what to do with your mother’s heart when you have no child of your own


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Some women are born with a child-shaped hole in their hearts. The hole is meant for a child – or a lot of children – of their own. Why try to pretend it’s meant for anything else?

In Becoming God’s True Woman, Dorothy Kelley Patterson writes:

“If you are a woman, whether you are married or single and whether or not you have physical children, there is a maternal spirit within your very nature. That maternal spirit has been given you by God Himself and is an essential part of His plan for reproducing His heart in the next generation.”

Every time I read this, I wonder if my longing for motherhood can truly be transformed into a motivation for reaching out and investing in children today. It sounds good and spiritual. And it explains why I want to be a mother so much. But is it really helpful for a girl who feels with a pang every tick of her biological clock?

Honestly, I don’t want to be motivated. I want to be granted the gift of my own children to mother, before it’s too late.

Life is so busy, so frantic, so tiring. Add the pain of singleness or infertility and it’s all too easy not to invest in the younger generation. Maybe later, tomorrow — some other time when it’s easier. Less complicated. Less painful.

But the truth is that all we have is today.

We’re almost sure to nurture something.

Many single girls have cats simply because their hearts need something to nurture. I’m not saying that you must choose between owning a cat and nurturing random children or teenagers. But why not endear yourself to the hearts of the children God brings into your life? They very soon become individual, lovable characters of their own.

The trick isn’t to invest in whatever children you happy to know in the hope that it will stop the longing for motherhood. It probably won’t. But investing in others can motivate you. Get you out of the house or the church. Get you involved in places beyond your comfort zone. Get you connected with hearts that need what you can give – love and laughter – today.

And “the m word” – mentoring? Yes. It scares me too. But it’s just a word. And if you’ve got a child-sized hole in your heart, then mentoring is just a word for reaching out, with hands and heart full of love and laughter, to the children or teenagers who are in your life right now. In fact, it’s like that other “m word”: mothering. Mentoring can be another word for mothering.

If you’ve got a child-sized hole in your heart, then mentoring is just a word for reaching out, with hands and heart full of love and laughter, to the children or teenagers who are in your life right now.

4 ways to reach out and invest in others

Invest in the children in our families and friends’ families.

Brothers and sisters. Nieces and nephews. Cousins. Most of us have children or teenagers in our family somewhere. And if not in our families then in our friends’ families. Pray for the children and their families. Pin their pictures on your wall and know their faces. Spend time with them — playing games and reading stories. Be a fun person to play with and a safe person to share secrets and tell stories to. Listen to their words and their hearts. Accept their presents. And give them presents too!

Invest in the lives of the children or the teenagers in our spiritual families.

Get involved in the children’s or teenager’s ministry in your local church. Perhaps you can lead (or help to lead) a class for little children or a study for older girls. Pray for them and their families. Be accessible. Be fun. And be godly, too! Let them see the love of God in your eyes and the fruit of the spirit in your life and want to be like you someday.

Invest in the lives of the children or the teenagers in our neighbourhoods.

Do you know the needs of the children in your neighbourhood? Many communities — even “privileged” ones — include children who are lonely and hurting. You’ll need to be sure that you interact with them per the law of the land but most communities are desperate for people to notice these children and give their time to making their lives better. Advocate for their right to childhood. Pour love and laughter into their hearts. Give them time and space to blossom into the children God intended them to be.

Invest in the lives of teenage girls and young women.

So many of the younger women in our midst long for mentors — and, even, for mothers. Be a “big sister” to a young girl you know. Meet for tea and cake. Write letters. Share Scriptures. Pray for her and encourage her in her faith or her search for faith. Model godly, passionate womanhood for her in an accessible, vulnerable way. Let her know that you care for her and want her to be the woman God has created and called her to be.

Mentoring doesn’t have to be scary. It doesn’t have to be done the way a certain book says (although there is wisdom in learning from the experience of others). If you have a heart for children, then there’s always something you can do to reach out and give to them from your abundance.

Maybe your longing for motherhood doesn’t feel like an abundance. Maybe it feels more like a curse than a blessing as it trips you up with heartache and tears every blessed day.

But maybe you have a child-shaped hole in your heart for a reason.

Maybe it’s not a gift for you alone. Maybe it’s a gift for the children in your family or your community. Maybe it’s given to you to motivate you to reach out and mother children or teenagers at church.

Maybe it’s meant to stop you from settling for a cat.

Do you have any ideas and suggestions for investing in the lives of the next generation? 

Here are a few resources:

(originally published in 2012; edited from the archives)


  1. Thanks so much for the shout out for More to Be and the mentoring resources we offer. Love hearing your heart for mentoring and investing in the next generation, too!

  2. Thanks for your encouraging words! I am a twenty something, too, and have struggled with how I can live out that “motherly” desire now. I will share this with several other single ladies I know.

  3. How very true. Wonderful post. Growing up I had no aunts, only uncles (who were not married) I have the most wonderful memories of them spending all their free time with us, loving and nurturing us.

    1. When I was tiny, most of my uncles and aunts were still young and they were like big brothers and sisters, it was wonderful! I’m so grateful for the opportunity to invest in their children’s lives now. I have such happy uncle and aunt memories! 🙂

  4. Wow, this is a really great post-exactly what I needed. In the last 18 months I’ve been making a speacial effort to spend time with my cousins. They’re adorable and I love encouraging them!

  5. Thanks Elisabeth! This is so important! 🙂 I want this sentence to be my mission statement : Model godly, passionate womanhood for her in an accessible, vulnerable way.

  6. One thing I might add to the first point (“Investing in the children in our families and friends’ families”)is — my aunt is a woman who loves children, is single (she’s in her 30’s), and loves giving gifts. I can remember that we children always looked forward to when she was coming over, because she rarely didn’t come with a present for us. Most often, it was simply a piece of candy or gum, but her gift showed that we were each special to her. She took time to be with us (the few times she could come), and for that I’ll always have fond memories of her. Even when we were half-way around the world from her, she sent us a bag of candies!

    The point I’m trying to make is, that is one kind of gift you can give your nieces and nephews — a small gift to show that you love them, and warm friendship. They’ll always remember you for the things you did to them, whether good or bad.

    God Bless,

    1. It’s so special to be blessed by that sort of generous love. I have a couple of very small cousins who are rather confused about whether I’m a cousin or an aunt and I try to give them the sort of individual attention and generous friendship you describe. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

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