A mother myself, I am sometimes a problem in this arena. I hope we can all grow in support of motherhood.
In a post-Roe world, Catholics still have a lot of work to do, but unless we are regularly meeting women in crisis pregnancies, we may feel a little unsure of how the Church is calling us to be pro-life advocates. While activism and evangelization are still important, perhaps where many of us can regularly contribute is by being consistent, empathetic supporters of motherhood.
I’m not talking about motherhood solely through the lens of birthing, adopting, or fostering children. (Yes, we can and should support new moms through babysitting, meal making, and general “good vibe” giving.) I am talking about the day-to-day grind of being a blog-reading, snack-preparing, carpooling mom who juggles the demands of her own physical, emotional, and spiritual life with that of her family.
But at the risk of being controversial, I will say it: Motherhood is under attack and often by mothers themselves—even (and sometimes especially) by mothers with the best intentions.
One need not scroll far on Facebook to see it. Snapping a picture of your kid as you drive to the zoo? Let’s talk about car seat chest strap placement. Making a fun treat for the kids? Be ready for comments about the dangers of sugar. Baby taking a nap on mom’s chest? Here comes an expert on safe sleep.
Blinded by a worldview based on our own experiences and beliefs, we assume that we know best. But do we really know the particular struggles that family juggles? Do their children have different needs than ours? Do we understand their financial situation? Is mom or dad struggling with mental health issues?
Worse is when these comments start to become a platform for Catholic morality on issues on which the Catholic Church has given no definitive stance. Instagram is rife with battles over breast versus bottle, traditional versus homeschooling—with Catholic moms in the thick of it.
Stay-at-home moms post about feeling burnt out or overstimulated. “Be grateful. Not everyone gets the opportunity to be home with their children.”
A working mom shares her stress in juggling both her family and her job. “Be happy you get a break from the kids.”
You have one child? “Be fruitful and multiply.”
You have a large family? “How can you give your time to all of them?”
Unfortunately, these comments often include Bible verses or quotes from the Catechism or encyclicals. But until we hear the Catholic Church’s definitive stance on attachment parenting or screen time, we have to be careful to not overstep into the role of Magisterium or assume that our version of motherhood is the most aligned with Church teaching.
These critiques and well-intentioned “advice” are not limited to online platforms. So many women I know are afraid to share the joys and challenges of motherhood because of the responses that so often follow.
Can’t find time to yourself? “Try waking up earlier.”
Your kid is finally eating the meals you make? “Must be nice.”
You’re finding this particular age or season challenging? “Just wait until they’re teenagers” or “Remember that motherhood is a gift, not a burden.”
Or as I have heard when I share feelings of overwhelm, “Do you think maybe you should stop at four kids?”
Where is the empathy? Where is the support?
Jesus reminds us, “If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand” (Mark 3:24). The same is true for motherhood. Until we embrace each other in our own journeys, recognizing that God’s gift of the feminine genius means that we can discern and creatively implement our own unique style of motherhood within the bounds of Church teaching, we risk alienating women from taking on this journey, especially those in a season of unplanned pregnancy. Does a world in which not even moms support moms—a world where one question about baby oatmeal becomes a debate about purees versus baby-led weaning—appeal to someone whose pregnancy took her by surprise?
Of course, plenty of work must be done to advocate for both babies and their mamas, and I could spend hours on a soapbox on this topic. Discussions about paid maternal leave, racial discrepancies in maternal care, affordable childcare, and access to quality education and resources (particularly for those in poor and marginalized communities) only skim the surface of issues that need to be tackled. Offering support to those embarking on the journey of motherhood is vital, both to those in our immediate circles and to those women we have never met.
But if we want to support life, we have to strengthen the culture of motherhood. We can be pro-life and pro-mother every day by exhibiting empathy. When we see parents struggling, we can pause before giving advice or commentary and just be willing to listen. We can ask ourselves if weighing in on the issue, even if it appears to need correction or education, is necessary. Late-night host Craig Ferguson once gave some wise advice: Does it need to be said? Does it need to be said by me? Does it need to be said by me now? And we can always turn to the line from “Litany of Humility” I most often find myself praying: From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Jesus.
To be truly pro-life, we must also be pro-woman and pro-mother, not just at the polls but in our daily interactions with moms. We should love them where they are—and not just those who parent like us or are ready to listen to our advice. When we feel the words on our lips (or at our fingertips) ready to offer commentary, critique, or condemnation, we must remember to come first and foremost from a place of love, not as how we want to give it but as it best serves others to receive it.