The girls and I have been listening to the Little Women audiobook during our car rides. We are about a quarter of the way in, and let me tell you, I am hooked. I’d like to say that I fall in love with books sparingly, but honestly, I’m reckless. I’ll give my heart away to just old any book with strong characters and beautiful phrasing. I’m a book harlot. I admit it. But there’s something about this book that is catching my heart in a way that I haven’t experienced in awhile.
I already knew the story as I’m sure you all do. I’ve watched the movie a few times. I read a children’s abridged version back in the day, and I’ve picked up the book and have read bits and pieces of it throughout the years. But I never took the time to sit down and really dig into it.
As I do, I realize that the March household is exactly what I thought life would be like with four girls. They are imaginative. They are kind. They have their spats, but in the end, they all sit by Marmee with their heads upon her lap listening to her wisdom doled out in her ever patient and loving manner.
And in some ways, that is what our life is like. My daughters are imaginative and kind. They do come together in the end. But there’s not a whole lot of sitting around listening to wisdom or quiet stories. In fact, there’s not a whole lot of quiet. Ever. If I try to say, “Now come my little daughters…” they laugh at me.
Actually, as I get into the story, I find myself wishing more and more that I could be like Marmee. If I could just be like her, my logic goes, then my children could learn to grow up to be kind and holy and patient and wonderful.
But I’m not like her. I’m more the crazy scattered mom that might show up in a Drew Barrymore Romcom or the crazy sitcom mom who never quite fits in with the more posh and dignified members of society.
This started to bother me. I was listening to a podcast interview a couple of days ago by a woman I admire. She was talking about her family and how she keeps God at the center. And my goodness did I feel longing. And jealousy. And frustration. How ever am I going to instill that in my girls when I don’t have it in my own heart.
But then I read this article in To Jesus, Sincerely. In it, the writer discusses how the mother is called to be the heart of the home. Her overall argument is that the way the mom goes, so goes the family. If the mom is patient and peaceful and holy, the family and the children will be as such. If the mom is curt and cruel and selfish, she will see that reflected back at her in her children and in the culture of the family. The mom sets the tone. It’s just how it is.
And honestly, this idea made me angry. That might seem like an odd reaction, but the parts of me that hear the messages all around me got all righteously indignant. After all, why should a woman have to be the heart of everything? Why is it her job to be the example? And why should I have to donate my whims and emotions and authenticity to the cause of creating a positive family culture? None of that is very liberated. TJ and I are partners. He sets the tone too, gosh darnit.
Seriously, I got very mad. And then I had to laugh. Because I was so, very wrong.
I’ve been realizing over the last year or two how much I have started to value authenticity. I think I’ve always valued it, but it has become more and more important to me over the years. And that’s great. It’s important for us to know how we feel. It’s important for us to utilize our strengths. It’s important for us to express ourselves and allow ourselves freedom to touch and impact the world. Realizing this has been crucial in me overcoming my anxiety. It’s not something I really want to give up, nor is it something I think I should give up.
The problem, I think, is that my idea of authenticity was a bit immature. To me, it meant always letting my feelings be heard. Always validating my own ideas and thoughts. Always following my bliss as they say.
And that can be problematic. That’s the logic of the child.
No, I’ve realized that mature, responsible authenticity requires us to acknowledge what is within us and then to take it and use it in service of our values. Not all anger needs to be expressed. Not every whim should be followed. Not every feeling heeded. Not every word uttered.
The more I realize this, the more I realize that I have it within my power to create the home culture that I want to. If I want my children to learn patience, I can work really, really hard to be patient. If I want kindness and generosity and charity to guide our works, then I need to manifest kindness and generosity and charity. Even when it’s not easy. Even when we might not really feel it.
When we have babies, so many of us (myself definitely included) read all the books about sleep and feeding and discipline and cognitive development. Half of us sound like encyclopedias rattling off study after study. And all of that is very important in raising children. But we also have to look farther and realize that we are actually raising future adults. And as such, the best thing that we can do for our children is to cultivate the character of their primary role models, ourselves.
At Mass this morning, our priest was talking about friendship. He quoted someone as saying that no matter where we end up, Heaven or Hell, we will bring others with us. As mothers we have the responsibility of knowing that those little souls who surround us day in and day out are at our mercy in terms of what they will learn in their youngest years.
And it might now sound very liberated to say that I sometimes have to sacrifice my own whims and the expression of them in order to be a good example for others, but it’s true nevertheless.
And so I’m taking up the challenge. I am going to assume the responsibility of being the heart of our home. I’m going to set the tone. And I’m going to do my best to do it well. What greater vocation is there?
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