Reflections on my first Mother’s Day

I’ve been absentee from the blog for a while, mostly because my family has been preparing for and welcoming our first child. Little baby David was born a month ago and has captured my heart, my sleep, and any remaining semblance of personal hobby time.

A few nights ago, David insisted on being wide-eyed and gurgly at midnight — despite being clean, warm, and fed. In an attempt to lull him to sleep I started signing. Now, I think most nursery tunes are trite. So I skipped “rock-a-bye-baby” and started crooning my favorite hymns about love, comfort, and joy.

When I got to the John Rutter version of For the Beauty of the Earth, I started crying. Tears of joy, yes, because I’m grateful for my precious baby and I want to give him all “the love which from our birth over and around us lies.”

But my tears were also ones of empathetic tragedy, because I desperately want every child of God to be surrounded by the same love. For too many, that’s an impossible dream. Too many children live in perpetual fear. Too many families have been devastated by war and famine and plague. I can’t shake the image of the bombed Mariupol maternity ward in Ukraine. How can I sing a song of redeeming love when so much of the world lives in pain?

As my voice wavered over this “hymn of grateful praise”, I prayed that everyone could experience “the joy of human love – brother, sister, parent, child, [with] friends on earth and friends above.” I don’t know what the lyricist meant by “human love,” but I’ve interpreted it as synonymous with “motherly love.” It’s a love that strives to be as Christlike as possible despite our human flaws. It finds beauty within its imperfections. It’s a love that gives, a love that protects, a love that makes no demands.

That’s the love I feel for my baby. I can’t be angry about his cries; it’s the only way he has to communicate with the world. I can’t demand he sleep through the night or make his own breakfast; he’s a newborn, such independence is impossible. I care for him because I love him, and I grant that love for free.

In caring for a child I’ve discovered a new depth of love for my neighbors. I keep recasting humanity and envisioning our everyday interactions as if we are all infants in the sight of God. When we make mistakes, maybe God is not rushing to condemn us or cut us off from paradise. Maybe our Heavenly Parents just want to spiritually kiss us on the forehead and whisper a soft “I know, I know” as they wipe away the tears from our eyes. If I, being sinful, know how to give good gifts to my child, how much greater must Christ’s love be for all of us?

Years ago, one of my sisters wrote a parody lullaby. It became a family classic. The main lyric is “I’m the mama, I’m the warm-safe-snuggle-food.” I love that definition because it so cutely captures a newborn baby’s universe of needs.

But it’s not limited to babies, not really. Aren’t those traits what all humanity needs, at every age? Shelter, safety, love, and sustenance? Those are the comforts Christ asks us to provide for our neighbors. Those are the comforts Christ begs humanity to accept in scriptural comparisons to a mother hen. She wants nothing more than to gather all her chicks safely together underneath the warmth of her wings. The tragedy is that we refuse.

We refuse to snuggle together beneath Christ’s wings, instead pursuing anger, pride, and petty jealousies. We set up arbitrary boundaries to exclude our sisters and brothers as unworthy or undeserving of our support. Christ calls us to do better. Christianity invites us to transcend those sins with one simple request: to love one another as Jesus loves us. To show mercy and kindness in all that we do. To offer the same compassion and tenderness to everyone that mothers show to a newborn child.

Mother’s Day is a fraught holiday for many reasons. One aspect that has always rankled me is our tendency to pedestalize mothers’ nurturing in the home, while refusing to support their work or listen to what mothers have to say. Julia Ward Howe originally envisioned Mother’s Day as a social justice movement. She called on mothers across the world to leave their homes and petition government with demands centered on motherly love: to condemn violence, promote compassion, and pursue peace.

What would a world look like where, as a church and a society, we chose to prioritize motherly love? Where championing human life meant we budgeted first for warmth, shelter, safety, healthcare, education, and the other underpinnings of social compassion? Where our economic policies centered around fulfilling everyone’s basic human needs, without harsh judgments or strict preconditions? Where those discussions happened before we funded walls, guns, or death?

Maybe if we realigned our priorities we could lessen the tension I feel at being a mother. My heart swells when I gaze into my baby’s crystal blue eyes, but my heart simultaneously breaks for my friends and neighbors who have lost children, fled abuse, struggled to put food on the table, or survived war. Becoming a mother has only deepened my commitment to motherly social policies which alleviate suffering. So as I try to be more patient with my family and kinder to my neighbors, I also resolve to work (and vote) towards ensuring every child of God is warm, safe, snuggled, and fed.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Comments

  1. Spending last week and this week with my new granddaughter, two weeks younger than David, I resonate to the “want to give [her] all.” And your conclusion is beautiful and calls us to better than we’ve been:
    “but my heart simultaneously breaks for my friends and neighbors who have lost children, fled abuse, struggled to put food on the table, or survived war. Becoming a mother has only deepened my commitment to motherly social policies which alleviate suffering.”
    Amen.

  2. This hits me in all the right places.. As a Dad, I feel the same way too. I saw a youtube of Mike Myers, he quoted Adam Sandler in reference to having kids, which I thought were beautiful and true. He quoted “You know that feeling when you fall in love when you’re twelve? And your ribs ache? It’s gonna be like that every day.” “The days are long, but the years are short.”

  3. Raymond Winn says:

    I at first thought you were going to teach ASL to the lovely child, but then realized a typo had slipped in. Thx for sharing this tender snapshot of your emotions.

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    Beautifully written. I love the message.

    Forty plus years ago, when my daughter was young and I wanted to settle her down, I put on a Beach Boy record and sang “Little Surfer Girl.” I don’t sing in public, so it was a struggle. But it mostly worked. One time she bit me. I guess I was a little offtune. She didn’t break skin.

    I think sometime we forget the tribulations of many of our global neighbors. Thx for the reminder.

  5. Hope Wiltfong says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. This struck home.

  6. Holly Miller says:

    Thanks, Carolyn

  7. Grateful reader says:

    Beautiful.
    But sometimes mother love is fierce, protective, and willing to fight. I hope we remember that when the time comes when someone needs us tp withhold compassion from another to stand up for the degraded. I appreciate what you are saying. I’m happy for you thar you feel an outpouring of loving thoughts.

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