So let that be the backdrop for the rest of this post. With that in mind, I also understand that it is so necessary and important to continue to affirm and encourage parents as they (we) raise the future leaders, workers, and parents of the world.
But, despite my admiration for parenthood even while single, there were times when I felt like the adulation of its virtues went almost too far - to the point of disparaging other roles. I know I have heard this line, or variations of it before, and while I can't actually pinpoint any particular book, speech, or sermon as a source, it goes something like this:
"Motherhood is the best job you could ever have."
Hearing that made me cringe internally. Not because motherhood isn't extremely important, or because I didn't want to be a mother someday, but the word that struck me was "best." I didn't have a baby until I was 26, and so I spent a fair amount of time as a single and child-free adult (though still not as much as many of my friends have), but I have to admit, it would probably still make me cringe even now.
Why? Because by saying that motherhood is the best job that a woman can have, you are therefore saying that any woman who is not a mother, no matter what else she does, is doing something that is less than best. And that's a lie. "If motherhood is the best job I could ever have," I would think, "Does that mean I'm failing now?" I didn't feel like I was. At least not all the time.
Honestly, I don't think that most people who say/type lines like that really mean it that way. I think what they're mostly trying to say is that if you're a mother, motherhood is the most important of all your jobs. But there are ways to communicate that without making it sound like you're minimizing the jobs and roles of child-free people, or negating their importance. (Or minimizing the importance of other jobs that mothers may have.)
Motherhood is SO important. It's already the hardest job I've ever had, and I've only just started! But it is also a great job, and I'm so glad I have the privilege of being one. It is a role in which you are closely bonded with one or more brand new little people, and you become one of (and at times THE) chief influence to shepherd them through their early years, and beyond. That is a huge responsibility, with so much involvement and potential, and it can be pretty scary sometimes. Affirmation and support are so important. And yes, there may be people who feel as though they wasted portions of their lives, or at least did not use their time wisely, and thought they "grew up" a lot by becoming parents. There's nothing wrong with being honest about those feelings.
But that doesn't mean that having a child is the only way to shepherd and influence the next generation. Many people do that without taking on the role of parenthood. What's truly important is that every person realizes the importance and value in relationships. While immediate family relationships are the obvious ones, they don't have to be the only ones. There are many people in many different stages of life who will either never be parents, or are simply child-free for a season, and to say or imply that the work they're currently doing is good but still lacking without children is wrong and hurtful - especially since, like me at the time, it's not always something that's a current option for them. Child-free people have the freedom and ability to develop relationships outside their nuclear families that parents don't always have.
Again, I think very few people would actually say that line above. Most churches and communities I have been in have done a great job of affirming people in whatever their current stages of life are. But I still think it's worth keeping in mind. The importance of motherhood/parenthood does not mean that the time spent before it is of less importance, for me or anyone else.
That's why it's so important to make sure that in encouraging and building up parents, it is not done in a way that downplays anyone else's role or job, but rather affirms the importance of every role and stage of life.