Consider what comes to mind when the word mother is used: an image of a healthy, fit woman in her early thirties wearing a stylish haircut and outfit, carrying a baby on her hip and holding the hand of a toddler. She smiles so genuinely that a row of perfect white teeth lights her face, and peace radiates from within her. She dresses modestly for mass, and her children sit quietly in the pew as the priest speaks from the altar. This image is beautiful. Aspirational. And unrealistic. While some mothers—perhaps even most of them—may bring this image to life on certain days, more often than not mothers are harried and less than pristine. Consider what is far more normal for mothers: She is average in stature, wears her hair in a message bun, and dons leggings and a zip-up sweatshirt (perhaps even with her baby’s breakfast covering its front) as her daily outfit. While she may, indeed, carry a baby on her hip and hold her toddler’s hand, those children probably didn’t get there without a bit of coaxing. She smiles, although the pleasure from any given conversation doesn’t erase the chaotic nature of the thousand tasks she has to complete by the end of the day from racing through her mind. And mass…she’s forgotten how long its been since she could focus on the weekly readings and the Eucharist without the sound of her toddler’s Cheerios hitting the floor.
Life is messy. Much like those Cheerios spilling across the floor during mass, life’s challenges can scatter a person’s faith so that they’re scrambling on their hands and knees to pick up the pieces instead of turning to God’s word and the Catholic tradition for direction. In such situations, two refrains often are commonplace: parishioners in the pews mutter about the disruption to the mass or certain parish administration do not welcome the disruptions that accompany families with young children. Neither scenario is ideal. As the primary caretakers of young children, mothers most often experience the burden of feeling unwanted by the church. Parishioners can do better. Parish administration can do better. The church needs to be better. Mothers need this—and soon.
Motherhood is a sacred vocation in the Catholic church. Catholicism emphasizes the significance of the Blessed Mother to the point that Hail, Mary is one of the first prayers taught to those entering the faith and the Rosary (a Marian prayer) is specific devotion. Catholic women often are drawn to the Blessed Mother and strive to emulate her many beautiful traits. To be a mother like Mary is to live a holy life. Motherhood, then, holds much joy and purpose but also bears its own crosses. Mary witnessed this time and time again, and mothers throughout history have done the same. The church deems that part of a mother’s calling is to raise her children in the faith; therefore, the church is vital to supporting mothers in today’s modern society as they navigate the challenges of bringing up their young families in a world increasingly against any type of it.
All needs should be accounted when the church considers how it can best help Catholic mothers with young families. An overarching theme that offers a base of support is the spiritual tradition of the faith. If mothers are the spiritual foundation of the home, a sensible place for the church to offer support is domestically. In Catholic theology, the home is seen as a place of where parents are called to create a supportive and nurturing environment for their children, which includes providing for their physical needs as well as cultivating their spiritual and moral development. For many Catholic mothers, this calling to have their homes—their families—be the center of their lives is fulfilling and challenging. The joy and fulfillment of Catholic homemaking is unlike anything else a mother experiences; nevertheless, feelings of isolation and disconnection from the outside world, especially if mothers do not have access to a supportive community or social networks, are real. To address this need for connection and support, the church can offer programs and resources like mother’s groups and faith formation opportunities. These programs provide a sense of community and connection, helping mothers feel less alone in their vocation and providing them with a place to share their joys and challenges with others who understand what it is like to be a mother with young children.
The church can support mothers with young families through its teachings on the importance of mutual respect, understanding, and communication within relationships. In a healthy family, both parents share in the joys and responsibilities of parenting. This type of relationship requires open and honest communication as well as a willingness to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. The church can provide resources and support for mothers and families to develop healthy, fulfilling relationships, including marriage preparation and enrichment programs and parenting classes.
Many mothers find the demands of caring for young children leave little time for personal spiritual practice or reflection. The church can provide a space for mothers to nurture their own spiritual lives and find nourishment for their souls. Opportunities for mothers with young families to attend mass, pray, worship, attend retreats, and engage with spiritual direction allow mothers to connect with their faith and find strength and guidance in their vocation. Attending mass as a parent—especially a mother—with a young family is stressful. Holding a children’s mass or priest making a statement from the altar or in the weekly bulletin that welcomes young families into the church lessens the anxiety and stigma mothers experience during these times. When offering activities such as retreats, the church should remember that mothers with young families often are pulled between various obligations when caring for their spouse and children. Sometimes a sense of guilt for engaging in personal activities pervades any chance mothers have to do so. The church can assist when these feelings occur by reminding mothers with young families that addressing their own spiritual needs is essential for healthy motherhood and a relationship with God. Offering childcare and hosting activities at times convenient for mothers with young families are tangible ways the church can ensure these ladies participate in them.
The church can support mothers with young families through its charitable works and social justice efforts as well. Providing financial assistance, counseling, and other forms of practical assistance helps mothers in need, follows the tradition of Catholic advocating for certain social justice initiatives, and gives back to the community. Other actions include advocating for policies and initiatives that support mothers and families, such as paid family leave and affordable childcare. By standing in solidarity with mothers and families and working to create a more just and compassionate society, the church can alleviate some of the challenges and burdens that mothers with young families face.
The Catholic church plays a vital role in supporting mothers with young families. Through its teachings, programs, and charitable efforts, it provides connection, spiritual nourishment, and practical support for mothers navigating motherhood. By recognizing and valuing the vocation of motherhood, the Church can help mothers feel supported and affirmed in their role and find fulfillment and purpose in their vocation.