Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Moral Relativism of Parenting

You hear it a lot. 

Oh, just do whatever works. 

If it works for you, that's fine.

We all are trying to do our best, so just do whatever works. 

You're doing the best you can. 

Usually it comes from a good place...a place of overreaction to the so-called "mommy wars." 

But is it true?  Can we REALLY just do whatever works?  Is that what we are called to do?  Just because something works, does that make it good?

Maybe what Adrian Peterson did to his son by beating him with a switch, hard enough to leave several marks worked in that it stopped the undesirable behavior. But was it good? I would give a resounding NO.  What he did was NOT okay. It was not a whatever works thing.  It was wrong and horrifying and abusive. This isn't about spanking versus not-spanking. Although, I'm not a fan of spanking, I can see the difference between what he did and the 'quick swat' most parents do.

But even in a lessor example, not everything a parent does is okay. Not everything even "good" parents do is okay.  Not everything I do is okay. Yelling is not okay..even though I do it, sometimes.  I'm not always doing the best I can. I certainly COULD be more patient.  I could look away from the screen more. I could spend more time with my kids.  I could be present with them more. 

That's why we have Confession. To help us do do better.  And part of doing better is acknowledging what needs to change in the first place. Acknowledging that yelling is not good parenting is the first step towards changing that. 

Yelling may "work" in that it gets their attention, but in the long wrong, it doesn't "work" and it's not respectful and it's not good. 

This isn't about breast versus bottle or crib versus co-sleeping or homeschooling versus public schooling or all those things the "mommy wars" are about.  

But it is about recognizing that all parenting choices are not equally as good. While some parents may choose to bottle feed, there is nothing good about choosing to put soda into a baby's bottle. It is just wrong.  While many parents choose to have their baby sleep in a crib, I do not think it is okay if a child is left in there to cry so hard that they actually vomit all over themselves. Just my opinion..I know a lot of people disagree with me. 

I think the idea of moral relativism, and what's right for you, is so entrenched in our culture that we are afraid to say hey, not everything is okay.  In the Adrian Peterson controversy you hear a lot of people defending him saying, "oh, that's just the culture of the South.  I was beat with a switch, and I'm fine." First of all, just because everyone did it, didn't make it right.  And second of all, for the most part, adults nowadays are NOT FINE..or at least they aren't mentally healthy as shown by the large numbers of adults suffering from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Not saying any one thing causes that, just saying that "I'm fine" should mean more than just "I'm not in jail and I haven't killed anyone."

While I don't subscribe to the notion that there is only ONE right way to parent, I do believe that not all parenting practices are created equal. 

And, we all fail at times.  We must acknowledge that.

This post isn't meant to be guilt-inducing or judgemental, but rather to inspire us to take a hard look at our parenting and try to do better.  I can't judge anyone else, I can only judge myself.  And, I know that I oftentimes fail to do things with love.  There are many times I am impatient or short-tempered or just plain lazy.   

Of course, sometimes we have to make choices that aren't ideal. There are times that we are dealing with illness or crisis and the best we really CAN do is let the kids watch TV for 6 hours a day. And then, there are times that the TV has just become a habit and we really COULD do better. 

There are times that frozen chicken nuggets really ARE the best we can do for dinner, and then there are times where we COULD make an actual meal, but don't.  

Mary just wrote an excellent reflection on St. Therese and how she inspires us to love.  That is what I am talking about.  Our parenting choices should come out of love...not what is most convenient or easy or what the parenting book that promises us 100% obedient children that never wake up at night says.  But out of love.


  1. I completely agree!! Especially the part about most adults being not "fine". I always hate those facebook posts and emails that say things like, "we rode in the front seat without a car seat and I'm fine", or "my mother smoked when she was pregnant with me and I'm fine", or "my parents beat the tar out of me and I'm fine".

    1. Yes! Or the "my mom weaned us onto cow's milk when we were three months old and we're fine!" or "I drank corn syrup from a bottle and I'm fine!" - how exactly is "fine" measured? There comes a point where we need to stop being afraid of hurting someone's feelings when parenting issues can make a lasting negative impact!

    2. I think many adults do not want to confront the fact that they are not "fine." And the next generation is suffering for our refusal to acknowledge our own hurts, or even the imagination to see that we may have missed something important, and just repeat the cycle instead. This goes beyond just discipline, although there definitely is that. I've heard a lot of, "My parents got divorced and I'm fine. My kids will be too." "I was a latchkey kid and I turned out okay." "We watched cartoons every Saturday morning. So what?"

  2. I agree with you! Sometimes I have used this phrase, but more in the context of how each child, parent, and relationship is different, and some things motivate one kid better than another, some things work for one child but not another, and that type of thing. I have children with very different temperaments, and my parenting methods have to change for each one somewhat. But I get what you're saying and agree. There is a difference between right and wrong and some things are either wrong, or at least inferior to other methods.

  3. A great read! I find myself trying to show my kinds the unconditional love they desire while keeping a firm hand on their back.


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