Children can bring us a lot of happiness, but as I have reflected on how I was brought up, how I brought up my children and as I see my ten grand-children being brought up, I think the whole process is tougher than ever. Parents can face a lot of discouragement.
We should not minimize the particular challenges that some parents face but I want to highlight three general things which can cause discouragement:
1) Having too great expectations
Everyone has times of discouragement and mothers are particularly prone to feeling down. The TV series Call the Midwife has reminded us so often of the joy of holding a newborn baby in your arms. At that moment every mother’s ambition is to be the perfect parent. None want to make the same mistakes that their parents made with them!
It is a temptation to think that if only it can be done right, then children will grow up well-balanced and always completely fulfilled and happy. Of course, it is good to have high expectations and ideals but we should be realistic and recognise that we shall all sometimes fail and get things wrong.
2) Wanting to keep up the appearance of success
We all want our children to achieve their potential but this generation is probably the most driven and pressurized to succeed than ever. Some parents cannot bear for their children not to excel at everything. And if they don’t, quite likely many parents blame themselves for not doing enough to support them.
It can be very discouraging if we are not able to trust anyone about our worries. I remember very clearly my mother pouring out her heart to a friend about a disappointment she was facing concerning one of my sisters, only to discover later that the friend had exactly the same situation with her son but never admitted it. We can so fear criticism that we keep things bottled up maintaining that everything is fine.
Life is very very busy these days. Mothers often have to be Supermums. Often both parents have to work long hours in their jobs and they feel they have to constantly entertain their children or take them to be entertained. Then, in spite of more labour-saving devices than ever, they have to cope with normal household chores. Then add to the mix the demands of their own parents, it is no wonder that they are worn out.
Fatigue causes discouragement which leads to frustration when jobs can’t get done. When exhausted it is very hard to be patient and that in turn leads to guilt and a sense of failure.
So, it is easy to feel discouraged as a parent. Where can we find encouragement?
The story of Jochebed
There are certainly lots of stories about Mothers in the Bible. But often they go unnoticed, in spite of their crucial role, because it’s their famous sons that the writers are mostly interested in. For example, have you heard of Jochebed?
Jochebed was Hebrew, an ethnic minority living in Egypt at a time where everyday was a nightmare for all mothers, fathers and family members alike. The Pharoah had ordered that every new Hebrew male child born should be tossed into the River Nile and drowned. Jochebed had just had a baby boy – if anyone had a right to feel desperate she did!
Through some incredible events (see Exodus 1 & 2), Jochebed’s baby survived through being adopted by a Princess. The child would grow up to become Moses, one of Israel’s greatest leaders who led his people out of slavery and oppression. Jochebed illustrates the vital role that mothers have. She knew that her time was limited before she would have to give her son completely to someone else and what she taught Moses in those early years stayed with him forever.
Instilling the right values
I’d like to ask the mothers today – what would you teach your child if you were in that position? What values would you instill?
When you are feeling discouraged and anxious about your children remember the Christian framework we have in the Bible to guide us. As followers of Jesus we have extra resources, especially as part of his Church. God helps us to know what is right and gives us his strength and wisdom to carry it through.
So don’t compare yourself to what others are doing, or their children’s achievements. Don’t have the wrong ideas about what constitutes success. That way means discouragement. Remember Jochebed who committed her son to God in great faith and knew that the most important thing she could do for him was not to bestow material blessings but a living relationship with Almighty God.
This is an edited version of a sermon preached on Mother’s Day by Olive Kuhrt at Christ Church, New Malden on 15th March 2015. Listen to the whole talk.