Somehow, a father with kids in tow never get the malicious lectures from total strangers.
“She must have been despised,” writes Mary Pezzulo, the blogger at Steel Magnificat. “Imagine how many people had opinions about all that she had done wrong. Imagine how many people cruelly made their opinions known. They always do.”
The Blessed Virgin’s been there. It’s something to think about in the week of Mother’s Day.
Everyone criticizes mothers
When our children were small, my wife would come home reporting being lectured or insulted by someone who thought the children were acting up. This happened more often than I would have thought possible.
It usually happened at the grocery store, perhaps because the cart as well as the children made her an easy, slow-moving target. It happened most when we had three, the eldest being seven years older than the third. The aggressor was usually a woman, aged about 45 to 60, or more rarely a shrewish old man.
These people were genuinely malicious. They acted out of malice. They were predators. Everyone criticizes mothers, and some people go looking for mothers to criticize.
It never happened to me, and I suspect almost never happens to fathers. People think well of fathers grocery shopping with their kids. If the kids run around, well, he’s a dad, it’s okay, that’s the way it works. You get brownie points for taking your kids shopping, as if you’re doing something special, meritorious, unexpected. The critics leave you alone.
They don’t leave mothers alone. Once I came round the end of the aisle to find an older woman leaning towards my wife, much too close, harsh-faced, mean-voiced, lecturing her. It was assault, physical and verbal. She saw me and right away turned and started walking down the aisle, but I caught up to her and hissed something very rude but true. I hope I scared her off from doing it again.
Still, my wife was shaken. I could say, “It’s a foolish person who likes being mean, don’t worry about it,” but the victim can’t toss off the assault so easily – especially not when the victim is as kind a person as my wife, who hasn’t a predatory bone in her body.
Indeed, she would later try to find reasons these people acted that way. Many of the women would present themselves as exemplars of motherhood, of the standard my wife had (they insisted) failed to reach. Some would make a big point of saying they had only one or two children, so they could give them the attention they deserved. They had planned rationally while my wife had been careless or self-indulgent.
My wife, being kind, wondered if they acted the way they did because they felt sad or guilty that they hadn’t had more children. She thought this in part because sometimes other older women would tell her wistfully they wished they’d had more children, but they didn’t realize it at the time, or (heartbreakingly common) their husband wouldn’t let them.
An ambiguous institution
Everyone criticizes mothers. People must have criticized the Blessed Virgin. You hope they had the chance to repent. You can hear them saying, “You mean he was…so she was…? Oh heck, I feel so bad I was so mean to her.”
But here’s the thing: You shouldn’t have to bear the Son of God to get a break.
It’s a complicated question why mothers go through life, at least until their children are grown, with a target on their backs. But they do, and some of them seem to be the hunters’ favorites.
The Blessed Virgin was certainly one of them, as Pezzulo suggests. Her radiant goodness would not have protected her. It may have attracted more predators. That means she knows what other mothers endure.
“Through my motherhood, I have learned that pain, pride, cruelty and callousness are infinite, that as a mother I will suffer infinitely and I will suffer alone,” Pezzulo writes. But, “Through the Mother of Sorrows, I am learning other truths.”
I am learning that the pain of motherhood is infinite, but the grace of the Cross is eternal, and the eternal is greater than the infinite. The shame of motherhood is infinite, but the love is eternal, and the eternal swallows up the infinite. Iniquity is infinite, but the mercy of God is eternal and in His mercy, we find the grace to overcome the infinite. Infinity is real, and nothing can take away that truth. But someday, Infinity will bow to Eternity. I am a mother, and all generations shall call a mother blessed. First, though, comes the Cross.
Mary’s been there. She accompanied her son on the via dolorosa, while herself almost certainly enduring mockery, judgment, and red-faced, righteous hatred from the mob.
Everyone criticizes mothers. In Mary, mothers have a companion, yes, but also someone who points them to their redemption.