What I Wish College Students Knew about Motherhood
I’ll never forget the day my boyfriend in college told me a story about a mother who loved folding laundry. I can’t remember what prompted his sharing, but I bet it had something to do with a sarcastic comment I made about the drudgery of motherhood. He explained that she loved laundry because as she carefully folded each article she prayed for the person whom it belonged to, which turned a mundane task into something beautiful. The point of his story was to share with me how the hidden sacrifices of motherhood can be sanctified. I however did not hear his message… I was focused on restraining myself from punching him.
Motherhood seemed daunting to me. Fat and uncomfortable pregnancies, sleep deprived nights with an inconsolable newborn, the awkward smell of sour milk mixed with diaper rash cream, none of it was my idea of fun. The Catholic mothers I was surrounded with as a student at Benedictine College were wonderful mothers and a beautiful example of the married vocation, yet as I watched them run around with bags under their eyes, a wiggling child in a sling on their hip, and a few visible snot wipes on their shoulders and pants I thought “Seriously, is that what it means to be a mother? Can’t there be a more convenient way of going about this?”
Coming from a tightknit Catholic community my thoughts left me feeling embarrassed. I wasn’t like my friends who declared competition with the Duggars. With a baffled expression I watched my baby loving friends bring scissors to their bridal showers so they could enthusiastically cut the ribbons on their gifts, because superstition has it that the amount of ribbons you cut at your shower will equal the number of kids you’ll have. Their excitement confused me and the superstition had me thinking of ways I could tactfully invite people to bring gift bags to my future showers.
I was embarrassed because I didn’t long for and look forward to motherhood like I thought I should. My theology classes eloquently taught me that a family is a reflection of the Trinity and in building one I would be a co-creator with our Lord. I learned that as a mother I would be the queen of my own little domestic church and would have the privilege of raising princes and princesses for God.
What more could I possible want?
I didn’t really know, but I did know that ultimately, I was afraid. I was afraid of the sacrifices that motherhood would demand of me. Afraid of giving up my comfortable life in which the only person that I had to take care of was me. Afraid of having to be selfless in ways that I didn’t think I could be.
Facing the Fear
When I got married right after college there was no doubt in my mind that I would follow the Church’s teaching on contraception. The logic behind it was just too strong for me to justify my way out of it and then have two kids when everything seemed convenient. (I’ve since learned that there is never a convenient time to have kids.) Even although I was still a bit nervous about the whole motherhood thing we were open to life and when my first daughter was born, sacrificial love stared me right in the face. I was overwhelmed at first sight.
I wasn’t ready. Looking back however, that was okay because nothing could have fully prepared me for what was being demanded of me. As I had feared, motherhood required more self-sacrificing than anything I had ever done before. I deeply loved my baby, but I also loved my bed at 3:00 AM, the thought of being able to go on spontaneous dates with my husband, and not having to clean up messes that I didn’t make. (Seriously, I’m folding somebody else’s laundry between thoughts right now and hoping that my latest baby doesn’t wake up before I finish this post.)
I wish I could tell you a story about the magical time that I discovered the secret to blissful motherhood, but eight years and two more kids later I still struggle with self-sacrifice. However, by the grace of God, it has gotten easier. He continues to shape and transform me daily into a better person through my choosing to love my kids, and I would never trade the woman I am today for sticky juice-free floors, full nights of sleep, and random weekend getaway. Don’t be afraid, it’s worth it.
Being a practical choleric, I want to leave you with four things that I wish I had known from the start. Tuck these into your back pocket, and if one day you are blessed with children, remember them as you begin what will be the most epic journey of your life.
I know, it always starts with prayer, but it’s true! There are three ways to pray that I have found particularly helpful as a mother. First, the rosary. Spending time with a fellow mama, who happens to be the Mother of God, is always a win. Second, daily conversation with God. I take time each day to read from the Bible or a meditation book and then talk to God about it for 20-30 minutes. He usually has some pretty good insights for my day. Third, random shout outs. When I find myself trying to stay calm like Unikitty right before she turns into Angry Kitty, the mental shout outs begin. “Lord, I need you”, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph”, or just “Help”. Throwing in a few deep breaths as well usually does the trick.
2. Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
No matter what state of life you are in, life is uncomfortable. If it weren’t, we’d already be in Heaven. This reality poses us with two options: run from it or embrace it. I’ve found that the sooner I embrace the uncomfortable, the sooner I can get past it.
3. Find your Joy
In the midst of all of the self-sacrificing that is required of a mother, you must find joy. Yes, joy in the little moments where you are loving and giving to your children in ways that they will never thank you for and no one will ever see, but also in intentional ways that make you come alive. Find what brings you joy and make it a priority. Regular exercise, alone time, intellectual pursuits, time with your girlfriends, a hobby, travel, reading, writing… whatever it is that makes you as a unique individual and mother come alive, make it a priority. If you are begrudgingly and resentfully giving and giving and giving, there will be no love in your sacrifices and without love your acts will be in vain. When you can find your joy first, the dying to self with love will follow.
4. Don’t Build your Cathedral Alone
Mothering a child is like building a cathedral. It’s a long and tedious task that is filled with details that no one but God sees. It can get lonely working by yourself, so invite some fellow mothers to join you and build your cathedrals together. Learn from each other’s techniques, cry and then laugh together over failed designs, support and encourage each other’s creativity, and celebrate as each step of the process is put into place and complete.
Be saints, it’s worth it!