After three years of graduate theological education – which logged countless hours in theological reflection processing this ministry experience and that systematic teaching – my mothering spirit can’t help but reflect theologically about parenting decisions.
To be honest, I overdo it in certain areas. For example, I am hyper-critical of religious children’s literature. To the point that I seriously considered tearing out the page in S’s The Story of Christmas book which happily declares that “Mary and Joseph were very excited. They had a lot to do to get ready for the baby!” Are you kidding me? Did the author even read the Gospel infancy narratives before describing Mary and Joseph as giddy about the unexpected pregnancy as a glowing couple registering at Babies.R.Us? But I digress.
Most of the time, I try to let my theology inform my mothering in healthy ways. One of the surprising ways this has borne fruit is our decision to use cloth diapers with S.
Truth be told, neither F nor I can remember exactly when or how we made this decision. I recall F talking about how his mother used cloth diapers. I then launched into a favorite pastime of today’s pregnant women with too much time on their hands (translation= graduate papers to avoid writing): idle internet research. I discovered that cloth diapers had dramatically evolved past diaper-pins-and-plastic-pants, and that they seemed easy to use, economical, and earth-friendly.
So we decided to take the plunge.
But here is where things turned theological. Somewhere along the way, as we settled into a laundry routine and convinced a few eye-rolling friends that we weren’t crazy for using cloth, I realized that there was deep theological meaning behind our decision.
As our marriage has evolved over the past few years, F and I have grown into a shared concern about the earth and our stewardship of the natural resources God has given us. As with any conversion story, it started out small: cloth grocery bags, composting, vegetable gardening. But it grew deeper as we read more and more about American practices of consumption and their dangerous effects on our environment, our neighbors, our food, our air and water.
We talked often about how our understanding of stewardship and care for God’s creation urged us to respond. It changed our shopping habits as we switched to more organic, less processed and packaged foods. It made us think deliberately about buying local produce in order to support sustainable farming practices. It even influenced our commitment to using natural family planning, as we learned about the disturbing effects of contraceptive hormones on the environment as well as our bodies.
And somewhere along the line, cloth diapering became important to us. Not just a nice, crunchy option for keeping our baby’s bottom dry, but a statement about our values and beliefs.
We feel strongly that as people of faith, we need to take small steps to live responsibly in the world God has given us. We need to be thoughtful stewards of the resources – both natural and financial – that we have been given. We need to consider the consequences of our actions and the common good of our community when we make decisions for our family.
Before I go any further, however, let me make one thing abundantly clear: I am not saying that disposable diapers are evil, or that Christians have to use cloth diapers. Our world – and its ethical quandaries – are rarely black and white, and I’ve written before about the dangers of making ideological statements about parenting (versus theological beliefs that guide our lives.) I can see very clearly how and why other families make different decisions based on their circumstances.
I’m simply saying that for us, using cloth has become a way to remind ourselves to live out our values in small, deliberate decisions each day. Now when we wash or fold diapers, we often talk about how such decisions have an impact on our world and allow us to parent in a way that feels authentic to our core beliefs.
Believe me, we’re far from perfect stewards of the earth; we still buy and waste too much and conserve too little. But cloth diapering has encouraged us to take further steps – steps that push us to go deeper into our theological commitment to care for God’s creation. As proof of the interconnectedness of Catholic social teaching, trying to live out one teaching leads us to another. We act on our concern for the environment, and then we begin to ask about its impact on those living in poverty, on world hunger, on diminishing respect for life in all its forms. Faith calls us continually to reach beyond our comfort zones and the confines of our family home to consider how we can work towards the peace, justice, and compassion that mark the reign of God.
F declares that he loves the chance to “evangelize” about cloth diapers. I used to laugh at his choice of words until I realized he was absolutely correct. Whenever we live out our values, we bear witness to the Gospel and the God who claims us. All parents do this in their own ways, as we teach, comfort, discipline, challenge and care for children. The meals we make, the games we play, the way we spend our weekends – all the small decisions we make as families offer us the opportunity to speak and act on what we are about, what we believe.
So for me, the lessons of cloth diapering have reached beyond laundry or landfills. They remind me that each decision I make as a mother offers me the chance to teach my child – and remind myself – of how I am called to live in this world: simply, mindfully, faithfully.