Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up to Be Moms

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My daughter at age 1; photo by Gretchen E.K. Engel


This is an updated version of a post I did for Mother’s Day 2016. And one, along with its companion that I’ll post next week, are two of my favorites. And giving myself a “day off” seems like a good way to celebrate Mother’s Day.

“All I wanted to be when I was a boy was a dad,” said no man ever. When they’re probed deeper, many men will open up to how much they desire a wife, to be a dad, etc., but it’s not the first response they typically give.

“I all I ever wanted to be was a mom.” How many times have we heard a woman say this?

A couple of years ago, when I was on the retreat, we had to give three words to describe us. I have five but followed the rules. “Engineer, writer, Christian,” was my response. Wife and mom are the other two. I was the only one who didn’t use at least one of those two words to describe myself.

I purposely didn’t short list them. Why? Because while all define who I am, wife and mom are defined by relationships. Although I had more control over the fact that I’m a wife and a mother, they’re no different than being a granddaughter, daughter, sister, niece, or aunt. I’m those things too.

Am I slamming stay-at-home moms? No! Do I think women who are housewives or moms are inferior? Absolutely not!

What then is my purpose in writing this?

There are so many reasons that a girl may not be able to be a wife or mother or loses that status. Singlehood. Infidelity. Infertility. Inability to adopt. Miscarriage. Child death. Divorce. Losing custody. Incarceration. Illness. Widowhood.

What happens when your daughter dreams of motherhood but is faced with its impossibility? What if she’s dreamed of marriage but finds herself alone? Should she feel like a second class citizen because she’s unmarried or doesn’t have children? Definitely not. And where is a woman most likely to feel ashamed to be single or childless?

The church, the very place she should be welcomed with open arms. John recounts Jesus breaking social custom to minister to the unmarried woman at the well. He spoke highly of widows. We are doing all young girls a great disservice by putting motherhood on a pedestal. Yes, children are called a blessing, and there are the stories of Sarah, Hannah, and Elizabeth bearing children in their old age. But in 1 Corinthians Paul encourages believers to remain single and only marry if they burn with passion. I believe the assumption of childlessness goes with this.

We should guide our daughters (and sons) to search their hearts and pray for God’s plan in their lives. Help them find their passion and purpose in Him not another human. On the other hand, if your child is called to stay at home and care for children, support them. Do not make them feel that it is a “lesser option”.

Young people should have the opportunity to live on their own. Hopefully long enough that they have a bit of a nest egg. Both sexes should be taught finance, how to cook, clean, mend, and do basic repairs. It fosters independence in both sexes and helps groom them learn to serve their spouses and children.

Every woman should look at being a wife or mother as a blessing and not a definition. Gifts not an identity. Men should look on being a husband and father in a similar way. They truly are.

Because when the day ends, I am equally a Christian, a wife, a mother, an engineer, and a writer. While I strive for the role of Christian to remain the most-important, all five are part of the fiber of my being. I am forever grateful for my husband of nearly 19 years and my two kind, bright, and beautiful children who are very much a part of my identity. I’m also thankful for the gifts and desire God has given me to write and practice engineering and the daily thirst to know Him and serve Him.

What are your roles? Do you struggle with any of them taking too high of a priority?

About Gretchen E K Engel

Chemical engineer by day, spec fiction writer by night

33 comments on “Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up to Be Moms

  1. Yes yes yes. I, too, rarely define myself as “wife and mom” for much the same reasons. There’s so much more to people than their spouses and kids. I very rarely hear non-Christians defining themselves that way. It does often feel that congregations make marriage and children idols — exalted far above more important things, like what your gifts are and how you serve.

    I’m a writer, instructor, and elder.

    • Thank you! I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way. And I agree that the church often makes marriage and children idols. And adds something of an obligation to worship them.

  2. Thank you for this. At church and with certain family members I often feel the need to down play the fact I work part time out side the home. I worked hard for my graduate degree and felt inspired to use it. I am a mom and a wife but like you said I am so much more then that. I was me long before marriage and kids.

    • Natalie your response nearly brought me to tears that you feel the need to downplay your career. God gave you the talent and drive to complete your degrees. He has you there because it’s a place you can minister where others can’t. Never feel the need to hide who you are!

      • Thank you for saying that. I have been beyond blessed to be able to spend most days with my kids and still have time to work out side the home. Several of my extended family members have made it clear they don’t approve of me working at all so I don’t mention work around them.

  3. I too really appreciate what you are saying. My husband and I don’t have children. Our choice. We have served in ministry together for many years. I am also a writer, a Veterinary hospital administrator and a stained glass artist. We live a full and happy life. Oftentimes at various churches it seems the choice ‘to remain childless’ is something akin to a sin. Having had many dealings with women similar to myself who for many reasons other than the physical inability, have decided not to have children, this ‘stigma’ can make church going a very uncomfortable experience. I have had women tell me that they have been ‘accused’ of being selfish. And that it is their God given duty to have children. How that sort of statement would ever be helpful to anyone is beyond me. Your blog is a blessing that I intend to share with others. Thank you.

  4. I guess I don’t see anything wrong with a girl wanting to grow up and be a mom. That kind of longing can be as strong as wanting to be a writer, or a doctor, or an actress. I had a good friend that her dream was to be a mom when she grew up. Me? I wanted to be a unicorn 😉

    Personally, that was not something I dreamed about, and yet that is a blessing God gave me. My friend grew up and went to college, then found her calling working with hospice patients. She didn’t marry until she was 30 and only a couple years ago had her first child. Before that happened, we would sometimes sit down and laugh about how our roles had been reversed. I married young and had my children young. She went to college and had a career. Not what either of us had “dreamed”, but that was the path God sent us each upon.

    Being a mother and a wife is certainly a role, but compared to many roles out there, it has a lifetime, maybe even multiple lifetimes affects. Who knows if my books will still be around in a hundred years. But the impact I have on my children will live on in my grandchildren and maybe even great-grandchildren. So in that aspect, it is different than a career. It is also not on equal standing with my writing. My writing revolves around my husband and kids. The writing will always be there, but my kids are growing up and need me to parent them now and prepare them to become adults. And my marriage needs me to be an active participant. Sometimes that means putting the writing away and spending time with my husband.

    In the end, I would never tell my daughter not to dream about being a mother. Neither of them have expressed that desire (we’re all independent kind of gals), but if that was their heart’s desire, I would share with them what that meant, and for them to give that dream to God. Same with every dream we have.

    There are people who consciously or unconsciously make women feel like second class citizens if they are not married or mothers. That’s not right. God has called us to different paths in life. That may or may not include kids. That may or may not include a spouse. But when we walk the path God has given us, we find fulfillment.

    But we shouldn’t stop women from dreaming either. Many writers dream, but there are reasons they don’t become authors: time, money, God has other plans for them, etc… Just like some women dream about becoming a mother and it doesn’t happen: no husband, infertility, and the other things you listed. However, without dreams, the heart withers. If we never dreamed, we would lose that part of us that makes us human and long for the future. We dream, and place our dreams in God’s hands.

    • Morgan I love your take on this!
      And I can tell you totally get the intent of my post. Next week I might have to write my flip side post about where God brought me with motherhood and career.
      In third grade I wrote down for my future goals: Olympic gymnast, mom of six (I have 2 kids), and maybe fashion designer or artist. About the same time I realized I wanted to be an engineer. I vaguely recall a desire to be a writer in high school, but it seemed to be way too difficult and unpredictable of a career option. Now here I am.

      • I didn’t even know writing was a career! When I was in high school, a friend said they wanted to be a novelist and I remember thinking that wasn’t a real “job”. At that time, I wanted to do medical research and work at the CDC. I had no intentions of getting married and having kids. But God had other plans for me and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. And I don’t think I would have become a writer if I had went with my original plans 😉

        • That’s so interesting. I listened to your interview on Lasers, Dragons, and Keyboards, so I knew you were a science geek. I could tell reading Tainted. Loved it!

          • Thanks! I love incorporating my love of science into my books! I became a writer because I needed an outlet with 2 toddlers at home. My hubby supported me and even bought me my first laptop so I could take my computer to wherever my kids were. I get that there are women who yearn to be mothers (as I said, my friend was one of them), so even though I don’t have that same dream, I’ll support it. But I also understand the women who dream about doing something else while they are mothers or choose to forgo motherhood. I’ll support that too because I’m one of those women 😉

          • Yes! I have a foot in both camps. I was raised by a wanted to be a nurse since she was five supermom, so motherhood and career were a realistic goal. She worked full time except 3 summers when she was a school nurse. My sister and I are kind of throwbacks. I started my family in my 30s but went part time after kids. My sister stayed at home and now works full time that her kids are school-aged (she’s a teacher). I totally get the need for a creative outlet. I started writing for pretty much the same reason.


    I know a number of people (male and female) who skip their various churches on Mother’s Day because it’s all about how motherhood is the highest possible calling and the only true purpose in life. Hey, I’m not knocking motherhood, but I’m pretty sure it’s possible to make a real difference in the world in other ways, too. And even if one chooses to be a mother, it’s still not the single defining characteristic of a complex human being.

    I’ve been told repeatedly, implicitly and even explicitly to my face, that as a non-mother I do not hold the same value to society or to a congregation, and even that I’m out of God’s will (as if these self-righteous people know more about God’s will than the Apostle Paul, etc.). And so often there’s no way to protest this without being interpreted as a man-hating church-hating child-hating draco-hag.

    But your line “Every [person] should look at being a wife or mother as a blessing and not a definition” (I took the liberty of expanding the obligation to men, too) is so spot-on. It is VERY possible to be a complex person with interests and achievements AND a wife and/or mother, AT THE SAME TIME. Being a wife or mother does not mean you are not anything else. Being something else does not mean you cannot be a wife and/or mother.

    • Thank you so much for responding! I have several friends who are unmarried, single again, childless (by choice or circumstances) who are doing great things for God; paths that would be difficult if not impossible except for their unique situation.

    • I cannot believe you’ve been told that you’re of lesser value in church (even implicitly, which I know happens all too often). You are of great value! And yes, St Paul states clearly that being single is the preferred situation when serving God. Yet, it’s the same people who will beat someone up over other scripture who ignore this verse when faced with a woman who is single and/or childless.

  6. Infertile women like myself are not second class citizens in the Kingdom of God, but we are often treated like we’re such by the Church, which likely means the Church acts like raising children is the only important work women contribute. That isn’t right; neither is diminishing mothers’ deserved honor. I always dreamed of being a Mom and an author and I still do, focused everything on those two goals; I have no backup plans–and the fact I am still waiting for God to bless me with children, don’t have a “real” job, and am not on the best seller list, makes me even less of a worthwhile human being making a valuable contribution to the world than I am to the Church, in fairness to God’s people. My major concern is when we women of all sorts wrap our self-worth, our value, up in whether we have a husband and children (or whether we’re successful in our careers) rather than in Jesus Christ, crucified. That is what we’re all worth–equally.

  7. I agree with pretty much everyone; its a broad topic and the nuanced discussion serves it well.
    The one thing I would like to add is that, as a womanGod saw fit to not bless with children I would prefer to see people using the term “single-generation family”. Both Childless and Childfree are highly offensive in different contexts and honestly don’t always capture the complexity of emotion. They also deny the very real fact that a family doesn’t have to have children to be a family.

    • I like “single-generation”, and yes, family can have a broad definition.

    • I prefer “barren” personally as it emphasizes what I am rather than what I lack. The PC, “Childfree” euphemism is definitely offensive to me; “childless” is sad but accurate. Though I prefer “barren,” it doesn’t offend me. Just my take.

      • I’m with you on barren. It’s a sad word but accurate. Ugh. I can’t imagine using “child free” in any context except to refer to parents on a date night. Definitely offensive in any other context.

        • Yeah, it is, too. For a woman of childbearing age, barren is better than infertile chiefly for semantics reasons (it’s a positive statement without the implications of “child-free” (talking like kids are a food allergy/sensitivity!) Plus with infertility, even if we do manage to conceive, we’re still infertile, while the Biblical concept of barrenness is a condition women still of childbearing age can have hope of being temporary.

          • I love the hope associated with barrenness! Child-free like allergies. I guess that’s another good use for the term. Place it in restaurants, bars, etc. meant for adults only.

  8. […] Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up To Be Moms (Gretchen E K Engel) – Don’t be turned off by the provocative title of the post.  There are really important things to say here (and they are things I intend to tangentially blog about in the near future).  “What happens when your daughter dreams of motherhood but is faced with its impossibility? What if she’s dreamed of marriage but finds herself alone?” […]

  9. […] This was intentional. I had a follow-up post planned. More supplement than counter to my motherhood post. […]

  10. […] so she could spend it with her family. Last Mother’s Day she wrote one of her more visited pieces. And this Mother’s day is extra special for Rosie and me. We’ve been late in announcing […]

  11. […] This is an update of a post from May 2016 and is the counterpoint to my blog post from last week, “Don’t Let Your Girls Grow Up to Be Moms“. […]

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