My last post and popular blogger and author Rachel Held-Evans’ subsequent shout-out in her Sunday Superlatives (for “Best Conversation Starter in the Blogosphere”) have generated a throng of readers and a string of interesting comments, most of which seem to be largely in disagreement with Roiphe’s take on the matter (and my own points of agreement with Roiphe).
I suspect this “firestorm” of sorts may be because by posting Roiphe’s article I unintentionally peeled back some of the barbed wire fencing around the well-protected territory that reads by way of a big warning sign, “Mommy Wars, Keep Out.” And let me just say here to all my fellow moms out there that by virtue of being a mother, you’re doing a tough job, one that most of us do our very best at and usually, if we’re honest with ourselves, do imperfectly. And fathers, if you’re reading this, you, too, have an important and impossible task, and I appreciate you! So I am stating the obvious, I know, when I note that parenting is not for sissies.
Moreover, our choices around what we post as profile pictures on Facebook are near the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the difficult issues we face in rearing our children, just as they are also very much a “first-world” problem. My friends who are mothers and fathers in a refugee camp in northern Uganda could care less about this issue, because they’re thinking about how to find food for their children on a daily basis! By posting on this subject, I acknowledge that the topic is indeed frivolous by Majority World standards; additionally, if I were to decide what to write based only on Majority World standards, most of you would probably not be reading this right now.
But, to paraphrase Rob Bell, I’m also inclined to think that “everything” means “something” (quotation marks are my own here). I would go so far as to say that part of what it means to seek after God is to seek after the meaning that is behind things (hence, my forthcoming book, which finds meaning in something as seemingly frivolous as bumper stickers). Posting a picture of my child in my profile picture may mean that I hate pictures of myself. Or, that I find my children’s lives far more interesting than my own. Or, that I just had plastic surgery. Or, that I prefer cartoon figures or pictures of my cat to self-depictions. Or, that I have an addiction to tanning salons and really should not be posting my face in my profile picture. Or, that I didn’t have energy at 2am in the morning as, with one hand I breastfed my daughter, and with the other, looked for pictures to upload.
It could also mean that my children have become the thing that defines me and are the center of my universe- to the degree that I no longer have an identity apart from my children.
It could mean that the full orbit of my life revolves entirely around my children.
It could mean that I am downright obsessed.
And, come on. Let’s admit it. We’ve all met these people. They’re out there, right? They’re the same folks who let their children interrupt every grown-up conversation. (Mea culpa.) Or, who every year send a holiday card with just little Billy in his argyle sweater or Susie in her red velvet dress smiling so sweetly back at the camera- with an accompanying letter about what little Billy and Susie did this past year, as their parents followed them around.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but you catch my drift.
In my last post, I suggested that women are the first to disappear within this parenting universe; and, I would stand by this; in fact, I’m inclined to think this tendency goes along with the curse in the Garden of Eden. We women, I suspect, are just naturally more prone to losing ourselves in our husbands and children; and this is really what I mean by “self-effacement.” The question thus becomes, how does an identity in Christ disrupt this status quo?
God has a great sense of timing. By a strange coincidence that we Presbyterians might also attribute to providence, this was today’s assigned reading in my daily devotional guide, Our Daily Bread: God, in speaking to Samuel, asks, “Why do you…honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?” Then comes the accompanying observation from therapist and mother Lori Gottlieb that parents who are “obsessed” with their children may actually contribute to their children becoming unhappy adults. “These parents coddle their children, do not equip them to deal with the real world, look the other way when their children do wrong, and neglect disciplining them,” the writer of the devotional goes on to say, in paraphrasing Gottlieb.
The Bible and my Reformed tradition have taught me that we human beings are capable of making idols out of just about anything, children included; but that in the light of Christ, we are better able to see these things for what they are. Good things that can quickly become idols or false gods. Treasures where our heart is but where God’s abundant life is not.
Jesus actually tells us we need to leave our children behind when we follow Him (Luke 14:26). (Ouch.)
I see it now: an angry mob with pitchforks encircling, demanding to know how any of this has to do with posting a profile pic on Facebook. And, I get it; I may be reading a bit too much into the phenomenon. But before you request my head on a platter, I thought I’d reach out to the woman who was the original source of the article. As a professor of journalism at New York University and the author of several books, with a Ph.D. in literature from Princeton University, Dr. Katie Roiphe has one impressive resume, and I’d like to get to know her a bit more. Let’s see what she says in response to your questions and opinions- or if she responds to my email in the first place.
Thanks for reading, everyone! Got more wisdom or vitriol to throw my way? Leave it below! I love hearing from you. [One other note: if you're interested in reading more about parenting issues as they relate to womanhood, I recommend Rachel Held-Evans' forthcoming book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. My review of her book will air in early October.]