Motherhood is one of God’s greatest gifts – for both the mother and the child. That it is a gift for the child is obvious. The child would have no life without its mother and would also lack the physical and emotional nurturing that mothers provide. Without a knowledge that one is loved, how can one become fully oneself? Without being loved, a child sinks to the level of a beast and only a miracle can give the child the ability to love others.
But motherhood also makes the mother more fully herself. The pain of giving birth as well as the joys and pain of raising a child enable the mother to love selflessly – to put the child first in her order of priorities.
A contemporary ideology has it that exercising the choice whether to bear children and whether to work outside the home has brought liberation for women. Such choice means women are not held in servitude by raising large families and doing all the domestic work. This belief holds more than a little truth. Ideally, sacrifice should be chosen, not imposed by patriarchal structures.
Still, we need to ask what is liberation? Is it being freed from unwanted burdens or is it learning to love unconditionally? We are made, not for autonomy, but for love. It is only through sacrifice that we learn to love. Non-sacrificial love is a contradiction.
I learned this from my mother, more than from any textbook. Through her uncomplaining toil while raising three children and putting up with my father’s idiosyncrasies and verbal outbursts, she revealed something of the divine. Some might say that made her less of a woman – that she didn’t speak out for herself and claim that which was rightfully hers.
But as the end of her life approached, that self-sacrificing love bore fruit. She endured much physical pain and hardship through those years, and only occasionally in our conversations did she make passing reference to it. She was refined still further in those years and came more and more to be at one with Jesus.
I also learned self-sacrificing love from my wife, a well-educated career woman who put that on the back burner to raise our four daughters. Again, the fruits have become apparent through the years. Our girls, now all in their twenties, are strong women who care for the earth and the marginalized. They are courteous to others and have deep respect for each other. Nora, my wife, has also become an even finer woman than the one I married.
Our task as husbands and fathers is to love our mothers and wives with the same unfailing love they have shown us and their children. We too should be nurtured by the refiner’s fire and made more whole by the love the women in our lives have given us. They have enriched our lives, and it behooves us to do what we can to enrich theirs in return.
Wishing all mothers a blessed and joyful Mother’s Day this weekend!
Glen Argan has spent more than 35 years writing and editing in Canada’s Catholic press and has two graduate degrees in theology. He is a former Interim Editor of Living with Christ.