The other day, I took a walk with a friend. I don’t get together with Dee as much as I did when we were in the thick of raising children, so we chatted happily, catching up on family news. Back at her house, I sat at her kitchen table, and we continued our conversation. I was trying to ignore my throbbing headache, but I began to consider cutting our visit short.
Before I could make up my mind to leave, Dee realized I was suffering from a headache and began doing whatever she could to bring me some relief: she dosed me with pain reliever, put on a pot of coffee for a caffeine cure, and asked me if I had eaten anything recently. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, so she whisked two pieces of bread into the toaster, providing butter and jam for my delectation. (As a person who eats gluten free, it was a rare treat to be plied with gluten-free toast!)
As I nibbled my toast and sipped my coffee, my headache started to dissipate. Tears came to my eyes as I realized that it had been a long time since someone had made a motherly fuss over me. I felt special and I felt better.
Women, even if they do not have children, tend to “mother” others. It is in accord with our nature. It is life-giving, and it is beautiful. But sometimes we need someone to nurture and support us in a way that only a mother can. This is just as true for our spiritual well-being as it is for our physical and emotional well-being.
Women of a younger generation, those of you who are trying to raise children in a post-Christian era, are particularly vulnerable to burn-out as you follow Christ and continually serve your husbands and children. You need spiritual mothers, both on earth and mother figures who are already in heaven, who will pray for you and help you access the loving energy that God is always willing to give us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
“Are You My Mother?”
Who can mothers turn to for motherly help and guidance? First, we turn to our Blessed Mother. God Himself has given her a unique role to play in all of history and has made her the mother of all of those “who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus” (Rev 12:17). Her children, similar to our own offspring, can be selfish, unruly, and fractious. Our Blessed Mother gets us. I recently listened to a testimony of William Waters, a seminarian, who said, “When you give [our Blessed Mother] a little bit, like a good mom, she pretends that you are even more generous…than perhaps you intended to be.” She takes whatever we have to offer and makes the most of it for our well-being and happiness and for the glory of God.
We moms should also remember that there are other saintly women in heaven who will accompany us and intercede for us if we turn to them for help. In high school, I carelessly chose “Elizabeth” as my confirmation name, not understanding the concept of a “patron saint.” At that point in my life, I was not well catechized, and I did not understand the vital role the saints could play in our lives. As an adult, I began to realize how much help we could receive from our brothers and sisters who are already in the presence of the Lord and who are rooting for us, and I started to explore the idea of a patron saint.
When my husband and I moved our family to the state of Maryland many years ago, St. Elizabeth Anne Seton (also called “Mother” Seton) appeared on my radar for the first time, partly because her shrine was less than two hours away. With “Elizabeth” as my confirmation name, I started thinking of her as my patron. Imagine my surprise when I eventually realized how similar I was to Mother Seton. Like her, I was a New Yorker who moved to Maryland. Like her, I had five children and was a teacher. Although I was not a convert to the Catholic faith as Mother Seton was, I had been highly influenced by Protestantism as a young person and didn’t discover the wealth of my Catholic faith until I was in college, so I have always considered myself a convert of sorts. I claimed Elizabeth Anne Seton as a spiritual mother, and she has been with me ever since.
“Reach Out and Touch Someone”
When it comes to spiritual help, our friends in heaven are invaluable, but so are the mother-figures we can see, hear, and touch—an older woman who has your best interest in mind, cares about you, and supports you, through her example of Godly womanhood, her counsel, and by her prayer. Older women may love the idea of mentoring or mothering you, but they don’t want to be intrusive or impinge on your family life, so getting together with your relatives or cultivating relationships with women at your parish might need to originate with you.
As a young woman, I remember the process of separating myself from my mother as I grew in independence. It was necessary. Overzealous mothers in particular need to respect the boundaries that younger women establish, but, if possible, daughters should try to learn from their mothers and consider their wisdom.
Scripture often encourages the older women to help the younger generation. In the book of Titus, St. Paul instructs the older women to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited.” Younger moms help older women fulfill that mandate by inviting them into their lives. If you have had trouble finding a mentor in an organic way, there are small group programs, such as the one offered by Women of Grace, that facilitate in-person mentorship amongst Catholic women.
And though it doesn’t have the same value as a flesh and blood person, there are myriad online communities and organizations for Catholic mothers to tap into for guidance and support, such as Catholic Mom. There are also programs designed to guide and support both moms and dads such as Ablaze Ministries and Messy Family Project. Mary and Elizabeth House provides spiritual direction for women, and Blessed is She offers an eight-week mentoring program.
Especially if you are in the midst of raising a number of children, perhaps even homeschooling or working outside of the home, your time is precious, your resources limited, your legs unshaven. This is the reality to which you have become accustomed. You may even be going through a particularly challenging time and feeling that you are constantly on the verge of tears or perilously close to familial implosion. You are not alone. Make an effort to connect with women who will pray for you and offer you a Catholic perspective. Authentic spiritual support is more helpful than we can imagine and is often the first thing to go by the wayside when we are feeling overwhelmed. Open your heart and your life to the older women that God puts in your path, both the saints and those who are yet imperfect, and let yourself be mothered.
Christine Hanus’ new book, “Everyday Heroism: 28 Daily Reflections on the Little Way of Motherhood,” filled with more wisdom for women in the child-raising years, can be found here.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.