Motherhood takes plenty of on-the-job learning

By  Michele Faux, Catholic Register Special
  • November 24, 2006

My uncle was writing a catechism and he had asked me to discuss the role of wife and mother. It was a difficult writing assignment.

"It's different for everyone," I protested. I could only write from my own perspective and speak from my own experience.

When my children were learning to walk, hesitant steps were accompanied by many falls. I didn't rush to their side but waited for them to approach me for comfort. My goals for them were strength and independence. As young athletes, they played through pain, never wanting to be that injured player who sometimes wanted attention more than first aid. As young adults, they've made successful transitions to new schools and new roommates and new jobs.

Honesty was a character trait best demonstrated. I wouldn't phone the school and lie to cover an unexplained absence or a test not studied for. "You're the only mother who won't do that," I was told over and over. I also wouldn't act as their lawyer in teacher disputes or their referee when the coach wasn't giving them enough ice time. Life isn't always fair but the strongest get through it.

Commitment meant sometimes coming home early from a birthday party because there was a team practice at 7 a.m. "I'll be at every single game and practice," my youngest son once told a new coach, "because my mother will make me."

Mothering means listening for what's not being said and asking questions until just the right combination of words unlocks someone's tongue. Mothering means being steady and dependable. A priest friend once called our house wondering why I hadn't shown up for lunch at a restaurant. My oldest son explained that I was out of town and told the priest that he must have written down the wrong date (he had) because "my mother doesn't make those kind of mistakes."

Mothering means demonstrating that it's important to have fun. One daughter said her boyfriend wondered why she was always dancing in the kitchen. I felt I'd set a good example.

Our children complain that we're not very demonstrative in our affection. Their friends call out "I love you" across arenas and malls to their parents. My husband and I were raised in families that demonstrated love through constancy and reliability instead of with kisses and expressions. However, adaptability is important and, this summer, our family invented a secret hand signal that means "I love you." It's a start.

Being a mother means demonstrating unconditional love even when it's hard to like someone (or their actions). It means being realistic about our children's successes and failures. Mothering means living the two great commandments and teaching their obedience through example.

Some of us are so busy being mothers that we forget we are also wives. The roles and duties aren't mutually exclusive. My children sometimes ask why I chose their father to be my husband. It's important to explain that choice to them (he was smart, he made me laugh, we had common interests, I knew he'd make a good father) so they can see their parents as man and wife not just Mom and Dad. It helps them understand why we provide a united front as parents, even when we don't always agree with the other parent's stand. They don't need to see the private discussion that takes place after that united stand but they can learn something about being parents themselves by observing the unity.

A wife's role is to provide that support in something small but important like the manner in which she speaks to her husband. Speaking kindly and respectfully to one another in public and in private is important.

"I've never done this before," I'd say to my two oldest children when they complained about a decision I'd made. "I've never been a mother before and, so, maybe my decision isn't correct but that's the one we're going with anyway."

Assuming the role of a wife and mother means learning on the job and learning from past mistakes. Isn't it all about growth?

(Michele Faux, a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register, is a mother of five.)

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