Majesty? Mother hardly feels like her royal highness as she stands beside her messy sink, harried and haggard from the battles of the day. Before she can take the weight off her tired feet, she still faces that stack of dirty dishes, a load of dirty diapers, three dirty kids who must be bathed and put to bed, and a dirty house that must be cleaned for the ladies’ circle in the morning. Waves of resentment, self-pity, then guilt sweep over her. She feels more like a captive than a queen ... and so far removed from that model mother of Bible times whose husband and children stand up and praise her as the greatest among women (Prov. 31:28-29).
Motherhood is undoubtedly one of the most complex and exacting callings in life. A poll among women revealed overwhelming agreement that raising children properly requires as much intelligence and drive as holding a top position in business or government. And that task falls mainly on mother’s shoulders for the first six years of the child’s life. Even after that, her contacts with the children will of necessity be more frequent and prolonged than dad’s. While dad is the leader in the house, mother sets the tone. The hours her children spend in her presence will have a lasting influence on their lives. They will become largely what she makes them. She faces the noble challenge of molding their young lives for eternity. Motherhood is one of life’s highest honors, and one of its heaviest responsibilities.
Where does a woman find help for such an awesome assignment? The Psalmist said it well: “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:2, NASB). God has special grace for mothers. You see, even though God is a father, he has a mother’s heart. He spoke to the nation Israel and said, “I will comfort you there as a little one is comforted by its mother” (Isa. 66:13, TLB). God comforts his children just like a mother.
It is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, who basically performs this motherly function. Jesus called him the Comforter (John 14:26), and sent him to us so that we would not be orphans (John 14:18, NIV, TLB, NASB). And isn’t it interesting that our birth into the family of God is described as being “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 6, 8, KJV)? The Spirit of God who bore us, who shared his divine life with us, who sustains us, comforts us, and teaches us, stands ready and willing to aid every Christian mother in fulfilling her sacred duty.
By observing the ministry of the Holy Spirit, a mother will be able to detect her first responsibility. The Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son, and ministers not on his own behalf but for them. Jesus said, “... for he will not be presenting his own ideas, but will be passing on to you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He shall praise me and bring me great honor by showing you my glory. All the Father’s glory is mine; this is what I mean when I say that he will show you my glory” (John 16:13-15, TLB).
You see, the Spirit is submissive to the Father and the Son, and represents them in his ministry to us. Just so, a mother is to be submissive to her husband and represent his authority to the children. Failure here has become one of the major causes of family disruption and breakdown. When a woman resists the will of her husband, it weakens his self-respect, discourages him from taking the leadership role in the family, and destroys the order of authority God established for the home.
Furthermore, a dominant wife and mother confuses the children. The Lord Jesus established an important principle, which he applied fundamentally to money but which can be applied with equal force to the family. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24, NIV). If mothers and fathers have equal authority, the child does not know which one to obey. He will use one against the other to get his own way, and will soon lose respect for one or both parents. Studies have shown that children with conduct problems often have domineering, high-strung mothers. But if a child knows beyond all doubt that dad is the head of the house, that mom speaks for dad, and that dad’s authority backs up what she says, he will be more apt to obey and will have more love and respect for both his parents.
The biblical injunction to wives to submit to their husbands has far-reaching implications. The repeated emphasis on it in the Word gives some indication of the importance God lays upon it (Eph. 5:22, 24; Col. 3:18; Tit. 2:5; 1 Pet. 3:1, 5). Successful parenthood depends upon successful husband-wife relationships. And successful husband-wife relationships rest heavily upon a wife’s respect for her husband and her cheerful submission to his will. Her authority over the children is derived from him. If she undermines or contradicts his authority before the children, she is destroying her own authority. If she outwardly or inwardly rebels against his authority, her children will sense it and develop the same kind of rebelliousness toward her.
Mother, cultivate a deep appreciation and loving admiration for your husband. Next to your personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, he comes first in your life. If he isn’t the husband he should be, don’t nag him, push him, or pick at him. That will only drive him farther from you. If things between you aren’t what they should be, don’t wrap yourself up in your children to compensate for the insecurity and lack of love you feel from him. That will only damage the children’s personalities and further destroy your relationship with him. Look for his good qualities and rehearse them in your mind. You will find your respect for him growing. And when he senses that growing respect, he will work to make it grow even more. Before long you will be able to add a few more items to that list of qualities to appreciate. Your marriage will improve, and your freedom to be a good mother will enlarge right along with it. Some wives have complained to me that they cannot think of any good qualities in their husbands. But something attracted them to those men originally. Think back to those early days of courtship if need be, and magnify the commendable traits you remember.
The second major responsibility of a mother is likewise learned from the Holy Spirit, this time from the name Christ gave him--the Comforter (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The word literally means “one who is called in beside.” It suggests the ability to help, encourage, and console. Just so, a mother is to be near her children, providing assistance, encouragement, and comfort.
The Apostle Paul referred to this motherly function. Describing his ministry to the Thessalonians he said, “. . . we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:7-8, NIV). “Caring for” means literally “to keep warm.” Figuratively, it involves cherishing and comforting. A mother instinctively longs to press her child to herself, protecting him from danger, soothing his hurts and easing his pain.
As natural as that longing may be, it is sometimes dulled by the pressures of life, by a selfish spirit, by the lack of personal security, by seething hostility, anxiety, or unresolved conflicts with others. Mother may allow herself to become irritable and sharp with the children, creating an unpleasant atmosphere of tension and discord. You see, she is the one who actually establishes the mood of the home. Father may be its head, but as many others have suggested, she is its heart. Her emotional state will often become the condition of the entire household, and even the youngest child will absorb the effects of it. A child’s mind is like a video tape recorder, carefully transcribing every word, right down to the tone of voice and facial expression. And all of it contributes to the person he will become. Some psychologists say his emotional pattern is set by the time he is two years old. That should be a sobering realization to mothers, and a challenge to examine carefully their attitudes and temperament. A change for the better will have a profitable effect whenever it comes.
Mrs. Pickit is obsessed with having a perfectly clean house. Her conversation consists of “Pick this up, put that away, straighten those things, scrub that better.” Fussing has become an automatic, involuntary way of life for her. She may ultimately drive her child to the opposite extreme of sloppiness, or may produce in him the same neurotic perfectionism she has.
Mrs. Skelter is a disorganized person who is always running late. She keeps the household in a state of turmoil screaming at everyone to hurry up. A child who lives with that kind of pressure becomes tense and troubled. He does poorly in his schoolwork and finds it difficult to get along with other children.
Mrs. Wartner is overly anxious. She worries, frets, whines, and stews about every little problem, actual or potential. And every one of those fears is registering on the consciousness of the little tyke beside her, building a spirit of apprehension and anxiety that will hold him in bondage for a lifetime, but for a miracle of God’s grace.
Mrs. Grumpman is unhappy and dissatisfied. She complains about her plight in life. She grumbles about the way people treat her. She gripes about the inconveniences she suffers. And little ears send impulses to little minds around her making discontentment the habitual pattern of their lives as well.
A child needs someone near him who loves him more than the house, whose heart is bubbling with the joy of Jesus Christ, who displays an inner calmness even during the trying circumstances of daily living, someone who is patient and kind, who encourages and cheers. Mother, the Spirit of God can make you that kind of person. Flee to his presence often during the day and claim his wisdom and strength.
Then spend time with your children. Read to them. Teach them the Word of God. Take casual walks with them, pointing out interesting things along the way. Play games with them. Create challenging things for them to do. Take an interest in their projects. Be available when they need you. And like the Spirit of God, be sympathetic and compassionate. Your children will someday stand up and praise you for it.
The thought of mother being near her children raises the question of whether or not she should be gainfully employed outside the home. It would be difficult to prove from Scripture that it is wrong for a mother to work. That model mother in Proverbs 31 certainly did. “She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. . . . She goes out to inspect a field, and buys it; with her own hands she plants a vineyard. She is energetic, a hard worker, and watches for bargains. She works far into the night. . . . She makes belted linen garments to sell to the merchants” (Prov. 31:13, 16-18, 24, TLB). Women did contribute to the family income in Bible times.
It has been shown from Scripture, however, that dad has the primary responsibility of providing for the physical needs of his family. Before a wife goes to work, I would suggest that she and her husband sit down together and answer some pertinent questions. First of all, why do they want her to work? If it is because she is bored with her role as a mother, working may not be the answer. She needs to rethink her attitudes and face the challenge of motherhood. To do that job as God wants it done, particularly with younger children, can tax all of her intelligence, utilize all of her skills, and consume as much time as she is willing to give it. If her motive is to buy herself more clothes or even to purchase some luxury for the entire family, maybe both she and her husband need to readjust their priorities according to God’s Word. If on the other hand it is to help with the necessities of life, contribute to the children’s education, or provide some other needful thing, the Scripture would not forbid it.
But there is a second question: Will she be able to fulfill her task as a homemaker happily? The Apostle Paul exhorted women to “guide the house” (1 Tim. 5:14, KJV), one word in the original text meaning “to manage the household, to keep house.” He also told them that they were to be “keepers at home” (Titus 2:5, KJV), a similar word meaning literally “working at home.” In other words, God intended for the wife and mother to be the homemaker. She has the basic responsibility of tending to the affairs of the household. Homemaking can easily become a frustrating part-time avocation for the working wife, to the detriment of the entire family. A husband who loves her and is sensitive to her needs will want to help around the house, but willing assistance is far different from being assigned his share of the household duties as sometimes happens when a woman works. That is a reversal of the roles which God established for husbands and wives. When it is essential for mother to work, dad should mobilize the whole family to lend a hand. The kids can learn some vital lessons in teamwork and responsibility through it.
Question number three: What will the actual advantage be? Don’t forget to count everything: federal income taxes, state income taxes, social security taxes, God’s percentage, baby sitting if necessary, additional clothing, transportation, lunch and coffee break money, costlier meals (if she buys more prepared foods or TV dinners with no leftovers). Some couples have actually found that they lost money when mother went to work.
The fourth question is the most important of all. How will it affect the children? For some children, coming home to an empty house encourages dependability and maturity. For others it breeds insecurity and presents temptations to get into trouble. Baby sitters may help, but no baby-sitter will give a child the love and attention that mother can provide. If the children are all in school, a part-time job that allows her to be home when the children are there may be the answer.
This is an issue about which husband and wife must agree. If a wife takes a job against her husband’s wishes, the door is open to more serious problems. Seek God’s direction together with a deep desire to do his will, and he will surely guide (Prov. 3:5-6).
Divorce is one of the great tragedies of our times, but it is very much with us and ignoring it will not make it go away. In many cases children are involved, producing a large corps of single parents. Add to their ranks the widows, widowers, and unwed mothers and their number is enormous. The vast majority of these single parents are women, and so we direct a brief word to their plight here. The comments we make should be equally applicable to single fathers, however.
Not long ago I had the opportunity of addressing several questions to a group of Christian singles about their parental problems. Most of them were divorced. When I asked what advice they would give to someone who had just become a single parent, one woman wrote, “If possible, don’t become one.” That’s the best advice I know. God has the solution to every marital problem. If there is any hope at all of a reconciliation, seek it diligently whether or not the divorce is final. With godly counsel and a willingness to work at the marriage there is hope for success.
For the widowed, that advice is meaningless. And for many of the divorced, it’s too late. What then are the problems of single parenthood? One recurring theme was loneliness. “Eight or nine P.M. comes, your child is in bed, and you are alone. There’s no one to share burdens and joys with. You have the responsibility of rearing a child. But that child cannot meet you at your level of communication. Often that loneliness turns to self-pity.”
What is the answer to this gnawing empty aloneness? Another single writes, “Join a caring group of single parents who are interested in the welfare of the children in addition to their own social needs, especially a Christian group.” Family outings with such groups will expose your children to adults of the opposite sex and help fill the void in their life. More important for you personally, it will provide opportunities for fellowship with adults. Contact with adults who have similar problems to yours will meet some of the needs in your life and will help you relate better to your children when you are with them. But the best remedy for loneliness is to cultivate a growing relationship with the Lord. He has promised never to leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
A second common problem was having the time, energy, and patience to meet the needs of the children. A woman writes, “Often it seems there is never enough time in the day just to be Mama. For example, having just finished a hard and hectic day at the office, now it’s time to pick up my daughter from nursery school. She’s been playing and learning happily all day and is unaware of my frustrations (as she should be). She’s so excited to see her Mama. She wants Mama all to herself. But Mama is tired. And it’s time to make supper, wash dishes, do some cleaning. Then it’s time to get her ready for bed. Where has the time gone? A single parent has to do the work of two. Yet her child needs the love and reassurance that only she can give. Is there time?”
The same single mother answers her own question. Mark it well! “Your child needs you, his parent, now--not when you have the time, but now. Therefore, you must make the time. Share your activities with the child, let him be your helper. It’s not easy, for sure, but so very necessary.”
The third most frequent problem cited by divorced parents relates to their ex-mates and the bitterness that remains between them. There always seems to be a temptation to put the blame for your troubles on your former mate and make that one look bad in the child’s eyes. A single dad offers some good advice: “Don’t criticize the ‘ex.’ Encourage the children to love and respect the other parent. And do everything you can to make it clear that the children are not responsible for the breakup.” One divorcee told me that every night when she prayed with her son at bedtime, she assured him that God loved him, she loved him, and daddy loved him. In spite of the calamity of divorce, that little fellow enjoyed a healthy relationship with his father.
There is only one way to reduce the lingering pain of divorce and to heal some of the wounds that endure. “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31, 32, NIV).
Single parents and their children are needy people. It would be to the credit of every complete Christian family to reach out with Christ-like love to help meet those needs. Some children of divorce have never seen a happy marital relationship. We can invite them to our homes and show them that marriage can be a wonderful experience. God may use us to help build successful homes in years to come.