Thoughts on God as Mother–a survivor’s approach to Mother’s Day.

woman holding baby while blowing dandelion
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First off: I am not making an argument toward God’s femininity. This is not that post. I refer to God as Him, and when I pray I address Him as Father. Because Jesus refers to Him as Father in Scriptures; I do as well!

Why explore God-as-mother, then? Because this post is personal. I had a lot of abandonment and abuse from both my father AND my mother. Self-help materials and other forms of support ABOUND, in terms of overcoming a broken father-bond.

The term ‘Daddy Issues’ needs little explanation in our culture. It’s widely acknowledged. It is frequently implied, in a church setting, that someone with ‘daddy issues’ (an absent or aloof father, abusive, an addict, etc.) ends up having ‘trust issues with their Heavenly Father.’ It is also common cultural knowledge that a female with ‘daddy issues’ is prone to self-defeating and even dangerous choices with men in her life. As someone with such issues, I find the cultural acceptance of broken-father bonds actually makes it easier to talk about, and thereby heal.

We don’t talk as freely about a broken relationship with Mother. Aside from step-monsters (a friend’s nickname for her stepmother) and mother-n-law jokes. Seriously, though, the position of Mother is near-sacred in the human race. This is evidenced every May by the abundance of weepy commercials urging you to remember your saintly Mom on Mother’s Day!

Dad’s, generally speaking, don’t get that kind of reverence.

Mother’s Day can be tough for survivors who were abandoned by their mothers. Compounded by a culture which often doesn’t want to hear it; at least not in the month of May. Likewise, Mommy Issues can be even more taboo to talk about in a church setting. When I have broached that subject with others I feel sometimes like I have hit a bit of a ‘wall’. A few times, I have had friends slowly and softly say, ‘maybe my mom wasn’t as innocent as I once thought.’ Which gives me hope. But, I realize that coming around to one’s ‘mommy issues’ is not easy. I suspect that for most of us, the reality of having a mother who abandons you–who is the opposite of the classic ‘mama bear’– is even harder than abandonment from ‘dad’. For myriads of reasons.

It sure is for me.

Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome

My mom was not a Mama Bear (another term which has become commonplace in our culture and needs no explanations). The way she FIERCELY protected herself, and the storylines she still tells herself (she refuses to acknowledge I was abused), the way she intentionally numbs out from everything unpleasant, was a bit like a Mama Bear. But instead of protecting her children she protected the immature child within her own psyche. She is in FIERCE denial to this day. So I found myself, at a young age, becoming like a Mama Bear over her; protecting her from life and the turbulent family dynamics–instead of the other way around. In psychological terms, when children become overly caring for a parent(s), it’s thrown into categories like emotional incest. Today, I am going to call it ‘Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome.’ (Because I’m feeling cheeky.)

Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome left me fiercely protecting the story of denial I was telling myself in my own head (Mom was abused as a small child. Mom can’t help it. Mom would be different without dad. Mom cares, she just can’t do anything; because: DAD). This translated into my faith life; big time. I didn’t trust God to protect me. I felt I had to protect Him. For years I found myself flaring, claws coming out, if anyone suggested anything that didn’t line up with what I knew of God. Softening the blows of what others think of Him, as if He couldn’t handle those things Himself. Explaining Him to others in ways that made apologies (As someone once said: The Word of God is like a lion– let it out of the cage and it can take care of itself just fine!).

Scriptures that Changed my Heart

When Jesus refers to a hen gathering chicks; that’s ‘mom-behavior.’ In Isaiah, God refers to Himself acting as a woman in childbirth.

Isaiah 42: 14 For a long time I have kept silent,
    I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
    I cry out, I gasp and pant.

There is another verse which struck me recently, too. The background: King David’s ‘crown’ is being threatened by his own son, Absalom. Absalom is seeking to usurp his father and take over Kingship of all of Israel. One of the advisers to Absalom warns him about the fighting prowess of both David and David’s men.

2 Samuel 17:8

You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops.

This gave me pause. I thought to myself –did I really just see God comparing His behavior to a Mama Bear?? Let me explain: Defeating evil through warfare, with a Godly person at the forefront leading those armies (King David is lauded as ‘having a heart for God’), is a common theme in the Old Testament. For me, these OT battles bring up images of, and also trust in the promise of, heavenly armies, and the battle God has ultimately won on the cross, and will win again in the final end, against all forms of evil on earth and beyond.

God’s behavior is also likened to a Mama Bear in Hosea 13:8

Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them.

It’s pretty clear that when you give your life to Jesus, God is a Mama Bear over you. So I don’t need to be so fiercely protective over the immature little girl in my psyche; and I certainly don’t need to be fiercely protective over Him. That’s His job. The only thing I need to do is step back and let Him roar, (or whatever noise Mama Bears make).

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

“You’re gonna leave a scar on my daughter permanently!”

woman holding baby above head
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So this happened recently. A young girl was victimized by a perverted voyeur in a dressing room. Her protective mother then chased him down, made sure he was detained as someone called the cops, and then turned her own camera on the man she had just caught trying to video tape her daughter in a Rue 21 dressing room.

In the video the mom’s shaky voice is pitched high and filled with justified anger. As he sat on the ground awaiting arrest, her words to him are scattered and traumatized but all the more powerful as a result. One of the things she said to the man was, “You’re gonna leave a scar on my daughter permanently!” She lamented (paraphrasing and going by memory) that they were birthday shopping for clothing as her daughter’s twelfth birthday was in two days…and now this. “Now this, is this what she deserves for her twelfth birthday, a pervert trying to grab her legs and film her in a dressing room?!”

The video I linked is not the entire video this mother took. I watched the full length video earlier today. In that video the mom eventually scanned the camera back onto her own face as she asked someone where her cigarettes were, “I really need one.” She is then shown lighting up and smoking.

I was a little surprised as the image in my head (of a protective mother chasing down a pervert) didn’t match this woman’s actual appearance. I was not expecting to see someone with a neck tattoo lighting up a cigarette.

You know how sometimes the ‘radio voice’ doesn’t match the appearance you had imagined in your head?

I know from personal experience that sexual abusers rarely look like the deviant creatures they are inside. Yet I still think I might be able to ‘spot one’ easily enough.  It makes me feel safer, more in control. But I never pondered, until today, the fact that I have a clear notion in my head of what a ‘good’ or protective ‘mom’ looks like. I am embarrassed to admit I harbor such deep presumptions.

And I feel like this is a pivotal moment in my own healing journey. God has done this before. He has used some viral video or story, even popular movies and TV shows, to spur me into deeper layers of onion peeling. I recognized He was trying to show me something key today.

All my life I have always been drawn to stories of sexual abuse. For a long time I would think to myself how tragic they were and how glad I am that such things had never happened to me. The denial of my own story was that strong.

When the PTSD flared, I couldn’t handle seeing those stories. I had to avoid them. Particularly stories like this one wherein mothers had openly defended their daughters. Such accounts triggered a pile of emotions too powerful for me to handle.

Today I was able to view this video and reflect upon it without a rise in any stress symptoms. PRAISE GOD. That’s progress!

My own mother looked the part (that I had created in my head) of a protective mother. She dressed carefully in public and could put on a smile, but it rarely extended to her eyes. She was a career woman and volunteer children’s minister director for thirty plus years at her church. She had a closet full of kitten heel pumps and drawers full of nylons to match her modest church dresses.

She did smoke; though. She hid that fact in bathroom stalls while traveling with other people, (to avoid filling the vehicle with smoke). But she smoked openly in front of me either at home or when we were alone in the car. Something which annoyed me to no end as I hated the smoke and resulting plugged nose. I also saw the tattered clothes and constant scowl mom wore freely around the house. When company came; she changed.

There were two moms. I think the private Mom was a far more intimate glimpse into who she really was than the public one. Privately, mom was checked out. Assuming a posture and attitude which I call ‘playing dead’.

In public Mom tried to teach me to play the same games she did. At an appointment, a doctor turned to Mom and said what a pretty daughter she had. I felt yucky inside. But before my next appointment, Mom advised me to wink and smile extra big at him. Still quite young and not knowing any better, I did just that. On the ride home from the clinic she didn’t light up a cigarette (that was rare) and she kept repeating what the doctor had said to her about me. “Oh, those eyes, that smile, and did you know she actually winked at me today. My heart melted. Such a pretty girl you have!” Mom smiled the rest of the day. A real one that reached her eyes.

I was so confused. Mom was happy, but I felt so weird inside. It had scared me to no end to see that doctor react to my wink and smile as he had. I regretted doing it as soon as it had happened. Thankfully, that was the last appointment I had with him. He moved away and a female doctor replaced him.

When I was nearly twelve, I witnessed a visiting uncle (in his thirties at the time) toss my cousin onto the guest bed and then forcibly remove her clothing. I started screaming, telling him to stop and beating on his back with my fists. I don’t know what he would have done to her had I not walked in. I ran to tell mom what had just happened. My voice was scattered and traumatized, my chest was heaving from trying to catch my breath. I told her that her brother had just taken off all my cousin’s clothes. Mom was standing at the sink, peeling potatoes. She turned to look at me, the familiar dead look in her half-lidded eyes. Her lips scowled. “I told you to just ignore him when he starts teasing you girls.” She turned back to the pile of potatoes.

I believe that in that moment God cried out in horror at my uncle, using similar words that the mother in the linked video did, “You are going to leave a scar on my daughter permanently!”

My uncle had a choice. And Mom had a choice. She could have chosen outrage. She could have taken God’s side. She could have shown the same courtesy she did with strangers and not plugged her own daughter’s nose with the stink of her bad habit. By choosing to ‘play dead’–Mom joined the perpetrators of abuse. She also left a permanent scar on her own daughter.

The scar is fading a bit now. But I still can’t stand being around cigarette smoke.