My Aunt Dela was one of nine children. Her family was very poor. “There were some hard times,” she would say, “but oh we had some beautiful times.” It was the wistful way she and her sister Mary would describe those beautiful times that inspired me, as though their humble little home was held together and made beautiful by the laughter and memories of a full life.
I always admired larger families, even the ones where the mother looked a little overwhelmed. These women were heroes to me, as inspiring as Amelia Earhart or Helen Keller. Show me a reformer, a president, a saint, and I wanted to know their mother. At a young age I decided if I were going to have children, I was going to try for at least four, maybe more if I was brave. I always equated the number of children I would have with my willingness to be stretched, not with what I would “prefer.”
Apparently, that rose-colored view of larger families is not always shared by the rest of the world.
It wasn’t until I was pregnant with my third child that I began to learn just how undesirable big families have become.
Friends and family who were silent about my sub-par eating habits and boyfriend choices had a seemingly new found courage to speak their mind about my children. Namely, several were weary of Jake and I having more than three of them. More than once the words “unplanned” and “crazy” were used. The words “irresponsible” and “burden” were implied. I still remember my OB sighing and hanging her head when I declined to go on the pill. She told me I would probably be happier and a better mother if I did. I changed doctors after that.
With time, these conversations began to wear on my resolve. My motherhood vocabulary of “blessed” and “beautiful” began to morph into something less than ideal. “Challenging” turned into “exhausting” and “calling” turned into “tedious,” and before I knew it, that euphoric joy of making little lives was turning into ash and slipping between my fingers. It isn’t that these people didn’t want to have their own big family. It is that they sincerely didn’t want me to have a big family either. There was something about my choice that actually offended them. And God forgive me I listened to them.
If I were running a marathon strangers would be cheering and handing me cups of water.
If I were running a billion dollar tech company I would be applauded for breaking that glass ceiling.
But have four children in four years…?
You made your crazy bed, go lie in it.
As my friends read this, I hope they have patience with my rant, because they have heard it before…a hundred times. The thing is, I couldn’t put my finger on why it so affected me. Why can’t I just shake it off and not care? My conclusion, after years of wrestling, is this…
Motherhood has been reduced from a vocation to a choice.
Vocation is a matter of discernment and answering a calling; parenting should be seen as a cooperation with the will of God.
While choice is a PIECE of vocation, we are not to REPLACE vocation with choice.
Choice is weighing the foreseeable pros and cons and considering talents, means, desires and goals. All of this is part of the path to discernment. But there are generations of lives that hang in the balance that should not be left to man or woman’s mere choice. Nor are we to give others the place of discerning our own vocation for us. That is a sacred path that one must ultimately answer before God.
So here I have been struggling with doubts about my abilities and my human wisdom, because others weren’t seeing what I was seeing. But at the end of the day, the vision, the calling, is uniquely mine. Just as Noah had to withstand mocking as He built the ark, or the Israelites turned on Moses in the desert, or just as Christ had to take up His cross while His followers were dismayed that their Messiah was facing death, so we must stand boldly in our calling as mothers and not be shaken when those we love and trust doubt us.
If I were to stand before God and He asked, “Did I call you to this?”
My answer would be resoundingly “YES!”
And that is all I need to know.
Keep answering your call, in whatever form that is – the working mother of one, the stay at home mother of ten, the childless aunt that is a rock for her sisters and friends, the woman still waiting for marriage and a family, the adoptive mother, the grandmother of thirty, the single mother, the mother who miscarried a child, the mother who lost a child after birth, the woman who finds motherhood easy (can I follow you around for a week?!?), the woman who finds motherhood near impossible…to all of you stand firm in the path God has set you on. Don’t let anyone rob you of the joy. Don’t be discouraged when others don’t support you in your pain. God sees your faithfulness and part of that faithfulness might require walking your journey alone.
But never consider the fact that you are alone as a referendum on your calling. Many of the greatest saints were on a path separate from their peers.
The call is between you and God, and that is all you need to know.