Wonder Women: Navigating the Challenges of Motherhood, Career, and Identity

Wonder Women

Whether to lean in or opt out, go to work or work from home, win the bread or care for the kids — even have kids or not — are the choices women in America today must make.

And they’re not easy to make. For whatever you decide will affect a host of responsibilities, including your family, your faith, your career, your friends, your personal health, and your dreams for the future.

What is God’s purpose for my life? That’s a hard enough question. But when you add the daily realities of grocery shopping, laundry, working out, and sneaking in a Skype business call during naptime or before the latest juice spill, it’s difficult to see any answer clearly.

Kate Harris, a mother of three and the leader of an organization dedicated to vocation and calling, has been offering women and the church a holistic context within which to have these discussions through the renewal of old words like coherence, constraint, and consent.

Kate’s new book, Wonder Women, is part of an innovative series of short books called FRAMES, and it challenges women to move beyond the cultural conversations of “having it all” and “finding balance” to gain a more holistic idea of calling and identity. She insists the church, more than any other institution, can lead the way.

In the excerpt below, you get a glimpse of what Kate discusses in Wonder Women and feel her angst as she wrestles with the current “frameworks” women are offered – calling for a need for change.

Wonder Women

Advancements over the past century allowing women increased access to education, a diversity of career options, flexible work arrangements, and freedom to manage fertility and childbirth are mostly welcomed as signs of progress. Most women I know don’t complain about these opportunities. Yet while women report satisfaction with the general quality of life, they are profoundly unhappy with the means, pace, and cost with which they must go about attaining such opportunities. As my friend Heather, an Ivy League alumnus and mother of three, once remarked, “I don’t really feel like I need more choices. I just need help knowing what to pick.”

As a Christian woman seeking to navigate the fullness of my work, calling, and identity in obedience to Christ, I have been largely dissatisfied with the frameworks offered to me — by society or the church.

Culturally, there is ample commentary when it comes to this work-life balance. The “Mommy Wars,” as we like to call them, have been waging for some time, and our lifestyle choices have often been caught in the crossfire. Both Ann-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic retrospective on “having it all” and Sheryl Sandberg’s counsel to “lean in,” importantly name the angst that feels so palpable to modern women. But each of these frameworks also has its limits. Most of them, I find, tend to come down to better managing logistics, to finding a way to “make it work” as Project Runway ’s Tim Gunn so famously advises. But for me, while practical tips go a long way, “making it work” is only half the dilemma. Logistics alone can’t bring peace or fulfillment. Women need more than that to address their deeply held tensions. Furthermore, logistical solutions depend on — or assume — a certain level of privilege and flexibility.

Likewise, when I look to the church for wisdom about the complexity of calling, motherhood, and work outside the home, I am most often encouraged to embrace the “season” of mothering young kids. Or I am drawn into a debate about gender roles in the church. The conventional church wisdom tells me the tensions I experience in scheduling, childcare, travel, or finances can be assuaged if I just go easy, rest a bit, hang in there. When my kids are older I can easily move on to the next season, and perhaps that might include other work. The gender role discussion suggests my questions can be answered once and for all if I align with a particular theological camp.

And while I absolutely agree we live in time and are governed by the realities of season and circumstance (no doubt, mothering babies and young children is utterly exhausting!), I chafe at the implicit — or explicit — suggestion that “other work” is inevitably for later. That it is somehow inherently separate from my work as a mother. Or even that such work is at odds with engaged and attentive mothering.

In the same way, I believe a biblical understanding of gender matters significantly in the lives of both men and women. But when my honest question about stewardship and calling is met with an abstract theological discussion about my “role,” I always feel a bit put off.

These frameworks aren’t inherently bad. Many of them hold significant and important grains of truth. They simply don’t feel sufficient for the pressing questions in my life right now — today. Instead, a sufficient framework would provide principles, practices, and guidelines to help women make more coherent, satisfying, and sustainable choices suitable to their own unique everyday circumstances.

Your Turn

Sixty-two percent of mothers say they are dissatisfied with the balance between their work and home lives. Where do you fit in those statistics? What would you say is a good balance to have between your work and home lives? Share your thoughts and comments on our blog!

Watch the Video Trailer for Wonder Women

Watch the FRAMES LIVE Recording

Kate Harris

Kate serves as Executive Director of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation and Culture, a Christian non-profit organization based just outside of Washington DC in Falls Church, VA that educates and equips seminaries, churches, and the laity in a deeper understanding of vocation as an integral - not incidental - part of God's mission in the world. She is particularly passionate about exploring and articulating vocation in terms that are relevant and practically helpful for women. Kate writes regularly for several Christian publications.

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