Acton Institute Powerblog

Motherhood Is More Than a Job

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I have plenty of hesitations about heeding various calls to “work-life balance,” mostly because they tend to dismiss or downplay the reality that “work” is often a lot less work than “life.”

Parents of young children have a keen sense of all this, of course. Indeed, it’s the reason so many of us would prefer to retreat to the “workplace” when the dirty diapers and toddler tantrums begin to beckon.

Thus, if we really hope to “balance” these things out — devoting our time, treasure, and energy where and when it’s due — we’d do well to begin with an honest examination of the stakes and sacrifices, acknowledging the full realm of work and the distinct features and responsibilities of working here vs. there.

In a recent post at The Federalist, Rachel Lu offers precisely this as it relates to motherhood, noting that motherhood is far different (indeed, far more) than “a full-time job” or “the most important job in the world.” For Lu, motherhood is not a “job” at all, but rather a “vocation” and a “way of life,” one that demands a unique form of love and sacrifice that transcends the demands and drivers of the typical workplace.

Motherhood involves hard, hard work, to be sure, but it’s of a form and function worthy of its own category and considerations when it comes to work, vocation, obligation, and human destiny:

Motherhood is not a job. It’s a vocation and a way of life. Some women who stay home to raise their children could succeed brilliantly in careers, but they value something else more than money or worldly success.

That’s why it’s completely inappropriate to evaluate motherhood by labor-force criteria. Instead of shaming women for sacrificing their earning power, we should admire their willingness to prioritize people over material goods. The lack of competition for motherly “positions” speaks to the unique, irreplaceable relationship that a mother has with her own kids. Nobody else will “apply” for this “job” because there’s literally nobody else out there with the right qualifications. Looking at maternity through the lens of “job analysis,” we identify as bugs things that should be seen as features.

Lu examines this from a variety of helpful angles, so I encourage you to read the whole thing. But as we begin to look here and to other areas of stewardship outside of the “day job,” the overall point is well worth heeding.

As we weigh our vocational priorities, we actually think rather clearly about this “job” vs. that: about the “pros” and “cons” to being a stock broker vs. a welder vs. a farmer vs. a software developer and so on. But do we think as clearly, broadly, or distinctly about the differences between work in the family vs. education vs. politics vs. culture-making vs. ministry and so on? Do we think of it as work at all?

As we heed Lu’s challenge in reorienting our attitudes about the distinct burdens and blessings of motherhood, it may be a good time to stretch our imaginations in those other areas, further sharpening our vocational clarity, but more importantly, better aligning our hearts, minds, and hands.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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