The Seculosity of Parenting
As an Enneagram 3, I thrive off of productivity and achievement. The more I get done in a day, the better. Anything interfering with my agenda I see as opposition. And anything left on the to-do list at the end of day or week seems to mock me with a resounding, “You are not enough.”
A day of unhealthful eating or no exercise can have the same effect. It’s exhausting, truly, to live as if my justification is up to me. While I know my attempts at self-justification are all in vain, I imagine for the rest of my life I will battle against looking to my accomplishments as the basis of my worth, instead of resting secure in the finished work of Christ.
But it’s not just me and fellow Enneagram 3’s. No, David Zahl’s (of Mockingbird Ministries) new book Seculosity makes it pretty clear we are all guilty of self-justification, in as many forms as there are god-replacements. And considering we make idols out of anything and everything, we similarly look to find our “enough-ness” – as the author refers to our quest for justification – in just about anything too.
Zahl’s unique term, seculosity, comes from marrying religiosity with secular. It describes the way we chase after righteousness in the ordinary, daily things of this world, often with religious-like fervor. Our tendency toward idol-worship functions as a means of feeling right, secure – superior even. In fact, Zahl says, “if you want to understand what makes someone tick, or why they’re behaving the way they are, trace the righteousness in play, and things will likely become clear.”
For the purpose of this post, I will focus on the seculosity of parenting and children. Not just our parenting and our children, but everyone else’s too; if we’re honest, our enoughness is largely dependent on how we stack up against others. Also at play is “what other parents might think about our parenting decisions.”
One of the most obvious ways we see seculosity on the parenting front is all the #proudmom moments we post about. From accolades and awards, election wins, try-out successes, honor society acceptance, AP scores, admission letters, and the list goes on. Our children’s accomplishments easily become the affirmation of our enoughness. But the opposite is true, too. I sure don’t see any posts, or even hear many parents talk about their kids’ short-comings or mishaps. We tend to take those as hard as our kids, and not because we are identifying with them in their disappointment. Rather, because we have attached to any failure the notion that we are consequently a failure.
As for wanting to share celebratory news with others who will share in our joy, I understand. I don’t mean to convey that this is always wrong. It’s the motives for doing so that reveal our heart. Regardless, when we snub our noses at another parent for posting something or doing anything different than us, this is quite simply just another form of seculosity. For in our judgement of or gossip about other parents, we feel better about ourselves, our way of doing things (or not doing things). But as Zahl reminds us, “rest assured we are being similarly scrutinized. Which is bad news, since none of us is the parent we intended to be.”
The comparison and tearing down to build ourselves up, to feel our worth as parents, starts the moment we become one. As a young mom with a first-born child who didn’t sleep through the night until fifteen months, I remember feeling like a Growing Kids Gods Way-failure. Never mind that my daughter had reflux, the book and its Christian sub-culture followers gave six-weeks as law. And this was only the beginning. Every choice from nursing versus bottle-feeding, cloth diapers or regular, organic, homemade, or store-bought food became fodder for feeling better about ourselves, or worrying we weren’t measuring up. Just add to it our child’s physical and cognitive development, our school choices and kids’ activities and it’s game on.
If ever there was a place to hang our enoughness hat, the overscheduling and specialized activities may be it. Parents today are afraid their child will fall behind if they don’t start competitive soccer at age three. A few years in and the only way to ensure the necessary progression is to get on the “right” team and hire an individualized trainer. Outsourcing to the professional – whether for athletics, academics, fine arts, or the spiritual development of our kids – has become like a badge of assurance that our kids, and therefore we, are enough. We worry that without starting our young daughter in competitive gymnastics, she will never make the high school cheer team. We rationalize these decisions with wanting to give her all the options, though the real motivation is likely found in our own future identity as a Varsity Cheer Mom.
Whether it’s securing that title or another one, there is always something that we must do more of so our kids and us will be more. Our identity hinges on it. Or, as Zahl says, “the most overt, and probably most damaging, expression of the seculosity of parenting occurs when parents lean on their children for their enoughness.” At my stage in parenting, I see this in moms and dads who are either beaming with pride over where their kids are going to college and their professional pursuits, or ducking out of conversations in order to avoid these touchy topics. I have no doubt following on the heels of our children’s future careers, we will find our children’s spouses and the grandchildren to come to be the barometers of our enoughness.
Driven by fear of somehow missing the mark, our bent toward seculosity (in which parenting is just one; the book looks at eight others including busyness, romance, food, and politics), is never-ending. And we will forge ahead in our own self-justification until we recognize it for what it is, let go of trying to control, and see that the only thing that can make us right comes in the unmerited grace of Jesus. In his life and death, he secured what we could never earn. Our efforts to self-justify are as ridiculous as his love is radical. So when we grasp that the love he has for us is unchanging and independent of what we do or don’t do, no longer do we live as enslaved to whatever form of seculosity makes us feel right or better. By God’s grace we can live free knowing his righteousness is the only thing that matters. In Christ we are more than enough and so are our children, just as they are.