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  • Writer's pictureLauren

Mother Love: Be Present and Prayerful

Updated: Apr 14

This is the third installment of a ten-part series on "The Ten Commandments of a Christian Education" found in Mother Love: A Manual for Christian Mothers.

Third Commandment: Thou shalt pay particular attention to the first six years of childhood, since they are the most important in the matter of Christian education. Thou shalt not spoil thy first child, since the others will follow its example.

My youngest turns six this year, and it is bittersweet. There is nothing like those first six years: they are tender, filled with wonder, and uniquely suited to the Mother's heart. Fathers and other relatives are, of course, also indispensable in the early years, and it goes without saying, too, that the mysterious, transcendental Mother Love follows the child throughout all the years of his life. And yet ... there is something peculiarly delicate about those earliest years, something inseparably bound up in the maternal realm in a way that the older years of childhood are not.

In those earliest years the mother is Queen in the eyes of her child, and the child beholds his mother almost to the exclusion of all others. She has sheltered him in her womb and fed him with her own body in a way the father never can. Science shows us that even things like the loquaciousness and higher emotional quotient typical of women is specifically for their children! The child learns from the mother's tender chatter the vast majority of his early language skills. From her innate ability to empathize, the child gleans his first social skills and, as he grows, begins to see beyond his own needs to the needs of others, all from the example provided by his mother. Even womanly traits such as tending to be more risk averse than men are for the benefit of the children, and there's a reason we talk about the ferocity of mother bears!

And so, in the first six years, we mothers grasp the chubby hands of our children, moving at the pace of toddler-sized steps, gently and slowly, guiding them towards greater independence in a way that we, and only we, can.

Then around age six, something new seems to happen. I have seen this especially with my sons, as they suddenly seem to discover their father! Everything my husband does is nothing short of perfect in my sons' eyes: the way he dresses and speaks, his work, his hobbies and interests. Suddenly they are leaving my side for hours on end to hunt in the woods (I truly had no idea two small boys could sit so still and so quietly for so long!), to rough and tumble in the dirt, to explore and conquer in those small ways suited to childhood for now, but with the horizon ever-widening before them.

I sigh and begin to understand the heart ache of Sigrid Undset's heroine, Kristin Lavransdatter, as she laments her children's swiftly passing years: "Had she conceived in her womb a flock of restless fledgling hawks that simply lay in her nest, waiting impatiently for the hour when their wings were strong enough to carry them beyond the most distant blue peaks? And their father would clap his hands and laugh: Fly, fly, my young birds. They would take with them bloody threads from the roots of her heart when they flew off, and they wouldn't even know it."

And yet, though they may fly, those six earliest years remain most important in the trajectory of their lives. They are the foundation upon which all else is laid, the platform from which these precious fledglings of ours will spring. Though this leaving tears at the very roots of our heart, they, perhaps unknowingly, bring our heart roots with them, allowing the possibility of our Mother Love to propagate and grow in a new way in a world far beyond the walls of the safe nests we have built for them.

Thus it remains for us to ensure the roots we put down in the earliest years of our children's lives are healthy and strong.  In the garden, the roots of various plants communicate in fascinating and hidden ways. If the garden is unhealthy, the roots will compete for nutrients and become entangled, so that if one plant is pulled up, the rest are irreparably damaged along with it.

To apply the garden metaphor to our children, we must avoid rendering our children rootbound - where our love becomes codependent and disordered and ultimately smothers them, entangling them and preventing new, healthy growth. The only fix for rootbound plants is to break the pot, and this, of course, is something we want to avoid for our children at all costs.

In a healthy garden, on the other hand, the plants can share nutrients and water, communicate about pests and act as companions for the healthier growth of all. This is the kind of garden we want for our children: we want them rooted in good soil, with plenty of space for their own little roots to spread and grow, and for our heart roots to grow in a healthy way alongside theirs.

To do this, we must be present to our children, anticipating their needs like the Blessed Mother at the Wedding Feast at Cana, and we must pray for them. To this end Bishop Cramer writes, "O that we could proclaim throughout the whole world and impress deeply upon the heart of every mother the words: PRAY! Pray incessantly! Pray earnestly and fervently for your children." We cannot pray for our children as we ought if we are not deeply attuned to our children by being present to them, free from unnecessary distractions and vices. Conversely, we cannot be present to them in the way they need, modeling the way Our Lord is present to us, if we are not praying.

If we strive to be present and prayerful throughout our children's lives, but especially in those first six years, then we need not fear the gradual tearing away of their growing up, and we need not worry whether they will follow the plans the Lord has for them.

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