The daily difficulties are a feature, not a flaw.
By Carrie Gress, Ph.D.
Motherhood is hard. There is no way around it. I didn’t realize just how hard until I started having my own children. It the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
For a long time, however, I lived with the expectation that somehow being a mom was going to get easier. At every stage, I hoped that maybe next week I would get more sleep; that the endless messes would abate; or the little battles through the mundane would subside.
And then the light finally went on. Being a mom not going to get easier. The troubles and struggles may change, but various challenges will always remain. Why? Because the crosses associated with motherhood are a feature and not a flaw. Once I resigned myself to the reality that being a mom includes a healthy serving of struggle, a weight was lifted. Motherhood became almost easy once I accepted that it is hard.
But the difficulty of motherhood is not in vain. This is an easy reality to forget when one is in the middle of what seems to be an endless slog. Motherhood, in fact, is the perfect antidote to the vice’s that come so easily to the fairer sex: vanity, narcissism, pride, avarice, and unbridled emotions, over-controlling, and fickleness.
Like a master sculptor shaping us into new creations through the blows that come with each spilled cup, every lost hour of sleep, and all that laundry, God is giving us the ultimate makeover. Motherhood is not merely a quick phase to endure until we “can have our life back,” but a much deeper gift. It is a divine makeover, forming us for eternity.
There is no shortage of TV programming portraying women behaving badly, so culturally we have a lot of cues for female vice. While most of us strive to not imitate “Bridezilla,” “Pretty Little Liars,” or “Heathers” (for those who remember back that far) our vices remain. But the flip side of these vices give a clear and content-rich picture of the genius of woman that Pope John Paul II spoke of so often.
Vices, however—as has been taught since the ancient Greeks—can only be transformed into virtues through challenges, like building up muscles. No one expects to become a body builder without lifting weights. The virtues are the same—they can’t be attained without resistance and challenges. Motherhood offers opportunities to supplant our vices with virtues, remaking us into the person God intended us to be.
For the Narcissist, motherhood offers Self-forgetting
Our culture is saturated with the ideology of the individual. We are used to having what we want, when we want it, how we want it. All of these comfortable realities come to a screeching halt once we have children. For the self-absorbed woman, the reality of doing everything for a helpless child can be daunting. What happened to “me” time? And yet, little by little, all that changes.
For the Vain, Humility
The transition to motherhood is a hard one, particularly for women who are used to doing “big” things in a career. There are no raises, no bonuses, no promotions, usually not even many acknowledgements of a job well done—even if it is the toughest job you have ever had.
Bodies bulge, sag, and wrinkle in astounding ways—often never to return to the prime of our youth—particularly if one is blessed with more than one or two, but all that seems to fade in importance as our energies are redirected to something far more important.
For the Fickle and Flighty, Patience and Perseverance
Verdi captured one feminine vice perfectly in his opera Rigoletto with its familiar aria, La Donna e mobile. A translation of the Italian lyrics says:
Woman is flighty
Like a feather in the wind,
She changes her voice and her mind.
Without a family to care for, many of us women love change, something new and exciting and the luxury of changing our minds. Perhaps that is why we love clothes so much? We always could use more and we get to change them at least once a day.
There are few examples in life, however, that demand more patience than dealing with children, especially when you get more than one or two together. Focus, attention, and perseverance are some of the hallmark habits any mother must acquire to make it through the day.
Perhaps the most overlooked of all the skills needed in motherhood, there is nothing like the endurance needed to get everything done. My own motto for daily life has become “keep moving, keep moving.” If I stop for too long—I may not get up again.
For the Spendthrift, Frugality
Caring for children and a family can strain the resources of any budget, depending on one’s spending habits. There is usually little room for that new pair of shoes, frequent dinners out, or exciting travel.
But money is not the only thing women need to learn to be frugal with—there is also time. Time might even be more of a restricted commodity than money in the early years with children. Gone are the hours of leisure time for sipping coffee in a trendy coffee shop, long chats with friends, going to movies, or even just reading a good book. Somehow, there never seem to be enough hours in the day to get everything on your list done.
For the Overly Emotive, Bridling Emotions
This virtue that gets little attention—confessors and husbands are reluctant to talk about it. “What do you mean, I’m too emotional?!!!!!” is the expected response—thereby confirming the diagnosis, but not solving the problem.
As a mom, the day is riddled with events that could set even the calmest mother on edge, and yet, these emotions need to be tamed. How many of us live with deep anger, frustration, irritation, or envy? These are all relatively easy to hide when we live on our own—but add a few children, and they become volcanic. We simply have to find a way to deal with them in a healthy manner—by rooting them out at the source (sometimes with pastoral or professional help) or finding a healthy way to channel them.
Our will needs to become stronger than our emotions. One priest likened the emotions to a dog—a wild one will be a terror, while a tame one is a quiet comfort and companion. Battling our emotions daily opens the door to freeing ourselves and our families from their tyranny, rather than just hiding them in a closet.
For the Shortsighted, Hope
Being a mom is fruitful by its very definition, but as Catholics, we know that there are fruit-bearing realities beyond childbearing. Hope is the virtue of trusting in the promise of Christ even when we cannot see the results. Every mother can only hope that her efforts bear fruit both in the present and future lives of her children and subsequent generations.
The struggles of motherhood also give us the hope that our response to them has a purpose. Our sacrifices and prayers extend to those immaterial realities that we can’t check on—like the salvation of souls, the release of souls from purgatory, helping those in need, and so on.
For the Control Freak, Trust
We have all encountered a control freak—and many of us have been that control freak, at times. There is nothing like being a mother to help you to abandon any illusions we may have had that we can control very much. Children have a way of unhinging that idea very quickly, while giving us the opportunity to place in the hands of God all that we love in all those awkward, tiresome, frustrating moments throughout the day.
It is only in this spiritual training that we can begin to see our lives, our pains, our struggles as fruitful. It’s not just in the big things, like labor and childbirth, where our pain has purpose and bears fruits—but in the everyday moments, like when you are so tired you use your ATM pin to try to microwave soup. And yet, God in his great mercy has offered us this sanctification through the most gentle of ways—those little faces and grubby hands.
Anything worth doing is going to be difficult—learning a language, growing a garden—but the difficultly is usually accompanied by rewarding moments, or beautiful vistas, and though they might be fleeting, the preciousness of our children make the arduous transformation of ourselves worth every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears.