by Victoria Kearney
When I entered college as a freshman last year, I was immediately confronted with various challenges to traditional motherhood a crusader on the battlefield of the “mommy-wars.” Certainly, as a home-schooled student, I was familiar with such conflicts, through the media, politics, and in conversations with my extended family, but had never personally encountered this.
My first encounter came during a group discussion with my first-year advisor, who asked students to describe what they wanted to accomplish in their lives. I said that I wanted to work in journalism, and then cut back to writing independently as an author, once I was married and had a family. My advisor’s reaction was supportive, but I could tell from the disapproving stares of other students that they considered marriage and family life a failure, certainly not a goal.
Several of my friends experienced similar negative views on motherhood, including my roommate, Shelby, who attended a freshman seminar called “Media Images of Mothers.” Early in the semester, her professor circulated a survey asking whether students supported the traditional image of the “stay-at-home” mom. After all the students had completed the questionnaire, her professor read the results aloud.
Of the entire class, only one student, Shelby, supported “stay-at-home” moms. The professor then launched into a speech against women who choose to stay at home to raise their children; she argued that women deserve a place in the public eye and shouldn’t be burdened with tending to the daily, basic needs of their children. When Shelby told me about her professor’s reaction, she looked absolutely heartbroken. As college freshmen, we were already under pressure to abandon our hopes of marriage and motherhood for successful careers that were somehow supposed to prove our feminism and womanhood.
Today, in the 21st century, the idea of the God-given role of women as wives and mothers is criticized as never before. It is common to hear that we can be married, have children, and still have a successful career, but only if we make our careers the pinnacle of our lives, and let commitment to our families slip to “good enough.” Many fear that schools, jobs, and other organizations will discriminate against mothers by limiting resources or refusing the extra time needed by their families. Contraception and abortion are presented as good choices for women who want to avoid motherhood and children. Today it is growing more difficult to find positive support for the role of motherhood itself, let alone regarding it as the most honorable role any woman can ever aspire to.
Good Enough Is the New Perfect, a book published in 2011, takes aim at the image of traditional wives and “stay-at-home” mothers. This book, which includes chapters titled “The Good ‘Enough’ Wife” and “I’m the Boss,” ridicules women who choose to sacrifice their personal life and goals for the sake of their marriages and their children. Authors Hollee Schwartz Temple and Becky Beaupre Gillespie write that such responsibilities should be equally divided with husbands. After all, they argue, men aren’t expected to devote their lives to raising a family; and the modern woman shouldn’t be expected to either. This is a striking contrast with the common image of the traditional housewife of the 1950s: she wasn’t concerned with her own personal goals or whether her children were taking up too much of her time; she accepted her vocation as a wife and mother, and was happy to support them with love and devotion.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the Christian woman in these terms: “The woman, ‘flesh of his flesh’, his equal, is given to him by God as a ‘helpmate’; she thus represents God from whom comes our help” (CCC 1605). We must not confuse our equality with men as authorization to take on the man’s role, however. God created men and women with equality; but this equality comes with very different duties, especially within the context of marriage and family.
Men husbands and fathers are given the primary task of providing for and protecting their families. Women wives and mothers through the compassion and gentleness bestowed on us by God, are given the duty of caring for the needs of their husbands and children, emotionally and physically, and of raising their children in the Catholic faith. Recognizing the importance of women’s role in the family and society including the return to devotion to marriage and children is sometimes called the New Feminism.
Although many in society may consider this to be an inferior role, nothing could be further from the truth. As Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty (1892-1975) wrote,
The most important person on earth … is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby’s body. The angels have not been blessed with such a grace. They cannot share God’s creative miracle to bring new souls to Heaven. Only a human mother can. God joins forces with mothers in performing this creation… What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?
My mother graduated from high school in the 1970s, a time when women were often expected to pursue a career rather than stay at home to raise their children. Mum began teaching elementary school after graduating from college in 1978, and went back to graduate school six years later to pursue a degree in speech pathology. She continued working full-time even after she got married, and cut back to part-time after I was born.
My mom hated having to put me in daycare while she worked, but at the time she still had student loans to pay off, and both she and my dad were bombarded by the influence of the media, friends and family. Some of my earliest memories consist of being terrified by the bullies in my daycare class and wishing that I could stay at home with my mother. I was overjoyed when Mum became pregnant with my brother a few years later and gave up her outside job to become my “stay-at-home” mom.
Throughout my early grade school years, I had the security of knowing that Mum would be home when I came home from a long, and often rough, day at school. Eventually Mum took me out of school and began teaching me at home. I was home-schooled from fourth grade up through high school, and I admired her dedication to both me and to my education. It certainly wasn’t an easy task, and she received much criticism from our extended family. I can’t thank my mother enough for giving up her career, her professional goals, and the respect of her peers to stay at home with me and my three siblings. Someday I want to be able to provide that same love and security for my own children.
Young unmarried women face perhaps an even greater challenge in today’s culture than in the past. Most young women upon graduating from high school enter college to further their education, or get a job to support themselves. Both provide wonderful opportunities; however, the media, employers, and even our professors often present ideas that persuade young women not to devote their lives to marriage and families. Today’s culture has too often painted motherhood as a punishment that no woman should have to endure. Too often young women who actually want to get married and stay at home to raise their children are painted as old-fashioned and foolish.
As a young woman who does hope to get married someday and raise my children at home, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to express this desire to my peers and even to members of my own extended family, who ask why on earth I would want to give up the benefits of my education, and the potential of a successful and lucrative career, just so that I can stay at home with my children.
The answer lies in Cardinal Mindszenty’s powerful words “What on God’s good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?”
I can’t wait!
Victoria Kearney is a sophomore at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is studying creative writing and hopes to write for pro-life organizations upon graduation.
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