Vocligation

“You have four kids?” “You homeschool them?” “Ohh, you must be so patient, I could neeevver do that.”

This line of questioning, punctuated with the certain conclusion of my undoubted gifts as a mother has become a refrain in my life. I know the women who express their incredulity at my selfless nature in this manner are well-meaning, but I detest it.

I am selfish. I fight it hard every day, every hour, I want to tell them. Rather than build me up and make me feel like the superwoman they believe me to be, their compliments send me into a psycho-philosophical tailspin. Do these onlookers believe our family’s lifestyle is all the result of some master plan to fulfill my yearnings to be an elementary educator within the comforts of my own home? Have I been secretly watching the Duggars and am now eagerly taking a page from Michelle’s book? Hardly. No. Not at all.

To be honest with you, I find the concept of parenthood as my God-given vocation to be unsettling. If it were my vocation to have a large family, to teach my children, why wasn’t I smart enough to prepare for this better? Where is my insatiable maternal itch and desire to decorate nurseries? It ain’t there. Each pregnancy hits me like a sledgehammer of obedience – even number one. Life plays out slowly before me, amidst a sea of dishes and diapers, and we simply try to make the decisions that are in the best interest of the humans we have produced out of love. I think that my choices – to have babies and to educate them myself – are based more on obligation than on a particular vocation. Is fulfilling an obligation enough? If I do it convincingly and (mostly) joyfully? After all, vocation is defined as, “a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation”. Do I feel that I am highly suitable to mother lots of children and to educate them as well? Uh, only sort of, but I do think it is my obligation to train and hone the souls we have co-created to the best of my God-given abilities.

Continent Bean Map

I don’t mean to sound cold here, but I may not have the vocation to be a mother! Yet, God blessing us with these kids must mean that I do, but if I don’t, can’t I still do well by them out of a deep sense of obligation? No, that is too cold of a term as well – I love these people. I stare at them, I sniff their scalps and scoozle them while I should be doing laundry, I pour over third grade reading lists and I am looking forward to building a salt dough aqueduct this weekend – that must mean something, right? See what I mean: psycho-philosophical tailspin.

I recently attended a local Catholic homeschoolers panel discussion and at the end of the evening I went up to one of the presenters whose style I admired and I asked her, point-blank, “Do I have to homeschool my kids if I hate it, but I believe it is the best education I can provide them?” She just smiled and answered, “we all hate it once a day.” So, please, if you see me around – don’t tell me that you lack the superhuman call to do what I do. If you ask me why I do it, I will tell you, “Well, I do it this way because it is my vocligation.”

Goodnight.

  • Kellie “Red”

    AWOL, you crack me up!

    • awolmommy

      Red, I am glad my life dilemma amuses you.

  • JMB

    OK, this is a good one. But I have neither the desire nor feel the obligation to homeschool. I don’t know your circumstances but I have to do things in my life that I’d rather not do, and I do them out of obligation. So I get that. For some people, exercise or not drinking or eating too much is done out of obligation, for others it may be schooling their children or carting them around to ridiculous activities, or visiting an ailing grandmother or not blowing all your dough at Neiman Marcus. We all live with limitations. I have to teach CCD and I do it completely out of obligation and not out of love or desire. I wish I had it but I don’t.

  • Karen

    Yeeesss. I am not one of those girls who coos over babies and children. Women who want to hold my babies just seem to odd to me. I am definitely not one of those baby snatchers. In fact, I would take a puppy over a baby any day. But, these little people need a momma and I am she, so I get ‘er done. Of course I love them more than life itself, but some of these baby-crazy women need a chill pill. Thanks for being real!
    .
    I read this the other day and your use of the word “duty” reminded me of it. Perhaps you’ll get something out of it as well:
    http://ourmothersdaughters.blogspot.com/2011/03/competence-vs-perfectionism.html

    • awolmommy

      Karen, GREAT article, thanks for the link.

      • Karen

        You’re welcome! I honestly wish the writer would adopt me as another daughter. She is so wise. :)

  • http://www.humbledwelling.com Elaine

    Wow. You’re me down to not liking homeschooling, but doing it anyway. It’s nice to know there are kindred souls out there!

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

    It’s so interesting — I LOVE homeschooling. I dislike some of the day-to-day grind, but I think that would be true with any job. Honestly, though, I think that your desire to give your children what you have prayerfully determined is best for them, whether it suits your whims or not, shows that motherhood is your vocation, and that you are prepared for it. You may not have had the job training that you needed, but that is a social problem, and the fact that we have to learn as we go makes this harder for many of us. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t trade my college education for hom-ec and marriage classes.
    For me, the hardest part of both parenting and homeschooling is the almost constant SERVICE OF OTHERS. Guess what, though, we are all called to service, no matter where God places us. I just don’t have the spirit of service, and I pray for that to increase.
    You are not a superhero, but you are a saint in the making, and the struggle to do what is asked of you is part of the path to sanctity. I really don’t believe that all Mother Theresa felt like doing all day was cleaning up sick people, there must have been times, at least early on, when she longed to pitch it all for a few hours and go get a pedicure, but she pushed through, and her love for Jesus and those she served was always increasing.

    • awolmommy

      MA, you are so encouraging, and yet real at the same time. I am going to call your landline a lot when I am back on that side of the Atlantic and you are going to talk me down from whatever selfish tangent I am on. Thank you for these words.

  • Katie

    Thanks for your honesty! Parenthood is hard and I think we all question ourselves–I love it when people are honest about it though. It’s good for every other mom to know they are not alone in the tough times.

  • JMB

    AWOLmommy,
    Do you have to continue to homeschool back in the states? I think that you should derive some sort of joy out of what you do on a day to day basis. Maybe the Holy Spirit is gently guiding you to a different path? I don’t like to get into these “the Holy Spirit ” arguments because sometimes they lead to “whatever I want to do God wants me to do” type scenarios, however, I’m not sure that God would want you to be miserable in your day to day life and perhaps your children might need a mom who is happy and fulfilled rather than sad and mad. I recently read a nice little book about this called “God Wants you Happy” by Fr. Jonathan Morris.

    • awolmommy

      JMB, I will definitely check out the title, but I also want to clarify that I am not at all miserable while homeschooling, I like the personal touch I can put on things. I like getting to film Barbies acting like Romans. Truly, the frustrating thoughts are the opportunity cost ones, like, if my kids went to school then I could x. That is why I am pretty sure that it is more of a Maryalice- diagnosed problem of immaturity. I know I am a goodish homeschool teacher if I could just accept that that means I have to find other times to workout, or write letters or read or even prepare lovely dinners. Because what could be more important than their education? When we move back to the States I would like to have the freedom to live in a somewhat rural spot so we can have land, which will probably make us choose homeschooling again. So I have to adjust!

      • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com Mary Alice

        The time stuff will open up a bit, too. You can go for a run while your older kids are in activities, even if you are pushing one or two in a jogging stroller, and we routinely get to sit around on the weekends and read the paper now that we have kids who can also read or play quietly on their own. An enclosed backyard helps a ton, too. I also try to remember that if my kids went to school I would still have my toddlers, so I wouldn’t be all that free, and if I didn’t have toddlers I would work, at least part time. But really, the time will come for more choice. My parents are taking wonderful trips now, after so many years of camping vacations and Disney! You have it particularly tough because you are so far from family or any sort of support network. A rural homeschooling life is totally awesome, though, so look forward to that, too. What is the timeline for coming back?

  • http://motheringspirit.wordpress.com/ mothering spirit

    So since I study and research vocation for a living, I have to chime in here! :) In the years since I’ve been working on this theological concept, I’ve come to realize how many misconceptions there can be around the concept of God’s calling. One is that vocation should “feel good” (or right, etc.), that it should “fit.” But when we look to Scripture, we see lots of people called by God to be or act or do in ways that are very contrary to their gifts, skills, talents, even desires. Sometimes this may mean that we’re called to grow in faith – that it’s a question of immaturity, as you say. But other times it’s a matter of reframing our understanding of vocation. God can call us TO something (e.g. motherhood), but God can also call us IN something. For example, many people I’ve worked with talk about experiences of suffering or illness like this: “I don’t think God wanted me to be sick, or to lose my child, or to have my marriage fall apart, but now I can see how God was with me through that time.” I think more everyday experiences – parenting being a perfect example – can also apply in this way. God calls me WITHIN situations, even if I don’t feel that my gifts have called me TO that vocation. Does that make sense?

    • JMB

      I think you bring up a lot of good points here, but I’m still not convinced that we are to live our “vocations” in ways that are fundamentally contrary to personalities and natural talents and abilities. If I was forced to study advanced mathematics, or work on a fishing boat, or live in a cold dark climate with lots of pine trees (think Twin Peaks), I think I’d blow my brains out. I heard Fr. James Martin give a lecture a little while back and he spoke about his life prior to entering the Jesuits when he worked at GE. Here he was, with an excellent job, excellent pay and on the fast track and he was so miserable that he would doodle notes to himself that he wished he were dead. Should he have stayed at GE because it was the “right and normal” thing to do for a young Ivy league graduate?
      Teaching is a vocation – it is a calling and some people just don’t have that particular calling. I would say that homeschooling would be a calling within a calling , and i think the Lord gives lots of leeway with these things. Just as not every mother is able or called to have a large family, not every mother is a skilled homemaker or cook or an organizational genius. There are many mansions in the Father’s house and I think sometimes we get caught up in what we are “supposed” to be, rather than who we really are. I’m almost 46 now and I wish I followed my own advise years ago – to think of all the time I wasted saddens me now.

      • http://motheringspirit.wordpress.com/ mothering spirit

        JMB, I agree with you that generally speaking, we look for “fit” when we’re discerning our vocations: is this the right man for me to marry? Are we called to have children together? I know that when I have discerned career or educational choices, I always tried to start from my gifts/talents/skills: where my gifts and joy can meet the world’s needs. But I believe there are also times that we are called by God against our very desires, personalities, talents or abilities. When God called Moses to lead his people, he pitched a fit and complained that he had absolutely NO speaking ability – “Go ask my brother Aaron instead!” And so many of the prophets were called in the same way – they didn’t want to do what God asked of them, they didn’t feel they had the gifts or the right personality to fit the job. I often hear stories today that echo this: I didn’t want to take care of my mother with Alzheimer’s – I had absolutely no gifts or abilities for this, but God called me to do this. So I answered the call and grew within this experience. Sometimes I personally stew over the fact that I have such little patience, a gift/ability which parenting draws heavily upon. In my darkest moments, I think “What was I doing, becoming a parent when I lack some of the most basic skills or gifts or personality traits to do this well??” But despite my protestations, I do feel a deep calling to be a parent, underneath the daily frustrations of the obligations of this responsibility.

  • http://happilyeverjohnson.blogspot.com Queen B

    Today, all I wanted was to get my career back so that I could get out of my house and go do something that would stimulate my mind and feed my desire to feel important and valued. Instead, I spent the day addressing argument after argument between my restless kids and ruining what was supposed to be dinner. Your post was just what I needed to read, AWOL. Obligation it is. Today, I had to sigh, set down quite a bit of pride, and offer it up. I have to trust that God will help me become a more selfless person — on days like today I don’t feel like I’m making much progress ;)

  • BMM

    Man did this ever hit home! “sledgehammer of obedience” – love it! Thanks for keeping it real, AWOL. I struggle mightily with my vocation though I love my babies. This post and the comments are so very encouraging.

  • Bev

    Actually, if you feel led to homeschool your children, it is your God given vocation. For a time, at least. I really feel like this is what God wants me to do for my children. He doesn’t always ask us to do things we wholeheartedly enjoy. I’ve learned what happens to me when I ignore God’s gentle nudging — real Jonah-type experiences, though no whales were involved. I don’t want to mess with disappointing Him!

    I more have to deal with the ignorant types who think that all homeschoolers are weird, unsocialized little creatures who freak out when you take them out in public. Of course, I’ve only got 2 children for the moment, so I don’t get the admiration of my maternal skills very much. I’d almost prefer a little admiration to the disdain of people who don’t understand why I don’t want to send my children to a school system rated 45th in the nation.

  • http://thisaintthelyceum.org Kelly Mantoan

    Great read AWOL.
    I always tell myself that just like my vocation as a mother means I can’t drop my kids off at an orphanage when we have a bad day, my vocation as a homeschooling mom also means I don’t shove them on a school bus after a rough morning. I can only take it year by year, and try to do what’s best for my family at any one given time. There really are times when it feels like I’ll always have a house full of babies, toddlers and little kids clinging to me who will tie me up in homeschool chains for the next 25 years. Days like that, I look to my friends whose homeschooled kids are in college or married and their house is emptying out. It’s a reassuring to know that the stress of these days will lessen.