No mother is perfect.
My mom was far from perfect. I know because I lived under her roof for many years.
But as I look back on my previous years, especially in light of being a parent now myself, I can see with greater clarity some of the priceless gifts she gave to me and frankly, still gives to me.
Here are a few of them in no particular order:
1. She Saw a Person Over Performance
While some Korean American kids grew up feeling like they were only as loved as their academic performance, my mom never gave me that impression.
I know this because I foolishly didn’t care about my academics growing up but it never affected our relationship.
I knew she cared about my grades. I knew I was worrying her, but she never let that hinder her view of me as a person first, created in the image of God.
An example of this was actually a turning point moment for me during my freshmen year of High School. My grades had been dropping, my clothing began to reflect a change in me, and I had been lying to my parents about a dating relationship. When we arrived at school one morning at the usual drop off location, my mom suddenly grabbed my hand and began praying as tears streamed down her face. I walked out of the car heartbroken because it had dawned on me that she was far more afraid of losing me than she was disappointed in my poor decisions.
For my mom, I was not some type of utility that existed to prove my worth to her, her friends, and the world around her. She always saw the person in me before the performance through me.
2. She Let Kids Be Kids
A few years ago, I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a few people from my church and they were sharing (almost venting) about the weight and bitterness they experienced because their parents would dump their financial woes on them while they were growing up. One person made the following comment, “I feel like my parents didn’t allow me to just be a kid."
I remember feeling sympathetic and sorry in light of the stories they were sharing. I also remember feeling grateful my mom shared so little.
Even as a kid, I knew my immigrant parents struggled financially. We lived in the same 2 bedroom apartment for over 10 years. I knew they experienced loss through family deaths and an array of other issues.
They didn’t shield me from the fact that there were troubles, but they shielded me from the weighty details I may not have been ready for.
I’m not arguing for the superiority of my mom’s parenting philosophy to its counterpart.
I’m just saying I’m glad she let me be free to play basketball until it was dinner time, let me swim until my eyes were red from the chlorine, let me be a kid in a world I already knew was broken.
3. She Was Generous With Her Words
While it would be inaccurate to say I had a continuing stream of conversations with my mom, it would be accurate to say my mom gave a continuous stream of encouragements one way or another.
Whether it was an enthusiastic “Thank you” for helping her with a menial task, an onslaught of affirmation for something she saw in me, or a gentle rebuke tailored positively, she was cheerfully openhanded with her gracious words towards me.
Maybe this was how she's naturally wired, or maybe she saw a need in me, but she helped me to see and experience the Bible’s description of the power of "death and life" in the human tongue (Proverbs 18:21).
I still remember my mom’s reaction to the first time watching me preach (just a few years ago). She glowingly told me, “That was so good.” I told her, “But you didn’t understand a word of it.” She said, “I caught some of it, but I felt it.” Even when I couldn't really grasp what she was trying to articulate, I could see that what she was saying was for my benefit.
4. She Fostered an Oasis of an Environment
I have an unproven theory that you can categorize people into two types of people - those who create environmental stress by their presence and practices, and those who de-pressurize environments through the same means.
Maybe it’s just because I had gotten so used to my mom, but she just had a way of de-stressing our home in a way that created an oasis for us.
It’s hard to quantify, but it’s a combination of a number of things. It was her easy-going temperament that made it comforting to just sit in silence around her and be okay. It was her hospitality, asking my brother and I if we wanted her egg sandwich special on the way out in the mornings, or if we wanted her to whip up a snack for us. It was her eagerness, where we could tell her we were craving something, and she’d say, “Okay. Off to the market I go. Just rest for a while until I come home.”
When I came home and saw my mom, I already felt like I was resting and recharging.
I still feel this way when my wife and I go over to their place with the kids.
It’s not that I don’t have any disappointments in my relationship with my mom. If we’re honest, I think everyone has disappointments with their moms.
I’m just saying there are some really valuable gifts our mothers gave us if we look closely enough.
Maybe your mom provided a matrix of resources and opportunities for you to succeed. She may have given you the gift of transparency and friendship or maybe it was the gift of humor. She may be the greatest cook or the most emotionally intelligent person you know. She could’ve inspired you as a career woman who somehow made the home work or as a busy stay-at-home mom who wore a dozen hats while beautifying every nook and cranny of the home.
But our mothers have given us incredible gifts and for these, we ought to be grateful.
If you haven’t thanked your mom recently, don’t hesitate to write her a card, shoot her a text, give her a call, or buy her a gift.
If you’re not close to your mom, mourn the present reality, but don’t be stuck in it either. Initiate lunch with her. Ask her questions. Listen to her. Ask her for lunch again down the road.
If you have a wound(s) or unmet expectation(s), take the time to process it individually and with a friend. Individually, it may be helpful to articulate on paper what the wound or unmet expectation is by drawing out a timeline of events which surround the pain, but also adding our personal interpretation of the events. We may gain insight by seeing that our events and interpretations match up which does indicate a wound/unmet expectation, or we may realize we’re adding an untrue interpretation of neutral events. This is where processing with a close friend could be invaluable since he or she can be a sounding board for us. In the end, many conversations with God may point you to a conversation with your mom. Chances are, we’ll discover our moms did the best they could with what they knew. Chances are, they’re regretful and wish a do-over on some things. They need our grace.
Some of us have lost our moms and may only be left with photos and scattered memories. As you grieve the holidays and Mother’s Day, please know that you are not alone, even as you take time alone to treasure those memories.
Maybe the most remarkable gift our moms unintentionally give us is the way they demonstrate, in earthly and broken ways, the perfect of love of God the Father.
While the Bible, written by the superintendence of God the Spirit depicts God as a Father, the Bible also has no qualms utilizing motherly imagery to describe the love, affections, protection, and provisions of the Father.
God is described as a mother towards the Old Testament people of God, Israel. The Father is characterized as a protective mother bear (Hosea 3:8), a mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11-12), a mother hen (Luke 13:34), and as a comforting (Isaiah 66:13) and nursing (Isaiah 49:15) mother.
That’s how amazing mothers are - they help paint a picture of a divine Father's love. What a gift!