I just realized I’m the kind of mom who lives through her children.

February 16, 2017

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”?


February 15, 2017


  1. Nana12

    February 16, 2017

    This resonates so completely with me! I can’t stand to have my children hurt or unjustly denigrated and it has nothing to do with my ego- and my children are in their 40’s!
    Both my sons are in professions that are in the public eye and are accountable to a type of board of directors. Because of living in the same community as 1 of them and from what his children tell me now and again, there are untold hours of “going beyond his job description” – picking up the slack of what needs done that others have neglected; taking on extra, tedious work to lighten the loads of those who work under him – it’s who he is. He rolls the same way in our family. Always the last to serve himself at family events as he quietly circulates to make sure everyone else is taken care of first.
    And then I found out from a friend this week that the board had rated him as average because surely there must be something he can be doing better. 4 of the 5 board members are brand new and have no clue of what he really does. Yes – my mother heart is boiling and it’s not because of my ego – it’s because of his hurt from this evaluation of his job performance. And he has no clue that I know what happened. I do believe having this depth of a mother heart – which you and I have in common – gives me the tiniest sliver of insight into my Father in Heaven as a parent. What I feel for my children is so intense that at times it’s hard to breathe. And no matter how much I try to talk those feelings down from that level of intensity – I can’t do it.

  2. Anne Marie

    February 16, 2017

    I always love reading about your experiences and insights. I love how you could have an open, honest conversation with your son.

  3. Karen

    February 17, 2017

    It’s a judgement call. Sometimes I feel overly invested. Other days, I feel too detached. There’s no accurate tool for measuring, so I’m never sure. I would rather err on the side of being overly invested, but then I wonder if I’m a helicopter parent to my 19 year old. Gah! All my best to you (and all parents) for finding the right balance of supporting them and letting them test their wings.

  4. Kiar Shaw

    February 17, 2017

    I experienced this last year, when my son wasn’t chosen for the All-Star team for his age division, an honor “everyone” thought was in the bag. He had made it every year for the past 3 years, had shone brightly that season and was literally the epitome of what an Allstar should be: good sportsmanship, ability to play any position well, scored runs… the list goes on. His coach called to break the news to us personally, because he knew the expectation was there. I was livid. I felt personally slighted and angry. My son just looked at me and said “ok, what do I need to work on for next year?” It didn’t even phase him. I learned a major lesson that day, about being humble, hard work and understanding that sometimes things don’t happen the way we want them to. I have to catch myself a lot, and let them grow and experience life. I revel in thier successes, but do not take them as my own. I hold thier hands when they fail and help them work through it. Life is messy and beautiful and amazing when you have kids to steer along.

  5. T Wellborn

    February 17, 2017

    “I love you,” I replied, “I won’t hang up.”

    Mic drop.
    Heart drop.
    I love this.
    This is what moms do.
    Thank you for this gem, Michelle.

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