Before Nathan and I married, I was a single mom who worked and went to school. I remember the immense amount of guilt I carried with me as I dropped my kiddo off to childcare and headed to class myself. My days spanned from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. depending upon my work schedule. When we finally married and my husband offered the chance to stay home, I didn’t give him time to change his mind. I enjoy this season of being home, but over the last two years I have come to realize that life offers various seasons, and I need to enjoy the present while preparing for the future.
I’ve also sat with countless women over a cup of coffee or a flurry of emails as we talk about their own return to work. Some are placing newborns in the arms of an entrusted caregiver, others are re-entering the workforce as sole providers for their families. I have heard the hearts of single mothers and mothers who have stayed home for years but now, for various reasons, are returning to work.
To every one of us I say: You are doing an excellent job. You are a great mother. And when you feel like you are about to crumble, be patient with yourself. And when you accomplish something with excellence and realize you are good at what you do–in the home and away from the home, celebrate yourself. In all things keep guilt at bay.
This short series will share words of wisdom from other mamas who have gone before you. These are their words of encouragement as you navigate the emotions that come with a change of seasons:
From Sara– mom, wife, professor. We met on our trip to Ethiopia and I have loved the wisdom and honesty by which she lives life. (I also love how she ends this piece. I will use that phrase for years to come.):
Learning to Embrace the Call
I always have felt called to my career. So working has never felt like an opposition to God’s plan for my life, but rather a fulfillment of that. I’ve always believed that this is the right thing for me to do. That hasn’t meant I don’t have any guilt, but I try to be honest about where the guilt comes from… society, especially other Christians, media images of “perfect mom”. It doesn’t come from God. It doesn’t come from Scripture.*
I’ve had to learn (am still learning) that I can’t be superwoman. I cannot expect myself to be a perfect mom, employee, wife, housekeeper, cook, decorator, party planner, lunch maker, fashionista, fitness guru, etc. The priorities have to be family and God first, then work. For a year now we’ve hired a cleaning person to come twice a month. This frees up some time and energy in the evenings and weekends for family time. I do most of the cooking and eating together is always a priority. But every now and then, Taco Bell or Chinese take-out or a pizza mean I’ll maintain my sanity at dinner time. I love to have people over to our home, but it will never be perfectly clean or decorated… and you know what? No one minds (except my mother! LOL).
Every few months the wheels will fall of the cart. Someone will be sick, a major project will be due, an appliance will break, and there will be a field trip to go on. Expect that this will happen. You will not be at your best during these times. But you will survive them, and so will your children, and you will be “good enough.”
On the Benefits of Shared Parenting Roles Inside & Outside the Home:
Women spend way too much time attacking/comparing/critiquing each other, whereas we should be supporting each others’ choices. Moms who work outside the home and moms who work inside the home need to be much more affirming of each others’ life choices and the difficulties that come with either choice.
I try to remind myself of the benefit to my children from the fact that I work:
(1) More time with dad (I get the kids on the bus in the morning, my husband is home to get them off the bus and I don’t get home until closer to dinner time).
(2) I think it is important for them to grow up in a world where they see women having the freedom to have multiple life plans. I think they will be better husbands if they have positive role models of BOTH moms who work outside of and inside the home.
(3) I’m really a much better mom psychologically because I get time away to use other parts of my brain. I don’t mean that as an excuse to not spend time with my kids. But I’m wired to be much more intentional with them (and enjoy being with them) when I am also getting stimulation from work.
As a professor, I really benefit from the fact that I have a job with flexible hours and summers off. I do get to balance out my life with a lot of quality time with my kids. They aren’t and never were in day care 12 hours a day. I was able to take 7 months off with each child and work part time in their early years with us. This was a financial sacrifice. But I would do it all over again every time. Sometimes we have to find the right career that enables us to balance both lives.
Sara Shady is the mother of two energetic boys, Gavin (8) and Mintesnot (6), and married to Jamie a high school guidance counselor who has helped all of us learn to love the outdoors. She teaches as Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Honors Program at Bethel University.
* If you would like to encounter working women in the Scriptures, please see Priscilla in Acts 18; Deborah in Judges 4-5; Proverbs 31; Martha in Luke 10 (she does not get a bad wrap for working, but for not balancing work with rest); Wisdom is personified as an active and working female in Proverbs 1-10; Lydia in Acts 16; and the list can continue.