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.Â 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.Â 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.