Mother Guilt and the Dissolution of Standards

Mothering in the current epoch feels a lot like making your way along a narrow ledge with the sheer face of a cliff on the one hand and a steep precipice on the other. The cliff is our society’s obsession with risk-elimination and man’s scientific self-perfection; far from the threat of war and subsistence living, we’re free to obsess about minute chemicals, self-esteem and self-actualization. We’ll secure a perfect future for our child (and thus all of humanity) through perfect parenting. The scramble up the side is the impossible hubris of the tower of Babel.

The precipice is Alice’s tumble down the hole of post-modernity, where everyone does what is “right for their family.” There is no point to debating the good in this anaesthetized free-fall to nowhere: all choices are equally good (and subsequently no choice is good.) The term “Better” is illegal and “Best” will get you shot. It is unbearably disorienting.  

In some ways it is hard to understand how two such opposing ideologies exist so well alongside each other, other than that once you fall off the cliff face you have to fall somewhere, and that fall will no doubt be the result of the crushing weight of guilt.

For a non-Christian the guilt of failure is an unbearable burden; when your worth is tied to your performance and you have no recourse, the only way to survive is to dissolve the standards. The demand is so intense that anyone who would go so far as to suggest an objective standard is forced into such ambiguity as to become useless. Making a wrong (and therefore right) decision is impossible; when there is no standard, there's no way up. You might feel better, but only by swallowing a lie. 

Even as Christian mothers we are tempted to do the same, despite the fact that there is a way for us to deal with our guilt, and that is the way of the cross! Perhaps we are unpracticed, or perhaps we have never been taught. The result of all true standards is like that of the Ten Commandments: we are both informed of the goal, the best way, and also made acutely aware of our inability to attain it perfectly.  This awareness is borne by realizing our worth in Christ-in-us and bringing our guilt to Him. If our failure is because of our own sin (impatience, anger, selfishness), we repent and are forgiven. If our failure is due to something outside of our control (sickness, circumstances) we unite our sadness and struggles with Christ-crucified (see this and this, wonderful posts by Auntie Leila). And we have something else, and that is Hope! Hope that the Holy Spirit will help and guide us and bear His fruit in us, and also hope that when we inevitably fall short we can pray for the Grace of God to come into those places! He tells us His strength is made perfect in weakness. This leads to true freedom: freedom to debate and pursue the best way whether we can attain it or not, to do our best without being crippled by guilt, freedom to face truth without feelings of condemnation, humbly admit wrong or accept advice. Don’t scramble, don’t fall, just continue along the narrow ledge.

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