Guest Post: Absent Mother?

by Sangeeta Charan

by Astell

My 4-year-year old daughter asked at the dinner table why we don’t talk much about Mother in Heaven. Good Question. I said we should talk about her more.

Shortly after this conversation with my youngest daughter, I was reading an essay about why there are no mothers in classic fairy tales, girls’ literature, and by extension girls’ films. I disagreed with just about all of it. The typical male-dominated argument about the desirable female being center stage, free to develop on her own, for the pleasure of the male gaze. Really? Is that the best we can do? Can’t we develop the critique any further? From another perspective?

Let’s ignore all historical facts that indeed mothers did die often in childbirth or child rearing – around 20% according to medievalist Sarah Woodbury – leaving many children motherless. Thus, blended families were not uncommon, giving rise to the cult of the wicked stepmother, really having little to do with the vain, preserved creature we see in our mind’s eye now. And in the process of critique, are we disregarding who was telling these stories and consuming them? Not solely men. I kind of doubt that the men on the hunt around the campfire in the 14th century were telling Princess stories to satisfy the male gaze. I may be wrong. I may be stereotyping, but I suspect they were telling fart jokes just like they do now–see Chaucer or Shakespeare.

However at the end of this reading experience I had a moment of very bright insight: what if our mythology is simply reflective of our theology? That might be interesting to think of. This has probably been said before, but it needs to be said again. I think Mother is missing in part because, as I have learned in my own practice of motherhood, one function of a mother is to stave off tragedy. This protective hand is often as silent and unrecognized as the near tragedies she prevents.

I had inklings of this as my daughters were born and it was my job to make sure that they ate, slept, pooped, and therefore stayed alive – an often silent, and unrecognized feat. Moreover, I have averted many the tragedy in our home by being the only one who can locate a blanket, book, toy, or shoe. The sheer number of unrecognized things I do daily as a mother is too long to list here, but gives rise I think to so many of the honestly unsatisfied discussions of motherhood that occur so often in so many venues.

But I truly learned my role as a “tragedy staver” in February of this year as my oldest (6) was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Now I am a pancreas. And quite literally, I must avert tragedy each day and night and make sure her blood sugar does not drop or rise to fatal levels. Days, I handle pretty well, but it is the nights where I can’t sleep, because someone must test her and make sure she is safe. So I sit at vigil, allaying tragedy. We have had many 4 am breakfasts because her blood sugar is dangerously low. The not sleeping is getting to me. But it is my role to avert the tragedy.

On both the literal and literary level fairy tales do not work unless there is tragedy. Simply put, the mother must be missing, so she can not function as the deus ex machina that she is and prevent the tragedy that drives and creates the plot that titillates and excites us. Oh, the pathos of the orphan child! Will you find love?

So in my sleepless nighttime vigils I started to wonder: is our Mother in Heaven missing because we require trials to drive forward our earthy narrative? Do we need that adrenaline rush to really get that we are alive and have choices to make? Does she need to absent herself because she would too readily apply the 2 AM spiritual or temporal juice box that would deprive us of our freedom to learn and risk the low blood sugar danger? No, I don’t think that is the right answer. We are back to the original essay that started me off in the first place and I still disagree with most of it.

So, here is what I think might be interesting to think of – she is not missing from our narrative at all, we simply need to recognize Her. I do believe that one of our Mother in Heaven’s many roles is to prevent tragedy. She is as active in our lives as our earthly mothers, handing out blessings, finding lost thoughts, protecting us from all manner of tragedy we do not know of—because she prevents it. She is in fact so much a part of our lives that we don’t stop to think what she does for us until perhaps we pause to note it. I mean, when was the last time you thought about your pancreas?

(deus ex machina: noun. An unexpected power or event saving a seemingly hopeless situation, especially as a contrived plot device in a play or novel.)

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16 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    Astell thanks for this essay. I was just discussing the absence of HM yesterday with a friend at church yesterday. It’s giving me lots to think about. Adore the pancreas metaphor!

  2. Caroline says:

    I love your concluding thoughts about HM. This resonates well with my own thinking about her.

    “she is not missing from
    our narrative at all, we simply need to recognize Her. I do believe that one of our
    Mother in Heaven’s many roles is to prevent tragedy. She is as active in our lives
    as our earthly mothers, handing out blessings, finding lost thoughts, protecting us
    from all manner of tragedy we do not know of—because she prevents it.”

    I make real efforts to recognize her verbally in my home with my young kids, and when I’m feeling brave I mention Heavenly Parents in church, rather than using Heavenly Father language. While I wish church leaders would include HM in their rhetoric, I suspect it will be up to us as individuals to make sure she is not forgotten and absent.

  3. Tara says:

    This is fantastic. Just…wow.

  4. Maggie says:

    Am I the onlyone who looks at the Trinity and thinks “This looks like a family”? (And if it’s not, who the heck is the Holy Spirit and how did he get into the Trinity?) Am I the only one who considers the roles of comforter and teacher and thinks, “This sounds like what my mom does.”

    I know the rightess of it in my mind doesn’t make it true, but I get great comfort from thinking of the Holy Spirit as my Heavenly Mother. And yes, she has helped me to avert spiritual disaster.

  5. Anarene Holt Yim says:

    Your pancreas analogy is great. When I starting reading Margaret Barker, with the divine feminine associated with wind, breath, and spirit, I had a similar reaction: what if our Mother has been here all along walking this road with us, and we are just not recognizing her? What if She isn’t absent after all, but we are simply blinded?

    Also, good luck with the diabetes. Being a pancreas for a child is a true sacrifice and a great work.

    • EmilyCC says:

      I love your insights into myth here and Heavenly Mother’s unseen role in the tragedies of our lives. Thanks so much for sharing this, Astell! I hope we’ll hear from you more.

  6. Andrea says:

    This was so touching. Sometimes I feel I’ve dedicated nearly every waking moment to care taking. It’s not that men can’t do it — they just don’t. I work with mothers of children with special education needs. Like you, they are weary with endless dedication. God bless all the moms.

    I look at all the streets and buildings, bridges and statues named in honor of men, and, as your post points out, even the deity we worship is all male ………. and I think to myself………… the moms did all the work.

  7. Liz says:

    I love this, Astell. I love the idea of Her being there in all the moments, big and small, like a steady presence. Maybe by being everywhere, we feel she is nowhere.

  8. Melody says:

    I love the way you think, Astell. And the way you write! Thank you for this beautiful essay. I miss Her. God bless you and your family.

  9. jks says:

    Agreed. I think many times a mother in a childhood story would have prevented the problems in the story so you can only have the story if you make the mother absent. So many, many stories have the mother be dead or die, otherwise, you wonder why is the mother such a bad mother? Many stories have both parents absent.
    The real answer is to have better stories. But I guess it is hard for a story about a 12 year old or 15 year old who has great parents who help them with their struggles, because then a huge crisis doesn’t happen.
    As for our Mother in Heaven, we have a Father in Heaven and our Savior and the Holy Ghost. Do we really know who to give credit for anything? I don’t split their roles very specifically. Who answers my prayer? Who loves me? I think our Heavenly Mother is working with them for the same goals so I don’t stress about assigning specific roles much.

  10. Rachel says:

    This line (and this whole post) really got me (thinking/crying/etc.): “On both the literal and literary level fairy tales do not work unless there is tragedy. Simply put, the mother must be missing…”

    With other readers, I believe in and feel the end: She is close. She is kind. She cares.

  11. Juliathepoet says:

    I don’t know if Mother is the Holy Ghost. I know she has her own voice, and we can learn to hear Her.

    I was molested by my biological father for many years, until I started my period. I had always talked to God. It wasn’t until I could let myself trust my stepfather that I started to hear Father’s voice. Then I knew that I knew that the God I talked to, all growing up, was always Mother.

    I can hear the difference and when it is important enough to speak with both voices. It is why I started the Finding Heavenly Mother Project.

    (Julia has a concussion and asked me to help put the sentences together. -Scott)

  12. Kimberly says:

    Amazing. What a brilliant insight — there is no tragedy without a missing mother. And what a great description of the role of mothers. Thank you.

  13. Deborah says:

    I was just thinking about and talking about our HM the other day with my daughters, who asked the same question. And the pancreas thing; I totally relate! My 10 year old son was just diagnosed January 23rd. It will get better…I hear. Sometimes I’m so tired I sleep through my 2 am alarm. So far he’s been ok. That must be when HM takes over. 🙂

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