The good father: the church's nursing nazis...

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Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes. (Isaiah 40:11)

Twenty years ago, the first conflict our elders faced was between women over nursing. Both sides were convinced they were right.

The issue?

On-demand versus scheduled feeding. Some women believed the health of the infants of the church depended upon the mother feeding her baby when he cried while others believed the baby crying should not be the absolute rule of the home. Both had their arguments and both could sound right. But, looking at the big picture, the elders saw a failure of love and humility. Ever so gently, then, they said they did not want the women of the church dividing over the proper method of nursing.

Some women would still say it is a life-and-death issue. The on-demanders would point to some of the scheduled feeders and warn that their infants were in danger of starvation...

Similarly, the schedulers would argue their children were in no jeopardy, physically, and that dropping everything to feed their infant every time he let out a murmur would wreak havoc in their family life. They had other children to care for and the little infant could not be allowed to rule the home with his whimpers. It would set a bad precedent for years to come when the child would expect his mother to give in to his every demand.

Earlier this evening, I was in a NICU with two women of our congregation and they said another battle is between women who think everyone should nurse and those who aren't able to do so or don't want to pump. The pressure women of the church bring to bear on young mothers can be debilitating.

Here's where the father comes in. Dad, you cannot allow other women to oppress your lover, the mother of your child. Sure, you are not a woman or a mother, and thus you must admit you lack personal knowledge of the subject at hand. Still, you must not allow the pack to rule your home. Peer approval and disapproval doesn't stop with junior high or high school. It's alive and well in the church and it's your job to live large enough as your wife's husband and your baby's father to displace your wife's insecurities with your encouragement and love. If necessary, let out a little growl to keep these outsiders at bay.

This is an important principle: do not let your wife live in fear of the disapproval or condemnation of the women of your church. Women compete through their motherhood and children, so get ahead of the game. Recognize this vulnerability of your beloved and do what you can to protect her from it. If her best friend tells her she needs to change from on-demand to scheduled feedings, you tell your beloved that you think every child and his mother are different, and that you believe she chose on-demand because she knows the needs of your child. After all, she's his mother! Tell her you trust her judgments. Tell her you would rather have her making decisions about the wellbeing of her little one than some mother of some other child. Tell her you didn't marry her best friend. You married her and you want her to be the mother of your child. Tell her you believe she's the best mother in the world. So would she please stop listening to her friends and listen to her own body and the needs of your child? Please?

Father, it is your duty to liberate your wife from the competition and jealousies, from the Mother Superiors of your church. I do hope you have older women of your church who work to protect young mothers from these things. Yet, even if you do, you yourself are called by God to defend your wife and children. God has made you responsible for their wellbeing. Yes, of course you must not allow your child to starve to death. Yes, of course, if he's not putting on weight, your wife may need counsel concerning her feeding and it's your job to get her that counsel.

In most cases, though, the issue isn't the life and health of your child, but the peer pressure of Mother Superiors. So keep watch for it and make yourself large enough in your home and your wife's mind and heart that she feels freed to decide these matters for herself and her child. After all, God gave this child to you and your wife—not to the young mothers of your church who think they know better.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!