This morning Piper slept in. Really slept in. I got up, had breakfast, worked on my Bible study, and still didn’t hear a peep from her. I decided that if she was still sleeping at 10, I would wake her up. (I know – how lucky am I that my child sleeps that late?) A few minutes before 10 as I was putting laundry away, I walked by her closed door and heard her little voice say, “Hi, Mommy!” When I opened the door, she was sitting there smiling at me, and repeated, “Hi, Mommy!” It’s moments like this that make me love my job as a stay-at-home mom. Moments when she runs up to me and hugs me, moments when I see her learn something new, and moments when she just wants to be near me make it all worthwhile.
But, if I’m honest, in a normal day there are more difficult moments than sweet moments. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. It’s hard because toddlers are busy, grumpy, fussy, hyper, cuddly, clingy, needy, energetic, and demanding. And sometimes they experience all of those moods within the span of a few minutes. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard because I lack adult company and conversation. And when I am around other adults, all I have to offer in conversation is what I learned watching Nick Jr. this week. But, most of all, being a stay-at-home mom is hard because I live in a society that looks down on stay-at-home moms.
No, no one openly berates or belittles me. It’s more subtle. It’s the commercials where all moms do with their time is shop. (I mean, come on Kohl’s. Give us a little more credit!) It’s the television shows that portray working mothers as smarter and more fulfilled and stay-at-home moms as more depressed and “desperate.” It’s the teachers and professors who discourage girls from wasting their talent and intellect by staying at home and serving their families. It’s the job market that discounts the work experience of a woman who has stayed at home to raise her children. It’s the strangers who subtly take on a defensive or superior attitude when I tell them I choose to stay at home. It’s the comments of acquaintances who say, “I wish I could stay at home and relax all day instead of working.”
Usually, because I know that staying at home instead of pursuing a career is the right decision for my family, these things don’t get to me. But sometimes I see a facebook post about a friend’s promotion or academic success, and a small voice says, “Corrie, you’re getting behind. They’re all beating you. Look – she’s in grad school. And she’s just gotten her dream job. Your friends are winning! People are going to think those women are smarter than you. You’re never going to be able to catch up.” And I start to second guess everything. Because I am smart. I am driven. And I’m so selfish. Because for me and my family, to go back to school or back to work right now would be selfish. I would be doing it for me, not for them.
When I start to feel discouraged or looked down upon in my position as a stay-at-home mom, I need help to regain a proper perspective. Over the past months that help has come from various books, sermons, and articles. Last week my help came through a passage written by G.K. Chesterton that I just happened to run across.
Chesterton was a writer and theologian, and wrote about the position of a homemaker and mother a century ago when women were just beginning to feel the pressure to have a career and success outside of the home. This article, The Emancipation of Domesticity is an excerpt from his book What’s Wrong with the World. He begins by explaining that our career-minded culture centers around specialization. We find a field and become the best we can be in one specific area. This specialization, however, runs contrary to the traditional role of wife and mother.
“The woman is expected to cook: not to excel in cooking, but to cook; to cook better than her husband who is earning the coke by lecturing on botany or breaking stones. […] The woman is expected to tell tales to the children, not original and artistic tales, but tales–better tales than would probably be told by a first-class cook. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she, unlike the man, may develop all her second bests.”
Before we 21st century women get offended, he’s not telling us our place is in the kitchen. Chesterton is saying that the wife and mother’s skills are broad, not deep. I’m a cook for my family. No, I haven’t been to culinary school, but with every recipe I learn and improve a little more. I’m a nurse. No, I don’t have a degree from nursing school, but I bandage scraped knees and administer medicine to sick babies. I’m a teacher. (Wait! I actually have a degree in this area!) I’m not teaching Latin or Social Studies, though. I’m teaching the alphabet, how to eat with a fork, and manners. I’m a decorator, an organizer, a maid, a gardener, a photographer, a librarian, and a zookeeper. I’m not as good a decorator as a professional with a design degree, but I’m better than someone who spends all their time cooking professionally. I’m not as good a nurse as an RN with a degree, but I’m a better nurse than a professional decorator has time to learn to be. You see? As a full-time wife and mother, I’m developing MANY broad skills instead of ONE deep skill.
“Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.”
“To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”
My job is big. My job is important. I am not less talented, less enlightened, or less qualified as a woman because I choose to stay at home. And I need to be reminded of this regularly. Thank you, Mr. Chesterton, that I can learn from and be encouraged by your words a century after they were written.
(You can read the full Chesterton article here.)
(Disclaimer: I am not saying that it is wrong for a mother to work outside the home. I am not judging women who choose to do so. I am simply trying to explain my position and perspective on what is right for me and my family.)