Harder but Better

Reflection by parishioner, Molly Oshatz

Motherhood didn’t used to make sense to me as a vocation. Years ago, when I was a grad student and tenure-track professor, motherhood was something I wanted and valued, but it wasn’t something I thought of as a vocation, that is, something at the center of my life’s purpose. My center then was success and accomplishment. I wanted to have children, and I loved my two children dearly, but I didn’t want to have too many children or spend too much time with them, because I worried that time spent mothering could limit my career. I recall a colleague telling me that “every child you have is a book you won’t write,” and astoundingly, at the time this sounded like a prudent reason to keep my motherhood in check. My life was fundamentally about me.

About twelve years ago, a series of interruptions—a move across the country, a job change, the completion of my first book—created some mental and spiritual space in life, and God moved into that space and got my attention. In prayer and through a series of rather obvious signs, I got the message: God desires my holiness, not my accomplishments, and, what’s more, my path to holiness and to heaven runs straight through motherhood. If you had told me this when I was in college, it would have sounded to me like anti-feminist claptrap, not at all like good news, and yet, here it was, ringing absolutely true in my soul. My life—I realized with amazement, shock, and finally, delight—is actually not about me. In the words of Saint John of the Cross, I realized that, “in the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” Realizing that truth released a deep joy and sense of freedom in me. It was as if a heavy, burdensome and dark veil lifted, and everything became lighter and full of promise. I recall thinking, “This is what Jesus meant by a pearl of great price!” So, following that metaphor, I sold everything and bought the pearl—I left my full-time job and devoted myself to loving my family and being open to whatever God wanted of me.

I should clarify a few things. Being a mom did not become one bit easier after that point—actually, all of this happened a few years before my husband and I entered a particularly painful season of parenting. Also, I did keep working outside the home, and my academic work remains important to me. The difference was this: I stopped thinking of motherhood as a threat to my success and fulfillment and instead embraced it as a vocation, a way to do what I am fundamentally meant to do and made to do, which is to pour myself out in love.

Our culture devalues motherhood. Women are told we can “do so much more,” as if raising human beings is of little worth. We just got a new puppy, and I have to say, raising children isn’t at all like raising puppies. Our children, like us, are subject to the consequences of original sin, which means that to raise them well we have to teach them to control their own tendencies in order to live out their true nature—all while fighting the same fight in ourselves. It is sanctifying work, essential work, work that builds the very foundation of civilization. Jesus could have come to us as a full-grown individual man, but God willed that our savior came to us through motherhood, in Mary’s womb and then as a baby, held in his mother’s arms, raised in a family, and subject to the authority of a human mother and (foster) father. Celebrating mothers, and next month, fathers, shouldn’t just be a sentimental nicety, but a needed corrective, a reminder of where life comes from and what it is ultimately about.

When his little brother was a baby, my older son said something wise beyond his years: “Peter makes life harder, but better.” The same can be said of anything we take on in this life that is worthy of our commitment, perhaps especially motherhood.