What to tell the girls about motherhood and career…

The whole Wallace family at “Dr. Mom’s” graduation from LSU with PhD.  The girls told me they were proud of me. The only thing I really remember about the ceremony is when I was called across stage to get the degree… I heard the girls yell, “We love you Momma!” Well, I love you to the moon and back!

The whole Wallace family at “Dr. Mom’s” graduation from LSU with PhD. The girls told me they were proud of me.
The only thing I really remember about the ceremony is when I was called across stage to get the degree…
I heard the girls yell, “We love you Momma!”
Well, I love you to the moon and back!

Recently, I was invited to speak at the Atlanta Catholic Business Conference sponsored by The Integrated Catholic Life, EWTN, Belmont Abbey College and the Aquinas Center of Theology. It was a blessing to be among such faith-filled working Catholic laity, living in the truth by integrating their faith and all areas of their lives, including their work.

I spoke about ways to be a light of Christ to others, so your faith serves as a magnet, not a repellent. I’ve been on the repellent side of things… it ain’t pretty. It sure ain’t pretty for souls!

After expounding on the significance of the theme, “Living in the Truth,” I shared about how I struggle in the workforce sometimes because at my core is my desire to be a momma. A stay-at-home momma. I described it like this in the talk:

“I must admit, I was whining to my spiritual director one day about the desire in my heart to be a stay at home mom. I had enough of the relativistic workplace, and I did not cherish my work as part of God’s call in my life. I’ve always prayed to stay at home since becoming a mom. But this time, the desire was so strong. I’ve listened for the soft whisper of God directing me out of the work force, and into the home full-time. I’ve watched for a crack in the doorway, or a window left unsealed. I’ve been diligent in my discernment. In a moment of frenzy, I begged God to take the desire away from me, since I did not see a way He was providing for that desire.

My spiritual director listened carefully and tenderly, like always, to my whining. Gently, he said to me, “Mary, your work is a gift from God. As laity, you can do more than I can in this arena. You can touch the hearts of those who work, where I have no access to those places. You can make your workplace a mission field, bringing a message of love, mercy and justice.”

This conversation with my spiritual director truly helped me to put into perspective God’s call in regards to work, and to His personal call to me to be His Light in the workforce. It was quite a revelation, really. Yay, God!

After the talk, I received a question from the audience that I never expected. This question has me pondering left and right lately. It was a good question. It was the right question for me. It is one of those questions that makes you journal until your fingers bleed (OK, not literally)…

Here was the question from a man in the audience:

“Given your heart’s desire to stay at home, and yet discerning God’s will and staying where He has you, and being the mother of 4 daughters – one of whom is in college, what advice would you give them about working?”

This question sucker-punched me right in between the eyes. Honestly, I’ve not had conversations like this with my girls. I know two of them who would roll their eyes right out of their heads if I tried to have the conversation. But the question itself – it was as if the wind was knocked out of my sails.

Now, of course, I’ve been pondering.

Here is what I said at the conference:

“Well, that’s an excellent question. (Silence for a moment as I gathered my wits and thoughts…)…I hope that I would tell them they must discern God’s Holy Will in their own lives. I hope I would tell them that family comes right after God, even if you work. I would ask them to think about why they work. Are they working to support the family’s needs? Are they working to support the family’s extravagant wants? What is the end of their work? I would want them to choose wisely and with discernment what God wants of them. I know one of my daughters is OPEN to religious life. I would also tell you that I was criticized for working by very close friends who were Catholic. These women told me that I was making wrong decisions by working and placing that above raising my family. I was always frustrated with God about the financial provision of our family, and I never knew what to make of it, until Steve (my husband) was in a coma and subsequent 10 years of brain injury recovery. It was then that I could see the role of work in my life, and I thanked God for both my education and work experience so our family wasn’t tanked financially because of such a tragedy.”

OK, that was the conference answer, and it is basically the same answer I would give since all this pondering. But I would finesse it a little bit, to include the following:

  1. Ask your patron saint to pray for you. To intercede on your behalf. To ask God to reveal His most PERFECT and HOLY Will for your life. Ask Our Blessed Mother to care for you in this discernment, and to pray for your intentions.
  2. Think of the working Catholic mommas of the faith: Saint Gianna Molla; Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; and Blessed Mother Teresa. These women embraced their motherhood: biological and/or spiritual motherhood. These women are incredible examples of women who listened to the still small voice of God in their lives. They worked. Saint Gianna worked as a pediatrician; Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was an academician before entering the Carmelites after a conversion experience; Blessed Mother Teresa was a religious sister. No matter their station in life, these three women had work as a commonality, and they turned their work into an offering to Our Lord.
  3. If you do work, offer your talents, skills, and abilities to Our Lord. Offer your day, full of joy, suffering, struggle, and happiness, to Our Lord in the morning before your feet hit the floor. Remember that work was created by God, and we can honor God with our work by offering it back to Him.
  4. Be grateful to God for everything concerning work: Be grateful for your education, for your training and abilities, for your supervisors and supervisees, for rest time and vacation spent away from work, for the difficult co-workers, for the easy to get along with co-workers, FOR EVERYTHING…All is a gift from God.
  5. If you are called to work, scrutinize your priorities regularly. Sometimes as a working Catholic momma, your priorities can get out of whack at times. Make sure you keep the following priorities: God, family, career. My spiritual director even told me that after God and family would be anything that would support my vocation of wife and mother. Right now, work is part of that equation, so it is third for me. Ministry is another thing that is helping to support my family (not just financially, but also spiritually), so it is #4 for me. Everything else, as we say in South Louisiana, is Lagniappe.
  6. Don’t work or not work out of jealousy of other’s lifestyles or blessings. Jealousy/envy is a sin (one I struggle with, but am working on to develop the virtue of gratitude). Stay focused on what God is telling and asking of you. His plan and will always includes your HOLINESS, but everyone’s path to HOLINESS is different and uniquely crafted by Someone who loves you and knows what is best for you! Isn’t that a relief that we don’t have to compare or covet the lifestyle of others? Kind of freeing, actually!
  7. Repeat this prayer many times a day, and especially at the 3 o’clock hour: Jesus, I trust in You!

Do I still want to be a stay at home momma? YES, I do. I imagine that will always be a desire of my heart. When that happens, I imagine I will miss the work world at times.

Mostly, I’m trying to be led by God, and not run ahead of Him or lag behind. I am surrendering to be led by the King of Kings. That has made all the difference in life.

As Saint Gianna once said,

“Work can be prayer…if we offer to the Lord all that we perform so that they might serve His glory. Whatever we say or do should be done in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Followed up by Blessed Mother Teresa, who reminds us to show our love through our work:

“If you are really in love with Christ, no matter how small your work, it will be done better; it will be wholehearted. Your work will prove your love.”

So my dear four daughters… I love you. I am always praying for you. And, God loves and provides for you most of all – so turn your eyes upon Jesus!


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About the Author

Mary Wallace, PhD, is a devout Catholic wife of 20 years, mother of 4 daughters, and college administrator for 19 years. Mary obtained her doctorate in Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, and has a particular research interest in faith and work issues. Her dissertation contains research insight from women working in the public sector who bring their faith to work, and using it to inform their leadership. It is through this research that Mary was able to start the blog, The Working Catholic Mom (www.theworkingcatholicmom.com). Mary is also the co-host of a Catholic radio show: Faith and Good Counsel, on Baton Rouge Catholic Community Radio. The radio show is focused on women living full lives of faith. As a college administrator for over 19 years, Mary has worked with a wide range of young adults. Spending the first 14 years in the college housing industry, she has a knowledge and experience of working with complex environment, large staffs, and multi-million dollar budgets. Using this knowledge, she has led numerous staffs through strategic planning processes, performance management, training and development, and developing human capital. Her current role focuses on student leadership development, service/volunteerism, and general involvement on a college campus. Mary approaches her leadership with faith as a foundation, though her employment has been mainly with public institutions of higher education. In 2002, Mary became the main wage earner in her family, when her husband, Steven, became disabled as a result of a traumatic brain injury after a ruptured colon left him sceptic and in the hospital for an entire summer, followed by a year of neuro-rehabilitation. The Wallace’s focused on their faith, and discerned each step of a new journey, full of Christian suffering and joy. During this time, Mary was thankful for her education, and God-given skills and talents to work, and to earn an income to support her family. This is also a time Mary learned to bring her faith to work, in a way that integrated her faith and leadership approach. Mary’s work brings her great joy, but the greatest joy she has is through her faith and her family. She is a devoted wife, and mother of 4 daughters. It is this role that Mary feels her best leadership shines. She spends lots of time in service with her church, and volunteering for different youth events with her children. Mary is an avid reader and writer, and focuses her reading attention on women’s interest in the Catholic Church, with particular interest in Blessed John Paul II writings and philosophies about women. Mary also enjoys dancing with her girls in her living room (when no one is looking), and cooking simple satisfying meals for the entire family and all of their friends. Mary is available to speak to your group. Check out ICL's speaker pages for her topics and to book Mary.

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2 Comments

  1. I’ve been a widow for 25 years now. I lost my husband to cancer and we had 2 children. Being an orphan myself, with no parents or in laws to rely on for help, I had to work. It was tough to balance both.
    Even today, I still have people who I work with & go to Church with who do not understand my working so much. I try to explain that I am self supporting and if I do not work, I don’t get paid. If I do not get paid, I can’t pay my bills. If I can’t pay my bills, I don’t have little things like food, electric, a car, a house……etc. but they just roll their eyes in disbelief, with not much understanding. It has brought many tears to my eyes and more to my heart. (usually, their answer involves something like: “why don’t you find another job?”)
    I’m not asking them to do my work for me, I’m not asking them to pay my bills for me, I am willing to do this on my own, without help from anyone – all I ask for is understanding and support when I can’t go and “do” the things they want me to do because I have to work.
    I guess my reason for this post is; if you know someone who is widowed, especially with children – don’t criticize them for the work they do, or the hours they have to put in, in order to survive. (and keep in mind, they are just barely surviving!) They are not looking for hand-outs, just understanding and support – and – your love!

  2. Thanks for the article, Mary. I’m a working mother and would love to be at home, instead. This has made my struggle a little easier!
    Tammy

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