Motherhood and the Call to Holiness
How staying at home helped moms understand their vocation
Recently, the Women at NBCU (a marketing firm for NBC Universal) study found that 66% of moms said they would rather be a stay-at-home parent than a working parent. Additionally, the majority of employed moms (53%) feel that, while financially they need to work, they would prefer to be stay-at-home moms.
Long before she was married or even pregnant, Vicky Stone intended to be a stay-at-home mom. It didn’t work out that way. When she and her husband had their first child, her career was taking off. They had just purchased a house and couldn’t give up the income or benefits. “I think it came down to me being too young and selfish at that time,” she admits. “I couldn’t see the big picture.”
By the time she was pregnant with her fourth child, she had risen to the position of assistant county administrator for Camden County, N.J. She enjoyed the work but felt the overwhelming need to be at home with her children. “Working was coming at the cost of spending time with my family. I needed to re-evaluate my priorities.”
So she left the workforce and never looked back. Now, with seven children, ranging in age from 5 to 16, she knows she made the right choice. She discerned motherhood as her vocation and learned the unique way it sanctifies everyday life.
“God calls each and every one of us to holiness, but being a mother is a special blessing. Being a mother one is able to be his instrument in creation, his hands, as we help our children in all they do,” she says. “We demonstrate his love in our unconditional love for our children — and all of this carries through to not only our own children, but to all.”
Other Catholic women have faced similar challenges and discernment.
When Michelle Reitemeyer was working as a civil engineer, she believed she could balance both a large family and a demanding career. Married at 24, she had her first child at 27. She wanted to stay home, but, like many families, they simply couldn’t afford to lose the extra paycheck: “The reality was that we owed a ton of money from our private college education, and we hadn’t been overly prudent in how we spent our spare cash in our early marriage. I managed to keep my paycheck, but finagled fewer hours in the office and two days working from home.”
This approach didn’t work out too well, and a month before the birth of her second son, she made the decision to stop working and turn to motherhood full time. “Often, a woman works just to pay for childcare, and it makes no sense,” she explains. “Not in my case. Had I poured myself into my career, I could have made a lot of money. I was on an upward path, especially once my company added a commission to my base pay a few months before I quit. But, enticing as that was, I am an old-fashioned girl. I had dreams of waving goodbye to the kids as they left for school, spending my day cleaning the house and baking cookies, greeting them with smiles when they got home, and just having this perfect Leave It to Beaver life. I didn’t want other people to change my babies’ diapers, feed my babies bottles, or help my children with their homework.”
Mother of six Margaret Berns, on the other hand, always knew she would stay home to raise her family. “In fact,” she says, “I told my husband so on our first date. (The fact that he stuck around for a second date was very encouraging.) This is it for me: Raising my children is the most important thing I will do.” She left her job as a teacher in a small Catholic high school upon the birth of her first child.
Heather Price was also working as a teacher when she decided to leave her job to stay at home. Teaching is “probably one of the most family-friendly careers there is,” she says. “I loved it until I was a mother — then the joy paled to nonexistence. I decided to focus on my family when it hurt so much to drop my oldest off at her aunt’s so I could go to work. It seemed hypocritical to be teaching other people’s children and leave someone else to take care of my own. Then No. 2 was born when No. 1 was only a year and a half old, and the work to get out the door was just overwhelming. Between prepared-food costs, gas costs and day-care costs, I wasn’t making any money.”
Now Price is pregnant with her sixth child, and she and her husband are committed to “the spirit of sacrifice. I would love to make annual trips to France or even take graduate-level classes in art history or French; even a solitary trip to the grocery store, however, is a luxury. Sometimes I feel like I live in a cloister, with my only influence being through prayer, but I don’t know that I’m comfortable with that comparison. Those courageous women have made far greater sacrifices than I.”
For Berns, the call to holiness comes from “the love that I show my children and husband. Theoretically, this love will increase exponentially when my children leave the house — the ripples will expand; the faith will be shared. That is my great hope: that my children will all be emissaries of the King and will be inspired, not hindered, by what they’ve learned in our home.”
Some new mothers, however, find the image of the vocation doesn’t always match the reality. How can children be the means for a mother’s sanctification if they only make her irritable, tense and exhausted? Reitemeyer learned gradually that things do get better with age and experience.
“There were many evenings I wept while nursing a little one to sleep,” she admits, “and prayed to Mother Mary for the grace to be gentle and patient and kind. I still have a long way to go, but, certainly, I find it much easier now to speak softly or slow down to a child’s pace or laugh before scolding. Motherhood, well done, has no room for selfishness, impatience, sloth or cowardice. Every day brings new challenges that require exercising one or more virtues, and to boldly face another day is to get a bit stronger, better, holier. Certainly, there is the possibility of failure, of becoming apathetic, of remaining selfish and self-centered. And, surely, as the mother goes, so too will go the family, and thus the world.
“Holy women will tend to raise holy families, and since the family is the fundamental unit of society, the more holy families there are, the better our society will be.”
For Stone, the call to holiness in her vocation reflects the call of God to mankind. “When we become filled with his love,” she says, “we see others as his children. And just as we want to help our children attain their full potential, you can see how God wants all of his children to attain heaven. We feel the call to help others, as we should, on our path to walk alongside us as we strive to be more pleasing to him.”
Thomas L. McDonald is a catechist in the Diocese of Trenton, New Jersey.
Michelle Reitemeyer blogs at MReitemeyer.blogspot.com.
Margaret Berns blogs at PatentsGirl.blogspot.com.