The Work of Motherhood

catholic mother's day reflection

The blogger Elizabeth Duffy once wrote:

If motherhood is hard at times, it’s probably because it allows us, without going terribly far out of our way, to mimic Christ.


Like her, I think there is great benefit to us in acknowledging that we can unite our motherhood―whatever it looks like, physical or spiritual―with Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Motherhood is, in fact, a cross, and not just a cross, but for us as women, the sweetest cross, the sweetest suffering.

The Family Sanctifies

Those two words don’t usually get put together: sweetness and suffering. Here’s what I mean by the sweetest cross: the cross is chosen perfectly for you. It is your cross, not anyone else’s cross. Christ chooses the particular cross that he wants you to bear in motherhood. He promises that His yoke will be easy and His burden light. But that promise is true only if you take up the yoke that He has fitted perfectly to your shoulders. It only works if you don’t try to take on someone else’s yoke, someone else’s idea of perfect motherhood. And sometimes that even means your own idea of perfect motherhood, if it conflicts with the motherhood that God has in mind for you.

Motherhood is a path for mothers to sanctify their families, and for mothers, in turn, to be sanctified by and through their families. And moms, in order to do this, God gives you the family that you need. I want to reemphasize that. He gives you the family that you need. He doesn’t give you your neighbor’s family, or your best friend’s, or your frenemy’s.

He may not even give you the family you want, the family you hoped and prayed for, the family you dreamed of since you were a young girl. For many of us, it means a family bigger or smaller than we imagined. But He gives you the family that will sanctify you.

Now the next logical question is, how does that sanctification happen? How do we cooperate with it in our roles as mothers? It starts in our being faithful in the mundane, repetitive tasks of our daily lives. We as mothers are uniquely suited to the work of receiving and bearing Christ’s love to the world. We are designed to receive grace, in our souls and especially in our bodies, and to bear it forth to others.

The Sanctifying Work of Motherhood

That is why the work of our bodies matters so much, why so much of mothering is about the care and feeding of bodies.

The wiping of sticky hands. The making of casseroles. The baths, the dressing, the undressing, the tucking in. I sweep the kitchen floor, and I sweep it again, and when I turn around 10 minutes later it is dirty, so I sweep it again to keep the baby from choking to death on a raisin.

We work with our feet firmly planted on the ground and our hands at the service of our families.

But at the same time, our minds and hearts must be constantly turned toward Heaven. Just as we are called to be faithful in the ongoing tasks of our daily lives, we are called to offer all of it to God. We know, by faith and by practice, that there is more to our work than what is happening with our bodies. We know that as our bodies move, our souls are moved too. It matters!

And what matters is not how perfectly our days are going according to plan, but how perfectly we are surrendering our plans to Him.

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Motherhood is a Blend of the Particular and the Universal

While writing this, I asked my children what mothers do. And the answers I got were really telling. See if you can spot the pattern:

  • they protect their children
  • they lead their children to Heaven
  • they hold life
  • they keep the houses clean
  • they give baths
  • they get presents for Christmas, Easter, and birthdays

It was a perfect summary. Motherhood is a blend of the particular and the universal.

You can think of those two levels—the ordinary everyday actions of our bodies, and the great offering of those actions to God—as the vertical axis of the cross. It stretches from earth, at our feet, to Heaven. We as mothers are to be a conduit, in both directions, to bring heaven down to our families and to offer our families back up.

The horizontal axis reaches from the past to the future, and here, too, we are called to surrender. We ache over yesterday’s mistakes. We worry about what the future holds for our children. But Christ calls us to live here, now, in the moment we hold in our hands this second.

It is only here, at the exact center of the cross, between Heaven and earth, between yesterday and tomorrow, that we get those occasional, exquisite glimpses of heavenly joy in our mothering, when time seems to stop.

When you reread your favorite chapter book to the third child who is now old enough to hear it, and they delight in it as much as you did. When your son brings you a fistful of grubby wildflowers, beaming with pride (or, as happened to me once, a dead rat swinging by the tail). When you watch your baby sleep. Or receive First Communion. Or graduate. Or get married. Or ordained. When you know, with every fiber of your being, that you are exactly where God wants you and that you are doing his work.

The Glorious Work of Motherhood

Sometimes, yes, the repetition, the worry, the heartache—they are all enough to break your heart. And in truth, God is trying to break your heart. But not for sorrow.

He uses motherhood to break your heart so that it breaks open enough for Him to come inside and reign there. All of those cracks are to empty us of ourselves so that God can fill in the spaces. Motherhood is designed to bring us to the very end of our own ability so that we recognize our powerlessness before Him. We are to recognize His mercy pouring out and filling every minute of our lives.

The results are not up to us. But the everyday effort, the work and the offering, the receiving and bearing forth of grace, living in the present moment…that is up to us. Rest at the center of the cross, and enjoy the work.

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Christy Wilkens is a full-time mother, part-time armchair philosopher who lives in Austin, TX but wishes she lived in Lourdes. She is a wife and mom to six kids, all of whom are special (but some are specialer than others). She writes about special needs, faith, doubt, suffering, and good reads. You can find out more about her here.

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