Heather King is an award-winning memoirist, columnist and blogger with several books. She speaks nationwide, leads writing workshops and writes a weekly column on arts and culture for Angelus News, the archdiocesan newspaper of Los Angeles. For more, please visit her website.
This is an excerpt from a longer article published in the Catholic Moms Group’s newsletter. Catholic Moms Groups are found in parishes around the Archdiocese of Toronto – and around the world. They allow Catholic mothers to journey together in their vocation as parents. To learn more about Catholic Moms Group, please click here (and you can learn how to start your own group here).
Taking Note of This Historical Time
The year of COVID represents an historical moment. Women of all demographics and socioeconomic levels have "come back to the home" because of the pandemic.
Secular feminists — and many within the Church as well — believe that the phenomenon has set the women’s movement back, possibly by decades. The longer women are unemployed, goes one argument, the harder it will be for them to find jobs in the post-pandemic workplace.
To that end, many organizations are calling for a gender based (women's) recovery plan from COVID.
But might this time also be a catalyst for the renaissance of womanhood and authentic femininity?
From a Catholic perspective, might this year have been both a wake-up call and an invitation to more freedom and more of the only kind of power that matters?
Let’s acknowledge up front that many have suffered tremendously during the pandemic: those who actually contracted COVID, those who cared for them, those who died. Devastating losses have abounded: job layoffs, cancelled trips, postponed weddings, separation from grandchildren, business owners who were bound to a lease but weren’t allowed to open. As for the emotional and psychological repercussions — we won’t know the full extent for a long time to come.
With all that, many women now feel both overburdened by the “extra” work of caring for children and the home, and frightened that the economic recovery will fall to men, leaving us out in the cold.
The fact is that caretaking and a certain kind of suffering always falls disproportionately upon women and children. The fact is that women always perform more of the nurturing, childcare, homeschooling. We are built to be mothers, biologically and on every other level. The Church’s teachings on the Sacrament of Marriage and the sanctity of the family acknowledge and encompass that reality.
Far from being rigid, uncongenial to women, and patriarchal, the Church so cherishes the capacity to bring new life into the world, and the labour and heart that entails, that she has elevated motherhood to the crown of humanity by crowning Mary Queen of Heaven and Earth.
We’ve been culturally inculcated to believe that this maternal instinct makes of women mindless vessels, indentured servants, slaves, victims. We ourselves thus often have repudiated what is deepest, finest, most beautiful, most interesting and most fruitful about us: that we are founts of creative love.
I say this as someone who is neither a wife nor a mother. I’ve made my way without ever being financially supported by a man, in two male-dominated fields: first the law, and for the last 25 years, as a writer, speaker, and workshop leader.
What Was Our Blessed Mother's Work?
It’s easy to understand why women are more stressed. We are called by the culture to be mothers, full-time earners, attractive, fit, successful, informed, organized and breezy about the whole insane roster. I often think of Mary, standing steadfast, silently, at the foot of the Cross. Is that not our job, too: to ponder, to remain standing, in spite of our own suffering to try to offer a consoling word and heart to the world?
I’m not a mother but I grew up with seven siblings and watched my own mother and I, for one, cannot believe the heart, nerve, intelligence and sacrificial heart required to raise even one kid. How anyone could be expected to work outside the home on top of performing 24/7 a task requiring the skills of a brain surgeon boggles the mind.
The sense of being overwhelmed has only amped up during COVID. People are screaming from the roof tops about women's mental health, and as a corollary, children's mental health.
Women are breaking down, and with good reason. But what if we could restore the vocation of women to its rightful place? Have we taken on too much? Can we start saying no to what doesn’t feed us and is beyond our limits of patience and energy? Does everything we do have to be put on social media, objectified, commodified? Has our home become a train station instead of a sanctuary? If so, can we face the uncomfortable fact that we may be forming our children to be as stressed and miserable as we are?
One thing’s for sure: as followers of Christ, we know that somehow God is smack in the middle of all of the chaos. We’re brought closer to God in such times of intense suffering if for no other reason than that there is nowhere else to turn.
For my own part, during COVID I’ve connected with people all over the world: through recovery Zoom meetings, through livestream Mass during those dreadful months when the churches were closed. I’ve started a series of eight-week writing workshops. Men and especially women from around the world have written to me: nuns, mothers, career women, questing college students.
I’ve been invited to be on many women-run podcasts, among them Chloe Langr’s “Letters to Women,” the “Endow Podcast” with Simone Rizkallah, and the "Midday Moms" the podcast for the wonderful ministry Dorothy Pilarski runs (helping parishes start mothers groups) that can be found at CatholicMomsGroups.com.
Dorothy, among many other women to whom I’ve spoken, reports that during COVID she was able finally to find the solitude to complete several long standing projects that include pivoting all ministry materials into a membership website for Catholic Moms Group Leaders and hosting virtual meetups.
The Home as Monastic Enclosure
This world, if we confine ourselves to it, is always a kind of prison. But Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.
Why is it that monastic souls can happily spend 24 hours alone, and their whole lives essentially in one small place? They are not having a collective mental health crisis; in their quiet way, they are thriving: growing in love, living out the Gospels.
When did we consent to turn away from making the family the centre of our hearts, and start making technology our god? When did curating our lives so as to present them as some air-brushed online “ideal” become the driving force of our life? Because if social media is the driving force of our lives, guaranteed we are grooming and training our children to have it become the driving force in theirs as well, no matter how much lip service we may pay to being “Catholic.”
Instead of seeing our increased time in the home as a sentence, could we come to see our living space as a kind of enclosure within which to contemplate, pray deeply and ponder the deep desires of our hearts? What are the fears that keep us from following our desires? Did not Christ come precisely to free us from them?
Believe me, I know. When I was working as a lawyer, I knew I really wanted to be a writer. I was desperately afraid I wouldn’t make enough money to support myself. After a few years of agonizing, I saved up a small nest egg, made the decision and took the leap.
I have never lacked for any essential thing. I have always had enough money, and then some.
Pope Francis Is with Us!
The Vatican has responded to this historical moment in a way that beautifully reflects my own thoughts. Let’s not miss the graces and the good that can come out of out of this “new normal.” Let’s have eyes to see and ears to hear. Maybe this can be a renaissance for stay-at-home mothers, for those who want it.
Maybe we can think of a new way of earning money, but from home. Maybe we can take stock and decide we can live on one salary instead of two. Maybe we put our foot down and say to ourselves and to God, “I am no longer willing to be ruled by peer pressure, my popularity on social media and a way of life that denies every pure, good, precious thing about me.”
We can become our Blessed Mother — with her heart open and ready to receive the whole world. We can become Joseph.
Has anyone else found this a fruitful time? Has anyone else found graces? If so, I’d love to hear from you.