Women Called: A Qualitative Study of Christian Women Dually Called to Motherhood and Career

Article excerpt

The intersection between spirituality, motherhood and vocation is largely unexplored in contemporary writing and research. The cultural and religious messages received by women regarding motherhood and vocation often produce complicated dilemmas for women who seek to participate in both domains simultaneously. Even though working mothers represent a significant number of women in America, the stories, themes and voices of deeply spiritual career mothers have been largely silenced in literature. This phenomenological study looks into the lives of eleven Christian women who are mothers working across career disciplines in a liberal arts university setting. Four dominant themes emerged from the analysis, including the meaning of "calling," formative messages, the lived experience, and wisdom for the next generation. Though complex and demanding, overall these women were deeply satisfied and grateful for the opportunity to craft lives fulfilling longings to both motherhood and career. Implications for the community and future research are also addressed.

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  "I've worked really hard to think through carefully, what do I want
  and how do I accomplish that? How do I get there? I've consciously
  rejected and accepted some cultural messages beginning very early"
  (study participant).

  "I think every person, every woman, has to figure it out for herself,
  what's the best fit. That's what I wish the culture and church would
  say" (study participant).

The idea of "calling" and the ways in which this concept is defined are at the heart of Christian vocation (Sumner, 2003). To what kind of work are we called? Where do our gifts lie? What will our life's work be if we follow God's direction? These are questions that invite many faith-informed individuals to wrestle, listen and make difficult choices. Authors Roels and Andolsen (1997) describe the considerations involved in making vocational choices in the following way:

Vocation is the use of our gifts as a response to God, listening closely
to what the Lord requires from each of us. Vocation will be unique to
each person. Multiple combinations of stations may answer God's call and
in different sequences, rhythms, and balances. Each Christian's vocation
will by definition be highly particular, fitted to unique gifts,
opportunities, circumstances, and covenants to which we are already
obligated. The result is that we must carefully discern which roles we
should occupy, in what balance we should occupy them, and at what pace
we should allow each of them to develop. (p. 43)

We assume that working mothers, just like everyone else, have long had to sort through cultural and religious messages about what "calling" means. How does one live in a way that has integrity both to vocational calling and to one's commitment to parent-hood? As Miller-McLemore (1994) says in her book entitled Also a Mother,

Adulthood for men and women alike involves the developmental task of
determining the place of work in their life.... Many women have an
additional hurdle: they not only enter upon the external process of
vocational change from lay person to trained person, they enter upon an
internal process of transformation of their core identity from private
to public worker. (p. 112)

That is to say, some women experience deeply their sense of calling in two significant domains, that of the workplace, or career, and that of motherhood.

Ample literature exists on the topics of women and career; Christianity and motherhood; and even faith, career, and women (Gallager, 2003; Sumner, 2003; Storkey, 2001; Miller McLemore, 1994; Kememan, 1991; Roels and Andolsen, 1997; Ashcroft, 1996). Yet there is a significant lack of available research on women of faith who feel dually called to vocations of career and motherhood. Our research interests focus on exploring how calling is experienced by women who purposefully participate in both domains. …

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