A few weeks ago there was a study* that concluded that mothers who work shouldn’t feel guilty because their children turn out just as well as children whose mothers did stay home with them. This is good news. I hate that my friends feel guilty who work and feel bad for working and not being home with their children. I’ve long held the belief that if you want to work then work, if you have to work then work, if you want to stay home and can, do it. You any of those very things. I’ve never believed that because I stay home with my three children that they’ll be some sort of super-humans; but then again, my theology prevents me from believing such lies about motherhood and parenting.
Lies that have come into existence because the axiom has shifted from God to humans and when that shift occurred there was a vacuum and like any good vacuum something was sucked into the void: parenting. If we no longer look to God, then we default to looking to ourselves (I think therefore I am (Descartes) and I have no need for that hypothesis (Leplace about God)). And, if it’s up to us then we must get to the core of human society and how to keep it going and even evolve it and that is how we end up with the idolatry of parent-hood and parenting. If you don’t want your child to grow up to be a sociopath/psychopath then you should _____! For your child to be truly compassionate and intelligent you must never____! I’ve seen this line of thought coming from both traditional and attachment parenting blogs and websites (my husband and I fall in the weird conundrum of both traditional and attachment parenting techniques). The onus of a productive and good society falls heavy on the fleshy, bony shoulders of weak men and women: if you do this parenting thing right, we’ll not only keep society running, we’ll improve it!
Lies. Horrible horrendous lies.
But what bothered me most about this study and the hype about it was that there was this implicit conclusion that I, as a stay at home mom, somehow feel less guilty because I stay at home.
I feel guilty day in and day out. I feel guilty just as much as my friends who work (it might be different, but I doubt the level is any different). I feel guilty because I fail my children daily. I feel guilty because I’m aware that I’m not treating these three human beings, who God has placed in my hands to care for, perfectly. The reality is that I don’t need a parenting manual to tell me I’m failing, because as soon as my voice raises and that anger over-comes me and I grit my teeth, I know I’m failing. We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, first and foremost those who are quite literally bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh and this command I fail daily. From my experience, motherhood (parenthood at large) is naturally inclined toward guilt. I could search every town in every state looking for that one non-guilt-ridden mother, and I’d come up empty. Facade or not, parents are guilt ridden.
And that brings me to my main point. The hard news we don’t want to hear is this: we are all failing as parents. Failure is failure is failure. Working or staying home, we are all failing our kids because we’re broken human beings. At night, when I lay my head on my pillow, my shoulders are no less burdened by guilt and regret than a mother who works.
Guilt is guilt is guilt.
And it doesn’t matter how many studies are published that say x or y about parenting and guilt and that I shouldn’t have it; none of it alleviates my guilty feelings, my guilty conscience, cleans my blood stained hands. At the end of the day, the only thing–and I mean: The. Only. Thing.–that takes that guilt from me is the absolution proclaimed to me from the Gospel, which is the gospel of the justification of sinners. Jesus Christ died for all of my failures as a mother, all of your failures as a mother or father, and he was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). By faith in Christ we are united to Christ and what is His (righteousness, not guilty, beloved) becomes ours (it is imputed to us) to such an extent that we are indistinguishable from it; just as, on the cross, what is ours (sin, guilt, unbelovedness) became His–Jesus became sin (it was imputed to Him) to such an extent that He was indistinguishable from it. And this entire event (or exchange) is ours by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works of the law; we are entirely justified by faith in Jesus Christ apart from works. All of me–all of you–now is determined by faith in Christ and not by works of the law.
In the event of justification by faith in Christ, your guilty status is revoked for good and replaced with the status of not guilty. In the event of justification by faith in Christ, in His word of absolution to you, your guilt (all of it) is actually taken from you because in the word of absolution you are recreated not guilty, you are recreated forgiven, you are recreated beloved. In the event of justification and by the word of absolution you stand as one who is not guilty, who is forgiven, and who is beloved.
It is this word of absolution, and only this word of absolution, that will ever take away our guilt for real.
*There were some holes poked in the research supporting the study. On a podcast I listen to produced by Slate, Mom and Dad are Fighting, I heard that the comparisons were drawn between stay at home mothers in the 70’s and working moms of today. I mention this not to discredit the conclusion (mothers who want to/have to work shouldn’t be burdened by guilt of some abstracted idealistic version of motherhood that is fairyland) but to say that I’m aware of the errors.