(I wrote this piece for the April 2022 newsletter of the California Association of American Mothers, Inc.: https://www.americanmothers.org/)
I would like to begin my “corner” by considering some ancient ideas about knowledge and ethics: intuition, virtue, and vice. As mothers, how do we discern the right path for ourselves and for our families? We need reason, and we need experience, but there is also a third source of knowledge on which we can rely: intuition. Blaise Pascal refers to intuition when he says, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” As Peter Kreeft clarifies in The Philosophy of Tolkien, “This is not a justification of sentiment, feeling, or desire over reason, but an expansion of the meaning of reason beyond ‘calculation’ to ‘intuition.’”
Women in particular have been given the capacity to “just know” what the right thing is for our loved ones—hence the phrase “womanly intuition.” But we have to be careful with this discernment because “the heart is not an infallible organ.” Intuition “depends on moral goodness; it is trustworthy only in the virtuous” (Kreeft). If we are to guide our families well, we must first humbly cultivate the garden of our own souls, uprooting the weeds of vices (bad habits) and encouraging the fruitful growth of virtues (good habits).
Thankfully, the gift of motherhood provides us with countless opportunities to shape our character into something more beautiful and trustworthy. Carrie Gress elucidates this process in her priceless book Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood. We all know how difficult motherhood can be—exhausting, frustrating, boring, and often thankless. Gress invites us to look at these challenges with fresh eyes and encourages us that “the difficulty of motherhood is not in vain…Motherhood, in fact, is the perfect antidote to the vices that come so readily to the fairer sex: vanity, impatience, pride, greed, unbridled emotions, over-controlling, and fickleness, to name a few. The daily struggles are God’s way of making us over in his own image and likeness.”
For the next few months, I will be examining some of the virtues that are particularly important for mothers to cultivate and the corresponding vices that mothers would do well to avoid. The more we can embrace the difficulties that are inherent in motherhood, the more we can grow into trustworthy guides for our loved ones and rely on our womanly intuition. As Gress promises, “Among the daily trials are hidden doorways to the kind of motherhood we aspire to: joyful, wise, ordered, dignified, loving…God in his great mercy has offered us this sanctification through the most gentle of ways: those little faces and grubby hands.”
May God bless you, your families, and your womanly intuition!