Carrie Gress has a doctorate from the Catholic University of America and is a philosophy professor at Pontifex University. She is the author of several books, including The Marian Option: God’s Solution to a Civilization in Crisis. Carrie is the co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrims Guide to John Paul II’s Krakow. A homeschooling mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia. Visit her blog at www.carriegress.com.
For decades, devoting one’s life to being a stay-at-home mom was considered socially backward. Now, however, more and more women with lucrative careers and ample opportunities are leaving it all to stay at home with their children. Some are taking advantage of the internet or part-time options and still working, while others are simply content just being “mom.”
There has been a cost, however, to all the decades of denigrating motherhood to second-class status. Although mothers today have every convenience, from washers and dryers, dishwashers and microwaves, to advances in health care, minivans and groceries delivered to our doorsteps, it is arguable that motherhood is perhaps harder than ever. There are many reasons why it looks like the deck is stacked against moms, but four stand out:
Women today generally aren’t well prepared for motherhood. For most of us growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, our educations didn’t center around the skills needed for motherhood. We focused on grades, sports and career goals. Even in college, there were few things worse than being accused of just looking for your “Mrs.” degree. Unless one was an education major, or grew up in a large family with lots of younger siblings, exposure to small children was rare, too.
I didn’t get married until I was 35; and up to that point, I probably didn’t spend a weeks’ worth of hours with small children, including high-school babysitting. When my sisters had children, I was a terrible babysitter. I just didn’t know what to do. I had no idea that all kids really needed was my time, attention and a few basic toys to keep them happy. But at that point in my life, I was so used to having a tightly wound schedule that my attention span and need for busyness short-circuited at the thought of spending long periods of time just being present to a child. When I had my first child, I finally got it, but it took a long time to finally realize the rhythm of life (like years) with children.
And this is where so many of us start: with careers that we have been successful at, only to become a mom and realize that a) there is an overwhelming amount of things to learn and figure out, b) my life resembles an endless game of cleanup whack-a-mole, c) I often feel bored or frustrated or d) “I’m sorry, I’m just too tired to be able to think through this properly. Could you repeat the question?” or maybe e) all of the above. From this modern starting point, too many of us are reinventing the wheel. Mothers of large families will say that it takes a few children to get the hang of it, and yet that is precisely the time when most people throw in the towel.
Motherhood today involves a lot of loneliness and isolation. Gone are the neighborhoods filled with growing families, where every other house had a mom at home with her kids. Even if we live in the old neighborhood setting, finding other families around is a rarity. Play dates, because of the pace of life, have to be scheduled well in advance around the endless list of enriching activities.
This isolation can be particularly difficult if one has given up or put on hold a career that involved a lot of interaction with peers, not to mention raises, dinners out and praise for a job well done.
Society Doesn’t Value Kids
We live in a culture that simply does not value children. I recently traveled with my toddler cross-country. On the last leg of my flight, I overheard the gate agent explain that our flight was delayed because of some VIPs. Shortly thereafter, my seat at 6b mysteriously was changed to two seats for my son and me near the back of the plane (“At least I won’t have to hold him on my lap constantly,” I thought). Then, finally, when boarding, I was given a new seat: one window seat in the very last row of the plane. “Hmm, I wonder why?” I got some ridiculous explanation about oxygen masks.
Our culture tolerates children out of necessity, but it certainly doesn’t embrace them as a valuable good. It is hard as a mother to always feel that your family’s mere presence is a nuisance, whether at the grocery store, a restaurant, airports or trains and, yes, sadly, even at church.
Perhaps the most overlooked element of motherhood today is that lack of generational support. Many of us don’t live near family, or if we do, that family may not always be so supportive of our pro-life choices. I know of several women who cringe at the thought of telling their parents that they are having another child. One pregnant friend confessed about sharing her baby news with her mother, “In telling her, I feel like I’m an unwed pregnant teen, not a healthy, happily married, financially stable woman.”
At the root of this tough reality is the pro-lifestyle — not pro-life culture — that has permeated society since the onset of the pill. Lifestyle choices that don’t appear to be fun, comfortable or even sane from an outsider’s perspective just don’t fly.
The cost, however, of the pro-lifestyle attitude is an astonishing lack of wisdom among men and women who don’t understand how to value human life, even in their own families. Real Simple magazine recently featured an advice column where a mother was asking how to manage her body-conscious mother-in-law, who would make disparaging remarks about others in front of her 2- and 5-year-old granddaughters. The mother-in-law, shockingly, was 80. It is hard to imagine an octogenarian in any past generation who wouldn’t know she had better things to worry about.
And yet, despite all of these issues, women are embracing stay-at-home motherhood. While from the outside it may just look like a slog (and on the inside, there are days and seasons when it might feel like that), few moms won’t tell you that raising their children is the most rewarding thing they have ever done.