Do We Have to Work Professionally to Use Our Gifts and Talents?

“I’m too smart to just take care of kids all day.”

“I sacrificed too much to get this degree to not use it.”

Have you heard moms saying things like this?  It troubles me that so many women believe they have to have a paying, prestigious job in order to use their education and engage their passion.  I’ve said in the past that such an assumption is intellectually lazy.

004If you have to be paid in order to do what you love, how much do you really love it?  If staying home with your children would prevent you from using any aspect of your skills, how meaningful are those skills, really?  In my 20s, I had my dream job–teaching Jane Austen to bright, engaged high school students.  I loved it.  I pinched myself to make sure I really was being paid to read 18th and 19th century literature and talk about it with a class of kindred spirits.  When we had our second child and even that part-time job became too complicated with my mothering duties, I closed down my little teaching business and focused my energies on my children and my home.  I did not stop reading Jane Austen or studying the literature and culture of Regency England.  Now, toddlers can’t really read or appreciate the greatest novelist of the English language (cute board books notwithstanding), but they can appreciate quality children’s literature, carefully selected by a mother whose standards were formed by reading the best of the best.  Reading and studying Austen and the culture in which she lived has shaped my mind and given me insight into the personalities and motivations of the people around me. It’s also inspired me to take my first steps into writing, which I’ll tell you about some other time.  I did not abandon my love of Jane Austen just because I wasn’t being paid to teach about her anymore.

I’ve seen this same ability to bring one’s training and passions into home life in friends who are scientists, mathematicians, nurses, musicians, lawyers, a writer, and artist, and a French professor.  It probably won’t look like that dream job, but a mom who really loves science will engage her children in looking at the world with curious eyes.  She’ll use her knowledge base when she reads up on vaccines, diets, or gardening.  A mom who steps down from a job involving statistical analysis can use her logical training in analyzing parenting philosophies and setting up reasonable budgets.  She’ll be able to share her love of numbers with her kids from a young age, helping them enjoy the math of everyday life.  A highly trained classical musician might not be able to continue a grand concert career after staying home with her children (though music can lend itself well to fulfilling part-time job opportunities), but she can open the world of classical music to her children, exposing them to all the great composers, teaching them about harmony and basic music theory as they play and sing together in the home, and giving them a solid foundation to become musicians and music appreciators themselves.  I could go on and on, but hopefully you catch the vision.  Hopefully you’ve already seen it in your fellow stay-at-home moms!  What we do when our children are small is not a reflection of what we might always be doing with those passions, but it can be an exciting time of using those passions in a different way.

As women privileged to live in an era where our opportunities for education and training are as accessible as they’ve ever been, we should joyfully embrace the opportunity to explore our God-given passions and talents.  We should never think that the choice to embrace our calling as mothers means we must reject our gifts and interests.  Rather, I encourage us all to develop a vision for embracing the passions we’ve been given and and to bless our families, communities, churches, and friends with them in the context we find ourselves at the moment.  Three cheers for the intelligent, well-educated, passionate, stay-at-home mom.

Posted in Using Our Minds | Leave a comment

To the Mom with the Once in a Lifetime Opportunity

Photo Credit: Coleson Photography

Photo Credit: Coleson Photography

Quite often, when working mothers feel the need to justify themselves, I hear the excuse that “this job is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”  Of course, the reasoning goes, I can’t be expected to turn down this job that will never come my way again, just to stay home with some snotty-nosed kids!  Note that “once in a lifetime opportunities” are only important if they bring in money or prestige–after all, each woman who goes back to work turns down the once in a lifetime opportunity to be everything to her child in those precious early years.  Your baby will never be a baby again.

This post was originally much longer.  I waxed eloquently on how such once-in-a-lifetime “dream jobs” are not always all they’re cracked up to be, particularly with families in the mix.  I brought up several women, including our lovely mentor mom, Donna, who was out of the workplace for 20 years, raising her girls, before going back for her PhD and becoming a professor.  I listed the numerous fields that won’t just go away if a young woman takes time off to be home with her young children–we’ll never stop needing doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, foster moms, teachers, and the list goes on.  I brought up the CEO who spoke of “dying with guilt” for neglecting her children in her rise to the top.  But I deleted it all, because a woman who even speaks of her job in this way is not going to listen to whatever I say.  She has already made up her mind, and she’s not reading this blog, anyway.

Instead, I want to encourage our readers who have embraced the other once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being all in for their kids.  Good for you!  Your sacrifice is worth it.  These few precious years are your one shot to be everything to your little someones.  As they grow and make friends, go to school, and eventually leave the nest, other influences in their lives may grow and overtake yours.  But for now, on this day, you are their world, shaping their little minds and souls.  What a privilege.  What a calling.  Press on.  I’m rooting for you.

 

Posted in Having It All, Importance of Mothers | Leave a comment

The Support Moms Need, Part 3: Friends You Can Use

Yesterday I alluded to moms who don’t have a supportive spouse: single moms, military wives whose husbands are deployed, and even women married to jerks who think having a stay-at-home wife means they can abdicate any responsibility for the care of their children.  Even for many of us with supportive husbands, life looks pretty different than our grandparents’ generation, when everyone was raising families in the context of family and community.  Since becoming a mother, I have always lived hundreds, and now thousands, of miles away from my parents and siblings.  When you move so often that each of your kids is born in a different state, as we did, you don’t always have a dependable community to turn to for help for those immediate, physical crises we all have from time to time.  All moms, and especially those without help in the home, need to be purposeful about building real friendships.  We’ve talked about friendship before (here, here, here, and here), and we had my friend Sandy, a veteran military wife, talk about being and helping a single mom for a season.  So I won’t belabor the point that we should all can and should proactively reach out to the lonely or overwhelmed sahm in our neighborhood, church, Bible study, or playground.  (If you don’t know any isolated sahms, you need to look harder.)  I will point out that the sacrifice of reaching out to a new friend almost always blesses me unexpectedly.  Building community is a service project that redounds to you.

I’ve probably blogged enough about how practicing hospitality–having people into our homes–is a huge friendship builder.  I’ve also found that asking for and giving sacrificial help instantly deepens the bond of friendship.  Our church community group once had a discussion about whether we felt comfortable calling each other to get a ride to the airport.  Though we all were friends, most of us felt that that was too much to ask!  Then I broke my foot (and re-broke it 11 days later) and realized I needed to ask my community group for help.  Some of our group members live an hour away from me.  It was humbling to see how many of them showed up at my house with a meal last summer.  So a few months later, when one of their kids broke his arm, I found myself driving 45 minutes to drop off a meal for them.  Now I think either of us would be willing to ask for a ride to the airport!  It often takes a medical emergency (a broken foot, a new baby, a particularly bad stomach flu when the fridge is already empty) to get me to ask people for help, but after I’ve done it once, it’s easy to reciprocate in kind.  I often say that I’m not really friends with someone until we’ve been in each other’s kitchens.  Maybe I could add I’m not really good friends with someone until we’ve exchanged sacrificial favors–watched each other’s kids or run an errand for each other.

Some moms truly are so alone that there is no one they can ask to watch the kids during a doctor’s appointment.  I’ve certainly had my kids lined up on the floor during my annual exam or while getting a dental check-up shortly after moving to a new town.  It is depressing and so, so hard.  But many of us actually do have people we could ask for help in such a situation but we just don’t want to trouble.  It sounds selfish to “use” a friend, but it actually indicates a closeness that you don’t have with a mere acquaintance.  I have never been turned down when I asked a retired mom from book club or a CBS classmate or a Sunday School teacher, “Could you please watch the kids while I go to the OB-GYN?  My husband can’t get off work, and my son is too old to come along with me anymore.”  Most of my friends were happy to be asked.  I rarely have friends ask me to pick up the kids for them or borrow an ingredient for dinner, but I am always thrilled that they feel they know me well enough to ask (even if I can’t help that that particular time).  I can see how a single mom might feel that all she’s ever do is asking for help, which is why I’d probably go out of my way to ask her for help so that she feels things are mutual.

 

How many friends do you have who you could ask to run you to the airport or pick up your kids for you?  Do you have a support network of friends right now?  How did you grow to feel close enough to ask for help?

Posted in For New Moms, Friendship | Leave a comment

The Support Moms Need, Part 2: Dads

Photo Credit: Mindy Rainey Creative

Photo Credit: Mindy Rainey Creative

Yesterday I noted that young moms need support, and that our kids can be part of the solution, not just the cause of our stress.

For most mothers, there is one other built-in supporter: our husband (I’ll talk about supporting single moms and military wives later).  This is a blog for women, but we can’t talk about a young mother’s need for support without pointing out that a young father needs to make some sacrifices for the family, too.  For our family, that meant my husband’s earning potential peaked at 27, when he quit his prestigious law firm job to pursue a career path that would allow for more time with the family.  For another family, that might mean that Dad doesn’t take the promotion that would require him to travel 4 months out of the year.  It might mean not running for public office.  It might mean working a ho-hum job that pays the bills rather than up and moving your family to LA to pursue your dream of making it big in Hollywood (I know way too many of those guys out here!).  It might mean turning down an opportunity to attend a conference so that you can be home on Saturday to coach your son’s soccer team.

Just as motherhood is often not glamorous, fatherhood can seem less exciting than the workforce.  Men can’t have it all, either, and a dad who stays late at work because he doesn’t want to come home and give the kids baths is being selfish and disrespectful to his wife, who has been working just as long as he has by 7 pm.  As a stay-at-home mom, I am ON every waking moment.  My four year old crawls into my bed at dawn to get me up, I’m homeschooling all morning and trying to do chores all afternoon, and on the nights when my husband goes back in to the office to work until midnight, I’m the one sending overtired kids back to bed until 10 pm (I hate you, daylight savings time!!!).  My husband gets up earlier than I do and works a full day, too, but that doesn’t mean that he’s exempt from bedtime duty on the evenings when he’s home.  It’s poisonous to try for a perfect 50/50 division of parenting duties, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw all the responsibility for child-rearing on mom. Kids are a lot of work, and when you choose to become a father, you should expect to participate in that work.

Moms sometimes shoot themselves in the foot here.  They complain that they have to do everything, but then they criticize how their husbands do things: Dad takes the kids out on Saturday morning to give Mom a quiet couple of hours at home, and they come home, announcing that they had a yummy breakfast at McDonalds!!!!  Mom blows up at Dad for feeding her precious snowflakes junk food, and Dad decides that next weekend, he’ll sleep in.  Mom complains to her girlfriends that Dad just doesn’t care about the kids, and resentment grows.  Or Dad gets the kids dressed, and the girls are wearing church dresses to go watch a soccer game.  Mom lights into Dad (who can’t tell the difference between church dresses and play dresses–they all just look like dresses to him), and next week, he sits in the minivan, waiting, while Mom searches for shin guards and dresses children and mumbles about how unhelpful Dad is.  Know what I mean?  In nine years of parenting together, my husband and I have figured out that yes, I do have certain ways we do things because my routines work for our family, but if he does something differently, it’s okay.  I can’t remember which one of us first let the kids put mini chocolate chips in their oatmeal, but you know what, my kids eat oatmeal every single day, and there’s still less sugar in it than in a bowl of cold cereal, at a fraction of the cost!  It’s okay!  There is not one right way to feed kids breakfast!

And then there are my friends whose husbands seem to feel that if Mom is staying home, they don’t have to worry about parenting.  Or the husbands who are really in a crazy time at work (pre-tenure, or leading up to a big case/presentation/conference) and really don’t have the brain cells left at the end of a long day to do much more than kiss the kids and tuck them into bed.  That is tough.  Most of the burned-out moms I know are the ones who have been doing all the parenting and figure if they go back to work, their husbands will have to pitch in more.  One mom I know announced to her husband that she was chucking her home daycare business and going back to an office job because she couldn’t handle their four children plus two extras, all on her own.  Her husband was totally caught off guard and promised to help more, but at that point, it was too late.  She said if he’d spent the last three years helping, she wouldn’t be quitting now.  This is where I think regular dates with our spouses, talking through work stress and family needs, would really be helpful.  (If you’re like me, thousands of miles away from family, the idea of a regular date night probably has you rolling your eyes.  Maybe you can substitute with a 15 minute conversation after the kids go to bed and before pulling up Netflix?)  It’s hard for me to address this issue with my own husband in a way that respects the hard work that he does for our family by bringing home the paycheck but also communicates my need for specific assistance on evenings and weekends.  I totally mucked up a discussion on this very issue recently and had to ask my husband’s forgiveness for my sinful words and attitude.  I get it, girlfriends, it’s hard.

Perhaps the most important way Dad can be part of Mom’s support network is with his words.  Even though I blog about the importance of full-time motherhood, I can get pretty discouraged on the days (weeks!) when I see no fruit from my work.  When my husband comes alongside me and and praises me for the invisible things I do each day, I feel so built up and encouraged.  In our excellent pre-marriage counseling, our mentors specifically told my husband he would need to do this–a lot–when I was home with a houseful of kids.  Of course, this not-taking-your-spouse-for-granted thing goes both ways: how often do I praise my husband for getting up and going to the office day in and day out, year after year?  Not enough.  If any husbands are reading this, I encourage them to praise their wives today.  And for the discouraged moms reading this, I encourage you to tell your husband that he can help you by praising you for your efforts with the home and the kids.

 

How does your husband support your work in the home?  Do you believe that men can’t “have it all” either?

Posted in For New Moms, Having It All, Marriage, Parenting | 2 Comments
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