When I was a little girl, I remember my mom talking about her career aspirations – the things she dreamed of doing before I came along – and how when I came, she decided that staying home with me would be better. I vividly remember looking up at my mother, who was the most wonderful person I knew and in my 4- or 5-year-old mind thinking, “I want to be just like you.” I often go back to this version of myself when I start getting anxious about the path I’ve chosen; to stay home with my children like my mom before me.
Last week I found myself having the conversation about “what I do,” with other women. A bunch of soccer-moms trying to make small talk leaves me a bit wary.
“I stay at home with my five kids.” I said, eliciting replies of “Wow,” and “Five? You have five children?”, and then “and do you work?” (the question I was dreading).
“I work,” I say carefully, “having five kids means there’s a lot of work.”
A somewhat uncomfortable laugh. “Oh, of course, there is. Five! I just can’t imagine. But before kids, what did you do?”
“My background is in journalism. Now sometimes I freelance on the side,” I say.
I sense relief as I share this. A collective sigh as I share what I’ve contributed to life beyond the home. I do mean that sarcastically, because though I highly respect meaningful work outside the home, I don’t see why it can’t be on equal ground with the meaningful work many other women and I do within our homes. Aside from my household though, I am privileged to have the time for mother’s groups, school volunteering, and to commune with other moms who stay home. Women are needed in so many roles, and the choices we have today are abundant. There is a bit of material sacrifice in staying home, but I say this as a woman with the choice that many others don’t have due to poverty. The few things we don’t have compared to the time with my children are small.
I don’t view my position in the home as one might view a typical job, so I don’t want to call it a career, but I so badly want to convey to others that it is fulfilling. If I said the word “vocation,” in the soccer-mom crowd, I’m not sure what kind of looks I would get.
In explaining vocation, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (898) states that “it belongs to the laity” – that is people who are not priests or religious; ordinary people like your average mom – “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them toward God’s will.”
That means that even I, an ordinary mother, have a role to play in the kingdom. In my endless laundry, in my nightly wakings with babies and in all of the budgeting, story reading, disciplining and other seemingly mundane things that I do in my home, there is the opportunity to “direct them” to God and His ultimate plan.
I certainly know quite a few Catholic mothers whose vocation also includes a career balanced with home. But I think we must remember that mothers in any walk of life are not the sum of what they do, but that motherhood is wrapped up in womanhood and indeed humanity itself.
St. John Paul II famously wrote a thank you to mothers in his 1995 Letter to Women,
“You have sheltered human beings within yourselves in a unique experience of joy and travail. This experience makes you become God's own smile upon the newborn child, the one who guides your child's first steps, who helps it to grow, and who is the anchor as the child makes its way along the journey of life.”
These important words have echoed in my heart since I began on my own mothering journey 10 years ago. Being the anchor and the guide is no easy task, but seeing those first steps, hearing those first words and having the luxury of time with my children is an immense privilege. Some days are hard, and it is on those days that I think “Was I ‘God’s own smile’ or was I Satan’s scowl to these children.”
The great responsibility of raising four boys and a little girl is a heavy burden, which some days is eased only by the very idea that God’s grace is upon my husband and me to do it. It also eases my mind to know that even great saints struggled in this vocation:
“I could never have imagined how much I would suffer being a mother,” wrote St. Gianna Beretta Molla to her husband in 1958, “… It’s a good thing you’re more optimistic than I am so you can encourage me – otherwise, my morale would be almost below zero.”
St. Zelie Martin, mother of St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in a letter to one of her daughters, “I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect.”
In some ways, life has grown only more complicated for mothers since the time of St. Zelie, but we continue to look for the very same things; quiet reflection, rest, balance.
I find solace in the community of women I’ve built over the years; people who understand what the Catholic faith teaches about family and vocation. Without these gracious and welcoming women, I might’ve thought that staying at home with children is not for me. Coffee flows in the homes of my friends, and an understanding ear is there when I need it.
My mother converted to Catholicism when I was a child, and her example of fervent love for God and practice of the faith has shaped my motherhood. Hence, I also find encouragement within the Church I was brought up in. I’ve been blessed to encounter priests who smile on my family and welcome their noise and laughter, even in the middle of their homilies. I’ve been fortunate to have encountered those amazing people who will hold a baby, or just smile kindly at us when the children are being children. And in my role at home, it is my joy to bring the Church and its beauty to my children.
Written by Jessica Cyr, parishioner of St. Bernard / Our Lady of Assumption in Calgary.
Catholic Pastoral Centre Staff and Guest Writers