07 Sep Learning to Value the Work of Motherhood
I have been a stay-at-home mom for 9 years, but to be completely honest, I was never the girl that wanted to do this.
I very much wanted a family, but I really always saw myself as a working mom. I even rolled my eyes a little at college friends who would be studying their bums off for finals, knowing that their ultimate goal was just to raise babies. I’ll fast-forward through the details and the heart change that led us to the decision for me to leave my job, but it was not an easy one. I cried because I missed my co-workers and the routine of the day and all of the many things that I loved about my job. I dreaded feeling lonely and I wasn’t sure that sitting at home with a baby that couldn’t talk to me was really how I wanted to spend my days.
A series of things made us feel like it was the best thing for our family at the time, even though I didn’t know how many more kids I would have or how long this season would last. I still don’t know how long it will last. For more of these years than not, I have struggled to find excitement and joy in this role. I haven’t struggled with whether or not it was the best decision for our family, but I have struggled greatly to find purpose and significance in work that can be pretty thankless.
I have struggled greatly to find purpose and significance in work that can be pretty thankless.
I never thought of myself as a person that was in need of praise or recognition until I started doing something that didn’t have a report card every semester or a review once a year where I could see the areas where I was excelling. As a mom, I don’t lay my head on the pillow at night and think, “Dang, I really rocked it out today. That was awesome how I met all of my kids needs with patience and grace. I’m really great at my job.” Despite my many conversations with my husband over this struggle, he has yet to implement an annual review where he tells me how wonderful I am at being a mom and lists out all of the things I’m doing well so that I can see them on paper.
I have working friends who want nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom, and I have working friends who love their work and love their kids and love that they can do both. I have stay-at-home mom friends who are doing exactly what they always hoped to do, and I have stay-at-home mom friends who are making a big sacrifice for a short season. And I know that there are many “in between” categories other than the ones I mentioned. I think that regardless of the work situation, as women and mothers it’s a very natural struggle to wonder if you are doing enough.
For me, the battle that I’ve had in my mind has always been one of purpose. It’s not that I was necessarily a great student, but I did well in school. I graduated magna cum laude and had a 4.0 for my last four semesters of college. I did well on the GRE and was enrolled in graduate school and then, in a weird turn of events that could’ve only been orchestrated by God, put grad school on pause and ended up working an 8 to 5 job that was nothing I had “planned” to do. Even still, the job turned out to be one I loved where I had amazing coworkers that encouraged me in my work, and I did have that annual review where I could leave and feel pretty good about the things that I was doing well.
As women and mothers, it’s a very natural struggle to wonder if you are doing enough.
My honesty might reveal my selfish nature, but being married to a man that has a PhD and has done a lot of excellent things in his young career has made me long for that report card or those reviews where I can feel like I’m also doing something well. I’ve definitely attended a banquet or two with him where I wanted to pin my transcripts to my dress so that I could feel like I had more to offer the world than “just being a homemaker.”
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the time with my children, I am grateful that we have the ability to do this, and I am well aware that things function better when there is order in our home and right now this happens better with me not working. But there is a part of me that is envious of my husband when he comes home proud of a high rating his school received or a personal recognition he was awarded or just a word of encouragement from a teacher or parent about the things he is doing in his work.
While he is reflecting on those things that build him up, I’m overcooking dinner with my hair in a ponytail and yelling “Please do NOT race through the kitchen!” for the fiftieth time. And then when everyone picks around their dinner because it actually tastes pretty bad (but their daddy is giving the evil eye which causes them to do the chew without breathing technique where they take frequent sips of water), it’s hard not to feel anything other than “I’m not very good at this.”
Because, to be honest, I’m not a great homemaker, I’m an average school mom at best, I don’t cook very well, and my husband empties the dishwasher in our house half of the time. Many times these things have left me wondering what my purpose is and if I’ll ever remember what it feels like to be good at something. I’ve talked and prayed a lot about what the next season would look like for me, but most of that comes from a part of me that is still longing to fill that void that will tell me, “Now THIS is something that you are good at.” The question of purpose has been a theme in my life for years.
I’ve talked and prayed a lot about what the next season would look like for me, but most of that comes from a part of me that is still longing to fill that void that will tell me, “Now THIS is something that you are good at.”
And then I became a foster parent. And in one week, I understood more about the beauty and importance of motherhood than I did in my 7.5 years of experience prior to that. It only took one night of tears from a child who has been abandoned to understand that being a mom is enough. It is good, hard, noble work. Being a great cook or an excellent room mom or the fun parent who makes themed snacks or the one that doesn’t die a slow death every time she gets asked to play Barbies is not actually what my kids need. They need me. They need the stability of a parent who loves them and is always there, even on her moody days. They need hugs and kisses and grace in their mistakes. They need comfort. They need discipline. They need love. They need to see Jesus in me.
Being a mom is enough. Everything I’m doing now is allowing my kids to grow up to find their own sense of purpose and significance. The gift that I am giving them is greater than just me. And I saw that every single day in my foster son’s little eyes. He loved to get hugs and high fives every day over his yellow star that was awarded for good behavior in school. He would light up when we praised him for reading a word correctly or remembering how to spell cat. Our affirmation gave him confidence, and his countenance was completely different at the end of our 8 short weeks with him.
It only took one night of tears from a child who has been abandoned to understand that being a mom is enough.
I don’t get an annual review, and I rarely go to bed feeling proud of the job I did that day. But my kids have something that some kids don’t have. They have a mom who makes a lot of mistakes, but who loves them and tells them that. They have hugs and they have stability and they have a place to mess up where that is okay. Our foster son knew the value of that. My kids don’t really understand the value in the same way because they’ve always had it, but that’s okay. I’m actually really thankful that they don’t understand it. They still need it, and now I get it. I am investing in something that is a lot greater than just me, and that is very significant.
He wasn’t the only one in our home that needed to be rescued. His pain, his smile, his presence, and his difficulties rescued me from the self-absorbed perspective that wondered when I would feel like I was contributing something worthwhile. He rescued me from my whiny, middle-class, minivan-driving life of comfort that was blind to poverty and neglect and abandonment that was right around the corner from me. God used my role as a foster mom to free me from an “all about Natalie” point of view and conform it to one that understands the beauty of obedience and sacrifice, one that can embrace the season I’m in and know that this purpose isn’t actually about me at all. He used a child to convict me of the things that I was striving and longing for that actually have no worth at all.
I have a different perspective on work now, and a greater appreciation for the work that God has given me. He has changed my heart, and shown me the beauty of motherhood. Hosting neighbor kids, and bringing foster children into our home, and loving and leading my children – that’s Kingdom work. It took my life being turned upside down for me to see that. But I no longer whine and moan over this work. It’s constant and exhausting and sometimes not very fun, but it is good.
Do you view motherhood as missional? How is God changing your perspective on the work that you are given in this season?
Natalie is a mom of four who enjoys writing whenever she can find a few quiet minutes. She is passionate about foster care and adoption and loves connecting with women who are in the trenches of this hard and beautiful calling. Coffee, college football, and guacamole are a few of her favorite things. Natalie attends our Spartanburg campus.