Mothering Lessons from St. Monica
Usually when I need spiritual assistance and faithful guidance in the realm of parenting, I turn to Mother Mary (because, you know, she was deemed fit to be *the Mother of God* after all; her way of being is an infinite fount of wisdom for me).
But in addition to Mary, there are many other mothers from our faith tradition who can be a source of encouragement and inspiration to us in our journey as parents. Today is the memorial of one of them: St. Monica.
In the words of Franciscan Media, “The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law, and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of these temptations.”
In an arranged marriage, St. Monica wed a pagan with a violent temper and cantankerous mother, but St. Monica remained charitable to her husband and mother-in-law, and steadfast in her faith as she lived with both of them. So, too, she remained faithful and dedicated as she watched the oldest of her children — and the most famous! — St. Augustine live an immoral and heretical life throughout his teens and young adulthood.
Anyone who knows the story of St. Augustine of Hippo (to summarize: after a spiritually and behaviorally tumultuous first several decades of his life, he converted to Christianity under the mentorship of St. Ambrose, and went on to become one of the most theologically influential writers and thinkers in our church’s history) knows that being his mother could not have been easy. Not only did St. Augustine live in debauchery, but he expressed contempt and frustration at his mother for her presence and prayers as she remained close to his side throughout his years of turmoil.
But remain close she did, and when I consider the kind of mother St. Monica was to St. Augustine (long before he became even somewhat saint-like in lifestyle), I am inspired by her way of being as a parent. Here are three things St. Monica did, and that I’m praying for assistance in developing, as I strive to be a faithful and spirit-filled mother like her.
Honor relationshipsNot too much is actually known about St. Monica, but the majority of what we do know about her is from the writings of St. Augustine, especially his Confessions, and a lot of it has to do with the relationships in St. Monica’s life. For instance, we know that St. Monica was given away by her parents to marriage with a pagan who had some pretty significant character flaws. We also know that St. Monica’s mother-in-law lived the newlywed couple and that she could be a bit, well, difficult. If I were St. Monica, I would be resentful of my parents for arranging such a marriage, and I’d also be salty with my mother-in-law for making my life harder than it had to be. But it seems that St. Monica was neither of those things. She patiently bore the challenges put before her. I’m sure she had many reasons for doing this, but one certain benefit was for her children. Being a good parent isn’t just about being apt and available ourselves as mothers; it’s also about creating space for other important relationships in our children’s lives, including — when at all possible — their relationships with their grandparents and other relatives. Sometimes I am tempted to allow my at-times-challenging relationships with family members or in-laws get in the way of allowing their relationships with my children to flourish, and St. Monica is a reminder to rise above this temptation as much as possible and to be good to the grandparents of my children.
PraySt. Augustine gave his mother a run for her mother throughout his late teens and beyond as he lived a hedonistic lifestyle, had a child out of wedlock, and spent ten years following a heretical religion. Throughout this whole time, St. Monica is noted to have prayed and fasted for St. Augustine, and to have trusted in a vision that she had that St. Augustine would eventually return to the faith. Amidst the sippy-cup-filling, boo-boo-bandaging, tear-wiping, sibling-spat-refereeing, behavior-guiding chaos that is my life as a mother of two toddlers, I often forget that one of my primary roles as a parent is to pray for my children. St. Monica provides a clear example of the importance of this duty.
Stay CloseAlong with praying and fasting for her son, St. Monica was relentless in her commitment to staying close to him. Indeed, some might even say she crossed boundaries in her failure to give him space, as she insisted on following him from Carthage to Rome to Milan even as he tried to steer her off course. I’m not suggesting that the key to good mothering is following our children around despite their wishes (particularly as they become adults). However, I do think St. Monica’s example illustrates in a moving way her persistent care and refusal to give up on him, despite his wayward youth and young adulthood. She made clear through her presence that her mercy and love knew no bounds and that she was ready to welcome him with open arms the moment he was ready to fall into them.
And with that, Happy Memorial of St. Monica, friends! They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I think it takes a village to raise a parent, and I’m grateful for the many sources of guidance and wisdom that I have in the communion of saints.
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