In Praise of Mothers.
Everyone loves their mums, right? I know I do. I love her to bits. But I realise now, looking back, that I’ve undervalued her. Not intentionally of course, but because I never really realised what she did for me until I saw what my wife does for our baby son. I never understood quite what mothers go through, quite how hard motherhood is, nor quite how amazing mothers are. Now that I know, I see that my debt of gratitude to my mum is so much larger than I thought.
My posts on fatherhood have been well received, I hope, but some have accused them of being too idyllic, of painting too perfect a picture of something that is often hard and riddled with mistakes. That may be so. And normally I unapologetically focus on the positive, partly to keep the right perspective, partly because there’s too much bad news out there already, but I think to fully appreciate mothers you have to see first-hand what they go through.
Before becoming parents, most of us know about the sleepless nights, but few of us guessed quite how many there would be, or quite how demanding. I for one had no conception of the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation, how it strips away everything from your life except the bare essentials and leaves you just about no time for yourself. A few nights here and there are ok, maybe even a few weeks, but eleven months on the toll is really mounting. I do everything I can to support Lucy at night, but inevitably, when a baby will mostly only go back to sleep through breast-feeding, it is on her that most of the burden falls. She would have given up long ago if she didn’t love Ethan so much.
I might have slept better than my son as a baby, but even so Lucy’s struggles have given me a glimpse into what my mum had to do. Again, most people know that babies cry, but are quite unprepared for the days when it just never stops, when your baby is so clingy that you can’t get anything done. It can be all-consuming. Quite apart from the physical and emotional strain it imposes, I begin to understand that mothers face an identity crisis in this phase: is this all I am now? Am I just a mother? As important and worthy as motherhood is, it’s very hard to deal with a phase of life when so much of your identity and self-worth are based in another person. There’s so much else Lucy wants to be and to do, and while I’ve no doubt she will realise her dreams in due course, for now pretty much everything else has to be put on hold. That’s a big sacrifice. Knowing someone once made a similar sacrifice for me is humbling in the extreme.
Lucy’s not a perfect mother; she wouldn’t claim to be. But she is as close as you can humanly get. She exemplifies the love that Paul wrote to the Corinthians about. She’s patient, she’s kind, she’s humble; she’s selfless, slow to anger and forgiving. She always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres. Part of the reason I’m writing this is in the hope that Ethan will one day read it and realise how exceptionally blessed he was and is to have been loved like this. Reading this to myself, I count my own blessings too.
So in the midst of all this extreme fatigue, physical strains, emotional demands, limitations and soul-searching, I see something sublime. I see the mother-heart of God. I more readily identify with the father-heart of God, and we hear about that much more commonly, but God is a mother too. Why else does Jesus speak in these terms about his lost children?
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)
Jesus intentionally chose to speak as a mother, using the metaphor of a mother-hen. He makes no attempt to overlook how hard parenthood is, and even allows us to glimpse the terrible sorrow of a rejected parent, but still he longs to gather his children. He would go to hell and back for them.
Because God made man and woman in His image, motherhood is part of the image and design of God. Now I see Lucy living out that image, and while it can’t compare to the real thing, even this hazy glimpse is breath-taking.
Mothers deserve so much more than flowers and cards and cursory phone calls. They deserve full recognition of what they do and did. They deserve unbounded gratitude for the investment they made, for the selfless love that they give. Although I will never fully know what it takes to be a mother, what I’ve seen and experienced as a recipient and partner leaves me marvelling. And so very, very blessed.