Becoming a mother can be an identity crisis for the modern woman. A generation or two ago women seemed to more naturally turn their minds to the natural progression of motherhood, surrounded by the support of other women at home. In contrast, becoming a mother today can feel like swerving off one’s carefully set out career path into a life of serving another that no one told you much about in school or at university. It can be a shock to suddenly be submerged in the earthy reality of nappies and feeding with a little being that doesn’t subscribe to your previous schedules or plans.  

As fertility rates fall below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman to unprecedented levels throughout the western world, is the value of motherhood in crisis? In the developed world at least, there will be too few children to support the elderly and the rest of society in a generation or two due to a declining working age population. It is ironic that a decreased value placed on the work of motherhood and an increased value on building careers is the very thing threatening future jobs and lifestyles.

Perhaps this is why there have been a number of recent Catholic initiatives to try to build up and claim back the value of motherhood and family life again. One such initiative is Danielle Bean’s Momnipotent course, which a number of Catholic mothers throughout New Zealand have already found beneficial and I am halfway through. It is an eight week course which focuses on eight different aspects of motherhood through a short DVD episode followed by small group discussion.

Danielle is an American mother of eight and editor of the Catholic Digest. In her words “many moms quietly resign themselves to the idea that peace, happiness, and joy are things they will need to find in spite of motherhood, not because of it”. She claims that Momnipotent “validates the dignity and importance of motherhood and will help you recognise your uniquely feminine strengths and see how you can use those strengths to find peace, balance, and joy in being the woman God created and called you to be.” So far, this has rung true for me.

The most attractive feature of the course is its uplifting and encouraging tone, which aims to build up mothers of all circumstances. While most of my group have toddlers or babies, many of the women who feature in the DVD have older children and are gratefully received as kindly and supportive mentors passing on their wisdom. It gives me a sense of belonging to a wider church and network of Catholic mums.

There is definitely no shortage of conversation during our discussion time; the participants in my group seem almost relieved to have the opportunity to discuss the dilemmas and change that modern motherhood almost universally brings.

Women within our group have discussed feeling that “feminism” today does not always build women up for their strength and sacrifice in nurturing, caring and mothering. They have related feeling they don’t have the time to simply nurture, care and look after family life. They have related stories of  bosses commenting that this must be the last child, implying that children and pregnancy appointments interfere with work so should be limited. They have discussed feeling that worldly fulfilment and happiness at times conflict with fully embracing motherhood.

Momnipotent is especially valuable because it provides a Catholic forum where motherhood can be re-discovered as a privileged vocation. Pope St John Paul II gave a beautiful description of the “feminine genius” and the course gives endless encouraging anecdotal examples of real women living this out day after day. As Pope St John Paul II stated “the history of every human being passes through the threshold of a woman’s motherhood”.

I would encourage any mother who needs an inspirational, humorous and encouraging reminder of this to set up a Momnipotent course among friends or in their parish.

At least for me, becoming a mother, and now doing this course has been a lesson in reminding me what truly contributing to the good of society means and what real “productiveness” is. Even when the days seem long and the tasks menial, I try to remind myself that the “end product” is so very significant.

As G.K. Chesterton repeatedly said, it is odd that we seem to have the idea that teaching a child — an eternal soul and future citizen — about everything the universe has to offer is less “productive” than a workplace job.

While different mothers are able to combine work outside the home with mothering in different ways, the point is that the work mothers do as mothers is just as important as anything else both economically and socially.

Shannon Roberts, an Auckland-based Catholic mother of two pre-schoolers, coedits the Demography is Destiny blog with her husband Marcus on mercatornet.com

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