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Thoughts on Military Motherhood

Editor’s Note: Many of you anticipate Heather Morgan’s writings, so we are pleased to include her latest, on military motherhood, for you today. As you may know, Heather is the oldest daughter of Angus and Denise McColl, whose story is found in “What Would It Look Like. . .?

Excellent or Praiseworthy is posted on Monday and Thursday nights.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.—2 Corinthians 9:8

I have been back at work for a month now, and military motherhood has left me, as Mary (Jesus’ mother), with much to ponder in the solitude of my own heart.

There is the hard reality that my mother would probably not have approved. Faithful to traditional models of what it means to be a woman, my mother advocated strongly for staying at home with little ones, and for the art and science of full-time homemaking. This made my childhood wonderful, and I can appreciate that raising five daughters was a full time job. On one occasion, my father related to me that an insurance adjuster advised him to increase my mother’s life insurance policy, as he would not be able to afford to pay anyone to do all that my mother did for us in the event of her untimely death. My father wisely listened to this counsel, and used the discussion as a humorous way of explaining how much he deeply valued all our mother did during long years of sea duty in the submarine force. It also made me aware that the unpaid work of homemakers is easy to underestimate, until you attempt to quantify it. Then, it becomes glaringly obvious that the role is often taken for granted.

I had always thought I would follow the path my mother took, and am still surprised to find myself on active duty in the Army while raising our first child. My husband, a Reservist and full-time graduate student, is also navigating a much different experience than he anticipated for much of his life. To say that he is “Mr. Mom” seems demeaning, for he is not playing at being an excellent full-time care provider for our daughter–if anything, he is “Mr. Dad,” the genuine article. Though his approach to various baby-related problems differs vastly from mine, he finds ways to meet her needs I never would think of—like the night he jogged her to sleep to the song “Heartbreaker.” Who would have thought that blasting classic rock records would soothe a baby so completely? I saw it happen in my own living room, and rejoiced that God made us both, male and female, in his image. Still, there are pangs of guilt when I steal away to physical training each morning, and then again to work after breakfast and feeding the baby. What kind of woman am I, to choose such a demanding profession during my childbearing years? How will my choice to stay in the Army for a few more years affect my relationship with my daughter, and with my husband? Is this really the kind of work I was born to do long-term, or is this a detour on the road to my true vocation?

I do not have bulletproof answers for these questions, and there are better women than I who have chosen either to be professional Soldiers or to be homemakers. What I do know definitively is that the Army has made me a better mother in some tangible ways:

First, I am a far more persistent person than I was before active duty service. Somewhere between the first 20-foot rope I had to climb (with a weight vest on), and the last late night at the office poring over PowerPoint slides, I gained a kind of visceral self-reliance that I never knew I had. I learned that I could outlast the Army’s demands on my time and energy, and that even when I felt myself to be at a breaking point, there was always a little bit left, if the mission required it. I am reminded of St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed.”

Second, the Army reinforced the value of camaraderie, especially that of other women, in a way that few other experiences can. While I have grown to value and rely on good collaboration with my brothers-in-arms, it doesn’t give me the pleasure I experience in the company of good, strong women who can push and encourage me toward my best self. This is the kind of fellowship St. Paul recommends to Titus that women can uniquely offer each other, when he says that older women should “teach what is good” and “urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.” In other times, this meant that women helped each other to manage their households while their husbands won the bread, but the support that women offer each other in the daily self-sacrifice of family life is timeless.

So while I value and seek the mentorship of older, wiser women both inside the profession of arms and outside, I have found that my peers often astound me with their insight, their problem-solving, and their desire to be faithful to their calling as wives and mothers. In one sense, as the oldest of five girls who grew up replicating the comforts of sisterhood in my friendships, making female friends was second nature to me, and was always much easier than my friendships with men. But I also was privileged to be part of a group of newly married female lieutenants at my first unit who confirmed for me that sisterhood was as necessary to my professional life as to my personal life. As we learned how to operate and excel in a world heavily influenced by men, we enjoyed the life-giving camaraderie that kept us afloat even on the toughest days. It is little surprise, then, that we have one-by-one leaned heavily on each other as we entered into motherhood, easing the most demanding calling any of us has answered yet. If I can teach my daughter one thing about the company of other women, I hope it is to seek its encouragement and never to play the lone ranger.

It is with fear and trembling that I work out my vocations of military service and motherhood, searching for how best to reflect the imago Dei and to imitate Christ’s supreme sacrifice and example. I only know that this is the most joyful, and the most complicated, phase of my life so far. Because of that, I believe–if God gives His saints anything particular to do in His heaven–my mother (who departed for glory before she could satisfy her eagerness to be a grandmother) is ideally positioned to intercede for me in this endeavor. Because motherhood itself is, like the rest of creation, groaning in its imperfections and radiant in its triumphs, I would not be surprised to find that the fellowship of Christian women spans the “already and the not yet” of the kingdom of heaven in this way. The thought of what my mother would say, think, or do in my situation spurs me forward in a pursuit of excellence in motherhood, joining the examples of my friends and mentors, and helping me to find inner resources I never knew I had. Whether or not I have a military career in front of me, it is my hope that I can blend the best of my mother, the best of my many sisters, and the best of the self which God gave me as a gift I can give to my husband, my daughter, and hopefully future children, too.

Questions to Share:

1.Has Heather’s writing opened your eyes to any new thoughts about being a young mother while serving on active duty? What were they?

2. How can you encourage a new parent?

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