What Women Can Be: Introduction and Chapter 1 {Momnipotent Book Club}

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Welcome to the Momnipotent Book Club! We’re reading Danielle Bean’s new book, Momnipotent: The Not-So-Perfect Woman’s Guide to Catholic Motherhood.

Momnipotent Book Club

Welcome to the CatholicMom Momnipotent book study! I really hope that you can find yourself a copy of Danielle Bean’s Momnipotent, as it’s such a balm to the weary mom’s soul. But even if you can’t read along with us, please don’t let that stop you from joining in on our weekly discussions. As every momnipotent mom knows, we’re better together!

First, a definition: what does it mean to be momnipotent? Danielle defines momnipotence as “a special charism that all moms have. Momnipotence is the special array of gifts given by God—lived out in particular through the vocation of motherhood—that blesses our families and the world.” We should take note this is not to be confused with omnipotence, as we all know painfully well that none of us is all-powerful. Danielle adds, however, “In the wisdom…of God, we do possess a power that is unparalleled in society and, in particular, our families—the ability to love in unique and necessary ways.”

And so God sent me this book deep in the heart of summer when the novelty of schedule-less days had worn off and our friends were busy with their own summer activities. The children and I had been cooped up alone in our air-conditioned basement for far too long, and I was sorely in need of being reminded of my own momnipotence. Though I’m usually a slow reader, I gobbled up this book in a day as the children played, fought, and cried at my knees. The stress of summer faded for a while as I read, and I felt like God had sent Danielle to my house to put her arm around me, make me a cup of coffee, and tell me that everything was going to be okay.

In the introduction I meet Danielle, writer, editor, wife, and mom of eight, a mom who has definitely been there: in the messes and spills, the feelings of being on cloud nine to the frustration and boredom of caring for others. I really admired her courage in sharing some of the black thoughts that we probably all have, thoughts like,“I am not happy. I hate this life. I want to give up.” I immediately opened up to her and trusted her as someone who understood the particularly trying aspects of motherhood and in turn was open to her message in Momnipotent, one of hope to the worn-out, a message of encouragement that is not her own but God’s: that motherhood is important, that the hidden life of self-sacrifice and love is truly life-and-world-changing, and as noted by John Paul II in Mulieris Dignitatem, that society owes a special debt of gratitude to women for their sacrifices in bringing up the next generation. I could tell that she’d found joy and peace in her vocation and I sped through the book, wanting to join her there.

In chapter one, “What Women Can Be,” Danielle writes that the first step in becoming momnipotent, truly happy in our gift of self, is to recognize the bold fact that: God made every woman to be a mother.

This both rung true to me and felt totally un-p.c. Could Danielle actually say that? I nodded, though, as she cites John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem, “A woman is strong because of her awareness of this entrusting, strong because of the fact that God ‘entrusts the human being to her,’ always and in every way.” Danielle notes that all women, whether they be biological mothers or not, are called to a broader sense of motherhood, of caring for and nurturing the neediest amongst us.

I think about this: do we ever as a society herald women for their ability to take care of others? I’m not sure. On one hand, there are plenty of commercials showing Mom holding up the family and coming to the rescue. But how to explain my inner recoil at Danielle’s assertion that all women are called to be mothers?

Have we been conditioned to think that motherhood is a fine option for women if they choose to pursue it? Perhaps we feel that motherhood is okay as long as it’s balanced with other interests, so long as the gift of self isn’t too much or too demanding. Maybe we feel like we can choose to care for others or not and be equally fulfilled. John Paul II’s sentiments that “the mystery of femininity is manifested and revealed completely by means of motherhood” certainly seems like it would be rejected in the public sphere. Our culture seems to have resolutely separated femininity and motherhood.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. How have I absorbed society’s view of motherhood as being something oppressive, and how has it affected how I care for my family?
  2. What can I do to help the women in my life understand their own momnipotence? How can I acknowledge and encourage them in their care for others?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 2: Beautiful Me, Beautiful You. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Momnipotent Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Meg Matenaer

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23 Comments

  1. Thanks for starting us off, Meg!
    I really enjoyed Momnipotent for the same reasons you shared.
    Danielle makes very important points in this chapter. Though I, too, was surprised at her boldness of saying all women are called to be mothers. Not because I don’t agree, but because of how such a statement sticks out awkwardly in our pop culture.
    And that’s sad, that we’ve strayed far from our original design that we’ve forgotten who we essentially are. Myself included. It’s easy to fall prey to the temptation to feel like I can somehow be better than “just a mom”.
    At the same time, it’s good to clarify that all women are called to motherhood in many ways, even if not biologically.

    • So true about that being an awkward statement to make in today’s culture. I gave a talk on this very topic just the other night, and while it was mostly well-received, there a couple of women present for whom it were upset to hear the message that every woman is called to be a mother. I wished I had JP2 there to help out — he could explain more clearly and beautifully than I can!

      Ultimately, though, it is true that urging women to be “more” than the very thing God created them to be — the very thing that will bring them lasting happiness and satisfaction — is sexism at its worst.

  2. Yes, Erika, you put that so well, “the temptation to be better than ‘just a mom.'” Where does that come from? And when is the temptation strongest for you (anyone’s welcome to share!)–at home, at get-togethers, when watching tv? When we’re feeling particularly bad at being a mom?

  3. I love this and question number one is so important. As an “older mom”, I felt great relief when I finally stopped comparing our family to others — especially at Church. Each family is unique (and each mom too!) and the stress of comparing ourselves to others is not “of God”. I love Danielle’s message in these opening pages.

  4. I so love this! I had read Pope John Paul’s Letter to Women and it was so empowering for me. That our feminine genius is something to be admired, not ashamed of. It is true that modern society somehow has warped our view of the importance of mothers. Those of us who have been enlightened about the necessity of motherhood and the necessity of difference and complementarity of men and women need to start professing what we know, in a loving and Godly way, of course. I recently saw a Facebook post about how men are such babies when they are sick and don’t reciprocate our nurturing when we are sick. Another example of demeaning our differences. Embracing who we are, and that being the “soft spot to land” and gentle caregiving person needed when those we love hurt is very admirable, not a sign of weakness. God bless you in your work and sharing of these messages.

    • I find it helpful to make a habit of re-reading that letter on an ongoing basis. It is so empowering, and for me, it really helps to focus my attention on those places where the culture gets it wrong. It’s so easy to get caught up in popular culture and be tempted toward lies and false ideals of womanhood, before you even know what’s happened.

      • That’s a great idea, Danielle. I’d like to do that myself because, you’re right, often you don’t even know when you’ve started to get off track because of pop culture. Thank you!

  5. Question 1 really hit me. I remember when I was pregnant with my oldest child (now 22). Someone I considered a very close friend, someone I thought understood me, informed me that if I stayed home with my baby, I’d be “wasting my degree.”
    I have carried around hurt and anger at that statement for over 22 years. I’ve found myself on the defensive SO much, and in some ways, I think that defensiveness hasn’t been the best thing for my family. (Forgive me, kids!)
    I think society sells mothers short–but it’s all a part of a larger selling-short of family life.

  6. Carolyn Astfalk on

    There’s a 10-year gap between my oldest and my youngest, and most of our peers/friends have only a couple of older kids. I’ve noticed I’ve become very self-conscious, almost to the point of feeling embarrassed that while I’m assisting my oldest at some event I’m simultaneously chasing toddlers. I feel like our constant chaos is an intrusion, and I feel uncomfortable beig THAT mom. No one has said anything but kind, positive things about our little ones, but I’ve just absorbed the fact through the culture that our larger family (which is only 4 kids) is out-of-place, and like the other moms I should be done with this baby nonsense and back to work.

    • I feel this keenly, Carolyn, especially when I’m out alone with all my little people. And the feeling of being out-of-place can be intense. It takes a lot of faith and courage to keep up a smile, and sometimes I just don’t have it in me. Gratitude for the blessings that I’m chasing around, though, usually goes a long way.

  7. I admit I have, at times, fallen for the “oppressive” view of my own call to motherhood at times. It seems everywhere in our society, the implied or overt message to women is that we can “have it all and be it all,” which is just outright nonsense. I love how refreshing Danielle’s perspective on motherhood is in this book, because it grounded me and challenged my own false perception based on societal views. It’s a relief to be reminded that I am human and fallible and have limitations. It also helps to know that it’s valid for me to focus on my family, my primary vocation, but also equally important in discerning ways God may be calling me to evangelize outside of the context of my biological motherhood. What thought-provoking questions! Thanks Meg!

    • I agree! When answering that first question for myself, I felt that society’s pressure to be balanced and not give yourself over to motherhood stresses me out…am I giving enough to *me* and my wants and needs…? Which in turn makes me more self serving and selfish, when we are called to be the exact opposite in motherhood. It is refreshing to hear that not only is it OK to find worth and beauty in motherhood, it is how God built us!

  8. One thing that has helped me in understanding the balance between serving God in my vocation as a mother at home with other outside-of-the-home activities is that I’ve stopped trying to separate the two. In most “stay-at-home vs working mom” conversations, the common thought is you can be either one or the other but not both – at least not well. There is also that idea that we can “have it all” or try to anyway but that always fails eventually and we crash and burn, like Jeannie points out.

    Instead, I’m trying to see it all as part of the the same vocation. We serve as mothers in our home, out of the home, in our cars, at the store, in our church and schooling groups, here online, in an office, at a desk…everywhere. But wherever we are, we are still mothers. A mom who works outside of the home, does this AS PART OF her vocation – not as a separate unconnected one. Looking at it this way, it takes the burden off trying to be many different types of moms or women at the same time and lets us focus on being just one woman, one mom, at a time.

    I hope I explained that well, sometimes it’s hard to get my thoughts out online without using my hands to gesture or raise my eyebrows at the right times. 😉

    • Very true..

      One thing that has helped me is to see motherhood as a vocation, a calling, not just a physical description of a woman with children. So wherever I am I’ll be a mom.

  9. My answer to question #1 is that I have completely rejected society’s opinion that motherhood is oppressive. This may have a lot to do with the fact that I had to wait for my gift of motherhood. Wait (longer than I would have chosen) for God to send me the right man to become my husband. And wait a little longer for my first of three babies. I am joyful in my role as a full-time, stay-at-home mom (not in every moment, of course. Tantrums and never-ending crumbs will never be fun). I think some of it for me personally has to do with having had several years in a career before becoming a mom. I spent enough time working at jobs I liked and enjoyed to know that NOT ONE THING I ever did in my career came close to touching what I do every day as a mom. Not. One. Thing.
    My answer to #1 was so long that I’ll skip answering #2 – for now.

    • Oh Marilee, your comment just made me smile. Good for you! It is such a beautiful thing to see a mama so at peace in the role God gave her, and so very aware of God’s abundant blessings. God bless you and your family!

    • Marilee I completely agree! I longed to be a mother for so long but God had me wait, perhaps so I would appreciate it more. I was married at 37 and then suffered two miscarriages before having my three sweet babes. I had a hard time with the “spiritual motherhood” that I was called to during my single years, as it was never enough for me. I worked full time for 15 years as a teacher and then a pediatric nurse. Nurturing professions to be sure, and very rewarding, but not nearly as fulfilling as being a mom.

  10. Flávia Ghelardi on

    As my husband use to say, its our job, as women and mothers to show society how things are supposed to be. We cannot blame man for seeing women, specially stay-home-moms, as less productive as other women. And we have to star with our own children, because when I grew up, everybody was asking what I wanted to be when I grew older, only seeing the professional side, no one NEVER expected me to say that I wanted to be “just” a mother. That concepct changed in me during the years, and as I learned from JPII the importance of women and motherhood in our society, I totally embraced my calling for motherhood. We have to teach our girls, that´s a great gift to be a mother and that she can also choose a profession that can combine both. But we also have to teach our sons to cheerish a woman that chooses to stay home and take care of the kids and the main job to provide for the family is theirs.

  11. I am definitely guilty of absorbing society’s view of motherhood. I have looked at friends that are stay at home moms as not as successful as I was being far into my career. When in actuality they were successful, perhaps more successful than me. They created life and were called by God to be mothers. I am not pregnant for the first time and see how blessed I am to be a mother. I loved JPII’s letter because he said it perfectly. His letter really opened my eyes to what motherhood truly is.

  12. I really enjoy this book and this discussion so far. I grew-up in a Catholic family, but lacked the understanding of the Catholic view of women until recently. I let pop culture define my role and have recently been on a quest of clearing the cobwebs of what is truth and what I thought was truth. Growing up, I knew I wanted to be a mother, but answered the question of what I wanted to be with “a doctor.” I thought vocations were only for priests. Now that I have worked my way to become a doctor, I have found myself struggling to figure out how to live out my priorities of God first, family second, job third. I embraced the deception that you can have it all, and now and trying to define what exactly my family needs to live a holy and Christian life, and dumping the “all” that we don’t need. I appreciate the comments that staying at home with your children is not wasting your degree, and that you can bring your vocation of motherhood to your job. However, I still feel like I’m walking a tightrope trying to serve my primary vocation of mother and wife while still serving others as a physician. I realize that my struggle is personal and specific, and that contemplation and prayer will help me sort this out, but I often feel alone in my struggle to find a balance (for lack of better word) between what I realize is my biggest job as a mother, and my ‘other’ job as doctor.

    • Kelly,
      I understand where you are. I spent 8 years in school obtaining a BS on microbiology and a Masters in the natural sciences. I then had spent 10 years in the field of forensics as a DNA analyst. I decided to quit my job last November to have more time for my family. It’s been almost a year and now I have to say my children are coming out of their shells. I’ve never seen them so happy. I love to be present for all of the little giggles I would’ve missed and precious things that they do. My marriage has become stronger. I do admit when I first quit it was hard to let go of my career. I felt like I could be helping others by working. But I told myself if that’s where God wants me he will lead me back. I prayed and asked for his help with my decision and I think this is where he led me. I am grateful to God.

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