Pondering how older moms might help younger ones, simply by being present to them
Aleteia contributor David Mills has written a three-part series of pieces on the worth and difficulty of some Catholic teachings: how some Catholics do not really realize how other Catholics, trying to be obedient, struggle mightily, and finally how we might help our younger Catholic families, who are living a counter-cultural lifestyle with little-to-no parish support.
It is absolutely true that 21st century realities for young mothers — particularly for young mothers willing to “accept children, lovingly, from God” and thus have larger families — are quite different than they were thirty years ago, or fifty. In “the old days” families were larger to start with, and extended family members lived nearby. My grandmother lived with us; my husband’s grandmother lived a few blocks away; one aunt lived right up the street and another around the corner. A new mother had some resources to help her out, another pair of hands to catch a running kid; someone to sit with for a tea-break and an hour’s adult conversation.
Families are smaller, now. Young women who are nurturing “big” families rarely have family members who live within hollering distance; siblings are few and often living in another state, and aunts and grandmas are off “having it all.”
There is freedom in obedience but it can sometimes seem very hard to find when life is a blur of small, unruly people who are in constant states of screaming need and one’s post-partum chemistry is all afoul; a sincere attempt at religious obedience can feel like oncoming death or madness, especially if one is not getting some sound spiritual direction, and a little help. People who have no idea what it’s like to not even be alone while in the bathroom — to have no spare minute in which to collect oneself or re-tether oneself to heaven — cannot possibly imagine the strain.
Having re-read Mills’ pieces, I can’t help but wonder why parishes do not have a “young mother’s ministry”.
We have Consolation/Funeral Ministry, Divorced Men’s Ministry, Teen-group Ministry, Bereavement Ministry; why not a Ministry of Succor meant to help young mothers who have passed that “new baby” moment (when everyone wants to help) and are now in the thick of the everyday demands of motherhood — just her and the brood and hours of unrelieved, lonely coping.
The idea is not complicated: older moms — perhaps women confronting an empty nest, or those facing retirement with some time on their hands — can visit with a young mom for an hour or so, a couple times a week, at home or in a park, and simply be present to her in a reassuring, and most importantly, confidential way.
This is not about babysitting, or helping with housework; I’m thinking about something more in line with an older woman who is able to come in and take one kid into her lap while the young mother deals with another kid but also has a chance to talk, spill, vent, cry; a woman who might be a prayer-companion in those moments; a woman who can identify — who understands that the young mother is neither crazy nor incompetent, just overwhelmed; a woman who can reassure her that things get better — that the job of motherhood never becomes “easy” but it gets more manageable.
To be a “mothering presence” to a young mother could mean simply pouring tea, holding a hand and saying, “yes, these small people are little packages of lunacy, joy, and sorrow entrusted to you. Aren’t they beautiful? And doesn’t time speed by so quickly…”
Such a presence can bring needed perspective into a life that currently seems telescopically narrowed.
Such ministry would involve some training in “listening” skills, in facilitating and it what it means to simply “be there” for someone else, for no other reason than the love of God. To be Mary to a young mom by simply hearing her, loving her and praying for her.
Most importantly, it would require a rock-solid commitment to confidentiality; such a ministry would be useless to any young mother if she felt there was no safety in her venting, or if she had to worry about gossip.
My husband and I used to facilitate a youth group; we took on kids in the 9th grade and they met weekly in our home until graduation from high school — just to talk, to be able to have a free, safe place in which to talk about anything they wanted, or toss off challenging questions about church and the life of faith. We went through training for it, and yes, we signed a confidentiality agreement and the kids did, too. Barring something criminal or unsafe, what was said at a meeting stayed at the meeting. We did it for eight years, because it was a thing very much worth doing.
People need to know they are seen and heard, in safety. Young moms need it, especially.
A ministry of succor to young moms might be worth doing, too. Building up the Kingdom by supporting the family, which Archbishop José Gomez reminds us is so foundational to the life of faith, and to citizenship, can only help build up a parish — and a nation — of strong future Catholics.
Elizabeth Scalia is Editor-in-Chief of the English edition of Aleteia