There are many topics where Christians and non-Christians parlay in a back and forth dialogue over their passionately-held beliefs. People practice their beliefs based on strong convictions of the way their lives would be best led, how they were raised and what they saw growing up, and when it comes to Christians, their actions are mostly determined by God’s leadership and guidance.
I am a Christian woman, wife and mother and I’m around other moms all the time. I hear them give voice to their struggles, concerns and ideas about their roles as mothers. What these women, both Believers and un-believers have in common, is a devotion to their children, a fierce regard for their safety and well-being, and an unquenchable depth of love.
But there is a distinguishable difference in the weight that certain women put on their roles as mothers. I’ve begun asking myself lately, is motherhood truly the highest calling for a Christian woman? You hear this concept tossed around conservative Christian circles regularly, and I believe its one of those maxims that is repeated so often that people begin to think they saw it in the Bible somewhere. But, having read the Bible in its entirety a few times, I know that I’ve never actually seen scripture that declares this to be true.
Yes, motherhood is a blessing. And when you are a new mother with an infant or even during those early toddler years, motherhood so consumes your days that it seems like THE most important thing you could be doing. And it is important! Keeping a helpless human alive, caring for their every need, feeding them, teaching them, raising them, are all essential tasks to human survival.
Although there is not a verse in the Bible that claims motherhood is the highest calling for a woman, there are several that celebrate the power of a mother’s love.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” –Isaiah 49:15
“As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” –Isaiah 66:13
And who could forget the esteemed woman of Proverbs 31?
“Her children arise and call her blessed.” –Proverbs 31:28
But I think there is a danger in referring to motherhood as a woman’s highest calling instead of God’s calling for some women, for the following reasons.
- Labeling motherhood as a woman’s highest calling mitigates our primary calling as a Christian and member of God’s kingdom. Our God-given purpose followers of Christ is to glorify the Lord in our words and actions, enjoy Him forever, share the gospel and make disciples of Jesus. Our role as mothers takes a back seat to that purpose, and dare I say, it can even stand in our way of fulfilling our purposes as Believers when we worship our own families to the point that we are out of community with those in our spheres who need to hear and see the Gospel. There are times we may need to put our family hopes and plans aside to follow God’s leading to love on others.
- Labeling motherhood as a woman’s highest calling alienates women who are not mothers. Not all women are or will ever become mothers, but the Lord has surely gifted those women with other desires and ministries that serve Him just as well as raising children. They are every bit as valuable to Him, and even have a special opportunity to serve Him in ways that a woman who has children can’t, because they are not as encumbered or stretched for time. We need to be sensitive to these women and the message we may be sending by placing motherhood on such a high pedestal. And we need to be grateful for them as well—some of the women who have served my family best during times of need were unmarried women without children who just wanted to love on me and my kids.
- Labeling motherhood as a woman’s highest calling discourages empty-nesters. When you add up the years of a woman’s life, there are only a precious few when she is daily practicing her role as a mother. As children grow, they become more and more independent until the day that they leave home. For these women whose job as mom becomes one of moral support and encouragement from afar rather than a hands-on caregiver, hearing that her highest calling has ended will only be discouraging and make her feel as though she no longer serves a purpose. Conversely, identifying herself as a beloved disciple will most certainly provide many opportunities for her to minister to others throughout the later seasons of her lifetime.
- Labeling motherhood as a woman’s highest calling endangers our marriages. Expending all our time, energy and efforts on our children often means that we have nothing left to give our husbands at the end of the day. When we truly believe that being a mother is the most important thing that we do, we pay less attention to our husbands, who need us just as much but in vastly different ways. We plan activities and events for our children months in advance, but we don’t plan ways to make our husbands feel special. We read articles, books and blog posts about how to be better moms, we stop studying and learning about our husbands. And eventually our misplaced priorities take their toll.
- Labeling motherhood as a woman’s highest calling feeds the impossible “SuperMom” phenomenon. Recently I was at an event with many young families, and in the span of ten minutes I heard three different women who were there with young kids claim that they were the “worst mom in the world” because they either didn’t bring sunscreen, didn’t bring bathing suits for their kids to wear to play in the splashpad, or were allowing their child to watch videos on their iPhones after the kids had played happily for two hours. I laughed because my kids weren’t wearing sunscreen either, were drenched in their regular clothes and running through the water, and it didn’t bother me one bit because they were occupied and were having a great time.
If we sincerely think that being a mother surpasses any other role in our lives, then we have a giant hill of guilt to climb. There will be guilt any time our child pushes another child. There will be guilt when we don’t bring lunch on a playdate that went longer than we expected. There will be guilt when our kids aren’t in the “right” school. There will be guilt when our kids disappoint us, when they stray from our teaching, when they break the law, when they fail a class. If we assign all our children’s successes and failures to our performance as a mother, then we walk through life bearing a burden that we took upon ourselves, not one that God gave us.
Alternatively, when we see ourselves first as the Lord’s disciples with our role as mothers just one of our blessed ministries as women, then we are free to love our children without comparison and guilt.
I bristle against the term “SuperMom,” and in the few times that someone with good intentions has flattered me by calling me that, I tell them thank you but inwardly have a chuckle with the Lord. Because He knows more than anyone else that I’m NOT a SuperMom, and I wouldn’t ever want to be, because that would mean I no longer need Him—His guidance, His grace, His teaching and leading. I thank Him that He showed me how to take my role off the motherhood pedestal long ago, and to daily surrender it to Him instead.
With the support of my husband, I chose many years ago to quit a job that I loved as a fitness trainer to be home with my children full time until they all became school-aged. It is a choice that I have remained committed to every day since, even when they’ve been extremely exhausting or monotonous. Full-time motherhood is an important choice that I am blessed to have been able to have, but I recognize it as one facet of my life, one slice of the puzzle that God put together in me.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” –Ephesians 2:10
Adrienne Gross is a writer based in North Carolina. She is a lover of travel, fitness, wine, good conversation and quality time with her friends and husband and three young children. You can find her blog at presentlysite.blog or on Twitter at @adrienne_gross.