Michael Krueger first met Sister Julia in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as an undergraduate student at Viterbo University and dishwasher at St. Rose Convent. She was the only sister who didn’t leave a generous tip. (All joking aside, the one and only tip he actually received was the priceless call to FSPA affiliation in 2009). He credits that “top-notch Franciscan education” for putting him on a path to La Crosse’s Place of Grace Catholic Worker House (where he lived for two-and-a-half years), SOA peace vigils, work with developmentally disabled adults (inspired by Jean Vanier and L’Arche), commitment to social justice and a chance dinner with Roy Bourgeois. He currently lives near Madison with his wife and young daughter, and recently joined efforts to begin a Catholic Worker community there.
If you’ve never heard of the Mommy Wars, then you (mercifully) missed last year’s media frenzy surrounding a Time magazine cover that featured a mom breastfeeding her four-year-old son. The accompanying article, provocatively titled “Are You Mom Enough?,” spawned a vitriolic nation-wide debate that was sadly emblematic of the Mommy Wars.
For a glimpse of the battles being waged daily, just visit an internet message board for expectant mothers. I’ve seen a discussion thread about the use of pacifiers devolve into a veritable combat zone, with pro-paci factions launching caustic condemnations at those who refuse to give their babies pacifiers (and vice versa).
Water birth or epidural? Cry-it-out or attachment parenting? Career- or stay-at-home mom/dad? For every parenting decision we make, there is an “expert” eager to explain exactly how that decision will cause irreversible damage in our children. Once, distraught by contradictory parenting books, I called my mom in a panic. “How do I know which one is right?!”
“Nicole,” she replied with wise bemusement, “there are a million right ways to raise a child.”
What a revelation! I’ve carried that advice with me even—and especially—as I’ve waded through judgment from others and the temptation to judge others. I do, of course, have strong opinions about what’s right for my family, and I have unfortunately witnessed some very wrong ways to raise a child. But, for the most part, I respect others’ parenting choices and operate under the assumption that they’re doing what’s right for them. I think most of us can agree that deeming a woman “Mom Enough” based upon her use or disuse of the pacifier is rather absurd … but, then again, welcome to the Mommy Wars!
Some would say that the Mommy Wars are yet another symptom of our fundamental brokenness. I, however, am a bit more optimistic. I believe the Mommy Wars are a reflection, albeit misguided, of our commitment to live out our parental vocations as best we can. We understand that the decisions we make in raising our children are tremendously important—perhaps more important than any other in our lives. Add in the surplus of “expert” opinions, and suddenly even minor decisions (like using a pacifier) take on an almost-mythical magnitude. Our earnest desire to do it right fuels both passion and insecurity, and we become hyper defensive of our choices. The ultimate result: the Mommy Wars.
There is a temptation, I think, to become defensive whenever we know we are doing something of profound significance. In this matter, as in so many others, our faith tradition can be instructive. Our primary vocation as Christians is to live out our baptismal calling: to bind ourselves in perfect love to God and one another. And here too, when faced with the knowledge that what we are doing really matters, we become rightfully passionate and deeply insecure. Look in the editorial section of your local diocesan publication for the latest version of “If the way you’re Catholic is different from the way I’m Catholic, then you must be wrong.”
Yet our Church belies this perspective. Joan of Arc was a warrior; Dorothy Day was a pacifist. Francis of Assisi spurned material wealth; Thomas More lived in opulence. Thérèse of Lisieux prayed in a cloistered convent; Francis Xavier was a missionary evangelist.
Clearly, our Church prescribes no single right way to be a saint. Jesus himself called fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot to be among his apostles. The diversity of the saints and apostles tells us that we can be united in mission and purpose while living out our vocation in vastly different ways. What’s saintly for one person may not translate into holiness in another. I apply the same principle to parenting: the best decision for me as a mother might be impossible or imprudent for another mom, but it has nothing to do with either of us being “Mom Enough.”
Being a mom is sufficiently difficult without the snarky comments or disapproving stares of others. We parents need to be able to turn to each other for advice, encouragement and empathy without fear of judgment from those who are doing it differently (especially because, when it comes down to it, I’m convinced we’re all basically winging it anyway).
I’m pretty sure Jesus couldn’t care less whether we give our babies a pacifier. He would—and we should—be far more concerned with whether we are giving one another love and support as we stumble along the path of parenthood. In fact, I think Jesus would take one look at those vicious mommy message boards and declare a holy ceasefire in the Mommy Wars. Let us do the same!
This week’s guest blogger, Nicole Steele Wooldridge, is a friend of Sister Julia’s. She’s a mom to a two-year-old and a two-month-old, and she really wishes her baby would take a pacifier.