Mother Hunger

We hear a lot today about father hunger: so many kids grow up with absentee dads, and it leaves a gnawing hunger in them as they restlessly look a for paternal authority that takes responsibility and loves sacrificially. It is a sad reality. But this parental abdication is not limited to dads.

I see a real mother hunger among women today both in and out of the church. So many young women have grown up without a role model. Many were raised in day cares and then shuttled off to school rooms where they never received the loving instruction they longed for. Moms weren’t there to show them how to look pretty, how to braid their hair or put it in a pony tail. They don’t know their way around a kitchen or a cosmetic counter. They are women searching for their place in the world and feeling mighty unprepared.

Little girls are sponges, eager for teaching. They follow Mama around in the kitchen asking if they can help. They want to get their little hands in the dish water; they want to fold the clothes or help toss the wet clothes into the dryer or help hang them on the line. They want to stir the cookie dough or watch the pot boil, arrange flowers, set the table, and make the house look pretty. They want to help take care of the baby. In other words, little girls want very much to be part of their mother’s world. This is the way God has created them, and it is indeed wonderful and mysterious.

When little girls are not included in these things, even if they are mightily entertained in other ways, they will grow up to be needy and insecure. And once they are grown, they may become uncomfortable with their femininity and intimidated by domesticity, never really knowing why.

I believe this accounts for such a widespread cry today among younger women for mentoring. They are looking for mothers because they never got all they wanted from their own mothers. And unless they recognize this for what it is and overcome it somehow, they are going to pass this hunger on to their own daughters without meaning to.
Many Christian women want a mentor who will teach them how to be comfortable being mothers, at ease being women. They can often feel intimidated by their own daughters’ needs and questions because they just don’t know the answers. Their own mothers may have never taught them the simple arts, like how to braid their hair, sew on a button, wear makeup, set a table, or (horrors!) how to have guests. And they don’t know who to ask because sometimes they don’t know what the question is anyway.

This is why older women need to be available, though we can all learn from women of all ages. And though I don’t like the term mentoring because it seems to put the mentor in too high a position, I still appreciate the need for it, and I don’t have a better term to suggest. No one can really replace a mother. You can hire people to do things for you, but you can’t go back to relive your childhood and get these things from your own mom.

So here is a word to you younger women if you are feeling this kind of mother hunger. First, name it for what it is, and forgive your mother for not preparing you to be a woman. Then ask God to give you a healthy desire to learn and the right people to learn from. Nothing wrong with books and other resources, but it’s great to learn from real live women who are doing it. But don’t feel limited to one “mentor.” Technically, a mentor is a trusted advisor. That’s what a mother is supposed to be! She is God’s appointed mentor. But in the event that she didn’t or couldn’t do that for you, you may know an older (or maybe not older) woman who can be that for you. But do still continue to learn many other things from friends and contacts who are not officially “mentoring” you. Ask questions. “How do you braid your daughter’s hair that way? Will you show me?”

When you are visiting friends, look at how they set the table, how they arrange the flowers, how they organize their buffet table. Take mental notes. You can never get too many ideas.

I believe this mother hunger is a big part of the reason why Martha Stewart is so effective: women are very hungry for input, and she is very good at dishing up lots more than any of us can take in. She is always there, and she can answer all our questions. Just like a mother should. But she is no replacement for the real deal.

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22 thoughts on “Mother Hunger

  1. How very true this is. When we got married I had no idea how to do so many things I needed to know to run a home. I think my mother thought she was doing me a favor by not making/teaching/training me to do housework. Perhaps she didn’t know herself, she always had help.

    Now I have to laugh at my girls, I think they know as much about running a home as I do and although they don’t complain I like to tease them about being MY help. They will be much more capable than I was, even with the limited skills they’ve learned from me.

    And younger mentors, I can’t say enough about a younger friend of mine, I have learned so much from her, she’s been a real blessing to have around.

  2. Thank you, I really appreciate the challenge to learn from other women instead of endlessly comparing ourselves to them.

  3. This one is going on my fridge for a while. It is so true, and sort of clears away a fog of confusion for me about why I struggle so much with tasks that LOOK simple, yet the mastery them eludes me.
    I am actually the second generation in this pattern, as both my grandmothers felt they were limiting their daughters potential if they wasted their childhood teaching domestic chores.
    (My husband came to adulthood better prepared to run a house than I did.)
    Anyway, I am thankful for all the many lovely and Godly women like you who are extending themselves for those of us who need it.
    My mother was great fun, and I am thankful for all that she did give….but the practical stuff is much needed.

  4. This is such a timely and interesting post. My mother was killed in a car accident when I was all of 18 months. My dad, who stepped up to the plate, did his best to raise me on his own. I choke up just thinking about the sacrifices he made for me. I don’t have siblings and, much to my great saddness, my father never remarried (not for lack of trying!) Anyway, I experience the “mother hunger” in a very different way. My dad did the best he could to raise a little girl, care for a house, provide, and try to teach me the things that I needed to know in life. That is a TALL order for any one person. I was indeed a late bloomer in many respects. My major in college did not really allow for expression of much feminity — and if it had I am not really sure I would have known what to do. However, God blessed me with women in my life that took me to stores to buy frilly things and who did their best to add aspects of what a mother would do. I am now so very blessed (here come the tears, again!) to have a mother-in-law who is willing to teach me different things and who likes to do some of those mother/daughter things with me, too. I am also in the midst of an amazing congregation that allows me to live life with them. One dear friend helped me set up a cleaning schedule for my home when I was drowning in how to set up house, lets me watch how she does school, and more. She’s not a motherly figure but she is my friend and I am learning quite a bit from her and from the other women who let me observe them and ask questions. I so appreciate them… and after writing all of this I have tears of great joy and thankfulness streaming down my face. I hope that if the Lord sees it fit for us to have a little girl that she would not have that mother hunger so many of us have. But I am not naive enough to think that I would be the ONLY source of her learning. But I am thankful for the women around that will help me teach her.

  5. I am blessed with a mom who has come to repent from her ignorant lack of training me up in so many of these areas.

    My parents were converted when I was 5 and had absolutely no bearings when it came to things like this. They were eager to lovingly educate (even at home), give me many opportunities in art, music and sports, involve me in much ministry outside the home, but just kind of figured I’d catch the parts about homemaking on my own. Obviously that didn’t happen. 🙂

    My parents now live with us, and it is such a second chance for me to learn the things I missed, and I *love* seeing her teach her granddaughter so many of these things as well.

    I also appreciate the encouragement you give to older women in the church to share that experience they have – all of us newbies need all the help we can get.

  6. Oh Nancy …. you know where I stand on this topic…. some of us are not just hungry, we’re ravenous and we ache inside. I think what you just wrote will help me to let it go in many ways.

    If you feel like it, would you consider writing on why so many older women are not willing/open to taking on the responsibility of a Titus 2 woman? I have my ideas but I would be interested in hearing what you have to say.

    This is a topic that is very close to my heart and I thank you for being willing to address it.

  7. umm…. maybe the word “starving” would be better than “ravenous” in my comment above.

  8. Nancy or whomever,

    Do you know of a good resource about how father hunger can appropriately be addressed in a female? Thankfully my mom, though I don’t think she’s a Christian (judging by her lack of interest in the Bible, little mention of God, etc.), taught me things I don’t recall my dad ever teaching, though he was providing for us materially by day and home every evening. Dad didn’t raise me in the church (thankfully, though, Mom did!). Dad didn’t teach me to be honest so far as Mom or I recall, he didn’t teach me to avoid certain guys or particular ways of interacting with them. . . The only time I remember him commenting on my (mostly good) grades, unless echoing a nice remark my mom made in front of him, was when I brought home straight Ds for one class in school.

    When I came to work under a thoughtful Christian man later in high school I found myself wondering what he’d be like as a dad, wanting to adopt him, thinking how fortunate somebody would be to have him in that capacity. I savored and tucked into memory the discussions we had while working. When an old red-faced man at church in college would greet me sincerely, asking me how I was and pulling me to him in a hug, I’d think of adopting him as a grandfather. I hungered for the glowing eyes of a male friend in college, amazed that someone I respected so much cared for and appreciated me like he did. I wanted to run everything through this Christian’s man’s thoughtful head–things my nonChristian dad couldn’t guide me on and prompt me toward–and came to realize being as emotionally close to a guy my age as I felt to him was not appropriate. I still feel like men (whom I normally, incidentally, would avoid physically and emotionally if they looked at me with like that friend did) are quite foreign to my experience. I’ve struggled with coveting fathers at my current church–Christian men who love God, who discipline out of love, who bestow wisdom, who can guide their daughters Biblically in understanding the Bible and marrying a godly man…. Now I’m in my mid-twenties, hoping that if I marry well much of the aches and lacks will find their fulfillment (and that remnants will prompt me to be more conscious of the needs of others, the potential consequences of my actions on others, and God’s sufficiency and provision), that I’ll have a thoughtful man to help me grow into Christ’s image day after day, that I’ll have the support and love and encouragement. But as it is now it looks like I may be single permanently. And I don’t know females I can talk to on overtly theological and philosophical issues in the same degree I can with men I’ve known. (I’ve had males, plus a female oddly like me, tell me that I have an unusual mind “for a girl,” that I “think a bit more like a man than most females”.) And I’m wondering if there IS an appropriate way to address the father hunger other than the tiniest bit, marriage aside; I have trouble thinking such could be appropriate when I’m a grown woman.

    I’m also wondering how to go about addressing a wrong relationship to men. For some reason, I usually get incredibly uncomfortable knowing men are attracted to me. I have a lot of trouble admitting they like me, usually–I still have trouble admitting it with the friend, though I can’t deny those eyes, and I will not take him to have been lying when he voiced his appreciation to me, and I believed his friend was telling the truth when he mentioned offhandedly that this guy really respected me–and in most cases I run. I don’t want to even talk to a man I know likes me. I feel. . . guilty? Dirty. Insecure. Like I want to hide my body under numerous layers and overly generous lengths of clothing. Desperate to escape something bad. (Interestingly, my friend I know feels the same way with men also has a bad relationship with her father.)

    A different male friend I once divulged my past with my men to, as he wanted to see if I’d be fit to marry him, said, “I don’t think it’s wrong for you to want to be affirmed by men.” Coming to realize what he said, that it was ok to feel the lack, that maybe I had legitimate needs that weren’t being met as opposed to desires I needed to somehow wholly root out, was itself a momentous relief.

    I’m writing way more than intended already (and in a thread on _mother_ hunger!)! Let me just close by saying I don’t expect a reply, but if somebody thinks of something Nancy or somebody else has written about a grown woman’s relationship to men, and how to address not being able to tolerate being liked by most men, I’d definitely appreciate a title or something. Perhaps simply “go to a counselor” is what I need to hear?! I’m certainly not expecting somebody to sit there and write up a response to all of this!!! But I don’t know who or how to ask when it comes to people I know….

  9. This is a great question, and I will try to address some of your concerns in another blog post on father hunger.

  10. Dear BLA,

    No doubt Mrs. Wilson will have some stellar thoughts for you (and for me) in her promised post. In the meantime, here’s a little essay that might help you…or frustrate you…or a bit of both, as I’ve found. 😉

    And a few thoughts from me: The fact that you didn’t have a loving father really is a legitimate problem — you are not crazy or wrong to think so! The Bible exhorts believers to care for widows and the fatherless. The problem widows and the fatherless have isn’t so much that they lack means as that they lack men. That is, they (we) lack the leadership, protection and provision God designed for women to have. So Scripture confirms that this is a legitimate problem.

    Happily, we have a God on whom we can cast our legitimate problems, because He cares for us. How He will deal with this problem in your particular case or in my particular case, I can’t say, but I know He is not unconcerned with our struggles.

    First of all, He really is a Father to the fatherless. He really does lead, protect and provide for us. It’s hard to see when I want this or that particular sort of guidance or help. It’s hard exactly because I can’t see…or hear or touch Him. But the more I learn to thank Him for what He has done that I can see clearly — every meal, every safe trip home, every wise sermon or good book or life lesson learned — the more I see His care and the more I trust Him for the things I can’t yet see. Gratitude is a powerful perspective-changer. Can’t say I’ve really gotten the hang of it yet, but I am learning.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the man of whom Jesus said that he was born blind “that the works of God should be revealed in him.” It is a very hard lesson, but I am learning to say, “Lord, if You can glorify Your name because of my troubles, that is enough for me. I will thank You for Your design for my life, and I will rejoice in the midst of my suffering.” Again, can’t say I’ve really gotten the hang of it yet, but I am learning.

    Another thought I’ve found helpful is to compare father-hunger to a disability. it’s not something I can change, but if I can accept it, then I can begin to figure out how to live with it. Rather than waiting for it to change, I can proceed with living my life with what I’ve got — using what talents I have rather than burying them and bewailing that I didn’t get more. Another thing I’m definitely still learning.

    Here’s a ticklish one: Be open to, but don’t demand, fatherly care from leaders in your church. I believe, as this post says, that this is something that God calls shepherds (pastors and elders) to provide to their flocks. But we can’t demand that this play out exactly the way we want it. For one thing, I think a vision for this sort of thing is quite rare among churches, so a) it’s not fair to expect it to suddenly materialize for our convenience, and b) few, if any, have a good grasp how this sort of thing should play out in the details, and we shouldn’t assume that we do. For another thing, relationships between grown men and women are trickier than relationships between daddies and their own little girls…and even trickier for those of us who didn’t have daddies that taught us how to relate to men. About 20 years ago, I messed my heart up somethin’ fierce by letting my feelings for a spiritual leader get out of whack. Happily, this is something that I have gotten the hang of, though it requires vigilance, and probably always will. The section of the puzzle that we can definitely work on piecing together is this: “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). We can receive what leadership and shepherding we are given with gratitude that shows itself in obedience — be there, listen and apply the Word as it’s preached to you, seek and follow counsel on difficult issues, serve the body, wash the feet of the saints.

    I’m sure Mrs. Wilson will have a wiser perspective, but perhaps it will be helpful to have some thoughts from someone who’s been through, and is still going through, a situation similar to yours. If not, at least it was helpful for me to organize my thoughts on the topic! 😉

  11. Recently, I have been involved in the life of two teen girls who do not have a mother and are living with a absent/distant father. The teen girls have recently come to Christ. It has presented a lot of dialogue with my own two teen daughters who are trying to reach out to these teen girls. This weekend was very rough for these girls and my daughters asked me, “Mom, how in the world are these girls going to make it?” And I said, “Just like I made it – because with God all things are possible.” I reminded my daughters about my motherless past and my “distant” father. I said, “By the grace of God, I believe that someday, these two girls can become godly wives and mothers! And I can say that because I am one of God’s miracles and that is what He does! He is the faithful God who works miracles!”
    I am being so reminded of this! How easy to forget that we have a miraculous God who can do the impossible! Can He help those who have mother hunger or even father hunger? Yes, and Amen! Hope in the Lord and His Word – “For my father and mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take my up.” Psalm 27:10 What a wondrous promise! What a wondrous ministry for His church to walk in! How thankful I am for the Christian women who walked and still walk along side of me! As my family continues to reach out to these two teen girls, we pray that God will soften the pains of hunger they truly feel and that they will understand that He is the One taking care of them.

  12. Dear Femina Ladies: So glad I discovered your blog! Your words provide encouragement to walk huge in the wonderful realm of Christian womanhood. Thank you!

    And, Nancy, thank you –You’re right on target with a call to older women to instruct the younger ones. I am grateful to the eighty year old lady who gathered me and other hungry young women under her wing when we were first saved. She held regular Bible studies in her home for us. We new, younger Christians had not a clue about Godly womanhood or what it should look and act like. She took loving care of us. Her teaching, example, and nurturing friendship directed us on right paths. Spared us all from many pitfalls.

    I’m glad you talked about the need for senior Christians to step forth in service to God’s children (of all ages and especially those from non-Christian backgrounds) so our younger believers may grow in grace and knowledge about living rightly.

    I’m glad to share a couple thoughts along this line. Today, more than ever before, increasing numbers find themselves ill prepared for responsibilities in marriage and successful homemaking. They long to manage their duties well as part of their service to God. Such yearning is good —leading us to learn and “be filled”. If this hunger isn’t filled, it leads to frustration. That’s why I, too, think the need for Biblical “motherly and fatherly” guidance is great. To this end, our church’s women’s group recently involved some of our senior ladies who, using the “nest” as a theme and organized various categories accordingly.

    It’s a sweet theme, especially as springtime arrives. If you like, please feel welcome to share our topics, which are by no means exhaustive–or perfectly developed. Perhaps the ideas will provide an inspirational springboard for action by other older women reading this—God has placed wise and faithful senior ladies in all of our congregations. These are women, who by experience, faithfulness, prayers, and the leading of the Holy Spirit, are most capable of taking others under their wing and sharing their wisdom in an edifying manner. Here are some of the areas we cover:

    Feathering Your Nest: Aspects on Biblical Womanhood and the Home

    Building Your Nest—balance, peace, and beauty in the home. The purpose of the nest; creating a good atmosphere

    Organizing the Nest: the business of running a smooth household–how tos

    The Pecking Order-roles and interaction, major stages in childhood, needs

    Caring for Your Fledglings in the fear and admonition of the Lord: Duties of parents and children—

    Four and Twenty Blackbirds baked into a Pie- The importance of mealtime. How mealtime nurtures both body and soul— Menu ideas (recipe exchange)

    The Love Birds: Husband and Wife relationships, attitudes towards billing and cooing

    Flocking Together -when others visit your nest: Hospitality

    Dealing with Ruffled Feathers and Quieting Needless Squawks

    Flying the Coup vs. Resting in the Nest: Thoughts on Marriage and How to avoid Divorce

    When Fledglings take Wing-transition time as young people leave home

    The Single Nest – Why it’s important, what it needs, and what it offers. Single parents, unmarried saints, and widowed adults.

    The Empty Nest: After the fledglings depart

    Caring for those with Wounded Wings

    Caring for those with Aging Wings

    Song Birds—the importance of (good) music, its role in home, faith, and hearts of a family.

    In the Shadow of His Wing–when storms occur

    Soaring with the Eagles: Devotion and Prayer times

    Our gatherings provide a time of encouragement, sharing and good teaching. There’s also ample time for fellowship where deeper relationships can develop. Women of all ages- from college to senior singles and those in between enjoy getting together.

    We never outgrow the need to encourage one another or to grow in grace and knowledge. Thank you for your blog, which is doing these very things.

  13. I read this post with mixed feelings. I grew up in a home where most of the traditional “mom” things listed in the third paragraph weren’t overtly passed on to me. Not that I didn’t have to do chores or cook or bake, etc. Those things simply weren’t transmitted in some sort of cozy, engaging way: they were just tasks to be done (perhaps this derived from my mom’s depression-era upbringing). I feel no worse for the lack of domestic training. It just meant that when I got married at 23, I had to learn a lot on my own. Right now, I am the mother of a 20-year-old who probably feels a degree of “mother hunger.” From the time her dad died when she was 4 until I remarried last June, I was a single parent for 15 years. By God’s grace we were able to homeschool for 11 years (during which I was also able to complete an M.A., work part-time, etc.), and I tried hard to give her as normal a childhood as I could. But the reality is I’m not good at “girly” things: I don’t wear makeup, I stink at doing hair, etc. Furthermore, I did just about zero entertaining during those years (although I did teach her how to set a table!). I was in survival mode for a many years. Also, it was often simpler to do daily tasks myself rather than invite my daughter to join in. What I did do was try to give her opportunities to learn, and to discover and appreciate the world around her (through books, classes, trips to museums and concerts, travel, etc.), to develop creative abilities (through dance and music lessons), to develop enriching friendships, to grow in Christ, and, perhaps most importantly, to have a heart for the downtrodden (through serving at a rescue mission from the time she was a toddler). I can only trust that God will enable her to overcome any deficiencies I brought to both child-rearing and home keeping. There is no such thing as a mother (or father) who has it all together. A child (even one who is now an adult) needs to realize that her mom or dad isn’t the fourth member of the Trinity and that there will always be some sort of failure, but it is the Lord alone who will perfectly love His children.

    ~Susan

  14. Susan, it sounds to me like you did a fantastic job! I don’t think a mother is a failure if she doesn’t address every possible feminine grace in her daughter’s upbringing. My mom was a de facto single mom even before court orders and divine intervention got my father out of our house, so I know what you mean by “survival mode.” I think that’s the only mode I ever saw my mom in. And though she probably didn’t accomplish even as much as you did, I think she, too, did an amazing job under very difficult circumstances. So your daughter might feel, as I’ve felt, some lack, but from the summary you’ve written here, it sounds as if she has ample reason to rise up and call you blessed!

  15. I am extremely ashamed to say that although my unbelieving mother taught me many of the things I needed to mature as a woman and run a household with grace, I simply chose to disdain it all as much as I could. I was such a grief to her, and I am so thankful that since becoming a Christian I have had many opportunities to ask her forgiveness and praise her for how much she ended up teaching me, despite my rebellion.

    And to echo a previous post, I am also delighted to see how much love my mom is pouring into my daughters as she teaches them sewing, art, and a whole host of things I never invested in. I am grieved by my mother’s unbelief, but am determined to teach my daughters to love and appreciate her in ways I never did. And I find it helps me to love her more as well.

  16. hello! i’ve been looking for a book on mother hunger, because i have the book called father hunger, but i have yet to find a book about mother hunger. do you know any by a christian author? thanx! God Bless!

  17. Hi Nancy-thank you for your encouragement to obey Jesus in design for me as a woman and mother. Sometimes I feel like I lose my bearings when the world practically screams at me that I am foolish to love being at home with my baby, love creating healthy meals, love having time to clean and do laundry, love investing in my child each day. I even received random criticism on my blog when I announced I was pregnant (I didn’t even say I was going to be a stay at home mother at that time, and I was met with rude and condescending words about my lack of aspiration and giving up what so many want to have-maybe career? money? education?).

    I know what the Bible says and I am so satisfied and grateful in my role as a mother, but I just forget how to communicate it to others sometimes. So thank you for your words, and the reminder of why it is so crucial for me to be with my daughter each day, training her up in Jesus and teaching her valuable skills in the home.

    I love it. So much.

    Thank you!

  18. Thank you for addressing a topic that is rarely acknowledged. For me, the mother hunger was the greatest when I was having babies. Though both of our mothers were in town and my mother and I talked plainly (and agreeably, I thought) about the help I would need when the babies were born, my husband saw the gap and hired a high school girl to help me with babies 3 & 4. She was a great blessing but did not heal the hurt of my heart. It is still with me and I’m nearly 60. From my experience and that of my friends, I thought my generation had been abandoned by our mothers. Perhaps you have already written this: a column would be helpful that addresses how to accept with peace the disappointment in our mothers, especially with those deny fault or who have passed away. (I’m not sure “forgiveness” is the right word, as my understanding of forgiveness is that it results in a restored relationship because sin has been confessed and then forgiven.)

  19. I wish I could edit. My parenthetical comment would be better begun with a question: “Is “forgiveness” the right word…?” I have seen varying understandings of the concept for forgiveness. One sees it as something we do alone in not holding a grudge or bitterness against someone. One author described it as a contract, a mutual agreement between two parties. Anyway, that’s a good topic, too, as mother hunger is fertile soil for sin.

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