“I could never do what you do. I can’t stand my kids after just a few days! I’ll pay as much money as possible to send my kids to daycare!” The usual laughing ensued from a couple of the other mothers sitting at the table while I weighed the benefits and costs of speaking my mind or trying to maintain a peaceful presence for the sake of my dear friend.
Instantly, I ached for my usual bubble of fellow Catholic homeschooling stay-at-home moms. Painfully aware of the profound difference between our lives and views on motherhood, I shifted in my seat and prayed for dinner to come a little faster.
As a young mother of five, I am accustomed to strangers saying things like, “You have your hands full!” or “Are these all yours?!” at the grocery store or a restaurant; but in those situations, it is typically easy to extricate myself.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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My favorite is the tendency for women to share with me, a perfect stranger, about how they had their “tubes tied” or their husband “snipped,” as if to say, “I would be miserable with so many kids! I feel so bad for you!” Yet, these same women fail to consider that I like my life (and my kids), and my husband and I chose to have a big family!
A staggering 72.3 percent of mothers were in the workforce as of 2021 (Bureau of Labor Statistics). Women are generally happy to co-parent with their daycare provider or the government. Motherhood is less demanding when we can relegate medical or educational decisions to others. For Catholic mothers, religious education is entrusted to their parish for a couple of hours every week while they enjoy a date night with their husbands.
Why are women so eager to send their kids off at such a young age, the second they are old enough to go to school or off to daycare? Why are women unable or unwilling to stay home with their children?
Motherhood feels unbearable or impossible for many mothers today because modern women receive an extensive education emphasizing having a career—not children. As a result, women feel out of their depth when they almost inevitably become mothers. I tend to refer to this as the “stay-at-home mom identity crisis.”
Time and time again, I have conversations with other mothers striving to raise their children virtuously but who are at a loss because they feel overwhelmed and ill-prepared. The stay-at-home mom identity crisis is symptomatic of a society that instills young women with the sense that true worth comes from being independent, economically productive, and achieving their “potential” through self-improvement and increased output outside of the home. Few consider that a woman might do the most for the world and her legacy by staying home to raise her children. As a result, there is minimal effort by parents or formal educators to prepare women for the monumental task of motherhood.
I am not surprised so many women my age find motherhood unbearable and overwhelming—we come by it honestly. The current generation of mothers was raised, in large part, by women who rejected any semblance of femininity and traditional mores. Childrearing, we have been taught, is limiting, oppressive, and unfulfilling.
The last two generations have been defined, in many ways, by their embrace of feminism. Unfortunately, young women have likewise embraced a similar ethos. As a result, young mothers are, more often than not, ill-equipped for the demands of motherhood.
Women spend years plunging themselves into massive amounts of debt to learn how to serve employers who can replace them on a whim. Yet, very little time is spent preparing women for the fullest expression of their nature, namely, motherhood.
Women generally lack an understanding of everything ranging from how their bodies express fertility to the basics of physiological birth. Aside from the biological components of motherhood, practical skills that define homemaking and childrearing are almost nonexistent in the education and upbringing of girls. The sad reality is that most young mothers learn how to change diapers at the hospital after the birth of their first child.
Sadly, young women often do not know how to cook, bake, sew, or care for their children when they get sick. As a result, when young mothers find themselves in the throes of learning the fundamentals of motherhood, they are simultaneously doing their best to learn the knowledge and skills that those who came before us possessed but neglected to pass down.
I’m speaking from experience—it’s incredibly overwhelming.
Ignorance of fundamental homemaking skills, compounded by a large percentage of mothers who work outside of the home and a lack of multigenerational living, exacerbates the problem of a lack of community. Traditionally, mothers could count on family and other mothers to form a community of support to ease the difficulty of raising children. Instead, for women in the United States, there is an unspoken expectation that mothers do everything on their own unless they are willing and able to pay for a nanny or someone to clean their home every week.
In light of the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling last year, I feel it is important to note the following: anti-abortion activists understand that abortion, sterilization, and birth control typify a rejection of motherhood. However, I rarely hear “pro-life feminists” discuss the reality that if it were not for these three things, women would be unable to enter the workforce en masse. Instead, anti-abortion activists insist that women can “have it all” when the reality is that motherhood requires that we make tough choices. The choice to prioritize our children is always the correct choice, even if that choice means we have to sacrifice whatever dreams we have or put them on hold for a time.
Yet, many in the Church continue to cheerlead women who prioritize their careers over committing to the quiet and hidden work of raising the next generation. The truth is that feminism is rooted in establishing and maintaining divisions between wives and their husbands and between mothers and their children by encouraging women to pursue careers outside of the home. Feminism has done irreparable harm to women, children, and families and, thus, cannot be reconciled with the pro-life position.
The impact of relegating the basic tenets of motherhood to various institutions, combined with the pervasive nature of the feminist ideology in both our culture and the modern Church, has served women very little. Women have been denied—under the guise of equality—the longstanding wisdom and necessary community support from those who came before us.
Women have a duty to reclaim and teach the knowledge and wisdom that has been cast aside so that motherhood can be rightly ordered in our homes and our society once again. We cannot rediscover women’s maternal nature if we do not cultivate the gifts of motherhood in our culture. We must begin to equip women for the incredible task of serving their families instead of merely training them for a career. It is high time for a generation of women to reject the empty promises of feminism by elevating the supreme gift of motherhood to its rightful place, which begins in the difficult work of reconnecting with our nature and, in so doing, reclaiming our homes.