I have always taken my job as a mother very seriously. There is nothing else I have really ever wanted to be. I thoroughly enjoy children! From the time I was 12 years old until I graduated high school, most of my weekends and summer breaks were spent baby-sitting. Even after high school I worked for a nanny service and also taught in various preschools and daycare centers. I was blessed to marry young, and while I waited anxiously to become pregnant, I nannied for a family with two boys. When I did discover three months later that I was expecting, I began to make plans to be a stay-at-home mom. My "boss" at the time could not understand why I wanted to stay home when she was offering for me to bring my baby along to nanny her boys at her house. Wasn't it basically the same thing? Besides I would be getting paid!
Honestly, after so many years of substitute mothering I knew that no matter how much a person loves children, she confronts many difficulties when sharing the motherly role with the most important person in a child's life--his mother! My very first baby-sitting job was spent holding a sweet baby girl - no more than two months old - who cried hysterically for practically the whole time her mother was gone, as she could not ever be consoled by anyone but the mother. Her mother said she didn't mind her crying if I didn't. Really my heart was breaking for her. At every job, no matter how much I wanted to, I was unable to discipline and teach the children as I saw fit because it wasn't the way the mother would have me do it. And even if my words were true, the children wouldn't believe me until they consulted Mom. Although the children always enjoyed me and I them, I just wasn't the same as their mother. Theodore Hellburgge writes in Child and Family, 1979, "The child's social development is always retarded if the child does not have a single main mother figure constantly about him, i.e., a person who has enough time and motherly love for the child. In this sentence, every word is equally important. Single does not mean 2, 3, or 4 persons. Constant means always the same person. Motherly means a person who shows all of the behavior toward the child which we designate as "motherly." Main mother figure means that secondary mother figures (father, brothers, sisters, grandparents) may support the main mother figure, but not substitute for her. Person means that the respective adult has to support the child with his whole being and has to have time for the child."
Because I wanted to raise my child by only one set of standards in the home, I decided to stay at my own home; and nineteen years and seven more children later, that is where I am still. In the midst of my childcare duties I have often reflected on the beautiful ways in which God has made motherhood to be a glimpse of the reality of His own love relationship with us and of the mercy He has bestowed on us to allow us the opportunity to experience here on earth the oneness that He so longs to share with us. In all the marvelous works that God has done, we see the selfless outpouring that is nothing less than perfect Love. So, too, no work - however great it may appear - will ever be as important for a mother as bearing, nursing, cuddling, guiding, and giving of herself and her time to her children. God "takes delight in His people," (Psalm 149:4) and often refers to His own tender care of us in motherly imagery, as in Matthew 23:37, "how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and in Isaiah 66:12-13, "...and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you." The oneness of a mother and her child within her womb and at her breast is a reflection of the oneness God wants to have with us. He wants us to seek Him as a baby does his mother. He wants us as mothers to respond with joy when we are sought by our babies, not giving the baby away to other distractions. I have read in several places that for the first nine months of a child's life he cannot even distinguish between himself and his mother -- in his mind, they are one and the same. Without his mother, he feels lost and incomplete. In order for his sense of self to develop properly it is vital that his mother be available to him to tend his needs. Herbert Ratner, M.D., writes in his book, Nature, the Physician, and the Family p. 157, 162, "Because love holds together the delicate membranes of human society and is the basis of our relationship with God, the chief need of the child is to experience love leading to healthy self-love and to be able to love others as he has learned to love himself. Since love is taught essentially through a one-to-one relationship, nature sees to it that the vast majority of babies come one at a time, so that each child has his or her private tutor of love. For this task, nature has selected the mother. As a female, her capacity to care for the newborn is unique... Major authorities now universally agree as a result of studies of the past 15 years that, for the optimum personal maturation of the child, the child needs the full-time attention of the mother or a full-time mother substitute during the first 3 years of life." While we seem to always be in a hurry for a child to become independent from us, God would seem to not have it so. After all, he said that we must become as children to enter the kingdom of heaven; and children are dependent on their parents, most especially their mothers...
A baby has a natural desire to suck frequently, and God has provided the mother with the very tools to gratify this need. So often, though, we mothers run from this, providing the substitute of the pacifier so that we can "get something done." Yet, we are being given a chance to "offer our bodies as a living sacrifice,"-- as St. Paul exhorts us to do in Romans 12: -- to be the food and the comfort of our children, as God longs to be for us. In The Absorbent Mind, pp. 105-106, Maria Montessori writes, "Mother and child are inseparable...For the mother has to feed her child, and therefore, she cannot leave him at home when she goes out. To this need for food is added their mutual fondness and love. In this way, the child's need for nutrition, and the love that unites these two beings, both combine in solving the problem of the child's adaptation to the world, and this happens in the most natural way possible. Mother and child are one. Except where civilization has broken down this custom, no mother entrusts her child to someone else... Another point is the custom of prolonging the period maternal feeding. Sometimes this lasts for a year and a half; sometimes for two, or even three years. This has nothing to do with the child's nutritional needs... but the prolonged lactation requires the mother to remain with her child, and this satisfies her unconscious need to give her offspring the help of a full social life on which to construct his mind."
Many times our children need us in the night. They are teething or frightened or sick, and we are made to believe that we are doing them good to let them cry it out or to console themselves. God's wisdom seems to think otherwise. God never sleeps, so great is His care for us. Perhaps He is offering us another chance to be like Him, to lay down our lives for our "friends"--the very goal of our lives. What is wise to the world is foolishness to God. Many saints gave up whole nights of sleep to pray. St. Paul speaks of preaching the Gospel "in toil and hardships, through many sleepless nights." 2 Corinthians 11:27 A mother then could be said to preach the Gospel by her very life, and this is what I believe is meant by "But she shall be saved through motherhood,..." (1 Timothy 2:15)
A child is comforted by the mere presence of its mother and is often much better behaved when she is around. I often wonder how many opportunities to grow in holiness we pass up in the name of doing something more important when our children want us to play with them or hold them or show us some new thing they've learned. Jesus was angry at His disciples for shooing the children away. (Mark 10:13-16 ) Martha was told that Mary had chosen the better part (Luke 10:38-42), yet why do we so often feel useless and unproductive when we are holding our children as opposed to cooking or cleaning or working outside the home altogether? Not that these things do not have to be done, but perhaps not as elaborately as we think necessary. Margaret Mead writes in Catholic World, November 1970, "A little baby needs continuity of care, all our studies suggest that too frequent changes of the mothering person are hard on children. If a mother works full-time, it is very difficult for her to provide this continuity. A small child also needs someone who is intensely interested in him or her, who will spend endless hours responding and initiating, repeating sounds, noting nuances of expression, reinforcing new skills, bolstering self-confidence and a sense of self."
Often I have been asked for my secret to such well-behaved children. At first, I really didn't know what to reply. Then I started to think what I may be doing differently than other mothers, and I would say that I always nursed on demand, never gave the children a bottle or pacifier and never left the children with a baby-sitter before the age of 2. Now I simply say that I "spoil "them when they are babies and make them listen when they are old enough to understand. Making them listen then is done more easily because they know they are loved and sense that I want nothing but the best for them. In my experience, the more time I spend with them when they are very little, the less time is required for me to supervise them when they reach the toddler years.
Being thoroughly content with my job as a mother,then, I was confused when God called our family to be missionaries in the fall of 2010. Had I been wrong about all these things that I had felt so strongly about for so long? I struggled at times through the missionary training, not understanding if God was calling my role to change. My oldest was now 12, the same age I had been when I first became a "substitute mother." She was very good with her siblings and often helped me around the house, but how would it be if I was not present at all for a good while? I went along with the training, at first thinking God wanted me to let go of my high ideals of motherhood - as if it had become like a god to me. As the days went on, however, I noticed a big difference in the behavior and attitude of my 2 year old son when I left him with his siblings for long periods of time. I began to think I could see what God was teaching me. I felt God calling me back to remember all that I had known all along. I finally realized what my mission was to be -- to show other moms the world over the dignity of the role of the mother: the mother who imitates God by making her very body ever-present; the mother who serves rather than being served by her own desires and tastes and self-fulfilling tasks. By fully living Christ in the home, mothers can be real missionaries every day.
You may be thinking, that's all great for other women, but it's not for me. However, by the very nature of woman, motherhood is for every woman, not only biological mothers. Many women are unable to conceive or have not yet met the one they are to marry or choose to remain unmarried in order to devote themselves to the Lord. All of these women are called to a spiritual motherhood. Sister Timothy Marie, O.C.D, Carmelite Sister of the Most Sacred Heart in Los Angeles writes, "Spiritual motherhood is about nurturing life. It is about helping another grow and develop into the person that God desires them to become." As we heard, a child needs a full-time motherly figure - a woman who will forget herself for the sake of the child. While the biological mother is the most perfect choice for her child, many children are in need of this kind of mother through adoption, which is a selfless choice for couples who are unable to have children of their own. Sister Timothy Marie goes on to say, "Part of what is known as the “feminine genius” is a certain empathy and inherent compassion. Women can see the deeper issues even when the exterior façade reveals okay-ness. We can, as appropriate, bring peace and discernment to others and confidence as well. These natural gifts can be fueled by supernatural grace to bring about peace and joy to countless souls. One of the ways women religious live their consecrated life to the fullest is through spiritual motherhood. When you ask sisters and nuns what drew them to the convent, to the cloister, many will respond with some variation of the idea that they recognized that God had created their heart for MORE. The world sees what the religious woman gives up…marriage to one man, a family of her own children. The religious woman sees what she receives, Christ as her spouse, and all the peoples of the world as her children. Marriage to Christ did not free her from a family but for His family."
The mission of motherhood, then, is for every woman. Of course, without Christ as our strength, these things will be impossible to accomplish. Therefore, let us allow Him to be the Everything that He wants to be for us. Let us remain united to Him through the constant prayer of quiet contemplation which is so readily available to us in the recesses of our home and by the frequent reception of the Sacraments.
"The mothering function is one of the most important of all human events, but, unfortunately, one of the least appreciated or regarded by society." Harold Voth, M.D., Medical Times, November 1980
A Morning Prayer for Mothers:
O, God, how great and how important is the vocation which Thou hast given me and how difficult it's duties. I am called to educate the children whom Thou hast confided to me, each of them according to its peculiar character, and to induce them to rid themselves of their faults and to practice Christian virtues. O, my God, I am ignorant and weak. How will I be able to see always the way that leads to success without Thy assistance? Send down, O Lord of Light and Knowledge, a ray of Thy Divine Wisdom from Thy Heavenly Throne into my heart, as Thou didst once give to Solomon in answer to his prayer for a wise and intelligent heart, so that he was enabled to govern his people. Enlighten me that I may keep equally far from undue severity and from untimely indulgence. Inspire me with the proper spirit to reprehend, to mistrust, and to admonish them. Grant me the blessing to fulfill my duties, led, as it were, by Thy Hand which leads all of Thy children in the way which is best for their salvation. O, Holy Ghost, Thou Who bestowest infinite graces, grant me the gifts of wisdom and counsel for the benefit of my children. Amen. Follow with one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be. Taken from the book The Christian Mother by Rev. W. Cramer.
Wonderful Books for Mothers:
- The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood
- Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers by Monsignor P. Lejeune
- 1 Timothy 2:9-15 from The Holy Bible
- A Mother's Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot
- Wife, Mother, and Mystic by Albert Bessieres, S.J.
- Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing by Sheila Kippley