Saying motherhood is a calling is an American privilege. Not every mother gets that choice. I know many single moms who would love to stay home with their kids—to make raising kids their job—but they can’t.
The very fact that I’m writing an entire chapter about this topic highlights the privilege we have. Most people in the world don’t have that privilege. I would argue that our version of biblical motherhood is viewed through an American lens. There are mothers in Africa, Iran, and Haiti who love their kids. They provide for their kids. They protect their kids at all costs. But they don’t have the privilege to view motherhood as their calling and purpose or to choose between working to pay the bills or staying home. Their world isn’t centered around creating a perfect place for their kids to experience an Americanized gospel.
The problem is that when we view raising our kids as our job, we automatically negate the women who don’t have a choice to stay home. Without saying it, we diminish their role as mothers. And what about the women who would want to have kids more than anything but are unable to? Are they less valuable? Did they miss their ultimate calling? Will they never experience the greatest meaning in life?
The Christian community has elevated staying home with the kids by saying that those who choose to stay home recognize the value of their kids. But wouldn’t you say that those who choose (or don’t have a choice) to work also value their kids?
I’ve read articles which claim that women who chose to work rather than raise kids (which the authors believe must be done as a stay-at-home mom) are seeking self-fulfillment in a selfish way. I’ve met plenty of working mothers, and none of them view what they do for income as greater than what they do for their kids. In fact, for them the two are actually connected—meaning, they work so that they can provide a life for their kids. Just because you have a job outside the home doesn’t mean you are being selfish. Staying home (choosing motherhood as the ultimate calling) is a privilege that not every mother can afford.
When I read articles that describe motherhood as a calling, all I feel is pressure. Are you laying down your life for your kids? (Have you seen my stretch marks?) Do you respond patiently to their fussiness? Are you pointing them toward the gospel every day? I always seem to answer these types of questions the “wrong” way. I get annoyed with my kids. I often want to choose my own needs over theirs, so call me selfish. When we ask ourselves questions like these, we start to feel like failures. That’s what pressure does to us.
Pressure can make us feel like bad moms. We aren’t doing enough. We aren’t joyful enough. We don’t love our kids enough. (Let’s be honest: I love my kids. I’d take a knife for them, but in some moments, I just don’t like them. And some people want me to feel guilty for thinking that.)
When I took the pressure off myself by refusing to view motherhood as a calling, I found freedom to be my authentic self with my kids. I was able to tell them when I felt annoyed with them. And do you know what their response was? After considering for a few minutes how this moment of parenting—of being in relationship with them—was hard, they apologized. It wasn’t about the gospel. It wasn’t about the Romans Road. It was about being human. About allowing them to see what love should look like. About allowing my girls to see the real me and to realize that not everything is easy. That they aren’t my sole focus.
We don’t have to attach the word calling to motherhood in order to value it. I think people want women to feel validated in raising their kids. And I get it—mothering isn’t easy. On most days, it isn’t fulfilling, and no one is validating my work.
Being a mom is an important role. You carry influence. (Although, if you see my kids’ outfit choices, please don’t think that is my influence.) What you do as a mother is valuable. Changing diapers. Watching episodes of Curious George. Potty training. Teaching a child to ride a bike. Navigating friend drama. Enduring hours of homework. Being the pushing-off point for your teenager. It’s all honorable, valuable work. But it is not your calling.
You are free to work, free to find meaning and purpose and pleasure in whatever you do. What you do in life, whether in work or relationships, is valuable. It matters. But don’t let whatever you choose to do add pressure to your life. Your calling, your purpose, your meaning is bigger than a relationship, a job, or a role you play.
For any mom who has ever felt inadequate, overwhelmed, or guilty in trying to balance it all, popular podcaster Sarah Bragg offers brilliant clarity and respite in this friendly manual, A Mother’s Guide to Raising Herself, for becoming your most authentic self, instead of just surviving motherhood.