Mothers Who Fear They Are Failures

Motherhood with all its unending joy is a vocation filled with a myriad of challenges. In addition to the arduous continual work in raising children today amidst the chaotic demeaning culture, there are other difficulties mothers face too. Immersed in a sometimes thankless role, mothers can feel isolated or invisible, they can doubt themselves or feel tempted to strive for other pursuits in an effort to feel affirmed or appreciated.

After all, when was the last time a mother was sincerely (and I mean, “sincerely”) thanked for her selfless and continual loving work and efforts in her family and home? Yes, it happens occasionally. However, our society does not value a mother’s work. Unfortunately, we mothers are valued by the size of a pay check and not the fact that we are actually raising little saints to heaven. We are, in fact, helping to form the consciences of little ones who are on loan to us and who have been entrusted to our care.

Because I am a mother of five (and three in heaven) and a grandmother, I value every aspect of the amazing role of motherhood—a vocation of love! During some of the time that I raised my children, I was a single mother. I have lived through thick and thin, and a lot of times it was very thin. So, I certainly know that mothers need encouragement and affirmation in their amazing yet arduous role. I feel very passionate about encouraging mothers everywhere and that’s why I do what I do. That’s why I write so many books and do a good deal of television shows to uplift and affirm the family—the vital cell of society, which, as we know is under attack by the evil one. I won’t dwell on “you-know-who” (I don’t like to give him credit because he thrives on that). But, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that we are engaged in spiritual battle so that we can be alert, continue praying, nourish our souls with solid Church teaching, and put one foot in front of the other to walk in faith every day in raising our families.

Recently, a faithful mother of many children came to me because she was feeling like a failure. I’ll call her Cindy. She said, “Do you have any tips you can share with me about how to get more done in a day? I am not as productive as I have been in the past in our schooling and it is making me feel like a failure. You are so productive so I thought I’d ask if you could give me some advice.”

I asked “Cindy” not to feel like a failure because she certainly wasn’t a failure. I told her that she should try to keep her chin up because God was smiling at her and that I hoped she could try not to be discouraged. I told her that “you-know-who” would like her and other mothers to feel that they are failures when, in fact, they are doing an amazing job in raising their children. I went on to give her a few tips that I thought might help her to feel more productive (since she asked for that), but certainly knew that many times a mother’s very important tasks are the ones that are quiet and may go unseen as she helps take care of her children’s zillion needs.

Give God the reins

“What comes to my mind right now,” I said, “is to get important things done first thing in the morning if you can. For instance, certain prayers you want to get going in the morning so that you don’t lament at the end of the day that you didn’t carve out that time for prayer. It’s challenging in a busy household. I do know that,” I reminded her. “But start your day with that Morning Offering prayer before you even get out of your bed, or right when you get out of your bed, on your knees by the side of your bed. Then you’ve given the reins to our Lord so to speak. You’ve given him the day ahead of you. Then you could be at peace knowing that He’s in control.”

O Jesus,
through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer You my prayers, works,
joys and sufferings
of this day for all the intentions
of Your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
throughout the world,
in reparation for my sins,
for the intentions of all my relatives and friends,
and in particular
for the intentions of the Holy Father.

Amen.

“And perhaps,” I continued, “the night before, you can possibly think about a project you’d like to get done in the house the next day. A certain corner of the house, a messy countertop you need to declutter, a pile of laundry that needs to get washed, whatever it is, try to tackle that first thing in the morning.”

Adding a bit more, I said, “Sometimes, and I know this might sound crazy, but sometimes I clean a bathroom before I even come downstairs to eat breakfast. I know we need to eat in the morning to nourish ourselves, but sometimes I see a mess and think that I should probably tackle it quickly so I don’t have to face it later in the day and also, in case I run out of time later in the day. Granted, you have little ones waiting for you, and maybe this won’t work for you, but I think that lots of tasks can be done quickly.”

I went on to tell “Cindy” how I’ve tried to make a game out of cleaning up to get the kids’ help, and more. “I have always tried to teach the kids that certain things needed to be done and then we can do the fun stuff.”

I didn’t want her to feel defeated. “It’s important not to beat yourself up if you can’t get things done,” I said. “You are busy enough taking care of the physical and emotional needs of your children. That in itself is a full-time job. Add to that, all of the cleaning and all of the schooling and your own hygiene in care of yourself, there’s just always so much to do.”

I wanted to also mention a tip on family prayer. “Then, of course, you want to carve out times for family prayer. That’s why I always say to do it at the dinner table. At least that’s one time for your family prayer because everyone’s all together, hopefully, and you have a captive audience.”

I told this beautiful Mom that I would recommend that she watch a You Tube video of my visit with Fr. Andrew Apostoli, CFR. in which we discuss my book Feeding Your Family’s Soul: Dinner Table Spirituality because she had watched it a couple of months earlier and told me that it helped her in her resolve to homeschool her family. There had been some temptations to throw in the towel, but she felt in her heart that Our Lord wanted her to keep it up despite the lack of encouragement around her. I thought that if she watched the show again it might give her a good “shot in the arm.”

All those “little” things

She thanked me and said she’d watch the video soon. Then she responded to my little “tips.” She said, “That helps me SO much! You always have the right words. In fact, I did that this morning. Before breakfast, I mopped and swept and cleaned bathrooms and put on laundry.” She continued giving me a blow by blow description.

“Then I schooled while nursing, but I just can’t help but feel like I should do more and better. But I think that might be a trap. A temptation. I have been forgetting my daily offering. I will try to do that. But, I have been working in the rosary.  I am potty training my toddler, keeping my preschooler engaged, holding the nursing new one, dealing with high emotions of our teenager and helping school the other two. So, I guess even when it doesn’t feel like I’m doing a lot, I am. I just want them to be able to have a quality education and I doubt how effective I am.” Then she sighed.

Wow! This is what I’m talking about. Moms do SO much! And because Moms are often tired and overworked, they can easily lose sight of all that they actually do and also the fact that all that they do is SO important!

“Cindy” went on to tell me that she would re-watch the video. Her baby was sleeping in her arms and she had an opportunity to watch it, or at least in bits and pieces.

“Now that you reminded me,” she said, “it [watching the video] did recommit my determination for homeschooling. I remember now. It made me feel like I am making a good decision. Two of my closest friends that have been stay at home, homeschooling mothers are throwing in the towel and going to work. It just placed doubt in my mind….So I started to doubt my ability. I’m not teaching Latin or Spanish. But, I keep telling myself that if they need that, the Good Lord will provide. I also have to take lots of breaks because I wear out quickly since I’m not sleeping well at night.”

This sweet Mom is doing so much to please the Lord and raise her little saints to heaven. She, like so many others need our encouragement.

“Thank you for talking with me…Thank you for encouraging me, again!” She said.

I reiterated how much good that “Cindy” was doing for her family. “It’s quite amazing what you are doing…You don’t give yourself enough credit. And I did forget to mention too, that a lot of the work that we mothers do in the home can’t be measured because it’s all those little things which are so important to our children’s well-being.”

We don’t need esteem, honors, or even a paycheck

I wanted to encourage her more… “I would like to tell you to please keep doing what you’re doing. It’s very admirable even though you don’t realize it. You are doing exactly what our good Lord wants you to do. You are there for your family in so many ways…Please hang in there and please realize if you can, that you are doing an amazing job helping to form little consciences and raise up little saints to heaven!”

She told me, “You always make me feel so much better! You are a voice of truth dispelling the lies that come at me…It strengthens me to read your words and speak to you and know that you see value in my walk. That is your gift, encouraging mothers who I believe can get so easily discouraged because there isn’t a paycheck this side of heaven.”

I wholeheartedly agree with ”Cindy.” There isn’t a “paycheck” for our work this side of heaven. But, we don’t need that. We do need to strive to hold our heads up high and continue mothering our children, being a bright example to all in our midst, some who are struggling to find peace in their hearts. I’m so proud of this Mom. She is an amazing and faithful example to her family and all those that know her and see her example.

We can look to the Blessed Mother for guidance and intercession in our tiring yet profound vocation. We can also look to the inspiration of the saints.

Right after our conversation, this faithful Mom came across a quote from St. Alphonsus Liguori that really spoke to her heart:

A hidden and obscure life affords great security to those who sincerely desire to love God. Our Divine Master Himself deigned to teach us this by His own example, for He spent thirty years in the obscurity of Nazareth and the workshop of a humble carpenter. In imitation of their Divine Model, many saints withdrew into the desert and lived in remote caves to escape the esteem of men. The desire to put ourselves forward and merit the plaudits of men, to be regarded as very successful in our undertakings, is, according to St. Vincent de Paul, and evil that causes us to forget our God; it vitiates our holiest actions and more than anything else impedes our progress in the spiritual life. To be pleasing and acceptable in the sight of God, we must therefore banish from our hearts the desire to appear before men to win their approval and applause and especially the desire to rule over others.

Many times mothers are a bit isolated in the care of their families and other times they are out and about in the community with their brood. While we mothers might not be choosing to hide out from the community in our “domestic churches” to “escape the esteem of men,” we certainly can come to discover within our sometimes hidden role, that with the exception of Our Lord, we do not need the esteem of anyone in order to be committed in living out our beautiful vocation of motherhood.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, someone I still call Mother Teresa because I was blessed to know her personally and felt that she was a special mother to me, spoke about the hidden life in the family too. She once told me:

Fidelity to growing into a soul of prayer is the beginning of great holiness. If we remember ‘what we do to Jesus—that we do to each other,’ we would be real contemplatives in the heart of the world. Let us learn to pray and work as Jesus did for 30 years in Nazareth. The life and work; the prayer and sacrifice at Nazareth are so much like what our life should be. That peace, joy and unity that joined the Holy Family together in prayer and work is such a wonderful living example to us. They grew in holiness together. Let us learn from Mary to pray and ask Her to pray that your home will be another Nazareth.

This might sound funny, but after coming out of a convent bathroom one time, Mother Teresa told her Sisters, “Someone here really loves Our Lord. That bathroom is sparkling clean!” She was implying that the Sister who cleaned it did it for the love of God. It’s the same for all of us in life. We should do everything to the best of our ability to honor and please God. She also reminded us that we shouldn’t shy away from the humble work. Her sentiments and teachings give us much to think about.

We mothers come to discover that it is not about how much we can get done in a day that matters. A mother’s love and care can never be accurately measured. There will be plenty of times when we need to overlook the messy kitchen counters and overflowing laundry hampers because we are needed to console a child, to discipline another, to nurse the baby, to break up a squabble, to teach the others, and so much more.

I can’t help but think of some very wise words from Archbishop Fulton Sheen who said, “We always make the fatal mistake of thinking that it is what we do that matters when really what matters is what we let God do to us.” Let us not shy away from the humble work or the feelings of being “invisible” at times to bring about amazing transformations of hearts and souls because of God’s abiding grace, and through our selfless, yet powerful vocation of love.

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