Mothering in the Internet Age; I Do Not Want to Honor My Father
November 17, 2014, Betsy Childs Howard, June 13, 2013
Our mothers and grandmothers relied on their pediatricians to answer their parenting questions. Their mothers relied upon the experience of their own mothers and other older women. Now, internet research has become an integral part of mothering. Need to know why your child wets the bed? Want a natural remedy for diaper rash? Want the latest research on delaying vaccinations? The internet has an answer for all of these questions. Several answers, actually.
Between websites and message boards and Facebook groups, women have access to more parenting data and advice than ever before. Mothers can keep up with the latest safety standards and nutrition trends. They chat with women across the country whose children have the same ailments. They can even connect with other mothers online during a midnight feeding!
Given the wealth of information, do younger women still need older women when it comes to mothering? I’ve seen the research-oriented culture of modern mothering drive a wedge between young women and older women. Older women mock young mothers for being so safety-conscious. Younger women dismiss older women because they don’t know the latest car seat safety standards, or they suggest that the baby would sleep better on his stomach.
In Titus 2:4-5, Paul commands older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Young women need to learn these things every bit as much today as they did in Paul’s day. And older women are uniquely suited to teach them.
Let Older Women Take the Pressure Off
Somehow, research has become a core responsibility of mothering. Internet research, whether on birthing methods or sleep cycles or teething treatments, predictably yields conflicting answers, so it inevitably generates anxiety. You can’t follow the advice of the medical establishment and the naturopaths, but you’ll have the voices of both in your head telling you that you’ve made the wrong choice. While an honest search for the best answers drives research, it can make mothers feel accused on all sides.
While an honest search for the best answers drives research, it can make mothers feel accused on all sides.
If you look to message boards to find out how to protect your children and give them a good start, you will find that your work is never done. You won’t be able to please all of the virtual authorities in your life.
In contrast, older women who have been mothers can bring empathy and reassurance to a young woman in the throes of self-doubt. They remember what it was like to go for months without a full night of sleep. They can assure her that her baby will sleep eventually, even if that day seems far off. They can tell her it’s okay to put on a video when the children are sick. Experienced mothers can put into long-term perspective the decisions that, in the moment, seem to be of life-or-death importance.
Let Older Women Challenge You
What drives a mother to exhaustive internet research? Primarily, it is love for her child. When you love your children, you want to do everything in your power to protect their lives, health, and hearts. Mothers don’t choose to love their children; they just do. Isaiah asked the question, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” The implied answer suggests that such a thing would be highly unnatural.
Yet Titus 2 tells us that there is an unnatural aspect of loving children, one that needs to be taught. Perhaps this is the kind of love a mother needs to show to her son when his behavior brings her shame in public. Perhaps it is the kind that lets a daughter make mistakes, even though everything in a mother’s heart wants to rush in and protect her from consequences.
When we only receive advice virtually, we can protect ourselves from criticism that hits too close to home. But you may need your own mother to point out to you that you don’t discipline consistently when you are tired. Perhaps you need a loving neighbor to tell you that your son has been lying. You may need your daughter’s teacher to help you see that you’re putting unnecessary pressure on her. While this sort of observation may sting, a wise older woman can help you bring your insufficiency before your gracious God, even as she is helping you to see it.
The internet gives us access to a wide variety of knowledge, and that can be a gift from God. We should give thanks for the web’s wealth of information without making it a substitute for the relationships God has ordained to teach us to love. You need an older woman in your life to tell you that, contrary to what online voices communicate, you’re not really in control of your child’s life—God is. And that is good news.
I Do Not Want to Honor My Father
June 13, 2013
It happened again. My dad really hurt me. He knows he really hurt me. But of course he didn’t say he was sorry. And of course my mother did what she has done my whole life—excuse his behavior by saying, “That’s your daddy.”
I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to forgive and keep forgiving my dad. I don’t think I felt the weight of it until I spent a week at home as an adult with my son, then 3 years old. As I heard him speak to my son the way he had always talked to me growing up, the weight of a lifetime of harsh words and hurtful disapproval came down on me. That’s when I really began to grieve the loss of the nourishing, encouraging dad I wanted. But more than grieving began that week. For years I suffered sleepless nights remembering the conversations and criticisms of the past, rehearsing the confrontation I hoped was somewhere in my future.
One day Dennis Rainey personally handed me a copy of his book The Tribute: What Every Parent Longs to Hear, a book about honoring your parents (now published under the title The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents). I couldn’t even lie and tell him that I looked forward to reading it. I think I actually said to him something like, “I’m not interested in that.”
A while later I found myself in a beautiful hotel room on a business trip. Once again I was awake in the middle of the night remembering, rehearsing, fuming. But then the Holy Spirit interrupted my anguish. We had been studying John 16 that week in Bible study. Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit—that he comes to counsel, to convict, to guide us into truth. And that’s just what the Holy Spirit did that night. He told me the truth and brought me under the grace of conviction, showing me the blight upon my own soul—the sin of unforgiveness, the sin of demanding my own rights to the dad I think I deserve. He counseled me to begin walking out my repentance by living out and expressing honor to my parents. He called me to trust him to supply the feelings to go along with my choice to live out a forgiveness I didn’t really feel.
I began to be kind instead of cold, choosing to turn off the recorder in my mind that wanted to replay the old tapes of hurtful conversations and situations over and over again. I pulled out The Tribute, which challenges readers to compose and deliver a written tribute to their parents, telling them what they did right. And I did it. It took me three years, but I did it. And I know it meant a lot—it still means a lot—to my parents.
But here I am, another decade or so down the road, and my dad is still my dad. And sometimes I realize that I am still that same little girl longing for his approval, his interest, his tenderness that just isn’t there. And here comes Father’s Day. My life does not have to be ruled by Hallmark, and hopefully I honor my parents more than one day of the year. But I know my dad longs to hear from his kids that he did well as a dad, that he is loved and appreciated. Father’s Day is when we tell our dads such things. More than that, I know that honoring my parents is what God wants from me; it’s what’s best for me.
But here’s the ugly truth: I do not want to honor my parents. So here, as in so many other areas, I find the law continues to drive me to Christ. How I need the righteousness of one who always honored his earthly parents to be credited to my account, which is radically in the red in this department. How I need the power of the one who glorified his heavenly Father to generate in me the desire and decision to honor my father, and the perseverance to carry it out over the long haul of life and future offenses. How I need the Spirit who generates the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control to tend this garden in my heart and bring about this growth in my life—in my actions and reactions. How I need my heavenly Father to remind me that he intends to use every disappointment in my life—including my disappointments with my dad—to draw me to depend more fully on him.
I do not want to honor my parents. So I’m asking God for the want-to. I’m once again reckoning myself dead to the sins of disrespect, hard-heartedness, coldness, contempt, self-righteousness, and unforgiveness so that I can be alive to God. I’m taking a step in God’s direction by taking a step in my dad’s direction.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6).
I’m taking a step in my dad’s direction because I want to walk in the way Christ walked. And I’m trusting that Christ will be there with me, empowering me for every costly, stumbling step.
A daughter who shall remain anonymous, out of a desire to honor rather than dishonor her dad.