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The Sacred Work of Mothering

A mother holds up her child while smiling and laughing.

Mothers are one of life's greatest gifts. In a child's life, mothers are a force for good, but they can also do great harm. In this week's blog, Alison Cook discusses the complex nature of motherhood and the three precious gifts that a mother can give her child.

I see you.

I’m proud of you.

I’m grateful for who you are.

Imagine these words being spoken directly to you by your mom, with no ulterior motive or hidden agenda.

What is that like for you?

What emotions does it stir up?

Being a mom is an incredible gift. It comes with great challenges, great power, and great responsibility. Moms are an incredible force for good – not only in a child’s life, but in the world. And, they can also do great harm. If you noticed sadness or resentment as you thought about those statements in relation to your own mother, please know that the goal is not to lay blame. Instead, the goal is to help clarify healthy mother-child relationships, so that you can heal and parent your own children differently.

The Sacred Work of Mothering

The parent-child relationship is one of the most beautiful relationships God has given us. In fact, the Bible uses the metaphor of God as a "Father" and us as God's "children" as a way of helping us understand how close God wants to be to us. In the book of Hosea, we learn of the nurturing side of God—a God who leads his children “with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them” (verses 11:3-4).

A mother is often the first glimpse a child experiences of what God is like. Children first learn about how God cares for them through their parents’ actions.

Mothers also provide you with the first lens through which you begin to see yourself. As a baby, your first glimpse of what it is like to be seen, valued, and nurtured comes from your primary caregivers. Research in psychology shows us how important this early attachment bond is. When your mother helps create a secure environment for you, you tend to move into adulthood with a strong sense of who you are, a healthy sense of your worth, and a greater capacity to care for other people. 

What is the sacred work of mothering, then? It’s certainly not to be perfect! Instead, it’s the ongoing work of giving your child three precious gifts—gifts that I believe best show how God parents us. 

The Gift of Being Seen

Seeing your child as they really are is a priceless gift. It is the work of noticing and naming distinct qualities in your child so that they can begin to understand more about who they are. Naming is one of the first jobs God gave to Adam and Eve, as he commissioned them to tend the Garden. Likewise, you get to participate in this creative work as you bear witness to and name unique qualities in the child God has given you to nurture. 

Seeing your child clearly means seeing them as distinct from yourself. It’s getting curious about who they are, witnessing them, and paying attention to the nuances. For example, you might notice and name:

  • Personality traits: You have such a keen sense of humor. Did you know that you can bring a smile to anybody’s face?

  • Physical attributes: I notice you love to move your body. It seems like these activities really help you stay engaged. 

  • Needs and preferences: It seems like you value time to yourself and places where there is quiet. Does that seem right to you?

  • Values: I notice that you don’t like it when others are mean. I see a kind heart in you.

  • Challenges: I am curious about what happens when you get so angry. I’d like to learn more about what’s happening inside of you.

When you bear witness to your children over the course of their young lives, you help call them into being. You hold up a mirror and reflect to your children more about who they are. You help them learn to see themselves honestly, without shame. In doing so, you help them develop a healthy sense of selfhood, which is one of the most important gifts you can give your child as they enter into adulthood.

Selfhood is a psychological term that refers to your individual identity, your “you-ness,” as I like to say to my clients. It’s your unique personality, preferences, the way you think and feel, your physical body, talents, values—all of the beautiful elements that make up who YOU are.

A strong sense of selfhood is marked by healthy confidence, what I define as an honest awareness of both your strengths and your growth areas. Selfhood is not selfishness. In fact, it’s the opposite. As your children develop a strong sense of selfhood, they will be more equipped to forge healthy relationships with other people.

Selfishness = “I don’t know who I am, so it’s all about me.”
Selflessness = “I don’t know who I am, so it’s all about you.”
Selfhood = “I know who I am, and I also want to know you.”

In next week's blog, I will teach about the two gifts that best show how God parents us.