4 Challenges to Parenting in an Individualist Culture
Parenting has never been easy. And as Christians, parenting can be especially difficult in our current, contemporary society. Here are 4 challenges I think most Christian parents face when it comes to raising their kids in a secular culture.
1. Motherhood requires giving up “my life” as defined by our culture.
Part of my journey as a mom these past five years has been fighting against my own entitlement as I lay down every single part of my life for my children. It’s made harder because I’m surrounded by a society that says that individual happiness is everything. We are bombarded with messages from billboards and Oprah’s book list about secrets to happiness and self-fulfillment. I have an appetite for self-fulfillment, and these messages promise to fulfill my craving. How can I get by with minimal sacrifice as a parent?
And the answer is that I can’t. My kids will never be self-parenting (a phrase coined by Paul Tripp in his excellent DVD parenting series, “Getting to the Heart of Parenting”). Parenting, like all other loves, requires laying down my desires and my life. But parenting may be the most demanding of any love - at least initially. Marriage didn’t require me to be up every 2-3 hours around the clock for weeks on end. My husband wasn’t physically dependent on me for sustenance. I could leave without hiring a babysitter. One of our good friends told us a few months into parenting, “In marriage, you can negotiate your selfishness. Not so in parenting.” We jokingly term parenting “sanctification 2.0” (if marriage is “sanctification 1.0”).
2. My goal for raising my children is at odds with the goal of individualism: self-fulfillment.
Do I want my children to be happy? Of course! I want them to be emotionally intelligent, and I want them to find areas where they excel and use their talents - whether it’s a particular sport, or an academic subject, or an artistic pursuit. But this is not my end goal. My goal for my kids is that they know how much Jesus loves them, and then are able to pour out that love to others.
This goal isn’t inherently at odds with signing them up for dance camps or sports leagues or training them in becoming emotionally aware. I simply refuse for our lives to revolve around their desires and their extracurricular activities. What I want are children who know how to relate lovingly to other people out of the security of knowing they’re loved by God and us.
3. In an already alienated society, motherhood feels particularly lonely.
To compound the difficulty of parenting, the sacrifices we make as moms put us in worlds that feel lonelier than they did for the generations before us. An older mom in my small group at church noted that when she was at home with her young children, support and adult conversation were only a few footsteps away (out her front door). Our culture has shifted dramatically, and we moms feel lonelier as a result.
I work part-time as a mom, which means that I feel the alienation of both the parts of my week when I’m at home with my kids and the hours of my week when I’m away from them in the workplace. My friends who stay-at-home full-time or work full-time experience similar frustrations.
- If you’re on the stay-at-home side of the spectrum, if feels lonely because many of your fellow mom friends work at least part-time.
- If you’re a full-time mom, you find it hard to connect with fellow moms who are at home most of the day because your schedules are opposite of each other, and you likely experience alienation or even discrimination in the workplace because of your priorities as a mom.
4. I cannot parent without a community.
“It takes a village to raise a child,” is a popular cliché with a body of truth behind it. We are not meant to parent alone, but I often feel like I should be able to do it alone. Self-sufficiency reigns as a prevailing value of our Western culture as well as a subtle message of many of our churches, and it can keep me from reaching out for help when I need to. The truth is that I need the gifts of my community to carry on in the hard work of motherhood.
- I need moms in other stages of parenting who can bring fresh energy to me and my kids (and allow my husband and I to go on an occasional date night).
- I need fellow moms with different parenting gifts than me who can share with me what worked for them in feeding picky preschoolers or how to encourage my kids’ creativity.
We are responsible to each other - to break down the barriers we hide behind of “I’ve got it - I am independent, and I don’t need you.” This is not true for me, and I can assume it’s not true for you either.
What could it look like if we began to carry the parenting burdens together?
If we reached out from behind our lonely garage-door-bunkers and got to know our neighbors?
If I asked a friend over even when my house was messy and my kids were crazy because I wanted companionship?
If we began to do life together and parent together - admitting places where we struggle and asking for advice and support from one another instead of fearing judgment?
I have a feeling that parenting may not feel so lonely after all. Costly, yes. Sacrificial, of course. But alone? No. You’re with me, aren’t you?
Heather Davis Nelson, is a writer, counselor, and retreat speaker, regularly blogging at "hidden glory" (heatherdavisnelson.com). She has been a featured writer at The Gospel Coalition, iBelieve.com, and OnFaith. She loves coffee, reading, front porch conversations, the beach, and story time with her daughters. Through over eight years of counseling, she has walked alongside many through questions of faith, anxiety and depression, relational conflict, grief, and discovering identity and calling. She is passionate about connecting the hope of a Redeemer to the broken fissures of life.