Few women are prepared for the life-changing experience that motherhood brings. Sure, they may discover new curves in old places after having a baby or even develop a keen knack for multitasking during the toddler years, but these physical changes pale in comparison to the internal ones.
For it is the living, breathing — and occasionally terrifying — act of raising children that causes the most profound changes. It is in these transformative moments that women become mothers, a vocation unlike any other.
As a Catholic woman raising children of faith, motherhood can open a window to a deeper relationship with God.
We see the great potential in our children and we strive to help them live up to all that is possible. We ache when they make mistakes or cause pain to others and themselves. We understand the power of forgiveness as well as the opportunity for second chances.
Our relationship with God, through Jesus and his mother Mary, can provide a trusted guide for how to raise our families. Through prayer, we can find the answers to life’s questions.
“I had no family around while raising my two children. I relied on God’s wisdom, comfort and help. When I was worried about my children I entrusted them to God’s tender loving care and help from the Holy Spirit to enlighten them in their choices,” said Marilyn Vallejo of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts.
“Their upbringing of doing your best, being kind, being loving, being forgiving were all tied to God’s commands and following the life of Jesus.”
Whether through birth or adoption, motherhood is a labor of love. It’s not a job where you go off the clock or have the option to take a sabbatical. Even when they do it well, mothers often yearn to be better, not to win accolades from others but for the sake of enriching their children’s lives.
“I guess the short version is that I feel like I have a slightly better idea of God’s love, learned by the lessons of parenthood,” said Amylee Udell, 42, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. “I saw how children can be imperfect but love so purely and how their imperfections do not make them unlovable.”
Being a mom also has given Udell a better understanding of boundaries and how the church sets its own boundaries out of love and respect.
“While the secular world often sees these as dictates set down the line for us to blindly follow, I now see as coming from love and living out of love. They are not dictates, but fully explained and reasoned for those who want to understand and available for us to freely choose — or not,” she added. “Ultimately, that’s what my adult children will do.”
It can be overwhelming to contemplate the depth of God’s love for us, but we get an idea of it in our own feelings for our children, Vallejo said.
“Because I am a parent and I understand how to love a child so much and unconditionally, I am so amazed that God gave up his only begotten son for me. His great love for me is hard to comprehend,” she added. “I could never give up my children for anyone. I could lay down my life but not sacrifice my children.”
That kind of love is what makes forgiveness so powerful, Udell said. Moms know what it’s like to be hurt, but they also know the joy that comes from seeing their growing children make small improvements.
“As I imagine God did, I’ll love my children if they stray and pray for their return,” Udell said. “And I want to show them that the Catholic Church is about love. That even though there is truth and they may struggle with it, there is always, always a way back to love.”
Bothum is a freelance writer and a mother of three.