If Mother Teresa were alive today and on Twitter, I’m pretty sure we all would have just seen the following exchange go down:
Jill Filipovic (attorney & feminist author, in a recent post critiquing stay-at-home moms): “To be honest I would have a really hard time being married to someone who decided they wanted to direct their ambition into the sole work of raising our child. That’s not because I don’t think that work is important. It is because it’s very inward-looking and wrapping one’s identity in one’s progeny. If you have a passion for child development, great, there are many paths to walk down that do a lot of good for lots of people.”
Mother Teresa: “If you want to bring peace to the whole world, go home and love your family.”
Frankly, Filipovic’s entire much-longer thread struck many nerves with me. So many of her statements deserve comment from women who’ve decided to stay at home full-time to raise their children (yes, women who are equally as intelligent as Filipovic still indeed make the choice, in full freedom, to do this!). But the particular portion I quoted above was, to me, the most jaw-dropping part because it revealed what a skewed and incorrect view Filipovic, and I’m sure many others, have about motherhood. My own experiences over the past year and a half of being a mom have proven this to me.
First, the ultimate purpose of any vocation, including motherhood, is to make YOU, mama, holy. This fits perfectly with the ultimate purpose of each of our lives on earth, a purpose which so many people today have either forgotten, shrugged off, or never heard of in the first place. What is that ultimate purpose? The Baltimore Catechism says it timelessly: “God made man to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”
Wait a second. That sounds a little selfish, doesn’t it? Isn’t being a mom supposed to be this ultimate sacrifice where you pour yourself into caring for your children and all of their needs day in and day out? Indeed it is… but the bigger picture is that, by doing this, you’re actually caring for your own self as well: your soul.
God gives you so many opportunities to grow in virtue in motherhood, it’s overwhelming. I’m reminded of this daily as I clothe and feed my toddler, change his diapers, attempt to cook dinner and write blog posts as he’s getting his little hands into everything he can possibly reach around me. Am I naturally patient? NO. Type-A and a little too focused on productivity, schedules, and control? YES. What a gift to be required to grow in the (many!) areas in which I’m weak! Truly, God hasn’t forgotten about me or is considering my son to be more important than me. Rather, He’s come up with an ingenious system to give both of us exactly what we need at this moment in our lives. My son needs lunch; I need to grow in my ability to trust in God and not lose my peace over the little things, like sticky banana chunks being thrown all over the floor (AGAIN). Sigh. And yet there really is a purpose to each moment like this: to help smooth out all my rough edges and make me into (God willing!) a real-life saint.
Motherhood, therefore, is NOT about “losing yourself” -- your unique identity, your ambition, your gifts and talents, your passions, your drive to change the world for the better -- in the process of raising your children. Rather, the vocation actually allows you to “find yourself”: a better, more virtuous version of yourself, who can have a more positive and powerful impact on everyone around you -- your children, your husband, your neighbors, the random people you encounter while running errands. Filipovic seems to view “‘intensive’ / ‘helicopter’ / ‘bulldozer’ parenting” as the highest summit that every mom with real “ambition” is striving for. This view is the opposite of seeing motherhood as a path to virtue and holiness.
Second, as I’ve written about before, becoming holy is, without exaggeration, THE most important work we can do in this life. Why? Because this is the way God is continuing the work of salvation which Jesus won for us on the Cross. We, too, like St. Paul, are “filling up for what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24) as we accept His will in our lives, take up each of our crosses, and follow after Him. God continues to work powerfully in the world through us if we will let Him guide our hands, feet, and hearts.
God can absolutely change the world for the better through a stay-at-home mom whose “only job” is caring for her children. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that true love is “effusive and diffusive”: it wants to radiate outward. Indeed, a mother’s love doesn’t just shape and form her own immediate family and then stops having any effect. Her children will bring that love into their own daily lives, friendships, and, eventually, future families. And stay-at-home moms certainly aren’t limited to literally just staying at home. These moms account for so many of the volunteers at nonprofits, room moms and school helpers, visitors who brighten nursing home residents’ days by bringing their kids to be with them -- teaching the children a powerful lesson about each person’s innate dignity and worth. Indeed, far from “giving a bad example to kids by not working outside the home,” another of Filipovic’s claims, stay-at-home moms have SO many opportunities to powerfully model virtues like service, kindness, thoughtfulness, and charity to their children. Experiencing that kind of witness is life-changing for a child. One need not have a degree in Child Development to do any of this. Any one person has so much impact on the world, therefore, because of this “ripple effect” of love. This is why Mother Teresa spoke so strongly about loving in our homes first and foremost. Of course, we aren’t turning our backs on the wider world as we do this -- love is needed everywhere, as she is also quick to mention. But we must begin from a solid foundation as we set out, or we will eventually fall apart. That foundation is the family.
Pope St. John Paul II once described his mother as “the soul of home.” I can’t think of a more beautiful compliment to give to a stay-at-home mom, and it inspires me to live up to this high praise in my own journey as a wife and mom. To all of the moms out there: physical, spiritual, experienced, brand-new, working, stay-at-home, moms who are currently finding their vocations to be full of joy, or maybe full of difficulty… moms, let’s pray in this month of May that Our Lady will take us by the hand and help us to embrace each day as a gift from God. If we submit ourselves to the “pruning” that God desires us to undergo in our vocation, we will truly become holier and have a deeper impact for good on our families and the entire world. Those are the two goals towards which my stay-at-home-mom ambition drives me -- and nothing less.