The frightening power of the parenthood religion

The frightening power of the parenthood religion

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Sometime between when we were children and when we had children of our own, parenthood became a religion in America. As with many religions, complete unthinking devotion is required from its practitioners. Nothing in life is allowed to be more important than our children, and we must never speak a disloyal word about our relationships with our offspring. Children always come first. We accept this premise so reflexively today that we forget that it was not always so.

To understand the frightening power of the parenthood religion, one need look no further than the 2005 essay in The New York Times by Ayelet Waldman, where the author explained that she loved her husband more than her four children. On “Oprah Where Are They Now,� the author recently reaffirmed the sentiments reflected in her New York Times article, and she added that her outlook has had a positive impact on her children by giving them a sense of security in their parents’ relationship. Following the publication of her essay, Waldman was not only shouted down by America for being a bad mother; strangers threatened her physically and told her that they would report her to child protective services. This is not how a civil society conducts open-minded discourse. This is how a religion persecutes a heretic.

There are doubtless benefits that come from elevating parenthood to the status of a religion, but there are obvious pitfalls as well. Parents who do not feel free to express their feelings honestly are less likely to resolve problems at home. Children who are raised to believe that they are the center of the universe have a tough time when their special status erodes as they approach adulthood. Most troubling of all, couples who live entirely child-centric lives can lose touch with one another to the point where they have nothing left to say to one another when the kids leave home.



In the 21st century, most Americans marry for love. We choose partners who we hope will be our soulmates for life. When children come along, we believe that we can press pause on the soulmate narrative, because parenthood has become our new priority and religion. We raise our children as best we can, and we know that we have succeeded if they leave us, going out into the world to find partners and have children of their own. Once our gods have left us, we try to pick up the pieces of our long neglected marriages and find new purpose. Is it surprising that divorce rates are rising fastest for new empty nesters? Perhaps it is time that we gave the parenthood religion a second thought.

This article ought to be required reading for every new parent. The pressure most parents experience to adhere to an utter child centric life is nearly overwhelming and so few can stand against it.

Yet, one of the most precious gifts any parent can give their child is the gift of closing the master bedroom door for a good long while. How? The formula is really simple:

“Now Junior, Mommy and Daddy are having our time now. You go and watch the movie, leave us alone and don’t bang on the door. When we are done, you can have your two gummy worms. But, you know, if you bang on the door, you loose one gummy worm, if you do it again, you lose both of them and if you keep banging on the door, you are going to be put in your room.”

Yep, that’s the bribery all of the high end parenting manuals tell you is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad thing that makes you an awful parent and will scar your children for life.

And, it saves the marriages said children depend on for their emotional survival.

Oh, and it works…

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