I’m going to do something rather risky. Immediately before I give birth to our first son I am going to get all philosophical, opinionated and public about what it means to be a good mother. In a few years (or a few months) I want to compare my B.C. (Before Children) ideas with my ideas after our son enters our lives. To see if things have drastically changed . . . or not.
Several years ago my therapist, a wonderful woman full of grace and truth, asked me about my ideas of parenting. If I had a child, what would I want to give to him (or her). This was back before I knew I’d become mother.
Many ideas flowed through my mind.
I want to give them a good education. I want them to know about the joy of reading. I want them to write well, to love art and travel and other people. I want them to get the lay of the land when it comes to career options and higher education options. I want them to be kind to animals, especially corgis. I want them to be musical and engaging and delighted with life. I want them to know Jesus’ love.
All great ideas, don’t you think? (Picture by Lord Frederick Leighton, “Mother and Child”) I certainly thought so as these are all things I value.
But how do you give all these to a child? I know mothers who work hard to make ideals like this possible, but can I really hang my good mothering on the success of inculcating all this to my child?
These plans and hopes forget a crucial ingredient in motherhood–the child’s ability to choose. These were outcomes I’d like to see, but not realities I could offer. For instance, I could give my child a reason to love God, but I could not make them love God as I did.
I don’t like setting myself up for a situation where my plans could be easily thwarted. Isn’t it possible that our child would not want to love Jesus? What if they didn’t like vegetables or thinking or reading? What if our kid didn’t care about education or stewardship of the earth? What if our child preferred Sartre to Augustine?
If my child grew up to be very different from me, would I think I had failed as a mother? Would the goodness of my mothering depend on the outcome of his life?
I ended up telling my therapist, “I want to give them a home that is open and accepting. I want to give them the freedom to be themselves.”
And now as I live and move with a 8 + lb baby inside, I’ve been thinking about my words to her over five years ago. I think this is how I will judge myself as a good mother.
I don’t have expectations that our son will be great, nor that he will want to follow in our footsteps. That would delight me, but I’m not depending on it.
He may not want anything to do with soul formation, or philosophy, or women’s unique souls, or equality between the sexes, or our work at Soulation. He may become a hard-nosed patriarchalist or a snobby, narrow-minded Republican–both equally horrific in my mind at the moment.
But these are all possibilities. He can choose.
Can I open myself up to the son God has given us and not require that my son become all that I intend for him?
If so, then I believe I can be a good mother.
I believe wanting to know your child as a unique person is enough to make a mother good. Not the triangle-shaped toasted cheese sandwiches on rainy afternoons, not the private piano lessons, not the full-time care and attention at home, not breast-feeding nor carefully constructed ants on a log (celery stick slathered in peanut butter with raisins on top) or knowing the best technique for clipping fingernails. Though, before anyone starts throwing tomatoes, I do intend to do most of these things.
But I think I could be a good mother even if I sent my child to day care.
I know, I know. The reason being, though, that I’ve spoken with children who come from day care childhoods and it’s not day care, per se, that embitters or harms them. It’s the meaning behind their parent’s actions. Why were they sent to day care?
If they have gripes about their childhood it’s about their parents love or lack thereof. It’s their parents failure to know them that harms them. Day care situations can be as much about a parent knowing their child wants social interaction from a young age as it can be about selfish mommas who want careers more than kids.
I want to find out what is important to my child, to serve him by being attentive to those things in his life. That’s the great risk in opening my life to a child… what he will need may not be what I want him to need. Nor will it, probably, be convenient. It’s so easy to assume that since a child is younger and more pliable that they should always fit around me and my plans.
But if, for instance, our son hates day care, then I want to honor and listen to his needs. If he prefers day care, then I also want to honor that. Of course, that means my number one priority will be to foster a home where his opinions matter, where his ideas are sought.
This does not, I want to be clear, mean our son will be king.
I don’t intend to watch him run all our lives by the whims of his little broken soul any more than I tolerate Dale running my life by the whims of his brokenness or he lets me run his life by my brokenness.
Just yesterday he brought up how I had snapped his head off three different times.
“I can’t tell if it’s just pregnancy frustration bubbling up in you, or if I’m really as out of line as you said,” he told me.
I took his words to heart. “I think I would have been more patient in all these situations if my body weren’t so uncomfortable right now.” I explained. I also apologized for being unkind.
I pray that God would save me from running my family out of a controlling spirit masquerading in my life as a love for order. In the same ways I pray that God would save us from my husband running the family out of his procrastination masquerading as wanting to live in the moment.
I don’t want to be queen (well not on my good days :)) and Dale does not want to be king of this family. We don’t want a parent-centered family any more than we want a child-directed family. I pray we will all submit to God and each other, offering the high courtesy of heaven to each other. We run our marriage without a human final decision-maker/authority because we believe Jesus heads our family. We, as husband and wife, work as a united organism. I want our son to see the way a husband and wife can lean on each other, dependent on one another for life, as interdependent as our physical head and body.
I want to notice and value my son as a person. For buried within the unique combination of Dale and me in his DNA is a one-of-a-kind soul that I am excited to get to know.
As Dale put it in a recent Soulation Seasonal. We feel we’re inviting a friend over to live with us for 18 + years.
We received several concerned emails after we posted this idea.
“Don’t expect to be friends with your children!”
“You know you’ll have to be the ‘bad guys’ with your kid, too, right?!”
I think these kindly intended comments missed our point. We do not expect our child to like us all the time, or even lots of the time. Nor do we expect that we will always enjoy him. We are, rather, beginning to cultivate a desire to know our child as a person, a human creation that reflects God, that is worth us taking time to study and love. We want to become scholars of our son.
This might or might not involve the stereotypical ways of being a good momma. I won’t know until I know him.
In high school and most of college, I was convinced that the best way I could impact this world was to raise a brood (about 12) of children to love God. I wanted to have kids to mold them into obedient servants of Christianity.
While I will be sharing my love for Jesus with our son, and while I want him to know Jesus, I do not see having a child as a chance to make soldiers of the cross. Not anymore. I’m not having children to continue my legacy. I’m having a child because God asked us to be open to children and then gave us a son.
If I can succeed in knowing and loving him without expecting him carbon copy Dale or me, I will count myself a good mother. The rest is gravy.
I look forward to you peppering me with your comments. All of us have mothers and we all have ideas. What is key to being a good mother?
Image credit: afrocityblog.wordpress.com