The Ambition of a Stay-At-Home Mom
To be a stay-at-home mom at the beginning of the 21st century is to stand on vulnerable ground. The feminist movement over the last century has given us so many opportunities that being a stay-at-home mom is no longer our only option, but instead a conscious choice.
So when we can make that conscious choice to stay home with our kids, we feel the question: Is to be a stay-at-home mom to say no to modern opportunity and return to a backward way of the past?
Is it to atrophy our personal development and martyr ourselves to the cause of our husband and children?
And even if we feel that we made the right choice, there are moments when we wonder if our lives are a waste and a failure—maybe everyday moments when we are wearing sweatpants around the kitchen, trying to train children who drive us crazy, spinning so many plates that one is always crashing to the floor.
Is there value in being a stay-at-home mom?
And if there is, why do we sometimes feel like it still doesn’t matter?
Life-Changer, World Shaper
“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world” is no longer a cliché or a yesterday sentiment. Now it’s researched and proven science. The earliest years of a child’s life are the ones that make the greatest difference in the shape of that child’s physical and emotional health and moral framework.
Those baby months that feel like they’re only about milk and poop and losing your sense of identity in yet another diaper change or sleepless night? Those are the months that a baby’s body and brain are growing at record speeds. Those are the months that lay the foundation for lifelong emotional attachment.
Those toddler years that feel like they’re all about tantrums, potty-training, crayon on the walls, toys on the floor, stories read one hundred times over? Those are the years that a child is learning to communicate and imagine, and is building a framework for their understanding of morality and their empathy with other people.
When we were fostering a baby boy who would leave us at age twelve months, this was the research I clung to. I had to know my heartbreak was worth it—that mothering him for that short window, even though he may never remember me, will make a difference in his entire life. It will. He will always be a better, healthier individual because of that early investment.
A child adopted at a toddler or elementary age may for the rest of their lives need to recover from and cope with what they lost before they came to their forever home. Thank the Lord healing is possible. But whatever we lose or gain in our earliest years can have a permanent effect on our lives.
Maybe in the old days, like The Downton Abbey era and before, people could excuse ignoring their children until they became old enough to bring along to important functions. But now we know better. We know those early years are when a child is built. The one who does the building is the one who changes their life, and through them impacts future generations.
So really, if you want a job that is going to make the most difference in the lives of other people, and is going to have the greatest impact on the future of our world, be a parent, with all that entails. Really, it’s that simple. At the end of the day, that is the job where the greatest difference is truly made.
Of course you don’t have to be a stay-at-home mom to make this great difference. Many working moms and dads do it. But if you choose to be a stay-at-home mom, wear that badge with pride. You’ve chosen a career with unparalleled influence and potential for change.
Freedom & Independence
Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this: one of the things I love most about being a stay-at-home mom is the freedom and independence.
Say what? Where’s the independence when I can hardly go to the bathroom by myself? Where’s the freedom when something as simple as getting in the car (or mini-van) takes half an hour?
It’s this: when I worked full-time, I had a boss, and I had to do what she said, whether or not I agreed. I had to follow policy. I had to go along with some decisions I didn’t like. I had to show up at set hours. I had to attend meetings that felt like a waste of time. Even though I loved my job, there was not a lot of freedom and independence, at least not in the position I had. You’ve probably had a similar experience in the workforce.
Enter children into my life. Now insofar as I’m a stay-at-home mom, you could say I’m self-employed. I have no boss.
I get to choose my own hours. Of course I have to make it work with my kids’ needs, but ultimately I get to guide them in setting our own schedule—we don’t wake up super early, our mornings are busy and loud, early afternoons are quiet time, evenings we have extracurricular activities, bedtime is 8:30 p.m.
I get to make my own decisions about so many aspects of my life and work. What’s really important to me? What do I want my home to be like? What do I want to emphasize with my children? How should I educate them? If home-schooling is what I choose, then what curriculum, what method?
Of course my husband and I make these decisions—especially the big ones—together as a team. But when he’s doing his job, I’m doing mine. I get to be creative, try new ideas, exercise influence over my home, and set my own direction for my days, without a boss looking over my shoulder setting policy and scheduling meetings.
I’m in charge of my own personal development and growth. I have a part-time business where I’m self-employed. I absolutely love the freedom I have right now, and to be honest, I know that if I return to the workforce, it may be one of the hardest things to give up.
So with all there is to love about being a stay-at-hone mom, why do we sometimes feel so insecure about it? Why do we sometimes miss the value in what we do? Here are two reasons I know:
The Pay Is Awful
I’ve read those blog posts that try to calculate in economic terms the value of a stay-at-home mom and how much we should really be paid for our work as housecleaner, cook, chauffer, child development specialist, counselor, accountant, you name it. The salary always adds up to be surprisingly high, and I think, wouldn’t it be nice if I actually earned that?
In a world where value is attached to a dollar sign, the job of a stay-at-home mom has no value. Sometimes we call ourselves “unemployed” and that really sucks. I’m holding onto a little part-time job so I call myself self-employed, but the truth is the vast majority of my hours are as a stay-at-home mom earning absolutely zero.
Which means I’m not important, no one values my work, and it doesn’t matter? Of course we know that’s not true. Value and money don’t always go hand in hand. We live in a world where I could be earning a lot more money sitting bored in an office than I can shaping lives for eternity. So I’ll take the meaning of a job over the salary. (I’m grateful I can choose that, and I respect working moms who juggle meaningful parenting with a need to earn a full-time salary.)
The Approval of Other Adults
Sometimes I question the value of what I’m doing and feel insecure about my life precisely because of this: it’s 11:00 in the morning. I haven’t brushed my teeth or fixed my hair yet. I am wearing yoga pants under an apron, and there is baby spit-up on my oversized shirt. Three kids are all clamoring for my attention; the breakfast dishes are not done; there are toys all over the family room floor; and I haven’t turned on my computer yet that day. I may as well write it on my forehead: LOSER. That’s how I feel and that’s the condemning self-talk running through my mind.
If you work professionally outside the home, you get to dress up and interact with other adults. You can get a sense of personal value either from their approval, or just because it’s easier to approve of yourself when you’re wearing professional clothes and makeup and sipping a latte as you turn on your computer at 9 a.m.
I know as a stay-at-home mom I could make a greater effort to dress professionally, but to be honest I don’t see the point and I just think it would be depressing. My family is not the type to notice whether or not I’ve done my makeup, and chances are whatever I’m wearing is going to be spit up on or spilled over by noon anyway. I go for maximum comfort and I wear makeup some days just to make myself happy.
It goes beyond appearance though. There are some moments of triumph as a mom that no other adult is there to see, and as such, it can seem like they don’t exist. There can be a loneliness that Facebook doesn’t quite assuage, especially if like me you have a history of wanting to get your sense of well-being from the approval of people around you.
Being a stay-at-home is teaching me to loosen my grip on that, to be okay with who I am, and to know that what I am doing matters, even if it doesn’t look professional and even if it’s not being cheered on by a team of coworkers.
So for the woman who makes that conscious choice to be a stay-at-home mom: You are changing the world. You are doing specialized work of scientifically proven value. You are impacting future generations.
Embrace the freedom and independence and creativity that you get to guide this career of yours in your home. Don’t let the absence of a salary or professional environment negate your value.
You’re a stay-at-home mom. You have chosen a worthy calling. You are ambitious.