As a stay-at-home mother of four young girls, I’m often the target of the remark, “You’re a better woman than I am—I just couldn’t stay at home all day.” I usually give a hearty laugh in my head (or, in less charitable moods, out loud) at this backhanded compliment.
As the role of the modern female gets rearranged more and more, one thing seems to remain the same in women’s circles: the barrier between at-home mothering and so-called “fulfillment at work.” Naturally, when I reassure my interlocutor that she is indeed built to tackle the duties of home life, the response is almost always, “Well, I’m just not fulfilled at home.”
By “fulfilled” such a woman usually means (whether she knows it or not) the indulging of disordered or uncultivated emotional appetites. In other words, she’s trusting her judgment too much and God’s too little.
Holy Virgin as guide
I wish I could, in all love and charity, explain to her that her priorities are out of balance—that she’s advancing her own perverse definition of fulfillment above the humble acceptance of the duties our Lord set out for her. (For most women, that comprises the vocation to become a wife and mother.) But our culture has set that all too normal reply beyond reach (or at least beyond grasp): so doing is now typically received as the reply of an extremist or a retrograde.
One of the foremost goals of my life is to use the Holy Virgin as a guide in my mothering and wifely duties. The Virgin’s daily focus wasn’t on her own emotional status. As a matter of fact, the Virgin lived her life on the opposite principle: accepting the role God set out for her. Often this role is opposed to our wishes.
In other words, the reason I stay at home to care for my family has almost nothing to do with my personal desires. It’s about allowing God’s direction and the Virgin’s intercession—which requires frequent prayer.
After all, if there’s one woman to emulate, I’ll go with the best.
Challenges of home life
My husband and I have four girls . . . because God has a sense of humor. We have two-year-old twins, and if you’ve ever heard stories about how twins adore one another and cannot be separated, please reimagine a more violent scene. They compete loudly over everything. For example, I once found them fighting (and biting!) each other over an empty Otter Pop wrapper they found from under the couch.
Our five-year-old sincerely believes she’s an anthropomorphic kitten and expects to be treated with all according respect. (Have you ever successfully convinced a kitten to eat a bowl of broccoli? Neither have I). Our Lord has heard some seriously strange prayers regarding this child: “Lord, please give me the patience needed to convince this feline-totem-spirit that ‘meow’ doesn’t suffice for effective communication.”
Our handicapped eldest is far and away our easiest child—the saint of our home. If she were to be canonized, she’d be the patroness of perspective. Her handicaps have taught the family what truly matters in life, and the feminist lobby would find that what it calls fulfillment doesn’t even occupy a low spot on the list.
The natural, day-to-day variety afforded by motherhood is probably its aspect most foreign to the working female. If the fulfillment-seeking feminist could peek into my life, she would, on one day, see my children in their jammies at noon (me in the same attire), cereal bowls with sugary residue still in the sink, some banal children’s show on the TV, and a hefty pile of laundry on the stairs. On another day, she may see a well-kept home and four bright-eyed little girls all dolled up on their way to a homeschool field trip. Variety, as we all know, is the non-organic nutritive supplement of life.
The role appointed by God
What she couldn’t see (or perhaps understand) is that unconditional acceptance of God’s will is behind all of it. My whimsical “fulfillment” became moot once I became a wife and a mother. I mean, have you met someone who is emotionally satisfied by scrubbing a toilet or folding laundry? To be fair, on the other hand, I’ve also never met anyone who actually takes away the satisfaction claimed by my working friends at their boring jobs.
At home or at work, life is at least partly a grind. That’s the way of it.
The perks I get in my day-to-day life as a homemaker are present, but that’s not why I’m at home. (Come on, who doesn’t love those precise vacuum striations in the carpet? Or, if you have little kids, hearing the theme song for Clifford’s Puppy Days? It’s a national treasure.)
Even if I disliked most of the duties involved in homemaking, I would still do it. Once again, it’s about accepting God’s will and fulfilling the role he appointed—even if one is not titillated by every aspect of that role. Ironically, my working friends will often use this same rationale in defense of their boring jobs, though they will try to stop me from using it.
When our Lady said, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), she gave us the most beautiful example of womanly humility. She certainly didn’t reject God’s will on account of some myopic notion of “fulfillment.”
What is the ideal?
People invariably ask, “That’s all fine and well, but what about women who must work?” I was raised by a single mother, and I understand that there are situations in life when women have to work. What is worth discussing concerns the womanly ideal.
I have known some remarkable women who, if they wanted, could excel in ways the modern feminist dreams about but instead chose to accept God’s call. I disagree with those who would say that these women are wasting their talent. What could be more important in life than answering God’s call?
Rightly oriented fulfillment in the Lord is the only kind I’m interested in.
Ultimately, we ought not to be filled by our own longings but by the grace of God: gratia plena. The angel Gabriel hailed our Lady in just this way, after all, saluting her as “filled with grace” because he knew the real meaning of fulfillment. It happens only by submission to God’s will.