I am an military brat, traveler, reader of Russian literature and non-fiction, and most importantly a mom of five young children. I believe mothers need to take our place as the builders of nations and stop apologizing away our significance. Thinking deeply about great ideas and current societal issues can help us develop the proper Philosophy of Motherhoood.
Allyson Flake Matsoso
The other day my 11 year old son walked in as I was watching the news. He is a smart kid and despite our best efforts to shield him from unnecessary anxiety – he knows of the protesting, rioting, racial tension, and political turmoil common in America. He asked a simple question as he saw the report of a riot, “Why are people burning things down?”.
My point in posting this video is not political. I attempt to keep the discourse on this site philosophical; I believe that is where political and societal answers are found. As parents we want to be able to answer our children’s questions intelligently. I am unable to explain the intentions of every maker-of-chaos in this world (that includes myself), but I found this video helpful in unpacking some of the philosophies undergirding modern perceptions and movements.
“Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” C.S. Lewis
In the epic novel Anna Karenina, we are told the story of a woman in a very unhappy family. Tolstoy explains, “Happy families are all alike. Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As his novel shows, there are limitless ways to produce misery – and misery is an never-ending pit. The Karenina family was torn apart by selfishness, naïveté, and betrayal – but the causes of human suffering are numberless. Dr. Jordan Peterson has said, “No matter how bad things get, they can always get worse.” However, all diverse forms of destruction tend to derive from one foundational vice – pride.
“The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began…For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Conversely, the path to familial happiness is always pretty much the same, and the destination is peace. Getting there requires humility and self-sacrifice. In many ways it is more difficult to build a happy family, we all tilt toward pride and self-centeredness – but efforts in the short-term reaps eternal benefits.
When we get married and begin our life together, our initial perspective is crucial. Are we in this for ourselves? I am embarrassed to admit watching the show “The Bachelor” a few times. It is actually a fascinating study in human nature. I have noticed that when the women are asked what they want in a spouse the responses are usually quite self-centered. “I want someone that will adore me and give me freedom” “I deserve someone that accepts me as I am.” While these are understandable desires, the best perspective to take, if we want to create a lasting and happy home, is one of self-sacrifice. “I want to give my love to someone.” It may difficult to make such statements before we find the right person – but once we do, our attention needs to move from ourselves to the one we love.
To achieve a happy home we must let go of our natural proclivities and vices. I remember as newlyweds, my husband and I were advised to always speak respectfully to each other. I wanted a good relationship so I determined to do just that. My husband had no problem, I was not prepared for how difficult it would be for me. I am one of seven siblings. Sarcasm and debate are our primary methods of communication. It was very difficult for me in those early days of marriage to bite my tongue and speak respectfully. I had to hold back the perfect snarky statement or let go of a witty comeback- I felt fake and mourned the loss of my old style. However, as time passed, I noticed that I felt safe with my husband in a way I hadn’t in the environment of one-upmanship I had with my siblings. I no longer felt a burden to compete, but instead felt love and companionship. Now when I descend into my old sarcastic or argumentative self, I feel chaos and angst replacing peace.
Creating a happy family requires much more sacrifice in the beginning (or during course correction), but the farther we travel the road of sacrifice – the more straight and simple our course becomes. We see the reason for our efforts and we become practiced in prioritizing others. I got used to speaking differently with my husband and now it is mostly habit. As we let our “deadwood” burn off and put the family first, we get to experience the joy found in a loving home. As Tolstoy points out, a happy family can seem quite ordinary – no chaos or contention – nothing worthy of an epic novel. However, when we find that peace and joy, we know the sacrifice was worth it.
“For strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Matthew 7:14
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”
How much brighter today will be if rather than thinking of our lack we think of our abundance. How much more peaceful our relationships when we are grateful for the joy they bring, rather than their imperfections. It is not naivety or weak submission to take some time off from “striving for more”. There is always time for discontentment, but we rarely make space for fulfillment. Ingratitude numbs our senses – it prohibits us from seeing or hearing anything but the negative.
My family recently moved into an older home. While we remodel the downstairs, my husband and I and our five small children are all sleeping in two rooms upstairs – five beds on the floor, one bathroom, and a sink and microwave for a kitchen. Despite my attempts to make this into a fun adventure, a few days ago the stress of our remodel and the discomfort of a hot day in Texas, caught up with me. As I laid in my bed that evening and allowed my jaw to unclench, I looked back on the day. I saw that I had been completely blind to any goodness. I couldn’t see my beautiful children playing so well together, only the mess they made. I didn’t hear the birds chirping in our trees, only the annoying hum of our fans in our AC-less house. I didn’t remember the blessing of finding the home I had prayed for, with land for our children to play. I only saw patches of dead grass and weed overgrowth.
Unfortunately, we are hard-wired to notice the negative. We must use our free-will and seek the positive. It is all around us. Blessings are found even in the darkest day.
“Hear this, you foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.”
I was certainly a fool that day. I was blind to an entire day of happiness. I lost it and traded it for misery. For stressed-out mothers, it is easy to do. Often our families lose that day along with us. We must close our eyes of ingratitude and open our eyes of thankfulness. The more we open grateful eyes, the easier life becomes and the more joy we find in living.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
“The perfect woman, you see is a working-woman; not an idler; not a fine lady; but one who uses her hands and her head and her heart for the good of others.”
I adore this painting. It tells the story of our female ancestors. This poor and slight woman is tough. She guards her children cautiously. She works hard all day with them near her side. This is the kind of woman that has held the world together for all of human history. Our female progenitors were anything but weak. They should be honored for their strength, not pitied or seen as a lesser version of our modern “empowered woman”. Millions of women, like the one depicted in this painting, toiled, and loved, and toiled more – so we, their children, can live and flourish. We owe it to them to continue the tradition of hard-working mothers.
There are moments as a mother that I feel depleted; unable to garner the energy to comfort another crying child or plan another meal. I try and “cowboy up” and push through, but often this physical and emotional weakness stems from a spiritual deficiency. When we feel drained, what we often lack is beauty. What is beauty? There have been many books written on the subject, but simply put – beauty speaks to and enlivens our soul.
“Beauty matters. It is not just a subjective thing but a universal need of human beings. If we ignore this need we find ourselves in a spiritual desert.”
To truly invigorate my soul I must stop and partake in the beauty which surrounds me. This may be as simple as appreciating how adorable my toddler is, or really tasting that piece of watermelon. The wonderful thing about appreciating beauty, especially for an overworked mother, is that it usually requires stillness rather than activity.
“Certainly work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.”
We must make time to seek out and appreciate that which makes life worth living- real and living things. Beautiful things. We can reconnect with the soul of life and forget for a brief moment the ugly things which consume us. As we listen to inspiring music, gaze at a sunset, appreciate artwork- we are able to disconnect from the stress and worry of a materialistic and competitive world and feel alive.
“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
Prayer has always been a weakness of mine. I find myself often falling into “vain repetitions” and hesitancy. Even my son noticed they need work. A few months ago after our nightly family prayer he said, “Mom, how many times are you gonna pray that we can sell our house? You said it twice in one prayer!” Recently I have come to a greater understanding of the place and power of prayer. Prayer is not a means to ask favors of God – but a method of bringing our mind in line with Truth. One aspect of prayer I find particularly crucial for mothers, living in a world of distraction, is its ability to help us notice.
When we examine our lives honestly, we see periods of progress and periods of regression. Sometimes I work out everyday and other times I have ice cream everyday. Sometimes I am patient with my children and other times I should probably lock myself in a closet. The reasons for such fluctuations are varied and complex but the path of progress always begins with one thing – noticing. When life is hectic and my mind is full of the weeds of worry or busyness, I fail to notice. My sight is blocked by the overgrowth – I can’t see my descent into bad habits or intemperance. I don’t see the child struggling to adjust to school, I don’t see my waning affection toward my husband. This path of oblivion has a sharp decline. Inevitably I will be knocked out of my stupor- perhaps I will trip on a huge boulder and smash my face – (ten pounds gained, a deteriorating relationship with a child). I will then be forced to wake up to my descent. Then I will notice. Then I will stop and look upwards towards the point of decline.
This is the power of prayer – it can prevent disaster. It can help us see ourselves clearly (who lies to God?). As we see the will of God and the path of progress, we can keep the weeds clear. It is better to notice often than wait and plead for a miracle as we hang off the cliff.
As a believer, I know that as I pray, God will guide my thoughts to the things of most importance. I know that God can comfort me and use me. But even a non-believer can see that daily self-awareness can save them from a precipitous fall. When our children see us praying, see us aware of our weakness and their needs – they will see a mother that notices.
Quotes on Prayer
“And why should the good of anyone depend on the prayer of another? I can only answer with the return question, ‘Why should my love be powerless to help another?”
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
“I don’t ask God for favors or for wishes. But, I do think that if you sit on the edge of your bed, and things aren’t going very well for you, and you ask what foolish thing you’re doing to make it worse, that you’ll get an answer right now. And it won’t be the one you want, but it might be the one that of you listen to could set things straight.”
“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
“Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education.”
“Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”
“We must lay before Him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”
The God to whom we pray is nearer to us than the very prayer itself ere it leaves the heart; hence His answers may well come to us through the channel of our own thoughts. But the world too being itself one of His thoughts, He may also well make the least likely of His creatures an angel of His own will to us.”
We must never downgrade our role as a mother or our capacity as a woman to produce change in the world. The more pride we take in our mission, the more we reject the absurd notion that motherhood stifles our progress- the more we can let go of the judgement of the world and start shifting the culture. We must stop caring what other women or Instagram followers think of us, we must stop worrying how “impressive” we may come off to the world. The only opinions that matter come from those whose love is constant and unconditional – our family and our God.
You, the average mom, can do more to build a better future than any CEO, any politician, any Hollywood star – you hold the key to the soul of the world – children. Your love, work, and intentional parenting are raising the future.
“For the one principle of Hell is “I am my own. I am my own king and my own subject.” – George MacDonald
“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“The best way to keep a prisoner from escaping is to make sure he never knows he’s in prison.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” C.S. Lewis
“All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” — C.S. Lewis (The Great Divorce)
“At the end of things, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven.” And the lost will say, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.” — C.S. Lewis
We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“Hell is a state of mind – ye never said a truer word. And every state of mind, left to itself, every shutting up of the creature within the dungeon of its own mind – is, in the end, Hell. But Heaven is not a state of mind. Heaven is reality itself. All that is fully real is Heavenly. For all that can be shaken will be shaken and only the unshakeable remains.” C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
“Our life always expresses the result of our dominant thoughts.”
We must be careful with our thoughts – they determine our vision; the lens through which we view the world and the course and happiness of our lives.
Our thoughts direct our decisions, and our reactions to the actions of others. If we engage our ability, born of free will, to shift our thinking, to turn from a degrading thought to an uplifting one – we can, thought by thought, build a life of joy.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Aristotle said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” To gain the wisdom necessary for a happy life, we must witness the nature of our internal world and how our thoughts are revealing themselves in our life.
Over the years, I have been plagued with discontented thoughts. “When we move, then things will be better” “If only I could travel more” “My laundry room is just too small!” These ideas have been extremely unhelpful in my life. When they linger, they keep me from appreciating the bountiful blessings that surround me. When I take the time to notice these discontented ideas taking space in my mind, I try and stop and shift to gratitude. Two thoughts cannot occupy the same mind at the same time. Through prayer or pondering we can shift our focus.
If we find ourselves disproportionately angry or hurt by something, we should examine what thoughts have been ignited: “She thinks she is better than me” “He never cared about me” “I am not enough”. If we can examine the thoughts, as disinterestedly as possible, we can search for clues to the source of such thinking. We can determine if these thoughts are helpful or harmful.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Examining our thoughts takes introspection and often a struggle against our own nature. If we have a more negative disposition, the quest will be arduous. It is painful to admit to the destructive nature of many of our thoughts. We may uncover envy, bitterness, and cynicism driving many of our ruminations. But the first step is to notice – to be a witness to our own thinking – and be honest enough to admit to the harm our thoughts may be doing. The next time we see a tired, old, negative-thought pop up, we can let it pass away – seeing it for the devil it is.
If we want our life and relationships to improve, reigning in negative thoughts is crucial. Abraham Lincoln, a man with a life full of suffering and tribulation said – “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” We must make up our minds. When we do, we will transform our thoughts – and our lives can begin to express the happy desires of our thoughts.
As someone thinks within himself, so is he. Proverbs 23:7