By Tim Sanford
Part of the Defining Successful Parenting Series
What about a mom’s primary job? It’s not cooking dinner, changing diapers or helping a preschooler glue colored macaroni on a coffee can as a Father’s Day gift.
The most important assignment a mom has is to nurture her children.
But what does that mean, exactly? Most of us have a vague notion about what being nurtured feels like, but here are a few specifics.
A nurturing mom goes beyond being the “maintenance person” in a child’s life. She doesn’t just keep a child clean, fed, warm, and dry. She also helps enable her children to develop fully by pouring life into them. She models joy and passion. Nurturing is filling your child up with aliveness.
It’s not a joyless, self-sacrificing caricature of Betty Crocker. A nurturing mom takes time to play, read, and take pictures when the toddler’s spaghetti ends up on the head instead of in the mouth. She enters the child’s world to see things from his or her perspective, even if it means the carpets don’t get vacuumed for a while. She provides empathetic understanding from a position of strength and support. That’s true whether she’s dealing with a toddler or a teen — except for the part about spaghetti on the head.
Like dads, though, moms have a natural urge to protect their children. That can lead them to cross the line between nurturing and futile attempts at control. One mother of twins describes her ongoing battle with this issue:
I remember when my boys were babies. I took them out for their first ride in the double stroller. Along the way, I saw a mean-looking dog running loose ahead of us. Instantly I made plans to save the lives of my children by throwing myself over their little bodies, suffering whatever injuries the dog’s sharp teeth might inflict. When the harmless dog trotted away without any attempt to attack us, I laughed at how readily my “mommy radar” had me prepared to die for my kids, without thinking twice.
Two years later, I struggled because it wasn’t so easy to keep my little ones safe. As fast-moving toddlers, they were always three steps ahead of me at the lakeside park we visited often. Either I was chasing one down to keep him from following the geese into the lake, or I was wrestling my way up the jungle gym to spot my would-be mountain climber. But I didn’t want to refuse my boys the pleasures of the playground and their freedom to explore. How often I wished to put each boy on a 200-foot leash so each could be free — within limits.
Many years later, this struggle continues. I want my 16-year-olds to drive so they can enjoy the normal freedoms and growth of other teenagers. Yet I do what I can to instill the fear of death in them to keep them on a “leash” of careful driving habits and away from daredevil maneuvers behind the wheel. Finding balance means continually going back and forth between the healthy desire to give my kids freedom and my God-given urge to keep them safe.
You can’t control the results, but you can stir in the right ingredients. You can seek to know your children as individuals, different as they might be, and bring out the best in each. You can demonstrate by example how to explore life with zest and express the unique gifts God provides each of us. Your nurturing can blossom in emotional and spiritual growth.
Before you feel burdened with a mile-long list you can never follow through on, let me be quick to say that nurturing is not about “doing it all” or doing it perfectly. It’s about doing the best you can — without losing yourself or driving yourself crazy because your own needs aren’t taken care of. You won’t be able to nurture your children if you’re exhausted from burning the candle at both ends.
So please take care of yourself, too. You need aliveness in order to pass it on to your teenagers.