Motherhood: An Extraordinary Vocation
by Dr. Kathryn Rombs
Dr. Kathryn Rombs, wife, mother of six, philosopher, and college professor makes “the case that motherhood can be a significant part of the successful life of the twenty-first-century woman” in her book, Motherhood: An Extraordinary Vocation. Rombs defends and promotes motherhood in a time when modern feminism demands that women become more like men: sacrificing their femininity and motherhood on the altar of “progress” and worldly success. It is an excellent book for all mothers: expectant and those with grown-up children, natural, adoptive, and spiritual. This book can also be read by women who are discerning if God is calling them to motherhood. Reading this book at the beginning of my own journey of motherhood as we welcomed our first daughter this past December was particularly powerful for me. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the beauty of the vocation I was entering into and what I want to share with my own daughter about motherhood as she grows up.
Dr. Rombs grounds Motherhood in Church teaching and fundamental philosophy. At the same time, I was pleasantly surprised to find how accessible and personal her writing was. Besides her academic career, she is a busy mom trying to do the best for her kids. The book can easily be picked up when you have a spare moment to glean little nuggets of wisdom to reflect on before your next responsibility whisks you away from reading. Each chapter is broken down into four sections: the first unpacks the theme for the chapter with insights from saints, theologians, and philosophers; the second, called, “The Art of Motherhood,” explores a piece of art or architecture and reflects on how each woman is called to creatively design her life using the gifts God has given her (an excellent bonus feature are images of the works in full color); the third, “The Prayer of Motherhood” offers a spiritual prayer or tool to help as the reader discerns God’s unique call to her; the final section of each chapter are questions for reflection to help the reader go deeper either individually or to discuss in a group study.
Rombs begins her work by exploring the dignity of motherhood with the help of Saint John Paul II. For John Paul II, the dignity of motherhood (and fatherhood) lies in its reflection of the Trinity. God is a communion of love eternally shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Husbands and wives together with their children also form a communion of love shared with each other. Human motherhood is not merely biological, it is spiritual as well. Rombs additionally points out that it was a mother who played a vital role in Salvation History. Mary’s “fiat” became the doorway through which the Messiah came into the world. Through His Incarnation, Christ raised the dignity of all motherhood.
After considering the dignity of motherhood in all its glory, Rombs turns to dismantling the modern feminist movement’s view that a woman must sacrifice, or at least delay, motherhood for her to live her dreams and actualize her fullest potential. She does this by contrasting the Christian and modern secularists’ views of freedom. Rather than viewing freedom as license simply to do whatever one pleases, true freedom in the Christian sense is the ability “to choose the highest and most infinite good, which is God” (48). Rombs invites the reader to reflect on the choices she must make in her life and challenges her to exercise her God-given freedom not simply to choose what is good or better, but what is the best—even if it requires more effort.
For Rombs, an integral part of this discernment is figuring out what will make her happy when she approaches the end of life. Through looking at the lives of Socrates, Saints Felicity and Perpetua, and Christ Himself, Rombs concludes that it is in living a life of love that a person will find happiness. Motherhood at its best is one of the supreme examples of self-donative love. Rombs urges the reader to live a life that is a gift to others rather than focused on herself and believes that living such a life is what will make her genuinely happy.
But what does it look like to live a life of love for others that is deeply fulfilling? Can a woman really thrive if she is constantly giving herself away? To begin, Rombs encourages mothers to prioritize their roles as mothers and to see their motherhood as a way of transforming the culture from within their homes. However, in challenging moms to prioritize their vocation to motherhood, Rombs does not argue that every woman must be a stay-at-home mother without a career. In fact, she offers the lives of three mother saints who worked outside of the home either because they felt called to a particular career in addition to motherhood (St. Gianna) or because material necessity demanded it (Sts. Elizabeth Ann Seton and Zelie Martin). I appreciate that Dr. Rombs does not offer a cookie-cutter answer on how to flourish because each woman is different. Ultimately, Rombs calls on the reader to carefully discern how God is calling her to use her gifts and talents and to make her vocation to motherhood a priority in her life, whether she is with her children 24/7 or when she gets off work.
Returning to the idea of self-donative love, Rombs sees motherhood as a unique participation in the Passion of Christ that can be instrumental in drawing mothers and the entire world closer to Christ. Motherhood is self-emptying, painful, life-giving, and Eucharistic—all for the sake of the love of another. Through their close identification with the donative love of Jesus, mothers become key to building the civilization of love called for by the Church. Mothers are essential to the formation of society because they are indispensable in the rearing of their children in virtue. This influence on the younger generation has far-reaching effects on “institutions, schools, homes, and everyday life…” Instead of seeing her motherhood as a liability or limitation, Rombs encourages moms to see their motherhood as perhaps the most important and lasting way they will impact the world.
Motherhood: An Extraordinary Vocation provides a much-needed alternative to the narrative so often preached by the secular world that motherhood limits a woman’s freedom and is a hindrance to her ability to fulfill her dreams. This book extols the beauty and dignity of motherhood in a way that can help young women discern motherhood, fortify moms who may be exhausted and struggling, and provide food for contemplation for all kinds of mothers. Romb’s words are a powerful reflection that can be brought to prayer and meditated upon. They offer encouragement and insights for moms that can be brought into everyday life with their children. May is the month of Our Lady and the month that we in the United States honor mothers. Motherhood: An Extraordinary Vocation is a beautiful book that would make an excellent gift, can be easily used for a group study, or enjoyed for a few quiet minutes in the morning with a cup of coffee before the busy day begins.
About the reviewer
Theresa Lewis is the program assistant for the Secretariat for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. She and her husband Eric have been married for two years and welcomed their first daughter, Cecilia, in December of 2021.