Parenting

Are Children Born Evil? Challenges for Christian Parenting

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Undergirding Tripp’s parenting book is a theological assumption of the nature of the child and the role of the parent. All of his chapters and discussions on methods of discipline and instruction are predicated by the framework of where the child is in relation to the parent. A good storyteller (and marketer) knows to introduce a problem in order to then supply the solution, which Tripp does successfully. According to Tripp, the problem begins the fact that a child’s heart is oriented towards evil. The solution to this problem is for parent to, acting as a representative of God, bring the child back into the “circle of blessing.”

Redefining 'Fruitful'

Still Life With Fruit, Caravaggio / Wikimedia Commons
Still Life With Fruit, Caravaggio / Wikimedia Commons

IN MY 20s, I came to the unsettling conclusion that God was calling me to have a baby. Familiar with Frederick Buechner’s declaration that vocation “is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” I believed that my visceral yearning for children pointed toward my deep gladness. How my desire for children would meet the world’s great need, however, was far from clear, particularly in my small urban church where people routinely made great sacrifices in response to poverty and injustice.

In my progressive circles, childbearing can also be cast as ethically questionable, contributing to overpopulation and environmental degradation. In 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori, then the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, summed up this view when she told an interviewer that “Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. ... We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.” More crudely, proponents of a growing “childfree” movement dismissed parents as self-absorbed “breeders.”

I was also leery of claiming a call to motherhood because within some strains of Christianity, a woman’s vocation to motherhood is assumed, regardless of her circumstances or predilections. Many evangelical and Catholic Christians uphold the traditional nuclear family of husband, wife,

and children as the God-ordained bedrock of society and the church. Writing for the Family Research Council, Dr. Andreas J. Kostenberger of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary writes, “The Bible defines ‘family’ in a narrow sense as the union of one man and one woman in matrimony which is normally blessed with one or several natural or adopted children” (emphasis in original). I feared that by claiming motherhood as my vocation, I might inadvertently support a limited vision that idolizes traditional families and sees childbearing as every woman’s primary calling.

Even Pope Francis has harsh words for those who choose not to procreate. As reported by the Catholic News Service in June 2014, Pope Francis stated that among “things Jesus doesn’t like” are married couples “who don’t want children, who want to be without fruitfulness.” Such couples are convinced, he argued, that by remaining childless they “can see the world, be on vacation...have a fancy home in the country...be carefree.” He warned that such couples are doomed to a bitter, lonely old age. The stereotype of childless adults as embittered hedonists is so widespread that writer Meghan Daum titled her recent anthology of essays by childless writers Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed.

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You Are Enough

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OK, I get that sin is an issue and I am despicable and Jesus is my only hope. God the Father loves me just as I am, but too much to let me stay that way.

However, I think about sin with the same ease as I do cancer. I either avoid it at all costs, or it becomes the center of my dark thoughts. I’m struggling with grasping the concept, and I hope someday I’ll arrive at the place where my theology and belief in a good God shelter me when I get the Tuesday afternoon call that the tumor is cancerous. The shit hits the fan, but I’m saved. Death is coming, but I’m unafraid.

I’m not there yet. It’s messy and anxiety-inducing. For each step I take forward in understanding the fall of humankind, my other foot takes a step toward grace that is so sweet and life-giving. I wouldn’t mind camping out at grace for awhile.

What Motherhood Teaches Me About the Universe

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My daughter is in seventh grade, next year she will be in eighth. She tells me this means she will be “the king of middle school.” She will go to a leadership camp and learn what it means to cultivate leadership qualities in order to be a good king for the underlings in sixth and seventh grade.

And then she will graduate middle school and it’s back to the bottom of the pecking order — one minute a king, the next, a lowly high school freshman. Just when you think you’ve learned everything there is to know comes the swift reminder you are only just beginning.

Out here in the real world, things operate similarly. Motherhood certainly took me through the same cruel pattern. After floundering sleeplessly, aimlessly, in a constant panicked state through the first few newborn months, I thought I’d mastered this parenting thing. I could interpret my newborn’s cries, predict when she would go down for her nap within a half hour margin of error, and change a diaper by rote.

Raising Children Beyond the Bubble

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In C.S. Lewis’ beloved Narnia chronicles, the youngest of the four main characters, a little girl named Lucy, encounters Aslan, the lion who is an archetype for God.

She hasn’t seen him for a time, and she remarks, “Aslan, you are bigger.” 

Aslan replies, with his strong, gentle voice, “Every year you grow, so shall I.”  

As parents we are saddled with some anxiety to make sure we teach our children everything that they need to know within the short eighteen years we have them in our home. But when it comes to our faith, we can breathe easy, because our God is not One who can be limited to eighteen years of instruction. We get to walk with our children in this very beginning of their journey, and watch them dip their toes into just how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God.   

The question we need to ask when our children leave home is not, "Have you learned everything there is to know about God?"  

But, "Are you ready to get started?" 

'Mommy, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Your Anger'

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We think it's wrong for a woman, much less a mother, to be angry. And so when anger inevitably, righteously, hits us — with its cousin fatigue and its brother frustration — we don't know what to do except to bury it beneath a smile that gets thinner and weaker as the day winds on.

We all get angry, though. It is a function of being human, and I daresay without anger we would never have won women the right to vote, school desegregation, or any other host of advances that came about when people got righteously angry and unleashed the power of justice and the Holy Spirit.

So be angry when you are angry. The Bible says so. Do not be ashamed to say, in the moment, "This is not right. I'm angry."

Raising Children of Faith and Justice

Nolte Lourens / Shutterstock.com
Photo via Nolte Lourens / Shutterstock.com

What happens when the heart of God is broken?

What happens when, in spite of our best efforts, we are overcome by human frailty, we are assaulted by the reality of the sins of humankind, and it appears there is nothing we can do that will overcome the tragic pain of our fractured lives? Such are the questions that come upon us when we read of the tortured life of King David, the pain and agony of his personal sin, and the tragedy that befell the life of Absalom, his beloved son.

Womanhood and Parenting in the Black Lives Matter Movement: A Web-Exclusive Interview with Erika Totten

Photo by Rick Reinhard

Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in the greater Washington, D.C. Metro area, and an activist for the black liberation movement at large. She stresses the importance of self-care for activists and radical healing for black people through emotional emancipation circles.

Jenna Barnett, a former editorial assistant for Sojourners, is a writer living in San Diego. 

When Parenting Meets #FeedFear

A mother carries her child through a city. Image via Konstantin Sutyagin/shutter
A mother carries her child through a city. Image via Konstantin Sutyagin/shutterstock.com

As a journalist, editor, media professional, and all-around digital addict, I believe the ever-present “newsfeed of fear” engenders a very real threat to our personal well-being. But is it possible that it also harbors startling implications for our behavior and even our relationships?   

Reflecting on Gareth Higgins’ words on “availability heuristic” (“A Newsfeed of Fear,” Sojourners, May 2015) — basically, that our fear of bad things happening is based on how many examples of those bad things we can easily bring to mind — the first thought that entered my head was my constant command to my 1.5-year-old, “Hold Mommy’s hand!”

Of course, we live in the middle of Washington, D.C., on a high-traffic street with no front yard to speak of; any time we leave the house, I have to go on high alert lest my newly running toddler dart off the sidewalk. But when I dug a little deeper to explore in what other circumstances my danger-Will-Robinson-danger alarm has gone off, I was forced to admit that it can occur basically any time she’s in my care.  

When I became a parent, it inexplicably became frightening that my house didn’t have a mudroom — or anything save a single slab of lockable wooden door separating our warm and cozy home from the terror that existed beyond it. Suddenly, a 5-degree rise or drop in my kid’s nursery — indicated by her video monitor, which also plays soothing lullaby music — became cause to purchase a window AC unit and an electric heater despite our house’s central air and heat. I contemplated buying the mattress pad that sounds an alarm if it detects baby has stopped breathing (because SIDS), but opted against it since I was already checking on her every five minutes anyway.  

First, let me say, I think all of these are good and normal (right?) reactions to first-time parenthood, and I have since calmed the hell down. But they can also be artificially generated behavioral responses to the digital world we live in, enhanced by mommy blogs and parenting books warning us of the dangers of crib bumpers (27 accidental deaths/year) and window blind cords (about 7 deaths in 2014). And don’t even get me started on #PregnancyFeedFear — somewhere around 6 months in, you give up and just eat the dang sushi and deli meat.   

Parenting and Resistance

SOME PEOPLE (I was one) will initially read this book to learn what it was like for the author to grow up in Jonah House, a faith-based community of peacemakers in Baltimore, with internationally known activist parents Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister providing strong ballast when not spending time in prison for nonviolent civil disobedience. I wanted to know what formed the vibrant Frida Berrigan, with whom I work on the National Committee of the War Resisters League. I learned about Frida’s birth in a basement, about Jonah House folks reading the Bible before days of work as house painters or being arrested at protests, about Frida and her sibs watching television on the sly, about the nitty-gritty of dumpster-diving at Jessup Wholesale Market.

But I learned much more from It Runs in the Family, and the “more” is at the heart of this fascinating book, which blends memoir, parenting advice, and connections between the questions parents ask about their children and the questions we should ask about the world. Phil Berrigan and Liz McAlister taught their children about the woes and warfare of the world; in this book, Frida also gently teaches us, while describing both her life as a child and her life as a mother to Seamus, Madeline, and stepdaughter Rosena.

For example, when Frida talks about the visits she and Seamus make to their “Uncle Dan” (Phil Berrigan’s brother Daniel Berrigan, a priest, poet, and activist) and the special bond between the nonagenarian and his lively great-nephew, she also tells us of ONEgeneration daycare in California, where toddlers garden, read, and play with seniors. Then she comments on the increasing number of grandparents who have primary responsibility for their grandchildren and the economic structures that contribute to this phenomenon.

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