An Inadvertent Cult: One Year Later

This coming weekend, my son turns 1 year old.

Even writing that feels wrong, but it’s true.  I checked the calendar, there’s a birthday party and everything.

The past year has changed me into a different man; hopefully a better man, but definitely a different man.  Looking back at what I wrote this time last year about my plans as a father are at the same time hilarious and poignant.  So I thought, since we’re frantically preparing the house for a birthday party, I’d walk you through my thought process as I read through “An Inadvertent Cult“, one year later.

On October 18, 2014, I was inducted into a cult against my will.

But this cult is the most socially acceptable cult in America today, and my induction into it happened during one of the happiest moments of my life.

What happened? My son Calvin was born, and I was inducted into the Cult of Parenthood.

In the past year I’ve been struck by how much I had actually been inducted several months prior, when I found out that I was going to be a dad. Parent culture starts long before the race to the hospital and the pushing and the nurses. It starts during your first trip to Babies R Us to start your gift registry. “How is this stroller functionally better or worse than that nearly-identical stroller by the same manufacturer?” “Will our baby be deprived if we don’t buy him the most stimulating toys available in this store?” “Why on Earth does a pack-n-play need a music box?!?

But outside the Babies R Us, as I’ve discovered since, this kind of craziness is really just a shell game. The comforts and luxe are for the parents, not the child. And realizing that this is a lie told by parent culture really shines a light on the lies our culture tells us all: it starts before we’re even born.

I first realized this cult existed a few years ago, but I didn’t know what to call it until I read an article about this cult on qz.com. It’s sobering to see how much our society worships our kids; so much so that even secular news sites are noticing. Authors Danielle & Astro Teller note,

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.

Is this the way it’s supposed to be? Did God design us to love our spouses “as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself up for her” – only until kids came along?

I think not. And neither did most parents of my parents’ generation; three decades ago, it would have been uncommon to worship one’s children. Yet somehow, since then, things have changed.

After Calvin was born, it became easy to see why this “cult” pushes “CHILDREN ABOVE ALL ELSE” as its primary dogma: Kids demand attention.

Calvin demands attention in two main ways: by screaming, and by being cute. But either way, he always assumes that he’s the center of the universe. It’s not just other people telling parents that their kids should be number one. It’s the kids themselves. But when you let the kids call the shots, you’re in trouble. I mention how kids can’t bear the weight of our worship in the next paragraph, but kids also can’t bear the responsibility of dictating our lives. They get warped and wounded very quickly when you let them be in charge, and so do you.

The Tellers go on to discuss a chilling sign of the religion’s dominance in our culture.

…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. … 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.

The Bible talks about husband and wife “becoming one flesh.” But in the cult of parenthood, this is only allowed as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the kids. The Tellers noticed the pitfalls of this viewpoint, too.

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… 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.

Perhaps indeed. So how do we avoid this? How can we redeem parent culture?

Good question.

Still a good question.

But I don’t know what kind of father I am yet. Heck, right now, I don’t even know what kind of son I have.

Cute, curious, smiley, thinks I’m silly. Loves glowing screens, cell phones, and sweet potatoes. Can eat nothing but bread for some meals, especially if that bread is in the form of dinner rolls. Likes to snuggle when he’s not feeling well. I know this kid pretty well. If only I spent this amount of time getting to know God…aw, crap. I think I just Jesus Juked myself.

What I do know is that I don’t want my marriage to look like that quote in twenty years. I know that my prayer is “what therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Not even this cute little man who has captivated our hearts; his tiny shoulders are way too small to bear the weight of being my god.

“His tiny shoulders are way too small to bear the weight of being my god.”  I still like this line, and I understand a little better why he can’t bear this weight. It isn’t just that he shouldn’t be calling the shots; he also can’t provide to me what I need in order to survive as a human. He can give me love, hugs, sleepless nights, and headaches. He can’t provide security and stability in the face of an emotional storm, or the strength to go on when life gets really hard. He can’t give me unconditional love or the ability to give it to others. He can’t give me anything that I haven’t given him, and that’s the opposite of being a god.

My decades-long study on how to redeem parent culture begins now. I’ll let you know when I get it all figured out.

Still working on that one.

• • •

Thanks for reading Redeeming Culture! If you like what we’re doing, we’re still looking for writers. And if you love what we’re doing, any support you can offer would be great (to help keep those sweet potatoes going into my son’s mouth). Thank you!

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