I had a conversation with a mother in my practice this week that brought up something important. As usual, I tried to find a fairy tale that captured the essence of what this mother was struggling with. The right tale did come to mind – it’s a 12th century French legend – and it just so happens to have an association with Christmas, so consider this my holiday offering!
The mother I was speaking with is going through something very difficult with one of her children. On the day that we spoke, she was feeling very badly about herself, and how she has been handling the challenges she is facing. She has seen other mothers who, she thinks, have managed similar difficulties much better. She was berating herself for not being as gentle, wise, and confident as she has seen other mothers be.
We Each Have Different Gifts
I reminded this woman that she has incredible strengths that are all her own. She may not embody the gentle wisdom that some other mother has, but she is resilient, and strong, and she has a great sense of humor. Even in the midst of this very serious challenge she is facing with her son, she is able to tease him lovingly so that the two of them can connect through laughter. She loves her children fiercely, and will not stop protecting them no matter what obstacles get put in her way. These are wonderful gifts, and ones that are serving her well.
Our conversation made me think about how we all have different gifts when it comes to mothering our children. It may seem as though our own gifts are lacking in comparison with others, but when we parent in an open-hearted way, we offer ourselves without reservation, even when we may not feel good enough.
The Little Juggler
A medieval French legend called “The Little Juggler” conveys a similar sentiment. The story appears to have been an inspiration for the Christmas carol The Little Drummer Boy. In one version of the story, a young boy is earning his living as a juggler when he becomes injured and is taken in by a monastery to recuperate. Scrubbing the chapel floor becomes his favorite job, because it allows him to spend time admiring a statue of the Virgin Mary that sits in a niche. He sees other monks come and pay tribute to Mary by singing beautifully, playing the lute expertly, or painting exquisitely, but he cannot do any of these things.
One evening after scrubbing the floors, he juggles for the statue, and then dances before it. Coming upon this scene, an older monk is scandalized and disapproving by what he perceives to be the little juggler’s blasphemy. The older monk is about to step forward and reprimand him when the little juggler falls to his knees in front of the statue and begins to speak:
“Oh Gracious Lady,…I have served thee with the only talent that I have. I cannot sing, nor play the sweet toned viola, nor paint in glowing colors on the smooth white parchment. I can only dance and juggle for thee… All that I have is thine.”
At that moment, the figure in the niche leans forward, and lays a hand on the little juggler’s head in blessing.
We Offer All We Have
Like the little juggler, most of us will bring the very best of ourselves to the task of mothering. We will lay at motherhood’s altar the most precious gifts we have. Many days, our gifts will feel too humble. We will likely always be aware that we could have done a better job. We may always know another mother who appeared to do things better than we. We will likely have regrets about things done – or not done.
Yet giving all that we have is all we can do. Motherhood will ask everything of us, and then after we give that, it will ask for more. Giving ourselves to the experience fully will open us up to moments of grace and benediction.