Catholic Activity: How to be a Good Mother
One of the mother's main responsibilities, neglected in our society, is to respect and maintain the father's position as head of the family. The mother is also the primary example in teaching her children true love and sacrifice.
In view of the many social evils resulting from the decline in the father's influence, one of the most important functions the modern mother should perform is to help maintain or restore the father's position of authority in the family. In doing so, you will fulfill your own role as a wife and mother to a greater extent than is possible when you permit your husband to be the lesser figure. This was the secret of the success of olden fathers. Even though they worked twelve hours a day, their dominant role in the home was guaranteed and protected by the mother.
You can make your greatest contribution to your family as the heart of your home — not its head. From you, your children should learn to love others and to give of themselves unstintingly in the spirit of sacrifice. Never underestimate the importance of your role. For upon you depends the emotional growth of your children, and such growth will better prepare them to live happy and holy lives than any amount of intellectual training they may receive.
Most of us know persons who have received the finest educations which universities can bestow, who yet lead miserable lives because they have never achieved a capacity to love. On the other hand, we also know of men and women whose intellectual achievements are below normal but whose lives are filled with happiness because their mothers showed them how to love other human beings. It follows that in helping your child to satisfy his basic emotional needs to love and be loved, you give something as necessary as food for his full development. So do not be beguiled by aspirations for a worldly career or by the desire to prove yourself as intelligent as men or as capable in affairs of the world as they. The father must always remain a public figure. The mother is the domestic figure par excellence. In teaching your child the meaning of unselfish love you will achieve a greater good than almost any other accomplishment of which human beings are capable.
You are the most important person your child will ever know. Your relationship with him will transcend, in depth of feeling, any other relationship he probably will ever have — even the one with his marriage partner. As noted above, from you he will learn what true love really is. From the tenderness you show and the security you give, you will develop his attitudes toward other human beings which will always remain with him.
However, his dependence on you begins to wane soon after birth — and continues to wane for the rest of your life. In his first years, naturally, he will rely upon you almost entirely — not only for food, but also to help him perform his most elementary acts. But soon he learns to walk and to do other things for himself; when he goes to school he can dress himself; when he reaches adolescence and strives for the freedom that adults know, he will try to throw off his dependence so violently that you may fear that you have lost all hold upon him.
Your job is to help him reach this state of full and complete independence in a gradual fashion. And your success as a mother will depend to a great extent upon the amount of emancipation you permit him as he steps progressively toward adulthood. Therefore you should try to judge realistically when your child truly needs your help and when he does not.
If you can reach the happy medium wherein you do for your child only what he cannot do for himself, you will avoid dominating him or overindulging him. The dominant mother makes all decisions for Johnny and treats him as though he had no mind of his own; the overindulgent mother will never permit her Mary to be frustrated in any wish, or to be forbidden any pleasure her little heart desires. The overindulgent mother may do without the shoes she needs to buy a doll for her Annie; she may stop what she is doing to help Johnny find the comic book he has misplaced; she may eat the leftovers in the refrigerator while she gives the freshly prepared food to her children.
The overindulgent mother is a common character in literature. Probably every American woman has seen movies and television programs, and has read stories in magazines and newspapers, in which these defects were pointed out. Yet every new generation of mothers seems to practice the same extreme of behavior. Some excuse themselves by saying that they want to give their children every advantage in life. Such an intention is laudable, perhaps, but the method is impractical. If you want to do the best for your child, let him develop so that he can face life on his own feet. Overindulging him denies him his right to develop his own resources and thus defeats the purpose of your mission as a mother.
Someone once remarked in jest that as part of her education for motherhood, every woman should visit the psychiatric ward of an army hospital. If you could see the countless examples of mental disorders caused largely by the failure of mothers to sever the apron strings to their child, you could easily understand why — for the sake of your child's emotional self — you must make it a primary aim to help him to develop as an independent person.
Priests and psychiatrists often see problems from different angles, yet they display striking agreement in pinpointing other kinds of maternal conduct which do great harm to the child. Their advice might be summarized as follows:
Don't be an autocrat who always knows best. Your child may have his own way of doing things, which may seem to be inefficient or time-consuming. Have patience and let him do things his way, thus giving him the opportunity to learn by trial and error.
Don't be a martyr. Naturally, you must make sacrifices. But do not go to such extremes that your child feels guilty when you deny yourself something which rightfully should be yours, in order to give him what rightfully should not be his. A typical martyr worked at night in a laundry to pay her son's way through college. Before his graduation, he asked her not to appear at the ceremony — he said she would be dressed so poorly that he would be embarrassed.
Don't think you have the perfect child. Some mothers, when their child receives low grades, appear at school to determine, not what is wrong with him, but what is wrong with the teachers. When such a mother learns that her son has been punished for disobedience, she descends upon the school officials and demands an apology. By her actions she undermines the child's respect for all authority — including her own. You will probably be on safe ground, until your child is canonized at St. Peter's, if you conclude that he has the same human faults and weaknesses that you see in your neighbors' children.
Don't use a sickbed as your throne. The "whining" mother feigns illness to attract sympathy and to force her children to do as she wills. Who would deny the last wish of a dying person? In this vein she often gets what she wants — for a while. The usual, final result, however, is that her children lose both sympathy and respect for her.
Don't be a "glamour girl." Motherhood is not a task for a woman who thinks that ordinary housework — preparing meals, making beds, washing clothes — is beneath her. Of course, mothers should strive to maintain a pleasing appearance, but they should also realize that they are most attractive when they are fulfilling the duties of their noble vocation. You would embarrass your family if you insisted on acting and dressing like a teen-ager; and, if you adopted a demeaning attitude toward household tasks, you would teach your children that motherhood and its responsibilities are unworthy of respect.
Activity Source: Catholic Family Handbook, The by Rev. George A. Kelly, Random House, Inc., New York, 1959