Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Motherhood and Vocation, Part 4

I suppose I could also title this: EPILOGUE: THE GOOD HUSBAND.

You've probably noticed that I haven't given a lot of specifics in this series. I haven't used the words "stay-at-home mom" or "daycare".

Yeah, that was on purpose. The thing is, I don't know what the right answers are for you. I don't know the details of how this all works out in your life. I'm only barely figuring out how it works out in my own!

I can give a few general thoughts on it though:

1) A bad husband will make every single piece of this so, so much harder. If vocational worries are a first-world problem, they're also in some ways a good-marriage problem. Women with husbands who aren't good at husbanding are in a hard spot. They need every grace everyone around them can give. A good husband will, well, husband. In older times, that word was a verb that meant to cultivate, to guard, to help things grow and flourish. The result of good husbanding is growth and flourishing.

I do believe that God is a father to the fatherless and a husband to the husband-less. But if a good husband is an unearned blessing, a bad one is at the very least a severe handicap.

And we're all of us bad spouses to some extent. I'm just saying that it's not fair to beat yourself up when you're having to fulfill your own role and someone else's and you're finding you're not able to do the job of two people no matter how hard you try.

God gives grace wherever we find ourselves. But it's unkind, I think, to fail to acknowledge that the husbandless or badly-husbanded woman is playing the game on a much higher difficulty setting.*

Again, I don't know how to address the situation or how to fix individual situations. I can just see clearly that having no husband or having a bad husband makes all of mothering harder, and that has to include the parts that have to do with juggling your vocation. And I want to acknowledge the bravery of the mothers who keep loving and working in the middle of those situations. They're heroic. And may God grant them every grace and mercy and strength that they need.

2) People say "specialization is for insects" but screw that. The truth is, specialization allows for civilization. Try having roads without engineers or secure borders without soldiers. Specialization is efficient.

Specialization allows for civilization in countries . . . and in families.

That the children are fed and clothed is the responsibility of both parents. It's my concern that there's money for food and it's my husband's concern that the children are cared for. If either of those things fail to happen it's both our faults. Redundant responsibility is a good failsafe.

But, practically, specialization makes for efficiency, and often it's going to make sense to have one person specialize as the bread-winner and one as the care-giver. Not always. Often. There are certainly reasons to split up those tasks or to juggle them back and forth. There are reasons, and there are seasons. (And I think the older kids get, the easier it's going to be to juggle those responsibilities back and forth.)

But, often, specialization is the most efficient way to make sure the family is 1) provided for, and, 2) cared for.

So you end up, often, having the father with the bigger career and the mother more often at home. I just want to point out how practical this is. And that it isn't necessarily bad to do things for practical reasons.
I think the problem comes when we start to see ourselves as the roles and only the roles. If I look at my husband and see a workhorse or a piggy bank, if he looks at me and sees a nanny or a maid . . . then we're in trouble.

But if I look at him and see Adam, and he looks at me and sees Jess - knowing full well that Adam earned the money and health insurance, and Jess cleaned the bathroom and cooked dinner - well, that's fine. We're called to love each other is all. Not use each other. Love each other. That there is utility there too is just the proper rights of love. That's okay.

It's a question of love. I guess it all comes down to a question of love. Sometimes loving the Lord means I'm nursing twins and trying to have a kind word for my toddlers despite my headache and my exhaustion. Sometimes loving the Lord means I'm spending four hours writing. Sometimes loving the Lord means I'm scrubbing a toilet. Sometimes it means I'm sitting still long enough that I can hear Him remind me how much He loves me.

So, motherhood and vocation . . . all come down to love, I think. Loving the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul and strength . . . and loving your neighbor as yourself. You know, those little neighbors who are the fruit of your and your husband's love. Your first neighbors. The ones in your own household.

Love God. Love each other. Do the work God's given you to do. Trust Him to make up the lack. And . . . I don't know what else to say, so I'm stopping there. What do you think?

*I think the first user of this metaphor was John Scalzi, here. It's probably pretty obvious that I don't agree with Mr. Scalzi on everything, but he's a good writer and it's just a brilliant metaphor. Credit where credit's due.


Jen said...

Thanks for this series, Jess.

Jessica Snell said...

Thanks, Jen; you're very welcome.

Amber said...

I've been waiting for a little quiet time all week to read your series and I finally managed to find some. :-) I had a couple of thoughts, but I am struggling to put them into words adequately.

First, I think the patience required to wait until a wife and mother has more time can be so great that it can preclude certain career options... For example, I'm about to have my fifth child, who will be almost 12 years younger than my first. At this point we're thinking this will be our last, but as we refuse to take surgical steps to insure this or abstain for the next, say, eight years, there's no guarantees! Even at this point, some sort of other work which would require additional schooling is just about out of reach, at least without severely compromising what I could offer my children of myself at home. Because I have not only married and had children, but also because of my extended childbearing, certain avenues which I was actively pursuing in my college years are firmly closed to me. And, really, I'm ok with that - I don't want to give the impression that I'm holding a grudge here. I think I would have been good at the path I was considering all those years ago, but I also feel quite certain that this path is far better for my eternal salvation.

And this sort of brings me to my next thought - I think God sometimes gives us gifts simply for us to give them back to him, undeveloped and unused. I think there's a certain utilitarianism about the idea that if God gives you a talent in writing or painting or organization or whatever that you have to develop it and use it (particularly in the sphere outside the home) - even if you think you are using these gifts for the glory of God and His Kingdom. I think sometimes He wants us to quietly give these gifts back to him, and serve him in little ways that may seem less creative and less intellectually engaging - and certainly less noticeable to the world at large.

Quickly here - I'm running out of time before I need to get ready for Mass - two anecdotes that come to mind. The first, a man who was called into marriage and also given great artistic talent. He tried to foster and build on these gifts, but realized he was in a position where he had to choose between developing and building his career in art which would entail a lot of time and energy directed away from his family or he could forgo his promising career in art, take a steady salary job where he could be much more present in the lives of his wife and children and life a quiet suburban life. Is he using his gifts God gave him to the fullest? And does it seem like he's made the right decision? (And who knows - the man's story isn't over yet - he may become an amazing artist in retirement... or he might die of cancer at age 62, never painting another picture again. Either way, I'm inclined to think he made the right choice)

And really briefly because I am almost out of time... I am haunted by the memory of the mother of my uncle. She was one of the pillars of the church, loved by everyone in her community, always on hand whenever something was going on, ready to help. When she died, the whole church community turned out for her funeral and everyone sang her praises. Her children, all fallen away from the church and estranged from God and each other, almost didn't recognize the woman being described at the funeral. It can be so easy for us to want to serve where our work is recognized and appreciated, shorting the quiet work that needs to be done around us.

OK, so I've written a novel here - but thanks for your posts, I've enjoyed thinking about it all this morning. It is a subject I think about a great deal too.

Jessica Snell said...

Wow, your last story there, about your uncle's mother, is absolutely haunting (and terrifying). A warning, for sure.

And thank you for sharing all your other thoughts. I think you're right, that in some lives, the trade-off of mothering time and vocation time that I described never comes. And if it's chosen wisely and well (as it seems you have), I think that's no bad thing.

On the other hand, I think that second vocation can sometimes come a lot later than we think. I grew up watching my mother get her doctorate in her forties, that led to a second career that suits her better than anything she'd done before that. So, I suppose that probably influences my views a lot . . . I watched it happen in my own home. Of course, there were only three of us kids, so I'm sure that made a difference. (And of course, as you point out, there are some careers that pretty much require you give them your youthful years, not your more elderly ones, and if you miss out in your twenties and thirties, you just miss out. That's very true.)

As for the ideas of gifts you don't use, for good reasons - sure, that's certainly possible. Though I do wonder about it. But I don't suppose anyone but the gifted person him or herself could ever know with exactly what level of integrity (or fear) the decision was made. Which brings me back to my point of: it comes down to love. If the decision to give up a gift is made out of the love of God and God's people, then thanks be to God. It certainly does seem possible to me that that is sometimes the case.

Thank you for all your good thoughts, Amber! :)