By Theresa Thomas
Yes, you with the baby in your arms…
I see you, out there, sitting at your table, your desk, or your kitchen island, and I notice you are a little discouraged. You switched on the computer a few minutes ago to check your mail and a couple websites, the most exciting contact you’ll have with the outside world today, in between your hourly dates with your almost-potty-trained toddler in the bathroom and picking up Cheerios off the floor of the kitchen for the umpteenth time. You are disheartened, tired. Maybe you passed a mirror earlier today and thought to yourself, Where is that super-trim figure I had in college? Didn’t my step used to have a little more bounce? Why am I doing this?
You love your family with ferocity but you are just running out of steam. Your husband is working hard to allow you this privilege of staying home with your children, but sometimes it doesn’t feel like a privilege. You may even feel like it would be easier to get an outside job.
You may feel that you do the same thing over and over, and the days blur together. You have always held that moms should be present in the home during a child’s early years. You believed it with all your heart the day you got married and you believe it now. You want to be the best mom you can be, but somehow that rings a little hollow at the moment, as you break up a tussle between two preschoolers wanting the same Thomas the Tank Engine cover, quickly throw in some laundry and get back in the room with the little ones before someone gets hurt. Is this how it is supposed to go? You ask. You wonder.
May I offer something? I’ve been in your slippers. And that bathrobe. That torn bathrobe with Gerber’s best all over it and a tear next to the right front pocket. You know, that one you keep meaning to mend but also keep forgetting about… I would like to tell you something. In fact, I want to tell you a few things. So go get that coffee refill and meet me back here in a minute. Yes, you can fish the toilet paper roll out of the toilet first – I heard that scream too – and while you’re up set the little one in the swing for a few minutes… She’ll be okay. You need to hear this.
Are you back? Good.
As I was saying, in all sincerity, I’ve been in your slippers. I truly understand where you’re coming from. I’m on the other side of Babyhood now, with my oldest in his twenties and my youngest being school aged. Chin up, pretty mama. Here are a few things I want you to know:
1. What you do is important.
That’s right. Read it again. What you do is important.
I know it doesn’t seem important to be answering kids’ questions all day and reading the same books to your children over and over, or patiently responding to mishaps and unexpected spills as you cook and clean and love the little ones, but let me assure you that what you do might be one of the most significant things in the world. Let me explain.
Do you see those policy makers on TV, voting on bills, which will become laws? (Oops – Of course you don’t- you don’t have time to watch TV, but you’re smart and you can recall at least a few modern legislators, state-wide or national figures.). Think of them for a moment. Also think the teachers of today, the professors and other educators who, right this minute, are standing in a classroom, explaining a theory, proposing a philosophy, forming young minds. Recall too the modern doctors and scientists who make life and death decisions and ethical considerations. Think of how they, and others like them, affect and in essence because the way the world turns and moves. They make laws, form opinions, and establish protocol in institutions for good or for naught. They create society.
Now think of this: Someone once put these influential people to sleep at night; someone sang to them (or didn’t), read to them (or didn’t). Someone once stirred thoughts of goodness and justice (or evil and apathy) into their minds. Someone once introduced them to big ideas and learning and if they were lucky, God and faith, morals and truth. That someone most likely was their mother.
Poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Men are what their mothers made them.” Of course, free will comes into the picture, but a good mother can set a child on the right track, and it is more difficult for him to veer off onto the wrong path if she has set him straight. “Train the young in the way they should go; even when old, they will not swerve from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
Now, mama, look at that baby you just put in the swing, your little angel with sweet downy hair and a sleepy, milky smile or look at your toddler in his diaper who is dancing around the room. Your treatment of these children now and the way they see you interacting with them and others, the manners you use, the tone of your voice, the gestures you make, will be the model in their minds, their ‘default mode’ of thinking and behavior for the rest of their lives. Most likely what you model will affect how they treat others one day – their employees, employers, patients or constituents, and surely their spouses and their children. Their decisions will be rooted in what you provide and teach and demonstrate now.
Mama, your softness is important. Your sweet coos and songs to your children will help them feel loved and calm and know the gentleness of God Himself. Your firmness is important too – you must gently but surely hold your children accountable for their actions and help them overcome natural vices in order to reach the pinnacle of self-control and temperance. Your mind is important to them as well. It is through your thought and your expression of thought they will gain knowledge about the world around them, others, and God. The values you teach them, the stories you read to them, the words they hear you speak an the expressions they see you make are all very important to them and also to the world they will influence in years to come. Most importantly, your faith will be the foundation for their own faith. Your trust and belief in God will pave the way for their own acceptance of and love for Him.
Our nation depends on the work of the mothers in the previous generation. The future of the human race depends on mothers like you.
2. What you do is good.
Good is defined as “morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious”. Raising children well is good.
Have you ever been in a greenhouse? Greenhouses are warm and clean, perfect places for plants to grow. They are protective environments where no damaging insects can destroy the young, tender plants. When the plants are hearty and strong they can be safely transplanted outside the greenhouse. Your home is like a greenhouse. You control what comes in and what goes out. It is not just a protective place to keep out the harmful, but it is a place to let in the light and where it is warm and nurturing. Children without a good home may grow up fine, but chances are better for the ones who are tended to, cherished and cultivated. It is good to protect the vulnerable against harm. What you do as a mother is good.
3. What you do is beautiful motherhood
Artists create art; Musicians create music. You, as a mother, in cooperation with your husband and God the ultimate Designer created something more awe-inspiring and amazing that all the artwork and music combined. You created a human being with an eternal soul, the most amazing of all of creation. This child is bodily and spiritually beautiful. Train him well and he will be morally beautiful too. Enough said.
Now also remember two more things…
You’re not just teaching your children; they are also teaching you.
It’s kind of like continuing education without the diploma. As you tackle those piles of laundry from wet beds and baby spit ups you are developing fortitude. As you avoid caffeine and a favorite glass of wine while pregnant in order to give your unborn child the best possible start in life you are developing temperance. And when, at night your husband comes home, looks around at the mess and asks what you did all day and you hold your tongue and just smile sweetly, you are developing patience. And by the way there is nothing wrong with making a list for just such an occasion and handing it to him upon questioning – I’m just saying. Those nights you walk the floor for hours with a colicky baby will do more for your development of generosity than reading 25 books on the subject. So you see, you raise your children and your children raise you. It’s a win-win.
Take heart – it will get easier.
Well, kind of. The sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion will subside when the baby starts sleeping through the night and the toddler can make it without bathroom trips every few hours. You won’t be juggling nine things at once forever- I promise. There will be a day when the baby will stop crawling up your curtains and pulling down things from the shelf, thus making you feel like your whole morning is a marathon scooping- from- danger race. Your life will surely move out of the absolute fatigue stage and morph slowly in to the next one.
The next stage, as your children convert into pre-adolescents, then teens, then young adults, will have you hopping more mentally than physically. Now I will tell you that while it’s not nearly as bad as everyone portrays it to be, that next stage is not easy either, but at least you’ll get more sleep. Instead of trying to get them to go to bed you’ll be trying to get them to get up. But don’t worry about that now. Shrill alarm clocks never go out of style and will be there when you need them.
So, yes, dear tired mama, this is how it goes. You will be fine and your little ones will be better off for your sacrifices. Our country will even benefit, although it might have to wait 20 years.
Now, go splash some cold water on your face, add a dab of lip gloss and powder to lift your spirits if you want, and get ready for another tedious, difficult, wonderful, day. I hope by now you realize how important, good and beautiful your work as a mother really is.
So chop, chop!! Get moving! Time is short and you have much to do! You have some bodies to nurture, some souls to inspire and a nation to advance. No more stay-at-home-mom blues. Go build a culture – or maybe just a Lego tower for now – one thing at a time…
Prayer for the graces of Motherhood
Powerful is your intercession with God, Mary, for you are His mother.
Tender, too, is your love for us, for you are our mother.
Confidently, then, I come to you as a child, poor and needy, to seek your aid and protection.
In every trial of motherhood, I beg your aid.
For the grace of a happy delivery, I come to you.
For your holy assistance in guarding and directing each tiny soul with which God entrust me, I call to you.
In every sorrow that comes to me in my motherhood, I confide in you.
That I may have strength to bear cheerfully all the pains and the hardships of motherhood, I lean on you.
That the sweetness of motherhood may not through my neglect be embittered in later years by pains of regret, I trust in you.
That the will of God may always be fulfilled in me through each act of my motherhood, little and great, I beg your aid.
Never forsake me, dear mother, my hope, my consolation, my confidence, and my trust,
But ever be at my side to aid and protect me, your needy child. Amen.
Mother of love, of Sorrow, and of Mercy, Pray for us!
From “The Mother’s Manual” by A. Francis Coomes, a prayer book for all occasions suited to mothers can be purchased on Amazon or Free Catholic Shipping.
Theresa Thomas is the co-author Stories for the Homeschool Heart (Bezalel Books, 2010 & winner of About.com Best Catholic Book of 2010), Family Columnist at Today’s Catholic News and a Contributing Writer for Integrated Catholic Life.