Childless by vocation: a valid choice?

As I watched the naming of our new pope on the TV in the church office with our pastor and other members of our liturgy committee this morning, I got to thinking about people whose vocations require them to give up marriage and children. Whatever our new pope, Francis I, may be, he is not a biological father (although when he was a priest, people called him “Father.”) About 50 years ago, when he was a young man, he took vows that required him to remain single and celibate for the rest of his life. Catholic nuns and brothers take the same vows. The idea behind this is that they can’t devote themselves fully to both the church and the families they might have.

One might argue (I often do) that women should be allowed to be priests, and that priests should be allowed to be married. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, and I do see some logic in total devotion to the church. In fact, a female Episcopal priest I interviewed for my Childless by Marriage book is allowed to be married but says she decided she couldn’t be effective as a priest if she was torn between church and family.

We’re not all Catholic, of course, but let’s think about giving up family for vocation. When priests or nuns vow to be celibate, nobody calls them selfish or deluded as they do with us lay people who announce that we’re not having children. Nobody speculates about their fertility. Religion isn’t the only vocation where it’s hard to do one’s work and raise a family, too. I know of many people in the arts and sciences, for example, who have decided to devote themselves to work rather than having children. When I had other people to take care of in my own life, I always felt torn between their needs and my desire to focus on work.

Until modern times, a woman’s only acceptable role was to be a mother, but things have changed. The jobs of priest or pope may be not be open to us, but most other careers are and they might not mesh with motherhood. Is it valid to decide to give up family and focus completely on work? What do you think? Do know anyone who has done this?

There’s a great photo collection on Pinterest of childless/childfree women who have achieved great things. Click here to see it.

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