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“Blogging my book idea” is series of posts. Only God knows how long it will last, and how the posts that emerge will relate to one another. I invite you to engage with me, and walk the path to publishing with me. My guess is that the book, whose ultimate purpose is to serve God’s plan by touching readers, will be that much stronger because of your input.

“Mother Child Statue” by duane j on morgueFile

“I think for everyone, there is a level of mother idolatry,” wrote a friend of mine in the comment section of last week’s “Blogging my book idea” post.

Mother idolatry. Fascinating term.

By replacing a word with its definition, we get this: excessive or blind adoration, reverence, devotion, etc. of mother.

Is this what we have going on in our communities and cultures?

My hunch is that we do. We place Mama on a pedestal, and motherhood within a sphere of its own, far away from us mere fallen mortals.

We need this separation, I think, because we need Mama to be that solid for us. Whether biological, foster, or adopted, Mama is home base — the place where we go for safety, protection from all that chases us, shelter from life’s storms, and regrouping when all has gotten out of whack. We need for Mama somehow to be “other,” for only someone who contains within herself the riches of all God’s gifts to humanity can be everything we need her to be. On demand, no less.

Even a seventy-year-old woman who is tough as nails will caress a craft made by her mother who passed away twenty years ago. “Oh Mama,” she says as a tear escapes. Her eyes thought they’d forgotten how to cry. Mama has the power to draw water from a rock.

Of course it’s impossible. Of course no woman has, does, or will ever measure up. And yet, most mothers try their hardest to come close at least. It’s a self-defeating dance with a foregone conclusion of failure. But Mama does it because… Is it intuition? Does she somehow know that she is an existence beyond herself in her child’s ever-watchful eyes?

Considering the mother idols American culture has created for itself, it doesn’t surprise me that Mama holds such sway. One of the biggest mother idols comes from the Christian religion.

“Jordan Mosaic” by r_achid on morgueFile

As a child growing up Catholic, I heard a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus. (I prayed to her a lot, too — like every time I went to confession and was assigned penance.) She is the epitome of femininity, womanhood, and motherhood. Sweet and innocent, Mary submits herself to the will of God without fail. She gives God glory when she does not understand what’s happening, and does not argue. She risks her own well-being and reputation for God’s will to be done without hesitation or requiring additional information.

The one time that Scripture alludes to Mary being upset was when twelve-year-old Jesus stayed behind to teach at the Temple following Passover. Mary didn’t shout, put Jesus into timeout, spank him, or ground him when she and Joseph found him. She was astonished to hear her son teaching as he was, and simply asked Jesus why he treated his parents so disrespectfully. When Jesus was at his darkest moment and each one of his disciples had scurried like scared cats, Mary was by his side. Lashes, nails, mocking comments, and laboring last breaths — she stayed for it all.

Wow. What a mother.

Mary is perfect and sinless, I was taught (doctrine of the Immaculate Conception). Priests and nuns said that everyone should strive to reach Mary’s levels of faith and behavior. But she is females’ ideal. All little girls, teenagers, and adult women look to Mary as female exemplar. Oh if all of us were as kind, as gentle, as forgiving, as loyal, as pensive, as verbally appropriate, as brave, as sacrificing … and the list goes on.

What woman wouldn’t want to be mother to her child as Mary was to Jesus? When it comes to mothering, perhaps the question is not “What would Jesus do?” but “What would Mary do?”

By the time I became a mother I’d left the Catholic church and no longer revered Mary. But, the stories of her in Scripture held me captive, and I thought of Mary often as I fumbled with my precious newborns and doubted my fledgling motherhood abilities. I wanted so much to be like Mary to my babies, but at times I got frustrated and behaved badly. As my girls grew and their needs changed, anxiety set it when I compared myself to Mary.

Mary didn’t neglect her family to complete job tasks, taunted my inner voice. I’ll bet she never got so behind on laundry that her husband had to beg for clean underwear. I’m sure that Mary was always attentive and didn’t lose herself in antiquity’s equivalent to Facebook and Twitter. I can only imagine that Mary didn’t blow her top at her children like you sometimes do.

I know that many women see Mary as a comfort. Someone “like them” is “up there” in heaven. Mary gets the day-in, day-out stresses of marriage and motherhood, and she knows what being a woman is all about; so she receives complaints and prayers with empathy.

But me?

My motherhood warts got bigger and grew hair in light of Mary’s perfection. I felt ashamed. I would never measure up, and I harbored anger towards my priests and nuns of yore who put that impossible nurturing standard before me.

“Ducks in A Row” by beglib on morgueFile

Questions for Y’all: 

  • What mother idols exist in your community and culture?
  • How do they inspire women/mothers?
  • How might they hinder?
  • What is your take on American culture’s “mother idolatry,” or placing Mama and motherhood on a pedestal?

Upcoming “Blogging my book idea” series posts…

~~ April 25  Mama idols — helpful or harmful? Part 2 the Proverbs 31 Mama
~~ May 2  Mama idols — helpful or harmful? Part 3 media Mamas (June Cleaver and SuperMom)