On Motherhood and Callings and Turning 50
I turn 50 next month.
I’ve mentioned this before. I actually think I’m okay with the number. I’m not sure I’m okay with all the myriad aches and pains that are suddenly showing up.
Milestone birthdays, though, tend to put one in a contemplative frame of mind. Couple the approaching milestone with my two oldest children moving away, and my head is bound to start down some paths that I’m going to need to process and share.
And so it is that I come to this blog–a topic that I’ve been noodling over for… maybe a couple of years, to be candid. I’ve been afraid to post about this–afraid of judgment and questions and disagreement.
I think I’m not going to fear that.
So if you’ll all forgive me, I’m just going to get kind of real and very open and maybe a little Jesus-y… And it’s quite likely that I will mightily offend some people. And I think I’m okay with that.
But let me start with a disclaimer: This is my experience, these are my thoughts, and this is my opinion. I am entirely open to the idea that I am wrong, and it’s entirely possible that I will eventually look back on this post and want to change some things. So if you continue reading, please know that these thoughts are in no way intended to cast judgment on anyone else’s choices or beliefs.
We good? Okay.
And so it begins…
Three years ago this month, my life was in shambles. I’ve mentioned before that 2016 was a really rough year, and I still don’t think it’s necessary to share everything that happened in order to make my point. All you need to know is that my kids were struggling with consequences of bad choices and painful decisions, and I was questioning everything I believed, knew, or was taught about motherhood.
Here’s a thing about being a mom in the Evangelical church in the last couple of decades… And maybe not just in the Evangelical world, but maybe a little bit in some other circles as well.
We were told for years—decades–that if we wanted to have good Christian kids, there was a formula to follow:
- Mom stays home with the kids.
- Church every Sunday.
- Youth group is a must. Awana, too.
- Homeschool if you can.
- Listen to Dr. Dobson for all the parenting wisdom.
- Pray for your kids.
This was the formula. There were other things that were “optional,” but not–keep the house tidy so you can host all the necessary events, cook at home to save money, volunteer at the school, allow the neighborhood kids over at your house as much as possible so you can be a witness, but never let your kids stay with a “non-believer” family (I always hated that last one. I had some non-Christian friends I trusted far more than some of my Christian friends.). No smoking, drugs, alcohol… watch only Christian shows… Or if you can’t watch Christian shows, then use one of those things that bleeps out the bad words…
So… I tried. I tried to do as many of those things as I could.
But my kids hated Awana and youth group, and I was never good at hosting, and VeggieTales, while fun, always made me vaguely uncomfortable with it’s moralistic therapeutic deism.
And really bad things happened anyway.
The “Calling” lie…
Here’s the thing about Evangelicals and motherhood…
From the time I can remember, I was told that being a wife and mother was the highest calling I could possibly have. “There is nothing greater that you are called to do,” I was told–explicitly and implicitly– “than devote your life to raising your children.”
Hear me loud and clear, people:
This is an idolatrous lie.
I believe that Evangelicals have made the family into an idol. We have been told that our children–and more precisely, the formula with which we raise them–is our highest calling. (Men get a very specific message about family, too, but I’m not a man, so I’m not going to speak to that one.) An idol is just something that takes the place of God, and boy, have Evangelicals managed to put the immediate family in front of God.
Before you start typing angry comments, hear me out.
What happens when you believe that message and you follow the formula, and bad stuff still happens?
Christian mama, you believed a prosperity gospel. You believed that if you did the right things, you would get the right outcome.
Most idols are just a twisting of a really good thing. Marriage, family, home, children–those are excellent things.
But they are not your highest calling.
When I was trying to figure out what I did wrong in my parenting, I came up with a lot of really long lists. I have a lot of regrets from my parenting.
But I think my biggest regret is that I allowed my children and my status as a “stay-at-home” mom to become my idol.
Because what I’ve realized is that being a mom was not the highest calling on my life.
My Chief End
The Westminster Shorter Catechism says “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.”
Not to be a stay-at-home mom. (Show me in the Bible the command to stay home with your kids. Also, I’m pretty sure the Proverbs 31 wife was a working mom.)
Not to be a perfect hostess. (Being hospitable is in the Bible, sure, but I don’t remember the verse that says your house has to be Pinterest perfect.)
Not to be a scout leader or a Sunday school teacher or a homeschooling mom or the neighborhood safe house.
What I am realizing is that if my chief end is to glorify God, then that can encompass a whole lot of things. Motherhood and marriage, hostessing, being a scout leader, and all the rest, certainly, but also other good things.
For instance… Why can I not glorify God through writing?
It’s highly likely that some of you reading this blog have also read my work, and right now you’re thinking, “Uh, I don’t think you are glorifying God when your hero drops an F-bomb or your unmarried characters sleep together or you create pagan-esque magic or you write out violent battle scenes.”
Fine. I disagree, but you are entitled to your opinion. (The role of the artist in the Kingdom of God is perhaps a blog for another day.)
Can I glorify God through knitting instead?
Or running? Or lifting weights?
Can I glorify God by using my creativity to alter a recipe so that everyone likes it?
Can I glorify God by taking care of all the four-legged critters who live in this house?
Because here’s a higher view of one’s calling and purpose: It’s not about any one thing.
It’s not about working or staying home. There are plenty of kids of working moms who turned out great and plenty of kids of at-home moms who are struggling mightily.
It’s not about being neat and tidy or living in a chaotic mess. I know messy people who invite me in and treat me like family and make me feel welcome, and I know tidy people who do the same–and I also know both messy and tidy people whose houses I would not ever wish to visit again.
Mostly, it’s not about making your children or husband or house or work or hobbies or volunteer activities or even–gasp–church the center of your life. It’s about reorienting your heart, soul, mind, and strength to focus on Jesus, and then to follow the call that glorifies him.
Might that look like staying home, homeschooling, and being a scout leader? It might.
It might also look like medical school or contract work or teaching or working as a welder.
Because glorifying God can happen anywhere when God is the focus–not the thing itself.
So here’s what this all comes down to…
Reorienting the Compass
I am starting to get busier in my freelancing. This is a good thing. I feel like I’m starting to get a little traction–a few projects in the pipeline and a lot of prospects interested in working with me.
And I told Ethel the other day–“I forgot how much I like writing. And I forgot that I actually do know some things.”
I started freelancing again rather grudgingly. I started in response to three people asking me if I still did any freelancing. None of those people knew each other, and only one of those inquiries turned into a project, but I kind of sensed that maybe it was time. But I didn’t really get excited about it till I actually started focusing on it–started connecting with other freelancers again, started writing for other people again, started practicing those old marketing and copywriting skills, started thinking about really building something…
At one point, I remember my husband telling me that I didn’t have to work if I didn’t want to.
And my response? “But I like writing.”
Might it be possible that as I pursue the highest calling–to glorify God and enjoy him forever–that writing is a significant part of that?
As much as I wanted to be a “good” Evangelical mom, that’s not how things turned out. Some of that is circumstantial, but honestly, most of it is because I tried to fit myself into a role that I was not designed by nature, nurture, personality, drive, or whatever to fit into.
I’m not saying I didn’t want to stay home with my kids. I did want that, and I made that choice on my own.
But I kind of wish I had left more room to pursue my own things.
Because here’s the thing. Two of my kids are now grown and striking out on their own. The other two are just a few years away from doing the same thing.
If all I have is cooking, cleaning, driving, and hovering… then what will I do with myself when they’re gone?
This is where the reorientation helps. When I’m not focused on kids and mom duties–when I’m focused on “how do I glorify Jesus”–a future without kids around seems…
Full of possibility and adventure.
I turn 50 in a month. And I’m still trying to figure out how to best follow Jesus and be a mom and pursue the things I love.
But with my nest about half empty now, it occurs to me that in the process of pursuing Jesus, there will be a lot of writing involved.
I read a lot about women in their 50s and beyond experiencing a “second life”–reinventing themselves after the kids leave the nest. And I don’t know that I’m reinventing myself so much as finally owning what I am: a writer.
I can glorify Jesus and be a writer.
I don’t need to reinvent myself for that. I just need to reorient my compass and focus on the right thing.
Update on The Taurin Chronicles:
- The read-through of Bloodbonded is on hold. I decided my formatting wouldn’t work. New print formatting is in progress.
- Unquickened is still sitting in the mental slow cooker.
- Soultainted is over 36,000 words now. Still reliably adding about 1,000 words per day to this early draft.