M4M Reflection on Motherhood + Career
Last Tuesday night at our 3rd meeting of Mindfulness for Mamas, I watched in amazement as roughly fifteen women filtered through the doors of Hansen Hall, began introducing themselves and eventually sat down to listen to our panel on Motherhood & Career. Those mothers whose children ranged in age from infancy to adulthood, sat listening, rapt by the speakers on the panel who shared their experience of how becoming mothers changed their whole perception of “career.”
Each speaker shared in different terms about how motherhood was a catalyst and a means for vocational discernment. That phrase might bear clarifying. I want to be clear that when I use the word vocation here I’m not talking about career/occupation/trade/profession. I’m referencing the latin root of the word, “vocare” - to call and “vocatio” - a call. You know what I mean, that thing that no matter what you do is pulling at you and when you’re living it feeds your soul in a way nothing else can. When I speak of discernment, I don’t mean sheer decision making. In Henri Nouwen’s book, Discernment, the following is offered,
“Reaching a decision can be straightforward: we consider our goals and options; maybe list the pros and cons of each choice; and then we choose the action that meets our goal most effectively. Discernment, on the other hand, is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with God’s desire. As discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives, and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further away.”
When I think about motherhood working in my life to push me to discern my call, to align my deepest priorities and values with the work I am doing in my family and in the world, I can’t help but see it as a gift. It didn’t always feel that way though. In fact, for a long time, it felt like my my deepest priorities and values as a professional and my deepest priorities and values as a mother were at odds. I loved my role as a mother, and I still felt like there was a call pulling at me, but I didn’t have the time or energy to figure out what it was much less pursue it! And that just didn’t add up, because I had heard my whole life that I am living in a time when women can HAVE IT ALL! So why didn’t it feel that way?
It made me think, what does “having it all” even mean? There’s a lot of cultural programming that had informed what I thought having it all should look like, and it wasn’t sitting well with me. That’s when I went back to the prior definition of discernment, specifically the part that talks about sifting through the impulses, motives and options to discover which ones lead me me further away from divine love and compassion for myself and others. When I started to look at what led me further away, and what still leads me further away, I realized I was saying “yes” to a whole lot of things that didn’t actually line up with my deepest priorities and values. Those things were taking up a lot of my time and energy. So I started saying, “no,” to those impulses, motives and options that were leading me astray, and everything in my life started shifting. I discovered through my own discernment, that I am being called toward spiritual and religious leadership and teaching. I never would have considered that to be a viable option for my life had it not been for motherhood. Yet somehow, it feels very right.
I don’t want to imply that every mother must work outside of the home to feel fulfilled, nor do I want to insist that to be a good mother, you must stay home with your children 24/7. As Deborah Kahn reiterates in her book, The Roads Taken:Complex Lives of Employed and At Home Mothers, “there is no Holy Grail work status for all mothers.” As moms, we know when something isn’t working for us or for our family. We can feel it in our bodies and in our hearts when we’re on the wrong path. It shows up as mom guilt, anxiety, disengagement, avoidance, indifference, jealousy, resentment and feelings of lack. Those are clues, signposts indicating that we need a course correction. Those are the places where we get to say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
In return, we get to start saying “Yes!” to the things that matter the most to us, to the things that feed our souls just like every one of the mothers on Tuesday’s panel found. When we do that, our partners and children see it and learn how to do it for themselves. We are better mothers for it because we are confident in how our choices reflect our intention to live a life of purpose. We are more connected to those around us because we have the time, energy and clarity to be more present.