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As a Former Working Mom, Here’s Why Harrison Butker’s Speech Doesn’t Offend Me

As a Former Working Mom, Here’s Why Harrison Butker’s Speech Doesn’t Offend Me

There’s been quite a bit of controversy lately concerning Harrison Butker’s recent commencement speech, particularly his comments endorsing motherhood and homemaking. As you could probably guess, those on the left side of the political spectrum (especially feminists) have harshly criticized his remarks, and conservatives, by and large, have rushed to his defense.

As a mother myself, while I don’t agree with everything Butker espoused (for one, I’m not Catholic like Butker), I found his sentiments concerning motherhood praiseworthy and brave, albeit perhaps hindered by some clumsy word choice.

Here’s what Butker said about motherhood (you can read the full transcript of his speech here and my colleague’s take on the speech from a masculine perspective here):

How many of you are sitting here now about to cross this stage and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you are going to get in your career? Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world, but I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world.

 

I can tell you that my beautiful wife, Isabelle, would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother. I’m on the stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me, but it cannot be overstated that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife, and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker.

As a mother who has worked outside the home—in national intelligence, actually—I know the validation that can be found in a career, especially one devoted to public service. But having had two children while working outside the home, I also know the great joy, beautiful difficulty, and life-altering fulfillment that comes with motherhood.

I had my first son earlier in life than planned, and surprise though he was, he brought into my life a love and a purpose greater than anything my exciting career came close to offering. Even though my first baby wasn’t planned and even though I loved the fast-paced job that I had, becoming a mother irrevocably changed my life for the better, provided fulfillment deeper than that of my career, and inspired me to be a better version of myself in my pursuits both in and outside of the home.

I’m lucky to know other incredible mothers who are business owners, entrepreneurs, teachers, in the process of getting degrees, and those who identify as traditional homemakers—all of whom would echo this sentiment. I don’t doubt that all of them would affirm that their children are the most life-changing and wonderful parts of their lives, no matter how passionate each of these women are about a career or educational pursuit.

In my particular circumstance, I eventually gave up my career almost five years after taking my oath of office in order to stay home with my children, and though I was incredibly grateful for every minute of my career, I was also excited to have more time to devote to homemaking.

In other words, regardless of a mother’s approach to homemaking (which is highly subjective depending on the mother and current phase of her life), motherhood is fulfilling in a way that little else this side of heaven is. And this fulfilling nature of motherhood came through in Butker’s remarks in praise of his wife (comments which mothers in various walks of life can agree are certainly worth applauding).

This brings me to the fact that while some expressed disdain at Butker’s comments about motherhood and homemaking directed at newly minted college graduates, I found it a fitting inclusion in a commencement speech. After all, being a mother encompasses overseeing the needs of children, a principal one of which is education. There is no reason that high-achieving college graduates should not hope to use their education in the pursuit of homemaking.

In fact, by praising motherhood and homemaking to women who had just undertaken higher education, I believe that Butker was rightly elevating motherhood by categorizing it as a true and serious vocation. And so, as a mother, I agree with the sentiment behind Butker’s comments and laud him for being brave enough to broach the topic of motherhood in a commencement speech.

However, while I agree with his sentiment, I would hesitate to insinuate that a woman’s life “truly start[s]” when she begins “living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

First and foremost, for religious women like myself and those in the audience of Butker’s speech, a relationship with the divine is paramount and must remain so, both for the benefit of marriage and motherhood itself. Becoming a mother pales in comparison to my true calling: that of a follower of Christ, and I know Butker, given his espoused faith, would actually agree with me on this.

Perhaps then it may have been wise to remind women—especially given that not everyone can, will, or is called to become a mother—that there is a higher, more fulfilling calling than motherhood. For Christian women, the highest calling is to pick up our cross and follow Christ. And we can embrace that calling while pursuing a career, single, married, widowed, young, old, in prison, facing terminal illness—in all walks, runs, and, at times, dismal crawls of life. Not every woman is guaranteed a rosy motherhood to embrace.

And so do I agree with Butker’s overall message to women? Yes. His word choice? Not entirely. Little can anyone predict the journey that living a life of faith will entail, but for those blessed to be called “mother,” there is no doubt they will find the role one of the greatest accolades of their lives.

In a society prone to belittling motherhood, it was refreshing to see its merits, however imprecisely verbalized, lauded in front of young people in the higher education arena—a setting which should not be, but is often, considered antithetical to motherhood and homemaking.

In fact, I can’t help but wonder if people held motherhood in as high regard as Harrison Butker does whether society might be a better, more inclusive place for women and for mothers.

Image credit: YouTube

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Rebekah Bills
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6 Comments

  • Avatar
    Vivian
    May 24, 2024, 10:17 pm

    I am Catholic, but have no problem agreeing with your take except for your final point.

    While the word "vocation" is used synonymously with "career" in the secular world, they are very different in Catholicism.

    Your career is what you do in the material world, but your vocation is the purpose God calls you to in this life. THAT'S why Butker's wife (not actually Butker) said she felt like her life began after she began to live her vocation, ie God's calling for her life.

    REPLY
    • Avatar
      Elizabeth@Vivian
      May 25, 2024, 6:08 am

      Thank you Vivian for that clarification for the Catholic community that reads intellectual takeout.

      REPLY
    • Rebekah Bills
      Rebekah@Vivian
      May 25, 2024, 4:51 pm

      Thank you so much for clarifying that vocation has a religious sense in Catholicism. My point was rather that life starts anew through faith in Christ, beginning a life of faith in Christ that can take on many different shapes and callings over a person’s life, not all of which lead to motherhood as a woman’s highest calling.

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  • Avatar
    Rudy B
    May 25, 2024, 4:48 am

    Your insights are spot on. Your added clarifications to what he said are justly noted.
    Thanks.

    REPLY
    • Rebekah Bills
      Rebekah @Rudy B
      May 25, 2024, 4:52 pm

      Thank you, I’m glad you found the read an edifying one!

      REPLY
  • Avatar
    iilanaj
    May 27, 2024, 3:15 am

    While the word "vocation" is used synonymously with "career" in the secular world, they are very diff

    REPLY

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