Friday, April 22, 2011

A Refutation of “Motherhood Bliss!”

Few things will stir up a woman's heart like the topic of mothering. So it must be handled with a liberal dose of grace and love, as well as truth. That is why an article that uses emotional language such as “abandon” and “hardening the heart” in reference to any method of parenting is sure to cause offense. Add Scripture, pulled out of context and used inaccurately, and you have a recipe for real controversy and a legitimate reason for the feelings of offense.

Recently, I read an article by Amie Gray on the Above Rubies website entitled “Motherhood Bliss!” that followed this recipe ingredient by ingredient. It offended me on three levels: my spirit, my intellect, and my heart. Had it been a simple offense of my intellect or heart, I could overlook it as a mere misguided view of one person, a response not necessarily being warranted. However, because it offended my spirit. . . that is, it was spiritually misguided and used Scripture out of context to support this perspective. . . and because it was posted on a fairly prominent Christian website, I felt I must respond. When Scripture is used wrongly to support any viewpoint, I believe it must be corrected lest anyone feel a sense of misplaced guilt or judgment.

First, I feel the need to explain my own “qualifications”, due to the nature of the article and the fact that I am refuting it. I am a mother, very similar to the author. I likely share many of her views. I am a Christian. I homeschool. I home birth. I home just-about-everything! I love my role as mother and keeper of my home (cleaning excepted, perhaps). And of course, I love my children, as much as the author clearly loves her own. However, the point where I do disagree with the author is the point where this article seems to imply that I don't, in fact, love my children because of the method of parenting I choose for my children during their babyhood.

I have never been a big “labeler”. Often, labels seem to confuse and distort rather than clarify. They may be a convenient convention when trying to communicate without
long explanation, but they are invariably weighted down with assumptions and prejudices. What is meant by one person's use of a label can be interpreted completely differently by another. The terms “attachment parenting” (AP) and the “Babywise” method or “parent-directed feeding” (PDF) are no different. Mention your
adherence to either method, and you may be in for a verbal brawl! Ultimately, however, we should be neither child-directed nor parent-directed. We should be God-directed! And, quite frankly, I know many in both the AP and PDF camps that are just that. They take principles from the method and let God direct them with how to apply those principles in their own families. I also see parents who subscribe to AP who allow their babies to direct the entire family, which is held hostage to his or her wants. And I see parents who subscribe to PDF who selfishly dictate schedules, ignoring their baby's needs. And I see some who are at varying points on both sides of the scale.

The point I am making is this: A label cannot tell us everything we need to know, either about the method or about those using it. It has inherent limitations. Therefore, to make harsh judgments against one method or the other is to paint all
parents using that particular method in a less-than-flattering light, based on assumptions. To further bring in Scripture to support one's judgment is to prescribe a heavy dose of guilt to one who may be completely free of that particular sin-sickness.

So, now that the foundation has been laid, let's take a look at the article and discuss the problems, bearing these thoughts in mind, as I, too, am limited by the labels and by my own interpretation of how Gray is using them.

The article opens with a beautiful
background story of the author's life experiences and her coming to know the Lord as her savior. She clearly loves motherhood! And for that tender heart, I have great respect. Then, at the end of the following paragraph, the first mental red flag goes up:

In the same way God designed our bodies to give birth naturally, He designed us to mother naturally. I felt like I had stumbled upon some ancient mystery, and I knew the reason behind all those happy babies and children at the LLL meetings. Whether their parents knew God or not, they were raising their babies according to His design and received the blessings for following His plan! (emphasis mine).

Statements like this always make me nervous. Any time one makes the claim that a
certain practice, method, or action is “according to God's design”, we should stop and ask if this is a true claim. In this paragraph, Gray is stating that the methods of La Leche League are God-ordained. This seems a weighty and dangerous claim and needs to be rightly supported with Scripture. We go on to examine whether or not she will accomplish this.

On the tail of this claim, Gray quotes the following verses:

Isaiah 66:11-13 says, “For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance. For this is what the LORD says: ‘I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.’”

The picture of a mother's love is certainly a beautiful comparison of God's love for
Israel. But a support for attachment parenting? A refutation of parent-directed-feeding? I don't believe so.

Gray goes on to examine the lives of two biblical mothers: Eve and Mary. The problem is, she does not use Scripture in this examination, but rather her own visualization of their lives. For example, of Eve she states, “I can envision her carrying her baby throughout the day, and the new family sleeping all curled up together at night, just as God intended. A beautiful picture of simplicity and love.” (emphasis mine). Granted, we do have historical information that helps us in an understanding of the culture in ancient times. However, where the Bible is not clear, should we be building a philosophy off of our own interpretations? Should we assume that Mary followed the culture exactly? And assuming she did, can we take that as a mandate to our lives today? (WWMD?) She may have been a good model in many ways but, Mary, too, was human. She and Joseph scolded Jesus for remaining
behind in the temple during a trip to Jerusalem when He was a boy when in fact, Jesus was simply about His Father's business, doing His will. Further, there is nothing in the Bible admonishing us to follow the culture of its time. We are not commanded to greet our brothers with a “holy kiss”. We are not admonished to eat reclined around our tables. And we are not required to wash our feet before entering
a home. Learning from past cultures and gleaning wisdom from them is fine. Being bound by ancient practices in order to attain some sort of spirituality is legalism.

Further, the author states that Mary “had no clocks for feeding schedules, no bottles, no separate sleeping room for her baby, and no 'experts' writing books claiming to have a better way to raise her baby.” Do
we know this as fact? I think if I were Mary, I would have been using that sundial! And Jesus' first bed was a crib of the most humble makings, not a “family hay-pile”. I also suspect that there were just as many “experts” in Mary's day as we have today. Solomon wisely states that “there is nothing new under the sun.” If there are opinions on mothering, they have been already been seen in this world. Gray does, however, make an important point in the paragraph when she goes on to say, “They listened to the one true Expert, our Lord Himself! I believe both mothers did what came naturally, following their God-given instincts and mothers’ hearts.” Yes! That is the key! None of us should be enslaved to any method or expert opinion. We should all be subject to the one true Expert parent...our Father God...and the Holy Spirit that He has placed within us!

However, Gray's writing unfortunately betrays this sentiment. The next line states of the mothers in Mary's culture, “They did not harden their hearts to their babies’ cries,” implying that PDF parenting relies on a mother hardening her heart. To this, many who espouse the parent-directed approach under the direction of the Holy Spirit (this author included) would take offense. And she further goes on,
The Bible talks about the peacock who is deprived of wisdom and understanding because she is 'hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers.' (Job 36:13-17)”
Again, I would kindly challenge Gray's use of Scripture to refute PDF. Scheduling feedings is not inherently a choice to harden one's heart against her baby! This is another instance where assumptions are made about the methodology and those using it.

Gray addresses the issue of putting others' needs above our own:

Then there is Jesus Himself. In Luke 6:31 He tells us to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Matthew 18:33, He said, “Shouldest not thou also have compassion on thy fellow servant,
even as I had pity on thee?” Jesus wants us to put other’s needs above our own.

course we agree on this point! But, again, are these biblical references an indictment against PDF? There is a difference between putting the baby's needs above our own and making the baby the director of the home. Let me give an example. If my young child eats lunch at 12:00 and then asks for a snack at 1:00, am I putting my needs above his if I gently say, “No, Sweetie, I think you need to wait a little longer because you have just eaten”? Or am I, conversely, training my child to eat at regular intervals so that our family life can run more smoothly and he or she will learn to eat more at meals? Certainly, this gets tricker with a baby, but babies need to also learn such lessons. They need to be taught that they are not the center of the family, and they are quite capable of learning this! The difference is, we do our baby-training with a heavy dose of grace, knowing that babies are fragile and cannot communicate in words. That is where the “motherly instinct”, as Gray refers to it, comes in. Or to say it in another way, that is where we should be
God-directedand listen to His voice!

goes on:

In Matthew 25:35-45, He says, “For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing... And the King will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me! And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these, my
brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

Who is the “least of these” more than a helpless baby or child? When He said to give a drink to the thirsty, certainly He includes our own baby, when he/she cries out for it.

this verse is being misused to pass guilt on those who do not necessarily deserve to have such guilt heaped upon them. There is a difference between a mother's flat refusal to feed her hungry child and a mother's gentle training in scheduling. On the whole, a PDF mother does not simply refuse to feed her child. As the verses Gray
quotes even state, no normal mother can do that! It is contrary to the loving nature of a mother. She simply “tells” that child that he or she must learn to wait. We need to put others' needs in front of our own, while
teaching our children from the earliest age that they are to do the same! Here is where we must seek wisdom in attaining that difficult balance.

God wants us to love our children the same way He loves us, and not forsake them in their time of helplessness. Listen to what the Bible says in Isaiah 49:15, “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!” I will have to answer to God someday about how I cared for the “least of these” in my own home when they were in need. I want to be sure I did my best for Him.

We live in a modern world, but this neither changes God’s design nor alters God’s best. God never changes. By mothering this way, I teach my children about God. I show them every moment how God is always available for us, how He does not abandon us when we need Him.

the implications of the preceding paragraphs are fairly unkind towards PDF. Gray seems to say that if I use a parent-directed approach to feeding, I am “forsaking them in their time of helplessness” and teaching my children that I might abandon them.One should be extremely cautious about painting a method with such broad strokes of judgment.

brings the article to a close by telling more of her own motherhood experiences
. . . how she loves sleeping with her baby and husband and carrying her baby close to her throughout the day. If this works for Gray and her family, then that is wonderful for them! Personally, I would find the intimacy of my relationship with my husband greatly affected. As wives, we are to put our husbands first after God and I believe children need to understand this family order from the earliest age so that there is never any doubt or insecurity. In our home, we constantly remind our children that they are third to Daddy's heart. I am second after God. From the beginning, they need to understand their place in the family structure. The way in which we teach them this is an individual decision for the parents. But I would be hesitant to have my baby in my marriage bed with me, as I believe it would be too easy for my children to become a greater focus than would be healthy to my marriage.

Finally, I would address the author's comment about her baby never crying in the four months of his life, due to her attachment style of parenting. Beyond the fact that one baby cannot be used as evidence to support an entire philosophy (could this not be a simple correlation?), I would address the negative view of crying. While I think that parents should not be hardened toward their children, they should also not be upset by or fearful of a crying baby. Tears are a part of this life. Pain is a part of this life. Even God allows it in the lives of His children. He does not keep us in some kind of “padded” world to avoid all of life's bumps and bruises. He knows that with pain comes growth. He knows that we need stretching at times so that we may learn to lean on Him and be better equipped for
whatever else may come to us. As an example, we have at times warned our children of an impending accident and then, if unheeded, allowed them to fall and get hurt. These are the lessons best learned because of the pain they associated with it.

We as parents are the “God-figures” in the lives of our children. We do not purposefully put them through the kind of pain that would damage them or erode their trust, but we must help them learn to stretch and grow by sometimes allowing discomfort. We must care not just for their physical bodies, but for their spiritual ones, as well.
By scheduling my baby and allowing him or her to sometimes be in a bit of discomfort, I am teaching him or her that there are times of “discomfort” in life (more often, true pain!) and that we must yield to them. I am laying the foundation for their trust in God. Teaching gently from birth helps the child learn this in a gradual manner rather than abruptly when he or she is older and has already been inadvertently taught that life is never a bit uncomfortable and that whatever he or she wants is there for immediate disposal.

closes with this statement:

God’s way is about the heart, the connectedness between moms and babies, rather than rules, so-called experts, and schedules.

Yes, we can agree that God's way is about the heart. And, while I disagree with much of her article, I believe Gray has a beautiful mother's heart and I commend her for that. But I'm simply not willing to agree with the article's implication that there is no place for rules and schedules (and even some carefully chosen “experts”. . . i.e., older women in the church as in Titus 2:3-4), as long as the focus remains on the heart! And I believe God substantiates this all throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament laws, to the Ten Commandments, to the Beatitudes. He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it and show us the way. He showed us how to abide by the rules, while focusing on the heart. The heart is of primary importance, but rules and schedules are still there to help guide us. Whether a proponent of attachment parenting or parent-directed feeding, the focus should always be ultimately on the heart and on what is best for the family as a whole, keeping the God-ordained order of subjection in place (God, husband, wife, children). And we
must not judge another mother based on a mere label, which will nearly always be an inadequate characterization and never a good substitution for a full conversation.


  1. I like the comment you make about babies' crying. We should also remember that babies communicate with their crying and that a baby's cries are not always because of sadness or pain like ours. How else are they to communicate, they don't know words yet.
    Being in the "baby stage" at our house, I'm constantly amazed at the mother's who think that they've cornered the market on how they rear their children.
    This was a great article blog entry, Danielle. I look forward to many more. You're such a good writer...much like I remember from high school. I always admired your talent then.

  2. You make some excellent points, Danielle. God does care about the heart, but at the same time, He doesn't abolish all rules and order. Scripture affirms that He is a God of order and not of confusion. And there is indeed so much judgment that can come in by painting everyone in a certain group with one broad brush. Thanks for your thoughtfulness and insights and willingness to speak out.

  3. Daniel,
    I am the one that wrote the article 10 years ago, and wanted to say that I am truly sorry for any offense. We have all probably grown a lot in the last 10 years, and since you're a believer too, I trust you'll forgive me. Thank you & God bless you and your family.
    ~ A.G.

    1. Thank you for your kind apology! Of course I will forgive you. As Christians, we should all be always growing and becoming more sanctified. I have grown a lot in the past 10 years and I know I have a lot more to do in the next 10! So I understand. Thank you for your humble attitude. Many blessings to you!

  4. Thank you for your kind apology! Of course I will forgive you. As Christians, we should all be always growing and becoming more sanctified. I have grown a lot in the past 10 years and I know I have a lot more to do in the next 10! So I understand. Thank you for your humble attitude. Many blessings to you!