WORKING mothers – despite the
term being a reality for many families, pockets of the Church still gnash their
teeth at the thought of a mum earning a living to support the family.
Some say it’s a sin (it isn’t) or that it makes no sense having a dual-income family (they obviously haven’t had to pay a mortgage in 2020).
I’ve been a working mother
for six months now, juggling the demands of writing for a busy archdiocesan
newspaper and caring for a mischievous toddler.
My husband and I are both conscious of the rising costs of living, and feel it necessary for both of us to take equal responsibility caring for our family, which is supported in Paragraph 2228 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
While my days are structured
so I can be free to care for my daughter outside of work hours, it’s tricky to
be so black-and-white.
Husband works and, for some
tradwives, “pays” for the wife to stay home – all while documenting her
“choice” on social media.
The life of one saint, whose reliquary I touched last month while on a reporting assignment, sits in stark contrast to this modern movement, and she lived in what could be considered a more traditional era – the 19th century.
St Zelie Martin’s life is spilled out in a book, A Call to Deeper Love, containing 216 unabridged and honest letters penned by the French saint, and 16 by her husband St Louis Martin.
St Zélie’s letters are a 19th century version of a blogging mum, except she didn’t reject work – she embraced it and was the breadwinner of the family.
Yes, the mother of St Therese of Lisieux, the greatest saint in modern times, was a working mother of nine children, four of whom died young.
On the feast of the
Immaculate Conception in 1851, before she was married, St Zélie heard a voice
telling her to learn the art of Alençon lace.
It was considered the finest needle lace-making technique in Europe, originating in Alençon, where St Zélie would eventually meet her husband, St Louis.
St Zélie became one of
Alençon’s finest and most famous manufacturers, helping to recover its
popularity through the Industrial Revolution.
Her business was so successful that her husband, St Louis, sold his watchmaking business and left his career endeavours behind to enter into a partnership with his wife, working the books and marketing for her company.
St Zélie not only embroidered
the lace herself, but as business boomed, she employed other women, nine on
record, and taught each enough to support her business.
The lace was sought after, both
locally and internationally, demanding long hours in her workshop with her
husband, while at times young children danced – and probably tripped – around
St Zélie admits in her letters that the work was burdensome and exhausting, but she saw it as part of her vocation, not something to give up because of children, but to keep for the sake of her children.
In many ways her letters reveal that she sometimes loathed her laborious work; for example, one penned on November 7, 1865: “When I have too many orders, I’m a slave to the worst kind of slavery”.
What’s revealed in the letters of St Zélie is the desire for the couple to work together to provide for their family, not leaving it to one half or the pair.
The decision paid off for them in the heartbreaking moment St Zelie died of breast cancer, aged 45, when St Therese was only four years old.
The money St Zelie’s business made, plus bonuses from purchases in shares, was enough to cover the living expenses for her surviving family, and to allow her husband to retire early.
As I touched St Zélie’s reliquary, knowing full well she would have approved of me going about my job as a journalist that afternoon, I felt at peace knowing that my way of mothering looked something like hers.
It’s a message that is needed
now more than ever, as families struggle to make ends meet with a growing
national debt hanging over our heads.
We need mothers like St Zélie, who don’t live for fads and social movements, but who just do what is necessary to provide the best lives, both physically and spiritually, for our families.
And if that means the call to work, accepting it as God’s good will.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
The Catholic Leader acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the First Peoples of this country and especially acknowledge the traditional owners on whose lands we live and work throughout the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.