Although it was many years ago, the image of a young woman with a tear-streaked face and blank stare is forever etched into my memory. She sat in front of the television cameras, shredding a soaked tissue, telling her story. Once a happy new mother, now distraught and on trial for the death of her baby — the infant died in her arms. The cause of death was starvation and malnutrition.

The first-time mother said she loved her baby and breastfed her regularly. She cared for the child to the best of her ability. She claimed that she had no idea the newborn failed to get the nourishment she needed. Nevertheless, the baby languished in her arms until she became too weak to suckle. It was only then that help was sought.

Of course the outrage came quickly. Bony fingers of blame pointed in all directions. Some held the hospital responsible, believing the first-time mother got released too soon. No doubt a direct result, others moralized, of the cold, cost-calculating insurance companies. Always pressuring hospitals for earlier discharge of maternity patients. Others cast the blame on social services. The government let this poor young woman slip through the cracks. Over and over, the resounding cries filled the airways.

Their haughty laments over that young mother’s fate still echo in my mind: “Where were the pediatricians? Where were the lactation experts?”

The answers were never found. Perhaps because no one asked the right question.

Where was her mother?

1. Envision Your Motherhood Impacting Generations.

The art of mothering must be passed down from generation to generation in order for families to flourish and strengthen.

Gazing into those beautiful need-you eyes for the first time, it’s easy to feel a little inept. Especially if your generational chain of mothering skills is broken. But you need to know that you’re not alone. The industrial revolution, coupled with the assault of radical feminism, has left most of us feeling like we have to start from scratch. As little girls we dreamed of becoming brides and mommies. We were told that we could be anything — a doctor, a lawyer, even a princess. But how many of us were encouraged let alone taught to become mothers by the women we admired?

So rather than looking to older mothers or grandmothers, another generation turns elsewhere — to mommy blogs and Dr. Talk Show. New theories and trends in parenting are just that — theories and trends. They have not yet been tested by time and circumstance. The common misconception is that we can only learn from new information. The best “new” information simply confirms what we already knew in our hearts.

The truth is we learn most from mistakes — our own and others’. Your mother didn’t have to be perfect for you to learn from her. You become a better mom than the generation before you by passing down the good and learning from the bad.

You are the next link of the generational chain, drawing or rejecting the lessons of past generations. At the same time, the very sound of your soothing voice, your mothering, is impacting future generations in a very real way.

Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley explain it this way in Ghosts From the Nursery,

When the baby is screaming, the nurturing mother provides soothing to lower the baby’s state of alarm. When the baby appears droopy or depressed, an attuned mother will attempt to raise her baby’s state to a more elevated mood. These maternal behaviors, besides providing a moderation of the baby’s mood, are also maintaining an even balance of neurochemicals in the baby’s brain, resulting in the contentment we observe and the baby’s experience of emotional modulation, which over time becomes the child’s internalized model for self-regulation of strong emotions. … If a baby is separated from the mother, he or she experiences the loss not only of the emotional but also of the physiological balance of basic systems that are maintained by the mother’s proximity.

A well-nurtured infant is not only content, but through attentive mothering, the mother creates within her child positive traits down to a cellular level. In other words, the art of your nurturing creates not only comfort, but also physiological resilience in your child, and these traits will actually be passed down to the next generation “instinctively.”

2. Grasp the Brevity of Childhood.

You are the center of his world — and time seems frozen in dirty socks.

The endless chores that accompany motherhood, compounded by the busyness of childhood, obstruct our view of the time we have together.  The brevity of childhood is hard to imagine when you are in your twenties. After all — your child’s adulthood is a lifetime away.

A friend relayed a profound thought her pastor once passed along at a baby christening. As the new parents began to walk away, he admonished them:

 ”You only have 18 summers” he warned, “now go and make the most of them.”

Only 18 summers?

Actually, I think there’s a dash of wishful thinking there. It’s more like 16 summers. Those last two or three usually get stolen by summer jobs, girlfriends or boyfriends. They are too busy testing their wings to notice mom, let alone spend much time at home. When you understand the brevity of childhood, it’s easier to “make the most of them.”

In order to become ever mindful of how fast childhood disappears, I want to invite you to play a game with me. I call it my “Three to Five Year Game.” I played it often when my children were growing up. Let me pass it on to you.

Ready? Okay, let’s play.

How old will your children be in three years? Now try five. It’s a sobering thought of reality. Especially when you think of just how fast the last three years of your own life sped by.

3. Seize the Day.

Toothless smiles and giggles of innocence fill a mother’s heart. It’s a delight that’s hard to describe. It almost goes without saying that these early years are foundational for love and building trust.

However, it all can seem almost too easy at times, while they are still small. When the smiling faces of childhood twinkle, mothering can fool you into thinking it’s all about the joy it brings. But those aren’t the only days that need to be seized.

The bonds will be tested — count on it. The core strength of your mothering surfaces when the toothless giggles grow into clenched teeth of defiance. On that day, you will have to decide whether to seize the day and use it to guide and teach — or buckle under the weight of the responsibility.

The art of mothering requires the skill of capturing moments of all kinds and braiding them into childhood memories that bind their souls and anchor their hearts. It’s the days and lessons and even the tears that step by step create a solid frame for them to climb into adulthood.

The art of mothering can’t be learned solely from a blog post, book, or conference. If you’re a mother, trust in the knowledge that you were designed for that purpose. No, it’s not the sum total of your worth or existence. But no matter how you happen upon it, it is one of the richest gifts from God you will receive. Mothering instincts only need to be cultivated; it’s an art that changes with the seasons of your life.

Mothering begins the moment that newborn is in your arms. It doesn’t end when they step on a school bus, or say “I do.” We just learn to nurture differently as we are made into mother-in-laws and then transform into grandmothers. Time may one day crown us great-grandmothers.

Seize each day — for whatever it brings. The time is short, and tomorrow is not promised to anyone — not even to moms.

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Photo credits Studio 34.