Jordan was a diligent mother of two, and she loved her children very much. But her children were disorganized, as children often are; they would leave their toys lying around and generally create chaos. When this happened, Jordan would grow more and more irritated, until finally through clenched teeth, she would yell, Put your toys away! Fearing her blowups, her children were beginning to show signs of anxiety. Whenever she would yell at them, or respond harshly, she would feel like a horrible mother and be overcome with guilt.
Jordan began to talk to a trusted friend, Susan, about her problem; it was the first time she had ever openly shared a shortcoming with a friend. Susan responded with empathy and understanding, so Jordan began to admit other imperfections.
Over time, Jordan began to notice the difference between Susan and some other women she hung around with. The others talked about their wonderful lives, their successful children, and their successes, but these women never shared failures. Susan was open not only to the good things Jordan had going but also to her struggles.
Jordan was changing. As she continued to share all of herselfthe good and the badwith Susan, she was becoming a more relaxed person.
The little things she did not have !47;all together did not bother her as much. And she found she was less bothered by what her children were doing. She found that she was able to just be with them in their imperfections in a whole new way. Susans acceptance of her was being passed on in her mothering. What was happening here? Jordan was getting restored to the process of mothering. Susan was providing Jordan with empathy and containment, a basic aspect of mothering Jordan had not received from her own mother. For us to become comfortable with ourselves, all of ourselves, we need someone with whom we can be ourselves. We need acceptance and understanding, so that we can contain and integrate all parts of ourselves. A good mother does this. She listens to and accepts the negative, contains it, and helps her child not feel overwhelmed. She is comfortable with her childs imperfections. The child takes her comfort into his personality, and he becomes comfortable with imperfections as well. The mothering process of acceptance integrates the child.
Some people, however, do not receive this empathy and understanding from their own mothers. They experience the uncomfortable with imperfections mothering that Jordan first gave to her children. This was the kind of mothering she had received from her own mother, and the only kind she knew how to pass on to her children. Her mother had failed to give her empathy and understanding, and so she did not have it inside to give to herself and to her children. You may not have received everything you needed from your mother, and only when someone gives you those ingredients can your life work correctly. This is what Susan did for Jordan; she gave her what her mother failed to give her. This is what Christian friends can do for each other every day. This is what is means to be restored to the mothering process.
Editors Note: This excerpt is taken from the book The Mom Factor by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (Zondervan, 1996), available at bookstores or by calling 1-800-727-3480.