Some Questions About Spiritual Motherhood

It’s common in Catholic circles to speak of all women’s vocation to “spiritual motherhood.” Even if we have no physical children to care for, we women are all called to be nurturing in various ways, using gifts which are peculiar to our sex.

This notion gave me hives for many years, since I was already fully surrounded by my offspring before I started to feel really comfortable or confident in my role as mother. Maybe my problem was that I was expecting to feel motherly right away (maybe reading too many of those gushing “lovin’ every minute of it!” mommy blogs), when really all I needed was the ability to act motherly—which I did manage to do, more or less.

And yes, the feelings eventually came (she typed while shrieking at her children to quiet down so she can get this post done); and once I started to feel it more for my own children, I took my responsibility toward the motherless people of the world much more seriously.

But if I struggled so much, I wonder how hard this call to spiritual motherhood might be for someone who has never given birth. If several straight years of gestation, lactation, changing diapers, reading bedtime stories, soothing boo-boos, packing lunches, and singing lullabies made such a small dent in my psyche, then what about the women who never hear anyone calling them “Mama?”

I’m not disputing that there is such a vocation—I’m just wondering if there’s a more accessible way to phrase it for 21st-century Catholic women. I’m not crazy about John Paul II’s phrase “feminine genius”—to me (and mind you, I have a terrible head cold which I can’t treat properly because I’m pregnant, and had hungry alligator nightmares all night) it conjures up images of a frenzied mad lady scientist who wants to experiment on men’s brains before noisily devouring them. I’m a feminine genius! You may feel some discomfort while I r-r-r-remove the top of your skull!

Someone told me that orthodox Jewish men are required to go to synagogue, but the women are not—not because they’re being oppressed, but because it is assumed that women naturally develop a close relationship to God as daughters, wives and mothers; whereas men need more structure and discipline to develop that relationship. (If this is not true, please don’t get all upset! It’s just what I’ve heard, and thought it was interesting—and it certainly jibed with what I’ve observed about Jewish attitudes towards women.)

So, what’s been your experience? I know that some women are motherly from the time they can walk and talk (some of my kids are like this). But if you, like me, had to learn to adapt to this role, what helped you get there? Do you still struggle? If you don’t have physical children, do you feel that you’re fulfilling this vocation? If you’re Catholic, how comfortable are you with the idea that all women are called to be spiritual mothers? And why do you all insist on playing in the yard when there are clearly alligators out there?