When I took my daughter for her 12 month immunisations and check up, my GP (who I should point out, I really like and respect) asked if I was still breastfeeding and how often. I said yes, a few times a day.
“Does she still wake up to feed in the night?” she asked me.
“Yes, usually” I replied. She then suggested I could just give her water if I wanted her to “stop the habit” and sleep through the night. When I assured her I was happy to keep feeding her whenever and I didn't want to give her water when it wasn't what she wanted, my GP chuckled and said to me (not unkindly), “ah, you're a soft mum”. And it's true, I am.
I think all parents would agree that before you have your first child, you really have no idea what kind of mum or dad you might be. You can have all sorts of plans and ideas, opinions and strategies, but when that tiny little person you've created arrives, you really just have to do whatever works. What works for me, is to be soft. Often in Aussie culture, people say that like it's a bad thing, but when my GP said that to me, I was so genuinely pleased to hear it.
Like mother, like daughter
You see, my mum is soft too. She cuddled me, held my hand, let me crawl into their bed, and picked me up from sleepovers when I was homesick for longer than I would care to admit! Other than my husband, she is still my first point of call when I'm sad or struggling, and she still gives great hugs. I know without a doubt, and always have, that my mum is there for me—that she cares for me deeply, loves me unconditionally, and will always fight for me. That's the kind of mum I want to be.
It's only been in the last eight months or so that I've truly embraced being a soft mum. It could just be my perception, but it seems like western society is conditioning mums (and dads) to hold their children a little farther away, “grow them up” really quickly, and generally push the idea of independence between children and parents. I used to feel almost a little bit embarrassed that I was “still” breastfeeding my daughter, that I haven't gone back to work (and have no immediate plans to), and that even though she can walk I'll often carry her or wear her in a sling.
Now, I just feel pride, because motherhood has taught me what values I hold dear.
Soft mum values
Something I have always valued is empathy. I've written before about how important I believe it is to truly understand and be understood. I don't know where that is more important than with a small person who can't fully understand, let alone express, how they feel, but who has huge feelings all day every day.
At church just recently, Lucy (my daughter) was doing some drawing, totally content, when a little baby somewhere in the building started crying. She immediately stopped what she was doing, looked around with a very concerned expression on her face and stated “Sad. Bubby sad.” My husband and I assured her the baby would be ok, that babies just cry sometimes and her mummy or daddy would look after her. “Bubby water?” My girl said, holding up her bottle. “Bubby chips? Bubby milk?”
This little person, my beautiful girl, not quite two years old, is learning empathy, and compassion. She carries her own teddies and “bubbies” around in a homemade sling, and just like mummy, she feeds them and cares for them. She does what she sees me doing.
I, in turn, am not some superhero mum, I simply do what I see my God doing.
El Shadai - “God All-sufficient”
As a stay at home, full-time mum, I give a lot of thought and time to how I parent and why. But, as all mums would attest, I second guess myself constantly. I was recently MC-ing at a conference, and it was the longest I had been away from Lucy. During the last worship session I decided I would sneak out, when someone (whom I greatly respect) asked if they could pray for me.
As he prayed over me and my role as a mum, he told me about how he had recently been studying the various Hebrew names for God. He had been prompted to pray for me as he considered the title “El Shadai” (usually translated as God Almighty). He explained that this title grammatically has more in common with the Hebrew word for “breast” and that some scholars suggest this title is less about the might of God, and more about the nourishing, maternal, love of God. I did a little bit of research into this, and although I obviously can't fit it all into this short article, here's a little tid-bit I found really insightful:
“The word ×©Ö¸×× ShaD has a much closer grammatical connection to ShaDai and it means – “breast.” Moreover, when a word ends with an “i”or “ai” it almost always means “my”. So, literally, “El Shadai” could very well mean “God (is) my Breast/s”.
If we consider this intriguing imagery as interpretive possibility we may see that the breast is one of the key symbols of sustenance and parental love passed on from God, the parent, to humanity, God’s child. So instead of “God Almighty”, El Shadai should probably be translated as “God All-sufficient” instead.” (Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, 2013)
This imagery is so wonderful to me, as I think about the connection that I share with Lucy, the nourishment —physically and emotionally—that I am able to provide her with. The maternal instincts that make being a mum so special and so unique—we see those things in God.
Not only is this unbelievably encouraging and exciting to me as a (soft!) mum, but as I think about those who have lost their mums, who never knew their mums, or who would love to be a mum but can't, how wonderful it is that we can know and be known by El Shadai, God All-sufficient, who loves us, nourishes us, and cares for us—just like a mum.
Jess is married to Colin, and they have a two year old daughter, Lucy. Together they are striving to live like Jesus every day, by loving God, loving people, and serving the world with joy.
Jess Curries’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jess-currie.html.