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Without Parenting: Two (of Many) Ways That My Mom Mothered Well

Without Parenting: Two (of Many) Ways That My Mom Mothered Well

[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!


Where I’ve been

Last year, when I was in grad school, job-hunting, working on credential requirements, and teaching, I would remark that I was looking forward to the next year, when I would be able to just focus on teaching.  In a classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” this past semester has been laser-focused on teaching.  I often eat three meals a day at school; when I finally do sleep, I dream about school.  Other things, even things I thought were important to me, have fallen out of view.  I’m teaching in a new context for me, and I have a billion reflections, stories, and lessons I could share, but no energy to blog them.

I am excited to balance my life more in the coming year, but blogging isn’t super high on the priority list for now.  I might be on here now and then (probably with brief thoughts), but I’m not making any resolutions about blogging more.  I’ve got 30 of the sweetest little people to teach to read.  Catch you on the flip side.

Two Advent favorites

Let the stable still astonish/ Straw-dirt floor, dull eyes/ Dusty flanks of donkeys, oxen/ Crumbling, crooked walls/ No bed to carry that pain/ And then the child/ Rag-wrapped, laid to cry/ In a trough

Who would have chosen this?/ Who would have said, “Yes,/ Let the God of all the heavens and earth/ Be born here, in this place”?

Who but the same God/ Who stands in the darker, fouler rooms of our hearts/ And says, “Yes,/ Let the God of Heaven and Earth/ Be born here/ In this place.”

L.L. Fields

The only Advent reading I’m more excited for is this.

Say what you need to say (but really, how much is that?)

But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need;  because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick (emphasis added).  (Philippians 2:25-26)

Ephaphroditus (who gets high praise from Paul) was distressed because his good friends heard he was sick.  The simplest interpretation is that he didn’t want them to worry about him.  I did some research, and that seems to be the consensus of scholars; I’m not saying anything new.  But I am thinking things that are fresh to me- things like this: sometimes letting people be in the dark is the loving thing to do.  There are times when someone has enough burdens to bear for one moment, and adding mine would be crushing.  Other times, the change in dynamics that can occur when things are vulnerably shared can actually undermine community.

I want to hold on to the good things I’ve heard and read about humble openness and honesty AND I want to think carefully about what receiving my words will be like for others, how my words will ripple.

This AND that

It is good that you hold one thing, and also not let go of the other, for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them.  (Ecclesiastes 7:18)

There are thoughts rattling around in my head, and before I put them on paper (screen), I thought I’d preface them with this.  Sometimes, there are several complementary truths that we need to hold.  Saying one thing doesn’t negate another thing.

Quote of the day, July 6

“even if your heart be full of love, show it without spreading molasses over your talk. . .”

-Spurgeon, on Rom 12:9

My grandmother passed away young, and never got to use the wealth of Bible study materials available on the Internet.  I like to imagine that we would have explored the abundance together, and I’m sure that if we had found this little gem, we would have shared a good laugh.

3 things I’ve learned lately

Because pencil sharpening is a significant part of my life: Ticonderoga pencils sharpen and endure better than other pencils.

Because sharp is great for pencils, but not voices: it’s hard to have an edge to your voice if you are holding your eyes soft.  (Try it: no matter how frustrated and sleep deprived you feel, if you soften your eyes before you talk, it’ll make you sound like Mr. Rogers.)

Because some of my sharp friends realized this and I’ve learned from them: every potluck needs a way for people to grab their favorite leftovers.  Be the awesome person who brings zip bags.