Very often I will not readily admit to those outside of my inner circle that having many small children is difficult. The world, in my estimation, sends that message loud and clear. In fact, here is a recap of a commercial I just saw promoting a sitcom:
Two 30-something, well-dressed couples are in a bar. The first woman wags her finger toward the other couple. “Do you two have any children?” she asks. The second couple is standing with their backs to the camera. We see them shake their heads “no.”
“Yeah, don’t do that,” responds the first mom, as she and her husband stare glumly at the bar floor.
Cue laugh track.
But lately I have been thinking that pretending like it’s one long stream of giggles and hugs is simply not truthful. What is more honest is to acknowledge that it can be difficult and think through how we, as Catholics and Christians, approach what is difficult.
The first thing to consider is that what is hard is often a blessing in the end. Even the world concedes this with other subject matter. Training for a marathon is hard, but people see the value in it. Starting a new business is hard. Eating healthy food is hard (for me, anyway). Learning a new instrument is hard. So the fact that something is difficult does not mean conclusively that the said thing is bad or worthless. No one denies the beauty of the rose simply because it is accompanied by thorns.
So what’s hard about little children? In three words: death to self. Any time I find myself starting a sentence with the word “just” at the front, you can be sure that there is some part of my self-centeredness that is being mortified.
“I just want to enjoy a cup of coffee without someone climbing on me.”
“I just want to work on the computer without someone hanging over my shoulder.”
“I just want to go to the bathroom without an audience, for Pete’s sake.”
I read once that Dorothy Day wrote about the mortification of a mother’s eyes, which yearn to see order and instead see disorder; the mortification of a mother’s ears, which yearn for quiet and instead hear noise. It’s true, isn’t it? What’s important to remember is that this mortification of flesh is a blessing. It purifies the natural concupiscence that has plagued us since the Fall, that is, our natural self-centeredness. Thank God that our vocation is hard! This is our path to heaven–if only we will cooperate with God’s grace.
I was at a recollection recently during which the priest discussed the little frustrations of ordinary life as our cross. He said, in a way that struck my conscience, that we complain because we desire to live an easy life. We don’t want to have to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. But in fact, if we are disciples of Jesus, our life will look like Christ’s, he said. We will have crosses. “No man has an easy life,” said St JoseMaria Escriva. No mom does either.
Sometimes we think that if we had that big cross, that terminal illness, for example, we could heroically mount the cross and suffer with Jesus. But if we can’t submit to the little crosses, what makes us think that we would fare better with the big ones? One friend said that she read that the inconveniences of everyday life are like little splinters off of Jesus’s cross, which we carry for Him. It’s not much, maybe, but it is what He has been pleased to give us.
We can change the way we think about those ordinary frustrations and irritations. There are three ways to think about our little crosses: first, we can shoulder our little portion of the cross with love and joy and in this way console the heart of Jesus in his Passion. Second, we can offer our little sufferings as reparation for our own sins. Third, we can unite our cross to the Great Sacrifice of Jesus as a powerful prayer for others. This is what St Paul was talking about in Colossians 1:24, where he writes “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Any of these acts of love transform our petty inconveniences into powerful prayers and into offerings of love to our Lord who suffered for us.
Practically-speaking, how can we cope with the little difficulties of motherhood? There are a few strategies that I have personally found helpful. For one, I can plan ahead for spiritual battle. I know, given the ages of my children and their temperaments, that I am going to face some meltdowns tomorrow. Why don’t I start gearing up for it strategically as a general does who knows he is going into battle? Before my feet hit the floor, I need to make a morning offering to our Lord and specifically ask for help to react with grace to the meltdowns and disobedience heading my way. I must ask daily for the grace to confront obstacles and annoyances with joy and humor.
Another strategy is to pray aspirations every time you do a common household chore. My priest suggested I pray a Hail Mary every time I climb our stairs. Another mom told me that she resolved to pray every time she picked up a sock. My favorite prayer, personally, is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy upon me, a poor sinner.” If that’s too long, try “Jesus, I love you” or “Help me, Jesus!” If I prayed this with every piece of paper I pick up off of the floor, I will be a woman of constant prayer.
We can practice the discipline of gratitude. We have laundry because we have clothes. We wash dishes because we have food. We have noise because we have been blessed with lively children. We are tired because we have been blessed with a newborn. For every annoyance, find the blessing within it … and give thanks.
I often say to my children: you may not like it, but that’s the way it is. In a way, this must be our approach to motherhood. You may not like that it curbs your freedom, that it makes for a messy house, that it makes life so obviously uncontrollable — but no mom I know would rather be childless. Plan ahead, pray often, unite what is difficult to the sacrifice of Jesus, find the blessing, and give thanks. You will find that you will one day give thanks for even the difficulties of life because bearing those difficulties with joy gives you a gift that you can give back to Jesus.
Copyright 2017 Amanda Woodiel