Catholic Women, Daughters of Mary, Have an Unsung Strength

The strongest woman who ever lived never did anything that anyone noticed in her lifetime — but we haven’t stopped talking about her since.

The Pieta of Michelangelo in St. Peter's Basilica
The Pieta of Michelangelo in St. Peter's Basilica (photo: Credit: Stanislav Traykov, Niabot, CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Cries of “Feminist!” greeted a recent compilation of articles under the heading, Homeschool Moms Discuss Raising Strong Daughters. Not your usual reaction to the phrase “homeschool moms” so I suppose the “strong daughters” were to blame. Anyway, it was a title guaranteed to interest me – a homeschool mom of six daughters. It didn’t hurt that I know many of the authors personally, having spoken alongside them at IHM homeschool conferences across the nation.

One of the authors told me that the writers didn’t consult each other as each wrote her essay. Perhaps that is why some of the essays touched on a similar theme — the importance of Catholic women in leadership positions. Feminist! But it resonated with me as a homeschool mother to read about how these moms guided their daughters to work at paying jobs in high school, to travel overseas, and to go to college. Our daughters have done all those things as well and have been effective witnesses for the Catholic faith as they’ve gone out into the world — a thing that is just fine by the Church as many female saints have done so as well. But that’s not my point.

It’s that there is another kind of strength that the authors didn’t say much about, perhaps due to their own humility. It is one that goes unnoticed by a lot of people including those (well intentioned people?) who would accuse them of being feminists. Each one of those ladies is living this strength every day. What’s funny is it’s right there in the headline. It’s the word “mom.”

A woman who is a mom often possesses a strength that is recognized by herself and her family alone because it deliberately goes into hiding. It is born out of the sacrifice of goods that are rightfully hers — her God given creative talents, her own ambition, her earning potential. To some extent, she puts them aside to serve a family. Or rather she puts them to use for her family. Her rewards and recognition are usually just among her intimates.

Meanwhile, the larger world regards her as having taken the path of least resistance, in fact, of being a type of coward. They think she is doing something anyone can do with very little education because she couldn’t do anything better. They fail to see how much strength, long burning strength, there is in sticking things out, especially when your accomplishments don’t seem add up to much in a given day. 

I hear it in my daughter’s voice when she calls me after a long day with her two small house wreckers in the hours that stretch on before her husband gets home. I remember those days myself and they were the longest days of my life. She is my oldest and as such a natural born leader. She worked at a paying job though high school, paid her own way to Europe, went to college, Europe again, landed an Oxford Fellowship, worked after college for an IT company and still does part time from home ever since being married. I’m proud of all of that as I am proud of similar achievements of my other grown daughters. But I’m proud of her now too, perhaps more so, because she is doing still greater work. Unsung. And that is a test of character if ever there was one. She is giving her husband and children the best years of her life. She is not running that drama school she always dreamed of and I remember how she talked of it and still does. I, as her mother, helped to nurture that dream. But choosing one good often means not choosing another. For now. For now, patience is required and patience is a form of strength.

There is another word in the title of that piece. Homeschooling. It is not for the faint of heart. If ever an endeavor demanded perseverance, homeschooling was it. It’s especially tough at this time of year, during Lent, when you have put in over a hundred days of bookwork, come to think of it, just as you have for the past couple of decades, and then why not? We’ll just have a couple of blizzards to delay spring for just a few more grueling weeks. The kids are not exactly angels this time of year either. It’s been a long winter for them too. Anybody want to give up fighting for Lent? They are workbook immune. But the books must be finished so that we can all be human again by summer. What’s the point? Are they learning anything? But at least the tax return is due to come in and relieve the stress on the typical one income homeschool home.

I’m willing to bet that the authors have experienced many a day like that. It’s the breed. A strong woman’s answer to it is to pray for more strength and to keep going, as the authors of the essays, no doubt, do. (Before you comment that it’s not just homeschoolers who serve their families, I never said it was. It’s just that all of the authors are homeschoolers and it’s in the title of their post.)

One thing all truly strong women share is a spirit of self-sacrifice. It’s what makes a woman a courageous leader or a heroic missionary or a best in her field – as the authors mentioned. But as their own lives attest, a mother is all those things. Unsung. For now. When she does well in the home the effect goes beyond her own four walls. It reaches down to her children and their children and theirs. It reaches to her neighbors, to her parish, to her community. It helps repair a broken world and rebuild a crumbling culture.

Before you comment that I never once mentioned the Blessed Mother, here’s my final thought. The strongest woman who ever lived never did anything that anyone noticed in her lifetime — but we haven’t stopped talking about her since.