This Sunday is not Father’s Day. And Father’s Day is not Parent’s Day. In God’s common kindness, on the second Sunday of May, at least in the United States, we honor mothers.
Even though we often praise our parents for generic virtues that could be true of either — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control — it is also fitting to give thought to what it means to honor a mother as mother. What makes Mom a good mom (and not a dad)?
Of course, no earthly mother is perfect. Many, if not most, have obvious flaws, and clearly some are manifestly worse than others. And as great as the stakes are in fatherly failures and fatherlessness, perhaps the absence or failures of mothers prove to be all the more devasting, and difficult to recover from. Why? Because of God’s particular design and distinct calling on mothers as mothers in those earliest days, months, and years of our lives.
Yet even when our mothers have failed us, we typically have something to be thankful for — and not just virtues that overlap with Dad’s, but qualities that were specific signs of her motherly femininity.
What might you say to Mom this year? Consider a few ways you might honor her as mother. At least, here are six specifics for my own mother. Perhaps a few apply for you, and the others could inspire you of your own ways to honor Mom as Mom.
1. You were happy to be a woman.
Mom, I can’t remember you seeming anything less than free and happy. Happy to be a wife. Happy to be a mom. Happy to be a woman. Even though the air of the 1980s was still thick with women’s lib. You had friends who felt the pressure and pull to do anything with their life but be mom. If Mom at all, minimize it; don’t maximize it. But you were clearly happy to be a woman and mother, and maximize it.
You knew marriage was a dance with Dad. And you were happy to have him lead, and let his masculine strength glorify your feminine beauty. You loved it when he was more competent in certain ways as a man. You delighted to see him carry the heaviest boxes. You seemed to take such joy in finding a pickle-jar lid too tight, and handing it over with a smile.
You gloried in, rather than disdained, or envied, Dad’s differences as a man. You were secure enough to be a woman, and enjoy being a woman, and not try to compete with Dad on his terms, but complement him on yours. Despite the songs and sentiments of society, I never got the sense that you looked at Dad and thought, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”
Rather, you modeled mature, content femininity. And my sisters were watching and found it compelling. All three now delight to be women, and wives. You showed them the beauty of femininity, and you taught your son to admire God’s distinct and glorious design in women.
2. You gave your own self for us.
You carried us for nine long months. You birthed us. You nursed us. You shared your own self to give us life — not just your words but your own body. When the apostle Paul reaches for an image of self-giving, where else does he turn but to mothers?
We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8)
When the world roughed us up, you were the one we instinctively ran to. And when we did, you took us seriously. You never demeaned us, or acted like we were any less than human because we were children. We learned that we mattered as divine image-bearers because we so clearly mattered to you. I can’t remember you making fun of me, or acting exasperated, or that I was in any way less valued, even when I was at my disobedient worst.
Another reason we ran to you when we scraped our knees, and experienced our first failures in life, is we knew you would listen. You ministered as a listener. You lived James 1:19 with admirable godliness: quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.
3. You spoke with the voice of Wisdom.
But you didn’t only listen. Is it any wonder that Lady Wisdom is feminine in the Proverbs? You counseled Dad as the voice of wisdom. You knew when to make him aware that he had too many commitments, or was playing too much golf. You knew, like no one else, how to graciously guide him when to say yes and no to requests for his time and energy.
And for us kids. Now I look back and see that I was at my best when I regarded your counsel, and at my worst when I ignored it.
You did not abuse the power of your feminine voice. Your words were not like Eve’s to Adam (Genesis 3:17), or Sarah’s to Abraham (Genesis 16:2). Rather, like Lady Wisdom, you spoke words of truth (Proverbs 8:6–7). We heard memorized verses on repeat. You sang the Jesus choruses of the eighties. You introduced us to timeless hymns.
Through such counsel, you made Dad a better man. I can’t think of a single virtue in him that isn’t somehow connected, complemented, or accentuated by yours. You were, and are, his helper and his glory.
4. You delighted in Dad’s leadership.
You delighted to be led by an imperfect but increasingly worthy man. In many ways, you were the most manifestly competent adult in the house. We all knew that. Spelling. Reading. Math, for sure. And yet you manifestly enjoyed and gladly supported Dad’s headship.
You led the home with humble confidence when he was away, and gladly yielded to his lead when he returned. You appreciated and nurtured the special kind of care he owed you as a woman, without pretending you needed to reciprocate.
You loved that Dad shouldered primary responsibility and didn’t try to subvert that, or pout that you had none, but embraced the massive responsibilities you had. You honored Dad’s leadership and helped to carry it out according to your gifts. You responded affirmingly to his masculine initiatives when they were mature, and graciously pushed back or helped redirect them when they could be better. You knew how to win Dad, without a word, by “your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1–2).
You knew what submission was not. You did not feel the pressure to agree with Dad on everything, or check your brain at the door, or act out of slavish fear, or avoid any effort to change him, or put his will before Christ’s. Your open Bible on the dining room table showed that you knew your spiritual strength was not limited to what came from Dad.
5. You were the heart of our home.
Dad was the head, and you were the heart: you filled up and developed us.
Christians often sum up the six days of creation in Genesis 1 as “forming” and “filling.” Days 1–3: God forms the world. Days 4–6: he fills the world with its inhabitants. Similarly, dads and moms have complementary callings in forming and filling, whether in the home and its culture or with the children and their upbringing.
In particular, you embraced a mother’s special influence in filling and developing the identities of your children, even as Dad formed and shaped us. Dad’s forming work happened not only through words, but they were especially influential, even central (1 Thessalonians 2:12–13). Some say that dads name and moms nurture. Dad names and forms, as Mom nurtures and fills, the children’s identities, including spiritually.
And your part was vital in guiding your son as a future man, and your daughters as future women. You showed my sisters that they are like mom, and that’s good. They learned from you how to respect and nurture, as mom does for dad and family. And you showed your son that he was like dad, and that’s good. I learned how to initiate toward and care for a woman through your complementary example and encouragement.
6. You embraced the greatest calling in all the world.
I thank God that you weren’t distracted or drawn away from us kids by the world’s siren calls to compete with men in their sphere. You said no to the serpent’s whispers that “stay-at-home mom” was demeaning and in any way less than the greatest calling in the world. Your competencies were through the roof. Yet you weren’t so insecure as to shirk work “beneath” you — like mothering.
Your college degree in education, and certification in math, and eight years in the classroom were not wasted. Not for a minute. They all prepared you, and equipped you, for a human vocation of which there is none greater: the call to be mom.