Raising Family in the Image of the Theotokos

Almost 35 years ago, I chose to leave the Canadian military and get married. My mother was not impressed. She had spent her entire adult life trying to be someone other than a wife and mother and was hoping her daughters would continue the battle. She felt I was giving up a successful future to bury myself in a small town and that I would never reach my potential. Two years later, I made a conscious decision to be a stay-at-home mom. By that point, my mother has resigned herself to my decision. Then five years after that, my husband and I decided to homeschool our children. My mother just threw up her hands and rolled her eyes.

On this the anniversary of my eldest daughter’s birth, I look back upon these choices with deep reflection and soul searching, I can say without a doubt, that I have no regrets. Even my mother has grudgingly admitted that I chose wisely.

Now having no regrets doesn’t mean there weren’t times times when I would melt into a puddle of tears upon the carpet of legos, times when I pulled out my hair in frustration (or with the vacuum cleaner, but that’s another story).

There were times when I wondered what my life would have been like without children. I spent times stuck inside with five small children in the middle of a northern Ontario winter, days when the only other adult I saw was my husband as he stumbled in from a long day on the road and fell into bed so he could get to work early the next day.

Those were the days when a childless grocery shopping trip became an occasion for celebration. As the children grew, I was constantly amazed at the things they learned and how their minds developed and their eyes lit up as they successfully grasped some concept. That was one reason why we decided to homeschool. Why should some stranger experience those moments and not me, who was emotionally invested in these small people?

Embracing a Tradition of Nurturing

I believe that raising my children has given me a glimpse of what Mary felt as she gazed at her son. Orthodox teachings tell us that the birth of the Lord was so easy that the midwives only arrived in time to wash the newborn. The only thing we know of Jesus’ childhood is that Jesus apparently chose to stay in Jerusalem without telling his parents.

After much anxiety and searching they found him in the temple debating with the elders. His response to their questions as to why he did what he did was basically, “How could you not know I would be here?”

I suspect Mary had other times of anxiety as she gazed at her son, watching Him grow, not fully able to grasp who he was but having a sense of his destiny. She knew to whom she had given birth, but still, a mother worries.

I, too, have anxiously watched my children grow, knowing there would come a time when I would be unable to protect them, knowing they have their own choices to make, ones with which I might not agree.

As my husband and I move once again, I gaze upon the detritus of our empty nest. The world—and my mother—told me I needed to find a career, to discover who I was in order to achieve my potential. Then I would be fulfilled. It was almost implicit that somehow having children would diminish me and make me less of a person.

Am I fulfilled? I am filled and overflowing. My world has expanded because of my children. They are part of me and what they do, I do. They have brought me out of myself, extending my senses, making me more of a person than I ever was and enabling me to see the world through different eyes.

There are still times when I resent anyone wanting my time and attention. But those moments, both now and before, quickly pass as I see five very fine young people who ‘adult’ so much better than I do, who leave me in wonder and awe as I murmur to myself, ‘look what I made.’

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Patricia Anastasia Bartlett is the author of 'Glimpses of Glory',…
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