Amongst the shelves of any bookstore lie countless weighty tomes with endless, often differing opinions on how to mother and what makes a good mother.
From “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua to “Your Baby and Child” by Penelope Leech, the bookstore is often a confusing place to seek advice on how to best raise a child. The Internet is no better, with websites from the “experts” publicizing the latest study, fad or trend.
This is not to say that there are no helpful ideas for busy mums within these books and sites. But an article on so-called “experts” by Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun should encourage us to question whether we are too reliant on others’ opinions.
No longer encouraged to discover their own mothering abilities, new parents are besieged by experts on everything from breastfeeding and weaning, to clothing, schooling and beyond. Experts tell us we are doing it wrong — or right — they have advice for helicopter mothers, working parents, stay-at-home mothers, absent mothers or fathers, grandparents and so on. It seems that we cannot do without professional advice, even in the ancient and natural practice of motherhood. So, it can be helpful to step back from all these conflicting human opinions from time to time and begin to consider the source of our mothering abilities.
One helpful way to do that, is to take a more spiritual perspective. In the 19th century, Christian healer and writer Mary Baker Eddy was one of a few thinkers who wrote and spoke on a broader perspective of God as both Father and Mother. It was a daring and radical thing to do in an age that portrayed the Divine almost exclusively as a stern father.
But today, many more of us are accepting the idea that the nature of God includes both mother-like and father-like qualities. As we do this, we gain insights into the true characteristics and qualities of mothering that we already have within all of us. This can be key to helping us understand, for example, our innate ability to unconditionally love, support, comfort, feed, clothe and care for our children. It also provides the opportunity to feel loved ourselves.
I learned this lesson when I was myself a young mother. One freezing, snowy cold winter day, after an hour or more of trying to leave the house, I found myself outside with three small children. They were all perfectly dressed for winter while I was standing in my slippers with no coat on. As well, the door had just slammed shut with the keys still in the kitchen! In my earnest attempts to see everyone dressed correctly for the weather, I had forgotten to care for myself. Many mothers can identify with this scenario!
That situation taught me that I needed to gain a better, more spiritual sense of how God as Mother was caring for both me and the children — it wasn’t about me striving to do all the human mothering things right.
This new view became quite an adventure, because throughout it I discovered the spiritual qualities of motherhood that were unfamiliar or felt lacking. Some, like patience and consistency, needed working on; others, like humour and joy, seemed natural and easy. But seeing them all as originating with the Divine really helped. The more I learned about being divinely mothered myself, the more I found these qualities blossoming within me. I knew that motherhood is about unconditional love, but it’s also about how different aspects of that love can be expressed every day in practical ways.
And, whenever I felt overwhelmed with parenting demands, one particular assurance made by Jesus consistently helped me. In the gospel of Matthew, he explained this divine mothering/fathering love this way: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” The way that I see this teaching is that, though I love each of my children deeply and know them so very well, I have no idea how many hairs are on their heads. This one sentence shows me how much more profoundly and intimately our Father-Mother God loves each of us. This love is deeper than an ocean and more glorious than the night sky; yet it is as close as the breath of a loved one. And we have the capability within us to rest in and reflect that love. Taking a moment to contemplate this is incredibly reassuring and energizing.
So, to all of you who are providing this mothering care — be you young or old, grandmas or grandpas, step-moms or single moms, a man who is staying home with children, or a teacher mothering others’ children — you already have all the qualities that you need for the job. When you silence the clamour of opinions, and listen quietly, you will hear the expert within, and feel the real Mother taking over and showing you the undeniable, gracious and practical qualities of motherhood.
This Sunday, take some quiet time to gently allow the spiritual qualities of motherhood to cherish you — to number “every hair on your head.”