“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver
My husband is out of town traveling this week and as luck would have it, the stomach flu has struck both my infant and my toddler in the middle of the night. Tomorrow is one of the two days I work this week and as I sit in the dark rocking my sick baby, a range of thoughts, emotions, and questions run through my head:
I have no choice but to stay home tomorrow.
Why does this have to happen on one of the days I work?
How will my boss and coworkers react?
Why am I feeling so guilty about staying home?
Why do I even work?
I don’t work because my family needs the money or because I don’t have a desire to stay at home with the kids. I work because I feel that God has called me to my professional vocation as an occupational therapist. In college I spent a lot of time in prayer, discerning the career path that would use my talents to serve God. As an occupational therapist, I work with children with disabilities to help them learn valuable skills and participate in meaningful life activities as independently as possible. I love my job and I consider it to be a good fit between my God-given talents and the needs of God’s world.
However, at the time I was discerning my vocation in college, I had no idea how motherhood would affect me years later. I’ve only been a mom for a couple of years, but when my daughter was born, motherhood instantly became my most important vocation.
Mothering my children has affected me in a way that I never could have imagined and has reignited my commitment to God as I desire to share the Catholic faith with my children. In times when my professional vocation threatens to interfere with motherhood, I often find myself worried that I misunderstood God’s call. I doubt my belief that God called me to this career. Juggling work and motherhood is so stressful at times that I don’t feel that I do either of my vocations justice and I wonder how this could be part of God’s plan.
I know I sometimes make the mistake of thinking that the process of vocational discernment is a test, with a “good” answer and a “bad” answer, as if God has a plan for us and it is up to us to correctly identify this plan, or else risk making a big mistake.
Someone once gave me the excellent advice that sometimes when discerning God’s call we may be choosing between “good” and “good.” Religious life and motherhood, for example, are both good choices. How could either be wrong? Stay at home mothering and mothering while also working full or part time can all be good choices.
Discernment isn’t always black and white, and in my case, I’m living in a world of gray.
I often tell my husband that I wish I could live two lives, one in which I achieve all of my professional goals and another in which I am a full-time stay at home super mom. However, God has given me only one “wild and precious life” to live and I will spend it trying to give my whole heart all that he calls me to pursue.
When I catch myself thinking that all mothers are meant to be at home with their children full time, I think of the wonderful working women who have shown me God’s love while they left their children in the care of another: the nurses who cared for me so well in the hospital after I gave birth to my children; the teachers who inspired me to value learning; the receptionist at the pediatrician’s office who always squeezes us in when we need a sick visit. I think about what would happen to the families I serve as an occupational therapist if I no longer worked. Would they be able to find another occupational therapist? Would their child be as independent and happy if I had never worked with them?
Today, motherhood will take priority over work. I will spend the day in sweatpants snuggling my sick children on the couch. I know that is the right decision, no matter how stressed I am over missing an important meeting or disappointing the families I was scheduled to see.
There will be another day when work is given priority, and my children will spend time making memories with Daddy, Grammy, or the babysitter that they adore. This road that I am on is not easy, but this is the plan that works for now. If God has truly called me to each of these vocations, I pray that He will provide me with the support I need to live them both well.