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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Rock-a-Bye Baby: What God Wants for Every Child

Mother’s Day is past and I hear a collective sigh across our great nation. I personally had a wonderful day—not exactly what I would have chosen, but a good day all the same. Now I can move on. Nope. I really can’t do that because my entire mission for the remainder of my life is about mothers in one way or another. It isn’t because I haven’t healed, am healing, or may always be healing. It is because our world depends on good mothering. Wow. No pressure, right?

There really isn’t any formula about being a good mother (or father). There isn’t a list of ten things. Being a good mother really only has one criteria. Love your child unconditionally. Honestly, this requires you to love yourself unconditionally. If you don’t truly love yourself, you can’t love your child in the ways he or she needs. (For those who need a spiritual application to loving yourself, look no further than Jesus’ own words about loving your neighbor as yourself.)

My niece just had baby girl. Every time I go on Facebook, there is another adorable picture of her—being held by someone. Her big (but little) brother holds her, her parents and grandparents hold her—everyone wants to hold her. Everyone wants to hold her because they have fallen hopelessly in love with a newborn human that does nothing but eat, cry, stare, and sleep (oh, and pee and poop). This is how we raise functional, well-adjusted children—we hold and love them. This is what Mother’s Day is all about. It is about the mother-child relationships that go right. How would our world be different if every single child experienced unconditional love from the second they were born—and it never ended.

When I was a little girl, I had a book with Nursery Rhymes. I still have it. I kept it through all my moves. The picture I attached to this blog is of the rhyme that fascinated me. I never understood why the baby was hanging in the tree. I did some research and it seems that cradles were hung in trees so the breeze would move them. It is also possible the original rhyme said bough and not treetop. No matter the background, this was the picture I looked at for hours. I remember laying on my stomach in the hallway and staring at it. Now I understand that I didn’t feel safe—I felt like the baby in the treetop.

The idea that I didn’t feel safe has many layers, but it makes me consider how important feeling safe is to a child. What helps a child feel safe? Humans are the most helpless infants in the world of creation—for a long time. I watched April’s baby giraffe get on his feet almost instantly. How amazing! Walking is a very slow process for human babies. We are absolutely dependent on one person—in almost all cases, our mother. Our safety depends on that relationship. It is the way it is supposed to work.

As I scrolled through my newsfeed on Mother’s Day, it was full of relationships that seemed to have worked right. It was what God intended. God intended for us all to have a good relationship with our mother. Let me repeat that. God intended for us all to have a good relationship with our mother.

I came across a post that said (and I am sorry if you were the one who said this), “God gave me the exact mother I needed.” Let’s say this differently. “My mother did everything for me that God intended.” The first statement indicates God chooses how our mothers are going to play out their role as a mother. This is not God’s choice—it is the mother’s choice. To think anything else is to think God wanted me to have a mother who was incapable of unconditional love from the moment I was born, but chose the perfect mother who did apparently love unconditionally for my Facebook friend. Let me say once again. God wants children to have a mother who loves them unconditionally.

If you have been blessed with a truly wonderful relationship with your mother, thank her for doing the very best to be the mother you needed. If you believe in the theological paradigm of ‘God controls everything’ it is easy to think God sorts through the good and inadequate mothers and assigns them to children. To make this work out like we need it to, we then say very damaging things to those who have already been damaged (including ourselves). It causes us to say some form of, “God knew I would need to be strong so he put me in an abusive home so I could develop strength.” Really?

Often survivors need to believe God can control everything. There is not much we can control so we need to believe in a God who can. Therefore, if God can control everything than there is a reason why bad things happen. We can’t imagine what the reason could be—especially when it is due to other humans choosing to hurt us, but surely God is in control. No, we can’t think God chooses it, but maybe allows it for our own good. Just like I wondered why the baby was in the treetop, we wonder why God would put us in a dangerous situation. The only choice is to appeal to mystery—surely God has a reason for everything.

God has a reason for everything works pretty well even when life is difficult, but when a child is traumatized by verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, it simply doesn’t work at all. As I have begun to share my story, many have messaged or emailed me with their own. I felt God sitting beside me weeping as I read about the pain. There was never a moment when God said, “It is OK. This was my purpose for them.” So many of the stories include elements of painful mother relationships. God never said, “It is OK, that is the kind of mother I wanted them to have.”

God sat with me in my pain day after day after day while I grieved for the unconditional love of a mother I never experienced. I celebrate when I read posts about positive mother-child relationships. I want to tell every single mother that meeting her child’s needs is a choice she can make—but for some it will require healing her own wounds. God wants every child to have the mother he or she needs. Character is built through unconditional love—not through the lack of love or the pain of trauma. God can bring strength out of the ashes of trauma and neglect, but it was never Plan A.

Rock-A-Bye Baby in the treetop—No! Let’s change the rhyme to, Rock-A Bye baby in the arms of unconditional love and safety. I should have been staring at pictures of a mother holding and loving her child and feeling unconditional love. It was always what God wanted for me. It is what God wants for every child.

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