I was in college when I first began my slow move away from my evangelical past. I think there are many reasons why this happened, and I’m not sure if there was a specific passage or chapter that brought about this change in me, but I do remember grappling a lot with Nietzche’s The Gay Science. One of the many underlined passages in my copy of that book is:
“The Christian resolve to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad.”
This is perhaps a backwards way of coming into this post, but what I came to feel was this:
Every Sunday of my youth, there was what I began to view as a manipulation. One of the most central tenets to Christianity, and especially the focus of evangelical churches, is that we are born broken and lacking. At church, emotional hymns with deftly timed key changes illicited confessions from the congregation. Church members were more holy if they confessed to feeling more in need, more lacking, more sinful but more dependent than ever on Christ and his salvation.
Essentially, at church I came to feel that I was broken, and only fixable through Christ. This was a weekly catharsis.
When I gave up this cycle of feeling lacking, going to Church, feeling uplifted, and repeating the following week, I immediately felt more whole, more complete as an individual, and less anxious generally.
I don’t believe humans are born deprived. We are wonderful.
In my current faith, we occasionally attend an Episcopal church. Generally, messages focus on becoming the best humans we can be. Very little attention is given to how horrible humans are, how depraved we are from birth, and how perpetually in need we are of religion (relationship with God) to make our lives meaningful and whole.
Phew. So that’s the backstory.
The thing is, I recently have noticed some unfortunate and striking similarities between the confession culture of my evangelical past and the current authentic parenting trends of online communities.
Lately, it seems that 75-80% of posts that I read about people’s parenting journeys center around how hard parenting is, how emotionally draining it can be, how trying little ones are, etc.
This is done, generally, with overtures into how they are telling the honest reality of parenting, the authentic version of their day and their walk, etc.
And I’m not going to lie, parenting is really freaking hard. And when people write and talk about how lonely it can be and how isolating and just how challenging — that’s all true. I’ve been there. I think all parents have.
And on the flip side, when someone writes about how amazing their child is, or how quickly they were sleeping through the night, or just generally some glowing report of their day as a parent, that can seem really ingenuine and really unhelpful, especially for all those with a (very human) penchant for comparison who are having rough days, or weeks, or months.
The sweet spot for me is when authenticity meets positivity. This is where humor is vital. And quite possibly social media is incompatible with happy parenting, leading either to feelings of being “less than” or getting swept up in a cycle of a need for perpetual positive feed back.
Recently, I read this article on negative thinking: Why Complaining Is Literally Killing You
The article in general is really fascinating, but it was after reading about this concept that light bulbs started to go off: essentially, when you are exposed to an emotion (positive or negative) your brain tries it out. That’s what empathy is. And I’ve got empathy in spades.
So whenever I read an authentic, heart-felt description of how hard parenting is, I think I was really internalizing it, my brain was trying it out, and I was becoming less and less happy as a parent.
Now, I’m not arguing that we should go back to the days where people stifled their emotions, didn’t reach out for help when they were feeling clinical anxiety and depression, or were afraid to be vulnerable. It takes true bravery to talk about the unpleasant parts of life, and I feel so prividledged to know so many men and women willing to talk about the uglier sides of parenting. We need to continue to empathize with one another.
But in my own life, I am being more guarded with what I read (books I won’t be ordering: All Joy and No Fun) and how I interpret others’ stories in my thoughts (i.e.”It is really sad they had a rough day with their child, that is really hard. I’m grateful that I’ve had a good week with Edmond.”) I will also continue to try to frame my experiences in a positive light. Positive framing is a characteristic of happy people the world over, and while sometimes it can feel like a stretch to always look on the bright side, it is liberating too, that even when life is hard, you can try to see the good in it.
Mostly, I want to move away, yet again, from a culture that glorifies confession. Telling our stories is one of the best things we can do, but authentic stories can still be told in a spirit of empowerment, confidence, completeness. For every Instagram post about hard moment, I’m sure there are ten behind-the-scenes triumphs – maybe a cranky morning where you managed to clean the house, or a time when your kids didn’t want to eat at the table so you made a picnic on the dining room floor. Or just an afternoon that went as planned, for a change.
If we don’t share these moments, as unglamorous as they are, we are painting an equally unauthentic version of parenthood.
I look forward to hearing those tales.