Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers

Just finished Francine Rivers’ book, Her Mother’s Hope.  Painful to read at times, but hard to put down, it was about the fraught, awkward relationship between a headstrong, self-assured mother, and her perceived-to-be-weak daughter whom she pushed and prodded relentlessly to equip her to “survive” in the world.

It brought to mind two teachers I had when I was training to become an English teacher. Their teaching and motivational styles could not have been more different. D. was critical, unsmiling, strict, straight-to-the-point, direct, and dishearteningly aware of every area of weakness she found in a budding teacher.  L. was calm, kind, encouraging, soft-spoken, sweet, affirming, comforting, intelligent, and motivational.  After every teaching practice session, each student teacher would undergo a debrief.  When debriefed, by D., I wanted to give up.  There was no way I was ever going to be good enough to stand before a class and attempt to instruct them in English grammar and syntax.  With L., on the other hand, I felt buoyed up.  I had hope.  I felt like keeping on.  She made me think that if I continued to focus on my strengths and work some improvements into my teaching approach, that I would be a success.  “You are a born teacher,” she confidently declared.  Because of her, I completed my qualification, graduating with Distinction.  She even recommended me to my first language-school employer.

I am certain that D. never meant to be mean or caustic.  To my surprise, she told me that she sincerely wanted me to succeed and that, by pointing out all my areas of weakness and getting me to focus on improving them, she was helping me to do so.  Problem is, it did not work for me.  And no wonder.  Marcus Buckingham (http://www.tmbc.com/whystrengths/businesscase) writes:

“Years of research prove that individuals and teams playing to their strengths significantly outperform those who don’t in almost every business metric. In fact, the single best predictor of a consistently high-performing team is the answer to this question: “At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best everyday?” Teams with individuals who do massively outperform teams with people who don’t-they’re more profitable, more productive, less likely to quit, less likely to have accidents on the job…the list goes on.

That’s compelling, but this is confounding: Our research reveals that only 12% of people in the workplace play to their strengths “most of the time.” In general, society is fascinated by weaknesses (most employee reviews bear this out), and we take strengths for granted.”  Isn’t that startling?

Now, going back to Her Mother’s Hope,  here was a mother who genuinely loved her child, but was driven by fear to Toughen Her Up.  The book deftly revealed the the inner thoughts and motivations of both mother and daughter, and how each one’s words fell on the other’s heart and ears.  In many cases, actions prompted by love but expressed too harshly, were interpreted as hate, thus creating distance and distrust.

As an adult daughter, I can now see how my own now-deceased mother’s fears and insecurities prompted the way she behaved towards me.  I can guess at the reasons for her jealousy, her suspiciousness, her accusations.  It helps me understand why friends and relatives would say she loved me when all I heard were cutting remarks meant to cut me down to size lest I become swell-headed or conceited.

We never really know the fears, worries, and sadness that motivate our parents’ actions and words.  In the book, Marta’s own mother comments on a woman who was very rude to Marta, saying, “She is more to be pitied, than despised.”

It is a credit to Francine Rivers’ keen insight, and masterly writing that we can read compassionately about human weakness and examine ourselves rather than point the finger.