At a time when the media is constantly telling us that the most important thing is to be true to oneself and to listen to one’s feelings, when some women refuse motherhood “to save the planet” or to give priority to their professional career, when others still do not hesitate to say they regret being a mother, it is good to remind ourselves that being a mother is first and foremost a blessing. It is also a lifelong personal adventure, an adventure as a couple, with inevitable pitfalls! So, let’s not apologise for being mothers! This is one of the themes discussed during a CANA Family week by Bénédicte LECALLENEC, a marriage counsellor.
Being a mother is a blessing
The miracle of begetting, of procreation, arouses admiration, gratitude, and contemplation with regard to the work of nature, which is also the work of God. It is a pivotal moment, full of intensity and emotion. Who does not marvel at the little hand or the little toes of a baby? What a mystery is this little being in the making who is entrusted to us!
In the Bible, motherhood is a blessing and the psalmist himself marvels:
“You formed my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb; I thank you for so many wonders, for the wonder of my being and the wonder of your works.” Ps 138/139:13.
And sterility is a real misfortune, from Sarah to Elisabeth through Rachel, Anne… We know how much it hurts when the child is delayed, when one has undergone long treatments, or when it does not come at all. A real obstacle course and even adoption is a long adventure!
Being a mother, a personal experience
In the beginning, everything starts with a love story. Then the child appears, the fruit of a union of bodies. It is more or less programmed, more or less accepted, or it arrives as a surprise… But it is there.
What I personally experience is that the child takes up space in my body, in my head, in my projects. He invades me. I feed him with my body, my caresses, my sweet words, but also with my tumultuous emotions. He perceives so many things in me! What is very special is that I welcome a stranger within me. I am in a relationship with him without having seen him. My interior no longer belongs to me. I am inhabited. It is a unique intimate experience. I give myself totally. In this adventure of pregnancy, I give up a lot of my energy, my time, my health, my figure, my personal projects… I sacrifice myself in a way. “Here is my body, delivered for you!”
Yes, we mothers are ready to give a lot, to give up a part of our freedom by putting ourselves at the rhythm of this little one, by putting ourselves at his service.
The question is: what meaning should be given to this gift, this “sacrifice”? Is it suffered or consented to? For what purpose? To sacrifice oneself for love? What is its wider significance? Fecundity beyond childbirth: is it not a contribution from each person, giving his or her word for the world and making a contribution to it?
This gift of self is not so obvious. It also depends on our personal history. Have we experienced the unconditional love of our parents or of a substitute person?
Motherhood is a women’s business
We are mothers in the wake of many mothers. It is reassuring. It is possible. We are united in this adventure, beyond time and culture.We can see this complicity between women in the history of the Hebrew people around the “rescue” of Moses: the midwives, the daughter of Pharaoh, the mother of Moses… We can see this feminine solidarity to defend life at all costs, the weakest. Shall we speak of maternal instinct? Survival instinct? There is a “fight for life” to be waged, a concern that is inscribed in each of us.
A century ago, several generations lived under the same roof. You were not alone in raising a child. There were grandmothers, aunts, cousins and neighbours too. Today, in many countries, women are very much alone with their questions, their anxieties, their difficulties (even if the father is very present). Will we be able to do it? Will we manage to reconcile everything? The support is not there!
Being a mother, an adventure for my couple
“Okay, I needed my husband to conceive. But still, I am the mother, I carried this little one, I feel what he needs, I know what to do! And when I don’t know, I am able to find the solution somewhere.” And it’s not just when the child is a baby, this reaction can last for years!
But the father really needs to be accompanied in becoming a father, he who has not carried the child, who has not experienced the same intimacy with the child. We have to believe that he receives the grace to be a father, to be the guardian of this garden that is our family.
The challenge for us mothers is to make room for the father. He is the one who symbolically cuts the cord, who separates the mother from the child, who opens him up to the outside world. We have to get out of this symbiosis which was very necessary during the first months of the baby’s life, but which must not last! We have to give up the fusion. But it is so difficult to let go! Where is the right distance?
Motherhood is a challenge to our life as a couple. As a mother, we sometimes put aside our mission as a lover, as a loving wife. Motherhood can distract us from our partner. The man can then feel alone! Dialogue on this subject is very important so that each of us can express our emotions, needs and expectations, especially in the area of physical intimacy. For some couples, when the children are there, all their energy gradually becomes focused on the children and work. They no longer take time for their own couple!
With many pitfalls
Many pitfalls arise in this particular situation. It is better to be aware of them, not to feel guilty but to convert! For example, the temptation of omnipotence, control, perfectionism, the cult of performance, self-centredness, anxiety, discouragement, disappointment, resignation from one’s role as a mother and escape to work or to places more gratifying than the family…
How do we deal with them? Fortunately, there are remedies for each of these pitfalls. They are essentially centred on attention to unity with one’s spouse, simplicity, trust, intercession, seeking outside resources, acceptance of my reality, my limits and those of others, courage, etc…
Bénédicte, a marriage counsellor, gives us this precious advice: “It is up to each of you to identify the trap you most frequently fall into, and to choose the next smallest possible step. It’s about being creative in finding your way of being a mother by letting yourself be led by the Holy Spirit, day after day.”
Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of selfish individualism… Dearest mothers, thank you, thank you for what you are in the family and for what you give to the Church and the world. The Joy of Love. Pope Francis. AL 174
It is the woman who directly “pays” the price of this normal engendering in which the energies of her body are literally consumed…. It is necessary, therefore, that the man be fully aware of his contracting a particular debt to the woman, in their common function as parents. Saint John Paul II