Motherhood is a high calling for all women; whether single, married, fertile or infertile.
In an August 2013 TIME feature, “The Childfree Life: Having It All Without Having Children,” writer Lauren Sandler introduces a woman named Laura Scott. At age 14, Scott decided never to have children. She describes her mother as “bone tired,” working long hours while raising Scott and her brother. It was a lifestyle Scott didn’t want to mimic.
“My main motive not to have kids was that I loved my life the way it was,” Scott explains.
Now at 50, Scott is married, has enjoyed a career as an author and filmmaker — currently working on a documentary called Childless by Choice — and says she is “fulfilled.”
The piece then breezes past a parade of current and past celebrities who, too, claim to relish the childfree life.
“My songs are like my children — I expect them to support me when I’m old,” quips Dolly Parton.
“I had such a wonderful upbringing that I had a very high standard of how a mother and father should behave,” TIME quotes the late Katharine Hepburn. “I couldn’t be that way and carry on a movie career.”
Whether or not these quotes are taken out of context or meant to be facetious, they shed light on a popular tenet of motherhood — and personhood — today: personal choice.
If being a mother is something a woman wants, then by all means, she should pursue it. At all costs. In all quantities. When she wants it. How she wants it. And with whom she wants it. If, on the other hand, motherhood is not something she desires, then she should have the right to avoid it … or put a stop to it.
Still, the article points out, life is hard for a woman like Scott in a world that tends to “equate womanhood with motherhood.” The freedom to choose mother-less-ness doesn’t mean others won’t expect it of you.
Nor should they.
As a married woman with no children (yet), I feel the tension Scott describes. Not because I want what she would view as the encumbered life, but because I do want it. Yes, it is hard to be a “childless” woman in a world that sees womanhood reflected in motherhood. But mainly this is hard because our definitions are all wrong.
Today, the notion of “motherhood” has become as wrongly defined as have the words “marriage” or “sex” or “God.”
It’s common for many women to unintentionally view motherhood as an avenue to self-fulfillment and children as a tool to bring them glory. If this is what true motherhood is, I can’t blame Scott for eschewing it.
And what about all the women out there who long for this kind of self-fulfillment but can’t seem to attain it?
Here’s the thing: Motherhood was never about choice to begin with. It was never intended as a calling for some and not for others. Yes, Mrs. Scott, womanhood is motherhood. It always was. But not how we’ve been defining it.
Motherhood in the Church
In the church today, there are growing numbers of childless women. Many of these are the women who smile and give a casual “I hope so,” when you ask them if they’re planning to get married (if they’re single) or start a family soon (if they’re married). They’re the women who would love to have a ring on their finger and a man on their arm. They’re the women who may be in the thick of fertility treatments or suffering the silent grief of miscarriage. They’re the women who have long ago given up hope of ever carrying a child, much less seeing one graduate from university.
For these women, the pressure is enormous to grasp at motherhood as the means to self-fulfillment or run the opposite direction and embrace the “unencumbered life.” But for these women, there is an equally enormous opportunity to choose a different path — one that says “yes” to true motherhood even if traditional motherhood isn’t on the horizon. These women have been given a glorious freedom to invest in the lives of children in ways that others cannot.
They can choose to volunteer extra hours in the church nursery, providing much-needed respite for many weary biological mothers. They can choose to sacrifice a quiet evening with a bowl of ice cream and a movie to shepherd 15-year-olds at youth group. They can opt to travel halfway across the world to love on children without mothers. They can choose to stay at home and offer foster care to a child desperately needing care and a safe home.
What many consider the “good life” is one of unfettered freedom — to choose motherhood or not; to choose career or family; to choose encumbrance or un-encumbrance.
Jesus said in Matthew 16:25, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” According to Jesus, the good life is the encumbered life. It should be for us, too.
Similarly, the good life is the parenting life. As believers, we are first parented by God the Father and then called to parent others, whether biologically (“Be fruitful and multiply,” Genesis 9:7), adoptively (“Defend the weak and the fatherless,” Psalm 82:3), or spiritually (“Go and make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:19).
And when the Apostle Paul instructed older women to teach the younger women (Titus 2:4), he wasn’t giving any woman — single, married, fertile, infertile — the prerogative to spurn motherhood. Rather he set it up as the high calling of all women: to embrace the place where they have been put; to find the children — biological, adopted and spiritual — who have been put in their path; and nurture them unto a life of discipleship.
A High Calling
Not only is mothering a high calling, it is a delight. To have the opportunity to cultivate wonder and worship in the hearts and minds of the younger ones God has placed in our path should not be taken as a chore, but as a privilege.
Tragically, the vision proposed in the “childfree life,” one that is celebrated by many, is shallow at best and utterly self-serving at worst. Having children isn’t about making sure there are enough taxpayers to support us when we’re the ones looking to apply for a pension. It’s about raising up the next generation of Jesus followers.
As Christian women, let’s not settle for anything less than the truly free life. The gloriously encumbered life.