Today is Mother’s Day in the US, and I am lucky to have my mother staying with me right now. Her memory is not what it used to be so I have reminded her several times already that it’s Mother’s Day, and it’s only 10:00 am. She always receives this news with a delighted smile, hearing it again as if for the first time. I feel as if I never really knew my mother when I was growing up, because from six years old I spent nine months of the year at a boarding school. To be perfectly honest, I think our mother-daughter relationship was broken many years ago. I have never had a bad relationship with her, but watching other mothers and daughters I sense that they have something my mother and I do not have.
Today, though, I have the perspective of raising my own children to make me realize the struggles a mother goes through. I also know a lot more about what goes on behind the scenes in a missionary’s life to help me understand the decisions that my own parents made. Talking to other MKs and reading about their relationships with their mothers helps, especially the ones who struggled. In the latest issue of Simroots, Beryl Kirk, who attended Gowan’s Home in the 50s and early 60s, writes a heartwrenching story called Mother and Me. Back in those days SIM children were sent back to their home country for schooling, and only saw their parents every four years when they came home on furlough.
I don’t believe SIM required that missionaries send their children to boarding school when I started school in the mid 60s, in fact I know just a few kids who were homeschooled. However that was against the norm, the majority went to KA, and I imagine that a busy woman running a leprosarium or a guest house as my mother did, which was a full time job, would have a tremendous struggle about giving up that ministry to homeschool her children. What would be the reaction of the mission if she had chosen to do this? Several years ago my mother told me that if she had to do it again she would never have sent us to boarding school, but she did not know then what she knows now.
In an article on the Missionary Kids Safety Net web site Ann Beardslee talks of her reasons for sending her children to Mamou, an extremely abusive boarding school. The Christian and Missionary Alliance required that missionaries send their children to boarding school, and the Beardslee family was obedient to the mission, up until the point where they realized the terrible harm that was being done to their children at Mamou.
My own mother, Lavina Jackson, traveled over to Africa as a single woman in the 50s, on a freighter. She is a breathtaking beauty in the pictures of her younger years. She worked as a nurse in a leprosarium, met my Dad, married and had three children, and spent 30 or so years living and working in Nigeria. Even after she left the mission she volunteered in soup kitchens, ran Child Evangelism Fellowship classes in her home where she got to know all the neighborhood kids, and even took in a foster daughter for several years. She is an incredibly brave woman, in fact she is quite fearless. But at the same time she is gentle and kind, open minded and understanding. I know all these things about her, and I know I am her daughter, but I still feel a bond is missing between us that should be there.
Raising my own sons has been a tremendous struggle for me since I have no history with my own parents. What is the proper thing to do in this situation, or that one? While I listen to others talking about the joyous days of caring for their young children, I look back at it as a time of uncertainty and anger that I could not explain at that time. Now I know more about why I felt that way, but children grow up, and it is too late to go back and do the parenting over again.
Best wishes today to all you missionary and MK mothers out there, on this bittersweet holiday.