I’ve thought a lot since having Evelyne about what it means that I have a mothering instinct. In general, some of us have a more nurturing bent to our souls than others do. But somewhere in every woman is a sense of what Jonalyn Fincher calls cultivation. We are drawn to nurture our relationships and care for people and things. As Edith Stein said, “The woman’s soul is…fashioned as a shelter in which other souls may unfold.” For some of us this comes more easily than it does for others, but as mothers, the instinct to nurture and protect our children is a God-given reality. You see it in nature as animals give their lives to protect their young, and you feel it after childbirth when you hold or nurse your child for the first time. It’s engraved in our bodies in a way that causes a woman’s let-down reflex to be stimulated when she hears a baby cry. These instincts are a gift of God, but more importantly, they are a reflection of God’s very nature imprinted upon our souls.
Throughout the Bible God uses the metaphor of a mother with her child to depict Himself and the way He loves us. Look at this:
“That you may nurse and be satisfied with her comforting breasts, that you may suck and be delighted with her bountiful bosom….And you will be nursed, you will be carried on the hip and fondled on the knees. As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” (Isaiah 66:11-13)
“Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; Like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” (Psalm 131:2)
“I have kept silent for a long time, I have kept still and restrained Myself. Now like a woman in labor I will groan, I will both gasp and pant.” (Isaiah 42:14)
“Can a woman forget her nursing child and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget but I will not forget you. Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
Throughout Scripture God describes Himself with feminine imagery and uses the experiences of a mother to depict His heart for His people. He compares His love for us with that of a nursing mom who would never forget her child. He speaks of a child who nurses and receives comfort from being held by his mother. He speaks of the pain of childbirth as a metaphor for His actions in Israel. These verses point to a reality that is a great comfort for me–God designed a mother’s instinct and experience to be a reflection of Him. When we act in these ways toward our children, we are mirroring Him. When we comfort our child, we are a living picture of the comfort of God. When we speak to our children in gentleness and love, it is an expression of His gentleness and love toward us. Our mothering instincts are an expression of the image of God imprinted upon our souls.
I’ve noticed different approaches to parenting that basically do two things with our instincts: embrace or suppress. Among some parents it’s almost like they purposfully do the opposite of what their instincts tell them the child wants or needs out of fear or a desire to manage the child in a way that gets a certain result. Sometimes a mother is told that she is being too overprotective and needs to let go when she simply has no desire to be separated from her infant that obviously wants to stay with her. I’ve seen people pry a screaming kid out of a mother’s arms when the mom is unwilling to let go because “she just needs to let go” and “he’s gotta learn somehow.” Some parenting models have such stringent requirements upon babies and children that leave mothers in tears over what they feel they must do. (I’ve been there!)
Early in my parenting journey I read way too much. Too many parenting how-to books, too many of other people’s advice, too many words that crowded my mind and blocked-out what my mothering instincts were telling me. It felt like I always had a voice speaking over my shoulder saying that I was doing it the wrong way. It took awhile before I finally learned to ignore those voices that wanted me to suppress what I thought was best for Evelyne. I learned to listen to my child and the voice of God that gently guided my instincts for her. I’ve learned to rejoice that not only am I designed in a way that senses what my child needs, but it is not something to overcome but something to embrace as a living metaphor of God’s love.
In no way have I figured-out much of anything in this parenting journey. If you recall, just a couple of days ago I was throwing sippy cups across the room. I still have these moments when I feel at a complete loss and think what in the WORLD do I do with this! But I’m grateful that when I’m honest enough to listen to my heart and God’s voice, I’ll usually get a little guidance. And in my experience, it’s usually NOT the easy way out. But I’m still amazed that my role as mother has such spiritual significance… that God graces me to be a living expression of His heart. And I’m overwhelmed with the responsibility that is. Am I going to show Evelyne an accurate representation of the love of God? Will I let-go of preconceived ideas of managing my child for my own convenience and be released to parent her as I imagine Jesus would? Can we as mothers be in touch with our own hearts to see clearly the image of a God who nurses and comforts and walks in gentleness with His children?
“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” (1 Thess. 2:7)
What is your experience in listening to your instincts? Are they something that you let guide your parenting or do you try to suppress them?