Motherhood: Molding minds, developing potential

Being a mother is both demanding and rewarding—it is equivalent to a professional pursuit.

Molding minds, healing spirits, nurturing bodies and developing potential—this job can be amazingly productive and rewarding. The results of competent mothering will be passed from generation to generation. For a mother, rearing her children is her mission, life's work, the opportunity for her greatest legacy.

You cannot pay a woman to do what mothers do for free. A mother loses much of her privacy and sometimes experiences radical changes to her entire lifestyle. Children may bring disappointments and sorrows. A mother's rewards are not materialistic benefits that fade, but intangible rewards of blessings and honor that will last through eternity.

The home is essential for the production of moral, social and human capital—the workforces and visionary leaders needed for the future. This process, when done with excellence, cannot be short-circuited, mechanized or standardized to one-size-fits-all.

I want to challenge this generation of mothers to complete dedication to becoming family-obsessed in the sense of being passionately devoted to the high and holy task of preparing the next generation. Such a deed is considered abnormal by many who look at the task of maternity as perfunctory, without need for preparation or training, and certainly not the most important task a woman should pursue. Yet, what a difference could be made if suddenly the home and family, and especially the children, could be treated with the same importance as other professional pursuits.

Remember:

• You are equipped to be a "life bearer"—to conceive, carry and nurture the beginning of life. A mother's exclusive role in procreation and her unique human tie with her offspring position her to extend her influence far beyond the family circle. She plays a major role in establishing the values and character not only of her children but also of a nation.

• You are appointed to be the rock of strength and haven of protection for your vulnerable children. A mother who is anchored in her own faith and whose character is settled in her own life is going to be a formidable influence on her offspring. Knowing that someone cares for him and is committed to him above every earthly endeavor gives a child confidence for whatever obstacles he may face and serves as a mooring for him in the storms of life.

• You have the opportunity to lay the foundation for all learning. Hands-on, custom training is the order of the day for serious developmental training of the child. The teaching of physical coordination and informal social interaction includes learning first by practicing communication in simple practical ways through ordinary conversation between mother and child. One thread running through the entire process is time and dedication to the task.

• You have the opportunity to make your children feel that home is the happiest and best place in all the world. By her own attitude and efforts, a mother regulates the internal policies by which her home is governed. Her daughters have the opportunity to model themselves after her example, and her sons can be inspired by her quiet but consistent encouragement; both daughters and sons are directed by her counsel and her virtues.

The family mealtime is an important key to making home special. All family members must eat, so there is a natural eagerness and anticipation as well as relaxation to this scene if Mother gives attention to making it uniquely a family time.

Over the years, my mother, as did my husband's mother, set a precedent of making family meals memorable. I had a double legacy to drive me to do the same and to give me a unique blend of my childhood family's very simple but hearty fare with my husband's childhood meals of ethnic cuisines. I have added seasonal touches and tablescapes, often placing favors and have introduced tips on basic etiquette. My husband has included lively conversation and the discussion of timely topics (never reprimands or chastisement in this setting).

The home is the toughest workplace of all with unrelenting and even unreasonable demands. A mother seems to be on call 24 hours a day without a basic wage, much less any overtime. The work may be physically, emotionally and mentally draining—or even boring at times. A mother may not be recognized or thanked for her selfless labor. Mothers who devote their primary energies and creativities and the bulk of their time to rearing their children do indeed work, but they are not paid in dollars and cents. Their rewards rest in the seedbed of their own hearts with lasting memories of their investment in the lives of those whom they love most in the world.

The best present I have given my children has been my presence in their lives from conception until now. The best present they have given me is wrapped up in who they have become, the roles they have taken in their own respective homes and the contributions they are making in the lives of their own families, friends and even with the strangers who cross their paths. They continue to be a joy to my life, and because of their commitment to Christ, they will be my brightest crowns to place at the feet of the blessed Jesus.

Dorothy Kelley Patterson is professor of theology in women's studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and wife of the seminary's president, Paige Patterson. This article, first posted at the seminary's BiblicalWoman.com website, is adapted from an address delivered at the World Congress of Families IX, on Oct. 28, 2015, in Salt Lake City.

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