soon as well, though not nearly as well as you did here, I'm sure!!

Thanks to God for his awesome direction in all realms of our lives!

Anonymous said...

Jess,

You forgot:

To vaccinate or not

Home birth vs. hospital

No pain medication vs. an epidural

Cloth diapers vs. disposable

These have all garnered me some level of disagreement or comment that I'm "doing it wrong."

Jen

Pepperpot said...

Don't forget Halloween either :P Nothing brings out the claws in my Christian moms forum faster than Halloween.

This is a great post. I think I'll come back to it tonight in my quiet time and reread it with Bible in hand. :)

Jaime said...

so, so true!! i've always shied away from mentioning ANYthing about my personal parenting style, simply because a lot of it doesn't follow "popular" christian mentalities. (however, i do pray quite a bit over it, lest that sound like I'm not doing any christian parenting!)

i guess i am hoping (trying!) to show my opinions more by example. mainly because I mess things up so royally when I speak - too many mininterpretations.

then, if someone comments on my child's behavior, that opens the door a little more to discuss the path I chose in order to get there!

Britt said...

I have really enjoyed this post!!

One big topic lately for us has been discipline: one of my friends does not spank her children and they literally run around out of control, bully our kids, & even spit on their mom! We spank ours (when we think they need it...yes, spitting would be one of those times). In our opinion, there's nothing wrong with a good healthy spanking (I think Dobson said that...). But we also love our children- give hugs, play together, read, etc. My friend was SHOCKED when she found out how we discipline and I couldn't help but think (in a roll my eyes kind of tone), "well that's why your kids are the way they are." Her lack of discipline has really made it difficult for us to spend time together...I don't want my girls being physically attacked or rocks thrown at my car (just to give another example). But I enjoy HER as a friend, without her kids around. How do I say, "Sorry I'd love to have you over for coffee, but leave your children at home because you don't hold them accountable for their vicious behavior." ???????

Brandy said...

Jess, thanks (again) for another thought provoker. I am a first-time expecting mom and have felt overwhelmed with people's opinions whether face-to-face, or in books I read. It seems that everyone thinks they are right and have no problem saying so. This posses a problem when you don't feel like you know what you are doing, you want to do the right thing, and you are receiving differing "right" ways to do the task. This has caused me to re-think my judging heart and how I have possibly made others feel in the past. Romans 14 captures it well. What we do is between us and God and we are responsible to Him and to follow His leading. I am focusing on that more each day. I pray that other parts of this chapter convict me as I become a mom with all the "right" ways of doing things ;)

thehavensc.com said...

Jess, may i share a sermons recently (timely) preached this past Lord's Day on Romans 14. It can be accessed here: Godly Decisions and Romans 14

Sheila said...

perfect!!! Romans 14. I'm gonna go get it and read it again. I've got to confess I've been on both sides of the "mommy wars." I've preached a certain perspective when I wasn't fully convinced myself and I've poured out advice when I had never walked in that person's shoes and i've also been on the receiving end of criticism and "concern" about my choices as a mom.

I think what struck me the most about this section of scripture applied to what I say and do and vice versa with other moms is the part about being fully convinced. We shouldn't live to please others. We shouldn't throw out our convictions because others disagree. But we should KNOW what we believe and why we do what we do and then be gracious no matter what others choose to do.

thanks for sharing this. i'm off to get my Bible!
sheila

kmom3 said...

Terrific!
I don't know if you know much about MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), but I am going to be preparing ladies this summer to lead tables of women during the year. You have given me some excellent verses and thoughts to pray about! Discussion time at tables can get a bit sticky when we come to the hot topics you mentioned, and we need to know how God wants us to handle such situations! Thanks for this great info!
Kimberly :)

kmom3 said...

I linked on my blog to this post today. It is so great, I just had to share it.
Thanks!
Kimberly :)
(You don't have to publish this comment. I just wanted you to know how very much I appreciated this post! Blessings!)

Anonymous said...

Anna Grace,
thanks for your input, too. (I hope this isn't too far off topic, but it might be a little.) My husband and I have had some very similar disagreements, and while I've struggled with it at times, I've tried to be respectful to him about these areas. (Although, I admit, I would NOT nurse in the bathroom, unless it had a separate waiting area or something similar. I would go out to the car or something.) Anyway . . . our oldest is almost 4 and youngest is almost 2 (no more, yet), and I've found that in a lot of these areas of disagreement, when I've been patient and prayed and been respectful, my husband has actually changed his mind or been more open to hearing mine. And once he makes up his mind, it is hard to change it!!! That's not to say I'm always right or you should always have the intention of trying to change your husband, but as I was "fully convinced" about some of these things, and have tried to approach the situation biblically, I believe God and my husband have honored that.
Michelle

alaskamommy said...

Well said. I've been thinking along the "mommy wars" lines lately, and glad you wrote about it. Thanks for bringing up Scripture that doesn't "tell" us how to raise our children but instead how to treat one another. Too often, the blog postings I read cite the Bible to support that person's personal approach to childraising. Like another person said, sometimes my husband and I don't follow some of the popular "christian" methods, and I have to remind him (and myself!) to not put down another parent's style or parenting decisions; we'll all find out in the end what we did right and what we did wrong. =)

heather said...

Great food for thought!

Stephanie@AHighandNobleCalling said...

What a great post! Thank you so much for this! I love it!

Trish D said...

Thanks for a great post. Our son will be attending PUBLIC kindergarten in the fall, and I can't believe some of the comments we've gotten. But I can be pretty judgmental, too (I may not speak up about it, but a prideful heart is still sinful!) I'm linking!

Holly said...

Good post, Jess.

I received a scathing letter from a blogging woman due to misunderstanding awhile ago (even after I had apologized and explained myself...)and you know, it really did hurt. I have forgiven her, but it really stung for awhile. It affected our relationship as Christian women. I wish she could have read this post of yours.

It was a good lesson for me at the time - first to temper myself, second to not assume too much, third to work better with my communications and fourth, to extend grace more easily. We grow and we learn.

Susan said...

I just happened across your post, and have to chime in as a mom of teens and college-age children. The mommy wars won't stop as your children get older! LOL For us now it's . . .

college
girls going to college
Bible college vs. secular college
adult children living at home or not
dating vs. courtship
hair styles - both boys and girls

One of the major themes of the Bible is personal accountability. Each father and mother are accountable to God, and God alone, for how they choose to raise their children and continue to guide them as they approach adulthood. Romans 14:4 is my husband's favorite verse to quote to me when I get caught up in what others are doing (or not doing, as the case may be) - "Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth . . . "

You've done an excellent post here - thank you!

HopewellMomSchool said...

Good post--just found you blog via Amy's. I've also written about the Mommy stuff http://hopewellmomschoolreborn.blogspot.com/2007/10/christian-mothers-version-of-perfect.html

MrsBurns said...

For Britt:
I have a rel/ship similar to the one you describe; it's been difficult for seven years, when our firstborn boys were about 2yo. At the 5yo mark, I had to stop seeing my friend except when our time together could be grown-ups only. Her son just would not be respectful of me and the boundaries we set on our kids; he was/is also very disrespectful of his mother, my friend, and it made me so sad to see her "take it" and not apply correction.

I'm sorry about your situation. Get together with her after hours, if possible, when the husbands/fathers can watch the little ones and you two can chat and pray. It worked for me. My friend is still my friend, but boys aren't close. And I'm OK with that!

Leah said...

Living in a seminary community, you would think there would be MORE agreement than disagreement, but that is not true. My husband and I have at times been very discouraged by the 'nit-picky' things that people fight over, I'm sorry, I mean heatedly discuss. We have decided to not make a big deal over the little things. I breastfed my baby; I had an epidural in the hospital; we currently cloth diaper; and we plan to homeschool. None of these items, though, are central to the Gospel--they will not get us saved! We don't hide it, but we definitely do not crusade for these smaller issues (i.e., many of our friends do not know that we cloth diaper). Our hope is for our family to be bigger crusaders for the gospel than anything else--and we need continual improvement in that area! Thanks for pointing us to scripture.

:..Rebekah..: said...

I know from my own experience that all of these wars make me just want to run. I long for fellowship with other godly women and believers, but I see so many churches and groups get caught up in these things as well as other wars (theological, denominational) that it just exhausts me and I feel hopeless. We are in the process of searching for a church, and most of the ones that we have visited have a bandwagon with all their own lingo, encouraging everyone to live the way that they think is the way, and everything revolves around that pet issue. It's so discouraging, and it seems to be everywhere. There's no escaping it, it seems!

Jenn said...

What a wonderful post, thank you so much! #11 really sticks out to me because I think very often we feel that if we have a conviction about something (that does not affect our salvation) that other people need to have the same convictions and we need to do what we can to show them and convince them of the same things. How easy it is to forget that we are all in different places on our journey with Christ, and that He does not lead us all on the exact same trail of circumstances to bring us on this adventure of life. In failing to realize that we become legalistic, even mean, bitter and self-righteous. As much as we'd like to think all of life is black and white, especially as Christians, we rarely recognize the gray areas, or dismiss them. We force ourselves and try to lead, "suggest", coerce, or guilt others into either area of black or white, whatever we personally "have peace with", and can wound others deeply and cause confusion.

Instead, if we trust God with the things we have a peace with, and respect and love others, leaving them free to learn from the Holy Spirit, not from our insisting or persuasion, we can grow as a healthy body, instead of a sick and wounded one.

For Julie, the first commenter, your comment sticks with me, I think because we live in Memphis and racism is alive and well and in your face. I have actually had people come up to me on the street and say "it sure is nice to see a white baby around here". I know I'm in a pretty different boat as you, I don't think people's comments about your baby are supposed to be derogatory or insulting, but they still are! I would encouraging you to, in genuine love, challenge people when they say something like that, for instance "I'm sorry, what do you mean by that?" Some times people don't realize what they say or suggest is totally inapproriate and instead of confronting them with sharp comment, challenging them to explain their comment can help them see how off-base it is. Also, you could get used to saying something like "I can't wait to see who God grows him up to be!" Or, we also use talking directly to our daughter, but so the other person hears "you can be whoever you want to be, can't you!"

Just some thoughts. I don't think it's being argumentative to do something like that, I think, if you do it right with love for them, saddened that they couldn't find anything better to say, you could really help them.

Charity said...

Good advice and timely too. I flubbed up recently on one of my blog posts and said some things in anger that I shouldn't have said. I've learned my lesson I believe. Thanks for your post!

Tasha said...

Thank you for this post. It is so true... and so convicting.

Can I have your permission to print it for our ladies ministry at church?

Thank you again,
Tasha
new4younow@hotmail.com

Mrs. Cheerio said...

I want to copy and paste this to my blog directly (I won't, but I would love to!)... it is so applicable to me and the season of life I am in as a new mother and facing certain struggles.

Mrs. Cheerio said...

This is the 3rd time this week I have come back to this post. Amazing. I wish I had come across it sooner...

I can honestly say that there is not one "rule" on this list I have not broken lately, blogging and in real time. I'm thankful for the gentle reminder and encourages to move forward in peace and love.