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.

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2 thoughts on “Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers

  1. I’ve actually struggled with Francine Rivers lately. I found that Her Mother’s Hope didn’t have very much hope at all. After writing my own review (which you can read at http://www.tracysbooknook.com ) I went out and read about 50 other reviews, and 50 out of 50 loved this book. I guess there’s always one in the crowd who doesn’t fit in – and this time it’s me. 😦

    -Tracy

    1. Hi Tracy,

      Thanks for your comment. 🙂 I read your review and I can certainly see where you’re coming from. Many times, while reading the book, I chafed at the treatment Marta dished out to Hildie. It seemed like tough love taken to the extreme so that it looked like No Love! On the other hand, I felt like Marta felt the burden of being responsible for her own survival all her life that she just could not understand or tolerate perceived weakness in anyone. So her life was book-ended by utter self-sufficiency on the one hand and fear of “what might happen if she was not in control” on the other. It’s a tough tightrope to walk. And I can identify with it. 🙂

      I liked the book, though, because it highlighted the tough calls each mother has to make, and also showed how each mom’s approach to child-rearing and training springs from her own background and dysfunction. The book brings it out into the open…how our best intentions as mothers are wrongly perceived or understood by our children because they don’t know WHY we do things the way we do; or see what fears, worries, and concerns motivate our mothering decision and actions…largely because parents might be afraid to talk about their fears. I loved reading (at the back of the book) how Francine Rivers wrote this book to try and make sense of the rift between her mother and grandmother. You’ll see the “sins visited on the next generation” more starkly in Her Daughter’s Dream”.

      When I think about the title of the book, I like to imagine that it is Marta’s mother’s hope (that her daughter would fly) that is being referred to. Marta’s hope for Hildie was just that she would toughen up and not be run-over by life. Ironically, I can’t see how her treatment of Hildie would have given her the confidence and courage that is essential to one’s emotional survival. As a child, my mother was like Marta (cold and critical) and I was the over-sensitive child. There was little love, and a lot of my “not measuring up”. It alienated me from her for life because we never talked about it. She was of a generation that did not like to discuss things like that with children, I guess. That’s why, at the end of the book, Marta FINALLY realizes that if she is not to lose her daughter forever, she will need to humble herself, ask for her daughter’s forgiveness, and make things right.

      I don’t think that your dislike of the book means that you “don’t fit in”, Tracy. Not everyone will like this book. But those who like it will write a rave review. Personally, I suspect that those of us who identify with the characters in some way, or with the tension in mother-daughter relationships, will like this book because of all the AHA moments sparked by watching another mother and daughter living their relationship before our eyes. These AHA moments made me wonder about my own mother and her personal history and how it must have affected her. She’s dead now, but refused to talk about it even when she was alive (except in the most sketchy terms).

      Consequently, I see both Her Mother’s Hope and Her Daughter’s Dream as fiction that is more realistic than “feel-good”…just like real relationships that are more prickly, fraught, and strained by misunderstanding and miscommunication than we like. I didn’t finish the book and hug it like I do other books. But it sure got me thinking!!! 🙂

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