As a practicing Catholic and twenty-something wife and mother, I often feel like I need to prove how incredible motherhood is to society. Mainstream culture seems to tell me that I should have delayed marriage and children, traveled more, and found out who I really am through a wide variety of experiences, adventures, and bottomless brunches. Instead, here I am married at 23, a mother at 24, somewhat self-conscious and alarmed at how quickly my life moved into domesticity, but proud of my little family. If I’m being honest, I feel a little defensive of the choices I have made. I don’t want someone who doesn’t share my values to assume that I am a demure, submissive woman who has closed the door on her “life” because I got married and had kids earlier than usual. As a result, I find myself doing my best to show society how trendy and cool I am, how awesome motherhood is, how easy it is to balance family life with my professional career, and how my whole life is just one moment of beauty after the next.
Then there’s reality. Many days, my life feels like a scramble to balance marriage, motherhood, and school. I am constantly running out the door with coffee breath and a baby on my hip, a diaper bag slung over my right shoulder, and a work bag slung over the left. All the fantasies I had while pregnant about my little future family sitting around the breakfast table, clean, well-dressed, eating eggs on white plates before calmly leaving the house with smiles on our faces have crashed down with the bowl of scrambled eggs my daughter flung off the table. These crazy mornings summarize one half of motherhood for me. It’s exhausting, frustrating, messy, and constantly changing.
But then there’s the other half of motherhood. Even though I recognize I’m not the trendy Catholic mother I had in mind, I am a happy Catholic mother. There’s a joy in this life that doesn’t show up on social media, an intimacy and peace that I wouldn’t trade for another year as an unencumbered single twenty-something. Sometimes the uniqueness and beauty of my little family truly fills me with wonder for the gifts I’ve been given.
The tension between what I have lost and gained by my choices has been brought to the surface by my family life. Motherhood has drawn out of me what Kierkegaard refers to as the “inherent contradiction of existence.” Although he’s talking about the impossible combination of body and soul, temporality and eternity that marks the human condition, I am often struck by how selfless and selfish I can feel in the same moment when it comes to my family.
Perhaps that incongruity is part of the point. Motherhood is simultaneously so ordinary and so miraculous. There’s significance in the insignificance. Christ models this by being born to a totally insignificant woman in totally insignificant circumstances, and yet saving humanity from itself. In my own life, unlike Christ and the Blessed Mother, I’m likely to be forgotten after I die. However, my love for my daughter feels so much bigger and lasting than any recognition I could ever earn. It wouldn’t matter if no one else ever knew about the love I have for her. This love is an immaterial reality, one that is totally overwhelming in its own way. It is this love that brings significance to my life.
I imagine this has to be a little bit of what God’s love is like for us. It doesn’t matter how insignificant we are because we matter to HIM. His love for us—for you—always has been, always is, and always will be. Like the love a mother has for her child despite the scrambled eggs thrown on the wall, God’s love always remains. It’s unearned, uncontrolled, and immeasurable.
A recognition of this love is actually what trendy, Catholic motherhood means to me. It’s a recognition that motherhood is an opportunity to love and be loved as Christ loves us. It doesn’t have to be picture perfect; it just has to point toward the virgin’s “Yes” that led to the creation of the Word. As a mother, I am called to be open to God’s work within me, to allow Him to love through me, and to cooperate with Him in order to love more perfectly. This overabundant, explosive love is the most persuasive thing in the world. It is this witness that shows our mainstream culture a different narrative, one that may not be perfect, but is life-giving nonetheless.
Question for Reflection: How can you grow in loving others with God’s love?
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