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A Shift in Perspective This Mother’s Day

May 11, 2024


We meet again, Mother’s Day. The day of the Hallmark Co.’s choosing to both honor mothers but also sell cards, flowers, and extra chocolate. And while being honored as a mother is indeed a fine occasion at my house with my clan of five children and a doting husband, the day is complicated. A quick query of my corner of the Internet proved that most women in my Catholic-woman orbit feel similarly. Is it a day to flex how loved you are by your children? Is it a day to show the homage you’re paying to your mother? Is it a day you turn off social media because you’d love to be a mother and it hasn’t happened yet? What is the measure of Motherhood™? And what will satisfy the celebration of it? And what role does our Heavenly Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, have to play in all this brunching and card signing and hashtagging #happymothersday? Mothering has been reduced to a transactional performance in our digital villages, and it’s time to shift that perspective. 

What are we shifting from and where are we shifting to? Which voices will we listen to for this perspective pivot?

The first step to change is to take stock of where you are. The primary struggle I hear about motherhood—including caring for your children; tending your relationships with your godchildren, nieces, and nephews; honoring your own mother despite the dynamics at play—is that women feel like they’re failing by not being perfect. 

“Mothers, you must do it! If you fail, and they fall away, it is your fault.”

Sometimes that pressure can be reinforced by the strangest of messages. A particularly poignant Mother’s Day homily was one I heard at a rural parish out-of-town while on a “vacation” with my husband and then-four-kids-under-six. I use the term “vacation” loosely because we all know a trip with a passel of youngsters is simply parenting with fewer tools in a new location. 

But the message shared by this priest was on raising children in the Catholic faith. I exchanged smiles and glances with my husband. Weren’t we doing this so well? Look at us at Mass, guiding and shaping these little souls entrusted to us? Mid-homily, the tone shifted. “If your adult children have left the Church, it is your fault!” the priest raised his voice and jabbed his index finger toward the sky, then toward the statue of Our Lady to his right. “Mothers, you must do it! If you fail, and they fall away, it is your fault.” I swallowed rather hard, looked at the mess of coloring pages on the pew and the baby on my lap. It’s up to me, I thought nervously.

And now as I stay up late for the teenagers returning from a late-night track meet and caress the mop of toddler hair snuggled asleep next to my lap, I wonder, Who told that priest that disinformation? If mothering is a transactional occurrence—perfection in, perfection out, garbage in, garbage out—well, my kids are getting something in the middle. Mixed reviews in, mixed reviews out? 

I know my faults all too well; I read them like my first-grader’s chicken scratch on the wall. I see them in the face of my middle schooler after I’ve scolded him over my mistake of dumping the milk, in the hurt response of my mother after I’ve brushed off her offer to help because I must prove I can do it all by myself, and in the curt reaction to my sister who tried to make Mother’s Day easier for me by coordinating a brunch but did so by (gasp) texting me a few times about food preferences. You who live in relationship with those you love can witness your own faults in their faces, a rather haunting mirror.

Mary teaches us how to mother in one simple way: receptivity.

What are we shifting toward? If motherhood is not about perfection, perhaps it’s about acknowledging our imperfections with a loving heart, multiple apologies, and a docility to learning. Maybe it’s allowing Our Lord to work on us and through us.

When in doubt, be devout, or so they tell my altar-serving sons. When in doubt, my version of being devout is to check Sacred Scripture and the deposit of our faith. Let’s test this theory of what we should pursue in motherhood. We have our own pinch-hitter, the secret Wild Card, the woman who raised Our Lord himself to show us the way.

And Mary teaches us how to mother in one simple way: receptivity. “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). And of course we know that it is her soul, the very essence of her being that “magnifies the Lord and rejoices in God” (Luke 1:46). 

We hear so little from the Blessed Mother in Sacred Scripture. How I long to know the fullness of Mary’s hidden days in Nazareth, the rhythm of her mornings, the quiet of her evenings. How I’d love an account of the Passion through her eyes to meditate with! We receive a mere 188 words. And yet Mary teaches us how to mother in one simple way: receptivity. We don’t need more than 188 words from her; her example is enough.

Being conceived without Original Sin and never sinning means Mary lived a life fully in union with God’s will and fully receptive to his love. By her example, we can ask him to teach us how to receive him more fully and to allow him to teach us how to love beyond ourselves, how to be his face to those we care for. No coaching session, workout fitness level, or perfectly ordered living room will create the space we need interiorly to receive this school of love that is a relationship with God. We need to receive his help. He will create the space for docility and receptivity. For our part, we reopen our hearts every day to the available graces. We try again, and then we let him do it. 

No earthly results can satisfy us, no quiverful of grandchildren, no full-ride-scholarship honors students, no seemingly perfect Mother’s Day brunch captured in small squares by a small box of a phone. And perhaps if this metric is shifted from transactional perfection to radical receptivity, we only need one voice: that of our Beloved. May your motherhood and mothering be filled with movements of the Holy Spirit, fruits of God’s love in your life, and many moments of interior pondering on your belovedness.