On this Mother’s Day, I am writing this letter on behalf of all mothers, explaining what we need from our Christian community. The first thing I would like to say is that motherhood is a complex reality. In motherhood, I have reached my greatest heights as a human being. Some days I felt that I display every virtue: patience, love, kindness, humility, courage, wisdom. Other days, I have been positively awful: irritable, angry, unkind, baffled and cowardly. I have brought all the dysfunction from my family of origin, sometimes consciously transcending it, and sometimes unknowingly replicating it. It is not unusual for me to feel a bit terrified at what I have committed myself to doing in becoming a mother. So, I ask you, please do not simplify and idealize motherhood in the sermons you give, and the picture books you place in the parish library. When I hear and see such images, I feel like a bad mom. When I see myself reflected in realistic ways, however, I am able to forgive myself for not being perfect and paradoxically I am able to be a better parent.
I would also like to ask for support. For those in charge of facilities, we might start with a change table in the washroom. For those in charge of programming, please consider how much you are asking of us when you plan your sacramental preparation programs. Most of us do not want to be more than a few feet from our newborn let alone hand them off to a babysitter. Some of us cannot afford babysitters or are new to the area and don’t know anyone we would trust with our precious new human being. Please plan catechetical sessions that are worth our while. Please make them engaging, beautiful and relevant to our lives and the lives of our children so that we do not have to have a family argument every time we bring them to church. Recognize that some of us have children with special needs, so if you are not knowledgeable about teaching accommodations, ask someone who is to help. There are many wise and caring and trained folk in every parish.
And, if we have signed up for a parish program, please presume at least a minimum of faith in us. (We know that some of us do not make faith a priority, but if you welcome us and make us and our children feel that God loves us infinitely beyond our weakness, perhaps we will be compelled to re-prioritize.) There are so many things competing with church. We want the best for our children and we receive a lot of messaging and social pressure to provide music and sports and extra tutoring for our children. Help us create a space for Sabbath. Help us become a contemplative and faith-filled family. Teach us family rituals and prayers and devotions that can enrich our lives. Create a parish library where we can find religious books. Make it easy for us to find Advent calendars that focus on Jesus rather than chocolate. (Though, we acknowledge that a little chocolate is also a heavenly gift!)
For those in the pews during Mass, we moms need your support as well. When my toddler is throwing slightly chewed fishy crackers onto your hymn book, please smile at me as if you’ve been there … and offer me tissue and a prayer. Please do not judge me. Even if my child decides to run up to the sanctuary and dance during the offertory hymn. Even if my teenager brings a pet duck to church (yes, this happened to me!) Even if my pre-teen altar server stands before the priest holding up the Missal wearing a pair of pants that have the word “CANDY” across her backside. (I checked the length of the pants but didn’t notice the back until the entire parish noticed it alongside me.) Feeling judged makes me want to not come back to church.
If we happen to be missing for a few weeks due to sick children, visits to in-laws or sheer exhaustion, welcome us warmly when you see us next. Ask us how we are doing and update us on the latest joke Father’s used to begin his homily. Perhaps, you can find last weeks’ bulletin from the Children’s Liturgy of the Word and give it to my children. Speaking of which, we really need a vibrant Children’s Liturgy of the Word program. Our children need to hear God’s Word spoken to them at a level that they can understand. And we need to be liberated for this brief time so that we, too, can hear God’s Word.
Most of all, pray for us. Pray for us if we are like Eve and Rachel whose children were unable to love one another. Pray for us if we are like Sarah who longed for a child for years. Pray for us if we are single mothers like St. Elizabeth Seton and if we parented with a loving partner like St. Zelie Martin. Pray for us if we are successful parents whose children become saints or if we struggle daily with our noble task. Pray for us if we are grandmothers like St. Anne or godmothers or stepmothers, adoptive mothers, birth mothers or if we long to be mothers. Pray for us if we had marvellous models of motherhood in our family or if we have fraught relationships with our mothers.
Pray for us. And support us. That would be a magnificent Mother’s Day gift!
Christine and many others
Christine Way Skinner has been a pastoral minister for thirty years and has recently begun a doctoral program in theology at St. Michael’s College. Together with her husband, Michael, she has parented six wonderful children. She has written a number of books for Novalis on living the Catholic faith for both adults and children.