Why is it that everyone wants to pigeon-hole children into their future profession as soon as they begin to show an interest or aptitude in anything? “Oh, Susie drew a pretty picture. Maybe she’ll be a famous artist someday. Tommy likes fire trucks; maybe he’ll be a firefighter when he grows up.” I even caught myself doing it as my oldest daughter entered toddler hood.

Or people ask children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” By the time she was four, my oldest was so tired of this question that she would answer, “I don’t want to be anything. I just want to live at home with Mommy and Daddy.” Even now, when someone hears of her aptitude in gymnastics they inevitably mention the Olympics. She quickly tells them that she has no interest in competitive gymnastics and she just does it to challenge herself and have fun.

I know that most people say these things as void fillers.  Over the past few years, though, I have trained myself not to make any “maybe you’ll be a …when you grow up” comments. I get annoyed when the thoughts even cross my mind. Not that children shouldn’t be aware that they will be expected to financially support themselves at some point, but they should get a minimum of 18 years to try on different hats and explore different interests before having to settle on just one or two. One of the myriad of reasons we choose to homeschool is that we did not want our children so caught up with the career of school that they had no time to figure out what career might make the rest of their life happy.

The fact of the matter is that most people don’t really choose their jobs or have careers. Most people walk through life unaware of their choices or too paralyzed by fear to make a choice, and as John Lennon observed “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. This was the fate to which I resigned myself when I graduated from college with a degree in Religious Studies. (Whether the purpose of college is for career preparation or personal growth is a debate for another post.) So, I guess that when faced with this stark realization about their own lives people can’t help but have more hope for the children around them.

A few months ago, though, my whole view on this topic took a new twist. I was watching EWTN’s “Life on the Rock”. I can’t remember the name of the guest, but she was a Catholic Christian singer who made a documentary exploring Christian lifestyles: married, single, and religious. She commented that we shouldn’t be asking our children what they want to be when they grow up; we should ask them what God is calling them to be.

I know it sounds completely cheesy and hokey, especially for people who are lukewarm in their religious beliefs, but I think it makes so much sense. I think it really helps someone put the focus outside of his or her own desires  and beyond the opinions and pressures, no matter how well-intentioned, of the people around them. What is God calling you to be? How is He asking you to serve him and others? Is where you think you want to be really where you are supposed to be?

The concept of a vocation, “an occupation for which a person is suited, trained, or qualified” (Wikipedia), was not completely new to me. Growing up Catholic, it was often used to describe one’s calling from God to become a priest or a nun.  This idea of teaching my children to think and pray about their life’s vocation came back to me again once my family started attending Mass regularly. Every week we say a special prayer for vocations at our Church. While the prayer is mostly focused on the hope that more men will realize that they are being called to the priesthood, there’s a part that acknowledges that all of us have a vocation, . I think this prayer really made me and my husband aware that we were living our vocations. He teaches sociology at a community college, and I’m a stay-at-home homeschooling mom.

When my husband and I met ten years ago neither of us had any idea where we were meant to be. Both of us graduated college and we still didn’t know what we wanted to be when we grew up. We both stumbled along like blind-folded people. And we happened to stumble right into our vocations.

So, how do we know that these are truly our vocations? Maybe we are just deluding ourselves into accepting where we just happened to end up. There are a few reasons I believe the former rather than the latter. First of all, even though, his mentors wanted him to get his doctorate and shoot for a more prestigious position at a four-year university, he knew that his passion was for reaching out to students and not doing research and that a community college would be a better fit. I’ve written before how I felt from an early age that I should be a teacher despite the well-meaning people who felt I was wasting my potential and my instinctive concerns with the teacher credentialing process. So we have both overcome a certain amount of adversity to get here. We didn’t just settle for the path of least resistance.

Secondly, I have always had a strong belief in divine providence. Not that I ever believed that God manipulated us like puppets on a string. But before I even graduated high school I noticed that certain options that I thought were behind me kept popping back up, like God was trying to nudge me in the right direction. I know it sounds kind of crazy.  For now, it’s enough to say that everything in our lives seemed to be leading us to our current careers. Looking back we can trace the paths that were opened to us and our own choices about which paths to follow.

Third, my husband is a damned good teacher. He does a really good job of helping his students look at the world, their classmates, and themselves with new insight, understanding, and compassion. And I hope that as a natural extension of parenting, I am able to do the same through homeschooling our children.

The fourth reason fell into place about a month ago at Mass. Our parish received a visit from Father Burke Masters, a vocational director for the Diocese of Joliet. In his homily, Father Burke recounted his journey from an un-churched child of nominally Protestant parents to becoming a Catholic and then a priest, after a short stint in the minor leagues. He talked about presiding over the marriage of his best friend to the girl he had left behind for the seminary and in doing so realizing that when we go down the path God is calling us to follow we find peace and joy. Not that there aren’t bad days from time to time, but overall there is peace and joy. My husband and I both find peace and joy in our respective careers.

Don’t we all want lives of peace and joy for our children, whether we are religious or not? So, just I can’t help thinking that asking children to choose what they “want” to be when they grow up is counter-productive.

Explore posts in the same categories: Parenting, Religion

One Comment on “Vocations”

  1. Kelly Says:

    Great post!

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