May 012016 13 Responses

Motherhood Is Not the Highest Calling

It sounds like something Hallmark would write in a card–“Motherhood is the highest calling of your life.” It’s definitely something syrupy preachers say as they grapple for words on Mother’s Day Sunday. It might be a common feeling as a new mother holds her child for the first time.

But it’s not true.

It’s well-intended. It feels good. But it’s a lie and every lie does damage. This lie is no different.

No doubt motherhood is important. From the obvious–we wouldn’t be here without them–to the equally true realities that most moms make us kinder, cleaner, and more respectful than we would be without them. (See: How to Be a Super Mom)

Motherhood is important. Probably far more important than we realize.

  • Too many kids grow up not knowing their mom because addiction robs the woman of her ability to mother.
  • Others have the early years stolen from them as our consumerist society makes it near impossible for a mother to spend quality time with their child in the first few years of life.
  • Still, others are too busy doing the job of both mother and father because too many men fail to take responsibility for their actions.

Because of the importance of motherhood, moms should be valued, honored, and esteemed. But they should not be lied to. So often when we fail to properly view a role or person, in reaction to our miscalculation, others swing the pendulum of recognition too far the other way. In an attempt to honor the honorable, they overstate the true condition of the people they are trying to recognize.

This has happened to motherhood. As some have undervalued moms, others have overstated the importance of mothers and motherhood naming it “the most important calling in life.”

I understand their intent. They want mothers to understand the value of their task. They want to encourage moms to endure the tough times and understand their sacrifice is worth it. They desire for society to honor motherhood the way it should be honored.

Their purpose is good, but the byproduct of their overstatement is not. (See: Try Not to Curse During the Baby Dedication)

If motherhood is the most important calling in life, what does that say about being a woman? About her value as a human? About those who have not had children?

Could it be that in the overstatement of motherhood, we actual devalue women–all women?

If motherhood is the highest calling, it’s fair to deduce that a woman who has not had a child is of less value than those who have. A mother who has struggled to find success in mothering is failing in life in comparison to those who have raised good kids. A woman who who loves her children but who doesn’t necessarily enjoy every aspect of motherhood is flawed.

Of course none of these are true, yet they are easy conclusions when a woman hears someone speaking of motherhood in such lofty terms.

The Truth About Motherhood

The truth is that motherhood is very important. It’s a vital role in society and we need women who can play the role well. But there is more to life than just motherhood. It’s important, but it is just one aspect of life. It’s not more valued than the role of wife or daughter or citizen or friend. Only women can be mothers but women can play many roles other than mother.

If you (or the circumstances of life) have chosen not to have children, you are no less of a woman than a mom of three.

If you have never fully embraced the role of motherhood with the joy of some of your friends, you are not a failure–as a mother or a woman.

If your children aren’t heading in the direction you desire, you aren’t to be less valued because of their choices.

Saying motherhood is the highest calling in life is a syrupy line meant to evoke sentimental feelings; don’t be discouraged by the syrup. Tell yourself the truth. (See: Obey Your Mother, Respect My Wife)

The highest calling in life is for you to be whom God created you to be. To embrace whatever season of life you are in and to live that season to its fullest. If motherhood is a part of that–live it well. If that’s an empty nest–embrace it. If that’s a life without children–walk tall. Yet never let the number of dependents you have, or don’t have, be the defining factor of your life.

Even if you are in the throws of raising children, understand your call to motherhood is of no greater importance than your call to be a wife. It’s not of a higher pursuit than your need to be yourself. It doesn’t fully trump every other role in your life. It’s an important part of who you are, but it’s not everything.

We need to thank moms more than we do. We need to help them more than we have. And we need to value them in every way possible. But we do not need to lie to them. Motherhood is an important calling; it’s not the highest calling.


13 Responses to Motherhood Is Not the Highest Calling
  1. Lynnette Reply

    Thank you. I have always viewed mothering as a job to work myself out of, if I am doing it right. I will always be mom, but not mommy. Even my youngest, who is 13 and has Down’s Syndrome has phased into a need for mom, not mommy.
    I always ground my teeth at the “highest calling” comments, they are well intended but demeaning to all women.

    This is in the same category as comments that my daughter with Down’s Syndrome was born to us because we are somehow special or blessed or more able to care for and love her. These type of comments effectively shut down any further discussion and negate feelings of being overwhelmed, isolated, exhausted, afraid and inadequate. And what about all the babies born into less than good homes, does God not love them? Are they somehow undeserving?

    • Jenny Reply

      Well said!

  2. Jeanette Reply

    Thank you for this. Due to a combination of life circumstances and physical issues, I never had children. I will never have children. It is the greatest regret of my life, and I have no doubt that it will be the greatest regret of my life on the day that I die. But layered in with all that regret is, sometimes, the shame I feel when I think that this somehow makes me incomplete, or insufficient, as a woman. It can sometimes be difficult to rejoice with the women in my life as they celebrate moments of motherhood, and then even that makes me feel as if I’m being petty. But there are so many messages out there, both secular and Biblical, that make me feel as if I have somehow failed as a woman by not having children. Every little message I can get that helps me think that there is another way to view myself, is received with grateful tears.

  3. […] Compassionately, I tried to listen, but I knew her fear was unnecessary. The love would come. I neve...
  4. S P Reply

    I actually disagree and think that motherhood IS the highest calling. All women were meant to do it, out of the garden. We are the only humans who can grow other humans. There is so much sacrifice in motherhood, day in and day out *for years end* that rarely any other calling can relate it aspire to. And I think that is why infertility is so devastating and it is so sad when a woman is barren. Because they were meant to be a mother. Eve is the first mother–she had no other job but to do that. I believe it’s why childbearing was cursed and made painful. A beautiful natural thing is now so painful for the duration of either a mother or a barren woman’s life. There is no escape from it but to do it is as close to living a Christ-like life as possible. There are many servant/pastoral/humble jobs and positions in life but I believe that none are like that of being a mother. At least I haven’t found one. And if a woman is hurt or degraded by that statement, it’s not because it’s untrue–it’s because there’s brokenness there. We were made to grow and nurture but it will always be painful. To endure those joys and pains day in and day out is unlike anything else, even marriage, I believe.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I fully believe in motherhood, yet I don’t believe that was Eve’s first or only job. She was called to play an important role in humanity’s oversight of the garden. I have no doubt about the uniqueness of motherhood. Of course many things are unique. Marriage it not like anything else in life, including motherhood. I think it is important, but I worry about what the over-statement of motherhood does to others.

  5. S P Reply

    Thanks for your response. I found another blog post that I think better explains and defends this claim. I think the problem I have with what you’ve said has two points:
    1) You say that to say that motherhood is the highest calling (essentially could) hurts others’ feelings if they are women and aren’t mothers, which I think is just a bad reason not to tell the truth about something. It seems to fit in with the way our culture is these days, to not say the truth about something because it might offend someone else. So again, my point is that IF it is our highest calling, then because of our broken and sinful world, it will not always be realized and those women are probably already feeling pain on some level about it. Childbearing complicates everything for a women (hence the pain in childbirth curse) because it is something that (most every women) is biologically programmed to do but in this day and age, it competes with other things that they want to do or could do. Infertility is also so painful for that reason–God made us to grow and give birth to the next generation and when we can’t, that is a devastating loss.
    To say that we should avoid over-stating motherhood for the sake of sparing others and their feelings could also be offensive to the mothers out there who are living lives on such a sacrificial level, it can only be understood if you live it. Have you thought about how hurtful that could be?

    2) Your answer to “so then what is our highest calling” is not satisfactory because you are basically saying that we should live for ourselves, to our fullest potential, to the best that we can we can be. And that’s, again, an answer that could come from any worldly philosopher. Yes, live full, present lives, but live fully as who God made us to be? As in contentment? I feel like there is more to be said there.

    So here is the blog post that has changed my mind and given me something concrete to think about…

    I feel like because I read this, it’s easier to see motherhood as our main objective–why we were created the way we were, but not the ultimate in our lives in identity or in vocation. The same argument can be made for men and their role as providers and workers in the world, in accordance to the way they were created and also cursed. So we are all to live for Christ, as we work out our calling in who God made us to be as individuals.

    There is definitely something mysterious and sacred about parenthood, as there is in marriage. But how much more sacred is it that He made women, the weaker gender, to do something so brave and difficult, as to give birth? I feel like there is a mysterious beauty there and to downplay that for the sake of not offending others is not true. It’s just culturally relevant.

    Thanks for the dialogue!

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Your two points are not my two points. I’m not saying we should refrain from the statement because it might hurt the feelings of others. I’m saying we should refrain from the statement because it is false. And I’m not saying we should live for ourselves. I believe the highest calling is for each person to bring glory to God in whatever setting of life God has placed them in. For some, motherhood will be a part of that. But even for mothers, their motherhood should not fully define them. It is part of who God has called them to be. I think with good intentions we are overstating the role of motherhood not knowing that even a well-intended overstatement is false and therefore hurtful.

      • Kylie Reply

        I agree with this statement. I do believe “that our highest calling is to bring glory to God in whatever setting of life God has placed us in”, and that for Women, this will be in a number of settings – we are not exclusively mothers. I’m not sure I agree with the implication at the beginning of the article that children are being highly deprived because their mother’s work. This demonizes Women’s decisions to return to career, which can at times be in the best interest of their children for various reasons. It is important that we don’t measure a mother’s love, and the adequate care of children based on a clock. Time is not the only factor that goes into growing healthy children.

        • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

          Wasn’t sure what you meant by the implication so I went back and read it. Now I see how you read it. That wasn’t my intention. I’m the son of a working mom, the brother of a working mom, and the husband of a working mom. I was talking more about the lack of leave-time by employers and not the idea that moms work outside the home.

    • Annie Reply

      I liked the points you give and I liked how you pointed out that motherhood is like living like Jesus and living on such a sacrificial level. Everyday I have to think it’s not about me, which is totally opposite thinking in today’s world. I can literally feel the fight in me some days to want to do my own thing and seek my own pleasures instead of doing the mother thing, but my baby is the most precious blessing ever and it’s his Soul that in caring for. When women have children, I agree it IS their highest calling because there is another soul we’ll be accountable for. Thanks for your thoughts.

  6. Grace Reply

    So true. My husband thinks this is the way I think. But no, I am just doing my best while they are still here and young, because when they grow older, I understand that they would need me less, and I can devote more time pursuing those other things that make me who I am. Motherhood is just a part of me, just like childhood, teenage, college, and career. They are all transient, but all require our very best. Unfortunately, he doesn’t think so. He thinks that our influence are negligeble because so many things could happen to their lives, that he would rather have me employed and earn money, leaving our kids to whoever is available. I feel so sad about this, yet I pursue because I know what’s right. I hope, in time, when the children are older, he will realize that my decision to stay at home is not meant to challenge his views, or to leave the burden of providing to him, or to slack, but to help our family grow.

  7. Christina Reply

    As someone who is not in the role of mother (currently by choice), this perspective is refreshing and needed to be said. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

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