The Art of Mothering

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It was the time of night where I like to settle into the hollowed out spot on the corner of the sofa, the one next to the lamp for reading and the table for setting down a cup of tea. Dishes washed and laundry folded, I sat down and anticipated an evening with a hot mug, a cookie or two, and complete control of the TV remote. I hung up my invisible “Mom Off-Duty” sign, and propped up my feet on the coffee table.

My son, lounging on the chair next to me, tried to engage me in conversation.

This is the same son who spent the last three hours challenging my authority, bickering with his sisters, and, truth be told, driving me a little bit mad. Deep down, I felt the warning light flash, “Do not engage. Off-duty. I repeat, do not engage.” He was minutes away from bedtime, and I was not prepared to go another round or five with him. Didn’t he see my sign? Apparently not, because he pressed more and more for an answer. I turned to look at him, and I could see his need sitting on the surface of his eyes like tears.  He wanted more than a nod and a mumbled word or two.

He asked me what he is good at…

“Like, what am I really, really good at Mom? What are my talents?” and an answer like, “You’re really good at antagonizing your sister” didn’t feel entirely appropriate.  When I looked at him, I saw the truth behind his question; his real need to hear who I think he is, apart from the bickering and the fussing and the constant admonitions for him to behave. I shifted from my hollow spot, to the floor near his feet. I looked up into his big brown eyes and I told him. I told him that he is smart and artistic—how he sees beyond the surface of things, to the heart of them. I told him his ear is gifted for music, and his head for numbers, and he’ll always read deeper, wider, and with more passion than any kid his age. I told him he is one-of-a-kind and a gift.

After he went to bed, and I sat down to my, now cold, cup of tea, I thought about how easy it is to remain disengaged and off-duty.

Motherhood often feels like a checklist, one that looks the same every single day.

Too often, my parenting focuses only on the tasks—those items I can check off as complete. But the work of motherhood isn’t simply about the baked chicken or the ironed shirts or the clean sheets. The true work of mothering happens when we pull ourselves out of the hollow places. The hard work gets done in the sitting by their feet with a listening ear, where mothering becomes less a series of tasks and more of an art.

Mothering is an act of creation that begins in the womb and continues in the heart.

We create a safe place where our children can ask the difficult questions and we give them the truth about who they are in our family, in this world, and in Christ.  We paint and draw and build these truths into them like artists, and with an artist there is no such thing as off-duty. 

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Kimberly lives in Switzerland with her husband and favorite little people.  She copes with life’s biggest questions by drinking lots of tea, writing, and God’s grace. You can find her writing at or tweeting @KimberlyACoyle.

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