"To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 'Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.'” Luke 18:9-14
When I was pregnant and when Alexandra was an infant, I read a lot on parenting, being the conscientious rule follower that I am. I got some good tips that helped us a lot in Alex's first months. But I stopped reading much on parenting because it left me feeling...icky. Now that I have some sleep and time between me and parenting conversations, I realize what it is. There's a certain self-righteous, comparative pride that seeps into so much discussion on parenting.
To some degree, comparison is inherent in any conversation on parenting because you are talking about behaviors that you want in your child vs. behaviors that you don't want in your child. But in my experience, so often what starts as useful wisdom on parenting can morph into something like the Pharisee's prayer in Luke 18: "God, I thank you that my child isn't like those other children - unruly, rude and undisciplined. My children take consistent naps and eat only organic vegetables."
OK, silly example, but the Pharisee's prayer sounds eerily similar to many parenting conversations. Rather than starting from the premise of the tax collector, "Dear God, what in the world am I doing? Have mercy on me, a parent!" We exalt our superior parenting techniques above others, "confident of our own righteousness."
As I see it, one of the biggest problems in this culture (besides the insidiousness of self-righteousness) is the concern with how others perceive us. In many of the conversations (whether it be in books, on blogs, on discussion forums, or in person), the focus is on how we are perceived as parents by other parents. I've read many a statement like this: "When I go out with my daughter, everyone marvels at how well behaved she is, and they talk about how lucky I am to have an "easy" child. But I know that she's like that because of the choices I've made as a parent."
While we should rejoice in hard-won triumphs in parenting, there is a definite sense of superiority and competition in the sentiments. And I wonder how easy it is for this to morph into a motivating desire for others to see what good parents we are. Some sources I've read even seem to fear parents into certain techniques, lest others see that they run a lax household. Rather than being motivating by a desire to please God in our parenting, we slip into legalistic fear-based parenting in which how others perceive us as a family is paramount. It reminds me of the 1950s stereotype of a family that might be rotten at the core, but looks good from the outside.
So what is the answer to openly discussing parenting without falling into self-righteousness and being motivated by how others perceive us? I think it's a good dose of grace, freedom and love in our communications. Of course, we have to compare techniques to decide what path we think is the best for our children. But if we do that in a vacuum, without the freedom we have in Christ, the love we are to show one another, and the grace that we all desperately need, then we may end up sounding like the Pharisee.
(And, as a parting treat, if you aren't familiar with the inflammatory nature of parenting discussions, especially in online forums, watch this little nugget from 30 Rock which is pretty accurate.)