|"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
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.
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?
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 www.familiausa.net.