Tomorrow is May 1: May Day, my sister’s birthday, my youngest daughter’s birthday. May also brings the National Day of Prayer and, outside of the last day of school, the best occasion: Mother’s Day.
Mother’s Day always brings a flood of memories to us empty-nesting moms. We can still remember every detail of each birth experience (and we’re happy to relive them with you if you have time).
But what I remember most about my babies being born was the role my own mother played.
She had her bags packed and ready to make the three to five hour car trip as soon as she got the phone call. No matter the season, she dropped everything to be here. Not as a casual visit, either. She brought with her weeks worth of our favorite food, hand sewn doll clothes for my older daughter, books for my son. We ate homemade bread, freshly chopped salads, perfect cookies.
My home exuded patience. The atmosphere had energy to spare.
Mom cleaned my house, even painted it once. She reminded me how to bathe a newborn, how to swaddle them in the blanket she had crafted for the occasion. She drove the older siblings to school and soccer practice, piano recitals and dance class. All in a town she knew nothing about, pre-GPS and Google Maps.
Mom often brought a new plant she had propagated herself, and I worried that it would never survive under my watch: a finicky ficus or a practical aloe vera plant. How could I ever keep the plant and a newborn alive at the same time?
When she left, each time I cried for hours.
Once I regained composure, I set my sights on being the best version of her I could be. For about two days. Then I was back to being me, store-bought rolls, over-watered plants, and all.
When I first heard of the energetic and efficient Proverbs 31 woman, I immediately thought of my mom. She was the mom all my friends wanted and all the teachers loved. I have always been so proud that she is my mother. But Mom would modestly tell you today that she was a pretty good mother. She did what she could and she was happy to do it. Some things she’d do over again.
If this woman has mom guilt, none of us are immune.
My generation’s version of mom guilt probably stems from not seeing ourselves as the Proverbs 31 women our mothers are. But I have learned that the Proverbs 31 woman was never a real person, only an ideal. Like in junior high when you’d list all the things you wanted in the perfect boyfriend/future husband. Proverbs 31 is written as an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet, a poetic expression of a mother’s advice to her son: Look for these character traits. You won’t find them all in one person. That gave me some breathing room.
And Jason DeRouchie explains that the original verb tense was past, not present as in contemporary translations. The past tense would infer that not all of the actions took place in one season of life, but represented many stages of living. I let out another sigh. Anyone dealing with chronic illness, old age, or young children knows that one woman could never be both a morning person and a night person at the same time.
With three adult children scattered across the country, I have felt the sting of limitation from my heart failure. From my journal one year ago this week:
After the blessing of vacationing with all my children in Europe for a week, I feel sad. And not just because this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is over. They got to see firsthand that I am not the mother they remember growing up, or even the mother they left for college. I am fragile and I feel old in their eyes. I tried desperately to be that past mother, a mother like my own was for me, and when I did, I hit the wall. With short weekend visits, I could hide it from them, for the most part. But they saw it up close during this trip.
Then a few weeks after that vacation, I noticed the verses preceding the popular Proverbs 31 passage, verses 8 and 9: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
It was a groundbreaking moment for me. I could vividly see this trait of my own mother in my children: caring for those in a season of need. My daughters and my son all lead lives that constantly reflect this value.
So maybe we were never meant to be a replica of our mother. In fact, most of us fight against it at some level. Every daughter wants to be exactly like her mother and yet nothing like her at all. And maybe that’s the point.
Maybe we were meant to take the best part of who she is, live it, infuse ourselves into it, and pass it on. This way, with each faithful generation, we are becoming more like Christ, as God always intended for us to be. After all, as Andy Stanley says, “Your greatest contribution to the Kingdom of God might not be something you do, but someone you raise.” Someone you influence for God.
So as we struggle in this world of comparison and deal with our own unique blend of mom guilt, remember that your purpose is different than your role. Your role changes throughout life. Some seasons you will make homemade cinnamon rolls and keep live plants in every room. Other seasons your role might be a savvy businesswoman or an artistic designer. But your purpose, throughout every season, is to develop a closer relationship with the Father and become more like His Son. And help others do the same.
I wish my grown children lived next door or down the street or across town. But I get it. As they move from dorm to apartment, college to job, and state to state, I have come to realize that my new favorite place is wherever they are. Because they make it better for everyone else by being there. They are all change-makers of the very best variety. This careworn world needs them.
My struggling heart beats for my three. And it continues to beat all the stronger knowing the wonderfully unique, independent, influential people they are. And realizing that, through a faithful purpose, part of me will live on in them and in those they will touch.
Just as part of my momma, different as she is, lives inside me.
After all, I do have a pretty healthy fiddle leaf fig I’m caring for now.