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Motherhood, guilt, and God’s grace

In the weeks since Mother’s Day, I’ve been reflecting on how we, as Christians, should try to get to the root of the pain so many women are bearing today.

(Image: léa b |

In the weeks leading up to Mother’s Day last month, many comments were circulated on social media about how painful Mother’s Day can be for some women. Although there were plenty of flowers, gifts, and cards distributed to moms on that day, there was also a clear message from certain quarters that it was time to stop celebrating Mother’s Day altogether. Mother’s Day, in the opinion of some, was triggering women who do not have children, and those women who do have children should feel guilty about that.

Obviously, many women experience deep pain from being unmarried, being infertile, or from losing children through miscarriage or death. We should not underestimate or ignore their suffering. Mother’s Day is undoubtedly a painful day for many of them, and as Christians, we should always be compassionate to those who are in need. Such women need our encouragement in their attempts to navigate their pain and grief. Simply taking the time to listen to these women and give them a safe place to share their unresolved feelings can help them start to heal.

But we should do more than look for ways to be sympathetic to these suffering women. We should also think more deeply about this attempt by many today to make mothers feel guilty for the sake of those women who are not mothers. We should try to get to the root of the pain that so many women are bearing.

One problem, I think, is that women who are not moms have the false impression that Mother’s Day is a day of unmitigated joy for moms. Granted, there are many perks associated with this annual event, and all moms appreciate having a break in their 24/7 responsibilities. They appreciate that (maybe) they are able to spend one whole Mass sitting in a pew on that Sunday morning, not dealing with a toddler temper tantrum outside the church. They appreciate that their young children might help make (and more importantly, clean up after) their own breakfast. They appreciate their teenagers might not be snarky for an entire twenty-four-hour period. They appreciate the adult children who take the time to call and say something every mother wants to hear: “I love you, Mom.”

But mothers never ever get to stop thinking about the physical, emotional, financial, intellectual, social, and spiritual health of their children. Mother’s Day for moms is a reminder of the joys of motherhood, but it is also a reminder of the fact that motherhood is a lifelong sacrifice.

So perhaps women with children and those without children can respect one another’s burdens and address a different problem: what can we do to help those women who don’t have children and who may be wondering if their childlessness is a result of their own past choices? That is, what about the women who do not have children because they bought into the lies of the Sexual Revolution?

As teenagers, they dressed and acted like their peers to compete for the attention of teen boys, only to end up with one broken heart after another. As young women, they turned to contraception to maintain the fiction that unrestricted sexual relationships would make them happy, only to end up in a doctor’s office, talking about physical abuse and sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs). As older women, they tried to be accepting of their husbands’ pornography use and even perhaps infidelity, only to end up seeking counseling to deal with emotional trauma and eating disorders. And then there’s abortion.

Isn’t it interesting that, just as the Dobbs decision forces our nation to rethink the issue of abortion, some women find it difficult to talk about something as innocuous as a civil holiday celebrating motherhood?

Perhaps this is because there are so many women who are carrying hidden wounds. Even if they will never “shout their abortion” on social media, they know that they will never be able to have other children because of complications that resulted from an abortion. Or perhaps they are desperately trying to conceive a child through any means possible, but they aborted a child (or two or three) in the past and are trying not to think about the children they could be raising right now.

Or they are so stuck in their trauma over a troubled relationship and abortion that they don’t even know that they need to ask for help. Or perhaps they are trying very hard not to remember that some STIs can lead to problems with fertility. Was that guy worth it? Were the promises of the Sexual Revolution worth it?

The power of the name of the “Heartbeat Bill” being proposed in many states—a ban on abortions performed past the sixth week of gestation—is that it reminds everyone that an unborn baby has a heartbeat. The sounds of those heartbeats are haunting our sisters who have experienced abortion.

There is so much that should be done, and we, as Christians, need to start doing it now! We need to listen to the women in our lives, listen for signs that our friends, sisters, neighbors, and acquaintances are struggling to face the ramifications of their past decisions. Like the Blessed Mother,1 who did not remain comfortably in Nazareth after she received a visit from an archangel, we need to be ready to go to the women we know and bring them the Good News: that God’s mercy is everlasting.

Whatever pain they are suffering can be healed by the Divine Physician. Whatever sins they committed can be forgiven by our Eternal High Priest. God’s grace is waiting for every daughter of God. Maybe these women just need us to reach out to them, show them that we genuinely care about them, and help them turn to God for healing for their broken hearts. This would be infinitely more effective than cancelling Mother’s Day.

Only the greatest of saints could say, “I lived in a sex-obsessed culture but never committed a single sin in this area of my life.” Any of us could have personally experienced abortion. Statistically, it is certain that any time we are in a large group of people, even Sunday Mass, there are people present—both women and men—who have participated in abortion in some way.

As Christians, we should show our care for these women by praying for them, offering up sacrifices for them, and asking the Holy Spirit to find ways to help us befriend and comfort those who are suffering in this way. Anyone who is facing this reality may be angry and unhappy, so we will need to be patient and careful to listen more than we talk. Perhaps we are being called to act as spiritual mothers2 to these women, something that all women are called to be, regardless of whether or not they bear children. And all of us should be thankful for the gift of our mothers and celebrate that gift and their motherhood.


1 Luke 1:39-56

2 Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, also known as Edith Stein, wrote insightfully about the role of women and all women’s call to motherhood, although she was never married or had children. See her Essays on Woman.

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About Dawn Beutner 82 Articles
Dawn Beutner is the author of The Leaven of the Saints: Bringing Christ into a Fallen World (Ignatius Press, 2023), and Saints: Becoming an Image of Christ Every Day of the Year also from Ignatius Press. She blogs at


  1. Wow, just wow. And as we southern women say “bless your heart”. You not only miss the point of truly considering other’s feelings, you seem to misunderstand the blessing of motherhood. I would bet big $$$ that when you are a decade older you will read this and cringe – maybe you are simply naive. As a woman who did none of those things that you think deserve to make one childless yet endured 7 years of infertility issues and became a mom via adoption, I completely sympathize with those longing for the real joys of motherhood – that yes, last forever and completely change us. And as for those who did make mistakes, i would never ever suggest that is why they are not mothers. Everyday is mother’s day to me as I understand the real blessing it is.

    • Personally I think you do the writer a grave disservice when you say “As a woman who did none of the things that you think deserve to make one childless” In my reading of the article that is no hint of anyone deserving childless ness. It reads to me as a gentle take on the age old saw of the path taken. A realistic take since any mother would willingly lay her life down for her child but that does not mean she will spared anguish. It comes with the territory and I do not think she will cringe in the decades to come.

    • Wow, sensitive much?
      Where did she say that the girls/women who participated in the sexual revolution “deserve” to be childless? She correctly pointed out that (how shall I say?) revolutionary” activities are source (a major one actually) of infertility issues due to organ damage brought about through trauma and disease. Heck, even poor nutrition/weight/exercise management are also sources of infertility, which is not something that gets much press either.

      • And hormonal contraceptives increase the risk of cervical cancer, so there’s another factor.
        Sadly, pretty much every aspect of the Sexual Revolution and societal upward mobility work against motherhood.

  2. As a boy, Mother’s Day was a time of celebration. I have no memories of my mother feeling self-conscious about being a mother of seven children. It is not that mom did not find motherhood challenging, but that she seemed to always enjoy each of her children regardless of what was going on in the world.
    There was no expectation of perfection; but she did her best in her role as mother in the same way that my father did his best to fulfill his role as father. I think it helped that children did not expect perfection of our parents. I don’t recall a time where we felt they should have been perfect in all they did.
    Demonstrating our love for mom on Mother’s Day was a heartfelt appreciation for all she did to make our home one of love and comfort.
    No mother should ever feel or be influenced by those dealing with their own grief. It is a towering arrogance to think that one’s grief should be the concern of others. This is one of the glaring weaknesses of the “me, me, me” attitude so prevalent in today’s society.

  3. I know some women my age who are childless in part because they listened to the pop culture & Sexual Revolution & were its victims.
    I know many more women my age who managed to have a child or two but will never celebrate Grandparent’s Day because their children are unmarried and childless. And their children who do marry, marry late & then postpone childbearing until a woman’s fertility is almost at its ebb.
    I wish I could say this is an urban, upward mobility thing but my neighbors in one of the most rural spots in the US are experiencing the same thing. Media & technology can spread the same cultural troubles regardless of location.

  4. “Safe place”??? Seriously? I suffered for 7 years from infertility. Eventually my husband and I found a resolution in adoption. We were thrilled to have been gifted with our 2 children, now adults.Those childless years were unquestionably very painful for me. I did NOT however, expect the world to stop for the women who were able to have children. Yes, I saw them lauded on TV commercials and dinner specials at restaurants and at church.It was their special day to stand in the light while the rest of us women did not.

    I think much of the problem with the world today is that we are expected to be super aware and concerned about everyone’s “feelings”, and change OUR lives to accommodate THEIR reality. I say no to that. Life is tough and that is just the truth. Bad things happen to good people, that is reality. No, it doesnt feel fair, but as has been famously said, life isn’t fair. Get over it. Sometimes we are an innocent victim ourselves .Sometimes indeed, people make a choice, perhaps abortion, which leads to fertility problems later.I dont think God relishes the suffering of a woman who has chosen abortion being unable to conceive later. But that effect can be the direct result of the decision to abort, for example. A person should also own up to the effects of their personal decisions, even the unpleasant ones. Nobody enjoys feelings of guilt and shame.Yet certain decisions, some of them wrong or sinful, might prompt emotional states like this. Its up to each person to resolve their own feelings and one feels sin and guilt , to resolve them. This is NOT up to other people.

    It is entirely correct to be aware of other’s needs. It does not mean you need to turn your own life upside down for them. It is time for society at large to toughen up.

    • “A person should also own up to the effects of their personal decisions, even the unpleasant ones.”
      That to me is true empowerment. If I am doing the very thing that causes a bad outcome for me, I can change my behavior, and the bad outcome will go away, or at least be mitigated. Sometimes the damage is truly done, but further damage can sometimes be prevented.

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