I read a recent blog post called “Where is a Woman’s Place? from Growing Kids Ministry and it really had me thinking about something that I’ve thought about before: Why do I stay at home with my children? And what do my children and I gain from that choice?
In the blog post I mentioned, she wrote,
I just wonder, where did the obsession with staying home come from? Especially among Christian circles, it seems you’re not truly a good parent unless the woman is staying home. Is this actually biblical? Even the Proverbs 31 woman (often heralded as the ideal woman) seems to work outside the home: she buys and manages vineyards, she makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes (verses 14 and 24). I notice that she also has servants. I bet servants would really help my housekeeping skills.
I think we lift up the the old-time mother as something to be emulated. She stayed home with her kids. However, she was also busy. She made her clothes for her family, cooked and baked, and often grew her own vegetables. She was home, but she wasn’t playing with the kids all day.
Perhaps things have gotten a bit out of balance. Today, we have so many conveniences that we don’t really need to spend much time “making a home”. So, we’ve turned the stay-at-home mom position into “run-around-town-and-provide-enriching-experiences”.
Is this good?
What is the primary motivation for staying home? To make sure the kids are safe and well cared for? To develop the type of character that is important to your family? To enjoy the time together?
In today’s modern, 21st century world, being a stay-at-home mom is just very, very different from what it used to be. A stay-at-home mother today lives a very different life than one of 50-100 years ago. Modern conveniences negate much of what “old-time mothers” had to actually do all day long. I don’t have cook anything from scratch if I don’t want to. I can rely on my awesome non-wood burning stove and oven, my microwave, and my refrigerator. I don’t have to heat water on the stove, or drag water out of wells. I don’t need to sew my own clothes, grow my own food, or bake my own bread. Much of what was traditional homemaking, much of what bygone era stay-at-home mothers did, is not required today. And even if you love doing those things, it is still easier thanks to modern technology.
Which often begs the ever-infuriating question from others, “What do you do all day as a stay-at-home mom?”
But, I think that surprisingly, the answer to this question can be enlightening. At different seasons and times of my 3.5 year career as a stay-at-home mom, my answer would be very different. As a new mom, my answer would be simple – “I take care of babies.” But, hidden in that answer was boredom, and a surprisingly clean house most of the time (just not the kitchen, darn you, no dishwasher!). While raising twins had me overwhelmed often, I also felt very alone, and very bored. I didn’t have adult conversation for the vast majority of the day. I lived far away from anyone I knew, taking care of twin babies all day while my husband was gone at work, stuck at home without a car. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Thankfully, I had some art projects and a few online classes. But, I felt so trapped in my role as a stay-at-home mom for a long while. I didn’t want to stay home! I didn’t know what to do all day! (I blogged all about these feelings in an earlier post: The Decision to Stay at Home: Not Always Easy.)
And therein is the problem of the 21st Century Stay-at-home Mom.
We don’t have as many household/cooking/cleaning/homemaking duties of our yesteryear counterparts, and we lack much of the community that they shared. So, in our 21st century mothering, we over-parent and over-schedule our children. We smother them with love and attention and devotion. They are our homemaking project. We desire to mold, shape, educate, and control much of what our children think, act, play, and do. We now compete in child-rearing against those who would have previously been our community.
We no longer award blue ribbons for manicured lawns, cross-stitch embroidery, or homemade apple pies, but for our parenting. Our children are now our trophies. And we want ours to shine the biggest, the brightest, the largest, and the prettiest, the quickest. Many 21st century stay-at-home moms judge other moms based upon their child’s actions, upon their parenting choices, upon their child’s natural abilities, upon how many toys they own, the clothes they wear, and the number of activities their children are in.
And it’s all ridiculous. And it isn’t good.
Why I am a stay-at-home mom
I don’t want to be the competitive stay-at-home mom. I just want great kids. And that is why I stay at home.
While finances are a huge part of the answer to that question of why I don’t work outside the home (childcare costs for three kids?? Yeah, I can’t make enough to pay for childcare and actually make any money after that), it’s not really the main reason why I do stay home.
Part of the reason I stay at home is a cultural expectation. Growing up in a church that practically preaches night and day that a mother’s place is in the home (but, please, note – it is not a commandment, therefore not doctrine that once a woman has a child she needs to stay home and no longer be employed. It is much more a cultural, oft practiced norm), made me idolize the life of a stay-at-home mom. There are so many amazing talks given from leaders of my church about how special, wonderful, loving, and important a mother is. I grew up hearing things like:
- Women who make a house a home make a far greater contribution to society than those who command large armies or stand at the head of impressive corporations.
- A mother’s influence is beyond calculation;
- There is no role in life more essential and more eternal than that of motherhood;
- Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling… It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for;
- You mothers are the real builders of the nation wherever you live, for you have created homes of strength and peace and security;
- Mothers have great power and influence for good on their children.
- Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.
But, the big reason I stay-at-home, is that I understand that there are times and seasons to all things. While I was suffocating as a new stay-at-home mom and wanted out, that feeling has long since gone. I love being home with my children and understand that this sacrifice I am making to stay-at-home with them, forgoing a career, additional income, and advanced degrees, is momentary. It is said that the most important of the Lord’s work you will ever do will be within the walls of your own homes. (President Harold B. Lee, p 134) And I do sincerely believe that. And I believe too, that very young children are the most vulnerable, the most susceptible to influencers, the most ready to learn and love, that taking the time now to raise them correctly, can make all the difference in their future.
So, it is my hope that by staying at home with my children, at least when they are young (though I have no definite plans for when my stay-at-home career will end), that they will be better people. But, I don’t mean better people, like future Olympians, Mozarts, or Einsteins. But, better people, people who have morals, values, integrity, faith, reverence, respect, and devotion. People who are fun, happy, caring, thankful. People who love deeply, who know how to listen and communicate, who are a great friend.
These qualities are not found often in the world today. Cheating, lying, joking, and lewd, crude, and crass behaviors are all front and center in movies, music, television shows, magazines, news, advertisements, and conversations. Children deserve to know that there is good in the world. Children need to learn while they are young what is truly right and what is indeed wrong. And that is why I stay at home with my children. I want to train up [my] child in the way he should go: [so] when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) It is why I am thinking about homeschooling my children, because, let’s face it, the type of child I am interested in raising, will not be taught and become what they should from schools.
I know I am an imperfect person, who is not always the shining example of the things I wish my children to become. But, the good news is that I can teach my children how to correct their mistakes, how to apologize, repent, and amend, how to improve, because I am constantly doing those things (because, honestly, some days are bad mommy days).
What I do all day as a 21st century stay-at-home mom
With less demanding and time consuming needs-to-be-done-or-else-we’ll-starve-or-freeze chores to attend to, and much more time to then focus (and worry) and obsess about my children, it does beg the question of how much do you give? Where is the balance between homemaking, child-rearing, and personal growth? Should I be playing with my kids all day, attending to their every need because I am at home? Isn’t that my “job”? But, is it good to give my children all of my attention, dropping anything I am working on to help them that instant? Is not doing so showing a lack of love and devotion to my most important work? Or should I also be cultivating my own talents, teaching my children that they aren’t the only important thing in my life?
I strive to find a good balance to this stay-at-home gig, giving enough love and attention to my children, while also developing myself and taking care of our home and other obligations. Doing so makes me feel balanced, happy, and more than “just a mother.” I like being busy. I am currently working on various projects, reading different books, blogging, exercising, and more. But, I’m also finding great ways to educate my preschoolers, who are at the prime age to observe and absorb much of the world they see. I want my children to see that I love my time with them, but that I also am a person with my own goals and dreams. I want them to benefit from seeing how I try to live my life with balance.
So, while many 21st Century stay-at-home moms want to award blue ribbons to parents whose children are the strongest, brightest, most creative, and the handsomest, I don’t. If I had to award ribbons to others, it would be because their child knows how to share, how to help, how to love. That’s worth celebrating. And that’s what I believe in. And I also believe in being a little selfish and doing more than parent as a 21st century stay-at-home mom because I believe in living full, balanced lives, that allow me and my children to grow independent and responsible.
But, what do you think? Do you think stay at home moms of the 21st century should focus less on their children, on parenting? How do you find your balance and your groove as a mom?