In Defense of Catholic Working Mothers

Le Messie by Albert-Ernest Carrier Belleuse
By Antiochus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“How can Catholic moms balance work and family?” asks Lea Singh in her article on culturewitness.com. Ironically, the author says she chose to stay home, a choice I completely respect, but it does make me wonder how she is qualified to write about something she’s never attempted herself. Ms. Singh’s thoughts on Catholic working mothers are misguided and hurtful to women whose vocation includes both motherhood and work outside the home.

As a mother who has chosen to work, I would like to counter her perspective with my own experience and insights.

I want to be clear: all moms work, and I am not trying to start a debate about whether stay at home mothers work harder than moms who work outside the home or vice versa. For the sake of this post, however, I will use the term “working mother” to refer to mothers who work outside the home in addition to their work of raising a family.

Singh lists the main reason she feels it is difficult for Catholic moms to balance work and family; namely, that Catholic women are supposed to have babies until our fertility runs out. She goes on to list some of the work/childcare arrangements that she feels are acceptable.

Her faulty NFP logic might lead an uneducated reader to believe that Catholic women are obligated to have as many children as they physically can for the duration of their fertile years (barring dire health or financial difficulties). However, this viewpoint is simply not consistent with Catholic teaching.

Then the author gets to the heart of it, the part that stings for many of us Catholic working mothers. She admits that Catholic teaching does not preclude the use of paid caregivers, but goes on to say:

“At the same time, it does strike me as not exactly in the spirit of Catholic teaching to have your children be raised by strangers so that you can both pursue your own careers. Working to bring bread to the table is one thing, but working for reasons of personal choice is quite another thing.”

First and foremost, paid caregivers are not strangers and they do not raise our children. As a fellow Catholic working mother said,

“Who are these parents who let ‘strangers’ raise their children, the parents who supposedly completely abdicate their primary role in their children’s lives? I’ve never met one, and I know a lot of families where both parents work. We, who send our children to daycares or employ nannies, choose our care providers VERY carefully. We do background checks, we interview them, we call references, we do trial periods to see if they complement our children’s personalities, and we try to involve them in our family life and become involved in theirs. Our ideal care situation is one in which the nanny or daycare worker becomes almost a member of our own family.”

Singh insists that there are “indeed psychological and emotional consequences to being raised by paid caregivers” but she does not cite any studies to back up this claim. In fact, many studies show just the opposite.

Secondly, Catholic teaching reaffirms that women who are mothers can work outside the home – and there is no caveat that working outside the home is only permissible if you need the income.

As Familiaris Consortio says:

“…the true advancement of women requires that clear recognition be given to the value of their maternal and family role, by comparison with all other public roles and all other professions. Furthermore, these roles and professions should be harmoniously combined, if we wish the evolution of society and culture to be truly and fully human.”

St. Gianna Beretta Molla
© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

We need only to look to the example of St. Gianna Beretta Molla to see a beautiful portrayal of a woman who was a devoted wife, mother, and dedicated physician. St. Gianna and her husband Pietro had a paid caregiver, who helped with the domestic duties of their home and with their children. The Mollas were well-to-do, but always generous and prudent with their time and resources. St. Gianna considered her work her mission, as we read in Giuliana Pelucchi’s biography of the Saint. It is evident that St. Gianna felt that her work as a doctor was part of her vocation; she felt God called her to help others in addition to her primary vocation as a wife and mother. Harmoniously combining work and motherhood is not an easy task, nor is there a set formula to achieve balance. It’s something most of us working mothers are continually striving for. How blessed we are to have St. Gianna as a role model!

The author asks, “How different are you from your secular neighbors if your family looks like this: parents at work full time, small kids at daycare or with nanny?” I’d like to offer just a few examples of how we are different. We are at Church every Sunday, and we are involved in our Church community. We are open to having many children, if God chooses to bless us with them. When we are at work, we are living our faith by example to the best of our abilities. What would the workforce look like if there were no mothers? What would it look like if there were no Catholic mothers?

The author also claims, “As practising Catholics, it does seem to me that we should be setting a higher standard of childcare for ourselves, and that we should be willing to sacrifice more in order live out our vocations.” Really? Last week, my seven month old awoke at 3:30am and would not go back to sleep until 5am.  At 5:15am, my alarm went off; it was time to get up and get ready for work. This happens regularly while my husband works the night shift and isn’t around to help. Being a working mother is hard enough as it is, do I really need to hear a fellow Catholic mother tell me I should be willing to sacrifice more to live out my vocation?

Instead of telling other women how they should live out their vocations, why not offer to support each other in our different roles and responsibilities? I have friends who are both working mothers and stay at home mothers, and I respect each of their choices tremendously. I am also open to becoming a stay at home mother one day if God calls me to that. Just because I’m a working mother does not make me “anti-stay at home mother.” My vocation as wife and mother will always be primary; as I have already discussed, however, our vocations may also include that of teacher, doctor, nurse, etc. As a woman’s family grows and their circumstances change, she and her husband can discern whether God is still calling her to serve in that role.

Let’s stop treating career-minded Catholic mothers as if they are somehow harming their families. Let’s start acknowledging that God gives each of us unique talents and gifts – and we are each called to manifest those talents in different ways. All work, whether within or outside of the home, can be a means of sanctification. The path to holiness is not the same for everyone.

Noelle Kitenko is wife to Joshua and mother to a wonderful 8 month old baby boy, John Paul. She is a 2010 graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Operations Research and Computer Analysis. She is currently serving her third tour of active duty as a Coast Guard Officer at the Pacific Area Maritime Homeland Security/Defense Division in Alameda, CA.

8 thoughts on “In Defense of Catholic Working Mothers

  1. I couldn’t help but consider the fact that you have one child. The equation changes as you have more. We each have the same number of hours in the day. If you think that good parenting requires at least one parent to spend some quality time with each kid each day, that becomes difficult if not impossible even with three kids and two jobs of average intensity. (By the way, I’ve been a military wife for 14 years. I’m familiar with the time obligations of an officer in the Coast Guard.) I look at very loving Catholic parents with two jobs and three kids. I know a few families like that. They can’t magically squeeze quality and/or down time together out of the day. The reality is that one parent may be able to get home before dinner. And their youngest go to bed after dinner. So what is that-45 minutes out of an entire 24 hour day? Divide that by 1…2…3. I ask myself all the time: when DO they have down time together? I think the answer is that they have very little at all, possibly for years on end minus a vacation here or there. There have been studies on things like communal down time, not just with family but also friends. This kind of time correlates highly with happiness, good mental health, and success even later in life. Some things to consider as you receive more little blessings into your family…

  2. This is truly excellent. I hope the author of the original article reads this and takes it to heart. Thank you for articulating so clearly a beautiful vision for Catholic working mothers. May God bless you!

  3. I love this! I am a mother of a two-year-old and I work as a teacher. Although I’m exhausted most days, I know I am fulfilling the calling God has for me. I’m happy!

    The only thing I’d add is where she talks about being different from our secular counterparts. While I agree with everything you said, I question the original author in that she appears to think being Catholic makes her family in some way better than non-believers. I agree with you on all the ways we ARE different, but my question is this: why is it so important to appear different? Though we are people of faith, is there something about us that is superior to those who don’t believe? Faith is a gift, and those of us who are Catholic are no better than our brothers and sisters of other religions or without religion.

    • Thank you, Liz! Glad you enjoyed reading. I’m sure you are exhausted!
      I think you make a good point about being different from our secular neighbors. The author of the article I was writing this rebuttal for did seem to imply that being Catholic makes you better than non-believers; though to be fair, I think she just meant it’s important that our faith makes us different. The point where she and I disagree and you and I agree is that we don’t all have to look alike as believers – some have big families, others small, some work full time, some stay home part time, others full time. The important thing is that you’re discerning God’s will for your life and family so you can fulfill your vocation. I also agree with you that faith is a gift, and it doesn’t make us better than our brothers and sisters of other religions as we are all loved by our Creator, but of course we should share that gift and lead by example so others are attracted to Christ’s Church. 🙂

  4. I love this!! Couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote. Let’s build up a culture of love and charity, which starts at home.

  5. Thank you so much for this. I was so very frustrated by the first article. You have beautifully articulated what I couldn’t!

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