A Mother’s Day Confession

Yesterday as I told my mom, “Happy Mother’s Day,” she said, “You’re the one in the trenches of motherhood right now!” And you know what? I am. I am deep in the trenches of motherhood. I have a two-year-old daughter and I’m 33 1/2 weeks pregnant. Temper tantrums and meltdowns? I deal with those. Scraped knees and bumped heads? Check. Third trimester insomnia and exhaustion? Yep. Heartburn and an achy back? You bet. And while this may not be the easiest stage of motherhood, it is so blessed. Sloppy kisses and spontaneous hugs? I get those. Giggles and little girl squeals? Constantly. Baby kicks and nudges? Happening right now.

What do I, from my post deep in the trenches of motherhood, need to hear to be encouraged this Mother’s Day? I’ll tell you what I don’t need to hear. I don’t need to hear a to-do-list in the form of a sermon based on the Proverbs 31 woman. I don’t need to hear about perfect mothers who never make mistakes. I don’t need to hear about those saintly women who never lose their cool. I definitely don’t need to hear about moms who have it all together all the time. I don’t need to hear perfect. I need to hear real.

So many times we moms hide the mess, sweep it under the rug, and present a “perfect” face to the world. Social media seems to exaggerate this — I mean, who instagrams their sink full of dirty dishes? Or their filthy toddlers wearing mismatched clothes? Who tweets about their parenting failures? Or posts a Facebook status about their fight with their husband? We try to present our “perfect” families to the world, but all the while feel guilty that our real life doesn’t match the perfection our friends are presenting. Comparing our behind-the-scenes, un-aired footage with others’ highlight reels leaves us feeling inadequate and guilty.

So here is my confession this Mother’s Day: I don’t have it all together. Not in the least. My sink is almost always full of dirty dishes. I never catch up on laundry. (Sometimes I even forget a load of clothes in the washing machine only to find it wet and smelly a few days later.) I definitely don’t mop my floors often enough, and I only dust before my weekly piano lessons so my students’ parents don’t judge me. My bed doesn’t get made up every day, and my sheets don’t get changed every week. The inside of my car is filled with discarded toys, empty cups, and lots of crumbs. I sometimes find smelly milk cups under the couch or in the toy box. I occasionally let Piper eat popcorn for breakfast. She doesn’t eat many vegetables, but she gets a popsicle almost every day. If she’s not cooperating when we’re out shopping, I bribe her with a sucker. Sometimes I overreact to something she does and make her cry. I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing when I discipline my child. In our battle of wills, she often wins. I don’t bathe her every single day. She gets away with more than I should probably let her. I allow my two-year-old to watch TV (maybe more than I should.) I haven’t made sensory bins or busy bags for her to play with, and I don’t plan to. Her baby book is still unfinished, and I never did get around to mailing out her birth announcements. Instead of boutique and handmade outfits, I dress my daughter in clearance rack and consignment sale clothes. I love to cook, but I’m lazy and don’t put much effort into it. I get excited for summer so that JD can grill and I don’t have to cook as often. I cook with real butter and sugar, and don’t care about the calories. I don’t buy organic apples. I eat dessert at least once a day (often twice). I don’t enjoy exercising, so I don’t do it often enough. I feed my unborn child sugar, french fries, and the occasional caffeinated drink. There are unfinished sewing and craft projects in almost every room of my house. My closets and bathroom cabinets are a mess. Most days (at least lately), I take a nap during Piper’s nap time instead of getting my house work done. I spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, where I see the “perfect” lives others are presenting to the world and start to feel guilty about the mess I live in.

Whew. How’s that for real? And trust me, I could go on for days.

But despite my mess, my failures, and my short-comings, I know I’m still a good mom. I always have time to cuddle. I stop what I’m doing to read a book or play a game with Piper. She is happy, healthy, and well-adjusted. My husband and I have a great relationship and enjoy spending time together. Somehow we’ll manage to add a newborn to the mess and chaos in a few short weeks, and we’ll make it. It won’t be perfect, but it will be blessed. Because it’s here in the middle of dirty dishes, temper tantrums, and morning sickness that God speaks to me. He teaches me about his patient love and forgiveness as I patiently clean up yet another spilled drink. I learn to rely on His strength when I’m exhausted and at the end of my rope. I realize the depth of the grace He has shown me as I try to show grace to my toddler. Motherhood is sanctifying me, and while I’m far from perfect, God is molding me to be more like Him little by little and day by day.

This Mother’s Day, let’s stop pretending to have it all together and admit that motherhood here in the trenches is hard and messy. Instead of seeking encouragement in Hallmark cards and empty platitudes, let’s find encouragement in the real-life messes and successes around us. It sure is freeing to admit that I’m not perfect and don’t have it all together, and I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not. Won’t you join me in celebrating the real and shunning the “perfect” this Mother’s Day?

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Planning to be a Stay-at-Home Mom

When I was five and someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them about my plans to be a missionary/movie star/artist. (I wanted to travel to distant places to film movies, where I would paint the sets and tell people about Jesus while I worked.) When I was in sixth grade, I thought that maybe I should look into becoming a courtroom artist. (I still laugh about that one!) In high school, I wanted to be a doctor. By the time I got to college, I was smart enough to realize that I had no idea what I wanted to be. I considered international relations, nursing, and law before I finally settled into the education department and began preparing for a teaching career.

But all along, from the time I was young, there was a tension and a conflict that kept me from deciding on a future career. You see, what I really wanted was to be a mom. A stay-at-home mom. And I knew that my desire to stay home with my children was in conflict with all of those careers I was considering. But high school teachers and college professors don’t think much of a girl’s desire to prioritize a family over a career, especially if that girl is an honors student with a bright future ahead of her. I was told that I needed a high-paying job and a prestigious career to fulfill myself. I needed to be able to support myself. I needed to “do something meaningful” with my brains. I needed to make something of myself.

When I was a freshman in college, my dad, my sister, and I drove to Macon, Georgia to meet with a scholarship counselor. She was supposed to help us find other sources for scholarship money, but instead it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad experience. (A different blog post for a different day.) However, as we talked with her, she asked me what I wanted to do after college. When I told her that I was leaning toward teaching, she asked me why. In that moment I had a quick internal debate – should I tell her what she wants to hear, or should I be completely honest? Against my better judgment, I decided to be honest. I said that I wanted to be a teacher because I really just wanted to be a mom, and teaching was the career that seemed least in conflict with that desire. Well, boy was that the wrong answer! She went off on a tirade against my reasoning, told me I could do better than teaching, and mocked me for wanting to be a stay-at-home mom. I just sat there and tried to hold back my tears.

Her attitude, however offensive, was not abnormal – I encountered it everywhere. No one seemed to think that motherhood was a “career” to plan for. Everyone tried to push me toward a career that entailed years and years of school and long hours of work. At the time I didn’t realize that the battle I was fighting was actually against our post-modern culture. Feminism has spread so far and so deep, and it has greatly devalued the role of wife and mother. Few modern mothers prioritize their children over their careers. Call me old-fashioned, but I didn’t want to compromise in this area.

So, I kept my ultimate goal of being a stay-at-home mom in mind as I made decisions in college. When faced with the option of taking on a lot of debt or transferring to a different college, I transferred. I continued with my plan to become a teacher. JD and I got married, I graduated, and I wanted to go to graduate school. But grad school meant debt, so I put it off. I taught for a few years in two different schools – one job I LOVED and the other I HATED. And when we were ready to start a family, nothing was standing in our way. We didn’t have any debt. No student loan payments, no credit card debt, nothing. We were able to live on JD’s salary. And I was able to stay at home with Piper, which I wouldn’t give up for all the money or prestige in the world.

My best friend, Chrystal, has taken a different path but is still working and planning to be a stay-at-home mom when the time comes. When she finished college, she wasn’t dating anyone and honestly thought she’d never get married. So she started pharmacy school, but before long was dating a great guy and making plans for the future. They got married a few years later, and Chrystal graduated from pharmacy school in May. Most young couples with two (very good) incomes would be living it up – vacationing, buying cars and a house, enjoying the fruits of their labor. But Chrystal really wants to be a stay-at-home mom as soon as possible. She and her husband are living modestly off of his income and throwing all of her salary and any extra money they have toward her student loan debt. In a few years they’ll be debt free, accustomed to living on one salary, and prepared for Chrystal to stay at home with their children.

I write all of this as a reflection on my journey to becoming a stay-at-home mom, but also to encourage other young women. If you desire to be a stay-at-home mom, plan for it. Keep yourself out of debt. Make college and grad school decisions with your end goal in mind. Don’t listen to anyone who thinks motherhood is not a good career choice. Ignore the pressure to find success and prestige in a degree or a salary. Our culture says motherhood has little value, but don’t listen to that. It’s the most important job, and the most rewarding. I promise you, if being a stay-at-home mom is your desire, you won’t find fulfillment in any other career.

The Salary Package of a Stay-at-Home Mom

Confession: I’m just not that into Twitter. Think what you will, but it’s about my fourth favorite social media outlet. I halfheartedly read my twitter feed, rarely tweet, and almost never open a twitpic or link. But on a rare occasion I’ll see a headline that grabs my attention and I just have to know more. Like this one that I read last week: “@drudgereport: Germany debates plan to pay stay at home moms.” What?! (Well played, Drudge Report. You actually got me to read an article instead of just the headline.)

I didn’t regret opening and reading the article, either. I learned that most childcare in Germany is government-funded, but the government childcare programs cannot keep up with demand. Next year there will be a childcare shortage of 150,000+ places. What’s the government to do? The conservative coalition wants to pay moms to stay at home with their children under 3 years old to free up spaces in the childcare system. The moms would be paid the equivalent of $190 per month. Of course this is very controversial. “[…] critics fume that it takes an antiquated view of women’s role in society, betting that women would prefer to stay home rather than keep a career if there were some money to facilitate that choice.” Antiquated? Really? Then there’s this: “‘The childcare allowance is contrary to modern family politics,’ says Ms. Dörner of the Green Party.” Well, maybe my family values are antiquated after all! Nevertheless, as a stay-at-home mom this is very interesting to me, and I’ll be watching to see how this issue is resolved in the next few months. After I read this article and returned to casually skimming my twitter feed, the thing I kept thinking about was “$190 per month.” Who came up with that number? How did they decide that amount? Is that what a stay-at-home mom is worth? Only $190 per month?

As I was thinking about this, I recalled another article that I had read a few months ago. Every year Salary.com calculates what it would cost to replace a stay-at-home mom. In 2012, that figure is $112,962 a year for 94.7 hours of work per week. “If a stay-at-home mom was ever handed a pink slip, dad would have to hire a nanny, a driver, a cook, a janitor, a psychologist, a laundry-machine operator, and a myriad of other professionals for the odd jobs moms do on a daily basis.” Working moms put in 57.9 extra hours of work a week, valued at $66,979 above their salaries. If that’s not a reason to have a good life insurance policy, I don’t know what is!

I much prefer to think that my value as a stay-at-home mom is $112,962 per year than $190 per month. It’s a more flattering figure and makes me feel better about not contributing to my family’s income. But here’s the truth: No one is going to cut me a check. The government isn’t going to put me on a payroll (and I don’t want them to.) As a mom, I have to learn to find my value in something other than a number on a paycheck or a balance in a 401K. But in our status-driven society, that’s not an easy task. I think many moms struggle with feelings of worthlessness because we can’t define our value with a number.

Thankfully, God has something to say about this. In Proverbs 31:10, He tells us what a good wife (and mother) is worth: “An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.” I’m not worth $190 per month. My value is not $112,962 per year. If I’m seeking God and godly character as I serve my husband and my children, my worth is far above jewels. And while I may not have the satisfaction of seeing that value spelled out in a salary package, it’s no less real. As a stay-at-home mom, I am valuable to my family. But most of all, I am valuable to my God. And that, more than a number on a check, is what matters.

The Emancipation of Domesticity

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.)