One little mistake cost my son a pretty big scholarship this week. After years of preparation, test taking, running for office, captaining the team and a complex application it all came down to one section of a twelve-part form arriving one day late. Kinda like climbing Everest and turning around 20 yards from the summit.
And I’ll admit when the powers that be rejected his application, it felt PERSONAL— a personal failure as a mother; a rejection of the years of effort I’ve poured into this child. And I realized, I’m the the kind of mom who lives through her children’s successes and failures.
It’s a stereotype we’ve all been trained to scoff at– stage moms and dance moms, the Mrs. Bennets of the world– but I think every mother harbors a small seed of obsessive love. We just try not to water, feed and nurture that seed.
Really, the signs have been there for years. When my sons received mission calls, I felt a personal connection to those places; when the principal neglected to sign an important scholarship form, I harbored a grudge for nearly a year; and while I was so proud of my daughter for her gracious behavior when she didn’t get a part in the Nutcracker, I privately thought the judges must have been blind.
But I don’t think these emotional responses are all bad. When we mother with all our hearts we’re necessarily invested in our children. As Pres. Jeffrey Holland expressed in his masterpiece Behold Thy Mother, Oct. 2015 (a talk ALWAYS worth rereading for it’s eloquence and honest portrayal of complex relationships):
…no love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the selfless love a devoted mother has for her child. When Isaiah, speaking messianically, wanted to convey Jehovah’s love, he invoked the image of a mother’s devotion. “Can a woman forget her sucking child?” he asks. How absurd, he implies, though not as absurd as thinking Christ will ever forget us.7
Pres. Holland goes on to quote 1 Corinthians 13 (pretty much my favorite chapter in all scripture) where I believe lies the key to whole-hearted mothering without slipping into tiger mom syndrome. Love “…doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil.”
There’s no sin in loving our children intensely, praying for their successes, worrying over their struggles and failures, but when I begin to “seek my own” I’m straying from love and courting pride.
I’ll admit, there was a moment (or three) this past weekend where I said, “Of course I live through my kid’s successes because I have none of my own!” While my words seem overly dramatic and slightly ridiculous (even while I was saying them!), there’s a kernel of truth. Every parent curtails some of their own dreams when caring for a child. I know I’ve shelved most of my own ambitions for kids who truly need me. But a true mother’s love, the selfless devotion Pres. Holland spoke of, doesn’t focus on accomplishments or status but on nurturing and caring for a child of God.
Just Monday (when I was still dealing with the scholarship fiasco) another one of my sons called me, expressing anger with life, the state of the world, decisions I’d made for our family. I just listened, asked a few questions and let his anger dissipate in the safety of my unconditional love. As we neared the end of the conversation– problems solved, sunshine emerging from the clouds, love all around– he said, “I can believe this turned out so well. You must have some sort of magic. I think anyone else would have hung up on me.”
“I love you,” I replied, “I won’t hang up.”
Mom magic. It’s good stuff.
Have you ever caught yourself using your child’s accomplishments to boost your own self-worth? Or vice-versa?
How can Mama (and Papa) Bears avoid “seeking their own”?