Is Motherhood Meaningful Work?

I was reading this recent article by John Sandeman at The Other Cheek on statistics about mothers in the church.
It’s a worthwhile article for reading and reflecting, but as I got to the end, my thoughts settled uncomfortably on a certain statistic and the conclusions John drew from it. 

John writes, “Asked whether they agree with the statement “I am able to meaningfully contribute to the world on a regular basis,” only 25 per cent of self identified christian mothers and 14 per cent of non christian mothers can agree. This is a disturbing stat, that indicates mothers feel pushed down by their role.”

This stat is disturbing to me, too, but for a different reason than John, who goes on to conclude that churches should provide more opportunities for mothers to serve and grow. 

Service and growth in the church community are not bad things, in and of themselves. But is this really what the Christian mothers in question need? Is this the thing they are lacking?

The Self-Actualisation Lie

I’m greatly concerned that 75% of Christian mothers don’t consider their child-rearing work to be “meaningful contributions to the world”. We would expect to see this belief present in non-Christian mothers, who are raising their children in a culture where they are constantly told they need to find their identity outside of their children. But if this is what the majority of Christian women believe, then we have a major problem! We are being influenced more by prevailing cultural messages than by the Bible. 

Women in the early stages of motherhood – those who have babies and toddlers – are especially vulnerable to the world’s messages that in order to be good citizens, they must find some way to contribute outside the home and their own family. 

This is because the early motherhood stage is incredibly draining and emotionally taxing, and at the same time, can be quite monotonous*. In short, it’s natural to want to get away from that! So when someone tells them that in fact getting away from that is necessary for them to develop their identity – that this is their duty even! – they are taken in. 

But is this what God thinks of motherhood and mothers? Do Christian mothers indeed need to be given the opportunity to do “more”?

My encouragement to all mothers (and those who influence them) this Mothers Day is this: mothering is contributing to the world in a meaningful way, and it is enough. 

A Biblical View of Motherhood

Let’s look at some key passages from the Bible about the influence of mothers and the value of mothering:

  • “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1:5
    Paul speaks of Timothy’s “sincere faith”, and traces this faith through his mother and grandmother. Mothers have a vital role in sharing and passing on their sincere faith to their children. This involves actively teaching children the gospel and also demonstrating the difference it makes to our lives as we daily trust in God, turn away from our sins, and seek to love others.
  • “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” Proverbs 1:8-9
    A mother’s (and father’s) wise teaching is incredibly valuable for their children, and indeed gives them great riches. Being the kind of mother who can teach your children the kind of wisdom that will benefit them for life is Spirit-empowered hard work – it is not easy!
  • “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.” Proverbs 29:15
    Disciplining our children bears the fruit of wisdom in their lives, and likewise, a lack of discipline bears the fruit of shame. A mother’s discipline of her children has real-life consequences. 
  • “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” Titus 2:3-5
    Mothers need to be trained by older women “to love their children”. I don’t think this is because we don’t naturally love our children, but because we don’t always know how to love them, in a practical sense. And in order to be able to teach this, the older women need to have practiced it and know it first themselves. Paul emphasises that the reason women are to teach and practice these things is so that the word of God will not be reviled. 

There are many other passages of Scripture we could turn to to learn more about God’s view of motherhood; many accounts of mothers in the Bible, both wise and foolish. Mothers have the opportunity to influence their children toward a life of faithful trust in God, or to neglect them to their shame, or to lead them into sin and folly. 

Breeding Discontent

Whatever we say about motherhood, we cannot say that it is not a “meaningful contribution to the world”, for the world is made up of people, and motherhood is the work of raising those people. 

My concern is that when churches and ministers and well-meaning Christian influencers seek to increase the opportunities for mothers to serve in extra roles in the church, this ends up increasing the pressure and the expectation on mothers to serve in the church. And where there is competition between the visible service of ministry roles and the unseen labour of faithful motherhood, sadly the visible will often win out. 

So the 75% of Christian mothers who feel that they do not make meaningful contributions to the world on a regular basis don’t in fact need to be offered more opportunities to serve in the church, but to be taught that they already have those opportunities every day in their mothering role. And to not let them go to waste. 

Support the Christian mothers in your community this Mothers Day not by telling them that they need to put more on their plate, but by encouraging them to do well with what they already have on there. In God’s strength and by His grace, this is possible!

*I do have further thoughts about ways we do early motherhood in our culture that might set women up for failure in this way. But perhaps I’ll explore that another day…

If you would like a simple Bible study guide and colouring book to encourage you in your mothering, you might like to check out this guide I made. Click the picture below to have a more detailed look.

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  1. Stephanie Matthews says:

    As a grandmother, I look back and see how quickly the child rearing years seemed to have past. How we need to use wisely all the time we have to love, discipline, guide and shape our children. Thank you Jess, for affirming the role of motherhood as so important and for your encouragement to every mother to keep up the often unseen labours of love.

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