I never wanted to be a mother.
I wasn’t one of those girls who fantasized about the man I would marry or the house I would live in. I never really gave much thought to having kids. To be really honest, I am not a very nurturing person (you can ask my oldest son for confirmation!), and yet at age 22 I found myself married and two years later gave birth to my first-born. I showed up at the hospital with minor cramps and some bleeding. The nurse was concerned. It turned out I was 9 centimeters dilated. Hunter was born an hour after my arrival. It was fast. I was in shock. I’ll never forget when they put him on my belly. I was told I’d have instantaneous love - I didn’t! What did that say about me? Hunter came home from the hospital colicky, crying all the time and never sleeping. I felt guilty because I didn’t love this, and everyone said I would. What was wrong with me?
I came from a big family so the idea of having an only child was not an option. Even though I didn’t want children, the ball was rolling so I might as well keep going. I nursed Hunter for 10 months (Did I mention I didn’t enjoy nursing?) then I stopped nursing. The 11th month I found myself pregnant with my second child. That became the rhythm - nurse, stop nursing, and get pregnant. By the time I was 28, I had three kids 3 1⁄2 and under. I’m not going to lie. It was harder than hell. When Hunter turned one, we had moved from NY (where our extended families lived) to Dallas (where we knew no one). Being locked up in a small apartment with three little ones, no friends, no financial cushion, no car, no idea how to mother or to be a Christian woman - it was not my idea of ‘the good life!” I hated it. I didn’t hate my kids; I just hated the whole concept of what it meant to mother.
It would take a while to put aside my understanding of “the ideal mother” and embrace God’s design for my mothering. See, I had a fabulous mother; she was my example of what it meant to be a good mother. Mom mothered us 4 kids and another boy who lived with us. She cooked three meals a day from scratch. We grew all our food, we raised cattle and pigs, and we canned for the winter. My mom sewed our clothes and knitted us slippers and mittens. She was known to secretly sneak stuff to people who were in need. On top of that she never lost her cool. She let us be ourselves. She loved us when we were unlovable. She was my example, but I was nothing like her. Her color wasn’t my color.
And then there was the Christian ideal of mothering. Ugh. I was new to the faith; therefore, I feared I would fail my kids in raising them well for Jesus. I’ve since learned fear is a real driver for most of us mothers, yet Scripture tells us God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear but faith. (2 Timothy 1:7) If we are to be honest with ourselves and others, we need to admit we often operate out of fear.
I remember Christian women telling me my kids would have better social skills if they attended preschool. I panicked because we couldn’t afford a babysitter, let alone preschool! Fear gripped me as I didn’t want my kids to be socially ill equipped. Later I came to understand preschool is not for kids; it’s for moms who need a break. It’s time we are honest about it!
Another Christian woman shared how kids who get involved with music before 2nd grade have higher IQs. “Jackie, it’s important they play a musical instrument.” I panicked, “OMG! I want my kids to be smart!” And I learned I should NEVER let my kids sleep in our room. And Stride Rite shoes were
best for your child’s foot development, never mind that they were $40 a pair. And God forbid if your child didn’t do “first time obedience” since counting to three was a sure fire sign of bad mothering.
Out of necessity (because I couldn’t afford the options presented nor did I have children who obeyed immediately) I started asking questions. Global questions. Did these “truths” hold to be self evident for all people in all cultures?
I’d been to Israel. During Jesus’ time people slept in one room. I’ve been to Africa, and people sleep in one room – because for most people there is only ONE room to be had. (Back in the 1950’s it was normal for a family to have one bathroom and 2-3 growing boys share a bedroom.) Global questions help us put our mothering into perspective.
I asked questions about my life. Was I stupid because I hadn’t played a musical instrument? Was Steve? Nope, both of us are “smart enough.” And last I checked, my feet have held up without wearing Stride Rite shoes. And upon reading Scripture I found God to be extremely patient with his kids. If he administered the “first time obedience” rule, I would spend the majority of my life in his time out! If God doesn’t demand that, why should we?
Pressure from outside. Fear on the inside. It drives us mothers.
It was my second son Hampton who turned me from drinking the Christian culture’s ideas of mothering to drinking straight from Jesus himself. It was okay to learn from others, but no longer would I receive everything as “truth” nor would I try to conform to others’ ideals. I wanted to conform to Jesus only.
Hampton is Dennis the Menace on caffeine. (That’s him keeping me locked in my bathroom.) He’s smart and exceptional. I’m not sure why we mothers work so hard to “produce” exceptional children. Above average is good enough. Exceptional people are tormented. Think Picasso. Even as a kid, Hampton was gifted and extremely difficult. I read all the books on “strong-willed children” the last being Dr. Dobson’s book, “How to Raise Boys.” I read it then threw it against the wall. “Okay, but what do you do when that doesn’t work?”
I would never reach “the ideal Christian mother” status with Hampton in tow. It was Hampton’s design that forced me to accept Jesus’ design for me as a mother. I stopped going to others for direction and headed to Jesus first. I stopped listening to all the voices. (Have you noticed most who instruct us on Christian parenting don’t have a Hampton? And I’m done with Christian women making other women feel less by their comparative comments: “Oh, my daughter attends bible study. Oh, my son made honor roll. Well, my child would never ——–.)
Through out my 20 years of preaching I’ve rarely spoke on parenting. I didn’t want my youthful self interpreting Scripture in ways that put women in bondage. But now that my kids are grown there are a few things I can speak about, things Jesus taught me along the way. One lesson I learned from Jesus is he’s more interested in my faithfulness than I am. When I was raising my kids I wanted a guarantee from Jesus. If I did my part he would promise my kids would turn out alright. Sometimes I cajoled even demanded but I learned God doesn’t give us parents that guarantee. One morning while reading 1 Peter 1, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Jackie, will you be faithful no matter what happens with Hampton?” That’s a hard question to be asked. I wanted Jesus assurance. He didn’t give it. 1 Peter 1:67 states that our faithfulness is more precious to Jesus than anything else. It’s not whether our kids turn out to be amazing Christians but whether or not we’ve been faithful raising them in spite of how things turn out.
We operate out of fear. Jesus wants our faith.
He kept teaching. He taught me that he was responsible for my kid’s heart. I wanted to get inside my child and rewire his heart. In fact I think most of us mothers would do anything to control our kids’ hearts. But God was saying, “Jackie, you can influence your kids in so many ways, what they eat, who they hang with, what education they get, which sports they play, but the heart…that’s mine and mine alone. Only I can get inside to their heart.”
Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Getting this truth about parenting is HUGE. It is his job. And I’m holding him to it. Jeremiah 31:33 says, “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
It’s been 26 years since I gave birth to my first child. Hunter is 26, Hampton is 24, and Madison is 22. They’ve graduated from college and are trying to figure out how to be “adults.” I like them. They are not walking with Jesus – yet. And I’m not freaking about it because that’s an inside job. I’ve stopped looking for everything to turn out “all right.” Instead I’ve committed to love no matter how it turns out. After all, that’s how my Jesus loves.
Hampton, Madison, Me and Hunter – 2016