When I was a young teenage girl my mom and dad traveled to Indonesia on a missionary trip. Of all the stories they came back with I remember one in particular. The home where my parents stayed belonged to a middle class Indonesian family and they had three small children. My mother was very intrigued by the way the mother of the home handled her children. The maternal grandmother also lived in the home, and she was as much a part of the children’s daily care as the mother.
What impressed my mother the most was how well behaved the little boys were…how pleasant. As she watched the ladies care for the children she was shocked to see that the word “no” was hardly ever used. In fact, most of the day was spent following the children around and gently redirecting, letting the children explore, climb, and play at will. The mother or grandmother stood by quietly, always watching and ready to catch, hold, and otherwise facilitate the child’s self direction while securing their safety.
One afternoon my mother witnessed the oldest boy eating his lunch while riding his bike in the street with his friends. The mother was standing on the other side of the front yard fence with a bowl of rice and vegetables, and every few minutes the boy would ride up to the fence and get a bite from her then return to riding. He ate the entire bowl while playing with his friends.
As a mother I just love that image.
Motherhood is a wondrously complicated and highly individual art. It is shaped by unfathomable impressions, memories, experiences, and nuances. It is absolutely impossible to know what a mother is supposed to do or why she does what she does. These things are shaped by something unseen, something that resides in the heart of the mother and is incomprehensible to others. I told the story above to share just how this heart is developed. Like a magnet that attracts all the metal in the junk drawer, a woman has been collecting her mother conscious all her life. The boy on the bike eating his lunch in freedom was given to me second hand, and yet it has been a powerful metaphor for child raising in my own experience. This is miraculous when one ponders the nature of how we humans go about caring for our young.
I think that most of the skills, knowledge, and abilities we have as mothers are gained through the organic process of living. And if we stay connected to the vast storehouse that is the present moment we have everything we need to be a good mother. I have heard women say, “I was never taught how to be a good mother.” And I agree if what is meant by this statement is more truthfully, I never had an example of a good mother in my life. However, I do not think this makes it impossible to be a good mother…what wisdom and heart can be found in the pain of a troubled childhood.
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
The greatest tool I have ever used as a mom is awareness…just practicing awareness. In each moment, if I am truly present I am always enough. I am never perfect, but I am enough. Within my heart I have everything I need to love and cherish and mother my children…it’s all there, everything I have collected and experienced has brought me to this moment, and I can trust my own heart. Honoring this process and recognizing it is dynamic is the tricky part. This gaining and collecting process is ongoing and very much alive. It is natural to change and grow as a mother as I live longer…motherhood is not static.
Another aspect to this process is that as a community of mothers it would be wonderful if we honored the process in each other. When a mom says she needs support she is not asking for advice or the latest parenting self-help book per se. What she needs is for someone to get to know her well enough that she can share her heart with that person. And it is in the sharing of the heart that women come to themselves, that they learn through communal sharing…women are very communal. When we honor each other we intrinsically honor ourselves, and this type of friendship is authentic and life giving.
I suspect that the reason I have been struggling with my parenting lately is because I have not been honoring the process…I tend to demand a type of static perfection. And this is lazy parenting. Awareness demands that I stay present, plugged in, and connected with my kids. As far as I know Moses has not come down off the mountain with the 10 laws of motherhood, oh wouldn’t that be easy…or maybe not.
Maybe being a good mother is kind of like standing at the fence and feeding the child while he rides his bike…being that stable source of nourishment while the child rides like the wind. Maybe it’s just being willing to roll with it and trust that what’s in my bowl is enough. Maybe it is acknowledging where and how my bowl is filled.
And maybe what makes a great friend and support is that I honor that process in you.