Put the Mother in Motherhood

Advice for Embracing a Mom's Vocation: May 6 issue feature

(photo: Shutterstock)

“Would Mother Mary put Jesus in day care?” This is the sobering question Dorothy Pilarski, Catholic mother, writer, television personality and speaker, has contemplated in her search for meaning and purpose in the vocation of motherhood in the modern world. She hopes mothers who read her new book, Motherhood Matters, will begin to think about their lives and whether they are embracing their vocation as mothers or escaping it.

“I’m not against working women, but I am saying: Pray about it,” says Pilarski, who lives outside Toronto, Ontario, with her husband and two children. “What messages are we sending to our children by the choices we’re making in our lives? Are you working so you can have a beautiful Martha Stewart home, to indulge or self-titillate your talent? Are you trying to get away from your children, or are you working for real needs of the family?”

This discussion is in the news of late, given recent comments made about the choice of Ann Romney, the wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, to stay at home and raise her children. Catholic mother and blogger Rachel Campos-Duffy of CatholicVote.org discussed moms who work at home on CNN, for example.

Younger women today are embracing the notion of staying home with their kids more so than older generations, and they don’t worry that their college degrees are wasting away as they take care of their children, Duffy told the Register.

“I see a real appreciation of motherhood in my generation,” says the author of Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-Home Motherhood. “A lot of women my age were lonely latch-key kids in the ’70s and ’80s who wished their moms were home with a snack and had the time to hear about their day. My generation didn’t have to fight to get into the boardroom. The door was wide open. Our dilemma is: Do we actually want to be there? Or would we rather savor the pleasures of motherhood and offer our offspring the gift of a truly present mommy?”

She adds that the recent comment by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen about Mrs. Romney being a stay-at-home mom raised a ruckus among younger generations of women, who have a much different attitude about it than the “old guard”: “The new guard sees a valuable contribution in motherhood.”

In this month dedicated to Mary — May — it is appropriate to reflect on what Mary can teach mothers as the Mother of God. At a general audience in 1995, Pope John Paul II noted, “The figure of Mary reminds women today of the value of motherhood.”

The year before, in his “Letter to Families,” the late Pope noted, “It is important to emphasize how important and burdensome is the work women do within the family unit:  That work should be acknowledged and deeply appreciated. The ‘toil’ of a woman who, having given birth to a child, nourishes and cares for that child and devotes herself to its upbringing, particularly in the early years, is so great as to be comparable to any professional work. Motherhood, because of all the hard work it entails, should be recognized as giving the right to financial benefits at least equal to those of other kinds of work undertaken in order to support the family during such a delicate phase of its life.”

Pilarski is committed to motherhood, but she is no stranger to the corporate world. She was an international corporate speaker and training consultant for clients like Coca-Cola. She writes in her book’s introduction that she knows what it feels like to succeed in business, travel, get big checks and bonuses, appear on television and get lots of recognition. But she also knows what it feels like to be “chewed up, used, spit out and ‘right-sized.’” She recalls having to cut short her honeymoon, having only three days to attend her father’s funeral in Poland, and sacrificing her personal life and well-being for the corporation.

“Some women consider motherhood their calling; to others, it’s considered a sacrificial life. But getting up at 5am to drop off your child so you can be at a board meeting: Isn’t that a sacrifice? Why aren’t we mad about the sacrifices we’re making for the corporation? We put up with those sacrifices and we don’t resent them because we’re getting money,” she says. “At the same time, we may be cutting our hearts off from the very real needs of our children. It’s important to remember there is nothing like a mother’s love. Perhaps our hearts have to be purified, our priorities re-thought.”

Pilarski, who blogs at GutsyCatholicMom.blogspot.com, often thinks about what it means to “mother” and the real time it takes for mothering: to feed, clothe, encourage, teach and nurture children, to accompany them to appointments and on field trips, to have an orderly house, to prepare nutritious meals, to pray as a family, etc. She discusses these issues with a mothers group that she formed to help encourage other mothers in their vocation. Her book is a collection of reflections, letters, poems and prayers that she has written or compiled for other women over the span of 16 years. Motherhood Matters was nominated as one of the best five Catholic books published in 2011 by About.com.

The book was written to affirm women who are staying at home but feel criticized or misunderstood, she says, and also for women who are pursuing their careers with a type of blind determinism but who may be living a life that they might regret later. She also coordinates an annual Dynamic Women of Faith Conference to connect, inspire and encourage women in their Catholic faith and vocational call, which, for some, may be in the workplace, where God wants them to use their gifts.

“It’s a complex issue. The biggest, most important thing is to have a vital prayer life and a lively sacramental life and follow the whispers in your heart,” Pilarski says. “Then we can trust that we’re doing God’s will. I think a lot of women aren’t listening to the promptings of their heart.”

The struggle for women is gargantuan, agrees Mary Ann Kuharski, pro-life Catholic speaker and author of four books on family and parenting, including Outnumbered! Raising 13 Kids With Humor and Prayer. As she says, “My recommendation (to women) is: Be good at being a mom and a wife first.”

Author, mother of four and Register correspondent Marge Fenelon has just released a new book, Strengthening Your Family: A Catholic Approach to Holiness at Home, to help families grow in holiness at a time when it is most needed.

“If we don’t enable and ennoble the family, we’re going to be in for a rough ride as a society,” says Fenelon. “This is not a pie-in-the-sky goal. It can be done.”

Her book was born out of the work that she and her husband, Mark, have been doing to educate and assist in the formation of young couples through the Schoenstatt Family Federation.

“The book is meant to encourage and inspire parents of all ages,” says Fenelon. “My hope is that every family can see in themselves a potential holy family, and it’s never too late, even if you have completely grown kids.”

New Catholic mom Stephanie Wood Weinert and former EWTN radio host who now blogs at LittleBitofParadise.wordpress.com recently wrote, “Motherhood has changed me forever and blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever done. Troubleshooting control-room equipment in the final 90 seconds before a live radio show or interviewing a famous/difficult guest with a 100 million people listening in was a cake walk compared to keeping bear cubs fed, changed and happy. But I wouldn’t trade my boys [she and her husband have two sons under age 2] for the world.”

Arwen Mosher, a young mother of 11-month-old twins and a 3- and 5-year-old in Ann Arbor, Mich., always planned on staying home with her children, which her husband supported. “I wouldn’t want anyone else to be doing this. It’s my particular call to do this work,” she says. “I don’t think every woman would be happiest doing things this way. Part of the vocational process is to figure out what works for you, and, of course, financial concerns play into it. We didn’t have to make a lot of sacrifices because we’re used to living on one income. When you get up to four kids, I would have to have a really good job to actually make a profit after child care.”

Mosher, who writes a blog and contributes to the Faith & Family Live website, knows many moms who are fulfilled by full-time motherhood. “It would be a lot better if society in general valued the vocation of motherhood more, no matter what combination of work and home that is.”

Barb Ernster writes from
Fridley, Minnesota.