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Saturday, September 29, 2012

"'Ummy" & What It Means: The Mystery of Motherhood

Recently, our home has been filled with cries for "'Ummy! 'Ummy!" It's what I hear first thing in the morning from Z's room as he stirs, and one of the last things I hear before bedtime. Each time, it melts my heart. 

He started out by calling me "Mine" - "Mummy" is harder to pronounce as it is two syllables long. I also thought it was kind of sweet, a sort of claiming and proclaiming that I belonged to him... he then moved on to "My Mee", an abbreviation of "My Mummy". I thought that was endearing too. Perhaps "'Ummy" will finally evolve to the proper word "Mummy", but till then, I shall enjoy this current phase.

My beginnings as a mother were rocky. We waited a long time to become parents. It was something I always dreamed of and imagined, but when the day finally came, in truth, it felt rather strange - almost as if someone had come along and taken over my old identity. I remember the first time I went out with Z to the playground downstairs. I recall wondering, how are others seeing me now, with this little one in my arms? Certainly, others would pay more attention now that I had a cute little baby with me, whether it was to congratulate me, ask questions or to give advice. I was not used to all the attention and felt rather self-conscious.

I think it has taken two years for me to really own the title of "Mummy". Contrary to what people think, I do not think it happens overnight, the moment you look at the newborn baby in your arms. 

I was encouraged by a precious sister Ming Ming to read "The Mission of Motherhood" by Sally Clarkson. As we shared our struggles as stay-at-home-mums, she said that reading the book really helped her to define her role as a mum and to find meaning in the mundane things that she does from day-to-day. I must say, it is one of those rare life-changing books that have really helped me to understand my role better and given me renewed hope and purpose for what I do with our two boys.

What it has really reminded me of: the importance of an undivided heart, the role of a discipling mother in teaching, training and guarding our children, and the enjoyable task of a mother in being a gardener of our children's souls.

Our hearts are so easily divided, scattered due to the many things that occupy each day. I have felt particularly torn in the times I go to work and leave my babies in the care of their loving grandparents. I have found myself sitting in the taxi which takes me further and further away from them, anxious for their well-being, seeing their forlorn faces as they said goodbye in the morning. I am learning this important truth, shared by someone wise. She said, "When you spend time with the kids, give thanks... and when you are at work, also give thanks." 

A heart that is divided is useful to no one, but a heart that learns to be thankful and rested no matter the circumstance is one that will be strong and effective in tending to those in its care. It also helps me to see motherhood as one of the most important roles that I have been given, far outweighing career prospects and what I can achieve outside the home. Some may disagree, but I believe that if I have failed as a wife and mother, then I have not been a good steward of the precious gifts God has given to me. Everything else is secondary. This does not mean that mothers should not work, but our key responsibility is to be there for our children.  

What does this mean for our role as mothers? After all, we take on so many responsibilities in our children's lives: we are our children's teachers, nurses, nannies, paramedics, cleaners, mentors and so much more. Sally Clarkson talks about the servant mother, the discipling mother, the teaching mother, the mother as a strong friend, gardener of souls, keeper of the domain, and the creative, ministering and faithful mother. Phew!

One of the roles that really struck me was that of the discipling mother. We have a role to "be with" our children as Jesus did with his apostles, spending time with them and teaching them righteousness. For those of us who are Christians, we have a role in teaching them values and how to understand the Word of God. We are also trainers - "Training is the practical application of a learned truth to actual life." (The Mission of Motherhood, 2003: 90) How difficult discipline is! It certainly has not come naturally to me. There are many times I'd rather cave in, it seems easier to let Z get his own way. However, the eventual fruits of discipline are sweet to the taste! The sense of pride we feel when Z packs up every single block on the floor without being told to; when he finally decided to eat with a spoon after months of preferring to feel the food with his hands; when he decides to give his brother a big kiss instead of a poke, then I know we should continue to persevere on.

The other role I really enjoyed reading about was the mother's role in cultivating and enriching our children's lives. She encourages us to teach them real skills, be it cooking, hospitality, sports or finance, whatever legacy of skills each family possesses. She also encourages a variety of enriching life experiences. My heart leapt when I read of the road trips her family went on and the value of time spent together in family travel. We are already planning our first trip with our second son E in December to Taiwan, and have cherished each opportunity to take Z to see the world thus far. Family trips are rare opportunities for bonding and discipling our children in the areas we feel they need to work on! 

I grew excited when she talked about grooming our children to be polite and gracious individuals, something both Mark and I feel strongly about. Also to expose them to whatever is excellent, be it in the fields of music, literature, art or even quality toys, within our means, so that our children develop a sense of good taste and a good work ethic. Z recently got excited about a 15th Anniversary CD by Music for Little People and has been bopping to the tune of "Yellow Submarine"! We are rather amused.

It is a rare Saturday morning. A cool drizzle has arrived, serving to dissipate the relentless heat of the past few months. I lie cuddled with my 2-month-old, observing the pitter-patter of the falling rain. He chuckles in delight as a broad smile spreads across his chubby face. Outside, I can hear Daddy and son bantering as they read a book together. Our 2-year-old is delighted to spend precious time together with his Daddy. 

I realise once again how blessed I am. Above all, being a mother is a privilege and an honour, and my children are God's precious gifts to me. Despite all our imperfections, we must realise that we are the people whom God has decided would be the best mothers for each of our children. With that calling in mind, motherhood seems somewhat less mysterious and more of an essential core of our identity, who He has made us to be.