For all of the wise women in my life. And especially for Mom. With love and gratitude.
When Norah was about a year old we were living in “Merica, that vast land of enormous supermarkets and jumbo shopping carts. I was grocery shopping. Norah was sitting in the top of the cart babbling and I was deeply engaged in ice cream selection when I felt a hand on my arm.
“You need to put some shoes on that baby.”
She was a small, wrinkled woman with a black handbag. I looked at Norah. She was barefoot.
“Yes,” I said.
I was thinking, You don’t know my baby. They haven’t invented the boots this kid can’t remove. I felt like explaining that we’d bought her three pairs of boots in three months. That I’d had to drive thirty minutes out of my way only the day before to return to a store and hunt for one of the latest pair, kicked off and left behind. I wanted to tell her, irrelevantly, that I was a good mother.
At the moment truly I didn’t mind her comment. But later I felt a little defensive, maybe a little judged. Why was she telling me that? We didn’t even know each other!
But the thing was, she was right. It was January in New England (I was wearing a down jacket) and we were shopping in the frozen aisle. The baby was barefoot. I was her mother.
I wasn’t a failure as a mother. I just needed to make a change.
I’d like to run into that lady again. Just to thank her for looking out for my child—and to say I admire her courage. Have you contemplated the courage it takes for an older woman to give advice to a younger one in today’s world? Women who attempt to fulfill the Titus 2 commission* (yes, that says commission) with the younger women in their spheres are not winning any popularity contests these days.
We don’t want their input. Someone has probably written an excellent book on whatever aspect of marriage or parenting or career we’re dealing with, we’d rather look it up for ourselves. Besides, we assume they don’t really understand our situation. Okay, so they have been married for forty years or raised five kids or worked in a high-pressure environment for decades, they weren’t married to my husband and they seriously don’t understand the special, particular mix of giftings and challenges that are presented by my little darlings. What makes them think they do? So we are quick to find them presumptious or judgemental if they offer advice.
Meanwhile we’re ripping our hair out and laboriously reinventing the wheel. We’re making our choices and thinking our thoughts in a vacuum and it gives us nothing back to grow on. We’d rather just read a book about it because a book doesn’t have to know all the mess. Also, then we remain the authority in the situation—if we don’t like what the book says, we can set it aside as an unhelpful book. Sometimes we look around and wonder where our village is. Where is the voice of experience? Raising children is not for the faint of heart, we think. Isn’t it anyone’s job to help me with this momentous task?
How can they teach if we aren’t teachable?
Are we seeking—and listening to—advice?
These women are so precious! They have perspective to help us see clearly, wisdom to help us order rightly, and encouragement for the cloudy days. They should be sharing it–we should be listening to it. And recycling it for the next girl.
*Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands that the word of God may not be reviled.”