WHAT’S A MOTHER TO DO?
THREE KEYS TO SUCCESSFUL MOTHERING
BY PATRICIA H. RUSHFORD
You know, being a mom is funny, when you think about it. By the time we get this business of mothering figured out, our kids are gone. Now that I know what kids need most in a mom, they’re all grown up.
Actually, my kids haven’t quite left. My son David has been gone (mostly) for a little over a year, but he calls often to ask my advice or just to get a little encouragement. But my 19-year-old daughter, Caryl, is in transition. I think she’s using our home as a pit stop while she’s racing around, trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. She talks to me and tells me about her dreams and plans about a career, marriage and babies. She needs me to listen.
In fact, I’ve discovered that taking the time to listen and to be there is one of the most important keys to successful mothering. Here are two others: understanding, which comes from effective communication, and unconditional love. Let’s take a look at each of them.
It’s dark outside. The dim lamp casts quiet shadows across the floor. I’m sitting on my daughter’s empty bed. Caryl telephoned a few minutes ago from California.
“Mom!” Her voice bubbled with excitement. “Guess what?”
“What?” I asked hesitantly. Excitement wasn’t unusual for her. She delighted over so many things, but this time I had a feeling. My intuition told me she was about to announce something I didn’t want to hear.
“Mom, we’re getting married. Isn’t that great?”
“M-m-arried?” A lump the size of a baseball lodged itself in my throat, blocking my words. Her boyfriend seemed like a nice boy. In fact, I had had a hunch. but. . .
“Mom?” The excitement had turned to disappointment. “I wanted you to be happy for me.”
Shame on you, I scolded myself. Even if you don ‘t like the idea, you could at least fake it. Be happy for her. She needs that. Isn’t that what a mother is for? No, I decided. I couldn’t lie about how I felt. I never had before. “I-I’m sorry, honey.” I managed to squeeze the words through my throat. “It’s just such a surprise. I . . . you’re so young.”
“But we love each other, Mom. And you were my age when you met Dad.”
That was different, I wanted to say. But I didn’t. “When are you getting . . . married?” I was finding it more and more difficult to talk. Darn, where did I put the Kleenex?
“We haven’t set a date. Mom, you’re not crying are you? I want you to be happy.”
Be happy, she said. Well, I find it very hard to be happy about losing my baby. Oh, I know, she’s all grown up. And I knew this day would come. It’s just that there are so many things I haven’t taught her yet. I don’t really want her to get married. If I called her back and said, “I absolutely forbid it,” I wonder what she’d do. I know what I’d have done at 19. I’d have gotten married anyway. She’s a lot like me–strong-willed and persistent, in a quiet sort of way.
No, that’s not the answer. She’d only resent me. I’ve worked so hard to keep the lines of communication open–why close them now? I have to simply let her know how I feel, and pray she makes the right decision. She’s been making decisions for a long time.
Time. . . I wish there’d been more. But there’s nothing we can do to stop it from slipping through our fingers. There are, however, some things we can do as mothers to make certain we get full value out of what we have left.
Give them your time.
There’s no doubt about it–mothering takes time. A mother doesn’t have to be with her children every moment, yet there is a fact we must face–if we don’t spend time with our children, how are they going to learn from us?
Every mother, from the moment her child comes into the world, must face the question, “How much time will I give to mothering my child?” or “How much time can I give. . . ?”
Or perhaps a better question might be, “when and how much do they need me?” We will want to devote as much as possible to them, especially m their earlier years . . . and, during their school years . . . and, of course, during their teen years. Over half of the mothers in this country work outside the home. With the surge of mothers leaving the home there came a controversy between quality time versus quantity time. Some say that you can spend very small amounts of time with your child as long as it is quality time. For a while I believed that, but I came to see quality time as a rationalization. What better way to talk myself out of feeling guilty when I should have been spending more time with the kids? For me, quality time wasn’t enough. Quality time is important, as most working mothers will agree, but it can hardly be planned. I have found that special moments with a child come at the oddest moments, and the best way to capture them is to relax and let them happen. But above all, spend time with your kids.
Beware of the poison to time.
There is a phenomenon in our society that seems to be moving at a faster and faster pace. It leaves us with fewer hours every day. At times I wonder if it is part of a conspiracy to destroy us. It is a lethal poison, designed to keep us too busy to enjoy our portion of time.
As a young mother, I drank the sweet potion. I found it gift wrapped in the pocket of my “Super Mom” costume. It came in a small white bottle labeled “Success.” With one sip, my world began to turn faster and faster, and I was powerless to stop it. Like the March Hare in Alice in Wonderland, I was caught up in the dizzying merry-go-round of busyness.
Like the hare, my days were an endless flutter of scurrying in and out of meetings, singing, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date. No time to say hello. Goodbye. I’m late, I’m late, I’m late.”
Many well-meaning moms have swallowed this poison. They whirl about their tasks like mini tornadoes while the poison erodes the time they might have had with their children or husbands or with God.
Does your hectic life make you rush through moments made for children? Has busyness poisoned your time? Do you look back and realize that vast spaces of time have disappeared before your eyes?
Try the antidote.
I’m certain there are many mothers who would love to get off the carousel, but can’t. Perhaps the poison has become too strong. But there is an antidote. The cure is called patience.
Patience is something all mothers are potentially equipped with. As a young child, I had more patience than was ordinarily allotted to humans. And as I grew older, my patience stayed with me. But when I began to rear children of my own, my patience waned. I had already tasted the poison mislabeled Success. In our society, if you don’t hop on the treadmill and start running, you lose–or so I was led to believe. Before long, my patience bottomed out. In fact, if it had been listed as a commodity in the stock market, my drop in patience would have caused another major depression.
When patience deserted me, it was replaced by stress and anxiety. A sense of urgency overtook the calm spirit I once had. Too often I found myself balling my hands into fists and wanting immediate results to all my problems. The only thing that would have made matters better was a 36-hour day. What a mess. I was planting seeds of impatience and seeing them take root in my kids.
I needed to get my patience back. Patience is listed in the Bible as a fruit of the Spirit. I knew it was one of the things God would give me if I asked. So I did. I took a bite of the patient fruit and have been improving ever since.
If you’re a mother who, like me, cries out to God, “Lord, give me patience . . . and I want it right now,” here are a few suggestions to help you find it:
Pray. Ask God to instill the fruit of patience in you.
Affirm. Habits can be hard to break, and chances are, your conversion from busy bee to patient saint will not occur overnight. In fact, there may always be a temptation to let anxiety and stress take over. Even if patience evades you, be patient. God promises to give us the desires of our hearts. Keep affirming the change with phrases such as: “I am becoming a patient person. ” Affirm yourself every day.
Teamwork Tell your family about the plan to develop more patience. Chances are, they’ll all agree. Oh, not that you’re the only one who needs more, but that they could use more, too. If you check it out, you may find your children have taken a few nips of the busyness poison as well. Pray for each other. Remind each other in a gentle or laughing way.
Imitate the Master of Patience, Jesus. Learn all you can about Him and from Him.
Be faithful. Rest assured that Jesus is cleansing you of the toxins against time: busyness and impatience. If you come to Him in prayer and seek His will in your life, He will transfuse you with tranquility and feed you with the fruit of the Spirit.
Nurture the seed of patience growing inside you. Water with your desire to rest in the Lord. Feed it with God’s Word and faith and watch it grow. Don’t slow the process by trying to hurry it along. Just relax and let it happen. Trust that God will build in you the patience you seek.
There are other things that help to neutralize the poisons against time. There are things like love, making memories, listening and forgiveness.
Children grow so fast. Spend time with them. Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned about time is that before I spend it, I’d better count the cost.
Communicating and Understanding
For a parent, communicating with a child can sometimes be as hard as splitting a rock. But with persistence and by engaging in patient talking and listening you can break through the sometimes uninteresting or crusty surface and achieve understanding between parent and child.
Communication is like marriage. There are two parts that must come together to make a whole. There must be a balance on both parts for communication to work effectively. So often, we let words fall out of our mouths or bounce off our ears without taking time to really consider what we’re saying or hearing. At those times our empty words make for superficial conversation.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways moms communicate with their kids.
Nag! Nag! Nag!
I’ve come to believe that there is a nag in every woman. But not every woman nags in a detrimental way. In my years as a mother, I have learned that there are two methods of nagging. One is effective, the other is not. Take a look at this example.
Ella May, mother of three, felt it was her duty to consistently point out her children’s mistakes in order to get them shaped up.
“For crying out loud, Andy,” she yelled after him as he slipped out the door to play with his friends. “Why can’t you be more like your sister? I have to clean up after you and I’m getting tired of it. Do you hear me?”
Andy heard, he just wasn’t listening anymore. It was easier to walk away. Even if he kept his room spotless, she would have found something wrong. “Just a few more years,” he told himself, “and I can leave home. Then she won’t have to put up with me anymore.”
Andy is a grown man now. His mother still nags. “Why don’t you ever call me?” she whines. “Is that any way to treat your own mother?” He visits her once a week as a dutiful son. If not for guilt, he might even stop those visits. She is still disappointed in him. And he, after all these years, still wants to please her, but he can’t. He never could.
Ella May is the kind of woman talked about in Proverbs. She is quarrelsome, contentious, and her words are as annoying as a continually dripping faucet (Proverbs 19:13). Her method of communication is negative and one-sided.
If you feel you must nag, go ahead, only shift the emphasis from being critical to being encouraging. Remove the frown and add a smile. Do a little less lecturing and a little more listening.
Talk to your children.
Just as there are two ways of nagging, there are two ways of just plain talking. One is superficial–a how’s the weather, drink your milk, how was school–kind of conversing. Some people go through their whole lives never going much deeper than the surface. They never reach the delicate and treasure filled layers.
As a mom I always wanted to get inside my kids. I wanted to see the beauty God created within their minds and souls. But I’ve found there’s only one way to find that inner treasure. I had to first show them the inside of me.
How? By letting them know how I felt about. . . well, about all kinds of things. They know a part of me that whips out her squirt gun, just to have a little fun. They know a mom who sometimes cries at old movies, weddings, gymnastic meets and sunsets.
I’ve been known to share moments out of the past, dreams I’ve had, or silly things I’ve done. Sometimes they’ve been amazed that I’ve had the same feelings they experience.
Letting your kids see inside you can open the doors of communication. I remember one evening a couple of years ago when my daughter didn’t want to talk to me. She’d come in at I a.m. Her curfew was midnight.
“You’re late,” I said. “And what have you been doing for the last six hours?”
“Nothing.” She turned to hang her coat in the closet.
“You spent six hours doing nothing?”
“We went to a movie . . . Mom, you just don’t trust me. ” She threw up her arms and stomped off to her room.
“Try me.” I followed.
She sighed. “We pulled in the driveway before 11 and . . . started talking.”
Now at this point the conversation could have gone several ways. I could have said, “Talking? You sit in a parked car for an hour with the guy and just talk?”
That’s what I could have said, but accusations would probably have turned her off completely. I’m not going to take credit for being an ideal mother psychologist. More likely, my stroke of genius was accidental because I remembered a time when I’d been unjustly accused of the same thing. What I did say was this:
“Talking, huh?” I grinned and arched an eyebrow. “Hmmm. That I can believe. ”
“You can?” She stared at me.
“Sure. ” I sat on her bed and hugged my knees to my chest. “I remember dating this really cute guy in high school. After he brought me home, we got started talking and couldn’t seem to stop. We sat there for two hours. I loved watching his dimples. . . and those eyes.”
“Mom!” It was a half-scold and half-giggle. “Do you expect me to believe that all you did was talk?”
“Well . . . he did kiss me once.”
“Only once?” Caryl flopped across the bed on her stomach.
“Yeah. . .unfortunately. How about you? Tonight, I mean.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Twice, but I couldn’t get into it.”
“Hmmm. He’s nice as a friend but . . . you know, no sparks.”
“I’ve dated a few of those myself.”
“Mom. . . ” She hesitated. “Did you ever break curfew?”
“Once. And it wasn’t even my fault.”
“You mean Grandma and Grandpa grounded you even though it wasn’t your fault!”
“Tell me about it. I argued a lot, but they wouldn’t budge. I was grounded for two weeks. I couldn’t believe they’d be so mean. But I guess it worked. I never broke the curfew rule again.”
“Mom,” she turned to face me. “Since it upset you so much, and you know how awful it feels, and since I was in the driveway before 12, don’t you think you could forget about grounding me this once? I promise I won’t do it again.”
“Not a chance, sweetie. I’m sorry, but I’ll have to ground you. Two weeks.”
“I know it’s hard, but you broke the rules.”
“Oh, I know. It isn’t that, it’s just. . . well,” she looked up at me and gave me a knowing wink. “Too bad he wasn’t worth it.”
Sometimes, opening yourself can open the lines of communication. Let’s take a look at the second tool used in effective communication. This one might be even more important than talking.
Listen to your children.
Do you often get the feeling your children aren’t listening to a thing you say? If that’s the case, maybe you should take a few minutes to examine why. Few people ever really take the time to listen to others. I mean really listen. Perhaps your children are not listening to you because you don’t listen to them. Perhaps they can’t truly listen because they’ve never learned how.
Listening is more than just hearing. True listening is loving someone enough to give him or her your full attention.
As parents we are bombarded with books and articles that tell us
how to talk to our kids. But not a lot has been written or taught on
how to listen. A part of really loving someone is to give your
attention by listening intently to what is said.
“My dad never listens to me,” a 13-year-old girl told me. “He pretends to, but how could he? Before I’m even finished talking he’s giving me his opinion. It’s as if he’s thinking while I’m talking because he’s already made up his mind that what I have to say isn’t important.”
When we take the time and effort to listen carefully to everything the child is saying to us, we are telling him without words, “You are valuable to me. What you say is important.”
As you truly listen to your child, you begin to see a unique person who will undoubtedly have some interesting observations. Out of their innocence, children often have great insights and wisdom. We can learn a great deal from them when we work to gain access to their inner core. Listening helps us to know our children better, which will enable us to teach them more effectively. Another side benefit is that when you make the effort to actively listen, your child will most likely listen to you.
Loving Your Children
Do you really love your kids? Most parents will give you a look of surprise and say, “Of course.”
It is easy enough to express love by simply saying the words out of habit or because we know we should. But love takes more than words. It is expressed in our actions–in how we feel about ourselves and others. Love takes a conscious effort and hard work.
Most of us have been duped into thinking that the warm, fuzzy sensation we get during a shared moment of intimacy is love. According to M. Scott Peck in the book The Road Less Traveled, those are feelings, and ” . . . real love does not have its roots in feelings of love. On the contrary, real love often occurs in the context in which the feeling of love is lacking, when we act lovingly despite the fact that we don’t feel loving.”
Emotions come and go, so real love must be based on something more tangible. Real love is based on a determined act of will.
It is easy enough to “love” an infant, who lays there in your arms and “steals your heart away.” For a while the babe is totally dependent on you. But what about later, maybe as the terrible twos come around, when the demands on your time and mind and body start, and your feelings of love are challenged–what then?
It is part of our natural maternal (parental) instinct to nurture. It takes work and courage (a giving up of ourselves or extending ourselves beyond the necessary) to turn our natural nurturing abilities into real love.
As our children grow, it becomes more difficult to love. Love consists of letting go and letting them grow independent from us. Out of fear we want to hang on–to protect them. But really loving them means having the courage to let go.
Loving others involves risks–saying no even at the risk of alienation, saying yes at the risk of hurting yourself.
As a little girl growing up in the post depression days, there were times we had a shortage of food. Somehow I knew, though, that if there hadn’t been enough food, my mother would have fed us before she fed herself.
I’ve never had to sacrifice my life or food for the sake of my children. I’m thankful for that, yet I can’t help but wonder–would I step in front of my child to stop a bullet? Would I walk 100 miles, like many African mothers, on an empty stomach, to find medical help and food for my child? Would I give my children the last morsel of bread?
I think I would. How about you? Most of our children are not in danger of starving physically, and most won’t need us to sacrifice our lives to save theirs. But there are many children in our country who are starving–for time, for someone to listen, for love. For a mom.
My good friend Marie attributes some of her frequent illnesses to her starvation for love and compassion as a child. “My Mom was a perfectionist. At times I felt she was more of a military sergeant than a mom. As I grew older I realized something, though. Whenever any of us was ill, she would stop demanding perfection from us and became loving and compassionate. I remember being sick a great deal as a child so that I could experience that warm, loving side of her.”
How full of love are your children?
Are you willing to give up part of yourself, your pleasure and your time for them?
Can you honestly say you love your child, no matter what he’s done?
Jan, a mother of two, admitted that she couldn’t love her son. “He’s hurt me so much. He left home a few years ago without a word. He was gone for two years. I don’t trust him. I can’t. . . I just can’t love him. ”
It isn’t easy to love someone who has hurt you. Yet that is what unconditional love is all about. The Bible tells us to love those who hate us. When I’m tempted to deny love, I remember Jesus. After suffering and being tortured by his countrymen, he hung dying on the cross and whispered, “Father forgive them.” Then I think, “no matter what anyone does to me, it won’t hurt enough to stop my love.”
Love like that filters into me from God. Love is activated and made unconditional by God. No matter how we try to explain it, there is a mystery we can’t account for. I think it is because ultimately only God can instill in us what it takes to really love someone no matter what.
For myself, it was through a conscious effort of loving God that I have been able to love myself and my children in an unconditional way.
Below I’ve included several ways that can help you grow in an attitude of unconditional love. There is a part of loving someone else that calls for us to accept our own and our children’s unique and individual differences.
Accept your children.
In order to accept your child, it’s important that you accept yourself. Accept yourself as a beautiful and unique person created by a loving Father, God. As you accept yourself, grow to accept your child–not as an extension of yourself, or a miniature you, but as a complete, separate person with unique talents and interests.
Each of us was created with a separate set of genes. And though most of our kids, even in grade school, opt for wearing the same kind of jeans, they really are different.
Acceptance is harder when you are faced with children who make serious mistakes in life or who opt for different lifestyles, especially if those lifestyles openly defy your beliefs and morals.
As parents we can’t and shouldn’t accept wrongdoing. We have a responsibility to point out to our children what they’ve done or are doing wrong. We can hate what they’ve done but still love and accept them.
Acceptance is following Jesus’ example. “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” In our sinful state He loved and accepted us.
I have a method for accepting my kids that you might want to adopt. My children and I are all God’s kids. When I am somewhat imperfect, I look to my Father, God, for forgiveness. Jesus covers for me so God only sees me perfect. He sees me for what I can become as well as what I am. It’s as though He puts on a special pair of glasses with Jesus as the lens.
It might help if whenever we see our kids in situations we can’t accept, we put on our “Jesus glasses” so we can see them as God does. By accepting our children, we move closer to our goal of unconditional love.
Have you hugged your child today?
Part of loving a child is showing that child how much you care by the use of outward affection.
“I need hugs and kisses from my mom,” writes Dwight, age 10.
A 16-year-old girl said, “I don’t think parents should stop hugging and kissing their kids just because they get a little older.” Granted, many adolescents develop an allergy to hugs and kisses. Get near them with either and they’re apt to break out in hives or disappear.
In my book Have You Hugged Your Teenager Today? I stressed the importance of showing love with hugs for kids of all ages–even when they insist you cool it. It isn’t always feasible to wrestle a kid to the floor in order to execute your hug, as I have been known to do. Sometimes a back rub, a hand on the shoulder, a touch or even just a smile will be enough of a hug to say “I love you.”
I persisted with showing my love in a physical way and it worked. Now my kids hug me. And guess what? I think they like it.
Perhaps the most important aspect of gaining unconditional love is being able to forgive and forget.
Forgiveness–a crown of glory.
The Lord says, “Do not cling to events of the past or dwell on what happened long ago. Watch for the new things I am going to do. It is happening already–you can see it now! I will make a road through the wilderness and give you streams of water there ” (Isaiah 43:18, 19 TEV).
Within a family unit, we can expect a lot of hurts. At times we may see an unceasing parade of harsh words and actions. Unforgiveness harbors resentments and the opening and reopening of old wounds. The wounds fester and cause a decaying that can eventually rot away the foundation of the family.
The only way healing can take place is through forgiveness. Forgiveness happens when the past is turned loose and relationships are resolved and restored. Forgiveness frees us to love, live and trust again. But forgiving others is never easy. It can take a long time for the pain and guilt to go away. I believe, however, that we must make the effort to take the first step toward forgiving even if we fall along the way.
As we forgive, we teach our children by our actions. It is never a sign of weakness to admit when you’re wrong or to forgive someone who has hurt you–even when that someone is your child.
Kids need a mom who knows the essence of forgiveness and who instills that quality in her children. In order for a family to even have a chance at unity, forgiveness must play an intricate part in their way of life.
With acceptance, an improved attitude, hugs and kisses and forgiveness, you should be well on your way to displaying unconditional love.
“A mom,” my daughter said the other day, “is someone who has to love you no matter what you do.”
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY, 1989, PAGES 3-15. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.