Where does a child first learn, first experience, love and support? From our parents of course. It is the first and absolutely primal relationship anyone ever has and in the formative years in most circumstances it is the most important relationship anyone has, but as we all know this is a relationship that never ends. No matter what – your mother is always your mother.
And while not wanting to underplay the role of Fathers, especially as a father myself, and technically a single parent, this is a different kind of role. Mothers and fathers are complementary to raising children but not exactly the same.
It is parents who set the guidelines, who determine on your behalf what is good and not so good for a child and their development and flourishing. The family is the soil in which a child grows.
I’ve said many times before that it was from my parents that I learned and experienced Grace, which is unconditional love, decades before I learned the word in theological college.
One of the most distressing periods of my life as a troubled teenager was being picked up in the middle of the night by my parents from a police cell. Without going into the gory details, things could have gone in two very different ways. Everything that culminated in me being in that cell was never spoken of ever again. The unconditional love and support from both mum and dad that goes on to this day was an experience of Grace that has coloured my understanding of love ever since. A classic case of hating the sin while loving the sinner.
All children learn their first lessons about life and love from their parents – not in an intellectual sense, in an experiential way. No-one has love explained to them – you just experience it and luxuriate in it.
So when things go a bit wrong, or in some instances go very wrong indeed the trauma is severe. On mothering Sunday we have an opportunity not just to laud perfect motherhood but also to empathise and cry alongside those who struggle and sometimes fail in the role. It is also a time when we can perhaps come to forgive our own mothers and fathers for any shortcomings they had, whether they are real or imagined. A time to pray for strength for current mums and dads who sometimes feel inadequate. No-one trains you for this role, except in the sense that the only pattern we have to copy in usually our own mums and dads.
So let us bring to mind our own mothers and Fathers, to celebrate the fact that they gave us life, brought us up, and hopefully provided us with the tools to forge a life of our own. But also forgive where we think there was any lack, but most of all, thank God for the love that they were able to give us – like God’s love – unconditional and free.