The Meaning of Motherhood

This is the second in a series of articles on the dignity and vocation of women, published in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem. Read Part I here, Part III here, Part IV here, and Part V here.

Today, I lost it. I totally and completely lost it. I was trying to clean our house to get ready for my husband’s birthday, and, well, let’s just say that I was a little behind. What can I say? Morning sickness with a toddler is no joke, and it seems to have me at its mercy. Today, I decided enough was enough, and the house needed to be cleaned. If not for my son, then for the sake of my nausea, that is certainly worse for the grossness that surrounds me. I tried picking up toys, vacuuming, doing laundry – truly, a valiant effort was made, but every time I made a little headway, I would turn around and my 21-month-old had made a significantly larger impact in the opposite direction. I finally lost it when the precious little light of my life dumped the entire plate of birthday cupcakes on the floor. I picked him up, put him in his room, and closed the door – just for a minute – not as punishment but for his own protection. I just needed a minute to regroup. I slid my back down the wall until my knees hit the floor and cried. I wasn’t even completely sure why I was crying – most likely a deadly combination of frustration and pregnancy hormones – but I muttered something along the lines of “I can’t even get the house clean!”

It was then that it hit me – what a gift this truly horrible day was. Apparently, that’s how God gets through to me: with little “gifts” that seem more like curses, but He knows what He’s doing, and it does get my attention. I opened the door and picked up my very unhappy little boy, cuddled him tightly in my arms, and told him how much I loved him. Then, I sat and reflected for quite some time, as the boy went immediately back to his path of destruction, on the importance of the lesson I was being taught against my will. Motherhood teaches me this lesson almost daily: we are made for love, not utility.

This, I believe, is at the heart of the feminine genius that Pope John Paul II speaks about in his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem. Women are a sign to the world and a sign to themselves that we are made for love.  According to the late pontiff, “the dignity of woman witnesses to the love which she receives in order to love in return” (no. 30). We are created with a unique dignity, a unique ability to welcome new life and to foster the gifts of others. This dignity is revealed most profoundly in the experience of motherhood, which is why all women are called to be mothers – some biological, some spiritual. According to Pope John Paul II, “… in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman ‘discovers herself through a sincere gift of self (no. 18).’” This gift of motherhood is where the heart of the woman is born. We as mothers are reminded constantly that we are not valuable because we are productive, but that we are valuable because we are loved.

It is, therefore, worrisome to me that as our society distorts the notion of motherhood, so too does it blur the concept of femininity and the very purpose of our lives. The world’s perspective on these ideas is a far cry from, if not directly opposed to, the view that Blessed John Paul II had in mind as he described the beauty and wonder that is womanhood. A woman’s life is changed forever when she becomes a mother – her life is, for all intents and purposes, turned upside down. Her priorities change, her schedule changes, her body changes, all for the sake of loving and raising her children. Society seems to view things a bit differently. A woman today goes to great lengths to prove to her employer that she has not changed and that work is still her priority. She works very hard to rearrange the baby’s life (either the schedule the baby follows, or the schedule she follows when deciding when to have a baby) around her work. Even if she stays home, there is a temptation to give her attention to other things, more useful things, than playing with her baby. Pope Francis encouraged families recently to “waste time playing with their children” because he, like his predecessor, recognizes the unique challenge of families today to put aside their ingrained desire to be efficient, productive, or useful in the hopes of choosing to love.

Morning sickness does not make me more useful – quite the opposite, in fact – but it offers me a unique opportunity to selflessly love this tiny new person. Folding laundry that is only too quickly unfolded and strewn about the living room the moment my back is turned is immensely frustrating and would render me quite a failure if my ultimate goal was only to have clean clothes. Thankfully, our purpose is far greater than that. The labor of love that is raising a child is not quantifiably productive. At the end of the day, a mother has very little to show for her time, but at the end of her life, she can rejoice in the unique immortal souls she helped to form. We need a renewed sense of the meaning of motherhood to remind us of our meaning as human beings. We are for love, we are for sacrifice, we are for selflessness. If the laundry doesn’t get washed today, there is no national emergency, but if we forget to take the time to delight in our children, there will be an incredible impact on our own, as well as our children’s, sense of self and understanding of the true meaning of life.


Katie Dardis Singleton is a speaker and writer on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, Bioethics, and human dignity. She graduated from the Catholic University of America, then earned a Licentiate in Bioethics from the Pontifical Athenaeum of the Regina Apostolorum in Rome. Originally from New Orleans, she now lives in Baltimore with her husband, who is a resident in internal medicine, and their two-year-old son; she is expecting another baby in May. Her website can be found at
Articles by Kathleen Dardis Singleton:

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  • KarenJo12

    I really hate articles like this. Why should you have to live in squalor and disorder? I assume your husband has a pair of hands? I understand it was his birthday, and it’s no fun cleaning up for your birthday or living in a mess for a special event, but wasn’t there someone else who could either watch your son or help clean? Finally, I resent the idea that I should be happy when someone ruins something I’ve been working on – that would be the cupcakes – even though the destruction wasn’t intentional. It was not unreasonable of you to put your son in his room until you get the mess cleaned up.

    The worst thing in the whole piece isn’t yours, it’s the Mulieris Dignitatem quote that women’s function is to “bring forth the gifts of others,” presumably male others. Why not use our own gifts? Why develop and improve ourselves instead of being conduits for men? Are women so stupid and weak we don’t have anything of ourselves to contribute?

    • GUEST

      THANK YOU for the above comments! This is the SAME institution that discriminates against, if not openly PERSECUTES smart, intelligent females who OPENLY REFUSE to allow misogynist bigots to dictate what can/can’t be done with one’s body, intelligence, legal/constitutional/civil rights. WHY ISN’T THIS AUTHOR PROTESTING THE SEXIST MISOGYNY OF THE CHURCH AGAINST FEMALES!

  • Ayo Ayeni

    Calm down Karen, I think what Katie is trying to say is that it can be quite overwhelming being a mother whether or not you have help and it can be so easy to get frustrated and even take it out on the most vulnerable people around you….your kids and don’t even get me started on going to work, doing school runs, starting your own biz…etc There is so much we want to do and even though I totally agree with you on our husbands’ need to be more supportive, some of us aint so lucky or some of our husbands genuinely try but its just not enough cos they have time constraints too.

    I really identify with you Katie,with pressures of balancing productivity and efficiency at work, at home and being a great mom one can just want to break down and cry sometimes but it helps to know I’m not the only one wondering what I do with my time and why I never seem to get a lot done. The Lord is our strength. Thank You

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  • Oldmamabear7

    KarenJo12, you sound insecure, prissy, and prideful. If you’re happiness depends on who cleans up the cupcakes, you’re destined for a lifetime of misery. And you completely missed the point of the article. As a mother now 60 years old, I too, more than once, sat behind the door in tears to protect my toddlers from my rage. How could such darlings for whom I would die elicit such anger from me? But slowly, and with God’s grace working through my relationship with my children I learned what God’s love meant. I matured and gained wisdom. I learned patience. I learned to roll with the punches and cope with the unexpected. I worked to remain unflappable in the face of crisis both large and small. Always with God at my side. I don’t remember now what caused my angry tears, but I do remember learning to choose to “waste time playing with my children” and they are two of the most wonderful accomplished loving women you’ll find today. God’s ways are not the world’s ways. We women have such a gift as mothers, and have incredible power to shape the world in a Godly direction by our words and actions. The secular world wants women to believe we are powerless unless we behave as men, striving for money and worldly praise. But in truth we are the queens of our castles, the rulers of our homes if we only strive to assert those roles. Btw, I am a lawyer licensed in two states and so I have been fully immersed in the world of motherhood and home, as well as the world of work and public accomplishment. It is only by my staying at home with my young children that my eyes, and heart, were opened to the meaning of true womanhood.
    You are doing the Lord’s work, Katie Dardis Singleton keep it up. There are many young mothers right now sitting behind the door, crying with a sense of overwhelm, who, when they read your article, will know they are not alone, and that they share the sisterhood of motherhood. And through the challenges of motherhood will grow in wisdom and love of the Lord.

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