I’ll admit it, I can be a crier. I’ve always been a softy, but since having children, the tears seem to trigger more easily when anything hits near the heart zone. However, it’s not very often a piece of writing can make my eyes swell from two very different emotions.
That’s exactly where I found myself after reading through “The Invisible Mother” by Nicole Johnson.
Have you read this piece? A few months ago my friend sent it to me and since then, I’ve noticed it shared frequently on social media. It was originally published in 2005, but almost 15 years later it still so stirs the hearts of moms that it’s continually shared.
If you’ve happened to miss it, Johnson shares her story of often feeling “invisible” as a mother. She recalls the mountains of ways in which we nurture, love, provide for, and respond to our family that are full of detail, attention, and time but largely go completely unrecognized. One evening a friend gives her a book about the great cathedrals with the inscription, “With admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.” She discovers the builders of the cathedrals, who laboriously carved such exquisite detail and beauty into the stone, also went mostly unrecognized . . . invisible. Their passions were fueled by faith that their efforts were seen by God even if not fully recognized by the world. Johnson connects that mothers, who at times feel lost in the invisible yet tireless tasks of raising families, are builders of great cathedrals as well.
Reading through it, I immediately identified and heard my inner voice shout, “She just nailed how I’ve been feeling! Someone else gets it. I’m not alone in this feeling of invisibility that sometimes accompanies mothering.” And the tears came.
Moments later though, the second round of emotion hit, but it was a whole different tide of feelings. This time it felt more like raw frustration. We are builders of cathedrals and wow did it feel good to be validated in that way, but we are worthy to be SEEN too! There was a second point to the piece that felt missing to me. There was another part of this metaphor that bubbled up inside with an urge to shout it out to any moms within earshot.
From the moment we are handed that bundle of joy in the hospital, we begin questioning ourselves in this role. Those first feelings of invisibility peek in as our confidence wavers. Are we doing enough, are we good enough, are we getting any of it right, why does it seem like everyone else is managing it all perfectly and I’m stumbling every step of the way? And there are periods of mothering when you do absolutely lose yourself, feeling truly invisible in it all. The demands can be overwhelming, and it feels like a long time since anyone has seen you as anything outside of a 24-hour food truck and circus ringmaster.
So here is the other message I felt was missing, that I desperately wanted other moms who might be wading through a tough season to hear:
Moms, we are builders of cathedrals, yes. But we are also cathedrals.
You have depth of detail in your personality and insights that deserve to be seen by the world, just like the ornate stained glass. You have rich carvings etched in valid ideas and problem-solving wit to be heard. You have the fortitude, strength, and stamina of arched and stacked stone. You have the softness and beautiful complexity of exquisitely colored tapestries.
And please do not forget this . . just like the grand cathedrals have been the centers of their towns and villages, you are the center for your family. You are the gathering place, the grounding place, and the warming place your people come to be nurtured and have their souls tended. You have been created with magnificent intent and purpose.
The fog on some mornings may hang thickly around the nave, and perhaps it’s difficult to see the spire from the village, but eventually, the mist subsides and that grand cathedral in all its detail is seen again. Building cathedrals is not easy—it’s labor-intensive, all-consuming, sacrificial, and at times identity-tapping. Mothers, while you are indeed great builders, please don’t lose sight that you are of wondrous architecture as well. You are so worthy to be fully seen, strong and brilliant in design. You are cathedrals, too.
(Let’s all go hug and thank the builders from which WE came. We get it now and we see you, too.)
Previously published on the author’s blog