The days are long and lonely for millennial moms who are often living outside of Catholic community simply because there are so few of us going to Mass and even fewer having babies. In a society that claims children as the heaviest burden we 20-somethings can undertake, we ache for the companionship of other mothers with whom we can share in the joys and sorrows together.
Gone are the days that we gather at one another’s dirty houses and fold laundry together. Gone are the days that we walk to the park together for a dose of adult conversation (or did that only ever happen in movies?). Is it any wonder that we gravitate toward one another online? Facebook groups offer the community for which our souls ache, and the emotional support we receive from other Catholic wives and mothers often appears to override the bad. However, upon closer examination it is precisely through the widespread emotional support that the slimiest work takes place in our souls.
It is no secret that women are more communicative than men. In our online groups, this is an understatement. Instead of merely asking for stroller recommendations, we explain the backstory of our trip to the store to try out the stroller, complete with all the details of the trip, including the older child’s meltdown on the way there, the diaper incident that happened in the car, and the fact that the sales cashier gave us the stink eye because the three-year-old was screaming; finally, at the end of this novella, we ask the question we first intended: So which stroller should I get?
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The comments on this post will include several stroller recommendations as well as condolences for the difficult circumstances along with many stories of commiseration. Some will not even mention a stroller and will instead just say, “We are having a hard day here, too.” In its essence, such support is not bad. Women are empathetic people, and we want to share in the struggles of motherhood with one another.
What is harmful, however, is the medium in which this is taking place. By our nature, those who are seeking affirmation and compassion will comment on this thread, and by the end of the conversation, these women will all receive a measure of such support. While not always the case, many times we women will feel, at best, justified with our frustrations, and at worst, self-pity for our problems.
There are no voices of wisdom because we avoid dissension as if it were the serpent itself. There is no one who reminds us to thank God for our healthy children to put our difficulties into perspective. There is no one who reminds us that this is the stuff of motherhood but at least we are in it together. There is no one who suggests we offer up our difficulties for others. There is no one who says simply: “Suck it up!” No one wants to be seen as the serpent, so instead we scroll by all the complaints about husbands, in-laws, children, and finances, to name a few, and we let others slather each other with the saccharine slime of emotional gratification, which so easily takes root in our hearts as pride.
In real life, in in-person communication, we can say the hard things to one another. When my friends come to me with problems (usually over the phone, because I live far away), I listen, I empathize, I offer advice. Sometimes I remind them to be thankful, to turn to God, to offer it up for another. My friends do the same for me. We humble one another, as true friends do. The problem with online groups is that we do not truly know each other. We share intimate details with one another without intimate friendship; we are acquaintances at best, and acquaintances cannot usually humble one another without provoking offense (and, you guessed it, drama) in the way that true friends can.
Once in a while, this kind of thing would be unfortunate. But to be in an online Mommy community, nearly every post is filled with thinly disguised complaints. Nearly every post, be it a prayer request, an appeal for advice, or even a self-described vent session. Nearly. Every. Post. When a mother is alone with young children all day long, she turns to her Mommy community for adult conversation. If nearly every post is filled with oh-so subtle self-pity, her heart fills with resentment. While the group itself appears to be a respite for the weary, a sort of paradise for Catholic mothers, she often leaves the group feeling worse, but she cannot resist checking the group because of her own loneliness. The group is her forbidden fruit, in all appearances wholesome and nutritious, but filled with a bitterness that affects every aspect of her life. It becomes a cycle that she cannot spin her way out of, and in truth that she is blind to the happenings in her soul. Before long she becomes one of the women sharing her most intimate complaints, because her world has now become fogged by the green sheen of self-pity. Do we not reap what we sow? The serpent is slippery and secretive; we must be on guard at all times.
What is one to do? How do we find the sorely needed community of Catholic motherhood when we are the only young mothers at church? How do we form friendships when distances and naptimes and temper tantrums separate us?
As is usually the answer, we must turn to prayer. We must return to our daily rosaries. Those of us with the fortune of staying home with our children must return to daily Mass; if the Lord can part the Red Sea, he will sort out our children’s sleeping habits. Indeed, if even a fraction of young mothers made an effort to attend daily Mass, would we not find the community we are so desperately seeking there at the church? Real, in-person friendships await us, not to mention the friendships of older and wiser women who do attend daily mass and are eager to spend time with our little ones.
Is the Sacrifice of the Mass not where the Lord works most in our heart? How many complaints would never enter our mind if our hearts were intent on the cross, if we were overwhelmed with gratitude for the blessings in our life? How our lives would be transformed if we shared our deepest concerns first with the Lord! What holiness could we inspire one another to if we were to gain new friendships before the tabernacle!
Millennials have spent our entire adult lives with constant access to online communities, and it is no wonder that Catholic millennial mothers have turned to one another online. But as Eve failed to do in the Garden of Eden, we must guard our hearts from the slithering serpent, who seeps his slime into our hearts through the seemingly harmless medium of Catholic community. We must unplug from these pits of despair and rise up to the holiness that we are called to; a holiness that is always sacrificial and never self-serving, a holiness that calls us to spend the majority of our day in loving obedience and boundless thanksgiving, and most of all, in the maternal humility that can be found foremost through the devotion to the Mother of God, who through this virtue crushed the serpent’s head.
In this way, let us encourage one another in the often exhausting yet always beautiful vocation of motherhood. Let us crush the serpent’s head in our spiritual lives and, as for our Mommy communities, let us magnify the Lord at all times and, through this magnificat, let us unearth the lost paradise we so ardently seek.