Motherhood is a sacred vocation imbued with great meaning and purpose in the Catholic tradition. It is a calling to nurture and raise children in the faith, to love and care for them, and to guide them as they grow and develop. The joys of motherhood—Catholic or otherwise—in the modern age, however, are a strict dichotomy of its challenges and demands. A review of any social media account, website, or blog about motherhood likely will bring up the disparity most women experience between it and other aspects of life.
As the world has progressed, views about motherhood have changed, but the expectations that coincide with it have been slower to follow. The ease with which information spreads and the communities that form through a shared experience have challenged those expectations to meet the needs of modern women, Catholic ones included. It is time for the church to discern how Catholic tradition can stay true to the faith yet reach a new—and increasingly vocal—community of women who desire to live dual vocations of motherhood in a modern world and Catholicism.
The central challenge mothers face today is the balance between their roles as mothers and professionals. Mothers who also work face the unique pressure to excel in their careers while also meeting the demands of parenting and household responsibilities, which leads to stress, exhaustion, and guilt as they try to juggle the competing demands on their time and energy. This unrelenting, stress-inducing scenario often ends in a lose-lose situation for harried mothers who feel like they neither are giving 100 percent of themselves to either priority and, thus, are letting down their families and their employers.
Catholic mothers face the added pressure of living in a world that does not put much emphasis on the sacredness of family or work-life balance. Guilt either for needing or wanting to work while being a mother accompanies many of these women who desire to incorporate more of the Catholic tradition into their family life but can’t because work obligations prevent them from doing so. Frustration from an overbalanced schedule that prevents mothers from focusing on faith as much as they would like to is commonplace among Catholic motherhood circles. Resentment of life situations and uncertainty about whether they are living the way true “Catholic wives and mothers” should plague many ladies. Pressure to meet all the requirements of Catholic tradition sends Catholic mothers into spirals of anxiety. Left alone for too long, these emotions easily can pull Catholic mothers away from the church as the demands to do more and meet unrealistic expectations continue to come.
Today’s fast-paced, competitive, and demanding environment requires many more hours than the twenty-four allotted to manage the numerous tasks on any given day. In addition to needing to perform well at work and meet the needs of their children and husbands, mothers often are expected to be fit and healthy, keep up with friendships and extended family, and have their own sets of interests and activities. As if that weren’t enough to fill the days, Catholic working mothers have the added pressure to ensure the faith formation of their household is adequate. Within a society that does not emphasize a faith-friendly focus, these mothers are disadvantaged to achieving every task on their daily to-do lists. It is no wonder, then, why so many of them feel guilty for having divided attention, working late, missing family game night, being too tired for a date, not achieving a promotion, or even missing mass.
In the Catholic tradition, work is seen as a way a person fulfills their God-given potential and contributes to the common good. Work also provides a sense of purpose and satisfaction as well as financial support for families. The church, though, also recognizes that work should not be the sole focus of a person’s life and that other relationships and responsibilities, such as those to family and community, should be prioritized. Catholic mothers are almost guaranteed not to be able to equally weigh a work-life balance if they live within a culture that values work above all else. Mothers who work tend to feel the pull to keep the professional part of their life going for two reasons: Either they fear losing what they’ve worked so hard for so long or they are as driven by their work as much as their family. Some mothers are fortunate enough to be certain that their work will not penalize them for placing that equal weight on family life; other mothers have to consider if they will be—or even if they will lose their jobs. These factors almost always take precedence over whatever reasoning the church gives about fulfilling God-given potential or a certain role within a family dynamic.
The modernization of gender roles continues to influence the change in family dynamics that trickles down to the workplace. In the Catholic tradition, men and women are seen as equal in dignity and worth but have different roles and responsibilities in the family and society. Until recently these roles have often been rigid, with men expected to be breadwinners and women expected to be homemakers; however, in modern society, these roles are more fluid and subject to change. More and more women are entering the workforce, and more and more men are continuing to work as well as take on increased responsibilities in the home. Catholic tradition, as stolid as ever, remains rooted in the faith as the world evolves around it.
This shift in gender roles brings both challenges and opportunities for mothers and families. Mothers have more career options and flexibility within those careers to care for their children. The security that comes financial independence for these mothers cannot be overlooked. Despite that it is common to see fathers leaving the office earlier in the day to coach their child’s sports team or to see fathers shopping in Target on the weekends, mothers still bear the brunt of caring for the home, the family, and themselves (including work). Catholic mothers are at the forefront of balancing the oldest religious tradition with a world that demands that tradition’s opposite. Questions of whether or not she should work on Sunday or allow her child to skip CCD in lieu of a school event are just two of the myriad ones that come up on a weekly basis.
The church can support working mothers in various ways. Some parishes already have begun doing so, but much more change is needed if the church is going to retain its relativism in today’s modern society. Catholic working mothers need a healthy work-life balance as well as ways to bring the faith to their families that does not compromise their ability to provide in whatever manner best suits their needs. Church- or Sunday-school classes need to be offered in the afternoons and evenings as well as on weekends so that every parent can take their child to class. Fish frys should be offered on Friday evenings so that working parents can teach their children about the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays and still feed them a healthy meal. With discernment, creativity, discussion, and prayer, the church can evolve to meet the needs of Catholic working mothers and retain its tradition so that faith grows and the rest of the world sees the beauty of lives lived in faith in modern society.