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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Transformed through Motherhood
An interview with Jean Stolpestad, communications director for the Familia program.

mother and baby hands
"When you hold a newborn infant in your hands you realize the magnitude of the gift."

January 10, 2011. What is it about motherhood that changes a woman’s soul?  What about the challenging grace of having a special needs child? And what particular gift do grandmothers bring to their children and grandchildren?

Jean Stolpestad is a communications director for the Familia (Family Life in American) program, which strengthens families by introducing couples to the Church’s teachings on marriage and parenting. In the interview below, Stolpestad shares her thoughts on how the vocation of motherhood changes a woman, making her life a lasting gift.

In one of her essays on woman, Edith Stein comments that the experience of motherhood is capable of transforming a “frivolous girl” into a mature, dedicated woman. In your experience, how does this happen?

The word that I am drawn to in your question is “mature”: to become more fully that which we are created to be.

A few weeks ago I was at a large international airport. Sitting on top of a suitcase near the sink in the restroom was a small girl about three years old She was sobbing almost hysterically. The water was too hot, the washroom too crowded, her coat too bunchy. Her beautiful mother was trying to console her, using all her skill and all the grace God gave her to be the rock the child needed in the unfamiliar surroundings. It was obvious the mom was trying to get the child to her gate but was finding it difficult with all of the paraphernalia she was carrying. So I asked if I could carry her bags and she could carry the little girl. As we walked the mom told me that they were just coming from her father’s funeral. It had been a long and painful day. She felt like crying herself, and in fact did. But for the sake of her child, she was able to be the adult and provide the emotional support her little girl needed. Because she had to, she received a grace from God to do so. And because she cooperated with this grace, she grew as a person in the image of God.

I believe this part of the point of parenting. Children sanctify us, uniting us to our spouse and to God. We cannot do it on our own. When you hold a newborn infant in your hands you realize the magnitude of the gift.

Some women today are afraid of having a baby with birth defects, and unfortunately some forms of prenatal screening amount to a death sentence for “imperfect” babies. What has been your experience with women who have raised special needs children? 

God is always with us, and his presence is never more apparent then when we are faced with situations that we are unable to deal with on our own.  I can tell you right off the bat that these women are challenged. Being a parent has its own intimidating and fearful moments. But knowing that your child is going to be a special needs baby exponentially multiplies these. It is a natural fear for the child, for what they will have to endure in their life. It is a fear for ourselves too: the sorrow of our heart, the demands on our physical and emotional endurance, the strain of our economic situation… Perhaps these parents have to lay aside their personal dreams. 

It is not an easy life. But these mothers also know the most exquisite joy. There is something about mothers of special needs children that marks them with the greatest of beauty. They are open to others, they take nothing for granted, noticing the smallest of miracles and celebrating it with true happiness.

I have a wonderful friend who has a DOWN’s syndrome daughter.  Even though much is asked of her, this mom has a largeness of heart that always sees the best in people. When her little one dances because it is sunny or sings out loud because she is happy, it makes all those around her happy. The souls of these children are like an open portal to heaven. The gifts they bring to society are priceless, starting with the unity and joy they bring to their families.

What is the specific mission and gift of a grandmother in today’s family? 

Grandmothers can awaken a profound trust within the hearts of their grandchildren and offer them a counsel of disinterested love as the children grow and journey along uncertain paths of life. The whole of a grandmother’s life is a gift to her grandchildren. In our world today we need the living witness of grandparents to testify that God is with us, fills us, calls us and loves us. In word, deed and lived reality a grandparent penetrates the heart of today and opens up for youth the way and voice of God.

Grandmothers are an anchor in seas of uncertainty. As children grow and start out to grow into their independence, they may struggle against the ways of their parents and can misinterpret  events, words, and situations. But grandparents have a distinctive position which can help the family sort through difficulties: they can become a haven of peace.

They also bring the gifts of wisdom and the example of fidelity.  I recall when my father died. My sisters and nieces marveled at how God was working in our lives in this moment as the family began a new chapter, and the strength and quiet beauty of our mother, our girls’ grandmother. We talked about how she had taught us to be ladies, the respect and honor she received from the community, and how she has always shown us the way. When we were young, she taught us kindness and fairness, then as young mothers she taught us to be the women our families needed, and now in this moment she was showing us how to live a life of love in sorrow, a life of hope. 

How is it that women have this innate strength that can allows them to stand firmly at the foot of the cross, knowing their littleness? It comes from confidence in the unseen God who invites a woman to collaborate with him in creation.  There is no feminine genius without confidence in God.

For more information about Familia programs, visit the web site at



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