National Catholic Register


The Thumbscrews of Motherhood

BY Danielle Bean

| Posted 5/7/10 at 2:07 PM


How can we teach our daughters the value of motherhood when so many of us don’t recognize its worth ourselves?

That’s the pressing question Amy Henry takes on in a Mother’s Day column in the Wall Street Journal:

“I was surprised—and even fearful— when my 16-year-old, college-bound daughter, Emily, told me that what she really wants in life is to (eventually) marry and have a bunch of kids.

I’m afraid for her because, four decades into feminism’s push for a woman’s rights, our culture’s view of motherhood (which arguably is the quintessential act of femininity) has yet to budge from once-a-year Hallmark sentiment to anything resembling real respect. We wave our banners for “choice,” which may give a woman who works outside the home an element of admiration, but what if my daughter doesn’t want to? God help her if she, in exercising that choice, decides to stay at home with her children.”

This debate, these “Mommy Wars” are old and cliché by now. But if they are old and cliché, that’s only because they are real. Society’s ambivalence toward women and motherhood leaves many of us in an uncomfortable place. Whether we work full time, stay home full time, or do a little bit of both, many of us are left in a state of continual questioning.

Are we good enough moms? Are we balanced? Are work distractions hurting our families? Are family distractions hurting our work? Are we “wrong” if we make life choices that don’t earn us accolades at cocktail parties? Are we mistaken if our choices don’t mirror those of our own mothers? Or even the mother down the street?

To many of us, it can feel like a no-win situation. As Henry puts it:

“So, if mothering while working outside the home is a guilt-producing juggling act, and working inside it is a job for the nonambitious half-wit, why would any of us want our daughters to have children? We may have come a long way, baby. But just ask a mom who is caught in the fray— we aren’t there yet.”

Even for those of us who truly value our vocations to motherhood, the thorny question Henry asks is how to teach that value to our children:

“But, how exactly do I convey to her that whether or not a mother’s seemingly inconsequential, menial tasks ‘fulfill’ her, nurturing children is innately good and just might surprise her fulfill-o-meter? How can I help her resist the need for affirmation from a culture that will probably never give it to her—and to embrace motherhood not as a second-class citizen, but with the kind of femininity that is paradoxically as strong as nails, as soft as a kiss?

I’m not sure. But someday, when the thumbscrews of mothering start to tighten on her, one thing I will do is remind her that despite her momentary exhaustion or discouragement, mothering remains a profoundly worthwhile undertaking, one that Chesterton calls nothing less extraordinary than ‘the mystery of the making of men.’”

I think perhaps we need not worry so much about the details of communicating the intrinsic value of motherhood to our children. Those of us who wholeheartedly embrace our lives as mothers—day in and day out, despite the physical, emotional, and professional sacrifices it entails—communicate its value to our children in a voice that speaks louder than words.