Volume 1 Number 3
Surprising Job
01 November 1987

I used to imagine motherhood as a very narrow field -but I have found I have experienced a broad range of human emotions, and felt things I never thought possible.

Before I began my work as a mother I was a teacher. I had professional status, received a salary, could set goals for myself and had a reasonable chance of accomplishing them, and my day at school finished at 3.30. As a mother I receive no salary, the hours of work go all day and often all night - frustrating shopping trips, never-ending washing, demanding children, interrupted conversations and rushed dinners.

Sometimes I feel I have no time for God, and wonder anyway if he has time for me. But deep down I know God does have time for me; and since I have taken on this job as a mother I have come much closer to God. I used to imagine motherhood as a very narrow field -but I have found I have experienced a broad range of human emotions, and felt things I never thought possible. I am `surprised by joy'; surprised that the joy of parenthood is so intense and long-lasting. I am also surprised that it is such a difficult job.

Being a mother has made me more patient and tolerant than I used to be. I can begin to understand something of how parents must feel at the death of a child, how single mothers and fathers feel, what it must be like living with children in cramped conditions, what it would be like not to have a car.

I can begin to understand how women feel who want to have children, but can't; women who have no relief and end up bashing their children; women torn between their task as mothers and their intellectual and professional aspirations, especially when their husbands manage without too much trouble to combine an interesting career with fatherhood. I do not take things for granted so much any more: my husband's love and friendship, my own mother, family support, private moments - and sleep!

Breaking out
I am convinced of the importance of my work - that the family cell is the basis of society, and that it is through the family that people contribute to the world situation. I had to change my priorities and break out of the 'work for pay' mentality. The work is often mundane and not noticed, and the end result may not be realized until years later. Even then it may not be as we had hoped.

Your idea of time changes. In my job you do not have control of time. The simplest task can take hours. It can be more important to sit and cuddle a child than complete 50 jobs. It is probably good for us not to have to be in control of time. It is as though we had to forget about man's time and surrender ourselves to God's time.

I used to try to talk to God at night, from habit. I was so tired I didn't really mean it. It was a big nuisance. Now I try to listen to God and pray at different times.

Too often we make our children an excuse. How many times have I said I haven't got time to do anything for anyone else because of the children? But I find I can communicate with people of all ages if I have a child with me. If I walk down a street, for instance, far more people will nod and smile at me if I carry a baby or have a toddling companion. I find my children have given me the confidence to reach out to others.

I try to look at each day as providing a challenge. If I can get the children dressed and fed, dash off a letter, sort out a few business things, make a phone call, get down to the shops and back all in one piece, I have achieved a lot. If I achieve a couple of those things, I've done all right. But really the overall challenge is to get through the day with happy, relaxed children.

My most important friend is my husband. It is hard to be close to God if there is tension or dishonesty between husband and wife. I also rely heavily on other friends, usually women who are sharing similar experiences. It is important to laugh and talk things over. It helps put things into perspective, and gives you confidence. Friends can also offer practical help. So I am conscious of this funny mixture of frustration, joy and humility as I go about my work.

TS Eliot once wrote, `I had the experience but missed the meaning.' I have had experiences in the past and missed their meaning. I pray I will have the courage to seek the true meaning in my work as a mother, and in other experiences yet to come.