"When you make bad choices, there are consequences," I told my 13-year-old stepdaughter as she pouted about being grounded. She broke a house rule and then lied about it, prompting her punishment.
"I don't think anyone has to live as long with their punishment as you are making me live with mine," she said.
"Honey, some people live through the bad choices they make for the rest of their lives," I answered.
She rolled her eyes at me. "But isn't there a saying that rules are meant to be broken?"
I raised my eyebrows. "Not in this house."
As she rolled her eyes again, her bottom lip quivering, I sighed and gathered my thoughts, praying that God would give me the right words.
I would like to say that by the end of our more than two-hour discussion, she understood. But I will probably never know if she actually gets why she was punished or why the sentence had to be carried out for longer than the week she was expecting.
As both a mother and a stepmother, talks like these make me very nervous. It is when I am explaining how rules are not always meant to be broken, how every choice you make can affect your life and how lying about an infraction is worse than admitting it up front, that I am most scared about being a parent. Sometimes I forget that what I say could have a great impact on my children and how they view the world. Sometimes I forget that what I do or how I react to situations could be a model for what they do or how they react.
It is when I get frustrated and raise my voice and my 2-year-old responds by raising his own little voice that I remember. They are always listening and watching.
Pope Francis has spoken many times about the trials and tribulations of motherhood and about mothers' importance in society.
But it is a 2015 general audience that sticks out in my mind.
"To be a mother is a great treasure. Mothers, in their unconditional and sacrificial love for their children, are the antidote to individualism; they are the greatest enemies against war," Francis said.
I know that unconditional and sacrificial love. It is getting up at 2 a.m. to find a missing pacifier, or patiently watching a teenage girl go through rack after rack of clothing in the trendiest department store. It is going to every volleyball game, buying the right kind of Teddy Grahams and scheduling every doctor appointment. It is making dinner after a long day, doing constant loads of laundry, kissing away tears and hugging away fears.
Being a mother makes you a fighter. In the beginning, you fight for your small child to grow and thrive. You fight through tears and exhaustion and 1 a.m. feedings. As they grow up, you have different battles. There is the battle of the terrible twos, the battle of finding the right preschool, the battle of making the right treat for the classroom birthday party, the battle of puberty, and crushes, and final exams and driving permits and college entrance essays.
And during all of those battles, your children might not even notice you fighting them.
"All of us give credit to our mothers for life and many other things, but not always are they listened to or helped in everyday life," Francis continued. "Their important contribution to the life of society, their daily sacrifices and their aspirations are not always properly appreciated."
I'm going to shout "Amen" here as I think back to my own childhood and teenage years. I know that I didn't truly appreciate my mother until I was much older, in my mid- to late-20s. And when my stepdaughter turned 11, followed closely by teenage angst and attitude, I called my mother and apologized for everything I put her through.
She laughed. "Well, now it's your turn."
Yes, it is my turn. My turn to use the greatest example my mother ever gave, to teach my children to be people of faith. I can directly thank my mother for her faith in God and for passing along and patiently teaching me and my siblings to follow that same path.
"It is they, mothers, who often give the first roots of the faith, the ones that permeate deepest; without them, not only would the faithful be lost, but also a good part of the deepest fire of our faith," Francis said.
"So, what do I do next time I have to make a decision?" my stepdaughter asked.
"You pray about it first," I answered. "You think about the consequences of that decision. Will something good happen? Will something bad happen? Then, you pray some more."
"In this sense motherhood is more than childbearing; it is a life choice entailing sacrifice, respect for life, and commitment to passing on those human and religious values which are essential for a healthy society," Francis said.
No pressure here. No pressure at all.
[Stephanie Yeagle is NCR managing editor.]