I was 33 years old when I had my first child. Like many women, I felt unsure of myself and ill-equipped to be a mother. Unlike many, though, I believed I had good reason for my misgivings.
My mother had a nervous breakdown when I was six. She was still able to function in her role as a housewife, but it left her emotionally unavailable to me. For whatever reason, she rarely spent time with me in the kitchen or preparing me for my role as a wife or mother.
As I grew up and went out on my own, I wondered whether I would ever be a mother or have kids of my own. I never had a strong desire to be around children. I didn’t have the longing, like I hear some women express, to have children to feel complete.
After ten years of marriage my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world. My heart was stretched in new ways as my love poured out on my newborn son. My life revolved around him—struggling to nurse, on-demand and nighttime feedings, carrying him in a sling, etc. My love grew, yet my fear of mothering inadequacy hung over me, landing me back on my career path after the first year.
Then three years ago—thirteen years after the birth of our second son—my heart was stretched again when we opened our home to Pedro, a Spanish exchange student. This last summer, during my six-week stay in Spain, I was welcomed with open arms into Pedro’s family. His home was my home. His family was my family.
Although Pedro is an only child, I knew he has a large extended family and is very family-oriented. I’d heard their names, laughed at his family stories, and prayed for them in times of trouble.
I knew I’d be meeting many of Pedro’s relatives. I so wanted to put aside my fears of inadequacy. I wanted to make a favorable impression on Pedro’s younger cousins. I wanted to be able to bridge the language barrier.
These children didn’t really know much of the story (told in Journeys to Mother Love) behind why I was there. They didn’t know how our families were connected in grief with the passing of their grandmother. They didn’t know or understand about the healing of my mother-wound. All they knew was that I was the American host mother when Pedro visited Seattle.
It was genuinely difficult for me at first to meet these young kids. I was very much out of my comfort zone. I watched as Pedro and his parents engaged them with tickling and other silly antics. Laughter permeated the rooms of their flat in Madrid. I, on the other hand, was paralyzed inside by my lingering fear of mothering inadequacy. Initially I stuck to what was safe for me, communicating with the English-speaking adults.
My saving grace with the children was the gifts I brought with me from America—Beanie Babies for everyone. My gifts imparted the sense of love and gratitude I had for this family. It was the start that I needed to overcome my fears of connecting with the children. In time, I felt more comfortable and was able to bond in more natural ways.
When we accept Jesus as our Savior, God adopts us into His family. He has a way of putting people in our lives to help us heal the broken parts of us. My Spanish family has been that for me in so many ways. It started with Pedro, then to Rosa, his mother. It has grown to his father, his aunts and uncles, and his cousins. I met 26 relatives in all.
I do still have some doubts about my ability to mother my own children—especially as I’m learning how to parent a child with ADD. But in God’s goodness for the summer of 2013, I know I was loved by these children. I hope they will remember me in the years to come as they grow up. I know I will treasure the memories I had with them, and integrate that as a way to overcome any future fears of mothering inadequacy.
~ Ardis A. Nelson