I haven’t always loved motherhood but here’s what I discovered that changed my outlook.
It began when I was a first-time mom, determined, come hell or high water, to do motherhood right. To put my kids first. To throw myself into this amazing new vocation, no matter what it meant. I went into motherhood sure of exactly one thing: That this role is not supposed to be about me.
I wasn’t totally wrong. Motherhood is a noble and a difficult calling to constantly put the needs of your children first. The work of motherhood is largely invisible, largely thankless, and totally exhausting. A mother’s role is one of radical selflessness.
I knew what I was signing up for.
When my first child was born, I felt a tug of resentment as I saw the ways my life was changing. But instead of asking myself what I was missing, I firmly told myself, “You’re a mother now — your life isn’t about you. It’s about them.” I stopped finding time for what I used to be good at. My gardening, my poetry, my love of psychology and sociology and the natural sciences, even my social life. It’s not that there wasn’t time for it all, so much as it felt strange to me to focus on any part of me that didn’t support my new, all-important identity as mother.
I figured that this loss of the rest of my identity was natural and necessary — a sign that I was doing motherhood right.
And truly, God does ask total self-sacrifice of us. He does ask us to give everything we have in the service of love. But here’s what I forgot: love is not supposed to efface us, it’s supposed to complete us. It’s supposed to make possible what St. John Paul II urged: “Become who you are.”
I felt diminished because I was diminished. But that’s not because motherhood is oppressive, it’s because I was misunderstanding the whole point of a vocation.
Although motherhood is a gift to my children, motherhood is my vocation, which means it’s a gift to me, too. A vocation is the role through which God calls us to holiness, and to heaven. A vocation lived well is supposed to nourish you the way a marriage is supposed to nourish you. Marriage doesn’t strip us of our individuality, it supports and celebrates it. Motherhood is the same.
I started to understand that God didn’t make me with these particular strengths, interests, and desires only for me to totally disregard those parts of myself. Heaven is supposed to be a place where I’m really myself, for the first time — so how could it be that my vocation, my own personal path to heaven, should make me recognize myself less and less?
I began to think of motherhood as a gift, and part of my identity, not as job that subsumes every other thing that makes me who I am. It changed everything. I started to discover myself again. I started checking books out of the library. I started listening to TED Talks while I folded laundry, and cooked interesting meals, when I had the energy, for the sheer pleasure of the art. I let my self back into my life. I stopped questioning whether my own interests and talents were appropriate for a young mother of babies and toddlers to pursue. I forgot the stereotypes, and gave myself permission to live a life that made sense to me — and saw that the fruit was always peace and joy.
And, what goes around comes around. As I let myself be who I was made to be, without trying to cram myself into a box that’s much too small for me, I model the same freedom for my children. I hope that they’ll grow up at peace with who they are, confident that whatever vocation God calls them towards, it will always be to a life that works with, not against, who they are in their entirety.
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