To say that mothers have a formative role in the development of children would be an understatement. Mothers have the formative role in the development of children. Under most circumstances a child’s first physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological experiences will be of the his or her mother. The warmth and care of a mother is where we first learn to experience love.
I am certainly no exception to this rule. With my father more present by his absence in my life than his actual presence, I am probably far more formed by my mother than most people. And I count myself fortunate that my mother was (and is) who she was. What I know of love, I know first and foremost from my mother’s love for me.
The first lesson of love that I’ve learned from my mother is that love is unconditional. Love is a function of who the beloved is not of what the beloved does. Love is not a reward to be doled out for good behavior. Love happens when a lover seeks out what is best for the beloved for no other reason than who the beloved is.
Another lesson of love bestowed on my by my mother is that love is long-suffering. A lover allows a beloved to make mistakes, to go away, to find his or her own space. Even if a lover knows a better than the beloved, the personhood of the beloved must be respected for love is not forced. And sometimes that means the heartbreak of watching the beloved spiral out of control.
A third lesson is that does not have to be perfect, love sometimes makes mistakes. I am reminded of my mother bringing home a couple of cigarettes from work. Her idea is that if I tried smoking at home with no peer pressure that I would think it disgusting and never to tempted to smoke just because it was cool. The problem was that from the moment that nicotine touched my lips, I liked it. And thus began my on again and off again affair with the demon of tobacco. It would be close to a decade before I kicked the smoking habit for good and to this day, I still get cravings to light up. But despite her idea of introducing me to cigarettes being a very bad one, her heart was in the right place. She was only trying to look out for me.
The most important lesson, I think, is that love is self-sacrificing. A lover seeks out what is best for the beloved even when the lover is at a loss. Single mothers in urban environments have the deck stacked against them in their efforts to raise their children to mature and functioning adults. My mother was no exception. She worked three and sometimes four jobs to keep my sister and I in private schools rather than face the jungle of inner city public schools. She poured out her life into us in ways that I can only try to imagine. She did this while being called a whore for being divorced and while facing all sorts of health issues that would put a lesser woman down for the count.
The last lesson of love that I’ve learned from my mother is that love is never one-sided. Love is not a unidirectional relationship between lover and beloved but a bidirectional state of being where lover and beloved each take both roles of lover and beloved. The attempt to love someone who only returns hate and spite is not an act of love but an act of self-destruction.
As I look at the various ways that I interact with those around me whom I love (my family, my friends, my cow-orkers) I can see just how much of this interaction has been formed from growing up the child of the woman whom I call “mother”. Like hers, my love for those who are important to me is not perfect. It is flawed and human. But because of my mother my love is also long-suffering and self-sacrificing, and unconditional.
I like to think that being a lover of this sort makes me a little bit like God, a God whose name is mother on the lips and in the hearts of children.
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