Gentle Mothering

Nat stood on the edge of the bridge as shouts of “chicken!” rung out by the boys in the water. Groundskeeper, Nick Riley also in the water, strongly encouraged Nat to jump, telling him “All you’s got to do is take a deep breath, plant your feet; fly.”

As shouts of “you can do it! And Come-On!” rose from the group in the water, encouraging Nat to get over his fear and jump, Jo Bear came across the bridge, noting the pressure being applied Nat.

“Nat, Nat, only jump if you want….you can try again another day.” Jo said.

After a moment of consideration, Nat pulled back from the edge of the bridge and back onto the safety behind the railing.

Bawls and negative comments filed the air from the boys splashing in the water below. As Nick expressed his frustration, Jo, quieted the taunting by saying,

“There is no need to pressure him, Nick, He will do it when he is ready.” (Little Men: Season 1 ep. 2, Brainstorm Media, 1999).

I completely resonate with Jo in her gentle methods of child training. By giving a child time to grow and learn, confidence in each area is peacefully obtained at a child’s own natural pace.

In our world, there is incredible pressure upon children to develop at a standardized pace. From the first time a child is measured and weighed at birth, the practice of the standardization of that child has begun.  

We see standardization in the types of food that everyone should eat, to the amounts of food. We see standardization of life-styles, vacations, birthday parties, clothing brands, vaccination timelines, and medical treatments. What is culturally normal often sets the precedence for what is right for each person.

As a culture, we do not even think it is okay to question the standards set by experts. According to Scripture, parents are given divine authority and a sacred position by God to raise their children. That sacred position was not given to any other family member, the state, or so called experts. A mother fails when she “does not think enough of her position; and has not sufficient confidence in her own authority.” (Charlotte Mason, Home Education p. 162)

Any mother would heartily agree that her child is anything but standard. A mother is the most important expert on her child.

She should freely choose to rely upon certain people to help guide her discover what is best for her child, and she should guiltlessly choose to press forward or pull back as she feels it is best for her child. Yet, she, often with reluctance, submits to boxing in the mental, social, and physical development of her child, despite her better judgment.

In my journey of child raising, I have been guilty of resting upon an expert or two despite my better judgement. In that, there is also no shame. Looking back I would choose differently now, but at the time, that is where I was, and God’s grace is completely capable of filing in all the gaps of my parenting failures.

How many tearful children have stood at the door of kindergarten grieving the change forced upon him or her before being ready? But parents and teachers pay no heed. The child survives and moves on, so the system must work.

How many parents rush to pediatricians and child psychologists because their child is not performing inside the box of behaviors and skills expected for his or her age? How many needless diagnosis are given to children who simply need time to mature in certain areas?

Mother after mother puts her trust in a medical system or an educational system before trusting her own instincts. Mother after mother fears her child will be “behind” if not pushed to physically and mentally meet a standardized norm.

Yes, I very much realize there are very valid needs to seek help for a child to excel within his or her own God given sphere of development. Many children do need support in various ways. But oh to embrace even such a child as absolutely normal in his or her God given capacity of growth and development is of extreme importance. No diagnosis should taint or set the precedence for how she believers her child will best thrive.

I have a sweet little girl who is on the autism spectrum. As a mother, it has taken me time to get beyond the diagnosis and see through my child. Having a diagnosis can be helpful to get needed support for a child to thrive, however, it should not be the glasses from which a mother sees her child. A diagnosis is merely a tool that she can utilize to give her child support in needed areas. My child is not Autistic. My child is, a complete person, and must be fully, and firstly perceived by me, in her perfect, God given image.

How many children are actually hindered by well meaning parents who cannot see their child past a diagnosis. As a result, there are children who are sheltered and hovered over, missing multiple opportunities for which they are beyond ready. And yet, other children are pushed to stressful limits to do things they will eventually be prepared to do if given enough time and support.

As I speak of gentle mothering, I am certainly not at all talking about lazy parenting, but HUMBLE and PURPOSEFUL methods of parenting that require mom and dad stepping back and giving a child space to grow at his or her own time.

A Note on Humbleness: Gentle parenting requires humble parenting. A mother who realizes her child’s purpose is not for the glory of the mother, but the glory of God. A mother with that biblical perspective does not seek to boast in her child’s accomplishments.

Children in our culture are put on stage from the moment mom or dad posts the newborn baby photo on Instagram. The internet is full of pictures, videos, and accomplishments of children posted for no deeper purpose than a parent’s pride. A humble mother will deeply consider the reason behind each posting of her child before ever putting it out there. Generally, she will find, a quick text to Grandma with the dear little snapshot is sufficient to bring the right person joy.

I have a friend who was so convicted of her pride of her children and family that she will not even send out a family photo Christmas card. Obviously, this is simply an area that must be dealt with on an individual basis, since every mother knows her own heart on the area.

Despite the motives of a parent, children want to make their parents proud. How sad for the child who’s parents take advantage of that innocent desire of pleasing Mom and Dad, and whose parents use their child as a mechanism of self-glorification.

A child who is easily accomplished will thrive on stage, but will never learn the virtue of a humble heart as his or her accomplishments are applauded by the world.

A child who lacks confidence and performs poorly will shrink back further from the limelight in fear of his or her mistakes.

Parents must be very careful not to allow their own prideful motivations to pressure their children into situations and skills.

A note on purposeful: A wise and discerning mother will know when her child is ready for the next step in his or her journey. She will know to provide adequate support for that next step and provided the needed support for her child.

Sometimes, like Jo Bear, a mother needs do set her child free from pressure to perform, but she must also know when it is time to stand back, be silent, and let her child jump. This is the picture of a mother who truly knows her child. She is present in her child’s life. She hears her child when he or she speaks. She observes her child’s behavior. She is dedicated to understanding her child’s feelings and intentions. A gentle mother works devotedly to become deeply aware of the characteristics of the little humans given by God to grow under her charge.

Before I conclude, I will note that gentle mothering is not at all a laziness in mothering, neither is it a child-centered method of parenting.

Such gentle mothering is hard, dedicated work takes enormous prayer, advice seeking, and a deep knowledge of one’s child.

The gentle mother does not let her children rule her home. Her children, obey and deeply respect her, despite her imperfections. Her children do not respect her because she has forced them by punishment and fear to do as she says. They honor her because she has proved herself to be a faithful, honest, consistent, and trustworthy person to whom respect is naturally given.

This grace-filled mother firmly grasps her God-given place as her child’s authority and instructor. The responsibility of motherhood weighs heavily upon her.

The key to this gentle mother’s rule, is how she perceives her children. She sees them as complete, sacred, beautiful souls who have been entrusted by God’s grace to her nurture and care, for a very brief season. It is with fear of God and respect of what has been given to her by Him, that this mother sees her children.

I strongly encourage the reading of an older post: Little Whos are People Too for those who desire to get a more thoughts concerning a child’s being. It is essential a mother sees her children as anything but inferiors, but as complete, human beings.

What troubles a child is no small thing, and should not be treated as trifle. The sweet conversations of children must be heard with all seriousness. The pains and sorrows of a child, though seemingly small to an adult, are not insignificant to that little one. An injury to a child is not only an outward pain, but for some children, a moment of insecurity, and a moment mother’s time and affection is greatly needed. A scribbled drawing or a build of blocks that a child wants mommy to see, may appear a waste of mother’s time, but to that child, it is important. Mommy needs to truly appreciates and takes a moment to observe the details of her child’s work. A child must be seen and treated as the whole image-bearing person he is.

A gentle mother is a grace-filled mother. She will see her little charge standing on the edge of the bridge, his little knees shaking as he is pressured to jump. He wants to jump, and someday he will jump.

But for today, that mother will know, how serious an issue this is to him on so many accounts. His trouble will be real to her.

She will set him free from any obligation to jump and quietly wait for the day he will jump, holding no doubts in her mind, that someday, he will overcome what holds him back and he will jump.

And she will be there, on that day, tears in her eyes, knowing what has been overcome in order for him to be able to jump.

If he did not wait, and he jumped out of desire to please others or desire to be included in the brave group of boys who had already jumped, his jump would be empty, and he would never be afforded the time to deal with his fears.