Did You Know I Have Kids?

I’ve been stumbling on this blog over a habit I have of referring to “my kids.”  I’m sure that’s confusing to those of you who don’t know me.  “Wait, didn’t I see something about consecrated virginity?  But she has kids?  Hang on, now….”1  So rather than footnote it every time, I thought I’d write you a good long explanation.2

My newest godson, Hugo. He’s inspecting my crucifix. My work here is done.

I have hundreds of children.  A few godchildren, but mostly spiritual children, students I’ve taught and teens I’ve spoken with at retreats or camps or talks.  The relationship I have with these kids of mine is sometimes just a few hours long and sometimes lasts for years and changes us both.  I call them my kids because I am their mother–one of many mothers they have, God willing.  I call them my kids even when they’re 25, because when I say that I don’t mean that they’re children.  I mean that they’re mine.

When I was first discerning a vocation to consecrated life, I went to see my spiritual director.  I was feeling led to enter a convent that summer but my relationship with my students was holding me back.

“I just love these kids so much, Father.  Maybe that’s God’s way of telling me not to leave them.”

“Oh, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to stay.  That just means you already have a consecrated heart–you already love them with a mother’s love.”

I burst into tears at that: “You mean, I do get to be a mom?”

I had been wrestling with my vocation, certain that Christ was calling me to be his bride but still longing for marriage and motherhood.  I had offered my barrenness as a sacrifice to God but I remember sitting in a movie theater watching a movie featuring a pregnant woman.  I sobbed into my sweatshirt (have I mentioned that I’m super-emotional?) and prayed, “Lord, I will give that up.  But I will never stop wanting it.”

Like many women, I ached to be a mother.  I wanted so badly to give myself in love to people–and, to be honest, to be loved and needed in return.  I think it’s a universal longing–the desire to love and be loved–and for many women, this manifests itself as a maternal instinct, even for those who aren’t physical mothers.  I’d read about women feeling like mothers to their students or their friends and it just struck me as counterfeit–some sham replacement for real motherhood that was supplied us to keep us from being bitter when we were old maids (and yes, at 24 I did kind of consider myself an old maid.  Catholic college will sometimes do that to a person).

But then I began to experience this phenomenon of spiritual motherhood.  When I first started teaching, I loved my kids so fiercely that I honestly felt creepy.  I remember almost crying from pride while watching a pep rally, of all things, and thinking that there must be something wrong with me if I loved these random kids so much.  It wasn’t until I began to recognize my vocation that I realized that my love for these kids was maternal.

I loved them differently from the way their other teachers loved them because I was made for a more consuming spiritual motherhood than are most.  Because while all women are called to spiritual motherhood in a sense (with friends or siblings or children in the church nursery), consecrated women are particularly given over as mothers to all the Church’s children.

These three lived with me for three summers in a row. Diapers and nightmares and tantrums and all.

There is something very real about spiritual motherhood.  I have never borne physical children, so comparisons I make will have to be viewed in that light; I have, however, been a foster mother to young children, so I can relate to the all-consuming task (and love) that is physical motherhood, both biological and adoptive.

No, it’s not the same, but neither is the way you are a mother and the way my sister is a mother.  Because two types of motherhood are different doesn’t make one any less real.  They aren’t the same—and yet, somehow, they are.

As a teacher and minister and (God willing) a future bride of Christ, I love His children as my own.  Certainly, I don’t have the same motherly love for every one of the hundreds of children who have belonged to me—my heart couldn’t take it—but I offer myself completely to each one and some few dozen have become as dear to me as I can imagine any physical child of mine being.  I pray for them desperately, I ache with love for them, I miss them terribly when they go off to college.

There’s a reason people don’t have 20 kids at a time–it takes a lot out of you.

Just as a physical mother does, I suffer for my children.  No, I’m not theirs 24 hours a day, but I feel the weight of their souls as strongly as many physical mothers.  My knees are bruised for praying for them, my face lined with the joy of watching them repent and the agony of knowing I can’t make them saints.  Daily I pour myself out for them and daily they roll their eyes and ignore me, sometimes embracing sin just to spite me.  Yes, I am a mother—and a mother almost exclusively of teenagers, God help me.

My children are so often broken before they even get to me.  I love them with everything I have, but I am not the most important force in their lives.  I spend my life working damage control, trying to love their broken hearts back together, knowing that I will often fail.  I plant the seeds and I hope, but most of the fruit is borne years later, after they’ve moved away and fallen out of touch.  I watch my children leave the fold and I never know if they’ve come back.

Unlike physical mothers, I usually have these children for only a few years after high school before they move on and mostly forget me; unlike physical mothers, I often have absolutely no impact on them after they leave my care.  I can’t call them every Sunday if they don’t want to hear from me; I can’t always step back into their lives to invite them lovingly to conversion.  At a certain point, I have to let them go.

The love of a mother is the love of the Cross.  We pour out our lives for our children and they spit in our faces.  Some few stand by and love us in return.  The rest may, by God’s grace, be converted by the empty tomb, by the hole in His side, by the tongues of flame.  We love and we pray and we hope—and we leave them in God’s hands.  This is motherhood—spiritual and physical.

I feel for those of you without physical children who view spiritual motherhood as a consolation prize, a phrase coined to silence those women who suffer for not being physical mothers.  I felt this way for years before discerning my vocation, and perhaps I accept it more joyfully now because, in a sense, it’s something I’ve chosen.  But real holiness is rejoicing in the suffering we’ve chosen and in the suffering that’s been forced upon us.

I’m not exactly sure of my point in writing this post–maybe just to give you a glimpse into my heart?

Maybe encouragement for those who long to be mothers that you are mothers.  You are able to love the souls around you with a mother’s love and to transform them through that.  It’s not the same, but it’s not less, either.  Motherhood is a gift offered to all women–see 1 Tim 2:15; if it’s not open to everyone, those of us who can’t bear children are in serious trouble.

Maybe I just want to ask you all to take a moment to thank your spiritual mothers.  Godmothers, teachers, friends–there are women in your life who’ve held you before the throne of God or wrapped you in arms of love or taught you to be honorable and virtuous.  Many of them don’t get phone calls on Mother’s Day or presents at Christmas.  They love you because they choose to, not because you were handed to them.  Spiritual motherhood is often a thankless job; let’s change that today.

Then again, maybe I just want something to link to when I say something about “one of my kids.”

  1. I had a kid once, a secular atheist who had been in Catholic school for four years. One day I mentioned something about the Virgin Mary. “Mary wasn’t a virgin,” he laughed. When everyone looked confused, he continued, “Mary is Jesus’ mom, right? She can’t have been a virgin. That’s not how that works!” He wasn’t objecting to the theology–he’d honestly never noticed it before. Way to go, Catholic schools. []
  2. Many of these thoughts show up in a comment I posted a while back on Simcha Fisher’s post on spiritual motherhood. []

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About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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16 Responses to Did You Know I Have Kids?

  1. Melissa says:

    In the two years I taught school, there were several students who tugged at my heart. It felt as if they were mine in some ways. Sometimes I have dealings with people who need a mother and I feel as if I’m filling that role for them, at least for a bit. Yet I already have four children and two (going on four) grandchildren, so it isn’t as if I do this because my life is aching for my own offspring. I always thought I was more maternal than most modern American mothers, anyway, which isn’t a value statement; it just means that I slide into that role fairly easily with people who at least 21 years younger than I am.

    That doesn’t sound very organized, but maybe it makes sense to you, Meg.

  2. Amanda says:

    I love this and I love you. And I am certain you’ve done a fair bit of mothering for me over the years. Thank you, mother-friend. The (we) “kids” of the world are blessed to have you looking after them (us). xox

  3. Chaunie says:

    That was absolutely beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes, and I am so grateful for all the mothers out there! Prayers for all of us and good luck in your ministry–super mom, no doubt! :)

  4. LuAnne says:

    This was such a beautiful post! You paint a picture of love that I’d never before considered – thank you so much!

    ~Peace,
    LuAnne

  5. Lisa says:

    I’m a mom of three girls ages 12, 10 and 3. Luckily, I’m a stay-at-home mom so I get to give constant love and care to my 3 y.o. Everyday, though, I have to let my 12 and 10 y.o. go to school and let them be in the care of many different teachers. I pray for those teachers every day. I pray they will lead my kids in ways that God wants them to be led. I pray that they are leading lives pleasing to God and being a good example. If only I could hand them over to someone like you who could be a spiritual mother to them when I’m not there. What comfort that would give me! Thank you for blessing the world by letting God work through you by using the maternal gifts you were given!

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  7. Amy says:

    Thank you for this and for all your posts. You brought me to tears with this. I am 29 and have longed to be a mother since I learned the joy of working with children. I began babysitting at 15 and I was hooked. I worked in my church nursery, went to college intending to become a teacher and quickly found work in a church nursery near my university. Every fibre in me screams to be a mom. While I hold sacred the sacrament of marriage, I can’t imagine not being a mother. I don’t know that I would have your strength but you give me hope. You make me see that the love I have for the many children in my life makes a true difference in theirs. Thank you and please include me in your prayers.
    Amy recently posted…This Is MeMy Profile

    • Meg says:

      Oh, Amy, I know that struggle! You are most certainly in my prayers. God bless you and your mother’s heart and may the Lord bring your longing for children to fruition in his time and in his way.

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  9. Chris says:

    This post helped me understand how the Virgin Mary loves us as our spiritual mother. Thank you, Meg, for modeling Mary’s love.

  10. TK says:

    I’m read an article, which cited and article, which cited another one…which led me here. :0)

    I have nine bio children of my own, and two more in heaven. I know what it’s like to be a mother in every sense. That said, my own mother is mentally ill and my parents divorced when I was very young. My father retained custody of us and remarried when I was a young teen. The new “mother” is mentally ill too. (My dad really knows how to pick them!) Anyway, I never had a mother as a child in a very practical sense. My bio mother was always mentally and emotionally absent and my stepmother was abusive. I wholeheartedly believe that I am alive and okay today because of women like you who sensed my need and loved me with total detachment, for the sake of loving. Thank you. What you do is the salvation of many children, I’m sure of it.

  11. You’ve written an excellent article which attests to the theology of spiritual motherhood through lived experience. Have you read the Vatican’s publication on spiritual motherhood which contains very inspirational true stories? Here it is: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/vocations/parents/upload/spiritual-maternity-congregation-fo-clergy.pdf

    I have also written about it in the following online publication: http://passthrough.fw-notify.net/download/472472/http://www.vocationcentre.org.au/pdf/Consecrated_Chastity.pdf

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  13. Pingback: The Gift of Loneliness: by Meg Hunter-Kilmer | Faith in our Families

  14. Janis says:

    Meg,

    Your writing has had a profound impact on my heart. I read your most recent blog “The Gift of Loneliness” that a friend had posted on Facebook. I cried because I have felt this ache of loneliness for several years. Then I clicked on “my kids” which brought me here and I cried even more…especially when I read “That just means you already have a consecrated heart- you already love them with a mother’s love.”

    I just recently came back from a mission trip to Haiti and this love you described is how I felt about the prisoners we visited. I’ve known and felt this spiritual motherhood for some years now, but given my recent struggles with vocation, your blogs just really pricked my conscience in that gentle way that God likes to remind us, in that way that causes some discomfort because you know you should be following His prompts rather than wallowing in your own stubbornness and fear.

    I ask for your prayers and the courage to keep giving my “yes” to The Lord no matter the cost.

    -Janis

  15. Kaitlyn M. says:

    Ms HK (because no matter how old I get, calling you Meg seems wrong), I just happened to click on this link through your lonliness post. And it hit me hard. Like a 2 ton wrecking ball through my heart hard. And I just wanted to say thank you, thank you so much for this love that you have blessed my life with even when it seems that nothing else is going right. And I want you to know that I will always love you as my spiritual mother, no matter how many miles or years separate us. I just think that God wants you to know, that you are not a woman easily forgotten. I don’t even know if you can see this, but if you can, thank you with all my heart!

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