Smother Love

One of the enemies of genuine sacrificial love for our children is sentimentality. Yet few of us recognize it for what it is because sentimentality often comes disguised as a tender, motherly, sweet, and gentle love. And what can be wrong with that? But sentimentality ends up stifling and suppressing and suffocating our children because at the root, sentimentality is self-love. It’s not about the kids like it should be, because it is all about Mom and how she feels about herself.

Kids love growing up. They want to do the next thing, and God has built this in. It is good. Can any of us ever remember wanting to stay small and not move on to the next grade? No. Kids are always eager to get to their next birthday, to grow taller, to get to do the jobs that the big kids do. Smother love doesn’t want the child to grow up; it wants to freeze the kids right now at this “precious” age. Sentimentality treats the children like they are little toys, indulging and coddling.

Smother love is fearful: fearful of change, fearful of germs, fearful of the cold and the heat, fearful of sugar and white flour, fearful of the bad influence of friends, fearful of the bad influence of teachers, fearful of growing up. At the bottom of sentimentality is a wrong view of man. Man (yea, even our son or daughter) is a sinner, born into a fallen world. Man is not basically good, not even in the cradle. And the over-mother cannot keep the child from his own fallen nature any more than she can prevent him from breathing the air.

Smother love can turn the children into little idols, allowing them to have a place in their mother’s affections that supersedes her love for God. When mothers idolize their kids, they lose all perspective on what is good and healthy for children, and they end up wrecking their kids’ lives by sheltering when they should have been teaching and equipping; keeping when they should have let go.

Now of course, parents are to shelter their kids from evil. They do this various ways, shielding them from nasty things while teaching them about the world and how God wants them to live in it. But smother love fails to prepare them for adulthood. Smother love doesn’t teach them how to think beyond “this is yucky” and “this is sweet.”

Love thinks of the other person, not of itself, and unfortunately, smother love is all about mom and not about the child. The mother who cannot bear to part with her child for any reason (say when it comes time to send him to school) is not thinking about whether the separation would be good for the child; no, she is thinking about how sad she will feel and whether she can handle the separation. She may have deluded herself into thinking she is more essential than she is.  But the mother who sets her child free to grow up and learn will find that her children count her very essential indeed.

One last thing. Grandmothers can be smother mothers as well. In fact, they can be notorious offenders.  They can be guilty of all these same things, but they express it by being critical of the parents who are trying to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. What an opportunity grandparents miss when they become critical of their kids and sentimental about their grandchildren.

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19 thoughts on “Smother Love

  1. George MacDonald wrote a good story called “The Wise Women, or the Lost Princess: A Double Story” that portrays this concept quite effectively, plus a lot of other important parenting concepts. My children enjoyed hearing the story and discussing it together.

  2. I hope that someday when I have children I will find this post again and read it. I see mothers of my preschool students offending occasionally, and it makes me want to learn how to let my children go, yet without leaving them unprotected.

  3. I totally agree with the above commenter who said “ouch”. 🙂
    “Smothering” has been a great temptation for me, even moreso now, having lost children. It’s so hard to find the balance between good, healthy “enjoying my child” and full-on “I’m paralyzed by the thought of this kid ever leaving my side”. Thank you for the helpful reminder and (yet another!) edifying word!

  4. I really enjoyed this post but as always am struggling to find balance in my life. When is it smothering and when is it ‘freedom within limits’? I’m a stay at home, home school mom (there are no affordable classical schools in the area). How do I allow my children some of that freedom while still being a responsible parent?

  5. Kcaarin,
    As with everything in this life, God wants us to seek His wisdom. There is no easy answer, and each situation requires insight. But this is what it means to walk by faith. An exciting adventure!

  6. Ouchy! My intellect totally agrees, my heart aches with the thought of that day, but I do not want to smother my kids. I came from a smothering mother and all I wanted and still want to do is run as far as I can from her! It wasn’t love, it was crippling!

  7. Wow..I have never even considered this point of view before. Wow.

    I am certainly guilty as charged at times.

    What also came to mind as I read this was the pressure, at times, to feel less of a mother when I don’t “smother” my children. Like when I don’t panic as my toddler licks the grocery cart handle or when my son wields his pocket knife in an unsafe manner as most 7 years old do at times, or when throws a rock that nearly clips his sister in the head.

    While I don’t think you’re advocating not caring or disciplining when needed, I definitely see your point…and I’m going to do some serious praying and pondering about this.

    Thank you!

  8. Thank you for the encouragement on this topic. This is something that is frequently on my mind, bringing me to my knees for wisdom. Wisdom to see where I might be smothering, wisdom to know how to stop. You could probably write a whole book on this topic! I’d read it. 🙂

  9. Tami makes a good observation. Whenever I see The Smother Love Mother (is she related to the Smothers Brothers?) I see older and grown children who, at best feel the need to keep their distance from her, and at worst, disdain and despise her. Smother Love does not get the results it seeks.

  10. Your “last thing” was very relevant to my own difficult situation. There came a time in our own family several years ago when the decision was made, for the protection of the marriage, and the children, to completely sever all ties with a terribly destructive tongue. When the criticisms of our attempts to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord began to come between a husband and wife, involving discipline and correction of the children, we realized she would destroy us as a couple and as parents while our children had a front row seat to her antics. She resorted to critical letter-writing when she could not interfere face- to- face anymore, all the while claiming to be a Christian woman who “loved” her grandchildren more than their own parents. In truth, she was a smother mother who grew up to become a smother grandmother. The saddest part is how her attempts to “love” her grandchildren in this perverted way began to bleed over into a healthy marriage as she began to attempt to smother her son rather than support him as a Godly husband. Eventually, after years of this behavior, the opportunity she forfeited was the chance to see her grandchildren and enjoy them for the gift they are. She also lost her relationship with her son, and still believes her rights to “parent” her grandchildren override our responsibility before the Lord to train them up to be Godly adults. A most tragic result is that our children are very wary of their grandmother because they sense, even as children, the counterfeit love that smothering love really is. I think of the verse in First John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. Nancy was so right in saying smother love is full of fear.

  11. Thank you for this post. I found exremely helpful and insightful. My only addition, a sort of answer to KCaarin also, would be to point out there are a million ways to unsmother your kid, if you are homeschoolers. Days out or sleepovers with grandparents, sports events where you drop off and leave them there (gasp), opportunities to let them work with friends who own their own businesses (as soon as they are useful young people, about 10 or so), and such. Hope that helps!

  12. Mothers aren’t the only ones who can smother their children. Fathers do it too and with the added weight of paternal authority it can get nasty.

    Elaine, you have my sympathy. My children have a smother-grandfather who is also an angry, angry, and now, sad and lonely, man.

  13. This topic is tricky to me, so subject to personal interpretation and cultural influences.

    Here in Australia, in this post-Christian culture, I have never met a parent that fulfills the above criteria. (though I’m not saying they don’t exist) People here use the term “smother”, with a sneer, to mean ANY supervision (much less “snoopervision”). Very little, if any, protection from evil is the norm. My daughter, now a wife and mother who has served God from an early age, was the only child in our small town that had to wear a coat in the winter whether she liked it or not and wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies – to mention only 2 forms of discipline to which she was subjected. There are other forms of child-idolatry and putting them before God. The one I most often come in contact with entails the opposite of smothering: no boundaries whatsoever. In such a culture, I never let my child sleepover anywhere and we have and always have had a great relationship and no regrets that she was so “disadvantaged”. 😉

    I find it more helpful to concentrate on positives, like teaching our children to reason Biblically and think God’s thoughts after Him. To work and serve their familiy and community and gradually be given more responsibilities. Thanks, Nancy Ann, there is no advice that can substitute for seeking God’s wisdom. All our situations, definitions and children’s temperaments are unique.

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