[Aren’t they cute?]
During a recent kitchen adventure, I was catching up with a friend. Her wise mothering amazes me all the more when I remember that in many ways she’s learning from scratch, without a lot of models. She asked for some input based on what my parents did, and I didn’t quite know what to say. My parents were and are great, but lots that they did was for us — their specific six. Plus, this friend is doing a wonderful job already.
Finally, I told her this: my parents did their best parenting by just living good, godly lives in front of us. Your children will learn to be grown-ups by being your child. Not to go all James K. A. Smith on you (but, to go all James K. A. Smith on you), without even trying, my parents pointed us to the good life by living it. I see their beautiful choices reflected in my siblings all the time.
It’s not uncommon for friends to ask about what my parents would do in this or that parenting scenario. Parenting half a dozen seems to have earned them extra playground cred. So in honor of Mother’s Day, as equal parts tribute and encouragement, here are two of the best ways my mother parented us when she wasn’t parenting us.
First, my mom modeled the priority of soul care. If I was awake early, my mom would be up too, but she’d let me do my thing, while she’d spend time in prayer and in Scripture. (I capitalized on this during chilly mornings, stationing myself in front of the kitchen wall heater, using a magnet of the letter L to crank the broken knob, and savoring the faintly acrid warmth. Mom was preoccupied with God and would let me waste a lot of energy this way before coming downstairs to say that really, hadn’t the heater been on long enough. [Sorry, Earth.])
Maybe we talked about how much her devotion time mattered; I don’t remember. The muscle of the message came from its daily practice. We just knew: it’s normal to wake up hungry. Feed your soul. Mom’s devotions were so consistent and vital that it never occurred to my childhood self to be surprised that they happened even when she had new babies, when life was extra busy, or when we were on vacation. Aridity is a real thing, sometimes a long thing, so the every-day-ness taught me something else: some days we wake up not hungry, and we don’t need to panic or paralyze ourselves with guilt, and we certainly shouldn’t starve. Feed your soul anyway.
Mom also left us in no doubt that the good life was the common life, the shared life. Her babies were precious to her; so were other people. She sometimes apologized for chatting on the phone with her friends and not giving us all her attention, but I’m grateful for the grammar of friendship we overheard. She and my dad cared for people and about people, and we got front row seats. It’s how we learned that friendship is messy, and funny, and surprising. It takes work, and it especially took work when all my mom’s kids were little. We’d be put to bed at friends’ houses so my parents could play cards with them, or just talk past 7:30. Mom was busy, but she was great at turning life into a social event. Someone needed to deep clean? She’d come and help. If she was going to sew, she’d invite friends to bring their machines over. Mom carved out focused time for others, too — inviting people over for meals most weekends, staying active in a book group when she had three littles, hosting showers and going on trips. Being my mom’s daughter was an internship in friendship.
On Mother’s Day, I get to give thanks for friends a generation older, not mothers, but dear to me. My mom didn’t pursue friendships so I could have a richer life (nothing that manipulative could be called friendship). Still, the happy side effect of those friends coming over and meeting up is that my own community is bigger and broader than it would’ve been if kids were my mom’s whole world. As I was camping my way down the coast last summer, I found myself at breakfast with one of my mom’s friends, marveling that her memories of my life go back further than my own. Mom’s loved ones have never been only her family, and I’m grateful.
Mothers, over the soundtrack of your life — the squealing and the whining and the happy chatter and the endless droning of the dryer — today, I hope you hear the rest of us cheering you on. I wish you were here and I could hold the baby or distract your toddler so you could go to the bathroom in peace or finally listen to that voicemail. Maybe you also need a cup of tea, or some strong coffee. That would be better than advice, wouldn’t it? But if you’re looking for advice, and maybe some hope, here’s my best, learned from the best: Live a life you’d want your kids to live. Feed your soul. Be a good friend to good friends. And then let your kids watch.
You’re probably doing better than you think. We’re all pulling for you.
Happy Mother’s Day!