This past weekend was Mother’s Day in many parts of the world (Southern Africa, where I am, included). I know that it is a day that is marked at different times of the year in different parts of the world. Regardless, it is one of very few non-religious but set-apart days that is commemorated almost the world over. And rightly so. The value and importance of mothers cannot be overstated – these have been captured in various art forms: poetry, song, prose, and even stage and film performance. Considering the often selfless and thankless task that motherhood is and how much of a commitment and poetic sacrifice it requires, it is only fair that motherhood is so celebrated. If we think of mothering as the molding of world citizens, we have in effect, mothers to thank for all the wonderful people that make this world a better and brighter place. Yes, it’s not only biological mothers that can or do the raising of children, but by and large, it is mothers (or mother figures) who so graciously and if truth be told, excellently, execute this task. As proof, we all have deeply poignant and special memories of our mothers, the love they’ve given and the sacrifices they’ve made to raise us and ensure that we can stand on our own feet and be successful people.
So, having noted the considerable significance of mothers, one might ask, “What maketh a mother?” My immediate response would be that such a question isn’t the easiest to answer because our mothers all come in many types, varieties and forms. At a very basic level, it takes a woman with the capacity simply to love to be a mother. But the one thing that I can tell you is that as magnificent as this ‘species’ is, they/we are all fully human. We deal with our own insecurities and shortcomings, and there is often nothing like motherhood to show you up as inadequate or not ‘suitably’ qualified. Because we come into it with our own demons and traumas, we run the risk of having those manifest in our mothering, and potentially scarring our own offspring and continuing a thread of dysfunction. At the same time, we have this deep and irrefutable love for our children. Motherhood often shows the complexities of loving as a human being. None of us is perfect – but we are all capable of loving and giving something to another, even in our brokenness. It also shows that someone, namely God, trusts us. How truly humbling. We are not always ‘ready’ or suitably qualified, but nonetheless, God entrusts the wellbeing of all of us to someone – usually a broken, nothing out of the ordinary, woman with the capacity simply to love.
I think that the gift of being a mother speaks to the fact that life isn’t always about what you deserve or how ‘good’ you are – it is about grace. And it is also grace that enables us to fulfil the role and its enormous responsibilities. God through His grace, allows us to be mothers, and our children also show us so much grace. Children are quick to forgive us our trespasses and to start a new page with us, even right after we’ve messed up. They are perhaps an example of how God loves us all – patiently, tenderly and newly every day. And our guilt as mothers can often be overwhelming because we know how much we often hurt and offend our children, time and again, as though we can’t help ourselves. And often we can’t. But children’s love remains, new and untainted each day. So inasmuch as one may give selflessly in motherhood, it teaches you how to receive what you don’t deserve and to do so graciously. That may sound easy to do but it is NOT. In a world wherein we all know that there’s nothing for free and that you’ve got to earn any kind of affection, it is such an anomaly to have someone love you for no other reason than that you are their mother. Yes, this love can be abused and destroyed, but I gotta tell you, it takes A LOOOOT in order for things to get there.
For me, motherhood has been the perfect mirror of our souls. How we mother is a reflection of all that is going on inside of us, and all that we still have to work on. Because I am a mother, I am fully acquainted with all of the places and things I need to work on and heal. It has made me deeply question how and why I am broken in the ways that I am. I don’t always get the answer, and that can be frustrating, but because of that and the need to do better, I now have a list of things I am determined to work through. Because nothing makes you want to be a better person than a child. When you think of how highly dependent they are on you, that they look up to you and see so much beauty and perfection in your heart and soul, you can’t help but want to be better. Also, children don’t choose their parents. We are divinely picked for each other. Which is another totally cool/awesome thing about being a mother. Somehow, we ALL end up with the kinds of children we need to heal and grow into better people. Trust! I know that my son is JUST what the doctor ordered for my soul, oh Lordt! Hahaha. But we are responsible for them making it into this world, and so for all that love that they give you, and the fact that they have no say in their existing and being alive, and have only you as an anchor and source, you are moved to want to be a better person or mother. In this way then, children are healing. We often think that we do so much for them (and we do), but much of it is so easy and automatic because that’s how God created that bond, but children do way more for us than we could ever do for them. My experience is that, through motherhood, God has allowed me an opportunity through which to constantly look into and really see myself, the good, bad and the ugly. And I can’t tell you whether I’d have gotten a similar opportunity sans motherhood. Maybe. Who knows? But this is one way through which motherhood has enriched and bettered my life.
Mothering for me has also been a lesson in learning how to forgive myself. Because of how painful it is to make a mistake that hurts your child and be so readily forgiven for it, one can often struggle to forgive themselves. So, in addition to learning how imperfect you are, you also realise how hard you can be on yourself when you struggle to forgive yourself. There is always that fear of “What if I let him down again in the same way?”, or just feeling undeserving of forgiveness. And again, this I believe, is a mirror of how God loves and fathers us. He readily forgives, and the expectation is that once He’s forgiven you, you too should be able to forgive yourself. But it’s not always the case. We often repeat the same mistakes a number of times and we are always undeserving of forgiveness, but God always forgives us and gives us more chances. We struggle to forgive ourselves because we know we haven’t become better yet and start to feel as though we are abusing this kindness. But that is grace. That is love. And when love and grace and forgiveness are freely offered, it is not up to us to question that or shun it because we feel undeserving. That is selfish and self-centered in fact, more than anything. And so, through motherhood, I have learned that true, unconditional love isn’t about whether one is deserving or not; it is simply a freely offered gift from the giver to the receiver. And that love and the manner in which it is given is what makes us want to be better people.
In any other relationship, it is harder to get to that place where there is unwavering and unconditional love, for a number of reasons. One is, they too chose to love you – you picked each other. So there is free will there. Either one of you can leave at any time. Not with motherhood. And yes, tragically, some mothers do leave their children. But this is not to judge them, because you never know how someone is experiencing something and what their make-up is. Some do end up leaving that gig. But generally, you can’t walk out of mothering, and neither party chooses who they get stuck with. With people we meet along the way, we share with them a love that is sort of “I love you for as long as you are good to/for me and do not hurt or harm me.” Children on the other hand, love us even when we are the worst people. I don’t quite know how or why. Perhaps it’s because they come into this world as empty slates and do not know any better, but their love is definitely unconditional and not premised on what you can do or do do for them. They just love. Even the most broken parents. And we too, love them at their worst. It is really quite humbling. And so this is one thing that I would say is perhaps most unique and special about motherhood – that unrelenting devotion and unconditional love that can forgive almost anything, that both parties, but especially the innocent ones, have for each other. A true blessing indeed. It’s like an “I love you just because you are”.
The love that children have for their parents most closely mirrors how God loves us. We often read about how extravagantly God loves us and it is often a very difficult kind of love to wrap our minds around. We search for proof of it but often find it hard to nail – it’s a mystical and intangible kind of love. But with children, you see it living and breathing; touching you; crying on your lap; hugging you so warmly, and daily, loving you fiercely! It makes sense after all why the love of a child for its mother would be comparable to God’s love for us – that too is a parent-child relationship, only that He as the parent is giving out the unconditional love that mothers receive from their progeny. And mothers, well I would venture to say that their love for their children most closely mirrors the intensely fervent and unrelenting manner in which God loves us. And thus the two relationships are comparable. We don’t all get to be mothers. But if chosen, it is perhaps the one role that comes with as great an amount of duty and responsibility as it ‘rewarding’. I say ‘rewarding’ in quotation marks because it is not always euphoric, joy-filled moments. The ‘reward’ is more subtle and manifests in such a way over time. It’s you growing and changing and maturing, and it is you knowing conclusively, that you are loved unconditionally, and actually seeing and experiencing that love. That’s the reward. Oh, and also seeing your children grow into wonderfully thrilling, loving, smart, kind and honest human beings.
And those that can’t be mothers for non-choice reasons, God has a way of giving us what we seek and need in other ways. And so your growth, your experience of unconditional love and that relationship or journey that makes you want to work on yourself to be better, is elsewhere. God’s providence is perfect. Our journeys aren’t the same, and that’s OK. As beautiful as motherhood is, it isn’t the be all and end all of womanhood or maturing.
And for those that may contemplate motherhood and deem themselves insufficient for the task, always know that there is an extra special, an extraordinary grace that God shall provide on the journey. When you fall, He will raise you up. When you feel inadequate, He will send reassurance and where your resources, your touch and hyper-vigilant eye can’t see, He’ll be there. And that’s how as mothers we get to relax in the huge tasking that has been bestowed upon us. We don’t overthink it. We just do our best, enjoy it where and when we can and leave the rest to the man upstairs. This is augmented by being a praying mother. After all, I know that there is nothing I can desire that He can’t desire more and more perfectly for my child. I know that He loves my child more than I ever could and His ability to watch over and provide for Him far exceeds mine. We are the stewards, but He is the overseer.
I don’t know how many would still choose to be mothers if they were first given a ‘free trial’! I always say to friends who ask me about this role and journey that they ought to first be FULLY convinced about the desire to be a mother. I always tell them to live their lives to the fullest first; to be selfish, travel, work their fingers to the bone and enjoy their independence BEFORE joining the motherhood ranks. Like, it’s cool and all, but I wouldn’t say that their lives would be incomplete sans motherhood. It’s a blessing, but it’s just one of several other enriching and life-changing experiences. Motherhood changes your life, even if only slightly. The logistics change, the choices you have to make change, and your mindset has to change too. Less me, more we. Lol, I actually meant more “they”, i.e. the child/children. I think it’s ‘easier’ to make those changes and sacrifices when you entered motherhood willingly, with wisdom and as much readiness as one can muster for the role. Sometimes you realise you entered it a little too early for your liking; and so I always encourage women to be as dead certain as possible that they’ve fulfilled their 20s ‘wishlist’ before choosing motherhood. Cos once a mother, always a mother. You can’t take that ish back or get a divorce unfortunately (or fortunately, cos think of all the motherless/abandoned kids we’d have). Not entering into motherhood willingly and with one’s full conviction can cause regret, resentment and unhappiness. And the child is often the target/recipient of all that bad energy. And that can harm their sense of worth, belonging and feeling wanted on this earth. And that’s the saddest thing a child can ever feel – unloved or unwanted.
As a parting shot, I would like to remind mothers that mothering takes time. No one is born one. It can take up to a decade to feel like you’re finally ‘coming right’, and even then, you must then evolve to be effective for the next phase. The point really is that motherhood will (and should) humble you. But it will also come with much grace, and the point is for you to take it and be grateful for it, and rely on that while you work to become better. However we each come into motherhood, I pray that we would all know that we are favoured, divinely chosen and capacitated, and most of all, deserving…just because we are. May we trust ourselves a little more, be more forgiving of ourselves, and just relax, knowing that He that created the universe has a perfect plan for our little ones that we couldn’t change or mess up even if we tried. And may we too be childlike – unconditionally loving, quick to forgive and full of grace.