Mind and Soul: Our Debt to Imperfect Motherly Love
“Tell me about your mother…” Many a joke about my profession begins with these words spoken in an Austrian accent in imitation of Sigmund Freud. While many therapists downplay our connection to Freud, it is true that we tend to place heavy emphasis on the role of the mother in psychological development. Unfortunately, this can come across like we are blaming all our flaws and failures on our mothers.
Indeed, mothers often get a bad rap. Not only are they frequently and unjustly blamed, but theirs is an exceptionally unglamorous, thankless job. They are tasked with being there for us when we are at our worst, cleaning up after us when we are our messiest, nurturing us when we are unable to take care of ourselves. Clearly, the Cross is never far away in the vocation of a mother. For this reason alone, mothers everywhere deserve our respect, our gratitude and our support.
THE PRESSURE FOR PERFECTION
With the emphasis on their role in psychology, many mothers feel incredible pressure to be perfect in their child-rearing. This leads to anxiety about messing up, guilt over past mistakes and shame when their struggles are seen by others. Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, tried to help this situation with his concept of “the good enough mother.” He rightly argued that children do not need a perfect mother to grow up healthy. Rather, they need a mother who simply delights in her children and is reliably – not perfectly – there for them. She can both acknowledge the negative emotions and struggles that mothering invariably produces and continue to welcome the gift that is her child. Such a mother is responsive enough to her children’s physical and emotional needs so as to become what John Bowlby termed a “haven of safety.”
However imperfect it may be, the bond between a mother and child is of vital importance. It is our mother’s womb that is the first haven of safety for us during our perilous journey through life. When we come into this vast world as helpless infants, our mother’s embrace helps us feel warm and safe. It is through our mother’s gentle, soothing nurturing and delight that we come to experience our worth. As Pope St. John Paul II said, “On the human level, can there be any other ‘communion’ comparable to that between a mother and a child whom she has carried in her womb and then brought to birth?”
SO I WILL COMFORT YOU
Undoubtedly, all of us are indebted to the mothers in our lives. If we are honest with ourselves, we have always known that they are imperfect, and we love them anyway. Perhaps we wish they had done things differently, and it is likely they wish the same. Thankfully, God sees every hidden sacrifice of every mother and superabundantly supplies His grace and His mercy. Indeed, God seems to delight in using motherly love to draw us to Himself. Scripture frequently uses the image of a mother’s tender love to describe God’s love for us. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” (Is. 66:13). Even more, He shares with us His own mother, Mary, whom He perfected with the grace of Christ. Clearly, God highly values motherly love and our need for it.
As we enter the month of May, in which we celebrate Mother’s Day and pay special honor to Mary, let us take the time to express our gratitude to all the mothers around us. Let us offer them our help and support in living their awesome vocation. Lastly, let us encourage them with the good news that God delights in using their imperfect, but good enough love to draw all His children to Himself, where we will be safe and secure in the arms of Jesus and Mary in the bosom of the Church.
Dr. Andrew Sodergren, M.T.S, PSY.D. is a Catholic psychologist and director of psychological services for Ruah Woods. He speaks on topics related to the integration of psychology and the Catholic faith. He and his wife, Ellie, have been married 21 years and have five children.
Thus article appeared in the May 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.