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How Dorothy Day taught me to be a better mom


Public Domain

Cecilia Pigg - published on 10/26/21

I was not expecting her book and life to speak so profoundly to me as a mother.

I recently read Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness. It moved me profoundly, and I’m still processing why and how her book and life touched me.

One lesson I was not expecting to take away from her life was about motherhood.Dorothy Day was a journalist and social activist who converted to Catholicism in the middle of her life. Her cause for canonization has been opened, so she is currently a Servant of God in the Catholic Church. She always wanted a big family, but ended up being a single mom of her daughter Tamar for most of her life. Although most of her work is about her social justice work and conversion, her insights into life immediately made me reflect on the gift of my motherhood. 

First of all, she reminded me of the importance of my vocation as a mom.

Dorothy looked back with joy on her own childhood, explaining that a good family life is the closest thing to Heaven we can experience on earth. Dorothy remembered fondly her loving father and mother and her friendship with her siblings. Sometimes while she was growing up her father had a well-paying job and they lived comfortably, and sometimes he did not, and they lived simply, just trying to scrape by. But, they always spent lots of time together, and because of that she experienced a rich and happy childhood.

Then, when Dorothy became a mother herself, she made the life-changing decision to have her daughter baptized. Dorothy realized that one thing she was missing growing up was the beauty and stable foundation of faith, specifically the Catholic faith. So, she wanted to provide that foundation for her daughter. She reminded me that when I look at my children, the main goal I want for them is to know God. If I try to love them unconditionally, and provide a safe and joyful home for them, then maybe they will begin to understand God’s unconditional love and care for them. I also don’t want to take for granted the beauty and stability of the Catholic faith Dorothy discovered later in life, and want to teach my children to treasure the faith.

Secondly, Dorothy taught me how I can pray always, even as a busy mom.

Her prayer life grew organically, starting from before she converted to Catholicism. She wasn’t raised in the faith, but throughout her life she met Catholics and Episcopalians who introduced her to the Bible and to liturgy.

In her autobiography she explains what her prayer life was like a few years before she was baptized Catholic. She started praying while walking outside, delighting in God’s goodness in nature as she walked along the road. She prayed the Te Deum (a hymn of praise to God) as she watched the ocean near her beachside home. She asked Mary for help whenever she saw an image of Mary. Someone had given her a rosary at some point in her life, and even though she did not know how to pray it, she tried her best to as she went about her day.

While I think it is essential to schedule a few minutes of quiet time to talk with and listen to God each day, her life reminds me that I can pray in the midst of the craziness of my day as a mom. What if I tied the different routine parts of my day to a specific prayer? What if I allowed the beauty of creation to touch my heart and move me to praise God in the moment?  

Thirdly, she reminded me that I need the support of good friends — but she broadened my idea of who those good friends might be.

Dorothy Day had friends from all walks of life as she lived her life raising her daughter and serving the poor. I, on the other hand, naturally expect to make friends with people who are in the same state of life as me, which right now are mothers of young children who go to my church.

But Dorothy poured her time and energy into a variety of people from many different social classes and backgrounds. As she served them, they often served her in return, providing mutual support and encouragement to each other. She reminded me that a good friend doesn’t need to be someone in the same state of life as you, and that serving others is always better than sitting inactive and bemoaning your lack of friends.

Dorothy’s whole life, in general, shows that your life grows fuller the more you give it away. What a good reminder for all mothers. Servant of God, Dorothy Day, pray for us!

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