Thursday, June 21, 2012

Our Lady of the Pots and Pans-- Finding Grace by Embracing Motherhood

Let's face it-- motherhood is rarely glamorous.  As a mother of three young children, ages 5, 2, and 7 months, my days are usually exhausting and at times, daunting. 

Today my 7 month old woke up at 4:45am (JOY!), and the two older children woke up shortly after.  Before even indulging in a simple cup of coffee, I had sleepily fed three hungry children, changed two diapers, started the laundry, and started unloading the dishwasher.  Where was my husband, you ask?  He was awarded a much deserved promotion (BRAVO!) by his company, so he is currently living in ANOTHER STATE until the kids and I are able to move into our new home.  Our family will live in separate states for a total of 6 weeks!  Ah, the life of a corporate wife!

While venturing out in public with my three little ones, whether shopping, walking our dog, or attempting to go to mass, I tend to get variations of the same comment, "Boy, you have your hands full!  I don't know how you do it!" 

Most people are just trying to make polite conversation.  I usually smile and nod in acknowledgement.  Sometimes I'll add, "They are all great kids.  I'm lucky," or I'll take the opportunity to praise my 5-year-old daughter saying something like, "I'm so blessed to have such a helpful and capable daughter to help me.  She is so good with her little brothers," since these curious, well meaning strangers tend to dote on my baby boys. 

Nicer and even more well meaning strangers will offer to help by holding a door open for me, or they will compliment me on how beautiful and well behaved my children are (disclosure-- they are not always well behaved!).  These types of folks are my favorite people to interact with!  Once, while struggling to load both kids and groceries into my car, a kind woman helped me.  God bless her because I needed help that day!

Unfortunately, some people are less kind.  I'm not even sure if it's intentional.  Typically, these tend to be female acquaintances I am friends with.  One will say something like, "You're crazy!  Are you sure you want more?!?!  I told my husband after Number 2 was born, he better go get clipped because if he got me pregnant again..."  My typical response is to smile politely.  I usually feel like a deer caught in headlights because even though I find myself in the same situation over and over again, I can never seem to muster up the right words to say. 

What are the rights words?  God, help me to find them.  In both situations I feel like I have a golden opportunity to promote a culture of life, to tell people how wonderful having a family can be, but I am only given enough time to give a simple sound bite.  How do I respond in a situation like that?

In both situations, I feel like people really do want answers.  I feel like some of the strangers I meet really do want to know how I manage three kids 5-years-old and younger.  I feel like the ladies who tell me I'm crazy for having a larger family want answers too.  I feel like both parties are saying, I'm struggling, what's your secret?

In a wonderful turn of events, yesterday, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with a childhood friend via Facebook.  I asked how he and his wife were doing, and I was ecstatic and overjoyed by the answer I received back.  He responded with an update on his family and specifically his new son and concluded with, "I love being a dad!"  I cannot tell how joyful those 5 simple words made me feel.  In a culture that seems to value materialism and convenience over life, it was refreshing to hear someone else (someone who is not Catholic) LOVES being a parent. YES!  WIN!

You see, I love being a mom too.  It's not always easy.  In fact, most of the time, it's actually incredibly difficult, but I LOVE BEING A MOM!  Here's why--

I never knew what I was capable of until I became a mother.  As a runner, I'd compare raising children to training for a major athletic endeavor-- marathon, triathlon, iron man, whatever.  As a parent, just as with athletics, I become stronger-- more capable, more patient, more creative each day as I "train" or tackle the day's challenges.  It's hard.  It hurts to grow spiritually and emotionally, just as my muscles ache when I'm training physically.  Yet, the rewards from motherhood are better than those of any athletic event.  Instead of earning a medal, I get a kid who can read, use the potty, and is kind to others.  AWESOME!  I wish more parents could see that the growing pains of family life are only temporary and are actually an indication of growth and progress.

As a Catholic, when the going gets rough, I think of the advice a priest gave to me.  He told me about Pope John Paul I who popularized the title and concept of Our Lady of the Pots and Pans.  As a stay at home mother with young children, I try to find holiness in my every day tasks just as our Blessed Mother did.  I take pride in that.  When I'm changing my third poopy diaper in an hour, I smile to myself knowing that I am winning a spiritual battle against my own selfishness. 

I guess if I had to share my secret, I'd say life isn't about getting what you want.  True happiness and love come with serving others (and serving God through your service to others).  As a parent, I take it day by day and trust in God that everything will work out the way it's supposed to.  I think of St. Andre Bessette who said, "Do not seek to have these trials lifted from you.  Instead, ask for the grace to bear them well."

These experiences and attitudes are important to reflect on considering our current political climate, specifically in regard to the HHS mandate.  It is imperative that we promote a culture of life in our every day lives.  It is alarming to me that so many of the women I interact with regularly (both secular and Christian) tend to view their children as burdens. It's sad, really. I hear many women long for their former lives-- being able to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Their children (and even their husbands), in my observation, seem to be inconveniences to these women, instead of sources of love and joy.

At times, my husband and I have felt the brunt of resentful, sarcastic comments and backhanded compliments because we are open to life. Cardinal Dolan recently addressed this unfortunate trend in his e-book, True Freedom: On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Liberty. He writes, "I worry this experience is becoming the norm for any mom and dad with two or more children under the age of five...Modern, secular cultures seem to view the baby as a commodity or an accessory at best and an inconvenience or a burden at worst."  Later, he continues, "We humans are at our best when we give ourselves away in selfless love and live no longer for ourselves, but for another...nothing calls us from narcissistic self-absorption in a universe of one to a world of solidarity more than a baby."

It is important as Catholics that we teach others that no one has an easy life.  As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, "Life is a matter of facing up to difficulties and of experiencing in our hearts both joy and sorrow.  It is in this forge that man can acquire fortitude, patience, magnanimity, and composure."  When we try to rid ourselves of the necessary strains and pressures of family life, we also rid ourselves of the joy and grace that come with being a parent and spouse.

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