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A Calm, "Doable" Standard of Mothering

alec vanderboom

Last Saturday I hung out with some monks. These are old school, still wear that funny haircut called a "tonsure", type of monks. They assume I can remember enough High School Latin to easily follow a 2 hour Mass. In general, their standards for religious life are pretty high.

During their Lenten lecture to Catholic Mothers, I found it a total shock that their description of my vocation as a mother was calm, clear and "doable." It was the perfect antidote to the anxiety that pervades secular parenting myths.

For the monks, I have three main responsibilities as a Mom--prayer, introduction to the sacraments, and education.

The most important thing I do as a Mom is to pray for my children. The monks said that because of my position, my prayers for my kids are more effective (they used the fancy term "efficacious") than prayers for them by others. I know my children's needs the best. I also am in a position of responsibility over them.

As a Mom of a sick kid, that news really calmed me down. It's enough for me to be praying in the crib by the NICU. I don't have to worry that I'm not launching a major social media campaign at the same time to get others to pray for my kid also. (Though it's helpful to have encouragement from Facebook during lonely hours in the NICU, it's not a requirement for effective prayers).

At the same time, that point almost brought me to tears. We're used to thinking about the poor, malnourished, or educationally disadvantaged kid. How many kids have a Mother who actively prays for them every single day? Who has help from the Holy Spirit to look out for their needs, whether it be for a rare medical problem or an hidden athletic ability like in the movie "The Blind Side?" I really felt a strong commitment to pray for more kids around me.

Prayer is important because it also talks about humility. I have these kids for a specific period in their life--but they are going somewhere else. Whether God's ultimate plan is for them to teach school in Uganda or be the best darn horse doctor to ever graduate OSU vet school, those talents, abilities and desires started at conception. Each kid has their own vocation, their own career, their own unique relationship with God. My job isn't to impose my own wishes upon my children's futures. Prayer helps me remember that my children are always God's children first and foremost.

The Sacraments
Plenty of holy people are not Catholic. As a Catholic, however, we have plenty of spiritual riches. We have seven sacraments. We've got a treasure trove of spiritual help and healing. As a woman who is spiritually wealthy, it's up to me to teach my kids how to access Jesus easily. The most important thing is to be a good role model myself. I need to go to Confession once a month. I need to make once a week Daily Mass a goal for me and my kids. I need to make sure that my kids are prepared for First Communion and Confirmation.

The monks talked about having trust that the sacrament of Confession is working on our kids, even if we don't see results. They talked about the twin benefits of Confession. There is a psychological benefit of speaking the painful truths out loud to another human being, especially one in authority. There is also spiritual healing. When we take our kids to Confession we're helping them fix spiritual hurts. Confession is also tied to the Eucharist. We need to remember that we can't take the Eucharist without also partaking in this sacrament.

There are two types of education that we need to be concerned about--- intellectual education and moral education. Neither can be neglected. Kids need intellectual stimulation. Kids need introduction to the beauty of math, science, literature, music, nature, and the Arts. All of these intellectual activities help us become fully human.

At the same time, pride can really screw up otherwise awesome intellectual activities. These monks are all scholars, but they talked about the importance of doing manual labor as the antidote to prideful thinking.

While never ignoring intellectual education--a child's moral education is more important. Kids do not naturally come out of the womb learning how to share or how to spread kind words to others. Mothers need to encourage their child's moral development. It's our responsibility to help form the best parts of their character.

While I listened to this lecture, Motherhood seemed so "doable." My job isn't to throw the best birthday party bash or to make sure my kid never experiences rejection. My job isn't to be a Pinterest Mom or to make sure my family never, ever runs out of clean laundry. My job is to pray for my kids, give them access to the Catholic church and educate both their minds and their hearts. That's the to do list for the day.

The second part of the lecture series gave us examples of heroic Catholic Mothers. The monks talked about detachment from the outcome. Our kids have free will. Saint Hedwig was an awesome Mom but all but one of her kids caused her major heartache as adults. (Two sons actually went to war with each other as adults which I thought makes the perfect saint to pray to during sibling rivalry disputes.) The monks also introduced me to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was killed for harboring priests during the reign of Elizabeth I. Saint Margaret was pressed to death because she refused to speak at her trial. She didn't want her kids put in the position of having to testify against their Mother. I decided to adopt Saint Margaret as the saint to pray to whenever I feel pressure over all the competing demands of my life.

This Lent, I'm resolved to clean out the stupid stuff in my head regarding "what makes a good mother." I want a standard that is clean, focused, and realistic. I want to do my best everyday. Yet I want "my best" to be something fixed, rather than a constantly moving target based on the fads of my specific social milieu.