Motherhood & the Meaning of Life

This weekend I sat in a circle of women. Wise women who gathered to support my amazing friend, a spiritual guide and companion, who is seeking to expand her practice. The circle included spiritual leaders and seekers, grandmothers and mothers and aunts.

When it was my turn to speak, I found myself saying that I’d come because I believe in the power of women. I believe in the power of women in circles, in groups, in pairs, alone. I believe in women’s wisdom and women’s spiritual work. And, for my own part, I am so frustrated with my own inability to be useful: to find a place where my talents, my passion, my willingness to show-up-and-tell-truth can make a difference.

While my host nodded with me, other women in the circle took the time to say something else.

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One, an active clergywoman, said: nothing is more important than the time you spend, right now, with your child. No work you might do is more important. You should focus on being a mom.

Another woman said: I heard you say you were frustrated and you know that being a mom is the most important job you’ll ever have.

I was so angry.

Angry and betrayed and incredulous.


Motherhood is not a career. It is not a job. Yes, it is work. Hard work. Important work. And I am honored and delighted and beyond grateful that I get to be a mom. But. Motherhood is NOT a career. Not for me.

If you met a stranger who had kids – a man – at a party, and he shared with you about being between careers and being frustrated with finding work, would you say: “well, you know, fatherhood is the most important CAREER you’ll ever have.”

Didn’t we have that women’s rights movement – that FEMINISM thing – like forty years ago? Haven’t we covered this gender shtick already?

And what about my daughter? Is it healthy for her to be my meaning, my purpose, my essential contribution to the long arc of human existence on this planet?

No, no, no. I don’t believe it is healthy for a parent to use children as their raison d’être.

I know that what my friend told me later (as I fumed) is true: the reaction of these women was about them, and not about me. Born in a different generation, motherhood as a career may work for them, or perhaps seems like the only choice. But I am still angry. I know what it feels like, as a daughter, to be a mother’s reason-for-being, and I resent it. I never liked being my mother’s everything, and I don’t want to lay that burden on my daughter.

And, call me selfish, but I WANT TO BE USEFUL TO THE WORLD. I have talents and gifts and passion and ambition and I yearn to make a difference. Not just in one life – my daughter’s – but to my community, to the world.

Someday, sooner than seems reasonable, the time of diaper changes and school drop-offs will have passed, and my daughter will be an adult, on her own. What will my adult daughter have learned from me, her Mutti, about what it means to be a woman, to be human?

I want my daughter to see her mother helping others, speaking out, challenging institutions of oppression, working for justice, nurturing community for future generations.

I want to be fully myself.

I want my daughter to be fully herself.

I want us to be what I know we already are: powerful, powerful women.


Is parenthood a career for you? Why or why not? What is your reason for being?

6 thoughts on “Motherhood & the Meaning of Life

  1. I think it depends on what you want. I want to be a stay at home mom for now, but I also want to earn money. If there is a way I could use my skills from home and get paid, I’d be happy. I have no desire to go back to work, or put it this way, it would have to be a good job, and I would also have more financial pressure to return next year.
    Good luck in finding what to do with your passions and skills. I know your daughter will appreciate a mom who is fulfilled.

    • Thanks Heather. I don’t mean to suggest that being a stay at home mom isn’t a valid choice, and I know that motherhood and career are volatile, emotional subjects. Perhaps I should have framed this post a bit differently, because what I’m really interested in is less about working from or outside the home and more in how we understand our life’s purpose on a spiritual/metaphysical level. How do we define the meaning of life, and is claiming parenthood as that meaning healthy for us and for our kids?

  2. As always, such a good, thought-provoking post! Before we adopted, I thought parenting would be my vocation – something I felt called to do. Because I DO think raising the next generation is the most important “job” in the world, I anticipated being among the women who feel fully fulfilled in that worthy endeavor. But I’m not. And so I continue to wonder – sometimes with angst, sometimes with apathy, and sometimes with a sense of adventure – what IS my reason for being. This week I “celebrate” a birthday that places me firmly in middle age, which forces me to get more comfortable with the good possibility that I’ll never figure it out.

    By the way, I can very well see myself saying that to a dad. In fact, I HAVE said similar things to my partner. But I imagine that how one feels about putting so much of their own self-worth into another person’s well-being varies, regardless of gender or professional situation.

    • Oh Kristin, thank you for sharing how your view of parenting-as-vocation changed! I feel like there is extra pressure to find parenthood fulfilling since we adoptive parents worked so hard and yearned for so long to have kids. It’s complicated, but I’m glad to hear from someone else who had that disconnect between expectations and reality.

  3. Hey Liz,

    I may be an outlier here, but I’m not so sure fatherhood (and I’d include husbandhood) isn’t the most important job(s) I’ve ever had. I understand somewhat (I think) the different expectations placed on gender roles, and I disagree with them–to the extent my maleness allows.

    But after working in food banks, marching for various causes, participating in letter-writing campaigns, preaching in congregations, it strikes me that the best thing I can do in the world is help at a more granular level: Better myself, teach what I can to my children, communicate with my spouse. What seems to be a truncation of activity really has become, for me, a deeper, more involved and emotional set of activities. And watching my children grow and go out in the world to make it a better place (each one seeking justice and love in their own ways) makes me feel pretty dang good.

    And, when they’re out of the house, maybe we dream new dreams. That’s just my experience, obviously. And I don’t think you need to focus just on one thing–that’s just what I’ve done because I suck at multitasking.

    • Hey Scot. I don’t think you are an outlier at all (even if you are, Malcolm Gladwell would be proud). Quite a few folks (including one dad) commented on facebook about how parenting IS the most important job a person can ever have.

      I really appreciate hearing from parents (like you) who have a longer view of the journey. I loved what you said: “What seems to be a truncation of activity really has become, for me, a deeper, more involved and emotional set of activities.” My wife says that I have changed a lot and done a lot of good work (personal growth crap) in the 18 months we’ve been moms. I think I let the daily tedium overwhelm me and miss the significance because I’m doing the same things over and over and OVER.

      And, I think (as Tara so astutely pointed out on FB) that there is something else going on for me, that probably doesn’t have anything to do with parenting. I’m frustrated because changing careers isn’t coming together as I hoped. It is taking SO DANG LONG. But the reasons for that are more complicated than just “I’m home with a toddler.”

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts….good stuff for me to ponder!

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