We’ve written before about the power of a mother, not only in the life of a child but in the development of a society. In her powerful essay, The Christian View of the Child, mother and lifelong educator, Dr. Elizabeth Youmans writes:
A culture can be judged by the way it treats its children and senior citizens. A culture is really a reflection of the values and practices of the prevailing “religion” of a society. Today, most cultures have a pagan or secular view of children. Children are despised in increasing numbers around the world, and never in the history of mankind, have so many little ones been aborted, abandoned and abused as occurs today.
On a recent trip to Brazil, I spent two evenings with a group of college-age students. These middle/upper-middle class young adults told me that they were “the fatherless (and motherless) generation.” They did not mean that they came from broken families, but that their parents were never home. Their parents had bought into the modern consumer myth that having things is more important than raising children. These are the abandoned children of consumer societies. Add them to the rolls of the physically abandoned, the aborted, the abused children of the developing world.
When a woman conceives a baby, she becomes a mother. She may or may not have intended to conceive, but she is a mother nevertheless. She carries in her womb a human baby, and nothing less.
When that woman births her child, she becomes a teacher of that child. In fact the mother becomes the first and perhaps primary teacher. She may not want to be a teacher, she may not be a good teacher, but she is a teacher. She may not intentionally teach. She may be teach unknowingly, but she will teach. She will teach through example as well as by words. Her conscious and sub-conscious lessons will be imparted to her child.
But what will she teach? Will she teach that which strengthens and build ups her child, or that which weakens her child, that which reduces her child’s opportunity to flourish?
The nineteenth-century maternal feminist, Lydia Sigourney, wrote a profound book to prepare young women to the high calling of being a mother.
Admitting then, that whether she wills it or not, whether she even knows it or not, she is still a teacher — and perceiving that the mind in its most plastick state is yielded to her tutelage, it becomes a most momentous inquiry what she shall be qualified to teach. Will she not of necessity impart what she most prizes, and best understands? Has she not power to impress her own lineaments on the next generation? If wisdom and utility have been the objects of her choice, society will surely reap the benefit. If folly and self-indulgence are her prevailing characteristics, posterity are in danger of inheriting the likeness. This influence is most visible and operative in a republick. The intelligence and virtue of its every citizen have a heightened relative value.
The newborn baby is the image of God, destined to live forever. The mind of the baby is ready to be imprinted; the potential of the child waiting to be drawn out. As Dr. Youmans has said: “A child’s ‘receptive mind,’ or the seat of his imagination and intuition, must be lovingly nurtured with truth and beauty!”
The mother WILL IMPART what she most prizes. But what does she prize? Her maternal responsibility, or her autonomy? Material things, or the immaterial treasures of truth, beauty and goodness – the culture of the kingdom of God? What the mother (and father) imparts will influence not only her child but all that child’s life, all that child’s activities and relationships, far into the future.
Sigourney speaks of twin basic choices. The mother may impart wisdom and prudence; if so, society benefits. Or she may convey folly and self-indulgence, and society will reap the whirlwind.
Nicole Curiel, a young woman from Guadalajara, Mexico, who is studying to be a teacher, describes the imprint her mother had on her life.
I have a wonderful mother. She was very intentional in the way she raised my brother and me. I live in a dorm with a bunch of other girls. It’s interesting to see the differences in cleanliness. I think out of all of them I am the most organized and clean. I love to clean, I love having a clean feel in the room. I notice though that this is not the case with everyone. I can remember whenever my mom would make us clean the house. It wasn’t my favorite chore, but now it is. Now that I live alone, I see the great benefit of having a clean home or in this case a clean dorm.
Simply picking up what has fallen on the floor makes a world of difference. It is a value that was instilled in me by my mother. Of course, there are so many others, but this one is one I can really appreciate right now when I have to live with other people.
A mother’s goal should be to consciously teach the good, the true, the beautiful. This is critical for a society that would be free. A society can only be free if its citizens are self-governing people. Unless its women are intentional at being mothers, a society will tend to decay and collapse.
– Darrow Miller
This is the tenth post in a series on maternal feminism.