What is “mother love”?
For me, mother love first felt like a baptism washing over me and flooding my heart when I held my newborn baby in my arms. I fed that child when she was hungry, washed, clothed, carried, rocked, protected, trained, enfolded, and then released her. And while I identify with the words of the Irish poet, “Lord, thou art hard on mothers: We suffer in their coming and in their going,”¹ I believe that mother love seldom dwells on the pain or counts the cost. Instead, this caring, nurturing, self-sacrificing force “protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres”² on behalf of this miracle of life, this product of our own body, this heaven-sent mystery of a helpless suckling developing into independent womanhood (or manhood) in their own right.
Sadly, along the way, many obstacles may arise to block the effective expression of mother love. “Although most mothers instinctively love their children, learning to properly nurture them is a process,” wrote Grace Ketterman.³ When that process is sabotaged, Mother love doesn’t come easy; it isn’t expressed in healthy ways; and though the mother may feel it, she may not communicate to her children in a way they can receive the secure attachment the child needs.
Mothers (and fathers) aren’t perfect; we all make mistakes. And we were all parented imperfectly. But we each go through our entire lives being the child of our parents.
The Lord in infinite wisdom designed us in such a way that we continue to carry within us the child we were. What, then, do we do with this inner child who is forever part of us? What about the times she cries, feels neglected, forsaken, or fearful … when trauma has occurred and/or when her emotional needs have not been met in healthy ways? Francis and Judith MacNutt, of Christian Healing Ministries, state,
“Unfortunately, in our fallen humanity, there are no perfect parents. Subsequently, many people carry wounds or voids they incurred early in life from one or both of their parents, such as unmet needs, absence, neglect, harsh words, or abusive behavior … Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Lord can go back and fill in any of those wounds with his perfect love.”4
Like all other parts of our selves, we bring that inner child to Jesus. We let Jesus love that child. His presence begins a process, an unfolding of acceptance, nurturing, healing, trust (and for some this process requires professional counseling/therapy, as in the case of Janyne McConnaughey, author of Jeannie’s Brave Childhood). It is possible to begin to experience joyful wholeness in our relationships.
Much has been written about “father wounds.” But our mothers are in many ways the ground of our beings. “Mother is the home we come from. She is nature, soil, ocean,” said psychologist Erich Fromm.5 Mother love goes deep; and mother wounds go deep.
The Bible describes God’s nurturing character in terms of mother love:
- “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13a, NRSV).
- “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (Isaiah 49:15).
- “I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them” (Hosea 11:4).
- “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4a).
- “He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft … (Deuteronomy 32:10b-11).
And Jesus, as recorded in the gospels, said, “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings….” (Luke 13:34).
In the book Journeys to Mother Love nine women writers representing four generations share personal stories of difficult and challenging mother-love journeys. They come from various backgrounds and places. One woman felt all her life the impact of being the lesser-loved sibling until finally, after many years, she found it in her heart to be thankful for both her favored brother and her mother. Another young woman had difficulty showing love to her little children until she was healed of the memories of an earlier abortion, and until she forgave herself and experienced a heart connection with the aborted baby. A third woman was distanced from her mother because of her fear of being like her, until she was enabled to see her mother in new light and to serve her in new ways. More than one story touches on the concept of generational patterns that needed to be broken in order to allow a new way of mother-child relating.
These personal memoirs, one of which I wrote, are testimonies of God’s grace. They don’t offer pat answers. The stories are simply and openly told in hopes that many readers—mothers and daughters alike—will be helped. We believe the power of prayer, the Word of God, the working of the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ are transforming every area of our lives. So we offer hope by sharing what helped us and what may renew your relationships as well.
Because God’s own nurturing, protective, life-giving love is exemplified in the love of a mother for her child, I believe the Lord desires to work in our mother-child relationships to make them a more true representation, a clearer picture of his love. He makes a way for us to experience deep healing even—as the experiences of these nine women illustrate—when death, disease, disobedience, or distance has separated us from our mothers.
God’s love—often made tangible in mother love—is that strong!
On hopeful paths of prayer and poetry,
This post is a revision of the Introduction to the book:
1. From “The Mother” by Padraig Pearse, in A Little Book of Irish Verse (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1991), p. 51.
2. 1 Corinthians 13:7
3. Grace Ketterman, Call Me Blessed: Becoming a Mother of Honor (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press), 1997, p. 3.
5. Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, (Harper & Row, 1956, HarperCollins, 1984, Harper Perennial Modern Classic, 2006), p. 38.