Ah, Mother’s Day. When a mom is woken up early with breakfast in bed (“Look, we brought you toast and milk! Benedict burned the toast, but I scraped the black stuff off!”), when all one really wants is the gift of sleeping in, which is like a sweet, distant memory … did one really used to do that sort of thing?
A gal thinks she is ready for motherhood. Good German academic that I am, I prepared for motherhood by thorough study. I could have answered any question you had about parenting … before I was a parent. The relative merits of breast- versus bottle-feeding? Check. How to get a crying child to sleep? Allow me to expound. And then I actually gave birth.
My first child is a quirky, self-confident, and highly entertaining young adolescent. (“Mom, can I see what ants taste like?” Um, I guess that wouldn’t kill you, but … must you?) That describes the present moment. Nearly thirteen years ago, she came out of the womb screaming, and she didn’t stop for approximately four months. I went from a parenting know-it-all to a desperate wreck, praying, “Dear God, get me through the next fifteen minutes.” Motherhood does that.
You see, we have an illusion of being in control of our circumstances. We think that, if we aren’t all pulled together at the present moment, it is only a matter of time before we will be, when all the stars will magically align through our judicious management of all the variables. How many times have I thought, “If only _____ is different, I can be happy”? And I spent a lot of time and mental energy trying to fix whatever is in the blank at the moment. My job! My housing situation! My family! They’re the problem!
Parenting, however, brings one smack up against a dual reality: I am selfish–that’s the real problem–and other people are not controllable. Marriage can reveal this too, of course, but two adults can live with each other like congenial roommates, who happen to be having sex. One need not confront oneself or one’s spouse with messy realities. One can walk away. But not children–they have needs that only you can meet, and they make sure you know about it. You cannot just pretend that that the baby is not hungry. He will let you know, persistently, and there will be no peace you get out of the easy chair and feed him already.
The dual misperception that the world revolves around me and that my job is to make everyone do his part in my little drama–this requires people to play their roles with docility. How many of us live out our dreams through our kids? The dream of the athletic star, the Ivy-League-bound leader, or the attractive queen bee? Or maybe we want our kids to be our accessories, to play the role of perfect obedient children to show off what fabulous parents we are.
But if I allow my children to be more than the extension of my ego, what might I learn? That every one of them is destined by our loving Father to be a saint, each in his or her own irreplaceable way. Who knows, perhaps God really needs a patron-saint of ant-eaters?
Regardless, I do know that helping my children grow in their relationship with God means mostly being the example of that myself and then providing the environment in which that relationship can blossom. The only really important goal for motherhood is helping my children to heaven. That is the new evangelization, spreading God’s love among the people He puts in our lives.
So this Mother’s Day will find me woken up a tad earlier than I would like, but filled with gratitude for the six wonderful gifts that are my children. They have taught me so much–that I’m not the center of the world, that life is under God’s management and not mine, and that burnt toast with the black stuff scraped off actually is pretty good.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Angela Franks teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.