Spiritual Sundays: Christlike Mothering

Editor’s Note: The Power of Moms is a website for mothers of all religions (and for mothers who are not necessarily religious). Each Sunday, we post a spiritual essay, and we would love to gather a wide variety of perspectives and ideas.  Our goal is to be respectful of all beliefs while simultaneously offering opportunities to share meaningful, spiritual thoughts with one another.

I had just swept the final collection into the pile.”Pretzels, captain crunch, popcorn, cheerios, chips…” I spouted off to anyone listening. “Nope. I didn’t eat any of these things,” I continued, as I brushed the last of the pile into the dustpan.

The only person listening at the table said quietly, “It’s the mother’s atonement.”

I straightened up, “What?”

He spoke louder and clearer now between bites of breakfast, “It’s the mother’s atonement.”

I stood silently with a pause hanging in the air. He swallowed and continued, “It’s what mother’s do. They spend their life cleaning up messes for everyone else, messes that they had no hand in making.”

The observance was profound to me. It would seem that I should have been filled for a moment with pride considering that my job of sweeping their crumbs was more Christlike than I had ever considered. Yet, almost immediately, I felt a rushing wave of guilt.

I cowered from the comparison. How many times had I commented out loud, under my breath, to my spouse, or simply in my mind the list of things that I had done for my children? Wanting, for a small moment, for them to recognize and be grateful. It shouldn’t seem wrong to desire my children to be grateful, but in that moment of clarity, I saw that my gratitude requirement was more about me receiving some type of praise or return on my service than it was about them changing their hearts.

Christ never required praise. He never asked for it. He never wanted it.

I can recall conversations with my teenage children where they, in an attempt to get out of a work request, listed off all of the things they had done for me recently. I would then make a conversation-ending comment like,”Well if you’d like to compare service lists we can, and you’d lose, so get to work!”

We’d always had a good laugh about it, but as these thoughts raced through my head Sunday morning with a broom still in my hand, the humor was lost on me. My motives were rarely pure enough for the comparison my husband had just made. The Savior has never offered up a list to compare what He had brought to the table vs. what I had brought. I would lose every time. I know that. But He would never do that.

That Sunday morning comment awoke me to a new mothering concept. Mothering as He would. Not for praise. Not for recognition. Not for a hug, a kiss, or even a thank you. Not because I can’t stand a dirty floor or because someone coming for a visit might see the display of animalistic behavior my children can exhibit. Not for any type of compensation.

Sweeping up crumbs because that’s what He did. With a perfect love.

All that He did and all that He was in His life pointed us to understand the true nature of His Father, our Father. The glory was to be pointed there. It was never about Him. He swept up the crumbs, mended the broken, and made no comment or had any thought as to who was responsible. He cleaned up our messes infinitely with the perfect love of the Father, so that we could come to know Him.

My job as a mother is to point them to the Savior, who will then point them to the Father. Christlike mothering isn’t about what I’ve done for them. It’s about what heart I did it with.

When I show my children who He is through my actions and my heart, then, and only then, can I consider the mother’s atonement applicable to me. Only then do I feel like I am participating in Christlike Mothering.

QUESTION: We all do countless acts of service for our families, but when was the last time you did service with the pure motivation of love?

CHALLENGE: Think of an act of service you can perform for your family this week with a pure motivation to love them.  Write a one word reminder on a piece of paper and hang it on the fridge to remind yourself throughout the week.


  1. kimberlyhansen@live.com says

    I cannot begin to tell you what it means for me to read this today. It is a punch to my gut, in the best way possible. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart.

  2. Beth says

    Service with a pure motivation of love. I’ve dabbled in it, I admit, but gosh it is HARD!!

    For me, it’s about catching myself at those moments when I’m about to point out to my child that he has left his socks on the floor yet again…or to my daughter that her crayons belong in the art box, not on the sofa, yet again…or to my preschooler that the snack he’s finished with doesn’t belong on the car floor, but rather in the trash bin (again!). It’s about catching myself before I say anything, biting my tongue, and in that moment thinking with all my heart, “I love you Jack” as I pick up the socks and put them in the laundry. “I love you Molly” as I put the crayons back in their bin. “I love you, Ben” as I vacuum the ground-in goldfish crumbs out of the car.

    If only I could be this way even TEN PERCENT of the time!! This week, I’m going to write “Pick Up” on an index card and tape it to the fridge. I’m going to keep track of how many things I pick up with LOVE, rather than with annoyance. Thanks for the prompting!

  3. says

    I think the idea that as mothers the most important thing for us is to be pointing our children to Christ is an excellent to point; however there’s something about this post that is making me pause. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Yes, we should be serving our children out of love and not selfish reasons, however, I cannot agree that to teach our children indifference about the sacrifice of others is biblical. Should I demand praise? No. Should I demand accolades? No. But there is something to be said for respect of parents (children, honor your parents in the Lord for this is right) and gratitude (Do everything without murmuring and complaining, but with thanksgiving… – and so many more verses). Christ died for our sins out of love – the biggest sacrifice we could ever fathom – and I’m not sure many of us even ‘get it’ fully. However, to participate in the grace his death and resurrection provide, we need to recognize who He is, die daily to ourselves, and make Him Lord of our lives. The gospel is ALL ABOUT what Christ did for us and our response to it. He may not have walked around patting himself on the back or pouting when people didn’t treat him as a VIP, but he certainly did not preach indifference to his sacrifice. There must be balance or we get entitled children, just like the church is sadly full of entitled Christians.

    • Terra says

      I don’t think the article is saying to teach our children indifference. She is talking of her attitude towards service. Of course we need to be teaching our children to be responsible, but we also need to teach them that we will not always get the atta boys, and that’s ok too. In fact, I would venture to say the entitled children’s attitude could use a little adjusting, and having them realize not everyone will notice everything they do is a good start. :-)

  4. says

    Great article! I am often the martyr mother…which never helps my children feel more grateful OR helps me to feel more love. ; )
    This morning was the PERFECT time for me to read this…right before I walk downstairs and face the complete DISASTER awaiting me after a VERY busy conference weekend wherein almost NO chores got completed. Oh, motherhood…I would never choose anything else, but somedays (like today) it is hard to serve as Christ would. I always clean the messes up, no matter what…but more often then not, I feel more akin to a Maid and much further from Christ.

  5. Cheryl says

    I don’t think this is saying to absolve our children o responsibility. I think it’s saying to give our will to Him and let Him change us. There is nothing wrong with teaching our children to clean up after themselves, after all Christ taught we are accountable for our own actions. It’s all in how it’s done. If we teach them in anger or frustration the lesson will be clouded by that. If its done out of love as Christ taught it will be lasting.

  6. Mattie says

    I love this. It doesn’t matter how much responsibility we give our kids–there will always be things we have to do for them. And if not, what is the point of being a mom? I think that’s the point of this, doing all those things with charity, which is the pure love of Christ. This made me think about all the times I complain about how my work is never complete and that it always comes undone. How many times do I make the same mistakes and go to Heavenly Father asking for forgiveness? It just gave me a little perspective. Thank you.

  7. Danielle says

    I do love this. My only argument would be that gratitude is a commandment from God. As do all commandments, it greatly blesses our lives when we follow it. We become happier and better people. We feel his love through that gratitude and it is important that out children learn to express that gratitude too. And yes they should be grateful to us (as well as to Christ) as we are grateful for them.

  8. Cherie says

    As a mother of five active boys I admit to wanting attention for my work! WOW!!! This article is AMAZING!! I sure have a lot to think about!! Thank you for pointing me in the right direction!

  9. Angela says

    Mothering is impossible without Christ’s love flowing through us, we will fail every single time. It’s important to remember, also, that we are to “train up a child in the way he should go.” That means not doing everything for them. When my children reached the age of 2 I began teaching them how to help, now that I have teenagers they do it (most of the time) without needing to be asked. We are mothers, not maids.

  10. mary says

    This Sunday morning I was so stressed, sad and a little hopeless. Laundry, breakfast dishes, baby needs fed, someone has lost a mitten and Lego ninja. I could go on. 3 boys 5, 4, and 7 months. My husband packing for a business trip. Me knowing it is going to be a rough week without him. I read this and felt as if a divine hand had guided me here. Ah, a sense of purpose and peace. Thank you so much.

  11. says

    I love all of these responses. I apologize if I did not clarify enough that gratitude and respect is of utmost importance. Because this article was originally in a blogpost, my regular readers are fully aware of my feelings on those issues and I neglected to emphasize that here. This article was written as a realization of how I can improve my attitude more than a way for my children to improve theirs. That is an article for another day! Thanks for all of your feedback.

  12. Angela says

    I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can be more Christlike in the way I mother my children. This article was just what I needed. THANK YOU!

  13. Sarah says

    I think that after the Atonement the greatest thing that Christ did during his short life was to teach. He taught through parables and direct language about the importance of loving God (a commandment!), loving your neighbors, showing gratitude, and working hard. He did not go about serving and healing and expecting no further action. He expected his disciples to try to be like Him. To serve and to devote their lives to the building up of the kingdom of God. If you hide your talent under a bushel it can not grow and you will receive no more. If you don’t prepare yourself for the coming of the bridegroom then you will be left behind when he comes. No one can do your preparation for you! I think these and all of his other teachings are vitally important lessons that our children need to learn, especially if they are not babies and toddlers anymore! We needn’t serve without any thought for help or thanks or loving acts in return. We should serve selflessly, yes, but we should also teach our children to work hard and to serve others, including their parents and the members of their own families, and to show gratitude and love to those who serve them.

  14. says

    Sarah you are absolutely right. I would further add that we can ‘teach’ our children through our examples of pure intent with our service better than if we demand it or preach to them about it. Our examples are the best tool we have in teaching our children.

  15. says

    This is beautiful insight. Thank you for sharing! All too often, I find my small little self looking inward instead of reaching outward. When I consciously think about reaching outward, my heart immediately feels lighter and I feel an increase of love for others, especially my family. I really needed to read this. Thank you again.

  16. agonzo says

    I could not have read this at a better time. I feel overwhelmed and under appreciated. This was great insight, much needed. I agree as well with most of the comments above about teaching, but this particular artical was about your intent and inward feelings as your doing all these things that you have to do. It’s a beautiful way of looking at it so that your anger or frustration doesn’t get the best of you. Thank you so much!

  17. Anna Jenkins says

    Hi Rachel. Just read your post, which April had referenced on her blog today. Beautiful and just what I needed. I am “sweeping up” after an adult daughter and my husband. Both should know better and should take care of some of this themselves and that is what I murmur about constantly. I am going to take your challenge. Perhaps if my attitude gets this adjustment, they will notice and be more helpful. I am going to check on your bio. I thought we already had that in place.

  18. Renee says

    I found this on Pinterest, and it was exactly what I needed today. Thank you so much for the reminder of what Christlike Mothering is all about. God bless you!

  19. Rachel Smith Parker says

    From my perspective I have found that love is the motivator behind all acts of service. And wearing yourself out for the ones you love, seems an excellent way to use your energy. And it is true that Mothers with a pure desire end up self-less and generous and kind, and who would’nt want that?

  20. Megan says

    We teach our children gratitude by being thankful to them, others and most of all to our spouse. Our husbands are also great examples of this as te praise their wives and thank them for their service in front of their children. We never need to demand praise of ourselves.

  21. Lori says

    Wow this is truly makes you think. I’m a mother of 5 boys and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like I deserve a thank you or as you said, recognition. Thank you so much for this beautiful eye opener.

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