On Being a Mother

Speaking as a woman, I can honestly say that nothing has rocked my world as much motherhood. Nothing has brought me to my knees, or made me laugh uproariously, or confused or challenged me, or given me a glimpse of the Heavenly Father's love, as being a mother.

With the arrival of her first child a woman undergoes a titanic change, a shift in identity and responsibility from what she was or did before. She is now forever a mother and in charge of the life of her child until it is grown. And after her child reaches maturity, she remains a mother in a more nuanced way. A child is a profound and humbling gift to receive; at the same time, the child is poised to receive everything a mother can possibly give.

Don't let the parenting brochures fool you. This is a life of hard work and sacrifice.

The sacrificial side of motherhood first becomes evident during a pregnancy. A woman yields her body and wellbeing that a child may take shape and develop, as it changes her shape and her calendar forever. While a biological mother conceives and gestates and gives birth, it harkens to the fact that all mothers experience the physicality of sacrifice as they nurture and rear their children. The shedding of blood, sweat, and tears is more than an apt proverb.

Yet, motherhood is also a life of deep joy and renewal. Mothers are routinely awed and delighted by their growing children, as well as buoyed by their smiles and achievements. Often, when we lovingly gaze at our children, we are transported by belief in all that is true, good, and beautiful. And that is a very good thing. It bespeaks an encounter with the Holy.

If we yield to it, the immense change that is wrought by motherhood is that we ultimately become better lovers in the most complete sense. We are able to love more deeply, more unconditionally, more unreservedly, and more heroically. More like Jesus.

That's why motherhood is a vocation. It becomes a path to sanctity. Through its endeavor motherhood becomes a response to the call to holiness; this is not only for the mother herself, but dynamically affects the souls within range of her care.

The graces of motherhood—linked with the virtues of faith, hope, and love—have the power to transform us into more ardent followers of Christ. And the changes are notable. For some of us, prior to motherhood, we lived life on the surface rather than from its depths. Motherhood moves us from a love of things, to a love of people. It reorients our priorities. It helps many of us release a tight-fisted selfishness and narrowness by opening up a more genuine love of others. Self-denial blossoms as a worthy exchange on behalf of a beloved child; and love gets creative in its expressions.

As a woman's heart undergoes transformation, so does her mothering.

Motherhood, at its best, is rooted in charity and becomes the perfect vehicle to evangelize the world in a personal way: to love is to serve.

And serve she does . . .

A mother's service is one of nurture. She does this for her children in so many hands-on ways: feeding, clothing, cooking, caring for health and hygiene, creating and cleaning a home. Mothers also provide an education for children both in faith and morals, and the many academic and temporal subjects in life. She shares what she is passionate about and communicates her deepest held values.

Mothers give shelter and discipline. They embrace, uphold, and encourage while they beckon, guide, and correct.

A mother's life lends itself to prayer. (Oh yes, whether religious or not, she prays.) A believer will bring her child to the Lord, both in word and deed. When a mother finds sources of life and grace and blessing, she naturally wants to share them with her children. Often, that is how the legacy of faith is borne in families.

A mother inspires. She fosters vocations. Her openness to life and defense of it will affirm her children's worth and value. Her work ethic will also mold them.

A mother plans, executes, and does what needs to be done. She can also be spontaneous and meet a need in the moment. In short, on her best days, she is responsive and sensitive to those around her. She listens. And then she listens some more.

Mothers interpret the world around them for their children until they can negotiate it for themselves. What's more, as a woman grows in her mothering, there is a natural spillover effect to the mothering of others beyond her family milieu. Love naturally widens her reach and spheres of influence.

Finally, after her children mature, she lets them go . . . sometimes seen as one of the hardest tasks of mothering. She may have effectively put herself out of the job of the day-to-day tasks of mothering the young, but she is never to relinquish to call to love. She sends her children forth as adults to make their way into the world, and, trusts, for eternity. In mothering a child, she has brought hope into this world, and a soul that will live forever in the next.

As we come to Mother's Day 2011 in the U.S., here's to all mothers everywhere . . . and to our Mother in the order of grace, the Blessed Virgin Mary. All of humanity has passed through the threshold of motherhood, and is blessed by how well each of us live up to its calling.

So kindly offer a prayer of thanksgiving, or forgiveness, for your dear mother today. Lift up the mothers you know with a kind word and your gift of intercession.

God knows they are both edified and daunted by the enormity of the Gift.

5/4/2011 4:00:00 AM
  • Catholic
  • A Word in Season
  • Mothers
  • Mothers Day
  • Parenting
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  • Pat Gohn
    About Pat Gohn
    Pat Gohn is a Catholic writer, speaker, and the host of the Among Women Podcast and blog. Her book Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood is published by Ave Maria Press.