As a part of American jargon, the “mommy wars” have raged for more than 20 years. The term was coined in the late 1980s by Child magazine to describe the tension that existed between working and stay-at-home mothers. Since then, numerous books and articles have been published about the so-called mommy wars, feeding the talk show circuit and fueling blogosphere brushfires.
But our history of cultural ambivalence about motherhood is much longer. Allow me a moment for a quick overview.
Shortly after our nation was founded, motherhood hit a high note. As historian Glenna Matthews writes in Just A Housewife, this new political experiment needed mothers:
There were no precedents for a republic on the scale of the United States. Many people believed that the new nation would require the support of a uniquely public-spirited citizenry. If citizens must learn to place a high value on the public interest, this was a lesson they would need to begin in childhood. Thus the home became crucial to the success of the nation and women — whose education began to be taken much more seriously than ever before — gained the role of ‘Republican Mother.’
Soon the Republican Motherhood concept began to spill out of the home into the public square as women organized benevolent agencies to combat drunkenness, slavery, gambling, and other problems of the age.
Mommy Wars, Darwinism, and Margaret Sanger
But Republican Motherhood met its demise when Charles Darwin released his 1859 publication, On the Origin of Species. Darwin viewed women as lesser beings in the system of evolution. His ideas were immediately embraced by Social Darwinists, who claimed that since men had always fought for survival in the world, they were honed by competition and natural selection. In comparison, women were sheltered from this process because they were at home with the children — thus, they “evolved” more slowly.
With motherhood thus devalued, children became the next targets. Margaret Sanger, who founded what later became Planned Parenthood, believed that most evils stemmed from large families. As she wrote in her 1920 book, Woman and the New Race, “the most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”
Sanger was a vocal proponent of eugenics — the theory of race improvement that was the cornerstone of Nazi Germany. Her monthly magazine, Woman Rebel, was published under the slogan, “No gods; no masters!” For Sanger, the birth control movement was founded on two goals: limiting the reproduction of the “unfit” and challenging Christian teaching by creating a “new morality.” She campaigned against women who “with staggering rapidity” were breeding “those numberless, undesired children who become the clogs and the destroyers of civilization.”
Sanger’s scorched-earth writing left no one guessing about her views. Confidently, she predicted a future that never materialized — and arguably was precisely the opposite in the century that followed.
When motherhood becomes the fruit of a deep yearning, not the result of ignorance or accident, its children will become the foundation of a new race. There will be no killing of babies in the womb by abortion, nor through neglect in foundling homes, nor will there be infanticide. . . . Child slavery, prostitution, feeblemindedness, physical deterioration, hunger, oppression and war will disappear from the earth. . . . When the womb becomes fruitful through the desire of an aspiring love, another Newton will come forth to unlock further the secrets of the earth and the stars. There will come a Plato who will be understood, a Socrates who will drink no hemlock, and a Jesus who will not die upon the cross.
On the contrary, there is no hope for “child slavery, prostitution, feeblemindedness, physical deterioration, hunger, oppression and war to disappear from the earth” if the Father’s righteous anger against these terrible sins is not satisfied! Where would justice be in the universe if such sins go overlooked? There is no hope of a new heavens and a new earth, free from the effects of the fall, without the atonement of our sinless Savior. There is no hope for mercy to triumph over judgment unless it be found at the foot of that cross. Our only hope is the cross!
Therefore, the real “mommy wars” are not against other people and their parenting styles, nor even against Darwin, Sanger or those who promote similar ideologies. As Ephesians 6:12 says, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The real mommy wars are spiritual. And this conflict began with the very first mother, Eve.
The First Mommy War and You
Her initial assignment, along with her husband Adam, was to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). But after the Fall, childbearing became painful and opposed. When the Lord God cursed the serpent that deceived Eve, he said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
Ever since, Satan has labored to destroy the offspring of those who are made in the image of God. The real mommy wars are not against flesh and blood, but against the one who seeks to destroy the next generation of those who would rise up to praise God.
You may be a mother and in the thick of rearing children right now. Perhaps it took you several attempts to read this blog post, thanks to the constant interruptions of young children. Your daily life may consist of dozens of repetitive tasks that feel mundane and irrelevant. This is absolutely not true! You are engaged in spiritual warfare. You are standing against those who believe heinous lies, like “the most merciful thing that a large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.” By bearing and nurturing life, you are reflecting the life-giving characteristics of our holy God! Made in his image, you are reflecting him when you care for the lives he has created.
This applies to those of us who are childless, too. Whether you are not yet married, or married but not yet pregnant, or past the age of bearing children — whatever season of life you are in, you are still part of the great community of believers who are called to witness to the majesty of God: “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4).
It may be quite bitter not to have children of your own, but I ask you to be strategic about the battle. Where can you stand against the devil’s schemes and invest in the children God has already put in your life? Where can you reach out? So many hurting children exist and so many are being discarded.
The real “mommy war” needs every believing woman to enlist. The battle is more significant and more costly than we truly perceive.
Mom Enough is a short book that explores the daily trials and worries of motherhood from the perspectives of eight women. In the trenches, they have learned (and continue to learn) how to treasure God and depend on his all-sufficient grace.
The paradox of this book is the secret power of godly mothering. Becoming mom enough comes from answering the question, “Are you mom enough?” with a firm “No. But God is God enough.”