I recently wrote this article about how being supportive of and empathetic toward parents—and particularly mothers—is one powerful way we can cultivate a greater love of children and parenthood. Consider this article part two on how we can be pro-life advocates in our daily lives.
We all have done it. I certainly have.
We have whispered about our son’s school crush to another class mom. We have shared the “delightful” details of our daughter’s potty training. We have bemoaned our child’s tendency to whine or be ungrateful.
Venting can dull the edge of parenting stress, and misery certainly loves company. Hearing other parents’ tales of their children’s antics—whether in person or online—I know that I’m not alone, that I’m not a bad mom, that my kids are not abnormal for behaving, well, like kids.
Children’s activities, tantrums, and accomplishments are often fodder for parent-to-parent conversation. The rise of social media brought the rise in sharing, often as a way of offloading feelings or finding validation. While Facebook and Instagram can offer great content and be valuable tools for parents, many use posts or comments as a megaphone for venting about children (and spouses).
We watch videos lamenting a toddler who asks for grilled cheese and then chucks it off the table. We read posts about kids waking up their parents just to share a silly dream. We hear stories about kids pointing out mommy’s “fat” tummy and her belly “stripes.” Parents can certainly relate and find the humor amusing; tales of other parents’ woes are oddly comforting (and usually pretty funny).
But as Christians, we are called to see our children extra generously; we are called to love them by seeing Jesus in their eyes. And so I wonder where we should draw the line in order to uphold their dignity.
Here are some questions I am trying to ask myself: At what level am I using my children for entertainment value, for connection, for validation? Am I viewing my children as unique people with feelings and needs or only as extensions of myself? When do such conversations, stories, and posts become gossip? And I have to wonder, especially when I see endless reels of parents bemoaning parenting stress or venting about their children’s behaviors . . . What will these kids think when they one day see these videos? Will they wonder, “Was being my parent that awful?”
Two things can be true: I can have fun with my children while also feeling overstimulated. I can want to be around them all the time but also desire personal space or an identity other than “Mommy.” Frankly, I can love my children while also actively disliking them.
But do I need to share all of the intricacies of my children’s flaws—and how absolutely draining and overwhelming motherhood can be—with everyone? From a consumption standpoint, does frequently watching such reels or listening to others’ negativity strengthen my motherhood, or does it make me more pessimistic?
I’m not saying that we need to bottle up our feelings, never vent about our frustrations, or pretend parenthood is all sunshine and roses. Pretending that our lives (and our kids) are perfect all the time is unsustainable. But discernment and prudence are wise virtues as we share our feelings because I believe that over-sharing can contribute to the undervaluing of parenthood and, by extension, children.
So many of the comment sections of these posts are gut-wrenching; on well-intentioned, humorous reels, I have seen comments like “This is why I am never having children.” (To be clear, I am not claiming that not having children, intentionally or not, is immoral; the sentiment of not having kids because they are inconvenient or annoying is what I am addressing.) I have seen videos of grown adults screaming at young children having a tough time on planes or in restaurants—and plenty of commenters agree that the child’s behavior was problematic.
When we consistently share every stressor of parenthood in all its gory detail with younger family members, childless peers, or the Internet . . . Are we really helping the world see that having children is wonderful? that children are not burdens to an otherwise happy life? that motherhood is something worth fighting for?
Perhaps the answer lies in presenting realism versus fatalism, as well as in prayer and careful discernment. That we were up with a hungry baby all night is honest. Following it up with “I am a shell of a human being and use coffee intravenously to survive” may alienate those who don’t understand how you can be exhausted, even resentful toward your children, and also totally in love with them. Or as we explain how potty training has taken longer than anticipated, we can leave out stories that may one day be embarrassing to our kids and instead share which resources have been most helpful. And we can also be extra selective with whom we confide our parenting struggles (maybe our very closest friends and family? those in the same season of motherhood? those who will listen without judgment and then will encourage us?).
Regardless, the reminder that my children are people—and that I am in a position of power that will shape how the world sees them and vice versa—is important as I consider what, where, and how I want to tell their stories. I will probably not love all the tales they inevitably tell about my moments of weakness or frustration, and I would love for them to carefully consider my feelings as they do so.
Hopefully, we can continue to build the narrative around parenthood. Despite the frustrations that children can bring, let’s try to bear them in a more saintly way, to speak about our children realistically but joyfully to bring about a more fruitful culture of life.