when a mothering spirit breaks

When I saw the newspaper headline, my gut reaction said don’t read it.

I was up early, trying to ward off the morning sickness with a piece of toast, hoping to squeeze in an hour of work before S woke up. So the last thing I needed was to get distracted. Also, being all pregnant and hormonal, I knew exactly what my reaction would be if I opened the front page.

But I had to.

So I read this story: Mom drives kids into river; four dead.

And it was heart-breaking, as I knew it would be.

I stood there reading as my toast got cold and my cheeks got hot with tears. I felt every maternal instinct and every pregnant hormone in my body grieve at the thought of a mother so distraught that she would drive her babies into a freezing river.

But then I read this testimony from the daycare worker who cared for her children and reported that the mother seemed “stressed out” when she came to pick up her kids on Tuesday:

The only thing she’d say was that she was so alone,” Strange said. “She’s a single parent. She takes great care of her kids, goes to school and works. She really needed a helping hand.

Suddenly the story became personal. Even damning. Because some guilt lies on all of us when someone falls between the cracks so tragically.

I thought of how many times I’ve paid lip service to single moms, often when I’ve had to brave a week or two of solo parenting. I don’t know how they do it; they deserve so much credit. Which they do. But they also deserve my help. My support. My prayers. My refusal to condemn them with my judgment.

And I think I’ve failed in many of those respects, if I’m honest with myself. I could do a lot more. And I hope that reflecting on this awful story will move me to do more.

God’s Mothering Spirit must ache so deeply when such tragedies happen. Those babies are God’s babies, too. As is their mother. And I believe that the God of Love and Compassion and Forgiveness must surround such souls so tightly in those last moments that the terror of the present is washed away with the peace and promise of what is to come.

But I still can’t help but mourn the fact that a mother who “really needed a helping hand” never found one. And I wonder how often my arms are crossed or my fingers wag instead of reaching out a hand to help.

4 thoughts on “when a mothering spirit breaks

  1. Thanks for this post. I, also, was very disturbed by this same story… especially the part where the 10 year old son was able to escape and had to swim to shore for help. What a trauma to him… However, one thing that I think this reflection misses (and that our society in general is quick to turn away from) is mental illness. I agree with you in that solo parenting must be some of the most stressful things we can endure — I had to just endure only 6 days of it and I really struggled — yet, the kind of desperation and irrational thought that led this young mother to her actions was not simply the stress of single parenting. It is obvious that she needed help, especially from a mental health professional. The breakdown that led to her actions started several days/weeks before (as reported by her family members) but they didn’t know what to do. Until we get over the shame, guilt and denial around struggles with mental health, we will not be truly helping people, like this young woman, who are obviously in deep pain.

  2. Great point, Carrie. I was thinking about her mental health but didn’t state it explicitly. In my view, both her own words and those of the day care provider (that she needed help) were clearly a cry that she was in serious mental torment. I couldn’t agree with you more that we all have a part to play in removing the persistent stigmas about mental illness, which is so widespread in our society. Our attitudes, our words, our beliefs about mental illness all make a difference in how these conditions continue to be perceived. I’ve been reflecting a lot lately about issues of mental health and parenting, so you’ve made me think more seriously about what I have to say about this. Thanks.

  3. Also, it’s interesting to think about what our church is/is not doing about the stigmas related to mental health. But thank you for writing about something which challenges our perspectives and tries to shed a pastoral, loving light on something otherwise so painful.

  4. I agree – every time we hear a Gospel story about Jesus healing and casting out demons from someone, I think, “This would be such a great pastoral moment to preach about mental illness – that’s what people called ‘demons’ back then!” But we still seem reluctant as a church to tackle some of these demons today. At least I hear mention of depression, alcoholism or chemical dependency every so often in homilies, but there is SO much more that churches could do to address mental health concerns. I’d love to learn more about faith communities that have done good work in this area.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *