Motherhood works toward something. This is true for mothers who are Christians and mothers who aren’t. The question is: is your mothering working toward your ends or God’s?
We’re all familiar with the stereotypical “stage mom”––the woman who has a fixation on the public success of her child. Most of us don’t relate to her extreme obsession, but we’ve all tasted sips from that poisonous well in subtler forms: the Christmas letter that can’t resist a few well-placed brags on the elite program our brilliant child was asked to participate in, the one-upping a fellow mom in casual conversation with how young our toddler was when they potty-trained, the inward puffing up at how our child out performed their peers on the sports field or the piano recital or even in their scripture memory.
In these smallish ways, we use our child as a means to vicarious success. And when they don’t perform the way we want, their lack of success becomes a means to our vicarious failure. A temper tantrum is no fun no matter how you slice it, but it’s especially devastating if you consider your child nothing more than an extension of yourself. That means your appendage is pitching a fit and you’re powerless to stop it. Awkward.
We’re also familiar with the mom who smothers her child with “love” born from her need to be needed. The success of her child is not the goal, rather their perpetual need for her is. She longs for her service to earn her the worship and life-long nearness of her children. And we’re all quite capable of dabbling in this as well: coddling the “baby” who isn’t a baby anymore, having low expectations that communicate to our child they can’t or shouldn’t try certain things, fiercely protecting them from anything uncomfortable.
The overprotective mom tries to be sovereign over her kids by keeping them dependent forever and seeking their adoration.
So, now that we’ve gone over a couple distinctly un-Christian ends that motherhood can be a means to, what are the distinctly Christian ends of motherhood?
I’ll give you five:
The Temporal Welfare of Our Children
Our children come to us helpless. They need what we provide physically and emotionally in order to survive. Food isn’t optional and neither are hugs. God has designed mothers to feed and nurture small humans. It’s a feature. So whether we breast or bottle feed, we know that babies need to be held close by their mom to receive the sustenance of food and love. This is how God cares for us, only better. “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is. 49:15). Christian moms imitate God’s care for his children when they seek the temporal welfare of their children.
2. The Eternal Welfare of Our Children
The weightiest work of Christian mothering is soul care. It’s nurturing that moves beyond the physical, although it’s closely related, because spiritual nurture without physical nurture is like trying to convince your child you’re qualified to teach them Calculus when you never took the time to show them addition. It is not reasonable to expect to woo your child with the comforts of an eternal home in the family of God when you’ve taken no time to demonstrate the comforts of an earthly one. It’s not reasonable to expect them to lose their life for the sake of Christ when you’re still grasping at yours.
Part of why soul care is so weighty is because we cannot guarantee eternal outcomes. There are no formulas for eternal welfare. There is only faithfulness. But faithfulness is no small thing—it’s simply composed of small things. Faithfulness is a thousand small choices to obey God and lay down our life for our children teaching them to know and obey God over the course of a week. Week after week after week. And in so doing, we’re seeking the eternal welfare of our children through the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Your Sanctification
Motherhood exists because of children. It’s for them. But God can multi-task when it comes to all the ways he uses motherhood. And one end he achieves is our sanctification. He wants us to be a different mom in year five of our mothering than we were in year one, and different still in year fifteen.
The wonderful thing about Christian mothering is you’re both parent and child. God is parenting you, disciplining you, shaping you, and transforming you, and he uses your job as a mom for the training ground in the school of godliness he’s enrolled you in.
Never has the phrase, “living sacrifice” been as boots-on-the-ground as when we’re up all night with a teething toddler, embattled at home with vomit and fevers, nursing under a sheet of sweaty anxiety in the bathroom stall, or taping together a homemade “diaper” at the park because blow-outs and poor diaper bag readiness go hand-in-hand. Ten years ago, if you’d have been put in that situation, you couldn’t have laughed about it. Maybe you still can’t, but God wants you to. And he’ll keep on with the blow-out assignments until you start cracking a smile and breathing in the clean air of grace he’s got for you in those moments.
4. A Witness to the World
Everyone watches everyone. Social media means the staring and gawking can happen every minute of the day or night. But more important than our self-styled Instagram accounts are the real-life people who see how we mother when we aren’t prepared to be seen. They know if we’re using our children. Are they a mere appendage of vicarious achievement? Are you embarrassed when they aren’t perfect? Do you make excuses for their shocking behavior rather than putting things right and restoring fellowship? Do you smother and coddle them to keep them needing you? Or does your sacrifice for your children aim at their ultimate good?
People can tell the difference even if they can’t articulate what it is. The smell coming off a mom who keeps short accounts with her kids, who genuinely enjoys them as people who are separate humans from her, who takes the trouble to discipline and instruct them with the teaching of kindness even when it’s not convenient, who doesn’t demean them but treats them with the dignity that expects them to learn and grow—that smell is the aroma of Christ.
5. The Glory of God
Why did God make you a mother? What is Christian motherhood a means to? Nothing less than the glory of God. All the other ends I’ve listed above culminate in this one. This is what they exist for.
God is glorified when you seek the temporal welfare of your children.
God is glorified when you seek the eternal welfare of your children.
God is glorified when you are sanctified to be more like his Son through mothering.
God is glorified when a watching world observes a faithful Christian mother.
God made you a Christian mother for his glory and your joy.