An article published in The Daily Mail today laments that women increasingly base their self-worth on the success of their working lives, labelling this a “toxic legacy of the feminist Superwoman“.  It asks the question: “Career women insist feminism means ALL women having jobs, but could that belief blight the lives of mothers – and their children?“.  

It is a question worth asking.  How much must women do to realise their true worth and live great lives?  Even government policy is so often now pointed towards encouraging women back into work, increasing economic ‘productivity’ (forgetting, perhaps, that a working age, tax paying population is a direct result of mothers bringing up children and stable family life), and making regular counts of the numbers of women in top corporate and government positions to show how far we have come.

All this makes it easy for women to feel that they are not doing something truly important unless they also have some sort of career.  So much is expected of women today. There is no question that this is one of the reasons that countries across the world are seeing dramatic and worrying drops in fertility rates.  The article comments:

For governments to adhere to such a distorted mindset does not help the millions of women who do not feel defined by their job — but who care passionately about keeping their relationships and families together.  

Some women will always strive to succeed at the highest level — and it is absolutely right that they have the equal opportunity to do so.  But there are millions of women who … simply want to have happy, healthy children; a supportive, loving husband, and enough money to get by.

This comment by a mother on my last blog post made me smile: “Yes, when I tell people I have eight children, they just about faint! If only they could know the richness and joy my children have brought into my life!”.  On the New Year’s Eve just gone I wrote about happiness being an elusive goal in and of itself.  However, science has found that happiness is often a byproduct of giving yourself selflessly to others.  It sounds like this mother has discovered that.  

Women focusing on their families and bringing up their children should take heart that they are indeed “Superwoman” and are contributing hugely to society.  The popular best-selling book “The Happiness Project” still adorns most bookstore shelves.  In it, writer Gretchen Rubin seeks to identify what brings her joy and satisfaction and to make corresponding changes to increase her happiness.  She finds affinity with St Therese of Lisieux’ “Little Way“, because she could follow her by aspiring to perfection within the “common order” of her day.  Of her discovery of St Therese’s writing she says:

To me, the fascinating aspect of her story was Therese’s achievement of sainthood through the perfection of small, ordinary acts.  That was her “Little Way” – holiness achieved in a little way by little souls rather than by great deeds performed by great souls. “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me.  The only way I can prove my love is by …  every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”…

We expect heroic virtue to look flashy – moving to Uganda to work with AIDS victims, perhaps, or documenting the plight of homeless people in Detroit.  Therese’s example shows that ordinary life, too, is full of opportunities for worthy, if inconspicious, virtue…

It is true that motherhood is normally not flashy.  But every little thing mothers do out of love leads them closer to becoming truly heroic ‘Superwoman’, bringing the lasting ‘richness and joy’ that leads to true happiness.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...