There is More than One Way to be a Good Mom

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The word vocation means a “call.” In Catholic circles, it refers to a call from God. Many women receive a call from God to motherhood. It is a noble call, a challenging call, a call that will frequently bring a woman to her personal limits and to her knees in prayer. Yet, it has immense rewards. Those of us who have been called to this life should be both thankful for and humbled by it.

Given that it is such a hard job, motherhood should be supported by all of us, in all its forms. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. While the outside world may be very supportive of working mothers, in Catholic circles, it is often seen as a “lesser” choice.

If a mother “needs” to work, then it is acceptable, but even then I’ve heard other mothers say that they feel sorry for these mothers. The woman who chooses to work? She is frequently portrayed as selfish and not putting her family first. It is as if there is one version of motherhood that is held up as the ideal – the stay-at-home totally dedicated mother (if you managed to nurse exclusively for at least a year, homeschool your children, and have four or more children, you get extra points) – and all the others fall a little short.

As a homeschooling stay-at-home mother, I am begging people to reconsider that position. I believe that I have been called to my current way of life for this season of my life. It certainly wasn’t in the life plan that I had for myself. Rather, God led me here. I am very fortunate to be able to work part-time from home. My situation was different in my past, and it may be different in my future. I hope to always do what God wants from me.

Is it then possible to believe that others are called to different forms of motherhood?  I would argue that it is. Learning about St. Gianna Beretta Molla (1922-1962) expanded my own understanding of the vocation of motherhood. She is a patron saint of working mothers. She was an accomplished physician who loved her work. She truly felt called by God to be a doctor. She continued to maintain her own practice while having three small children.

St. Gianna would ultimately give up her own life so that her 4th child might live. That child followed in her mother’s footsteps and became a doctor herself. On the subject of vocation, St. Gianna wrote “What is a vocation? It is a gift from God, so it comes from God. If it is a gift from God, our concern must be to know God’s will. We must enter that path: If God wants, when God wants, how God wants.” God called St. Gianna to be both doctor and mother. She served God completely in both roles.

On a related note, Pope Benedict XVI recently stated that “it is necessary to concretely support motherhood, including guaranteeing professional women the possibility of balancing family and work. Too often, in fact, women are put in the position of having to choose between the two.” He encouraged governments to support maternity rights, including child-care centers.

God calls mothers to different forms of motherhood. Women should always pray to do God’s will in their lives. At the same time, all mothers should be supported and encouraged in their vocation, whether that vocation involves being a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, working full-time outside the home or any of the variations in-between. There is no one right way to be a mother. The only right way is what God is calling a mother to do at a given moment of her life.

Copyright 2011 Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur

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25 Comments

  1. I love this post.

    I have a toddler and work part-time from home, and in the past I have struggled in feeling “left out” of the Mom Crowd (play dates, zoo trips, birthday parties, homeschooling groups) and even sub-par as a mom because I don’t have the time or energy to do everything I would love to do if I could be home full-time. But God always affirms me so generously when I just turn my thoughts and fears on the subject to him!

    With our second baby on the way, my husband and I have decided that I will be home full-time after the new arrival, and while I’m looking forward so much to the stay-at-home-mom vocation God is opening to door for me to do, I hope to stay grounded in it as you have. For example, I know that just because I’ll have five new hours in the day that I won’t be having to spend on a job, I’ll fill that time up quickly with childcare and housework and (literally) only God knows what else! I know that life won’t be peaches and cream all the time as a stay-at-home mom, but it WILL be more conducive to the activities, traditions and routines that I want so much to create for my family.

    Thank you for your post! Blessings on you 🙂

  2. Thank you for this article in which you draw attention to the selflessness of St. Gianna in giving her life for her child. Certainly, she had a supportive close-knit family around her to help with the children so that they wouldn’t be just dropped off at a day-care center when she did devote some of her time to being a doctor.

    All mothers are called to the same selflessness in giving of themselves to care for the family. By being present to our family at home and caring for our children, we will be sure to know how they are raised and that it is with our Christian values, not someone else’s belief’s. The Catechism tells us and many Church documents as well, that it is a parent’s first and foremost responsibility to raise our children. Children grow quickly and there will be plenty of time to pursue other pursuits. I don’t think the stay-at-home Catholics you refer to in this article are judging or measuring up other mothers. If they encourage the working mothers to be present to their children and care for them, it’s because the stay-at-home mothers believe that especially when children are young, whenever it’s possible, a mother’s presence is critical in their upbringing.

    Certainly, some mothers work because they don’t have any other choice. I hope that the ones that do have a choice will consider being present for as much as is possible when their children are young. Of course, our older children need us too.

    May Mother Mary guide us in our mothering.

    God bless ALL mothers!

    Donna-Marie

    • You seem to be one of the mother’s Patrice is talking about being judgmental. I have to work out of necessity. I am a teacher and get lots of time off including summers (3 months), weekends, snow days, 1 week at spring break, 2 weeks at Christmas, and 1 week at Thanksgiving. Not to mention the fact that I get home by 4:00 in the afternoon and my child goes to bed around 9:00 and sleeps with us. My child only goes to the babysitter an average of 1.5 days a week because of my and my husband’s schedule. I am a FULL TIME mother and will always be. I am always present and my husband and I ARE the ones raising our son. My mom was a SAHM and was awful at it! She would have been a much better, more involved mom had she worked. Try to understand that everyone is not in your situation and does not always have a choice.

      • Dear Makenzie,

        God bless you as you mother your family. I think you have misinterpreted what I have tried to express. But, that’s okay. Again, God bless you and all mothers who work so hard to be there for their kids!

        Donna-Marie

        • I appreciate you clarifying in a kind way and I am glad I misunderstood. I would be disheartened to think that you meant it the way I took it. I suppose you could say I have a certain amount of jealousy towards sahm’s because I so badly would love to not have to work at all.

        • And Makenzie, I wish you PEACE. Based on your comment to me and another you wrote to another commenter here you seem to be not experiencing peace of heart since you are lashing out at others. Please know that I will pray for you and your family and wish you well.

          God bless you!

          Donna-Marie

          • I should know better than to get involved in these threads as they only stir up “drama.” I am not “lashing out” but merely trying to get others to see a different point of view. It is upsetting as a mother to read someone saying that the working mom isn’t raising her children and isn’t there for her family, as it is not true. I do thank you for praying for my family and me. I will pray for you and yours as well.

          • Well, Makenzie, if you’re honest with yourself (maybe re-read your comments) you’ll seethat it is “lashing out.” You said to me, “You seem to be one of the mother’s Patrice is talking about being judgmental.” You said to another, “What a shame to feel this way!” when that person was expressing her own feelings. So, that’s why I said it doesn’t appear as if you are feeling peaceful right now because you seem angry and lashing out at people who don’t feel the same as you. I don’t see anyone lashing out at you. I wish you well. Thank you for your prayers. I’ll pray for you and yours. God bless!!!

  3. I had to work with my frist child because I was a young (too young) single mother. While I tried the best I could it was clear that he was getting more influence from the people he spent 8plus hours with/day instead of where he should have been getting it from – me. I have gone on to have 8 more children. I quit working after I was blessed enough to get married and my husband had a decent job. We struggled financially but after my experience of being away from my son I really felt like I needed to be there wtih my other children as they arrived. As much as I admire St. Gianna I do not believe it is possible to serve completely in both roles. If you are away then someone else is parenting your children. That’s just the way it is. You can certainly be a mother when you are home but it’s not as if the children’s lives come to a hault when you are gone. Further, in our society I don’t believe that the WOHM is portrayed as selfish. In my experience she’s portrayed in a much better light than the SAHM. I’ve frequently been called “lucky” or told my husband “must be rich” because I “get to” stay at home. Believe me, I know what it’s like to not be financially able to stay at home. I did it. But we certainly give up many things so I can be here with the children. Not to mention the times I’ve been asked you “must not work” or “don’t you ever wish you had a real job?”. Since I’ve been on both sides of the fence I think I’ve definately been more beaten up as the SAHM than the WOHM.

    • “As much as I admire St. Gianna I do not believe it is possible to serve completely in both roles. If you are away then someone else is parenting your children. That’s just the way it is.” How completely WRONG you are! I have to work out of necessity and I am a FULL TIME mother! How insulting for you to say otherwise.

      • I’m sure you are a very loving mother, Makenzie. I think others here including myself are merely trying to help other mothers. I don’t think there should be any fighting here. You said earlier that you would love to not have to work. I’m sure you’ve thought about this, but perhaps is there a away to generate income from home? Just throwing out a suggestion, since you had expressed that desire. I wish you well and much peace from our dear Lord!

        • Thanks. Yes, I have thought of that, but without benefits, we could never make it. Most work at home occupations require you to take classes and we do not have extra money to do that either.

          • Well, I think it’s great that you have summers off and that you have arranged for your husband or yourself to be with your family when one of you is not present. You’re doing your best, I’m sure. God bless!!!

  4. Thank you for this article and reminding me today about the importance of self giving love every mother has knitted in her heart to serve her family. This vocation is hard but very rewarding and I thank God for sharing the many faces of motherhood in wonderful saints like St. Gianna Molla. As a full time stay at home, homeschooling mother of 4 I have found myself having conversations with moms who work about the wonderful gift of staying home and committing oneself to the task of motherhood full time. I always ask for God’s help when these conversations come up and find most of the time that these mothers have a pull in their hearts to take that plunge and devote themselves to their little ones without the burden of outside work. I feel that other stay at home mothers who encourage the working moms to stay home are doing so because they have come to know through experience how precious and short these years are. I don’t feel they are measuring them up or looking down on them but just may feel led to share their own experience or convictions about being fully present to their children (especially in the younger years) as affirmed by church documents and by Pope John Paul II. Surely some moms are called to motherhood as well as a noble profession outside the home such as St. Gianna was but with the dangers of the Culture of Death in which we are all affected, especially our precious children, I pray that every mother will pray and discern the will of God first before making the decision to work outside the home.
    May the example of the Holy Family of Nazareth inspire us in our everyday works of wife and motherhood. God bless you.

  5. Donna-Marie, thank you for your beautiful insights, above.
    I’d like to add that I always found it interesting that the Church, when teaching how to properly care for widows…says that family and the Church are to support and help these mothers so that they can remain at home to care for their children. I think, in general, we, as Christians, have “dropped that ball” today.
    While I respect the right of opinion expressed by Patrice in this thoughtful post…I do believe that most times, as in keeping with our Catholic Christian values, that, when God grants us children, we should do everything in our power to stay home with them to raise them.

  6. Thank you for your kind words, Judy. I agree that this is a thoughtful post by Patrice, who, by the way, I feel is a very fine Catholic writer.

    I agree with you that our Church does indeed encourage others to help the widow and the single mother to be able to be there at home and care for her children.

  7. I have experienced both worlds. With my 3 oldest children I had to work to help bring in income. I was fortunate to be an RN and worked at night. I was able to be home when they came from school and any daycare was mostly provided by extended family. However, I was over-tired and I feel was not able to be the Mom I wanted to be. My husband and I have adopted 2 babies who are now 4 and 5 while my older kids are 27, 29 and 31. I am able to be a stay at home Mom to these kids and find I am more patient, less tired and end up being way more involved in my kids lives. I do not choose to homeschool but instead will send my little ones to Catholic schools. Today we made Valentine pillows together and I never was able to do these kind of things with my older kids mainly because of the time shortage. I feel that when you work outside of the home the kids do get short-changed but I also understand those women who have to work to help support the family.

    • What a shame to feel this way! I was “short-changed” because my mother was a SAHM. She was not good at it and would have been much more involved and happier had she worked. My child is in no way shape or form “short changed!” I would because I have to and would love to be a SAHM and it’s so upsetting when people such as yourself are judgmental. Would you pay my mortgage so I can stay home 24/7?

  8. Patrice, thank you for sharing.

    I loved your closing sentence: “The only right way is what God is calling a mother to do at a given moment of her life.” Our calling at any given time is something that only we and God…and perhaps our spouse and maybe our spiritual director…can really determine and perhaps even, at times, understand.

    In 31 years of raising children, I have seen what you said about “extra points”. As a matter of fact, I won all the bonus points 🙂 but does that mean all of my children have kept their Faith? No, it doesn’t, although they are all good citizens and I love them all and entrust them to God.

    In recent years I’ve worked part-time outside the home. On the other hand, because my husband doesn’t like me to go away, and most of our vacations include the kids, I have taken only very rare, brief trips away from my children, even when they were older. So I may be away for several hours a day but I’m there for so much more of the time. We each come and go from the home in different ways and at different times, hopefully each one preparing our children as best we can and providing for them in the ways we feel are best for their welfare…temporal and eternal.

    May God bless us, every one.

    Margaret Mary

  9. Miranda Baumguardner on

    I very much enjoyed this post. I am a new mother of a ten month baby girl with another beautiful life on the way. Like Toni, I’m also an RN but am fortunate enough to work only two days a week. My husband works nights so he watches our little girl when I work. This works our great for us, because one of us is always with her.

    We, however, are blessed enough to be able to do this. I believe being a stay at home mom is the ideal, but I understand tht not everyone is in this situation. More than where the mother is, whether work or home, I think it most important that she is doing what she feels God guiding her to do and where she and her husband have determined she needs to be to meet the family’s needs.

    I pray that all mothers be accepting of one another and support each other in our ministry as wives and mothers.

  10. I’d like to quote Miranda’s line above:
    “More than where the mother is, whether work or home, I think it most important that she is doing what she feels God guiding her to do and where she and her husband have determined she needs to be to meet the family’s needs.”

    This truly is the most important thing. I think it’s unfair to make statements like “Being a SAHM is best for the family”, “WOHM is less than ideal”, etc. The fact is, some moms who work outside the home DO do it for selfish reasons, or at least reasons that did not come from seeking God’s will. And for this, the family will suffer. But some WOHMs, it has been thoroughly discerned by her and her husband that God is calling her to that work, whether part-time, full-time, temporary, or life-long. Sometimes this is hard for certain moms who have never felt a strong call to a particular career or work to understand this. But as we are all given different gifts from God, so too we are given different assignments from Him. None are superior to the others so long as we are each SINCERELY seeking and carrying out God’s will for our lives and our families.

    Another point I do want to make is about the “who’s raising the children” dilemma. It has been rightly pointed out here on this thread that WE as parents are called to be the primary caregivers and primary educators of our children. WE are called to bring them up in the faith, help form their consciences and teach them how to not only be good citizens, but good Catholics. We MUST do all that we can to take that role seriously, knowing that they are people will their own free will, but that at the end of the day, God will say assess the job we did in caring for the souls he placed in our care. If we can sincerely say we did the best we could to show them God’s love and bring them up properly, then it doesn’t matter if that child is currently on the road to sainthood or not. You did your job, you did what was asked of you to the best of your ability. You gave your child all the tools they would need in life. Beyond that, you cannot control their every decision and action.

    SO. This is why it’s so important that if God does call both parents outside of the home to do some work, that those we are leaving our children with will not interfere with the goal of raising them to be healthy, responsible, and most importantly, holy. Ideally, we could find someone who would actively engage in that mission with us, and help to continue the parenting efforts of mom and dad when they can’t be present, but at the very least, we must find someone who will not interfere with and undo the progress we are making with them. If God TRULY is calling both parents to work outside the home – he WILL provide a good caretaker for the kids. Trust me, he has an even greater investment in that child’s spiritual well-being than we do. Pray for God to lead you to that caregiver! I promise you, they are out there 🙂

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