Metaphysics of Motherhood–Purpose of the Endeavor

Kathryn Rombs // Metaphysics of Motherhood


February 7  


I had to smile as I descended into the bowels of my daughters’ room, like Virgil descending into the lowermost circles of Hell. Three of my teenage girls share the space and I had to wade through a fair amount of makeup, pens, earbuds and school notebooks in order to locate them, but there they were: my Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy and Plato: Collected Dialogues. I smiled because it seems like yesterday that I completed my first manuscript, Metaphysics of Motherhood, yet my oldest daughter was only eight years old at the time. Now she is reading metaphysical works herself for high school and routinely steals my books. I have a wonderful life. This is a philosopher-mother’s dream.


I never published that first manuscript. In fact, an editor for Harper Collins read it and told me to throw it away, better organize my thoughts, and start over. Instead I had three more children (totaling six), homeschooled them, poured my daily life into loving them and rearing them in Christian virtue, good behavior, social skills, the Bible, the Catholic faith, and a well-trained intellect. I also taught philosophy classes at the University of Dallas and started a ministry for Catholic mothers. I also wrote another manuscript for young Catholic women discerning motherhood, and Our Sunday Visitor has contracted to publish it.


So now, after all these years, I begin again with the Metaphysics of Motherhood. Here I will sketch my thoughts and I hope, if you are reading this, that you will comment and offer feedback and suggestions, as that will certainly enrich the undertaking.


This is an introduction, and first pass. I am raising questions; not providing answers. The concept of a metaphysics of motherhood is so huge and exciting, the best I can hope for is to initiate the pursuit, rather than complete it. I aim to map out what a metaphysics of motherhood would look like. As far as I know, no one has ever coined the term or pursued such an endeavor. And why not?


Motherhood is usually mis-conceived [I have a strong temptation to put some sort of symbol in the text every time I make use a word whose original meaning is maternal, such as ‘conceive’. . . would that be funny or annoying?] as a practical role. Much the same as baker or fireman, mother is a functional role, so many think. As a functional role, it does not warrant metaphysics. True, Aristotle discusses various technē and as such, and practical role might merit honorable mention in that capacity. And yet it would be hard to generate a metaphysics of firemen.


But to think of motherhood as merely functional is completely wrongheaded and is a part of our culture’s massive under-prioritization of motherhood. Motherhood is not just practical. It is not primarily functional. Motherhood is that through which the human race comes. With the participation of fathers, mothers gestate and bear human beings; without mothers, there would be no people. There would be no one to have a technē in the first place. Functionality presupposes human beings who use or execute those functions. Motherhood does not belong, therefore, in the category of function.


Furthermore, our culture does not hold much esteem for motherhood. Men have ranked women and women’s childbearing and childrearing as second rate to masculine and income-generating roles for millennia. Then more recently, the women’s movement achieved and continues to achieve professional and public advance for women—and I thank them for that, on my own behalf and in behalf of my daughters, grand-daughters, and the women and girls I love. That said, motherhood has naturally been seen as holding women back from such advances, and so has fallen out of favor in a new way. This was timed “nicely” with the advent of the Pill and the legalization of abortion. Motherhood is not a current cultural priority.


But this again is to get it wrong. People push for cultural agendas and  evaluate, rank, prioritize some things and de-prioritize others. But all cultural valuation presupposes motherhood. Without motherhood, there would be no culture, and no cultural priority or agenda to push. Motherhood, therefore, does not belong in the category of things that are ranked. It should be seen for what it is: making possible our race, our species, our culture, our civilization, our world. To be deemed as functional  or unimportant is for motherhood to be highjacked and reduced to a status that objectively speaking, it does not fit.


So, in the following posts I will seek to present a metaphysics of motherhood, restoring it, or helping it achieve for the first time, its rightful dignity. Motherhood does, in fact, have at least 2 ways it could be metaphysical. First, one could describe the essence of motherhood, disclosing it in all its metaphysical features, for example, self-donation. To my mind, self-donation is a metaphysical feature of motherhood and deserves articulation and exploration. Other such features await exploration. Second, one could see how motherhood comes to bear on metaphysics in general. This is the approach I will begin with, and so you will see what I mean in the forthcoming post.


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  • I am very grateful to you for beginning this conversation and using the phrase “the metaphysics of motherhood”. I agree that the role of woman as mother is far beyond function and that the term “mother” has long been understood as an action verb. “To mother” is the essence of the word at work in our world and this is not merely in the traditional understanding of conceiving, gestating, birthing, and raising our own offspring. It refers to welcoming and accepting the other. I like your self-donation phrasing and think there is something more there to be explored. But to my mind, it is the receiving and multiplying of another’s gift to us that makes us truly worthy of metaphysical study as mothers.

    • Leah, thank you so much for your comment. I am comforted and encouraged that the phrase “metaphysics of motherhood” is meaningful to you. I like the notion that “it is the receiving and multiplying of another’s gift to us that makes us truly worthy of metaphysical study as mothers.” I will give this some thought. I look forward to the day that the book on the metaphysics of motherhood comes to fruition!

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