The 21st Century Stay-at-Home Mom

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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?
21st Century stay at home moms

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:

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?

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  1. says

    Wonderfully said, Katelyn. I love what you said about “Our children are now our trophies”. Very true. I used to think that “always” being there for the kids was important — that I should get them what they needed right away… after all, that’s what I was staying home to do! However, I am learning that is also important to teach children to wait. To allow them to learn that other people have interests and needs as well and they CAN wait until I finish this chapter in my book before we build a lego tower. Thanks for mentioning Growing Kids Ministry and I’m glad it made you think! 🙂

    • says

      My kids know to wait. I think being twins, they’ve always had to learn how to wait, as I physically cannot always meet both of their needs at the same time. And I think it’s good, as long as it’s in moderation. And that’s where the balance thing comes in, ya know? Cause obviously we shouldn’t be ignoring our children just because we are busy doing something else, because they are important to us.

  2. says

    I have been a SAHM off and on throughout my 22 years of marriage. It isn’t easy. Like you, I got bored. I even had a hard time with not contributing monetarily. It’s not always seeing the worth in changing poopy diapers and washing dishes and doing laundry day after day after day. It’s not easy when your work day doesn’t ‘end’. I don’t think SAH mom’s get the credit they deserve, and I think people believe it’s an easier job than it is. My kids won’t win the Nobel Prize, but at least they know how to be sensitive to other’s feelings and know what it means to be loved. And they are helpful, loving and kind.

    • says

      I think it is just harder to be content as a stay-at-home mom in the 21st century, because you do get bored and have a hard time about not contributing monetarily, and doubt your self worth (when all you do is change diapers and your friends are off running their own businesses). SAHMs do not get the credit they deserve or the support. It’s a tough job. It’s especially tough to teach real values in the type of society we have today. Kudos to you for raising sensitive, helpful, loving and kind children. 🙂

  3. says

    I don’t have any children so I have no experience with this. I also know when I have children I won’t be able to stay at home because of financial reasons but I certainly would like to, at least for a year.

  4. says

    Wow. Lots to think about! I was recently laid off and am home with a newborn, so I am definitely dealing with this sudden change in status, as well as the boredom you mentioned. And not talking to adults, and losing touch with friends who work all day. Thanks for this post and for the insight!

    • says

      No problem! It is definitely a transition. And it took me a LONG time to really come to terms with the new situation. I really hope you can get through it better and quicker than I did. Enjoy your time with your new baby! Congrats!

  5. says

    I often think that one the biggest problems we as stay at home moms have is a loss of a sense of community. I felt so along for so long but recently have been purposely pursuing friendship and a sense of community with other women. We were made for relationship and relationships among women are so important!

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. 🙂

    • says

      The loss of community is HUGE! I have felt it SO many times as a SAHM. It’s part of the reason I blog – I can connect to others in meaningful ways. But, I too have tried to be more purposeful in inviting people over and being a better friend. I got over “my apartment is small” mentality, and said I was just gonna invite people over anyway. In fact, I’m hosting a little Thanksgiving play date today at my house, just because! Thanks for commenting. I really appreciate it.

  6. says

    Good article and kudos to you for sticking with the decision to stay home with your little ones. After being home for the last 12+ years, I can say without a moment’s hesitation that it is absolutely worth it. They are worth it. Mine are now in school (all of them, all day!) and I really feel like those years with them and building their character has paid off. Not to be bragging on my kids, because they are surely not perfect angels, but their teachers have noticed a difference as far as good behavior, being kind to other kids, listening well, respecting their elders, etc.

  7. says

    Swung by from pinterest and I completely agree. I often find myself trying to balance giving my children attention but also leaving them alone to explore, and for me to do my own work/leisure. I often look at the lists on pinterest of 3736 ways to entertain your child and wonder why no one is questioning thus notion that we should be entertaining or children.

  8. says

    I agree with most of what you said. Though, I think I disagree with that it’s easier to be bored in the 21st century, being a stay-at-home mom. Personally, I find it hard to find time to be bored. Ever since Jack was born, I made it a goal to still do things I enjoy, which, luckily, have been easy to do at home, or were within walking distance of our home. I dunno. I feel lucky, because I’ve never felt trapped being a stay-at-home mom, and for me, it’s the best decision I could have ever made. These years in Jack’s life are so important, and I am grateful that I am able to stay home. I feel like it’s more important than ever for me to be able to with him and teach him standards, morals, and just how to be a kind human being. My mom was able to, as well, but she never was a smothering mom. She was always there for us, and to me, knowing she was always around was very comforting. I thought this was an interesting article:

    • says

      Love the article! Super interesting in regards to my desire to homeschool. Thank you!

      And I am glad you skipped the “feeling trapped” stage of motherhood. It sucked. I don’t feel trapped anymore, but I did for far too long. Blame one car, twins, and noone I knew, and there ya go. Trapped and bored. But, I do think staying at home is a great decision I’ve made and am glad I pushed through those first few tough years as a SAHM. I can definitely see it paying off in the wonderful girls I am currently raising. And I know it is a sacrifice SO worth making.

  9. says

    Katelyn, you know I’m a big fan and friend of your heart and love for your family. But I have to say, this post is by far my favorite of yours that I’ve read so far. It’s so fabulous on so many levels. I appreciate your truth and insight and support for mothers whether we’re in the home or out in the work force. Thank you for being you!

    I’ve nominated you for a Liebster award! You’re such a great encouragement and I’d love to learn more about you! Read more here:

  10. Carolyn says

    You make so many good points in this post, I loved it! It is so sad that motherhood has gotten so perfectionistic and competitive when thats not what its about at all! I’m lucky to have built a little “community” of other moms that I relate really well too but I know that can be a rarity!

  11. says

    Oh awesome article! Funny because I saw your Google+ post right after I saw another person’s post about how our kids are our job, insinuating that they are our sole purpose.

    I’m not a stay-at-home mom. But you’ve got to read “All Joy and No Fun” which talks about your topic here. The author mentioned how back in the day, women were called “housewives.” This is because our duties was literally to keep a sparkling home. Groceries were lined with cleaners and appliances and we “won” when we had a spic and span house.

    Today, we’re “stay-at-home moms.” Now it’s less about keeping house (in fact most of us laugh about our messy homes) and it’s all about our kids.

    Kids have now become the focus of our lives, both for working and stay-at-home moms. And sometimes to the detriment of our sanity!

    I tend to try to balance my life as a mom with everything else about me, including other relationships and hobbies.

  12. Erica Loop says

    Great read! My son is 12 now, but when he was younger I only really considered the “mom” part of stay at home mom. Even though I cleaned and shopped for groceries, my sole priority was my son. And, it can get pretty lonely without any adult interaction.

  13. says

    Very spot on. I have often thought that in the old days women were busy doing many things and they had servants. Anne of Green Gables, HELLO! Now, we are so entrenched in actual meeting needs of kids without help that we lose sight of everything. Sometimes because, honestly, it takes all day just to do that. Seasons, as you said, seasons…

  14. Becca says

    I’ve never been a stay-at-home-mom. When our children were little, my husband was a stay-at-home-dad, and that was illuminating in its own way! The number of women my age who would say, “But how can you trust him to watch your kids?” – to which my husband would reply, “What are they doing having kids with men they don’t trust?” The number of men my age, who were married to stay at home moms, who would say, “Don’t you resent him bumming off you?” – to which I always felt like replying, “Is that how you feel about your wife?” Now we both work four days a week and balance our work so that one of us always takes the kids to school, one of us always picks them up from school, so that (apart from school vacations) we’re always home when the kids are home. It’s wonderful and I highly recommend it – *however* the key is having a husband who believes in pulling his load at home! Because if you don’t have a husband who thinks along those lines, believe me, you really will end up doing the whole ‘second shift’ thing when you get home.

    My mom – who was almost always a stay at home mom when I was growing up – commented recently that our family is like a well-practiced orchestra, we all play a part and we all work together to make it work. I thought that was a nice complement.

    I have an acquaintance whose husband is a stay at home dad. She works long hours but inevitably, the first thing she hears when she walks through the door – at 7, 8 o’clock – is, “What’s for dinner?” That’s right. Her husband refuses to cook. In fact, he refused to change poopy diapers when their kids were little – he would actually call her up at work and make her come home to change a poopy diaper because he felt it was below him! Talk about the worst of both worlds!

    • says

      What a great compliment to get from your mom!! Seriously! That’s totally want I want in my family! I want all of us to work together so well, understanding our contributions to the family, but also to enjoy each other. And it is really important to have your husband on board. I feel bad for your poor acquaintance. I try hard to make life easier for my husband, especially on his long days. We’re on the same team, so why compete against each other?

      • Angela Kurz says

        I Love this post! I am a stay at home mom now for 3 1/2 years. While I do work PRN (very part time, call on weeknights and some weekends). I had a very hard time giving up work because it was work that I loved, yet I just could NOT leave our little ones. I know I have no regrets making the choice that I have. But my concern is is that I really am not teaching them the things they should be taught. Their value, character, being kind, sharing, all working together. For some reason these things seem very hard to “teach” for me. I don’t know how, and it seems to come so natural for so many people. I LOVE my boys, but they really wear on me and it seems I lose my temper and end up yelling, a LOT. My home is not harmonious at all it seems no matter what I try. I know I have given up to easily at times, as I am just worn out. How does one get the home “together” so to speak. My boys get up early (6am), I sometimes try & get up at 5 and exercise and read the bible (30 min each). But I am soo tired as I usually still get up 2-3 times with either of them. My boys are 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 years old. The younger goes to bed at 8:30 and the older one does not go until usually 9:30. Sometimes he will be in his room talking till 10:30!! I have been able to get him to stay in his room, by threatening to take one of his favorite toys away. Any advice!?

        • Becca says

          It’ll get easier! Toddlers are hard because they can’t communicate what they want verbally, so they act out. Once they can communicate what they want, and you can communicate what you want, it really does get a lot easier.

          Be nice to yourself. Forgive yourself when you screw up (most of us screw up a lot!) I have a magnet on my fridge – “Sometimes courage does not roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, I will try again tomorrow.” God willing there is always a tomorrow to fix the problems of today.

  15. says

    Yes, it is very different now. Back when I was at home we didn’t have a lot of money. I made things from scratch. Fortunately, I had learned domestic skill and put them to good use.
    As a grandmother now living in the city I long to go back to basics and far from the social media that is strangling us. Raising a few chickens and cattle and making all my household items from scratch is my dream. This will happen soon. So see we go full circle.
    I think learning domestic skills and farming skills still need to be taught to the next generation.

    • says

      I think you are right. There is still a lot of value in such things, and I do think in many ways, people are being drawn to that type of lifestyle now, because they want to work with their hands, be frugal, and know where their food comes from too. But, learning these skills is always easier said than done (as I know firsthand!). But, thankfully, we do have resources like the internet, to educate and help.

  16. Savannah says

    Everything you said was right on the nail! I have been a stay at home mom for 8 years and I still find it hard to balance everything especially now that I have a 5 month old beautiful precious baby! It’s like relearning to balance all over again. My children are 8 6 and the infant. Spaced out as you can see lol. But now I have to switch my day time house cleaning to playing with baby and squeezing in as much cleaning as possible and then my other 2 get home from school and it’s super crazy because I have to make our food from scratch homework baths etc you know the drill;) so if you have any tips on helping get balanced would be amazing!!!!

    • says

      Balancing is hard! I just sent you an email with some ideas and things that have worked for us, but I am totally impressed with the cooking from scratch every night. Definitely my weak point!

  17. Shelby says

    How do you moms keep your children entertained while you are cooking, or cleaning, or having me time. I find my children (1 & 2 years) cling to me and either want to be carried or near me 24/7. I can’t even go to the bathroom without them banging on the door! Is there any hope for me to retrain my kids to “do their own thing” sometimes! I need strategies – how do you moms accomplish this!

    • says

      My friend Lauren over at The Military Wife and Mom has several awesome posts about working to develop independent play time in young kids – – I would suggest looking them over. They are very helpful. I know it’s hard with the 1-2 year olds to not have them clinging on you all the time. It usually is just a matter of training them, and creating a safe play area for them, and creating some boundaries. Good luck Shelby!

  18. says

    I’m not so sure that home making is any easier these days. Yes we have the convenience of mod cons, But I find that with three children (two of them preschoolers), much of my time is spent on housework. There is so much to do. My youngest is three, and only now do I feel that I am really getting on top of the housework. Decluttering has helped too.

    • says

      Decluttering helps a lot! I still think we have it easier, although, maybe we do have more stuff/clutter ,and bigger homes, so it can take us longer to clean up! And young kids are just mess makers, so I think it may just be the season of life a bit. 🙂


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