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Spirituality and Motherhood: The Benefits

August 25, 2008

I recently had a discussion with several friends about the spiritual pros and cons of motherhood (or parenthood really, although these were all women.) Specifically, we discussed how becoming a mother both boosts and challenges our religious faiths and spiritual practices. This was a pretty diverse group – three different Christian denominations, a Buddhist, an agnostic yoga-lover, and me, probably best described as ‘spiritual but unaffiliated’ (at least that’s how official surveys like the Pew Forum on Religion seem to put people with transreligious beliefs like myself.)

So I decided to post the pros and cons (or if you prefer, the ‘benefits’ and ‘challenges’) in two posts this week. Here, in my words, are the spiritual pros/benefits we came up with:

Facing Our Past: We often have to look backwards to move forwards, and becoming a parent frequently triggers a reconsideration of our own childhoods, and the resulting psychological patterns. We have to really consider how we were parented, what we want to repeat with our own kids and what we want to discard, what values were instilled in us, and what values we want to pass on.

Building Self-Awareness and Overcoming Ego: Our children try our patience, challenge our authority, and generally bring us to the brink of sanity sometimes. What better way to discover and overcome all our egoic triggers and patterns? Doing so is the true definition of humility – the building block of all spiritual faiths.

Showing Us the Moment: Children, especially young ones, live completely in the moment. They marvel at a new flower, the colors in the sunset, the feeling of the wind. They can cry one minute, and laugh the next. They naturally appreciate and wonder at the world, in a way we adults are often too busy or caught up in our own worries to do. Our children can show us how to appreciate our world as it is, and thus how to create the potential for deeper spiritual moments in our lives too.

Building Our Endurance: Let’s face it, parenthood is often exhausting, but there are no days off and no comp days. You may have the flu, have been up for two straight days already with your kids’ bout of the flu, and feel ready to collapse, but your kids (now recovered) still need help with their homework, packed lunchboxes, some kind of breakfast, and maybe a hug or two when they fall down. So, you soldier on. The needs of our children bring out a level of self-sacrifice and endurance that few other things can do. And as long as this doesn’t mutate into martyrdom, it sows the seeds for true selfless, spiritual service.

Developing Compassion: When our children are hurting, physically or emotionally, it is like a knife through our hearts. The most self-absorbed of adults can’t help but be transformed by their own desire to protect their children from harm. And that often opens the door for a more compassionate worldview, one in which we can recognize other’s suffering more fully, instead of turning a blind eye.

Renewing Our Inspiration: Watching a child develop often feels like witnessing a miracle, and can reignite our faith in a higher power. How exactly do they learn to walk? How do their little brains sort through the myriad of things we point out to them each day, and learn to distinguish red from yellow, an apple from an orange? Or for that matter, how is it they seem to arrive with so much individual personality? For many of us, biology and genetics just doesn’t seem to account for the totality of it, and as we watch the process of creation in action, we begin to wonder anew at the power behind it all.

Opening Our Hearts: Many people say that the love they have for their children is the most unconditional love they feel in their lives. In this sense, our love for our children can be a doorway into the universal love spoken of by the greatest mystics of every world religion. The trick is in allowing our love to open our hearts more, as opposed to closing them down out of a sense of vulnerability or protectiveness.

The sister post to this one is Spirituality and Motherhood: The Challenges.

Other posts related to motherhood on this blog:

Book Review: The Shack – The Spiritual Lessons of Parenthood

If You Think You’re Enlightened, Have Kids

Margery Kempe: Medieval Christian Mother and Mystic

Meditation For Busy Women, Part I- Shifting

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