Kelly J. Henson, mother of five, shares how feminine love transforms souls and how we can sustain women in their motherly vocations.
Five years ago, I laid next to my husband and newborn daughter on a sleeper sofa and watched the night breeze play gently with the curtains. It had been a hard year, a hard post-partum period, and a hard trip with two small children from North Carolina on our way to Pennsylvania for an important event. And yet, that night, I felt so cared for.
We were staying at my friend’s mother’s home on a farm in rural Ohio. The moment we drove in, Mrs. Miller’s children surrounded us with joyful laughter and helped my toddler son to stretch his legs by tripping through the grass to see every animal and tree. We sat down to a simple yet deeply satisfying dinner of homemade soup and bread. My son was usually underfoot in the kitchen, but Mrs. Miller effortlessly entertained him with a set of ABC magnets. Meanwhile, my friend and her sisters washed up after dinner and shared stories. An easy camaraderie flowed between the mother and daughters as they worked together and included us in their joy. I tucked my little ones into bed while the smell of pumpkin muffins baking for the next morning wafted from the kitchen. That night, I realized something about the type of mother I wanted to be for my little ones and for any person who crossed my threshold.
As women, we have a particular gift of receiving others. We receive their confidences into our hearts, their tears into our embrace, and their laughter into our own treasure trove of memories. Even women who claim not to be domestically gifted find a way to humanize a workplace or to make a shared take-out pizza feel like a perfect gift.
When we women love a man, our hospitality to another person deepens. We invite him into our hearts, into our lives, into our plans, and eventually into our homes, our beds, and our bodies. It seems as though intimacy could not deepen further, yet motherhood breaks any and all remaining barriers between our autonomy and our selfless acceptance of another.
Right now, I’m weeks away from welcoming a new baby into our family. He has already made himself quite at home in a significant percentage of my anatomy and is using my stomach as an ottoman as I write. For a baby, mother is home. And that identity doesn’t change much through most of their formative years.
I’ve learned that to be a mother is to be radically hospitable. There is no other proper response when we see the authentic need of a child than to welcome him into our lives. And while it is natural to occasionally want five minutes without company to freshen up in the restroom, at our core, we mothers also know that these impulsive, curious, growing children are capable of transforming us with their innocent love and trust. So, we love them and give them our very selves.
This type of joyful hospitality is the cure our broken world needs. I have been “mothered” in small ways by so many women in my life who knew I needed a word of encouragement, a helping hand with an unruly toddler, or a warm bowl of soup that I didn’t cook without demanding anything in return. And those small services have freed me to mother others, particularly my own five children.
At Room At The Inn, hospitality is central to their mission. The caring leaders and volunteers serve vulnerable mothers so that they are free to pass on that welcoming love to their children. More than any individual social service, this holistic approach to maternal care has the potential to teach women that trust, authenticity, friendship, and unconditional love are more than empty dreams that we talk about like fairy tales. Women who are loved are best able to love in turn. And when we mothers support each other, we can build up a better world for the next generation—a world of love, a world of homes.
Kelly Henson is a Catholic writer and speaker who explores the art of integrating faith into daily life. She lives and explores with her husband and four children (plus one on the way and a little one in heaven) in the beautiful North Carolina countryside. When she’s not homeschooling, chasing unruly chickens, or scrubbing dishes, Kelly enjoys mountain hikes, reading, deep conversations over tea and homemade scones, and starting creative projects that she probably will not finish. She blogs occasionally at kellyjhenson.com.