Who does God want you to be when you grow up?

Photo copyright Michaelyn Hein

By Michaelyn Hein –

“Don’t remind me!” my son whined to his sister as she marveled that he would turn 10 soon. He suffers from the quintessential Peter Pan syndrome — a desire to never grow up.

My daughter, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to turn 5. Or, she assured us, to one day be an adult.

“Why do you want to grow up so much?” asked my son, obviously confounded.

“Because,” my daughter smiled, “I can’t wait to be a mommy.”

It is no secret in our home that motherhood is the goal of our young daughter’s life. She plays daily with her dolls, tucking them into bed, reading them stories and feeding them meals of Play-doh.

But while it’s a joy for me to witness her taking care of her “little ones,” as she calls them, I realize most of society is not so impressed. A friend once attempted to goad my daughter to dream bigger, asking her, “But what do you really want to be? What job do you want to have?”

My daughter looked puzzled. Then she nodded her head, saying again, “A mom,” as she bounded away to push her doll on a swing.

It struck me that our contemporary world’s emphasis on career paths, from a very young age, is misdirecting our children.

My son’s elementary school pushes STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs from kindergarten, clearly hoping that it will plant a passion for a future in engineering or chemistry or coding. The children research various careers, then dress up in the garb of their favorite one and present their chosen path in class. Often, if a teenager hasn’t selected a field of focus by high school, panic sets in, if not for the student, then certainly for the student’s parents.

The pressure to identify oneself with a career is such that we no longer recognize marriage and parenthood as the pinnacle of life’s journey. On the contrary, our world tells us these are nice to have on the side — if you want them — but, really, we ask, what do you want to do? What do you really want to be?

I see it often in Catholic mom groups I’m part of. Women who know that their true value lies in their vocation as spouse and mother begin to doubt themselves as they struggle with the decision to leave their careers behind in order to stay home and raise their children.

“I’ve worked so hard for this,” they will lament. “I’ve put so much time and effort and money into the person I’ve become; I’ve slaved for years to advance my career. What am I if I don’t have that?”

Who are you?

The existential crisis is that we are the products of a society that identifies us by what we do, not who we are. And while career aspirations are certainly something to encourage in our children and each other, it is important that we understand — and make clear to our children — that our occupations are not what define us. Rather, our vocations are.

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, a vocation is the “calling or destiny we have in this life and hereafter. God has created the human person to love and serve him.” It is “the fulfillment of this vocation” that brings “eternal happiness” (903).

More specifically, we are each called by God to some state in life, either marriage, the priesthood, religious life or the consecrated life. If we are defined by any path, these are the primary ones we should be most devoutly discerning, for these are the eternal roads. Our careers? They are temporary and end with retirement.

Our world disagrees. When I once mentioned that it would be a beautiful thing for my son to be called by God to the priesthood, a family member responded, “Oh, don’t wish that on him.” She further advised that I help him to focus on a lucrative career path instead.

When I talk of my daughter’s sole focus on motherhood, I’m questioned as to why I’d want to “hold her back” in the Dark Ages of womanhood and keep her oppressed. Why, I’m asked, wouldn’t I encourage her to some impressive career when women can do just about anything these days?

My answer is that my children — and all of us — are so much more than monetary rewards or impressive resumes. Indeed, as a mother, these are not what I would pray for so much as I would pray for my children’s success in the vocation that God calls them to.

For a flourishing career is, primarily, self-serving. It depends upon personal goals, promotions, raises and other accolades. Of course, a profitable career allows a parent to care for one’s family, and, as such, can also be self-sacrificing. But even in that context, its importance exists only so far as it supports the more significant vocation of marriage and family life.

The successful vocation, on the other hand, is the stuff of saints. It depends entirely upon serving and loving others well. As my mother repeatedly told my siblings and me in our youth, “God did not put you here for you. He put you here for the service of others.”

And as another great mother, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, said, “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”

So the world will continue to tell my daughter that her dream of motherhood is a dream not worth focusing on. But her father and I will fight that lie by planting within her a paramount truth: that while the world defines us by our work, God defines us by our love. And it is our accomplishment in loving, not our success in our career, that is the feat that will get us to heaven.

Michaelyn Hein is a freelance writer, wife and mother who resides in Hopewell, New Jersey.

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  1. Michaelyn is a wife and mother who is also a freelance writer.

    • Good catch! You are completely correct. Thank you for that correction. God bless you, Kathy!

  2. This is interesting because 25 years ago I faced the same situations. I was helping out with a Brownie troop and the official booklet for leaders guided young girls thinking that height of success was having a career. Many were suggested. Totally omitted was being a wife and mother. There was even some sort of song about this. So…..I added another verse to the song about the best thing about being a woman was to marry and bring children up to know and love God. Needless to say, my daughter nor I continued with Scouts and their anti-life attitudes.

    • Thank you for sharing that, Lillian. I commend you for adding in that verse…what a great idea and gift to those girls! God bless you!

  3. Another wonderful piece Michaelyn!

  4. Children r such a beautiful gift from God but unfortunately today, we see all too often, they are seen as a burden. Rare does one hear parents talk to their children of what God’s plan was for His creation. Rare do you hear them promote the beauty of marriage & raising children….of raising souls for Him. We must love the future generations so they will carry on with great joy and anticipation that love to the next generation. Michaelyn does a great job of putting into words what ails the world today and shows that parents hold the key to change it for the better. “Behold children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward.”.Psalm 127:3

    • Thank you for the kind words, Jennie. Sadly, I’ve noticed throughout my adult years that marriage and family are often treated as a backdrop to an ambitious career instead of the other way around. While there is nothing wrong with desiring a fruitful career, I pray that it will more regularly be treated as the backdrop to what really matters…God and the family. God bless you!

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