Conflicting Vocations? Reflections from a graduate student and stay-at-home mom

IMG_0372by Claire Bischoff

I was sitting in an ethics class the first time I realized that vocation was not just for sisters, brothers, and priests. The professor quoted Frederick Buecher’s understanding of vocation: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”* It was one of those lovely moments of amazing clarity: I found deep gladness in studying and teaching religion and the church (and thus the world) needed passionate teachers of religion (to which some of my abysmal experiences in religious education as a youth testify). God was calling me to be a religious educator—I knew this deep in my soul.

For the past ten years, I have followed this call. Sure, the path has been winding—from parish and school ministry to a master’s in religious education, from Minnesota to Georgia to pursue a doctorate in religious education and practical theology—but it has always been visible, and God has placed amazing people and opportunities along the way to sustain me.

Then sixteen months ago I gave birth to William, and I began to understand experientially another thing that same college professor had told us—that parenthood could also be a vocation. The shape that vocation has taken is to be a stay-at-home mom. While I am thankful to be in a position to be able to make this choice and acknowledge that it is not the choice for everyone, I feel called to do this for now—knowing deep in my soul (just as I know myself as a religious educator) that it is the right thing for our family.

Both of these vocations bring me deep joy, but many times in the past few months I have felt as if they are in conflict with each other. When I am writing my dissertation at White Rocks Coffee, I find myself browsing the Internet searching for new ideas for homemade toys and outings suitable for the 12-18 month set. When I am cooped up at home with William, I resent not being able to write and research in the way I used to—exhaustively. It is seemingly a zero-sum proposition—time for one pursuit takes time away from the other, leaving me questioning if I am doing justice to either.

One of the gifts of vocation—but also the trickiest part for type A’ers like myself—is that it involves trusting the paths God lays before us. So I am learning to practice trust, willing myself to believe that these vocations of educator and parent will not only detract from each other but also will contribute to each other in important ways. On the good days, I think being a parent is helping perfectionist me learn how to be a “good enough” graduate student. On the challenging days, when I have not had enough sleep or gotten enough writing done, I do not want to be patient, waiting expectantly for the convergence of these two life paths to emerge. In my all too human way, I want to have seen the big picture, say like five minutes ago, but for now I am trying to be content with seeing in the mirror darkly.

* This definition appears in Buechner’s Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.

Claire Bischoff is a stay-at-home mom and Ph.D. candidate in religion at Emory University in religious education and practical theology. She co-edited My Red Couch and Other Stories on Seeking a Feminist Faith.


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