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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A bi-weekly column, featuring one Christian's (a)musings on life's journey

by Barbara Dahlgren

The Motherless Child
Column for the weeks of May 1-15, 2007

Beth was a lovely young woman. At least my daughter Shelly thought so – underneath all that make up, purple nail polish, spiked hair, and nose jewelry. It was hard to tell, really, but Beth had something going for her. She was ready to accept help and make whatever changes necessary to gain employment. Shelly, a volunteer at Career Closet, was eager to help her. This worthwhile organization provides women with professional clothing, interview skills and presentation advice.

Shelly had helped many like Beth obtain employment. She taught them how to put their best foot forward for job interviews. The seductive way Erin Brokovich dressed may make for a good movie, but a future boss looking for a receptionist may not appreciate outlandish hair styles or garish clothing. These young women listened and learned. Although Shelly wasn’t much older than those she helped, she felt like a mother passing on basic information – information that indeed mothers ought to teach their children. But many of them didn’t have mothers and some had mothers who were incapable of sharing fundamental life skills.

The Career Closet website ( has testimonies from grateful clients. They appreciate the clothing and service, of course, but the appreciation runs deeper than that. These women feel cared about, valued, empowered, and like they were worth something. All these mind-sets are part of what mothers pass on to their children – feelings like “you can do it,” “you are valuable,” and “you are special.” Unfortunately, our society is full of children who are motherless.

During the time of slavery, it was a common practice to sell children of slaves away from their parents. Thus spirituals like “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child” were written. We all feel this way at times – hopeless, unloved, alone, helpless. After all, we are all children at heart.

The death of a mother can leave a child feeling abandoned. Lynn Davidman, a qualitative sociologist who works in the field of gender studies, explores a motherless child’s feelings of loss in her book, Motherloss. Most of those she interviewed felt a lack of nurturing. Many weren’t allowed to express their grief and told to simply “move on” with their lives. If the father did remarry, the majority reported situations with stepmothers more concurrent with fairy tales we’ve read.

There are other ways a child can feel motherless. Perhaps a mother is addicted to drugs or alcohol. When a mother is drunk or strung out, the child becomes more like the parent. According to a study from the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, mothers who have such addictions are more prone to physical punishment or violence with their children.

Then we have the mother who may be there in body, but not in spirit. These are mothers who just can’t be bothered with raising their children. I’m not talking about working moms who are just doing the best they can to help support the family and care for their children. Maybe they can’t spend the time with a child they would like to, but they are trying. The child feels loved. I’m referring to mothers who detach themselves. They refuse to discipline or instruct their off spring because it would take time and effort. It would be too inconvenient. As a result, their kids think rules don’t apply to them and that they are better than everyone else.

Our country is full of motherless children, homeless children, fatherless children, and orphans. My heart goes out to them. My prayers go up for them.

I’m reminded of scriptures in the gospels when Jesus uses the example of a hen protecting her brood. “How often would I have gathered your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings...” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34) In Jesus’ time hens were not just mass producing, egg laying machines; they represented maternal care. Get too close to a sitting hen and her chicks and she will gather them under her wings. She’ll do everything in her power to protect them – even sacrificing her life.

After a forest fire, a group of firefighters were making sure all the hot spots had been extinguished. One of the men spotted the charred remains of a large bird. He wondered why this bird didn’t fly away. Was it sick or injured? As he touched the carcass with his boot, he heard a chirp. Four little birds fluttered out from under the dead animal. The bulk of the mother’s body had covered them from the flames. She died, but her babies lived.

Who will gather our motherless children under their wings?

At this time of year we honor our mothers – and rightly so. My children have thanked me over and over again for just passing on basic information, life skills, and common sense. The older they get, the more they realize that common sense is not so common anymore. I’m grateful they use some of what I’ve passed on to them to help others.

But this year, let’s not forget the child yearning for a mother. If you know such a child, look beyond the outward appearance and into the heart. Take the time to smile, chat, encourage, and validate. Remember, there are times when we all feel like a motherless child.



Be sure to visit this page often to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at



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