It’s a Wonderful Life!

As a cold drizzle soaked the soccer fields, I huddled on the sidelines with another mom.  Her only child was in third grade, like my youngest, and she was sharing how she had recently re-enrolled in college to finish her degree.  After describing how great it was, she said sympathetically, "Well, once the kids are gone, you can get back to what you wanted to do, too." 

Ouch!  She didn't mean to be insensitive about my choice to focus my energies at home while raising the kids, but her words hurt.  She implied that raising kids wasn't a valuable use of my life, so the sooner it was over the better.  Her comment reminded me how undervalued mothering is in our society, even by, or maybe especially by, women themselves.

As an aid in correcting this sort of self-defeating point of view, I find the Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, to be a splendid analogy.  In this 1946 classic, we first meet George Bailey after a financial crisis has caused him to contemplate jumping off a bridge and ending it all.  Now, I must admit that motherhood has, on occasion, driven me to similarly extreme thoughts, but that is not the analogy I want to explore today.  No, I want to look at how George, like most modern women, grew up with big dreams.  George was aiming to get out of his small hometown and make a difference in the great beyond somewhere.  Unfortunately, events and people kept getting in George's way.  Events like his father's death and the stock market crash of 1929.  People like his brother who never returned to help George with the family business and the local millionaire, Mr. Potter, who served as George's nemesis.

 In response to these events and people, George sacrificed his big dreams little by little.  In the face of each new crisis, George put himself at the service of his community, rather than of himself.  In doing so, George acted as a type of Christ, and his community became a more loving place.  Unfortunately, George himself didn't believe in the importance of his little acts of love.  George believed his life had been a waste; so much so that when the accidental loss of $8,000 put his company and family in financial and legal trouble, George entertained suicide.  He believed that the life insurance money he could provide for his family by his death would be more valuable than his presence in their lives.  

There are many parallels between the plight of George Bailey and that of modern mothers, but let me highlight just one.  It was George's misguided perception about what was truly valuable, not his rightly guided actions, that limited his satisfaction with life.  So it is for many modern mothers.  George, like so many mothers, made the right, life-giving choices each time he chose to invest his talents at home in Bedford Falls instead of running off to do it somewhere more glamorous.  The problem was that George couldn't see it that way.  So, God sent a quirky guardian angel named Clarence to show George that his life was not a waste.  Clarence did this by showing George what a big difference all of his seemingly little, life-giving choices had made.  At the end of the movie George understands and begs of Clarence, "I want to live again!  I want to live again!"

This Christmas, let me be Clarence for you, for just a minute.  Thank you, mom, for all the time, talent, and treasure you are devoting to your family.  You are making a difference.  Our world is a better place because of your service to your family.  Thank you for all the little sacrifices and the big ones, too.

It's easy to think, like George Bailey did, that all the really fulfilling, important stuff happens outside our homes somewhere out there in the big career world.  It doesn't.  It's just easier to quantify out there.  Next time you feel like I felt at that drizzly soccer game, sidelined in the game of life because of the life-giving choices you've made, remember this:  You, just you, are more important in the life of your family than any material thing you could ever provide.  Believe it, act on it, and the world will be a better place because of you.

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  • Guest

    I feel sorry for that mother on the soccer field.  Before she knows it, her child will be grown, and she'll realize that she didn't appreciate this important part of her life.

  • Guest

    My favorite movie, watched it many times , but never thought about my own vocation like that. Thank you from a cold, drizzly  midweek, advent day.

  • Guest

    "It's a Wonderful Life" is my all-time favourite movie — my yearly reminder that my life makes a difference to those around me. It always makes me cry. You should have warned us moms that we might need a tissue by the time we get to the end of your article! Thank you and God bless you for your affirming words.

     

    My youngest is in kindergarten and knowing that I have been home with the kids for twenty-one years, the occasional neighbour will ask what I am going to do with "all my time" once he is in full day school next year. I just smile and reply that I still have lots to do. Service to my family doesn't end with kids going off to school :)

  • Guest

    JMJ

    Heidi, your words are truly edifying.  After recently giving birth to our 6th precious gift of life and being a homeschooling family to boot, I was in the pit of self-pity and wondering how overwhelming everything is.  I surrender my life to God and my family's, that He may continue to bless us.  Your affirming article uplifted my spirits and reassured me that I do have a place in this world and it's right where God wants me to be; with my husband and my beautiful children.  May you all have a blessed Advent season.

  • Guest

    I too love this movie but from a difference perspecitve.  My husband calls me George Bailey as I struggle with the fact that I work outside the home and can not be at home when our kids come home from school.  However, it is my job that has allowed my husband to go back to school (at 40 yrs of age) and gain a teaching certificate as well as allow the family to move into a better district for our 2 teenagers.  As I deepen my faith and try to find the path God has in store for me – I am brought back to the talents I use in the workplace and the people I touch there in addition to my family.  I respect all of you who choose to give up or delay the 'career' and I continualy struggle with the fact that I didn't.   At times I hate my career and like George, feel that I am missing something bigger else where.  God Bless.

  • Guest

    Vsierra, I know what you mean.  I don't yet have children (although I do have 3 babies in Heaven), but I struggle with the fact that I work outside the home.  We hope to adopt soon, and it's upsetting to me that I'll miss so much time with my child (although I am blessed that we won't have to use daycare;  my husband will cut back to part time so one of us will always be home). I think women are just geared toward home and family, and it's hard when we can't do that fulltime.  However, our jobs are a blessing.  As you said, they provide an opportunity for us to witness to others.  And when I think of the working conditions that some people have to endure, I realize how blessed I am to have a good job.  This was especially apparent when I miscarried my twins last summer;  everyone in the workplace was incredibly supportive.

  • Guest

    vsierra,

    I think that it may be of help to pray to St. Gianna, http://www.saintgianna.org/main.htm as she had to balance her vocation as a doctor as well as her vocation as wife and mother.

    I do believe that it is possible to truly have a call to  this perhaps difficult path of the 'working mom' and that what is important is to have a properly ordered life in submission to God. 

    If as your faith deepens and you attempt to follow God's will for you, you find yourself called to serve others through your job as well as your family, then this may well be the path that God wants for you.

     

    Direct  comments on the article. 

    As a homeschooling, stay at home mom with a fifth child on the way, it is amazing how many people can't quite get the fact that I AM doing 'what I want to do' even if not all days are easy!

      I have been blessed with the support and aid needed to be able to stay at home and teach my children (thanks be to St. Joseph's intercession when my husband lost his job as well as family aid) and I try to remember to be grateful for this.

     

  • Guest

     

     

    Thank you so much for your article, this was a very affirming message and I agree so much with your feelings of frustration when people assume that stay at home Moms are not already doing exactly what they want to do.


    "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." – Phillipians 4:13

     

     

    I found out what this passage meant to me in my first year of motherhood when I took my child to work with me part-time. And now, as a pregnant part-time graduate student chasing a delightful toddler around, I understand it on a new level. I imagine through out the course of my life as I experience more and more challenges, I will understand this passage much more deeply.

    As I mentioned, I worked part-time for a parish for the first year of my child's life and brought him to work with me, and then decided to stay at home with him for the year following (this past year). Since then, I have begun graduate coursework online and continue to stay home full-time with my child, and we have another baby on the way which we are of course delighted about! I have every intention of staying at home with my children, but I also plan to work one day when the time is right for my family, probably part-time again, because I feel I have gifts that can be shared to benefit my both family and the world beyond. I think women who have deeper desires to celebrate their many God-given gifts should not wrestle with guilt about "doing what they want to do," as the woman said in this article. There are so many family friendly careers with super flexible schedules out there that are so enriching for women, if they desire to work. I'm generally of the opinion that "when Mama's happy, everyone is happy!" (as long as it doesn't come at harmful price of the children and husband, of course).

    I compare my first year of motherhood when I was working in a parish vs. when I solely stayed home in my second year of motherhood, and I was joyfully fulfilled in different ways…the first year I found myself to be a more energetic, upbeat, refreshed and more stimulated mother and wife, and in the second year, I found myself with more enjoyable and contemplative lax time to bake cupcakes from scratch and leisurely fold laundry at night. In both years I was able to spend all day with my child at the park and drop anything I was doing if he had a fever. I just think the situation isn't black and white, and we should be supportive of all mothers, evangelizing in the quiet ways in which we devote ourselves to our families in whatever capacity possible. I benefited from the gift of a stay at home mother of four children who returned to part time work when we were in high school, and I seek to give fully of myself just as my Mother did. But if this precious child within me is a girl, I will encourage her to seek God's will for her life earnestly as I believe I have, but I would also hope that she will believe that she can do all things through Christ who strengthens her.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    There is not a one of us who has no ‘title’ in relationship between children and us – your children, mine, ours and everybody else’s – we’re linked – though I guess I am more ‘hooked’..

    One most-common title is ‘follower’, for as Christ sorta put it, ‘receive My Kingdom as a child or apply elsewhere’.

    Children – curiosity, wonder, musical voices, always, always a little magic – but, that INNOCENCE. A child simply smiling at me, and even more simply because of all the adults around I gave her my attention, is as an angel giving my guardian angel a hand. Okay, little boys, too – but it is more like they are giving Satan a really, REALLY hard time.

    I would have no idea how I could have a ‘wonderful life’ without children. Dump their parents off the bridge, sometimes, but the kids have me in their spell. I couldn’t live without Jesus’ mighty-mite apostles.

    Lord, bless our children that they help You help us Home.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    Dear mccormickjr, thank you for your blessing.  We could be twins as I approach my 38th week of pregnancy with our 6th child and am just barely able to continue homeschooling the middle three children. 

    I appreciate the diverse comments and want to assure readers that I wrote this article with the most sincere desire to simply encourage, not to challenge or to throw fuel on at-home vs. working vs. part-time vs. volunteer vs. all the other hats a woman is called to wear when she also becomes a mother.  Mothering is not a contest or a profession.  It is a calling.  God's richest blessing on you all.

     

    Heidi

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