19 May 2017

Last Gasp: Crosses, Envy, and Mothers' Day

(well, that didn't last long, eh?)

I only go on FB anymore to check specific things: goat group, horse group, homeschool group, etc. I happened to see yesterday an article that two women whom are very dear to me, each in different walks of life, had posted, so I clicked on the link and read it:

(In googling to try to find the link, I've come across articles such as "Sorry about mother's day, my childfree friends", "Mother's day is the worst," and other such encouraging posts. That in itself is telling. Shouldn't we, as Catholics, be presenting something different from the secular world?)

Now, I seem to be alone in feeling this way; comments rave and praise this girl (whom I've never heard of before and know nothing about, so this is my first encounter) but I felt like I was slapped in the face. Maybe it was on the heels of receiving an email about a group petitioning the UN to abolish mother's day, as mothers are useless members of society - staying at home and raising children, when a childcare can do the same or better. Maybe it's on the heels of numerous health issues surfacing in the family, requiring major dietary and lifestyle changes (again). But this article made me feel like I should be ashamed of finding joy in mothers' day, in celebrating mothers.

Let me get some things really straight here: I know I've been guilty of saying these "platitudes" to single friends, with the best of intentions, not knowing what else to say. (Although, how reminding someone that God does indeed have a plan is a platitude, is a bit beyond me.) In real life, I am not very good at saying things. So, I'm sorry. But: I've been there. I married late-ish in my circles at 28 - nearly ten years after my first good friend's wedding. I spent many years lost, confused, in half-relationships, unsatisfactory jobs, yearning for children. The icing on the cake was when my much younger sister got pregnant at 18. All I could think was Why God? Why does she get a baby and not me? My relationship with my mums has not always been pretty. In fact for years, it was close to toxic, even, despite both of our best intentions. My mom lost her own mum to cancer when she was 9. There is lots of trauma and very complicated emotions about motherhood in my background, in my consciousness. I know *many* women who have struggled with infertility and miscarriages, some approaching the double digits. I know women who have had full-term stillbirths. I have friends whose birth stories would make you fall on your knees and thank the good God you are still a virgin. I have friends who have yearned and desired for years and years to marry and have children. I am not unfamiliar with the crosses of the childless, or of the various agonies of different states of womanhood and motherhood. And, most of all, I am with my whole self behind the idea of all women being called to different ways of motherhood. Absolutely! 100%! Yes! That is why Our Lord was gracious enough to give us Our Lady, Mother and Virgin. That concept is at the very core of the Catholic understanding of femininity.

So, all that said: Something about this article really hit me the wrong way. The irony is that she exhorts us mothers "not to bash people with our crosses" and "be more sensitive" to different crosses than our own - which, hey! I agree with! whole-heartedly! - and yet she tells mothers to shut up, basically, about our crosses because they are insensitive to those who want to be mothers. Honey, let me tell you a few things. First, yes motherhood has compensations, but it is damn hard. And you know what? Sometimes the sacrifices far outstrip any immediate compensations. They are dark years. There have been times when it has been sheer grace only that I have not walked out that door, because I have felt like I just can't take it anymore. So, I am not supposed to "complain" of that to people like you because . . . that is "inflicting" my cross on you and being insensitive to your suffering? It can be, I suppose, but maybe you, dear one, are clinging to your cross so hard that you don't have room to be sympathetic to someone else's. In short, dare I say . . . you are doing what you are accusing "happily married mothers" of doing. And you know what? There ARE compensations for being single! Like getting to shower as often and long as you want; to use the toilet without a conclave gathering outside the door or WWIII starting in the dining room. Like getting to stay out as late as you want, to go to parties, to go to the damn bar and have a drink. Things you take for granted. Those may seem trivial, but it is the trivial compensations that may mean the most, just like it is the quotidian grind that may be the heaviest cross. So: stop "bashing" me with your "cross" of single freedom - which is a real thing! It really is! - if you are going to lambaste me for struggling with my cross of motherhood.

Most of all, there is a name for this. There is a name for being unable or unwilling to rejoice (e.g., celebrate Mother's Day) in another's good (e.g. the blessing of children). It's a moral word, a perhaps not very pleasant four-letter world. Here, I'll spell it out for you:


Here's the thing: As much as this article seems to tout really good things, like tolerance and sensitivity and general magnanimity (who doesn't want to be "great soul-ed?!), that tolerance seems very one-sided and, to me, there is an undeniable streak of envy running through it, underpinning it. The condition of not being able to rejoice in the good of another, who has something that you don't have and want, is envy.
When I compare myself to all these mamas I know who are successful writers, bloggers, speakers, crafters, and see myself being able to do Absolutely Zero and writhe? Envy.
When I look at my body and see a flabby stomach and floppy breasts and yearn for my pre-baby body, for your pre-baby body? Envy.
When I seethe because I had to spend the cost of some damn Jimmy Choos on healthcare for my kid instead? Envy.
When you look at me and tell me to stop rejoicing in and complaining about my life because its hardships aren't yours? Envy.
When you tell me that my life is better because I have taken vows and have these four crazy children? Envy.

What about we flip some of the things she says on their heads?
Stop slinging bitter words about your absent/abusive mother to someone whose mother smothers and controls.
Stop complaining about your infertility to the mama who is bearing the cross of hyperfertility.
Stop raging about people who want to set you up when your married friend has not been on a childless date in five years.
Do you see where I'm going with this?

We all make mistakes. Very few people have the happy gift of having the right word at every right moment. I know I damn sure don't. I apologize to all of you dear beautiful single friends whom I've very unintentionally hurt with my clumsy tongue. It has hurt me tremendously to see your suffering and yearnings. I have held you in my heart and prayed for you, prayed for peace and trust and grace and all good things. I ask you forgive me my failings, as I have borne with yours, as we are all called to do in this broken beautiful Body of Christ.

1 comment:

Jenn Anne said...

I am always glad of your thoughts, Jaime! I think you've pointed out something true about the presence of envy in these online conversations. It might be fair to say that in most/every case, we shouldn't be telling the other side what to do to understand and respect our journeys, but instead looking at ourselves to ask, "What sin (ah! The S word!) am I committing here?" Because it's very likely that I'm doing something wrong at any given moment, as I am a fallen person.

Love you and your insights!