I just want to give a shout out to the St. Brigid’s Moms’ Group in case I have any new visitors in this space. Thank you for the warm reception. I enjoyed my visit to your beautiful parish and hope to be back someday!
I’m very grateful to be an at-home mom, and usually I feel fairly satisfied with my station in life even if it sometimes feels like my days revolve around my kids’ bowel movements and sleep patterns. I did have one well-meaning loved one once say something like my mind would be wasted if I left my work to be at home, but mostly my friends – including my childless, working ones – and relatives have lauded my motherhood vocation. Still, like most moms I do occasionally suffer from stabs of insecurity. Our culture gives motherhood plenty of lip service, but we also live in a world where women are encouraged to do it all, to cultivate talents as well as to escape the ennui and the burden of motherhood.
I’d never suggest that we need to sugarcoat motherhood. It’s not all puppies and finger paint. Well, that’s not exactly true either. Sometimes our toddlers pee on our floor and even chew up things like a puppy (I have a scarred Nerf ball to prove it), and finger paint ends up not as lovely artwork we hope to memorialize but as stains on our new couch. Later on our little ones become teens. I’m not as terrified as the teen years as some or as perhaps I ought to be (ignorance is bliss), but I also know it will be a challenge to raise my older children just as it’s sometimes very, very hard to nurture these young children in my midst.
Yes, it’s hard. Yes, mothers do need more of a village to help them. To me, that village is not government except in rare cases but community whether that comes from moms in your neighborhood, your church, grandparents or other family members, a reliable babysitter, a supportive husband, and/or online nooks that leave you feeling edified and encouraged.
But what we don’t need is to think that children are nothing more than soul-sucking burdens and that we women ought to do more with our lives than simply manage a home and nurture children – or that if we choose to simply “just” be a mom, we are less of a person.
Interestingly, the same social scripts that warned us about never allowing a man to turn us into Barbie are furtively turning us into Ken — and ladies, Ken doesn’t wear an apron or change diapers all day. Ken wears power suits and changes the world. The same society that praises motherhood (when it is convenient and the time is “right”) is telling us we don’t have to “just” be moms confined to a life of domestic drudgery. We have the potential to be so much more (who cares if there’s only 24 hours in the day?).
Do I ever mourn my old self? The one who slept eight hours at night, read a book a week, loved her job as an editor, enjoyed weekly date nights with my husband, and exercised pretty much whenever she wasn’t too lazy to lace up her running shoes? No, mourn isn’t the right word (except maybe when it comes to sleep). There’s no regret in living this life, but there is sometimes some nostalgia or even a slight drop of wistfulness. But most of my insecurity and feelings of inadequacy or fear I’m leading an inadequate life come from the outside world, which can leave an at-home mom like myself wondering if we should have it all or in the very least want to have it all — as in a career that provides manifold satisfaction and an identity other than “Mommy.” There have been times when I would have been pretty content with the season of life I’m in if not for the guilt from the fact that I simply did not even have the desire to do more and be more. What’s wrong with me? Am I just lazy? Am I stupid? Where did my ambition run off to?
When I decided to cut back on blogging and become more a part of the story of my family, I felt some twinges of this. Why am I content “just” being a mom? There it is again. “Just” being a mom. As if raising human beings with eternal value isn’t a big enough or meaningful enough job. I also felt like it was ridiculous to only occasionally post. That seemed sort of half-hearted except it’s not. It’s authentic. It’s where I am right now. It’s easier for me to pop in occasionally than to maintain a regular website. So I’m breaking the “rules” that say you ought to post daily or at least several times a week. It’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I’m realistic, and I personally wasn’t juggling everything very well for awhile there.
See, nothing is wrong with me for wanting to pour myself into this family of mine right now. But somtimes that’s the way we can feel in this age of girl power and social media that exposes us to so many women who are giving us glimpses into their accomplished lives. I know I’m supposed to feel free and empowered. American women today have choices. This should be a good thing, but sometimes it’s crippling. It’s like when you go to the grocery store and just want to buy the original Cheerios, but you can’t find that familar yellow box because there are 10 other varieties. Do we really need Multi-Grain Cheerios, Banana Cheerios, Chocolate Cheerios, Muli-Grain Peanut Butter Cheerios, Yogurt Burst Cheerios, and Chocolate Cheerios (am I missing anything?). All those choices stress me out and just make grocery store shopping more difficult. The same can be true with motherhood. We’re faced with the tryanny of choice. We used to have no place outside of the home. Now we do, and this is a good thing when it brings fulfillment to a woman and/or helps her financially support her family and is not simply pursued as a way to escape mothering her children (a break, yes, but not a full-fledged escape). But there’s always the temptation that maybe there’s something better than plain, old Cheerios. Would I really be happier with Chocolate Cheerios?
Unfortunately, the solution to finding happiness as a modern mother too often hinges upon the belief that we can do it all. If we can do it all, then we won’t be left wondering if we made the right choice. We’ve got our hand in everything. We’ve got the original Cheerios and all the other flavors. So why are so many women unhappy? Why are more women on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications than ever before? We could argue because the stigma is being removed, which is positive, and also that doctors are better at diagnosing anxiety and depression. I’m sure that’s part of it. But more moms are also taking forms of speed so they can get more done. Eating disorders are becoming more common during motherhood. We’re wheeling for control. We’re multitasking like never before. And we’re feeling the effects of it all.
The problem is the push for women to balance careers, family, volunteer efforts, and a hobby or two or three isn’t t really about being a strong woman or even a strong human. It’s about being superhuman. We’re not created to be Super Moms donning a brightly-colored cape (that was, no doubt, lovingly hand-sewn). We were created to be humans who must rely on supernatural grace.
Pursuing this version of a superwoman who can do it all has left a sobering parade of women in its wake. We are disappointed when we discover that it was a big, fat lie. We are over-worked, over-stressed, and multitasking to the point of critical burnout.
Womankind doesn’t need to be saved or fixed or changed. We don’t need to prove ourselves by juggling a career, motherhood, and a slew of other accomplishments. If this works for some women, so be it. But it’s not easy or even desirable for many of us, and that’s okay. All of our choices should make us feel more free, not start to unravel us. We don’t have to wear power suits to be powerful. Our power is found in our femininity, in the wombs that give women the ability to be sacred chambers for new life or if we’re adoptive mothers, in our arms that draw new life in to us. Everything that makes women women is what makes them valuable to society. We don’t have to contribute to the GDP to be productive. Mothers produce, if not physically than via adoption, and nurture souls — souls that have eternal value. A mother’s work is hidden, laborious. It’s also what quietly and surely makes the world move forward. Mothers build futures. That’s something to celebrate.
When we “liberate” women from the “menial” tasks of motherhood, when we suggest a woman loses her life and her identity if she stays home with the kids all day, when we say motherhood reduces women to a shadow of their former selves, what we’re really saying is that being something other than Mom or making sure you’re something else in addition to being “just” a mom is superior to the role of a mother. We’re undercutting ourselves.
I’m not suggesting women don’t have a place in the workforce. Long before terms like “working mom” or “hybrid woman” snaked their way into our parlance, women have been productive workers in the vineyard of the Lord. We’ve produced children. We’ve built domestic churches. Some of us have been called to be doctors, humanitarians, or artists. But none of us has to be everything to everyone. And certainly not at the same time.
I’m finally realizing that I have a lifetime to sleep, write books, run, volunteer, act in community theatre, read poetry and novels, and do all the things I love to do. I can and do swirl some of these pursuits into my life right now, but I can’t always manage them – at least not well – all at once, and this doesn’t make me weak. It makes me a human who is aware of her limitations and aware of the gifts in her life that need to be nurtured now and not later.
What our culture sometimes seems to miss is that a woman’s liberation must truly be freeing her from things that are holding her hostage — not releasing her from her supernatural calling and something that can be good and sanctifying.
I was perusing through photos from a recent family beach trip when I came across a snapshot of my shadow. I loved the photo because it captures exactly where I am now and how I’ve evolved into this bearer of love. My baby boy is barnacled to me, reaching out to his big sister. My shadow hasn’t been reduced; it has been increased. This growth has sometimes been very painful ( the process of pruning usually is), but it’s up to me to savor the sweetness of motherhood instead of letting it turn me bitter.
I love my family very much. I don’t always love every moment of being a mother, but I do always love my children. Sometimes when I feel like I’m failing miserably as a mom, I’m tempted to do outside things I know I’m decent at – to make up for my dearth of mothering skills. But I remind myself that any job I’ve ever worked has had its shares of ups and downs. I made mistakes then. I make mistakes now. I’ll never be able to free myself from responsibility or accountability. I’m learning to accept who I am and where I am and to be proud that I am full-time mama to four children.
My beautiful, accomplished, hard-working, sleep-craving mothers, no, being a mother isn’t always easy. But it is enough. More than enough. So don’t be afraid to be who you were created to be: people who possess a special sensitivity and a sublime respect for the dignity of the human person. People who are inclined to follow the way of the cross, to nurture, and to hold the fabric of society together, not with high levels of productivity measured in output but with the generous gift of self.