Advice on life and motherhood can be confusing:
On the one hand, pregnant women are assured that nothing will change: You can still do it all with a baby! A baby won't take away your dreams!
On the other hand, they're told any personal ambitions outside of motherhood are ultimately insignificant: Being a mom is better than anything else in the world!
We need to be careful with our well-meaning platitudes. By diminishing the real sacrifice of motherhood—claiming it doesn't have the power to change or replace the hopes and dreams of a woman—we also, inadvertently, diminish the love of a mother. A mother's love is the deepest understanding of love for many humans, not because it's uncomplicated, simple, easy, or painless, but precisely, because it is not.
Ten years after my first surprise baby, I'm still furrowing through the immersive lessons of repeated humiliation that frame motherhood. I wasn't expecting the messiness, the pee, the vomit, the intense neediness that deeply defines our humanity. How we need one another.
Some families seem to effortlessly incorporate children into their ongoing lives. Their moms use maternity leave to launch a business! For other families, caring for new life is much more difficult—health concerns, financial needs, a lack of family, parish, or community support.
As it happens, motherhood often means re-writing the life we thought we were living. So much of the cultural encouragement around motherhood has proven false. The reality is: I can't do it all. I have to let go of personal dreams and desires to meet the needs of my family.
And my proverbial box of every answer, so proudly toted around through high school and college, hasn't had all the answers since that first confounded pregnancy test. Oh, to have the faith of Mary, confidently declaring her fiat, even as she realized God's plan might not align comfortably with the future she had imagined.
Recently I see glimpses of new dreams on old themes, clearer and braver after pushing through endless sleepless nights of babies... toddlers... preschoolers... Even so, I'm unsure. What doors might providentially close because my family needs me? But then, what doors might providentially open because meeting the needs of my children puts me in the right place at the right time?
With motherhood I've realized, with gratitude, my one-size-fits-all ideal of God is just as wrong as it is useless. Jesus is far more personal than an XXL tee that "fits all" but sorts easily to the Goodwill pile.
Perhaps this was Mary's source of comfort as a mother. She already knew God as more than a calloused, lofty spirit or inconsistent wishing well. Mary weathered life with the Lord long before Jesus calmed the storm for the disciples. And even as the unexpected way of motherhood took Mary to the foot of the cross at the Crucifixion of her Son, it also led her through the Resurrection, to the Upper Room on Pentecost, and on to become an integral member of the early church community. Through this, Mary experienced the personal affinity of God—not just for her, but for each of us. What new work is God doing with you, for love of you?
Dear fellow mothers, your sacrifice is real! Perhaps it feels particularly heavy this difficult year. Maybe your life has seemed to drift farther from the storyline you thought you were living. May the Spirit of God find each of us wherever we are, comfort and inspire us with renewed hopes and new dreams.
Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for all mothers.