For the purposes of peace and grace, this is another post that requires that I define who it is written for.
Like army wives write to encourage army wives, homeschool moms write to encourage homeschool moms and working moms write to encourage working moms, today I write to encourage stay-at-home moms who don’t homeschool their kids, to encourage women who have made the same lifestyle choice for seasons or the entirety of their children’s youth. This is one of the many options available to Christian women with varied stewardships and convictions within our economy of grace.
Please understand that I do so without slighting any other educational choice or vocational path. It is simply true that in whatever primary role we choose in life, we have an obvious affinity to it and we band together for encouragement because each role poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities. So for my fellow, non-educating, stayer-at-homers, this post is for you.
Why do moms like us need encouragement, when in most respects we have a lighter load than our workplace or homeschooling comrades? After all, we’re not delivering daily curricula to varied age levels. We’re not hustling youngsters out the door so that we can also get to work on time. We’re not trying to fit all our domestic duties into evenings and weekends. So, why write a post like this?
I write because I keep encountering precious women who have chosen a most noble, full-time vocation in motherhood yet are plagued by uncertainty over its validity because it doesn’t come with a pay cheque and it’s not lauded by society as a good use of a smart woman’s capabilities. As a result, they carry on in the role feeling tentative and diminished. This is a sad reality that I am fiercely committed to altering. So whether you are feeling external disapproval or internal uncertainty, this is my attempt to bolster your commitment to, and confidence in, the noble vocation of motherhood you have chosen.
Rename the Job
Moms like me who don’t hold a full-time job outside of the home and who don’t homeschool their kids are already at a disadvantage because our role has historically been defined by what we don’t do. We don’t work outside the home. We don’t earn money. We don’t even educate our kids. But defining our role by a void of elements common to other professions instead of characterizing it by positive statements about our role’s unique activities, immediately shrouds this lifestyle choice in an air of deficit. How much sense does it make that we’ve been doing this for decades? Think about it. Have you ever encountered a pilot who, when asked what he does for a living, says, “I don’t work in an office and I don’t do accounting.”? It’s ridiculous, really. So allow me to introduce a new and fitting title for this vocational choice:
When we say “professional”, we typically think of being exceptional or skilled at a task like being a professional hockey player, or a famous rock star. Though the word “professional” carries with it an inference of expert skill (and as I’ll argue later, should be a natural outcome of this choice), its basic definition refers to engaging in an activity as a career or source of income. “Professional” could be the adjective preceding most roles, really, if that is what folks do as their profession. Professional teacher. Professional baseball player. Professional mechanic.
So, when I call myself a “professional mother”, I am not arrogantly alluding to any transcendence in the role, I’m simply and accurately communicating that I devote the primary portion of my time and effort to the direct and indirect tasks of motherhood for the return it offers me.
Relish the Unique Compensation
Speaking of return: Usually a professional status carries with it some level of compensation. The same is true of professional motherhood, only our compensation isn’t monetary. That poses its challenges in this world, to be sure, but my husband and I can’t put a high enough dollar value on the flexibility, engagement, peace, delight, order and excellence that enriches our family because of our choice for me to be a professional mother. Contrary to popular belief, Professional Motherhood isn’t devoid of compensation – it’s just different compensation. And arguably to those who prefer this kind of wealth, a more treasured currency.
Rest in the Limited Accountability
To be a professional mother without exhausting society’s resources, it is assumed in most cases that we have hard working husbands who award us these copious hours to use at our discretion. It is also assumed that they do so because they value our skills and contribution to the extent that they are willing to solitarily shoulder the financial load. That brings up the important concept of responsibility, but that’s a blog post of its own.
For now, let’s focus on the idea of accountability. Knowing that we will both answer to God one day for the stewardship of the lives he has entrusted to us, we as a parent team have determined that for us to do this well, one of us needs to devote the daytime working hours to financial provision and one of us needs to devote those same hours to the direct and indirect tasks of family management. Just as it is a compliment to my husband that I entrust myself to his able provision, it is an honour that my husband entrusts to me the esteemed and profound role of primarily shaping our offspring.
Therefore, second only to God, my husband’s opinion of my professional activities is the only estimation I need to give any weight to. If he is pleased with how I invest my time to meet our gospel-centered parenting goals, then I can confidently and joyfully ignore any voice that holds a contrary opinion on the value of my time investment. There is great freedom and confidence that comes from properly understanding the legitimate lines of accountability in our profession.
We can be so indoctrinated with the notion of opportunity only being available to women in the workplace that we can grow blind to the irreplaceable and rare opportunities available to us as professional mothers with these spare hours to invest.
Professional motherhood is not devoid of opportunity for bright women. On the contrary, I have discovered that the things I am able to do with my kids, for them, for their friends, for their school communities, for their dad and for myself so that I am kind, gentle and less frazzled, are opportunities most effectively and wisely exploited by the best and brightest. Professional motherhood is not a waste of intelligence or creativity, it is one of the best settings in which our varied competencies flourish and shine.
In any realm, the time afforded its tasks by going pro most likely moves one from being good to being exceptional. When the time and focus afforded the role increases, the same potential exists in the realm of motherhood.
Though not the rule across the board – as I have seen by watching friends who have chosen other full-time vocations, still raise exemplary young adults – for those of us who aren’t superhuman, mathematics and logic dictate a tight correlation between time invested and excellence in the role. By giving motherhood a primary focus, the chances are better that I may end up top in my field.
When I think of the inestimable value of the resources I’m managing and the fact that my efforts will have impact far beyond my generation, I can think of few other fields where I would yearn to be listed among the exceptional. And because of the work Jesus Christ is continuing in my heart, there is no limit to the excellence I can attain to in my profession. How’s that for upward mobility?
A wise, former pastor of mine, Sunder Krishan used to encourage professional mothers to answer the “What do you do?” question in this way:
“I am investing the best years of my life to raise physically, emotionally, spiritually and relationally healthy individuals who will leave an eternal and positive impact on the world. What do you do?”
With grand objectives, an impressive compensation package, great bosses, and no limit to opportunity and advancement, motherhood is a spectacular occupational choice. Go confidently. Go intentionally. Go pro.
I’ve come across your blog via my sister in law Becky Walters and also my parents whom I believe you know (Dave and Sharon Barnett). I just want to say your writing, in particular this post, is immensely encouraging. Probably more than you know. Your voice is strong and godly amongst all the noise out there, and now I’m reading all your posts. Thanks for sharing your voice.
Hello Natalie! If I’m not mistaken then, you have visited our church in years past – correct? 🙂 I am thrilled that the blog and particularly, this post, has been encouraging! That particular subject can be sticky and contentious so it’s one that rarely receives attention. But that leaves many who could use encouragement, without it. It made my heart happy today to hear that it has been a blessing to you.
It’s equally encouraging to me to know that something I spent time, thought, study and prayer on can still benefit someone, even though tucked away in the far reaches of a tiny blog in cyberspace. So thank you for bothering to tell me about its impact. That is a blessing. May God richly strengthen you as you invest yourself in noble callings!
I do believe you have perfectly captured the struggle of choosing to be “just a stay at home mom” in today’s culture. I appreciate that you have been able to capture and put into words some of the angst I have had in making the choice to stay at home but haven’t been able to articulate. External disapproval and internal uncertainty have definitely been my biggest hurdles in continuing to stick with staying at home.