Once more we come to Mothers’ Day with media attacks on mothers. Motherhood used to be one of those things nobody could question but not so any more.
This year there is an attack on the myth of the maternal instinct. Some animals, birds and insects are known to be cruel to their young – ergo there is no such thing as maternal instinct! I still would not want to come between a mother-bear and her cubs.
Many women find raising children hard work. There is a profound element of self-sacrifice. There can be a deep isolation from the community and adult conversation. There is the drudgery of routine activities that never seem to finish. Not to even mention the physical strains and consequences of reproduction or the significant number of women who suffer post-natal depression.
Then there is the heartache of watching her children cope with the world. As they face school with all its challenges, and bring into the home a culture that is foreign to the family. It is often hard to cope with the difficulties and struggles of her children’s progress through puberty.
Then there is the delicate process of letting them go into independence. From the totally incompetent bundle of dependence that she brought home from hospital, to the adult going into the world to take their place in society. It is a long and emotionally draining experience. Her children’s joys and successes are hers but their folly and evil is visited upon her also.
Few pains are more intense than the agony of a mother of a foolish youth. The grief that she bears, as her offspring turn from the ways of God to the evils of this world, is intense. “A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25). Yet her anguish over her child’s serious illness, tragedy or death is even more extreme.
The Bible never teaches that women undertake this role of mother by “instinct”. God directs that older women need to train younger women “to love their husbands and children” (Titus 2:4). It is not a matter of instinct. Nor is it something that all mothers will do well. God is contrasted to mothers in Isaiah 49:15 “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.”
But yet the Bible can appeal to the common phenomenon of mothers’ devotion to their children. There may not be a maternal instinct but there are common experiences of sacrifice and pain as well as joy and pleasure. The loving devotion of mothers to their children is the model of the Apostle’s care for Christians “we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).
Mothering is such a self-sacrificial activity that it is no longer desirable or commendable to our self-centred and materialistic society.
Yet it brings joy and pleasure that cannot be expressed – not only to the mother but also to the child. The main security and love that children know comes from their mother. And this joy spreads into society as children raised in such love and care take their place amongst the rest of us, and in turn become parents of the next generation.
The reason why we particularly take a day to celebrate mothers is that mothering is so important and so difficult. It is only a small token of our appreciation of our mothers that we take time out to thank them, and thank God for them.