First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to any mom figures reading this! Today is my first Mother’s Day with our second child joining us. Huzzah! Okay…now I’m going to get right to it and say my goal here is to reality-check motherhood and how we celebrate it. I have my own motherhood confession to make and share an encouraging reflection on the Lord as our perfect Mother.
Should I just start with my unholy confession? Yes.
There. I said it. Growing up in conservative evangelicalism, I feel like motherhood is a sacred cow, and by saying I don’t love motherhood I’m outing myself as a devil worshipper. And you probably believe I think babies are ugly too now.[Someone somewhere] How dare you?! [I don’t, btw. Babies are wonky but cute none the less.]
So I don’t ‘love’ motherhood. What does that mean? Well, let me be clear. I do love my children! I’m not saying I regret having them. I do sometimes imagine what I’d be doing if I hadn’t had them. But I enjoy them and am thankful for them. In fact, I love them enough to give my life for them.
And that’s the trouble. Motherhood is about giving life; not just once during labor, or once as in sacrificing one’s physical life to save your child’s life, but daily giving up my life in a million small and unnoticed ways to facilitate growth in the life of my children.
Real, God-honoring motherhood involves many things, including dying a little bit every day. So no, I do not ‘love’ this death, but I know I need it. We’ll circle back around to this later.
In order to mom the way God made me to mom, I need to reality-check my view of motherhood. Culturally, we have idealized and idolized motherhood to death, we’ve taken a gift and made it a curse.
For me, having kids was always a maybe. I never had a desire to babysit and didn’t enjoy kids, but my mother kept impressing on me that “it will be different when you have your own.” So I thought about that a lot. I thought about what kind of mom I would be. And an ideal formed in my head, just that fast.
As Christians, our ideals are influenced heavily by how we read our Bible (or how it is taught to us) and the dominant Christian culture of the time we live in. Our broader culture itself is influenced by the ideals of those we look up too (teachers, pastors, politicians, filmmakers, icons, etc). The things they hold up as praiseworthy and exemplary shape our view of what is valuable.
Today, Christian women are still influenced by the traditional misapplication of Proverbs 31, by a history of hyper complementarian views of gender roles where women are valuable primarily because they have babies, plus some other variables. For example, questionable ideas we might pick up, like “God gave you this kid because He knew you were exactly what he/she needed” or “Your love will be enough/ all they need.”
What happens when motherhood isn’t as expected? When the children who were supposed to rise up and call us blessed, don’t even appreciate us or get along with us very well? What happens when my husband has a more nurturing character than I do? Or when I absolutely cannot be what my child needs me to be?
Me, personally? I constantly struggle with perceived expectations. Meaning that my husband and children do not truly expect me to do XYZ but I assume they must because somewhere along the way I learned that was what I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to be as a mother. It is hard to turn off the internal pressure to be someone or something I am not.
Real motherhood, I believe is momming in a way that is authentic and honoring of the giftings and character traits God gave me. Real motherhood, therefore, will look a little different for each person. No cookie-cutter mommies allowed!
The greatest calling of any woman is NOT to be a mother. It is to love and follow Christ in whatever role He has given you, whether you ever parent children or not.
The most fulfilling thing in life is NOT to be a mother either. It is to let God use you for His purposes, whether that involves having children or not.
Many times I have heard sisters in Christ say that all they ever wanted was to be a mom. That is not necessarily a bad thing. God does give some women the role of mother. It is a good role. Nothing wrong about desiring that role.
How-ev-er, we should never look to motherhood and/or our children to give us fulfillment, joy, place, purpose or worth. That comes from God and God alone. Motherhood does not define you, but it can inform you.
Yes, children can be part of how God gives us joy, place, purpose and worth, but that is true of any gift God gives us; like the gift of a friendship, of a mentor or a disciple, or a sibling or a spouse. Still, our love and our source of fulfillment is always the Giver, not the gift. Let’s not take God’s gift of motherhood and make an idol of it.
Is that evil, too? I do like that we have a day to honor and respect mothers because, dammit, momming is a pretty thankless job more often than not and it’s good to be appreciated. However…
There are some questions we should ask ourselves when we celebrate moms on Mother’s Day. What aspects of motherhood are we praising? How are we praising those things? Might our words/approach contribute to an idealization or idolization of motherhood?
Is it good for individuals to show love and honor to all the mother figures that they respect today? Yes! No doubt about that.
Is it wise for us (churches especially) to publicly and communally make a spectacle of praising mothers?
I’m serious. We’ve probably all read the reminders of how Mother’s Day can be a triggering and sorrowful day for a myriad of reasons. Let’s not shrug that off.
It has devastating effects: stigmatizing and pathologizing childfree/childless women, setting moms up for failure with unrealistic standards/expectations, harming children as moms start looking to them for identity/purpose instead of God, etc.
So, can we celebrate moms (and dads) without encouraging the idolization and idealization of a role that God only calls some people too? I think so, but how exactly is something I think we should think more carefully about, friends.
Okay, so this might sound weird to some of you. It feels a bit weird for me, I admit. But…look…if we can talk about God being our perfect example of fatherhood when so many of our earthly fathers fail us, we can do the same for motherhood. In fact, God likens Himself to a mother in the scripture.
So, in the spirit of honoring God as our source of everything good about motherhood, I will henceforth use a feminine pronoun for Her. Whose squirming? Just me? Okay.
Isa 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
In this scripture, the Lord uses a picture of a mother to tell us something about Herself. While we human mothers will fail (we will not always meet our child’s needs and not always love them rightly), the Lord is our perfect, ultimate mother, who does not forget the children She loves. She will not fail to meet our needs.
Isa 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
I take great comfort from the idea that God comforts like a Mother! God created both masculine and feminine, fatherhood and motherhood. Therefore, She is the source of what is best, what is glorifying about both roles. She is all that we need. God is our Mother in a way that our earthly mothers never can be.
When we talk about salvation, we often talk about how Christ lived the perfect life that we could never live. That His perfect life fulfills all that God required of us. That, in dying, He gives us a new life, an eternal one.
So again, mothers, has Christ’s sacrifice not covered all the ways we have missed the mark as moms? Let’s reflect on Christ as being the perfect Mother so that we do not have to be.
Again, I’m going to change the pronouns to the feminine, even though Jesus Christ was a physical human man. I really like the challenging mental shift this is forcing me to make so I’m rolling with it.
1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to her great mercy, she has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
Our new life in Christ is likened to being born again. This time, instead of an earthly mom giving us life, it is Christ. Instead of the physical pain of childbirth, it was the physical suffering and dying on a cross.
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down her life for the sheep.“
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down her life for her friends.”
Life and death are connected. Maybe like two sides of the same coin. These verses talk about laying down one’s life. What does that mean?
Life here is translated from the Greek, “psychē” (a feminine noun, btw). It does not simply mean our physical life (like the Greek “zōē“) and is distinct from our immortal soul (the Greek “pneuma“), but incorporates the aspect of life that is the “seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions”, etc.
Laying down one’s desires, affections, aversions for someone else is about as honest a depiction of motherhood as I can imagine.
And Christ did that for us. Let’s not forget that Christ did ask God for another way. Jesus, the Christ, as a human being, had feelings and desires and an attachment to this world. But ultimately, Her greater love was for God and fulfilling the plan of salvation for us. So She willingly suffered the pain of bringing us out of the darkness and into the light, of birthing us into a new life. Did Jesus enjoy it? No. The scene on the cross seemed agonizing. But Jesus, our spiritual Mother, needed to do it.
I started by confessing that I do not love motherhood. Inherent in motherhood is life-giving pain and death. It is willingly laying down my desires, preferences and aversions, daily, for the sake of my children. It is painful. It is a kind of death. I am willing because I love my kids, but that does not mean I enjoy it.
I did not enjoy the aches and pains of pregnancy, the birth contractions and pushing, and the fact that, 3 months later, I am still struggling with a lot of minor physical problems postpartum, like death by a thousand paper cuts. I really don’t want to do that again.
I do not enjoy the daily laying down of my desires, of what I wish I could give my kids but can’t, or what I think my kids need, or my needs often going unmet. I do not relish my recurring failure to be patient and loving, or the frequent self-doubt and guilt feelings.
I do not enjoy the constant fight against unrealistic ideals of motherhood, or battling the lie that I have to choose between doing the work God has placed on my heart or “momming” in the way I’m “supposed to” mom.
Yet, God is wiser than I. She saw that giving me the role of mom would serve Her purpose. So here we are. I can see how I need the death of motherhood to better live for God.
Not (just) because it gives me cute kids to swoon over in a lifetime of precious moments. Motherhood is a gift because it forces me to lean on God in a way I don’t know that I ever would otherwise. Motherhood is exposing so much of my selfishness and pride and revealing how much more I need Christ. Motherhood is showing me how mysteriously deep God’s love is for me and how much greater She is than I will ever know.
The cute kids are awesome, yes. When I think of parenting I most often think of how God is using me to shape them. But really, it’s equally the other way around. God, our wise Mother, uses our children to shape us. I think that is what is most praiseworthy about motherhood (and fatherhood) – all the things that it teaches us about God.
So. Happy Mother’s Day.
I was adopted into a wonderfully loving family. I have always felt close with my adopted mother. So it never occurred to me that I might have suffered any loss from being separated from my biological mother at birth. It never occurred to me, that is, until I was pregnant with my first child. As I learned about labor and the connection newborns have with their mothers, I cried. I became fixated on that all important moment of holding my son to my chest. Yet, as my anticipation grew, a deep sorrow set in as well. I didn’t understand it at first. Then I realized why. I was actually grieving birth. My own birth.
I’ve heard the story many times. Perhaps a few months old, I was pushing away from my adopted mother. I looked up at her with an intense defiance in my eyes. Day after day, I was resisting.
“You’re going to let me love you.” She said as she gently tucked my limbs in her arms, hugging me to her chest, rocking and singing lullabies.
I don’t know how long this went on, but the last day it happened, she prayed over me. As she prayed, the “leviathan” came into her mind, and she rebuked this spirit by name.
My infant form relaxed and I slid down into her lap and then onto the floor. I immediately fell asleep and from that moment on, I never pushed her away again.
As a child, this story confused me. I saw the loving determination in my mother’s eyes as she retold this memory. In her mind, she had overcome a great obstacle for us. The result was that her baby was able to receive her love. I believe she wanted me to hear in this story how much she loved me.
So I tried to hear that, but I also felt ashamed. I also heard that I had been a broken and possibly demon possessed baby. My own body had behaved freakishly. What did that mean? What did that say about me? I couldn’t make sense of the story, so I rejected it. I listened to it like it wasn’t really me she was talking about. Even now, writing it down here, I question myself. The details I heard are concrete in my head, but when I try to share them, to shine a spotlight on them, they ghost into an accusation of insanity.
Did she really say all those things? Am I making this up?
In sharing this openly, I am calling myself out; to stop invalidating my own experiences and emotional responses.
As a child, this story of my infant self was just further proof that I, the “oriental adoptee” in a rural white community was not normal. Loved? Yes, but not normal. A gift from God? Yes, but something was wrong with me.
I had never been interested in baby dolls. Never wanted to babysit as a teen. Even when my husband and I got married we weren’t 100% sure we wanted kids. We’d wait and see how our lives unfolded. So, when we decided we did in fact want children of our own, I had a lot of learning to do about pregnancy, birth and babies. Which I tackled in my typical, overachieving academic fashion.
I learned my little womb-dweller was already becoming familiar with me. He knew my heartbeat and the sound of my voice. It was comforting as a first-time mommy to know those same, effortless things about me would comfort my child in the first few minutes and days of life on the outside. My breast tissue would regulate his body temperature. He would learn to recognize my scent. His familiarity with me would aid his transition.
God’s design in the birth process is amazing!
These weren’t tears of joy. Pregnancy hormones? It was deeper than tearing up at a puppy adoption commercial. Prenatal depression? I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It was just thinking about this particular aspect of birth that was different. There was sorrow here. When I finally connected the dots, I was shocked.
Was I really grieving something I experienced as a newborn? Is that even possible?
The day I was born I was held by my first mother. However, that afternoon she was gone. As I thought about that, I imagined myself as a vulnerable infant suddenly losing the reassurance of that familiar heartbeat, her gait, her voice.
Just a few months ago I learned research shows infants register this separation as trauma, coded into the nervous system. At one day old, I would have sensed that disruption and loss, even though I couldn’t understand it.
I suddenly remembered that story of resisting my adopted mother. This new perspective broke my heart. A profound sadness for my infant self replaced the sense of shame I had associated with this story.
I had not been a broken or possessed baby, I was overcoming some measure of trauma in losing my familiar mother. I had to adapt to life outside her and without her. Plus, I had to adapt to a new mother I didn’t recognize. This was extra stress that an infant is not supposed to have.
Did I attach to my adopted mother? Yes. Did I adapt and adjust well? I think so. Therefore the temptation is for everyone, myself included, to dismiss and minimize the inherent trauma of adoption. As if it doesn’t matter because it all worked out in the end. The truth is, I had suffered a loss before memory that I was only now able to grieve.
I’m now weeks away from meeting my second child, face to face. Skin to skin. I’m visualizing how I will once again face the pain of labor and postpartum care. I’m fixating again on the moment I get to hold him for the first time.
And I’m grieving. I’ve only talked about this a few times since my first was born. Always with tears. I wonder if that means that I still have healing to do. Or if that means that some wounds never fully heal. Or maybe by writing this out and releasing it, I am healing right now.
Either way, giving birth is both a sorrow and a joy for me. The process involves reliving a loss somehow remembered in my being, though not in my conscious memory. I cannot face giving birth to my own child without grieving my own birth. I’m a little glad we’re not planning on having more children (she wrote with a chuckle).
However, there may be some redemption for me in this process. At least I hope there is. I am now the mother. No longer helpless. Giving my child what I didn’t have. Creating a conscious memory of bonding with my infant. Perhaps my past sorrow makes this anticipated joy that much sweeter.
Better will not be
Not for them
if not by me
will not all sacrifice
will not all open their eyes
Pushing my hopes into their future dreams
is just passing the stuck of our present reality
naming better evolves naturally
claiming hate fades as life cycles
is not any relief
I must show mine
how to blend action and belief
Must summon all that I already am
to cultivate all that they already are
but can’t harvest yet
I must make better
not just for them
but with them
so that by them
better we’ll be