by Colleen Hammond
“Time to go! Does everyone have their ‘visiting clothes’ on?” I queried the children. Lining them up like a drill sergeant, I checked to make sure all three appeared ‘well groomed.’
“Ian, you can’t wear that shirt,” I scolded. “It’s filthy!”
“Aw, Mom, we’re just going to the hardware store,” he objected.
Should I try to explain the vocation and daily duty of motherhood to a seven-year-old boy?
“Just change,” I said with a sigh, shifting the baby to my other hip.
In the van, my budding Aquinas persisted. He wanted to know why it was so important to dress spotlessly when we left the house.
“It’s more than the virtue of being neat and orderly,” I began. “It’s important to me to set a good example of large families.”
“Why do we care what other people think?” He said, sounding strangely like his father.
Last week, I was trying to explain the same thing to my husband Dennis. Because our current culture seems to want mothers of large families to fail, I try extra hard to make being a mother of a large brood “look good.” I make sure the children and I are well groomed before we leave the house. Then, before we get out of the car, I go through behavior expectations so I don’t have to discipline in public. I attempt to be joyful, even though occasionally I’m not.
“This culture wants mother of large families to be haggard, frumpy and frazzled,” I told Dennis. “They want our children to look like ragamuffins and behave like juvenile delinquents. Then they can shake their heads and say, ‘See? Why would anyone in their right mind want to have more than two children?’ Does that make sense to you?”
“It’s not honest,” he stated flatly. “Besides, who cares what people think?”
“It’s not a vanity issue. It’s about Daily Duty.”
He still looked confused. How could I help him understand?
“When we leave the house, the children are a reflection of me, and of all mothers of large families,” I reflected. “I want them well behaved, too,” I added. “I don’t want to have to reprimand them in public.”
“If they’re well prepared during practice, you won’t have to worry about their performance during the game,” said the former coach. “Besides, nobody expects perfect children all the time.”
“Yeah, but,” I countered, “Joe Public thinks that us having more than 2.5 children is what caused their misbehavior.”
Dennis sat there shaking his head in disbelief. “You’re taking way too much on yourself. None of this is necessary, you know.”
But for me, it has become a sort of apostolate.
I don’t think a man can ever understand how deeply we live our calling as Mothers. It’s especially hard in this society that doesn’t value motherhood as a vocation.
Yet for a mother, it goes beyond the public’s perception.
I’ve tried to explain to my husband that “Mother” in not a title. It’s not what I am, or what I do. It’s who I am. Keeping house, grocery shopping, preparing meals — these are not just a list of “honey-does.” They exemplify my daily duty and vocation. Any if they’re not done, I feel unsettled. Every conversation with the children, every act of disobedience, every meal prepared and served is so intrinsic to whom I am as a Mother.
I don’t expect Dennis will ever understand. Maybe it’s one of those eternal divides. Men are more concerned about what they do, while women are more concerned about who we are.
But there’s hope for my 7-year-old son. On the way home from the hardware store he blurted from the back seat, “Hey, Mom. I think I understand the ‘well groomed’ thing. If we all look good, then other people ill want what we have, right? Then they’ll want to have a large family, is that it?”
I think he’s got it.
Copyright Colleen M. Hammond 2002