Conflictual, Always

Elizabeth Corey, prof at Baylor, says motherhood and a professional life will always be conflictual because they are two modes of being.

What does she ignore in her essay? What is your wisdom?

At least once a semester, a young female student will come to my office with questions about an assignment, and after we have finished our official business, will mention her concerns about the future: whether she should apply to medical school or take the less demanding physician’s assistant route, or whether she should marry right away and move with her husband for his job. Often she is the one with the better opportunity, and she wonders if she can expect her fiancé to follow her as she pursues graduate education at a prestigious East Coast school. Even if she isn’t in a romantic relationship, she wonders what it will mean for her goals when she is. Inevitably, she confesses that she is worried about the difficulty of pursuing both family and career….

… Like countless other women, I’ve had to juggle my obligations as a mother and wife with the demands first of graduate study and then of teaching and scholarship. But I’ve slowly come to realize that this quest for balance, the desire to reconcile radically conflicting demands, is misguided. Work and family evoke from us two distinct modes of being and of relation to others. The conflicts between these modes cannot, if we are honest with ourselves, be wished away or ignored.

But, if I am right, these two endeavors require different orientations of the self, and we simply cannot approach marriage and family in the spirit of achievement at all. If we try to do so, we will find ourselves frustrated and conflicted. For well-behaved or smart children are not markers of our success; children are ends in themselves, to be loved and cared for as individuals. They need from us something other than our talents; they need us, full stop….

Many women want to stay home, and even secular elites have begun to see it as a desirable option. Witness the significant number of affluent, well-educated women who have, if perhaps with a bit of shame, opted out of the workforce because they recognize the benefits to their children. …

I know from personal experience that this conflict in the soul does not go away, no matter how pleasant and accommodating our colleagues may be, or how flexible our schedules. We are limited, embodied creatures. These limits mean that we cannot do everything to its fullest extent at once, and certain things we may not be able to do at all.


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  • Tara Beth Leach

    Always? This is assuming every “professional” has to be away from her children most of the day and week. Sure, do I experience conflict? Absolutely ( I am a full time Pastor and Seminary Student with 2 littles). This is a topic that is close to home for me. I realize that some mothers have deep convictions about staying at home and I have walked into the lion’s den a time or two when people learn of my schedule. I have troubles with the author’s word “always.” A working mother doesn’t have to be conflicted.

    First, not every mother has the luxury to stay at home full time. Most mothers in the US have to work. When you know you have to work I think there comes a point when you become at peace with your situation.

    Secondly, what about room for creativity? I have allowed Nancy Beach to be a mentor for me from afar (I’ve never met her – I just watch her and read her work). In her book, Gifted to Lead, she talks about the balance between being in ministry and being a mommy. I first read her book when I was pregnant with my first child and I was moved to tears. I was relieved to know that I didn’t have to walk away from my calling as a Pastor – ministry just looks different. My schedule is nothing like the schedule of a male pastor – not even close. I always say no to any meeting before 8:30am because that is the time I am with my boys, feeding them breakfast, and getting my oldest off to school. I can’t stay at the office until 6pm everyday – I like to get home, cook a nice dinner, and eat as a family. I work from home a lot. I work like a mad woman during the times my boys are sleeping (1pm – 3:30pm and 7pm – 10:30pm). I once heard a mentor say, “it is the balance of 2 loves.” I love serving the church and I love my family very much. So when I am home and everyone is awake, I am fully present with them. When I am at the office, I am fully present in the work that I am doing. When I am at school, I am fully present in the classroom. When I am writing a paper, I am fully present on my paper. I don’t think women have to be in conflict. A little bit of creativity may be all that it takes.

    Finally, I know she probably isn’t writing from the perspective of a Christian, however, the church can play a large role in supporting a “professional”. My boys have been involved in many church events. I recall many, many events where at least one of the boys were on my hip. I recall many times not even knowing where my boys are in the church building, but believing the church has them and is caring for them. I don’t expect my husband and I to raise my boys totally alone – it takes the entire body.

  • Terri Moore

    Much of this resonates with both me and my husband. If the conflict between work and parenting is basic and fundamental to each realm, then the tension should be felt by both working mothers and fathers. I wonder how many fathers feel conflicted in this way? Our society seems to allow mothers these feelings and not fathers. Or force them onto mothers while giving fathers a pass?

    I think we are also dealing with the notion that mothering requires the constant and full nurturing attention of a mother 24/7. As I write this, my youngest is playing on his own in the next room and has been for an hour or so while I write. If I weren’t writing a dissertation (i.e. “working”), i would be doing laundry (another “task” and therefore work). His level of creativity and ability for independent play are amazing.

    All in all, while I like the way she is conceptualizing things, I don’t think she’s paying enough attention to societal pressures as a big part of the source of conflict –especially for women in our subculture.

  • Terri Moore

    This also reminds me of my favorite Janel Paris quotation:

    “I don’t balance motherhood and work – I think it’s impossible. Work has
    a tendency to always want more from me, which is sort of an idolatry
    (tendency to take over life) that I can try to keep in check. But family
    always wants more, too, and that is totally fair. The kids really would
    like for me to be with them all the time, meeting every need at the
    moment they experience it, round the clock! And that’s just the nature
    of children – it’s not wrong, and I don’t resent it. But this means that
    for any one thing I choose to do, there’s always at least one other
    thing that I also could be doing. That doesn’t seem possible to balance –
    I use the metaphor of survival instead of balance…….
    It’s grace that these children adore their mother, though she screams. It’s
    grace that I adore them, though they vex me. We get by on grace……”
    -Jenell Paris

  • Susan_G1

    I think what you hope she is missing is the father’s role in raising children, that the woman does not need to feel she is alone in this responsibility.

    I don’t have any sociological studies to back up my thoughts. They are based on my shared experiences with other moms and males in my profession (I am the only female of eleven partners in an ED group, but know a number of female physicians).

    Even though the author does not acknowledge shared responsibility for all things “home”, her experience resonates with me. Of all the women professionals I know, only one had a husband who stayed home with the children. The husbands may have had good intentions, certainly they voiced the best of intentions, but, in fact, it rarely displayed itself as works. I am sorry this is so frequently our experience.