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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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An Unnatural Mother

Hotly tipped to win a BAFTA this week is the psychological drama, The Lost Daughter.

It tells the story of Leda, a middle-aged divorcee on a solo holiday to Greece. When a local girl goes missing, Leda becomes intrigued with the lost child and her mother. Their relationship reminds Leda of her own fraught experience of motherhood, which she found to be a ‘crushing responsibility’.

In exploring Leda’s memories, the film dismantles one of our longest-standing cultural taboos: that motherhood should come naturally to women. Not so for Leda. She finds her daughters’ demands overwhelming and spends their early years ‘trying not to explode’.

Ultimately, the feeling becomes unbearable. Leda leaves the family home to pursue her academic career and an extra-marital relationship. Perhaps most shockingly, it is unclear whether she regrets her decision. ‘It felt amazing,’ she says, her eyes brimming with tears.

Director Maggie Gyllenhaal says that one line from the Italian novel on which the film is based particularly struck her: ‘I’m not a natural mother.’ With this declaration Leda offers an explanation of her behaviour that sounds more like a confession. Society says that mothers should be perfect: nurturing, gentle, tender, endlessly self-sacrificial. Leda struggles to feel, and to be, these things. They simply don’t come naturally.

But what are any of us, naturally? Our fallen nature means that we too may struggle to love those on our frontlines – children, spouses, parents, friends – in the way society believes we should, or more importantly, in the way that God requires of us. For his call to love is more than an expectation. It is a command. And it can therefore be even more difficult for us to admit when it feels like a struggle.

Yet God requires us to love not because it comes naturally to us, but because it comes naturally to him. His parent-heart for us is perfect, and so our own hearts do not have to be. Instead, we can ‘know and rely on the love God has for us’ (1 John 4:16).

We do not love because it is expected, or commanded, or because it comes naturally. ‘We love because he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19). All the love we have comes from God. And his supernatural love, available to anyone who asks for it, is powerful enough to allow us to love our enemies, our friends, and even our own incessantly-demanding children.

Rachel Smith
Rachel is a part-time writer and a full-time mum. She attends King’s Church Durham.



  1. Thank you Rachel for such a lovely and insightful piece of writing. Whilst some appear naturally gifted, there are certainly many of us who find parenting very ‘unnatural’ and challenging especially if our children have particularly difficult behavioral issues. Many years ago I remember sharing my struggles with my Heavenly Father and clearly heard Him reply: “you think you have problems with your kids, you should try to deal with some of Mine!”. In Him we can find unlimited compassion, empathy and help with the trials of parenthood. As I shared with a colleague at work who had just become a Mum – being a parent is definitely the most rewarding/scary/exciting/challenging/fun/expensive/surprising thing we will ever do!

    By Peter Riley  -  11 Mar 2022
  2. It’s interesting that in the film it shows that Leda has a good relationship with her children now that they are adults and despite her choice to leave. She acknowledges that both her return and leaving were because of her own feelings. Yet the questions that I keep returning to relate to Leda as a gifted woman and the way in which she had to juggle and fight for the space to pursue those gifts. The nature of the sacrifice that women make continues to be uneven between men and women (as clearly shown during the various lockdowns). I absolutely agree that to love is to be sacrificial – but I suspect that women will continue to be clearer in the ways that they support the development of their husband’s gifts and talents than men do for women.

    By Helena Knapton  -  11 Mar 2022

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