Sunday, January 13, 2013

This Big Problem

I was sitting in the church nursery one Sunday morning, holding a really fussy baby.  Now, you wouldn't usually find me doing Children's Ministry- most people know that isn't my area of giftedness. But I could hear the babies screaming from my pew, so I went to see if they needed help.  They did.  So I sat and tried to comfort a baby boy.  Another one of the volunteers, a young, pregnant friend, was also comforting an upset child, and trying to chat about her excitement for the upcoming birth with a slightly-older parent. I sat there for the rest of the service, cringing more and more as their discussion went on.  I heard my friend's excitement turn to anxiety, then near panic as the other woman espoused all kinds of parenting theories to her- everything from delivery to breastfeeding to potty training.  She left bewildered and overwhelmed and I wanted so badly to pull her aside and tell her to just forget the whole conversation.

As we left church that day, I said to my husband, "I just figured it out.  I just figured out what I hate about parenting.  It's other parents." 

Maybe saying "other parents" is too general.  There is this phenomenon that I've witnessed growing among wonderful, caring, Christian parents.  I can't quite define it.  I'd start with the word "judgement" and then move to "superiority" and "false wisdom."  But it's still more than all of that.  It includes shaming others who don't raise their kids exactly like you think they should.  It involves raised eyebrows and knowing glances between those who think they have it "figured out."  And above all, it focuses on theories and ideas that I can find nearly no Biblical specifics on- and calls those theories and ideas "God's Way."  

I just call it This Big Problem.  

I saw it with my first son, and it surprised me.  I see it every day now, and it angers me. 

This Big Problem is destroying relationships.  It is making enemies of women who should be each other's biggest cheerleaders.  It is hurting the feelings of people who are already really hurting.  And the most crazy thing is that none of us really know exactly the right way to raise our kids when it comes to some of these much-debated topics.  I can't find a verse about the right age to potty train.  I can't find a story in the Bible about when to stop breastfeeding.  I don't know if Jesus had a pacifier or cried in his crib or had a dairy intolerance.  

I am ashamed to say I've been on both sides of This Big Problem.  I have judged others and thought I knew it all.  I hope I never directly hurt another person with this, and most of my judgement happened within my spirit and not outwardly.  But the Lord knocked me off my high horse fairly quickly, and I feel like my eyes snapped open fast.  And now, whenever I witness this, either firsthand or just observation, I am sick. 

I am sick of it. 

I am so sick of wonderful, Christian parents totally missing the point and using the energy God gave them to tear others down rather than build up.   

I wrote a post about this on my previous blog years ago, called "She's Doing the Best She Can."  Most of the women you know right now are doing the best they can.  Sure, we can all think of strangers or acquaintances who we don't think are doing their best.  But your friends? The women you see at your kids' school, the women in your Bible Study, the parents at your church? They are TRYING.  

And you have no idea what their life is like. 

But I DO know what they need.  They need someone to say, "I am FOR you.  I am in this battle WITH you."  Not "I am here to point out all you are doing wrong and shame you for it."  

My youngest with his Nana

As I've alluded to in past posts, our family is just recovering from a rough time.  The things we experienced were humbling, strengthening, and wisdom-giving. One of those experiences was having a child who's been hospitalized 3 times in his short life.  

I am now a freak about exposing my kids to illness.  Our son has a myriad of gastrointestinal issues- reflux, dairy allergy, delayed gastric emptying, and irritable bowel syndrome.  The last time he picked up a stomach virus, he got gastroparesis (stomach paralyzation), and had to be hospitalized for 6 days.  He became severely dehydrated, and food was no longer being digested or absorbed- it just came back up.  One night, after he had vomited every piece of food he'd eaten for the last 24 hours (for the 4th time that week), I sat up with him all night because I knew he was going to die.  (He didn't).  But I was watching my child waste away in a hospital bed and I felt helpless.  
 It was a horrible feeling.

Thankfully, he recovered from that.  But he is now on $300/month worth of medications (5 different medicines a day), and we make regular trips to a specialist that is 2 hours away.  We have to monitor him constantly.  I stress about every piece of food that enters his mouth, and the way it does or does not come out.  He is 3 years old and not potty trained because he still has no control over his watery, loose stools that come out multiple times a day.  That isn't his fault.  That isn't my fault.  

As I said, this has given me tremendous respect, compassion and empathy for people who have sick kids.  It breaks my heart.  And there are many, many kids sicker than mine- we are lucky and blessed that we just have a "management" situation rather than something dire. 

But twice in the last month, we've had people close to us judge us, and it has hurt.  One was a direct confrontation about potty training- being told I was damaging my child because he was getting older and not potty trained.  This person said they were "concerned" of course.  But they were judging, period.  The other time was friends who did not understand when we did not want my son exposed to someone who had the flu.  Our concern meant a slight hardship for them, so they were angry, upset and could not in any way fathom why we'd be so strict about it. 

They haven't watched their child suffer in the hospital.  They haven't cried and prayed that their baby would live (through something it takes most kids a day to bounce back from).  They don't pay for medicines and specialists and special food.  They do not understand.  What we needed from them was compassion and concern for our child: not judgment for making a choice they think they'd  never make.  

You can't understand unless you've been there. 

And I am not asking everyone everywhere to understand everything each parent has gone through.

But here is the bottom line: YOU DON'T HAVE TO UNDERSTAND.  

You can tell yourself, "I am not capable of understanding why each parent makes each decision. I am going to leave it to the Lord to judge them, and I am going to do my job: LOVE THEM."

You have no idea how you'd react if you lived the exact same experiences as that other woman you are judging.  You don't have the luxury of going to that place to make a judgement, so all you can do is believe the best about her.  Believe she is doing what God wants her to, and if she isn't, that's up to Him to sort out.  Your job is to love her.

Your job is to say, "I might not understand why you are doing this, but I love you and want to help however I can." 

You can say, "You are doing a great job." 

You can say, "I am on your side.  What do you need from me?" 

Shaming a person who chooses to deliver a baby differently than you, or throwing judgmental glances at a bottle-feeding mama: not in any way helpful. You have no idea what she's going through.  

(I got dirty looks a lot when I was bottle-feeding my first son, who we adopted. It shocked me.  I wanted to wear a sign explaining it, but then I realized it wouldn't matter. I'd just get judged for something else). 

Starting with love, offering to help, and then sharing your own experience from a place of humility with the goal of truly caring for that other young mom- that's what we all need.  

I'd love for everyone reading this to comment and say this: I want to take myself out of THIS BIG PROBLEM.  

No more passive-aggressive Facebook posts.  No more thinly-veiled comments, even to friends. Especially to friends.   No more self-involved, self-centered, time-wasting thoughts about other parents.  

Just true love and concern for all the other parent-warriors out there who are putting their heart and soul and life into raising children.  Put that energy you'd used to judge to instead help. 

Stop being a part of the problem, and seek first to love, then to understand.  This is my plea to all parents, especially those who claim to know Christ.  

We can start something opposite of a Big Problem- and people will see our love for them first.  

All of our hearts will be better off for it.  


  1. I love this! I have been there too, with the judging. I found out pretty quickly that I know zero. I read a quote once, "If it were possible to raise a child to perfection, He would have sent a parenting method...not Jesus." None of us know what the heck we are doing. Thank God for grace.