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.
In our recently published book, Sacred Cows, we took on our society’s nonsensical but deeply ingrained beliefs surrounding marriage and divorce. We often get asked whether we will next address the sacred cows of modern parenting, at which point we ask the speaker to please lower his voice, and we look nervously over our shoulders to make sure that nobody has overheard the question.
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.