Raising children is not a default chore for women who were not successful in the world of business, power, and wealth. However, the trend in the last few decades has been to delegate childcare to women who are often treated like second-class citizens. Society seems to dismiss and even ridicule women’s most sacred, natural role as nurturing mothers.
I fully realize most mothers have no choice but to work in our present economy. My contention is with prevailing attitudes about children, mothers and child care. From preschool, we are groomed to get ahead, surpass our peers by getting into the best universities and snatch prized careers. But success alone will not make us happy. Just take a look at the generations who have gone before us. The all-too-common mid-life crisis is a testament to the failure of a life focused on career advancement to the exclusion of family. Many women bemoan the fact they did not have time to nurture their children like they would have liked to do. Family life often crumbles to ashes, sacrificed on the altar of success.
In this milieu, Catholic women continue to grapple with how to live faithful to the teachings of the Church while remaining true to themselves as members of modern society. Sadly, young mothers are dealing with the same issues I did thirty-eight years ago. The problem is a pro-life stance seems to clash with concepts of feminism. Feminists believe the only way to achieve a sense of accomplishment is to succeed in a career, freed from the constraints of pregnancy and childcare.
Of course, some Catholic women should pursue full-time careers or consecrate themselves to religious life but others want to embrace motherhood. Young women are turned off by traditional reflections which often romanticize mothers while managing to leave them feeling powerless at the same time. In the face of this dilemma, I wrote an anthology with four other Catholic women about the pain and joy of reclaiming a sense of dignity as a mother in today’s society called Love Rebel: Reclaiming Motherhood.
Mothering is My Vocation
I admit the words pro-life and feminist seem to oppose each other. I was surprised to discover a challenging, satisfying life as a mother of a large family. The background I came from did not look favourably on large families. When my intellectual grandfather heard I had married a Catholic, he was aghast, “My God, how did she get into that mess? Well, at least tell her to not have a lot of children.”
I did not plan on having a large family. As a convert at nineteen-years-old, I was sure I was called to be a nun with an important mission to fulfill. I was a serious university student, who worked on a pastoral team. I did not even date and never considered marriage or motherhood. Then, God introduced me to my future husband and upended all my plans.
After the birth of our fourth child, my husband and I struggled to understand exactly how we should live our lives. Of course, we practiced natural family planning, but I was one of those rare people who could conceive long before ovulation and we were pro-life, abortion was not an option. My doctor, after considering another unplanned pregnancy surmised, “Ah, I remember reading about a woman in New Zealand two years ago who conceived five days before ovulation.” I raised my hand and chirped, “Well, you can add me to that list!”
One day when I was terrified I was pregnant with our fifth, I sensed these words interiorly about mothering a large family:
This is your call
This is your vocation
This is your witness to the world
I was astounded because I felt scorned and misunderstood, “What sort of witness is that?” I demanded. The answer was, “Trust me. I am with you.” Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. I was surprised to discover mothering was the key to my own inner growth and fulfillment.
YOU Had Nine Children?
Most people expect me to appear haggard, filled with regret and unfulfilled dreams. I surprise people when they first meet me; their eyebrows shoot up and they sputter, “YOU had nine children?” This is because I am 5’ 1” and weigh 108 pounds, even though I was pregnant or nursing for eighteen years without a break. I am healthy, articulate, and have a quirky sense of humor. This challenges the typical image of a mother of a large family as a grim battle-axe, efficiently marshaling her kids with little time to coddle them.
Surprisingly, my kids turned out well rounded and successful, while I, who grew up with only one sister, discovered dignity and freedom as a mother of nine kids.
Society's Reaction To Large Families
A few years ago, when a journalist interviewed me for an article on Mother’s Day, she asked me if I ever regretted not using my degree to pursue a career. I simply stared at her in shock for a few moments, my mind blank. “No”, I finally stuttered, “the thought never entered my mind.” It was then the journalist’s turn to stare at me in shock for a few minutes.
Even though my article merely shared a humorous peek into my hectic life, half of the ninety comments had to be deleted after publication. Many comments were angry, profane attacks. Obviously, a pro-life feminist stance strikes a raw nerve in society, a symptom of a decades-old battle between the pro-choice and pro-life camps. Ironically both sides fight for the equality and dignity of women.
God’s Love Stands Strong
Though I often still cringe under disapproval from society, I understand my children saved me by compelling me to dive deeper into my spirit, discovering the power of eternal Love at my core. God’s Love stands strong against all opposition.
I can honestly say my husband and I are joyful because we answered a particular call to parent a large family. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth; God called each of our children into being with our cooperation. I stumbled blindly at times and then a burst of clarity would shine a light on my purpose as I lived out my calling as a mother of a large family.
Motherhood is a choice women should be free to make without feeling ostracized. Society is building a false narrative by looking down on a woman’s most sacred, natural role. Mothering can be a feminist, pro-life call, vocation, and witness to the world.