Hand-Me-Down Wisdom

I’m a mother to four children ages three and under. Yes, my hands are full, but so are our closets. In a household of rapidly growing little bodies, I’ve found the task of dressing my children in the midst of diapering, disciplining, and daily keeping them alive to be quite the challenge. One Sunday morning our eldest son’s church-designated pants fit quite nicely, and it seems like the next Sunday morning these same pants have been mysteriously swapped out for capris. On Monday, it doesn’t matter that our third child has no shoes because he is happy to army crawl his way around the house. On Tuesday, he finds his legs and decides to start walking. Our neighbors probably wonder why he’s now toddling down the sidewalk in hot pink Stride Rite shoes quickly pulled from his older sister’s wardrobe.

The constantly changing need for clothes is the reason I am profoundly grateful when I sit down in my church pew on Sunday, and a mom smiles and hands me a bag full of hand-me-downs. When other moms in my network shift out of their kids’ life stages and read books on minimalism, I rejoice because it means I get to benefit from their desire to purge. At this point, I would say that 90% of what my kids wear from day to day are clothes that have been given to us. What a gift!

Yet an even greater gift to me as I have become a mom to a full house has been the hand-me-down wisdom that comes along with the hand-me-down clothes. As quickly as my children grow physically, the ways in which they grow developmentally seem even faster. My need for wisdom in motherhood increases with each new milestone. That is where the wisdom of older moms has been crucial. My children wear not only the pants and shirts of those who have gone before, but they also sport the well-worn advice and encouragement of older ladies.

The Need for Wisdom

In the book of Proverbs, the author frequently describes wisdom as clothing. Instruction and teaching are “a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck” (1:9). We are to intentionally seek out garments of wisdom and don them in our daily lives as we practically apply the truths of God’s Word. Proverbs 25:12 states, “Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear.” There is priceless value in the words of those who have gone before us and learned from their own experience what it means to mother in a godly way. 

Paul makes it explicit in Titus when he reminds older women to “teach what is good, and so train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (2:3-5). For those of us who have grown up in the church, this is a very familiar passage. To older women in the church, this task may seem daunting. Please don’t let it intimidate you or cause you to hold those hand-me-down truths close to the chest. The ways in which this biblical command is applied do not need to take place within a formal class setting or sit-down conversation designated for teaching.

A Word to the Wise

Sisters in Christ who have been mothering for many seasons: you have much to share from your closet of past experience with tantrums, potty training, and teaching your children about Jesus. Think of the times you are helping out in the church nursery with another young mom as a perfect opportunity for discipleship. Ask her what her current struggles are, and dig to the back of that closet to pull out some truths. Do you see a young mom after the benediction who looks exhausted and embarrassed after leaving five times during the service to discipline her child? Give her a hug and cover her with the encouragement to not grow weary in doing good, for she will reap a harvest if she does not give up (Gal. 6:9). The author of Proverbs reminds you: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it” (Prov. 3:27). You have so much goodness to hand down to us, and we will gladly recycle your wisdom. It’s still in fashion and worthy of wear.

Receiving the Gift

The clothing situation in Charleston during the winter months is ever changing. Some days it is 65 degrees, and my children can run around outside in short-sleeve t-shirts. Yet recently, we had a cold snap that had me scrambling to find appropriate kids’ clothes to fit the weather. That very morning, a friend texted our group of moms about a fun gathering she was planning downtown but that would require winter coats for all of my kids. I had one coat for my daughter, and that was about it besides for thin sweatshirts to put on the three boys. I jokingly texted back to the group that I clearly was not winning any mom awards anytime soon, and that we weren’t going to go since I couldn’t come up with a wardrobe. Later that day, I heard a knock on the door, and my friend’s husband stood there holding a bag. “This is from my wife. She said you needed some clothes.” There in the bag were warm clothes for my kids, including some winter apparel. I could have chosen embarrassment and refused this generous gift. But instead I humbly said thank you and accepted it.

Young moms: don’t be embarrassed or offended when older moms share truth with you, even when it’s unsolicited. It does not mean you are doing a horrible job of being a mother. Instead they are fulfilling their God-given task to dress you with the Word of God. Wisdom dictates you take their advice and instruction, and you gladly accept it. Some of the hand-me-downs they share may not seem to fit the current season or struggle with your children. That’s ok. Just receive them, fold those truths up, and store them for later when there will be a time to use them. My prayer is that, as we, both young and old sisters in Christ, pursue and place upon ourselves the truth of God’s Word, it may be said of each one of us, that “strength and dignity are her clothing” (Prov. 31:25)