The Plight of the Catholic Working Mother

Emily - statue

I’m a Catholic working mother. I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2003, which coincidentally was the same year as my conversion to Catholicism. My first child was born in 2005, followed by four more in the last 10 years (plus two saints in heaven). I’ve always wanted to be a stay-at-home mother, but circumstances and finances have always been such that I’ve had to work. Yes, paying for daycare is expensive, but I make enough after daycare and other expenses to make working worth it, financially, for our family.

I’ve often felt very isolated as a Catholic working mother. Everywhere I look online there are blogs by Catholic mothers who stay at home with their kids, but very few by Catholic mothers who also work outside the home, and fewer still by Catholic mothers who have young children plus an 8-to-5 type job.

I personally think the debate about which is harder (being a SAHM or a working mom) is ridiculous, because they are both equally hard in different ways. But a stay-at-home mom won’t necessarily be able to empathize with the dilemma of trying to figure out which parent will stay at home with the sick child when you’re both out of paid time off. Or what to do when the room you use to pump breastmilk in at work is constantly in use by others. Or how to meal plan when you’re not home to put food in the oven or crockpot at a certain time. Or how to deal with the looks and remarks from co-workers or your boss when you announce (yet another) pregnancy.

It’s difficult, too, when you yearn to stay at home with your kids, but the budget just doesn’t allow it.

In my experience, there seems to be a common misconception in Catholic circles that Catholic families with two working parents could easily get by on one income, but the mother chooses to work only so they can have extra money for luxuries – a bigger house, lavish vacations, the newest gadgets. However, according to the Pew Research Center, 40% of working mothers are the sole or primary wage earners for their families. It’s getting harder and harder to support a family – especially a large family – on one income alone. Rising food and housing costs, medical insurance needs, as well as crippling student loan and medical debt all contribute to a situation where a mother may need to earn income in order to help support their family. And then there are some families for whom the mother is the primary breadwinner because the father stays at home with the children.

Some Catholic mothers I know work so their family can afford Catholic school tuition for their children. Could the family make it on one income if they put their kids in public school or homeschooled instead of sending their kids to Catholic school? Maybe, but for those parents, a solid Catholic education is a priority, and not all parents are cut out to homeschool.

Regardless, it’s difficult to battle the perception by fellow Catholics that you don’t need to work. It’s actually similar to battling the perception by non-Catholics that you have too many children. In each case, you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t know the intimate details of your private life but assumes that they do because of what you post online.

I once had someone on Facebook PM me and tell me that she could tell from my blog that I didn’t need to work full-time, since I’d hired a professional photographer to take pictures of my kids — obviously, if I could afford to do that, I could afford to stay at home if I just gave up such luxuries.

To say I was puzzled is an understatement. In the very post she referenced, I’d stated the cost of the pictures: it was a 20 minute mini-session for which I paid $50 (for that, I received 15 digital photos plus a print release). Quite frankly, I make much more than an extra $50 per year by working full-time, otherwise I wouldn’t work — it simply wouldn’t be cost-effective at that point. Regardless, I’d used money given to me as an early Christmas gift to pay for the photo shoot, so it didn’t come out of our regular budget. I also made the shoot pay for itself by turning those pictures into inexpensive Christmas gifts for grandparents (thanks to coupons for free or heavily discounted photo books from Shutterfly).

Besides, in what universe is $50 the difference between working or staying at home? I’d sure love to live there!

At any rate, it was because of my feeling of isolation and a desire for community that I started the Catholic Working Mothers Facebook group last August. I’d waited for someone else to start a similar group before realizing that perhaps God was calling me to start one myself. So I did, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at its popularity. As of this writing, we have 429 members, and more join every week. A common refrain I hear from new members is, “I’m so glad there’s a group like this! I thought I was the only one, and I’ve felt so alone.”

As the group has grown, I’ve realized that we, as Catholic working mothers, really need to focus on building a community to support, encourage, and advise those who are in similar circumstances. To that end, I’m excited to announce the launch of the Catholic Working Mother blog on April 28, 2015, the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, who is widely considered to be the patron saint of working mothers.

The purpose of this blog will be to act as a source of encouragement and inspiration for Catholic working mothers who are struggling to balance the duties of their vocations as mothers with the responsibilities of being wage earners, whether outside of the home or from the home. I’m going to share my experiences as a Catholic working mother, profile inspirational saints for Catholic working moms, and offer practical advice from a Catholic perspective about issues such as maternity leave, home management, meal planning, and so on. I’ll also include guests posts from other Catholic working mothers.

I’m also going to start a public Facebook page for the blog (but will keep the closed group open for those who want a measure of privacy when posting).

Please pray for me in my new endeavor, and spread the word if you know of a Catholic working mother who can use some support, encouragement, and community!

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8 thoughts on “The Plight of the Catholic Working Mother”

  1. sheesh where have you been! I’m joining your fb group! I am not only a Catholic working mom but a divorced wife too. (not my idea) If it’s hard being a working married woman try being a single mom to four kids and working. I homeschooled for 9 years and really wanted to be a stay at home mom. It was not to be. Keep up the good work and we do need Catholics in the public square!!

  2. Pingback: Thursday, April 16, 2015 | Gus Lloyd's Reflections

  3. Fantastic and extreme relevant article. My wife would love your blog Catholic Working Mother. Me too.
    And, by the way, I loved to know about G.K. Chesterton on your life. Let´s pray that he became a Catholic saint.

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  5. Marion (Mael Muire)

    “I once had someone on Facebook PM me and tell me that she could tell from my blog that I didn’t need to work full-time, since I’d hired a professional photographer to take pictures of my kids — obviously, if I could afford to do that, I could afford to stay at home if I just gave up such luxuries.”

    One of the problems with living in a democracy with ideals of freedom of expression and equal rights for all, is that it can take a long time for even intelligent and thoughtful individuals to come to terms with the fact that not all opinions are created equal, that there are persons with qualities such as intelligence, experience, and the virtues of prudence, wisdom, justice, and charity, which make their opinion on many subjects extremely worthwhile to attend to carefully and to take to heart; . . . then there are persons who possess little in the way of any of these attributes, and consequently, their opinions are neither worth attending to nor taking to heart.
    The Bible’s Book of Wisdom is worth a good read. In it, the Lord tells us over and over again that “the wise man” remains silent while others are speaking, and waits to be invited to give his opinion, but “the fool” is quick to blather forth whatever is in his empty head. This is in part because the wise man waits and listens until he has __all__ the facts needed to form a considered opinion; he doesn’t want to formulate an opinion without the data needed to come to a sound one. Whereas the fool feels that facts and data don’t matter anywhere near as much as having an audience (i.e., a victim) upon whom he can inflict his ill-founded opinions.
    Persons who are willing to make blanket statements about the financial affairs of others who are strangers to themselves, based upon only the evidence of a brief conversation and a single transaction, (such as the professional photographer’s fees), are not conducting themselves as the wise man of intelligence and virtue, who thoughtfully collects all the data, and then waits to be asked to give his opinion. They are conducting themselves in a manner which is quite the opposite to that of the wise. And therefore the opinion a fool gives is worthy only to be brushed aside as a fly buzzing around one’s face, or to be whisked away as one does the drops of water splashing upon one’s feet while sunning oneself at the beach.

  6. As a Catholic working mom you will have numerous opportunities to love and serve
    the Lord – may synchronicity and serendipity overwhelm you with the God given grace to respond.

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