My kids deserve a better mother than me.
On some of my darkest days, that has been the cry of my heart.
They deserve a mother who is more patient, more fun, more spontaneous, more spiritual. More whatever. Whatever it is I am not feeling in that moment, they deserve more of that.
Some days, I find it impossible to believe God would entrust the lives of such precious beings to someone as inadequate as me. What was He thinking? Of all the women in the world, surely there was one more worthy of this privilege than I?
But He doesn’t make mistakes, right? He knew exactly what He was doing when He chose me to be the mother of these four wild-spirited children.
And so, as they grow up faster than the speed of light, each fleeting year passing by more quickly than the last, I find myself asking how I can best serve in this role. How can I have the maximum possible impact on them while my influence still holds some weight?
It’s a heavy ambition to bear.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be so hard.
Perhaps, I have gotten so caught up in this culture of “perfect mothering,” of wanting to be everything my kids need—and more—that I’ve lost sight of a fundamental truth.
Mothers are impactful by design. Just as a flower cannot will itself to smell more beautiful, nor a star to shine more brightly, a mother need not decide to have an impact. She simply does, just by being who she is.
‘Behind every great man’…is a great mother?
A friend recently lent me the 1901 autobiography of Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery, in which he wrote with passion about the impact his mother had on him.
“In all my efforts to learn to read my mother shared fully my ambition, and sympathized with me and aided me in every way that she could. Though she was totally ignorant, she had ambitions for her children, and a large fund of good, hard, common sense, which seemed to enable her to meet and master every situation. If I have done anything in life worth attention, I feel sure that I inherited the disposition from my mother.”
When he desperately wanted a cap like those the other schoolboys wore, his mother sewed together two pieces of “homespun” to make him one.
“The lesson that my mother taught me in this has always remained with me, and I have tried as best as I could to teach it to others. I have felt proud, whenever I think of the incident, that my mother had strength of character enough not to be led into the temptation of seeming to be that which she was not—of trying to impress my schoolmates and others with the fact that she was able to buy me a ‘store hat’ when she was not. I have always felt proud that she refused to go into debt for that which she did not have the money to pay for. Since that time I have owned many kinds of caps and hats, but never one of which I have felt so proud as of the cap made of the two pieces of cloth sewed together by my mother.”
When I read these passages, I was overwhelmingly convinced that Washington’s mother, though she had no education, no money, and “little time in which to give attention to the training of her children,” was, through her implicit impact, responsible for raising one of the most influential men of his time.
It made me wonder what was going through her head when she stole a chicken to feed her children or sat, at the end of a long day, stitching together scraps of fabric by candlelight to make her son his own cap. Do you think she was focused on the eternal impact her actions would have on him and the myriad people whose lives he touched?
I kind of doubt it.
My guess is she was like the rest of us: pouring out her love for her children through whatever means she could, wishing she had just a little bit more to give them.
But it was enough, wasn’t it?
By any standard, Washington was a man of noble character who lived a life dedicated to bettering the lives of those less fortunate than himself. And what’s more, the ripples of his mother’s love are still touching people well over a century after her death. What more could a mother ask for?
A pouring out of love
I am beginning to suspect it’s not so much the purposeful acts of influence we do that have the biggest impact on our kids, though surely those have their place, too.
Rather, it seems the deepest impact comes through the acts a mother can neither avoid nor orchestrate: the daily pouring out of love for her children, the sacrifices inherent in putting the needs of others before her own; the words of encouragement whispered in small ears.
To test this belief, I asked some of my friends and some of my friends’ children how their mothers had most impacted them. Here’s some of what they had to say. Chiara wrote:
“My mom’s lessons were rarely conveyed through words, but through actions and example. She taught me the importance of being steady, consistent, and even-tempered; of being someone from whom others always knew what to expect. I learned the personal contentedness one could gain from being selfless and generous, and the power of a genuine smile and a hearty laugh. The greatest gift she passed on was her example of unconditional love and her ability to make her children know deeply how special they were to her.”
The stories I heard all reflected the ability of mothers to put the needs of their families first, sacrificing so much of themselves in the process.
Liz wrote about her mother's resilience in the face of tragedies and challenges. "My brother was very ill as a toddler and passed away at the age of seven, shortly after receiving a heart and lung transplant. Throughout my child, my mum (and dad) did everything imaginable to make sure I had a happy, "normal" childhood. She must have been so exhausted, but I don't ever remember her lashing out or breaking down. She was always kind and patient, and she always made me feel loved. After my brother died, she returned to nursing and specialized in respite care for dying children. She later specialized in both palliative care and mental health because of the illnesses of my grandmother and second brother. Her passion for learning and helping others is amazing."
Elise was most impacted by her mother’s selfless sacrifices:
“My beautiful, amazing mother sacrificed so much to make sure that I felt very loved and cared for. Though she herself did not experience the love of a mother, she was able to pour out so much love for my brother and I. My parents were very young when I was born and they gave up many of their own dreams to take care of me. They had to grow up quickly and were not able to go to college or pursue their passions. They got whatever jobs they could to make enough money to take care of their children.”
Clara found her mother’s simple question of, “Would you do that if Jesus was standing next to you?” stuck with her for years. After hearing it every time she did something unkind, she now carries her mom's reminder that Christ is always watching her and her actions should reflect that knowledge.
Miranda was most grateful for how her mom modelled forgiveness and sacrifice. “Moms are the best examples of what it means to sacrifice: they give up their time, space, and energy and put their own passions on hold for their kids.” Her sister, Alison, agrees, adding, “My mother is the most selfless person ever. She puts everyone before herself and models the purest form of obedience in Christ. She is my best friend.”
Amy recounts her mother’s constant thankfulness to God. “One of my mother’s greatest gifts was that whenever something went well, she praised God. I am so thankful for a mother who loves God with all her heart and who has always been an example of gratitude and unconditional love.”
Katlin also praises her mom highly.
“She has been there for me through anything and everything. She is incredibly selfless, caring, and loving. She is my best friend and my confidant, who sacrificed so much for my sister and I, and shaped me into the person I am today. The highest compliment I’ve received is when she calls me a great mother. If I can be anywhere close to the mother she is, I will have done well.”
My own mother didn’t have it easy, either, and had to sacrifice a lot of her own dreams. As a single parent of two, working full-time to support her family, I imagine she would have been too tired for a lot of today’s common parenting strategies, which require so much effort. But, looking back, it didn’t matter. What stuck with me were the actions she took that likely required very little deliberation on her part: forgiving me when I messed up badly, advocating for me when she felt I needed it, and fighting for me in court year after year because she was so convinced that was the best thing for me. Whether she knew it or not, she was sowing seeds of love in me that would grow over a lifetime.
Mama, you were made to do this
When I reflect on all of these stories, what stands out to me is how our moms impact us most, not by what they set out to do, but by being who they are.
Instinctively, they pour out their love, they offer forgiveness, they sacrifice, and they pass on their beliefs by living them out.
I’m not saying it’s easy, not by any means. In fact, though I am obviously biased, I’d say it’s one of the hardest jobs in the world.
But it is natural. Just as the flowers know when to bloom and the moon cannot help but orbit the earth every single day, mothers were designed to do these things. It is in our nature to love our kids and to want what is best for them; to give up the things we want so our kids can have better lives.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I would encourage you not to worry that you aren’t doing enough or that your kids deserve more than you can offer. Don’t fix your eyes on other mothers who seem to be rocking this gig with a flair you can only dream about.
You were made to do this. These children were given to you for a reason and you to them. You are the mother they were supposed to have and you are the best mother for them.
Whether or not you realize it, every day you live out your love for them, you are sowing seeds that will bloom throughout their lives—and beyond—and reflect the beauty of love poured into them by their devoted mother.
Happy Mother's Day to you! Do you have a story about your own amazing mother? I would love to hear it. Please share in the comments below.