What mom doesn’t need an occasional chance to escape home life and indulge in a little pampering? We all do. But mom philosopher Carrie Gress says that while those little getaways are fine, the real (and best) makeover is actually already — and perpetually — underway. Gress says in her latest book that motherhood itself is the ultimate makeover.
ZENIT asked her to explain:
ZENIT: What prompted you to write this book?
Gress: It started with a very small idea: motherhood is hard. I was overwhelmed with how challenging being a mom was and grappled for a long time with how to make some sense of it. I will never forget when the idea finally hit me that motherhood was made to be difficult. Suddenly all the things I had been struggling with didn’t seem to hard. Being a mom became almost (almost) easy because I saw the challenges in a completely different light.
It also occurred to me that the most common reason why couples aren’t open to having more children is precisely because it is so difficult. But what if we could give women a new way to look at their circumstances and what the future holds for them because of the challenges of motherhood? That is what this book does. It challenges the idea that the struggles we face in motherhood are in vain and looks to the bigger picture of what we gain when we give so much of ourselves for others.
ZENIT: One of the quotes from a chapter heading is: “Women don’t need to imitate men, but simply to be themselves.” Tell us about this.
Gress: Much of the message that we get from the culture is that women are just the same as men, but not quite as strong – but that seems to miss the mark completely. Women have their own gifts to revel in – if we have the eyes to see them.
One doesn’t have to look around too far to see just how many women are unhappy. The data, compiled from statistics about divorce, abortion, drug abuse, and obesity rates, is overwhelming. Women really aren’t happy, but part of that unhappiness seems to stem from not really knowing who we are, what we are supposed to be doing and how to find happiness.
I also looked at the example of older women, those women who exude wisdom and grace, who don’t take themselves too seriously while knowing how to respond to the important details of life, like faith and family. These women are harder and harder to find. Again, some of that is because of the confusion about who women are.
I spend a lot of time looking at what the feminine vocation is and the unique ways God moves through us. I discovered beautiful patterns between the biological and spiritual, for example, often God will plant an idea in the heart of a woman that only comes to maturity years later – mimicking the way children are brought into the world. The seed is planted but maturity takes a lot of time, energy and prayer to bring that child to maturity.
While the book is directed toward moms, I think there are large swaths of it that will reverberate with most woman. Every woman is called to some form of motherhood (physical and spiritual), whether she has biological children or not.
ZENIT: Project Rachel founder, Vicki Thorn, wrote in the foreword of your book that Ultimate Makeover is an “outside the box” book on motherhood. What does she mean by that?
Gress: Probably a couple of things. First, as I mention in the book, it does not have practical tips about how to manage meals or organize your home. It does, however, offer very concrete ideas about how to manage the struggle of motherhood through a personal inventory of your own vices and virtues. Women have a predictable set of vices that, if we are aware of them in our lives and souls, our daily challenges such as fatigue, spilled bowls of cereal, piles of laundry, can be used to transform those vices into virtues.
In the book, I spend a lot of time explaining virtues and vices and how ultimately the virtues are the best source for authentic happiness. Like muscles in the body, they can’t be strengthened unless they are stressed and motherhood certainly provides the necessary stress, although offered in a sweet package, to help the virtues grow.
ZENIT: Dynamic Catholic published your book. Its founder, Matthew Kelly, has spoken a lot about “becoming the best version of yourself” in his work. Did you get the idea from him?
Gress: I’ve known Matthew for a long time, but the idea came from another source. While studying for my doctorate in philosophy, I spent a lot of time reading ancient Greek and Medieval philosophy as well as contemporary virtue ethics. I have long been fascinated by the idea that we have muscles in our soul that are waiting for us to strengthen. The growth of virtues offers tremendous hope that those elements we don’t like about ourselves can be conquered.
The book includes a lot of ideas from those years spent studying philosophy, but without the intellectual trappings. It is tailored for a mom’s life – short chapters with a few questions at the end to mull over when you have time, perhaps while doing the dishes or driving.
ZENIT: If you had one thing you wanted women to take away from this book, what would it be?
Gress: It would be that women have a unique and beautiful role to play in society and culture. Much of what ails us comes because women have forgotten this. Although we are generally told that our work is dispensable, mothers are actually in desperate need today. There is a raw-ness to our world that is crying out for a maternal balm. Every woman can offer this to her children, to her friends, her neighbors, even to strangers. If only we understood how powerful we are, as Mother Theresa said, just performing the small things that we do everyday with great love. This is the balm the world currently craves. And doing what God made us to do makes our true beauty shine forth … more than any makeover with make-up ever could!
Carrie Gress’ latest book is Ultimate Makeover: The Transforming Power of Motherhood (Beacon Press, 2016); she is also author of Nudging Conversions: Bringing Those You Love Back to the Church, and co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow. She is a homeschooling mother of four. Find out more at www.carriegress.com