This piece of graffiti caught my eye recently. What made ‘we want mummy’ even more strange is that it was on a bus stop mostly used by University students. But maybe this isn’t odd at all. Perhaps this is prophetically and deeply true.
If I were to try to get inside the head of the person who wrote it, I would guess that what they meant was that they want unconditional love, a safe embrace, someone to understand and feed them. These are all things that we want from the very beginning of life and that never go away, whatever our mothers are like. As we grow older, we may look for these things in other places (as we should!) but those infant needs, expressed differently, will always be with us.
Mothering Sunday is coming up this week in the UK and on that day it is common for women to be presented with flowers in church. In my experience it is often a daffodil, more technically known as a narcissus, that is handed out. I don’t think there is any particular reason that these flowers are used, apart from the fact that they tend to bloom at the right time. But I’ve been wondering about the strange conjunction.
In the myth that gives the flower its name, the handsome Narcissus makes the mistake of catching his own reflection in a river and falling in love with himself. He is so consumed with passion for himself that he burns up and only a flower is left behind.
From what I’ve read, as humans we might demonstrate narcissism or we might have the more serious narcissistic personality disorder, but in either case, narcissistic people will find community difficult. An inflated sense of self, a lack of empathy, difficulty in accepting criticism and the need for admiration or attention are the most common traits associated with narcissism. It seems to me that these are things that all of us can slip into from time to time.
For those of us who are parents I wonder how we get the balance right in terms of rightly praising our children without confusing them into thinking that they are in some way entitled? We live in enlightened times, with the focus on self-care and self-esteem and identity. You would think it would be an age when people were the most well-adjusted, and self-assured and positive about themselves and others, but I’m not sure it’s true.
I wonder if what is missing is family? By this I don’t necessarily mean nuclear families. The first Christians were pretty radical in terms of re-defining their family ties to include a much wider group. We need a community to distract us to look up and feel safe enough to embrace the messiness of the real world. Of course it isn’t only mothers who can offer love and safety and understanding, and even with the best of human relationships, our infant needs will still remain in some form.
Could wanting mummy also be a longing for God? If so, I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual.
The Lord answered,
“Could a mother forget a child
who nurses at her breast?
Could she fail to love an infant
who came from her own body?
Even if a mother could forget,
I will never forget you. (Isaiah 49.15)
I took Israel by the arm
and taught them to walk.
…I led them with kindness
and with love…
…I held them close to me;
I bent down to feed them.
I have often wanted to gather your people, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…
(Jesus in Matthew 23.37)