The role of the mother in the modern world
Interview with a traditional Catholic mother
The Angelus: Can you give us a brief introduction to your family and background?
Mother: I was raised in a pagan background, marrying at a young age, and converting to Catholicism a year after our marriage. Coming from a family in which there was abuse, alcoholism, as well as infidelity, I knew that I wanted something different for my own family. I went into marriage with never a question in my mind that it was for life, despite that lack of example when I was growing up.
The Angelus: Has your family always been Catholic, traditional or otherwise?
Mother: We came to Tradition after some time. However, we were always Catholic, truly endeavoring to live a Catholic life. Before 1989, we attended the Novus Ordo Mass, never liking the changes, and consequently doing a bit of church hopping—hoping to find the most conservative Mass available. It took a major problem in our own family to make my husband and I ask ourselves what we were doing wrong. We had always tried to live our faith, taught our children their catechism, yet there was a division between us as parents and our older children. My mother-in-law was reading one of Archbishop Lefebvre’s books and told us about the SSPX. It took an Ignatian retreat to unite us. My daughter told us that up to that point they had never heard anyone tell them what we had told them about the Faith, not until they attended the retreat.
The Angelus: What is your ideal or vision of raising a truly Catholic family?
Mother: We are the parents of a large family, accepting the children as God sent them. The Church teaches us that not only are we to have the children, but also that we are responsible for their education... Instructing them in their Faith, taking care of their daily needs, making sure they are well-formed spiritually, academically and otherwise... Loving them. It is important to see and understand each child as an individual with their own needs and temperament.
The Angelus: What were the biggest challenges you faced raising a family in the modern world?
Mother: The biggest challenge we faced while raising our children was that at that point there was not any support from anyone that we were doing the right thing. The priests, sisters, family, friends—no one agreed with the number of children we had and with the values we were trying to instill in our children. We didn’t know any other large families until we came to the SSPX. The temptation for me was to question if we were really doing what we should. Could we really take proper care of such a large family? Surely we couldn’t give our children everything they needed. One priest told me I wasn’t expected to be a martyr. Today we have the SSPX and other families to support one another.
The Angelus: Do you think it’s easier or harder to raise a family now than when you did? Why or why not?
Mother: In one sense it’s easier now as we have priests to help us, other families to associate with, good Catholic schools, and so many other things offered by the SSPX. There are great books to read on how to raise one’s family. However, I would say that one of the biggest challenges faced by families today is the modern technology that brings the world into one’s home. Technology can be used for good, but there is deadly harm in it as well. It is a real struggle to use it properly without compromises in allowing the spirit of the world to permeate the sanctuary of one’s home.
The Angelus: What qualities did you look for in your husband that you would recommend to young ladies today?
Mother: Firstly, does the young man live his Faith? What importance does he place on it? Does he pray and study his Faith? Does he have a steady job as well as having some money saved? What do other people think of the young man? How does he treat his mother?
The Angelus: What can you say about the joys and challenges of a large family?
Mother: God has blessed us with many children. Raising them, one of the challenges we faced was knowing how to direct each child with their various temperaments and difficulties. Another one was having enough money to take care of our large family. The work load of having a lot of children is tremendous. At times the cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, etc., never seemed to end. There was no time for oneself at all. However, there were also many joys.
Also, because there were so many of us, we were able to accomplish many things that a smaller family would not have found possible. Today, my children are not only my children, they are my friends, always happy to call and come home whenever they can. We are closer than ever, knowing, understanding, and supporting each other in the crosses that life brings.
The Angelus: Were there Catholic schools available for your children? If not, did you homeschool? What advice can you give mothers regarding education?
Mother: There were not any Catholic schools available, so our children attended public school. We had five graduate from this system and then we began to homeschool a few of the younger children. As I saw how quickly they learned, we decided to continue on that road. A couple of years later, we took the rest of the children out of public school. From that point on, we homeschooled each year for about 20 years.
Homeschooling is difficult as it requires even more time and energy from the mother. In such a situation, it is essential to have a schedule and to see the importance of making the home education a truly good education. It can be difficult to hold to high standards and to not slip into mediocrity of learning simply because it is easier to deal with.
Although homeschooling sometimes is the only option—as it was in our case—it does have many negatives, even in the best circumstances. If a good Catholic school is available, take advantage of it! But remember that a good education begins at home even with a good school—basic etiquette, catechism, discipline, order in everyday life.
The Angelus: What was the relationship like between you and your husband, especially in the raising of your children? What advice would you give along these lines?
Mother: We always supported one another, particularly in front of the children. Our disagreements were private. It is very important that the parents are united.
The Angelus: How did you and your husband handle the discipline of the children?
Mother: When the children were little, a swat from Mom or Dad sometimes was needed. Many times a snap of the fingers and a look from Mom was enough. For the little ones, sitting on the time-out chair was a good punishment. Some of our children have since told us that they hated having to stand in the corner more than any other punishment.
As the children grew older, writing a paragraph on an assigned subject worked very well since it meant the offender had to think about his misdeed by the subject assigned. For certain offenses when the children were older, I simply told them they would have to see their father when he arrived home from work that day. He would speak to them and assign a just punishment, perhaps some extra work or the removal of some privilege.
The Angelus: Can you describe the spiritual life of the family? Did you pray the daily Rosary or have any devotions which you would recommend?
Mother: The spiritual life of my husband was what attracted me to the Catholic Faith at the beginning of our marriage. I would watch him say his morning and evening prayers, his daily Rosary... His example of prayer made me desire to have what he had. Prayer was very much a part of our life from the very beginning. Besides our daily Rosary as a family, we would help the children with morning and evening prayers. In addition, we celebrated the liturgical life of the Church. Such things as earning straws for the Baby Jesus during Advent, choosing an Advent person to try to be extra charitable to without them knowing, dressing up as saints for All Saints’ Day with a party at home, making May altars and having processions in honor of Our Lady, doing the Stations of the Cross each Friday of Lent, having a special gift for each one to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas, having special meals to celebrate big feasts, etc.—all these things brought the Faith to life for our children. It is important to instill in one’s children the joy the Catholic Faith brings to one’s soul. The Church offers a wealth of things for us to take advantage of!
The Angelus: What was home life like for you with your husband away during the work day and a house full of children? Are there any tips or tricks?
Mother: BUSY! Many days seemed very long, but I was so busy there was little free time. And when there was spare time, I learned many things to fill in those times. Tips? A schedule is of the utmost importance as naps and bedtimes give you times to do things you can’t otherwise fit in. They also serve to refresh you.
The Angelus: What do your children think is your strongest point as a mother?
Mother: I asked one of my sons for help with this question. His reply, “It’s your unselfish giving of yourself... Oh, and your pie and breadmaking skills too!” (with a grin).
The Angelus: How would you define the role of a mother to her children?
Mother: The older I get, the more I see the importance of a good mother. A mother has the responsibility of training the children the most. It first starts with the giving of herself. It is, many times, a thankless job, particularly when the children are young. I would say a mother’s role is crucial especially in the following areas: that a mother loves her children without spoiling them, that she teaches them their Faith, that she makes sure there is order in the home, and that she trains her children to give of themselves (which begins with one’s own example more than anything).
The Angelus: What did you direct your children to do for recreation? Sports, games, TV?
Mother: With so many siblings, our children were each other’s best friends. For recreation they played sports together: volleyball, keep away, kickball, cops and robbers, sledding in the winter, etc. They went on bike rides and hikes together and with their father. We sang together and played board games and cards. Musical instruments (especially piano) were a big part of their lives. The boys were into woodworking and the girls had artistic pursuits in other areas. Our children also loved to read—almost too much! We set a limit to all of these things since there were, of course, duties to be done as well.
The children were all expected to help with dishes, meals, cleaning, garden work, taking care of the animals, etc. They had a set work time each day, followed by recreation time. They learned that time was not just their time to spend as they wished. We did have a TV in our younger years, but it only went on if Dad turned it on. The children never asked. DVDs were very limited and television even more so.
The Angelus: Did you ever have trouble with black sheep among your children? For instance, someone who refused to go to Mass on Sunday? What advice can you give for others in similar situations?
Mother: There was a time before we came to Tradition when we could see our family was not united. When our older children became a serious bad example to the younger ones, we asked them to move out and get their own apartment. If they couldn’t abide by the house rules, it was time to move out. I encourage others in similar situations to have patience and charity and to pray very much for their children. Once the problem has been addressed, it is better not to continually bring it up. This simply serves to turn the child away. Patience and charity in whatever possible is the best route.
The Angelus: Did you try primarily to preserve your children from the world or prepare them for it? Or both?
Mother: We endeavored to keep the world out of our home, especially when our children were young. We did travel to other places and visit other good families. I think we could have prepared them better for stepping out into the world. It is important, yet difficult, to prepare them properly. On one hand, one can’t expose them too much, but nor can one completely isolate them from what they must eventually face.
The Angelus: Did you impose any codes regarding dress, behavior, and speech?
Mother: From the time our children were very little, we formed them with the idea of dressing modestly and in a feminine manner, teaching and explaining why one should dress this way. Our older daughters wore slacks around the house in the beginning, but as they grew up and we came to Tradition, they understood why one shouldn’t do so. We never had any struggles with our children on this issue.
Being careful not to project the worldly view of what is fashionable and “normal” and thus desirable (via television, magazines, etc.)—protected our daughters from forming ideas that they must dress a certain way in order to fit in. Their formation in this area was not imposed upon by the worldliness of the examples set before most young people today.
The behavior and speech were worked on little by little as they grew up. We had certain standards of course, but many times lessons were taught by incidents that occurred. Training of children is a slow process. Perseverance and consistency are the keys.
The Angelus: How would you define a successful mother?
Mother: A successful mother is someone who has a love for souls and is able to transmit that love of souls to her children... Someone who inspires in her children the giving of themselves and inspires a love of their Faith.
The Angelus: What are the consolations of being a mother?
Mother: A big consolation in being a mother is the love and appreciation that is given in return by the children as they grow. In a large family especially, one is never lonely. Even though our children live all over the world now, we are as close as ever in heart and soul. I also hear from them regularly and they come home to visit as often as they possibly can.
The Angelus: How did you foster vocations in the home?
Mother: A number of things come to mind as crucially important.
Firstly, live your Faith within the home. It impacts every aspect of one’s life, and the children must be impregnated with this idea.
Secondly, always support the religious and do not speak against them. It is so important to instill in one’s children an attachment to the Faith itself. The emphasis should not be on the instruments God uses, but on the beauty and joy of Catholicism and on how to fully live a Catholic life.
Thirdly, encourage sacrifice in your children, a giving of themselves...a love for souls.
Fourthly, speak of religious vocations to them, expose them to the beautiful lives of the saints. As they grow older, help them to understand that their first question for themselves is whether God is calling them to a religious vocation. Help your children to understand the purpose of courtship and discourage dating until your children are mature and ready for marriage!