The Vocation of Marriage and Parenthood
Posted May 10, 2009on:
[Let's call the author of this post Stuff. She's a long-time friend and contributor to my previous blog. This is a re-post from that blog. I'm re-posting it here because thought it would be a good post for Mother's Day. Since it's original publication, Stuff's family has grown to include a total of four children, two boys and two girls.]
I am not one of those baby-crazy women whose biological clock ticks so loudly that her husband smacks her in the morning when the alarm goes off. In fact, I never really pictured myself as a mother at all when I was growing up – I shelved dolls in place of snuggly, cuddly stuffed animals and dreamed of being a veterinarian. In high school, my career choice shifted, but not my interest in children – I rarely babysat and wasn’t sure I’d ever really marry. After a relationship with a really bad-for-me boyfriend, I felt sure I’d either be a single missionary or a cloistered nun. Sometimes I thought I’d be a concert pianist. The only thing I was sure about was that I wanted to serve God. Of course, if, by some act of God, I ever did get married, I knew I would want to bear my husband’s children.
Enter Squat. The man who turned my world upside-down, taught me what love was and that yes, men were really capable of it, and eventually took me as his bride. We did NOT conceive on our honeymoon, contrary to popular belief. It was the week after we got home.
Now, I had always been pro-life, and supported the Church’s teachings against contraception and whatnot. But at this point, I was scared $#!%-less. I understand how women can be talked into abortions. I was in my 5th year of pharmacy school, freshly married, and dirt poor. And as the youngest of five children in a family that puts the FUN in dysfunctional, I wondered what God could possibly be thinking giving someone like me something so fragile and impressionable as a baby. To top it all off, I was turning my stomach inside out and scraping the contents on the pavement on a regular basis. More than once someone who “knew me when” has told me that if SHE had been as sick, she would have stopped after one.
So how does someone like me end up actually desiring a bunch of babies? How did I go from feeling sure I would turn into my mother and leave my children requiring lifetimes of therapy to trusting that my little ones will probably be OK? How did I go from wishing I were dead to accepting “morning” sickness willingly?
To put it simply, I prayed.Now, I did not have some overnight conversion. But I begged for God to pull us through, and He did – with flying colors. The maternal instinct I feared I wouldn’t have kicked into overdrive the moment I first saw my son. The amazing parenting book I had found as a prego helped me to counteract all the mistakes of my parents that had become an inherent part of my person, though I still battle my past every day. And then God brought our little family to Bethlehem to learn just how to be a holy family.
I’ve also never been one of those people who talk like this: “I just felt that God was Calling me to [fill in the blank].” I prayed about where to take my first pharmacy job out of school, then allowed myself to be sweet-talked by a headhunter into moving to the Lehigh Valley. It was one of those coin-toss types of decisions, not any sort of definite call. But it was here that I learned the difference between Mommy and Daddy. Since a doctorate generally has greater earning potential than a GED, my husband and I decided that I would win bread and bring home bacon while he stayed with wonder boy.
In a nutshell, it didn’t work out. My heart ached to be with my son, who constantly told his daddy in a number of ways that he wanted me home. My heart and womb also ached for another child – both to give wonder boy a playmate and so that I could have yet another chance for head over heels love at first sight. Everywhere I looked, my most trusted Catholic writers were telling me that my place was with my children. And I believed them. I still wanted to serve God, but I didn’t know how. We were, we felt, trapped in our situation. There was no way my husband could afford our bills if I took maternity leave.
I now realize how much God loves it when we beg.I begged Him to show me where He wanted me – serving the sick in healthcare or serving the precious family He gave me. It was around this time that I first met the Godfather. I joined our church choir and became most impressed with an extremely talented bass, who always wore a suit and knelt at the consecration. One day I looked down and saw his family taking up an entire pew to themselves. The boys all wore dress shirts and slacks, the girls all wore skirts. They all assumed a posture of reverence. Talk about coveting your neighbor’s wife!
I realized that I wanted to be that wife with all those kids.
Now, at that point, my motives weren’t exactly pure. I was still working with a pre-conceived notion that to be a good Catholic family, you need to be a large one. I know that this is not necessarily true, as I have also befriended smaller families who are truly holy. Nevertheless, I confided to my husband that I thought we should start “bumping into” this family of 11 after mass. I wanted to get a better idea of what life was like for them, and if it might be a possibility for someone like me. I think that in my heart of hearts I still expected to max out at about four or five children.
Eventually we bought a fixer-upper with a lot of acreage to cut down bills and give the chitlens running space. Next came the fat, happy boy baby that wonder boy had been praying for. Once again, we weren’t “ready.” My husband still didn’t have any definite career goals or options and I had a limited amount of paid time off. But we were committed to cutting my work time (and pay check) in half. God really tested this resolve when I ate up a bunch of my sick time on bed rest, then delivered two weeks before my due date. Squat scrambled to find two of the most craptastic minimum wage jobs in the world in a feeble attempt to make ends meet. Somehow they did.
It started to dawn on me that I never really had been in control. God truly was running the show, knew exactly what we needed, and gave us just that – no more, no less. I had just never trusted Him enough.
In getting to know the Godfather’s family, I found out that they had had similar trials. This was not a wealthy doctor or lawyer’s family. He has been an employee of the Church and her schools, the Boy Scouts, the Blue Army, and occasionally unemployed. In fact, shortly after we met, he lost his job and was unemployed for over a year. His wife occasionally confided in me of her concern for him and the family, but there was a difference between her practical concern (including whether she, a stay-at-home mom homeschooling the youngest 5 of their 9 children should seek employment outside the home) and the worried feeling I had become accustomed to from most of society (secular and non alike).
This family was also not unique in other challenges they have faced, from potty training to discipline to school and housework. In all honesty, however, instead of their 9 children creating 9 times more work, they estimate the workload to be doubled at best as compared with the standard 2-child family. These are not religious fanatics, but well-balanced, down-to-earth people with an unshakable faith that allows them to live out their vocation in peace and joy. And I have learned from them that they have not always been perfect nor are they perfect now, but are constantly willing to allow God’s grace to reign over their imperfection through prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments. I hang out with them in hopes that we can encourage each other toward sainthood.
I now embrace my own marriage and parenthood fully as a vocation – a true calling from God toward holiness. I work to live and not the other way around. True, the work I do is important and fruitful and touches people’s lives, but it can be done just as well by any number of other pharmacists. God has entrusted my husband and me alone with the care and formation of our three (so far) beautiful children, and even though I don’t have an advanced degree in motherhood, I can honestly say that this is the only area in my life where I cannot be substituted by anyone else, even my own husband.
In deepening our friendship with the Godfather and other large families, and also through studying the works of the late, Great JPII regarding marriage and sexuality, Squat and I have learned that our vocation to family is never threatened by greater numbers, but only strengthened. Every time we consummate our marriage vows (including the one that said we would be open to receiving children from the Lord) with true openness to the workings of the Holy Spirit, Who is the Lord and Giver of Life, whether we conceive a child or not, we are blessed with grace upon grace. This does not mean that life is easy or that morning sickness goes away; it just means we are better able to bear our crosses alongside Jesus.
It seems to me that the biggest obstacle today’s married couples have to opening themselves to a big family is fear. It comes in many forms, and I have already faced most of them. Financial fears top the list from what I can see, but are not to be outdone by social pressures. People say the darnedest things: “Are these all yours?” “You know what causes that, right?” “Well, you certainly have your hands full!” Many of my friends admit that the greatest pressures they face are from their own parents: “You can’t even afford the kids you have, and you want another one?” Many also fear that it will be too hard: “I just don’t have the patience and/or [fill in the virtue].” Well, to quote the Godmother, neither do I! But I have so many opportunities to improve my patience and/or [fill in the virtue]. Some fear the prospect of bringing innocent children into such a corrupt world. Some fear their own aspirations will go unfulfilled.
The quickest answer to all these trepidations comes from the greatest lesson our late Pope gave to us: Be Not Afraid. Ha! You say – easier said than done! And it is easy to say and not always easy to do when you are faced with losing your house, car, job, friendships, etc. There is nothing we sacrifice for the sake of the Lord that He does not repay many times over. I have no other proof than my own experiences to show that God loves and cares for His big families in a special way. And my experiences have taught me that this corrupt world needs my innocent children, that having my hands full is better than being left empty-handed, and that having children is a blessing and a privilege, not a choice or a hobby. Best of all, though faith be a gift, it is also like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the more it grows.
I do not know how many children we’ll be blessed with. I hope it’s a lot. I do know that the more we have, the less likely we will be to have wealth or even a stable retirement. But I hold fast to the promise that when I seek first His kingdom and righteousness, all these things will be added unto us. My children are my treasures, and my heart is with them, not my car or house.
My reason for writing this post was not to list advantages and disadvantages to having a large family (I don’t think we quite qualify as experts on that yet), but to share a conversion story and to inspire joy in the vocation of marriage and parenthood. Not all couples are meant to raise a dozen kids; I just pray that more of us are brave enough to let God decide.