My ears perked up when I heard the baristas start talking over the counter.
“I’m just not the maternal type, you know? Like I have no patience at all. None. I could never have kids.”
Hunched over my laptop in our neighborhood coffee shop, I had to bite my cheek to stop from laughing. If patience were a prerequisite for motherhood, I never would have gotten into the class.
As much as I struggle now with impatience and distraction and keeping my cool during long days with little kids—standard parenting challenges—I never thought when I was younger what particular qualities were being essential to becoming a mom. Maybe something generic like “kind” or “loving,” but I never had a set definition of a perfect mother in mind to compare against my own characteristics.
(Which I guess was a blessing in disguise, since becoming a mom brought more than enough unhelpful opportunities for comparison with the fantasy mothers who seem to have it all together.)
But if I hadn’t been so swamped with work that day in the coffee shop, I would have jumped at the chance to chat with the girls behind the counter and hear more about what they thought motherhood actually entailed. Because the ways we envision parenthood—the role, responsibilities, and relationships of this vocation—shape this important decision about whether or not to have children.
Many of us would agree that motherhood is a calling. But probably very few of us have experienced a direct call from God like so many stories we find in Scripture: God speaking to Moses in the burning bush or waking Samuel in the night or sending an angel to announce big news to Mary. So where does our sense of being called to parenthood come from? Do we need certain gifts or talents to qualify for a calling? What happens when we find ourselves second-guessing our vocation?
Since 2009—coincidently the same amount of time since I became a mother—I’ve been working on a theological research project all about vocation. So I can’t help but think about calling all day long. One of our new initiatives at the Collegeville Institute Seminars has been to capture everyday stories of vocation in a video narrative series called Lives Explored. This clip shares the story of a mother whose call to parenthood changed her understanding of vocation, as she transitioned from professional work to at-home parenting to a creative blend of multiple callings:
“There’s nothing more creative than parenting,” Angela says.
I wonder if the baristas had ever thought about creativity—or a sense of humor, or stamina, or sympathy—as being essential traits for a mother. There are plenty of ways to parent: numerous ways to be called to this vocation and just as many ways to live it out day-to-day. I may not be the most patient mom on the block, but I love to laugh with my kids and share my love of music with them. Watching them develop a sense of humor and seeing them start to bang on the piano themselves makes me realize that I have my own unique gifts to offer my family, just like every other mom.
Of course, the two chatting girls at the coffee shop that day might have honestly discerned the idea of motherhood and found it not to be their calling. But as their conversation kept circling back round to their shared conclusion that heaps of patience were a requirement for parenthood, I got to thinking about our assumptions about vocation.
Sometimes we think a calling has to be a perfect match. Frederick Buechner’s famous line that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” echoes this idea that vocation equals the perfect intersection of our gifts and the needs of the world. So we can start to assume that a calling has to feel like an ideal “fit” all the time or it isn’t what God calls us to.
But Scripture is full of stories of God calling people to work and relationships they didn’t feel qualify to carry out at first. Only by leaning into the promise of God’s loving guidance did Moses or Mary or Sarah or Paul live into the fullness of their calling. Their stories were not without doubt or fear or failure or struggles. And neither is any mom’s out there. Instead, we grow into the demands and joys of our callings as we keep going. We may receive new gifts along the way for the changing work we need to do, or we can develop certain abilities to use them in a different way as our vocations evolve.
I love Angela’s story for her honesty. But I also admire her clarity about creativity as a central part of her calling. It inspires me to keep exploring what threads have been running through my life as core to my vocation as it changes over time.
(Even if patience will never be one of them.)
How do you define your calling as a mother? What attributes or abilities are most important for your vocation?
Laura Kelly Fanucci, MDiv, is a Catholic wife and mother of two who writes about faith and family life at Mothering Spirit. She is a Research Associate with the Collegeville Institute Seminars at Saint John’s University.