Dear Father John, I am an at-home mom of 4 young children (none of them in school yet) and it’s terrible to admit, but I can’t help but feel sometimes that God means for me to do “more than this.” I am an attorney and practiced successfully for several years before getting married and becoming a mom. My kids mean the world to me, but isn’t it possible that God doesn’t mean for me to be staying home with them like this? When I try to talk with other at-home moms I know, they are very discouraging, and even almost hostile about the idea of mothers who work. How can I figure out what God wants for me to do?
The hostility (or semi-hostility) that you have encountered regarding the idea of mothers working outside the home is understandable. Many women feel strongly about this issue, for a lot of reasons.
One weighty factor is the way motherhood has been deprecated, systematically and violently, in modern American culture. During the last thirty years, a false feminism that equates a woman’s success, as a woman, with outperforming men in the professional career-derby has been consistently taught in colleges and reinforced by TV, movies, novels, magazines, and legal trends. As a result, many women of faith who still perceive the value and beauty of motherhood automatically tend to associate following a professional career with following that false, destructive, feminism. Likewise, many women who have imbibed some of the false feminism can feel threatened when they meet happy stay-at-home moms.
Keeping First Things First
Church teaching in this area can help foster a more balanced view. Every married couple’s primary vocation is, precisely, their marriage. Their spousal relationship is actually a sacrament, a sign and agent of God’s grace in the world. And so, striving with God’s help to build a family that truly is a “domestic church,” a school of Christian virtue, a reflection of the goodness and active love of the Trinity, and a training ground for holiness is your main mission in life. Anyone, husband or wife, who lets merely self-centered desires inhibit their pursuit of that mission is deviating from God’s marvelous plan. Company presidents who regularly work eighty-hour weeks just to climb the corporate ladder, to the detriment of their relationships at home, are falling into idolatry. (They are also making themselves miserable – “achievements” can never fill up our hearts, which were created to love and be loved.) The same goes for the hobbyists or socialites who neglect family life so as to have more time to indulge their passions and vanity.
No Family Is an Island
But here’s the interesting thing. The “domestic church” is not meant to be an island, just as no Christian is meant to be cut off from the mission of evangelizing the world. We are all called to spread Christ’s grace, to actively build up a civilization of justice and love. When kids of stay-at-home moms see their mothers and fathers engaging in the world beyond their four walls, they learn this. Even stay-at-home moms need to be reaching out to neighbors, to other families, to the parish, to the community – they need to be sharing their gifts with those outside the immediate family, so as to be a living example of what it means to be a missionary, a messenger of God’s goodness and grace, since every follower of Christ is by nature exactly that. Kids need to learn that from their parents.
Remember, moms always face the temptation of smothering their children. By plugging into the wider community (and involving the kids in those efforts when possible), this temptation is defused, and kids learn that they aren’t the center of the universe. Rather, they are part of a family that has a mission to build up the Church and to build a better world.
If your desire to put your professional skills back to work outside the home is a strong one, and if it lasts, it very well could come from the Lord. Start keeping a personal journal of these thoughts, dreams, and hopes. Start reflecting on whether they are rooted in a vain desire to get some recognition from peers and professionals (instead of just toddlers), or if they are truly rooted in a joy-filled desire to better the Church and the world with the gifts God has given you. If the motivation is Christian and not selfish (you may need the help of a spiritual director or a very honest friend to discern this), then take some initial steps to find out how you can go in that direction without neglecting your primary vocation (you may need to get creative to balance the two).
While you’re at it, don’t fall into the trap of becoming judgmental. God may not give this same desire to your friend down the road, who also has four kids and who also used to have a professional law practice. And that’s perfectly okay; he will guide her along a different path.
Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, Th.D
PS from Dan: For an outstanding program on authentic feminism, check out ENDOW