I saw a recent Facebook post by a young mother. It was an article talking about how hard it is to parent these days. The culture offers us minute by minute advice on how to raise strong, healthy, creative, sensitive, thoughtful, intelligent, athletic, well-rounded children. The stress can be overwhelming and the guilt can be debilitating.

When I read the article I was reminded of the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott who studied child development. He believed that central to the health of a child is the way she is held.  The mother’s holding is important in that it creates a warm and safe place in which the child might navigate the changes in her life. He calls this “good enough mothering.”

Jacqueline J. Lewis interprets Winnicott this way: “[A] mother creates a holding environment for the child as she cradles him in her arms and creates a safe place for him to grow. This holding environment is increased with time and space; it becomes a cradle, a playpen, the next room, and eventually the weekly phone call between a parent and an adult child. Thus the arms-around feeling of the holding environment becomes the transitional space in which a child develops; transitional space is also the space for adult living, learning and playing. It is the space in which art, creativity and religious experience occur.” (The Power of Stories)

There are many things that our culture offers our children and so many of the young parents I know work really hard to make these available to their off-spring. But, I sometimes wonder if the stability of a holding space isn’t the most important. Parents, whether men or women, create a container to help children hold their energy and spirit so that they can work out how to live in the family, the neighborhood and the society. Children, regardless of our ages, need people who can help us hold what is sometimes the chaotic emotions of growing and changing.

So parents, hold on and stay present. Our children need the “arms-around” feeling that can help them discover their own way, their own strength and their own direction.


Many of us have done it. Many of my friends are doing it now. And to a person, they frequently comment, “It just doesn’t feel right!” Many of us get to a place in our lives when we are called on to parent our parent.  Because of the blessing of health care, many of our parents live past their mind’s capacity to allow them to live independently. The ones on whom we counted to provide a compass for our actions by their standing firm in who they have been are now not able to hold the center of their identity or stand on their own.

These people who have been “there” in our psyche even when they may not have been there in physical form, lost their mental or physical agility that was characteristic of them (and thus our relationships with them) throughout their adult life. We are now in a position where we have to do things for them and make decisions for them that are for their well-being.

And we discover that they don’t take giving up their freedom anymore than we liked someone taking away our freedom when we were younger. They rebel. They resist. They get angry and strike out. They too are feeling scared and confused even as they lose their ability to navigate the relationships of their lives.  And when I talk with them, they are saying the same thing that their adult children are saying: “It just doesn’t feel right!”

So what do we do? Unfortunately the answers are as awkward and confusing as the answers to effective parenting of children. But, as with young children, respectful conversation is central. Even if there is limited cognitive capacity, it can help if they feel you have some idea that they are losing so much of who they are. And realizing that we are losing so much of who we are in relationship to them helps us be more graceful with our own feelings. Hard decisions will have to be made and anger and resentment will undoubtedly be part of the equation. But, just like your parent had to courage to make hard decisions for you, it takes courage to make decisions for them. 

Sometimes in the midst of these tough times, “It just doesn’t feel right!” So, showing up and offering forgiveness to each other is really important. Even if we don’t feel right, being in it together can help. And remember, touch each other tenderly. When we were young, even when things weren’t working well, a warm embrace could ease the pain. 


We all have or had at least one. “To be” is to “have been born” into this world in the body of one. We had a birth mother.  We had those who bore us physically and then we had one or more “mothers” who birthed our soul’s song. We have had and have women in our lives who have hidden us in their womb of grace and nourished our fragile and vulnerable selves.

This season we celebrate these women. Some of us celebrate them by inviting them into our presence for dinner or throwing a grandkid party. But, others of us can only celebrate them by inviting their spirit into our memory. These women who have born us and borne our burdens with us are no longer physically with us. We can only remember.

And there is so much to remember. Mothers have dared to confront our dangerous behavior and we remember not liking them very much. We also remember times when we were sick and they sat beside our bed deep into the night. We remember their lack of patience on some occasions and we remember how they kept showing up, year after year, to support us in our uneven growth into self-agency.  Those of us who have parented children can’t help but marvel at how much self-doubt is present in the heart of a parent as we try to do the best thing for these little ones. And then we think of how much our mothers might have struggled to figure out the best way to help us in our emotional rollercoaster of maturing. We remember their persistent presence even when their bodies were rebelling and their hearts were broken. 

This season I remember and celebrate both the courage of my mother to do the tough work of discipline as well as the thousands of tender mercies that were showered on me —most of which I took for granted. I know my memory is faulty but I am choosing to remember with gratitude the mother who gave me breath and who taught my heart to sing.


He sat at the table describing his experience with chemotherapy a couple of years ago.  “I have a different perspective now on the phrase, ‘Living in the moment.’” 

I asked, “What do you mean?”

He said, “Depression and despair is so great when at nine o’clock in the morning you can’t stand to think about the relief of going to sleep at nine o’clock in the evening.”

He went on to say, “Most of our lives we live in the space between something that we remember and something that we anticipate. Like when we visited our friend last weekend and when we are going to have dinner with another friend tomorrow.  Most of the time we think about what has happened, reveling in it or regretting it, and then what might happen that will be pleasant or that we dread.”

“But,” he said, “when your world shrinks into the compressed moment of feeling so terrible that you can’t even imagine the next hour, all you can stand to do is “live in the moment.’”

I had never thought about the suffering of some people that way. Pain and nausea can be so claustrophobic. The walls of pain can block our future and blind our memory.

I don’t know what his might mean. But, it does help me see why it is hard to know how to be with people in that kind of situation. And it helps explain why one of the best things we can do in the midst of suffering is simply “be with” another. There is no way that I can know what it is like to suffer that way. So, my words will be inadequate or empty. But, maybe quiet companionship in the squeezed-in box of pain and suffering can be helpful.



As an executive coach I hear lots of stories. I work with pastors and hear of the joys and struggles of leading congregations.  Sometimes the stories are deeply moving.

The pastor received a call from a stranger. “Does your church take communion to people at the nursing home?”  

“Yes, we do.”

“We moved my mother here so she could be closer to us. She misses her church back home. Would it be possible to take her communion when you go there?”

“Certainly!  We would be happy to.”

The pastor and a couple from the church went to see the woman on a Saturday after they had had a workday cleaning up the property. The woman welcomed them into her room.  They served her communion and tears began running down her cheek.  Through sobs she thanked them for coming and sharing the Lord’s Supper with her.  She then told them this story:

“On Easter I was watching a worship service on TV and the minister said that we could take communion wherever we were.  Since I eat in the dining hall for all my meals, I didn’t have any bread for communion.  So, I tore off a piece of paper and chewed it. I then took some water (I remember that Jesus turned water into wine) and I took a drink of water.”

Oh, our longing to be connected!!  The mother who was now exiled from her home and living in a refugee camp for the aged longed to be connected to her community of faith. She wept tears of joy because members of her Christian community came to welcome her to a new home with them. She could not only receive the gifts of bread and cup from the hands of another, but she didn’t have to eat alone. Chewing paper is a poor substitute for the touch of a human hand that offer us symbols of God’s love.