April 24th, 2006

Something More

A Reader’s Question
Before entering into family life, I was active in the Catholic world of writing and editing. Then, two days before my first son was born, I became a stay-at-home mom. It has been five months of happiness with my little boy, but being at home has not satisfied in the way that I thought it would. With only one child (who I hope will be the first of many), I am barely able to keep him clean and fed with my husband in tow. At the same time, I watch my intellectual mind and professional skills wither away. God has given me a gift and I need to use it. I just don’t know when or how.

My Response
I think that most at-home mothers struggle with that feeling of “letting their minds and their skills wither away” at some point or other, particularly in those early years. Many of us go into motherhood and staying home with high ideals. I for one, yearned so desperately to be able to stay home with our first child the first year after she was born, but was unable to.

When at last I was able to quit my job and embrace the fulltime mothering I had longed for, I suffered through some terribly lonely, misunderstood, verrrrry looooong days. In fact, at the ends of some days, I felt downright disillusioned. I suppose I had known beforehand that staying home was all about babies and babbling, messes and mayhem, all day every day. But until I actually did it, I don’t think I fully appreciated the fact that staying home truly was all about babies and babbling, messes and mayhem, all day every day. It felt like too much. And not enough. All at the same time.

Here’s the thing, though. At the time I was struggling with my longing for something more, I was scarcely adjusted to the something I had. When I got married, I was quite happy to change my it’s all about me attitude to it’s all about us. That was a fun kind of adventure that I could call a sacrifice. It felt grown up and special. And it was a pretty easy transition because focusing on myself and my husband just so happened to be an extension of the it’s all about me attitude that had served me so well for so many years.

With motherhood, though, and with staying home in particular, I quickly learned that it wasn’t about me after all. In fact, it wasn’t even a little bit about me. It was all about the babies. And I was supposed to love that. Sometimes, all the blah-blah-blah I had read about the beauty of a mother’s love and sacrifice, about the magnificent joys of dying to oneself would pop into my mind during a trying moment and I would try to think all the wonderful thoughts that had so enraptured me before. But during those moments, all those high ideals made me want to do was spit fire.

During those early years, it helps to keep in mind that you are in the throes of making a profound and life-changing adjustment. Be patient with yourself and give yourself the time you need to do it completely and do it well. Also, be aware that any attempts to assess your situation before you have fully adjusted will be tainted by the overwhelming newness of your motherhood.

Now that I’ve said that, I must tell you that I fully and completely recognize a mother’s need for “something else.” And it sounds as though for you, that something else is your writing. We all have gifts—yes, mothers do too—and we are called to use them and to share them. But can a mother use and share her gifts beyond her family without shirking her primary responsibilities? Of course she can.

I just want to caution you about valuing “something else” at the expense of the value you place on mothering. I don’t even mean in terms of the time you might devote to outside pursuits. There are many hobbies you can pursue, and even some kinds of paid work you can do that might take time away from your family, but in a healthy way. What I want to warn you about, though, is the destructive, disdainful, all-too-common attitude toward motherhood which goes something like, “This is all very well and good, but there is more to me than this. Full time mothering is nice, but I need to do something more with myself than this.

You will find the modern world eager to support those kinds of thoughts and attitudes, but in the end, those who de-value their contributions as mothers hurt themselves and their families. They rob themselves of joy and the kind of satisfaction that can only come from total, self-giving, life-giving love.

So, I would encourage you to pursue your gift of writing, even if it just means keeping a personal journal or starting up a blog for now. Just bear in mind that, whatever your other gifts or callings may be, you are the only mother your son will ever have. And you are your husband’s only wife. That alone is hugely important. Being a wife and mother are the most important things you will ever do.

The something more we mothers sometimes seek will never be the everything we alone are called to be to our families.

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