What struck me as I watched Tim Tebow and his mom in a Super Bowl ad on Sunday was that the form of the Focus on the Family advertisement just doesn’t fit the subject:
The ad implies that a woman shouldn’t abort, because if her fetus is brought to term it could grow up to be a wonderful, well-mannered and stunningly successful young man. There are other messages packed into the 30-second commercial, but the gist is clear: save your pregnancy. Wager for life, and you too might win the grand prize of proud motherhood.
Watching the game with friends and our messy, quarreling kids running around highlighted the contrast between the ad’s medium and its message. Family life, like most football, is about mud and mess more about than winning a lottery. We love the kids smearing nacho cheese on the couch, not because we wagered and won, but because they are our children.
We signed on for kids knowing that life wasn’t going to be a Super Bowl game. It was going to be many smaller games, games such as Pick Up The Toddler’s Cheerios, played again and again. These games don’t have corporate sponsors; my day as a mom doesn’t feature the Tide Terrific Battle. It is just me spraying blue jeans while reaching to get the phone before the babysitter hangs up. There are no cheerleaders standing on the sidelines shouting my name. The work is hard and blessed, difficult and joyful all jumbled together.
But that message would have required more time and more moxie to present. It might have included a woman finding out that her baby could be born with cognitive disabilities, then signing on only to learn that her city’s services and public schools lack the funding to help her and her child. It might have shown that child’s big sister helping him across the street, love mixed with sheer sibling resolve. A truthful snippet on mothering would have been smaller scale and rawer. Using a Super Success Story to promote the value of all life is silly, maybe even cruel.
Last year I spoke at Focus on the Family. I told them that their messages about raising a successful family undermine their efforts to encourage foster care and adoption for children with special needs, that their witness is at odds with itself. Signing on for a child marked with need requires a different skill set than one formed by messages that promise success. Parenting is more repetitive and cyclical than linear and ascending, and special-needs parents know this well.
Some of the people at Focus on the Family realize this; some even seemed prepared to encourage more public funding for families that are outside the norm. Trying to ignore the NObama stickers in the parking lot, I left the visit more hopeful than discouraged. I’m less hopeful after seeing this nonsensical ad.
The entrenched abortion debate will continue to busy our airwaves after the big game. Meanwhile, small games will start up again in the fall, and parents will suit up for the little games of family life. We know that we’ll lose as much ground as we gain. We know we aren’t going to win big. But we’ll play anyway.