Today’s “woke” culture raises all kinds of social issues – some more deserving of support than others. However, one important social issue it will never raise or endorse is that of mothers who choose to stay at home when their children are young, knowing that this is easily the best way to help them become mature and happy adults.
I write this realising that crazy house prices often force a couple to work full time to pay the mortgage and that official attitudes put constant pressure on single mothers to return to the workplace when their children are young and emotionally needy.
Perhaps this lack of recognition for mothers at home – who are in the front line of a truly civilised society – is because so many feminists of both sexes dominate the debate, refusing to recognise that the primary carer for little children is properly their mother, not a state nursery.
I write this having just read Domestic Monastery by Ronald Rolheiser (DLT). Fr Rolheiser, a long-time contributor to the Herald and a popular writer and lecturer, argues that “monasteries” are not merely for celibate monks but that mothers at home occupy a domestic cell that is equally of value.
Realising that mothers of young children can’t devote certain times to prayer (as every mother knows), he writes: “If you are at home alone with small children whose needs give you little uninterrupted time, then you don’t need an hour of private prayer daily. Raising small children, if it is done with love and generosity, will do for you exactly what private prayer does.”
Yes, indeed. I would add that this is a 24-hour a day vocation that continues uninterrupted for years and years is sometimes accompanied by grumbles, exasperation and a sense of being at-the-end of one’s tether, but it is also understood by a merciful God. Mothers aren’t saints, any more than monks are; like monks – or priests – they are saints in the making, even if the battleground for humility and unselfishness is the endless washing and washing-up at the kitchen sink.
I do have a slight query when Rolheiser writes that “constant contact with young children, the mildest of the mild, gives [mothers] a privileged opportunity to be in harmony with the mild and learn empathy and unselfishness.” Hmm. “Mild” might describe the “Gentle Jesus” of the well-known children’s prayer, but as every mother also knows, children are never “mild” and neither is she after a day spent in their company. The ”frazzled and the frenetic” is a more apt description. We do mothers a disservice when we see them in the permanently pious light of a domestic Nazareth.
We mothers who have been privileged to have had the opportunity to stay at home to raise our children know what a great gift this is. But we don’t romanticise our role in the way that Victorians, in a sickly and sentimental fashion, referred to “the angel in the house”. We are not angels and neither are our children.
I write this while smiling at the memory of one of my sons (who always looked angelic, even at his naughtiest) who was once asked by a kindly adult: “And what are you giving up for Lent?” Without hesitation he replied politely, “Sugar in my tea” – this from a child who had never tasted tea, let alone sugar in it.
Mothers at home matter – to God, to society, to their children – and to family life in all its chaos and glory.