I realize that I haven't been doing this mom thing for very long. There are many women that are older, wiser, and more experienced when it comes to the topic of motherhood. Some of those women are wonderful writers, and have taken the time to write and publish their thoughts on these matters. I also realize this has all been said before. These are just my experiences and thoughts on what I've learned. They aren't very well written, and they certainly aren't eloquent. But still, I find putting my thoughts on paper (er, pixels), helps me sort them out. So in case you're curious what those thoughts might look like, here's what I have.
Our society doesn't understand why I would choose to be a stay-at-home mom. It doesn't make sense. You gave up a noble profession in nursing because you wanted to make mac-n-cheese, color with your kids, and wipe snotty noses? Yep. But keep reading.
Whatever your background, I think we can agree that there is rewarding fulfillment in volunteer work. Even the celebrities do it. There is a certain kind of gratification in knowing you've helped someone, and someone poor or less fortunate at that. Maybe you've volunteered at a soup kitchen before. Maybe you once raised money to go to some third world country for 10 days. You probably even had a moment of enlightenment while you were there. Well, I sort of think of motherhood as the ultimate volunteer work. I help two little people every single day. In one sense, they are the poorest people I know. Without me to take care of them, they would become nothing.
Why is it that volunteering to help with children is highly admirable, but dedicating your life to the cause without monetary gain has become something to pity? I think in part, because our society doesn't truly love children. At least, not with the kind of love that values the other person above yourself. Many people see kids as a hindrance to a good night's sleep, giving up the luxury of fancy vacations, and not being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want. Children get in the way of our cultural religion of self-fulfillment.
Children have a lot of needs that require a lot of attention. And I want to be the person fulfilling the needs of my children, and pouring myself into every aspect of their lives. Sometimes that means I have sacrifice something I want to do so I can help/serve/love/train/encourage them. Being a mother means we have to give up ourselves. Over and over and over. Yes, it's hard work. Giving things up always is. It is our nature to be selfish and to do what we want to do, and motherhood is long, hard, sometimes exhausting work. Even so, there are many opportunities for the kind of gratification that fills our souls with joy: the unprompted "wuv yoo"s, the bedtime snuggles and storybook time, the constant singing. But more often than not, motherhood requires us to give... and give... and give. And unless you've seen an Example of what that kind of sacrifice looks like, you might only be willing to give as long as you're also being given in return.
In case you're wondering, let's just get one thing straight. The Bible does not actually say that women are less valuable than men, and therefore a woman's place is in the home. Nope. The Bible teaches us that family is important, and God created women to have the mental and emotional capacity to be good at raising our children. A wise man I know once told women that "your strength is found particularly in your beauty and your powers of nurturing life." That does not sound demeaning to me. It sounds like I have superpowers.
The fact that we women have powers of nurturing life does not disqualify the other things God has made us good at, and the other talents He has given us. In fact, I find that while raising my two small children, I am able to explore and exercise the various talents God has given me. After all, people joke that being a mom is a score of professions rolled into one: a housekeeper, sure. A chef, definitely. And also a pre-school teacher, an advisor, a nurse, a counselor, an interior designer, a music teacher, a writer, a photographer, a hairdresser, a fashion consultant, a referee, an object-locator, etc. etc. It's fun pulling out my dusty guitar and playing until my fingers burn. But even if I excel in all of those specialties, being multi-talented and super organized isn't what makes me a good mother. Knowing how to love, be joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and have self control is what my children really need me to be good at. Because after all, children learn by example. And children love the things they see their parents love.
praises a woman for her awesome workplace skills. So if you don't have a problem with women working, why don't you work occasionally to keep up your nursing license and skills? You could make extra money while serving your community. Wouldn't it be good for you to get out of the house? Those are really good questions. When it comes down to it, I simply didn't want to leave my little family for 8 or 12 hours at a time, and I didn't want to become a slave to keeping my nursing license. I knew that "just a few shifts a month" could become a burden of constant stress, always worrying that I if I didn't get the right shifts, my license would disappear. So I just let it go. And I actually do get out of the house without the kids occasionally. It may be to WinCo, or choir practice, but that's fine. I actually enjoy having my girls around. I'm not dying to get away from them. And sure, the extra money would be nice, but we've learned that material possessions and expensive experiences aren't what make our lives happy.
I don't say that motherhood is my new career so that I feel less guilty about leaving my nursing career behind. I call it a career because it is. Career means "an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one's lifework."
When I was a nurse, I would watch the other nurses around me, and pay particular attention to things they did well. I wanted to learn how to do my job even better. Now, I watch my mom friends. I might ask a friend her advice or counsel on a particular aspect of motherhood, especially if I see that she has done it well. I get together with my mom friends sometimes, and we let the kids play together. We discuss various aspects of what we do as moms, but giving thanks, without complaining. Since we're human, we're all familiar with the temptation to grumble. "Little Johnny has been such a pill and is driving me nuts! Little Susie had me up all night and I'm so tired!" But what comes out of my mouth has an affect on mentality, I've noticed. I might be really exhausted, but how I mention it will affect my attitude. So instead of bemoaning how tired I am, I laugh a little, and might say something about how cute the sleep deprived child is. Being a big complainer ("ugh!" "poor me!") makes me a grumpy person. Giving thanks, even in the irritating situations, has a strange power to turn that annoyance into not-so-annoying. When I complain, I find things to complain about. When I give thanks, I find things to appreciate. Sometimes when I'm on Facebook or Pinterest, I stumble across one of those memes about the trials of motherhood. It's usually a picture of a woman with her face in her hands, and some comment about how awful her kids are, or how miserable she is. Yeah, being a mom can be hard work. But complaining about it does not help me find joy in my vocation. Nor does it help my children improve their behavior.
How exactly to go about training and teaching your children is a very broad subject. And I know my methods will change as my children get older. I mentioned that children learn by example. We know that. I write the letter "C," and then my two-year-old tries to do what I just did. My children mimic what I do, and they won't know how to mimic what they've never seen me do. If my kids don't know what self-control looks like, they are going to have a hard time understanding what it means, and how to practice it. Sometimes I'm tempted to just shout arbitrary commands, like: "Hey! Stop throwing a fit!" But here's where the being patient, and giving myself up bit comes along. It takes a lot more energy to stop whatever I'm in the middle of, approach my child, hold her hands, look her in the eyes, and calmly explain, "sweety, you may not throw a fit. That's losing self-control. It's okay to be disappointed. But it is important to learn how to control our actions and our emotions, and not them control us." (Just so you know, this is not the place for me to get into what I think or don't think about spanking. Ask me in person, and I'd love to discuss it.)
Last week on Facebook, I jumped into a discussion with some of my mom friends about how much we loved doing projects. I found myself saying this:
I try to make time to do a small project every once and while, because I enjoy it so much. And it's nice to point to something, and say "look at what I've accomplished!" But I have to remind myself daily (constantly) that doing lots of awesome projects does not make be a more valuable wife and mother. Managing my time wisely is important, but most days it matters more to play with and read to the girls (and y'know, do the laundry and make the dinner). In 30 years, our well-raised adult children will be a million times more worth it than those few projects.Childhood psychologists understand that "much of a child's personality is completely established by the age of five." The article mentions that children neglected or abused may never be able to adjust out of that. But my thought is, if the hard things leave scars, how much more will the good things of childhood stay with them. I want to be the person constantly influencing my children, helping to shape them to become amazing people. I want to show them what love is. And joy and beauty. And patience, kindness, and goodness. The early years may very well be the most important of their lives. I don't want to miss those years because I felt the need to keep up my nursing license. I'll probably go back to work in 15 or 20 years, but for now, I've given it up to be home with my girls.
I'm not saying I never miss being a nurse. Because sometime, I really do. I'm saying that I think being a mom is the most important thing for me to be doing. I'm saying, "hey world, check it out. I'm a stay-at-home mom that is learning more every day how to be a better mom; by loving, hugging, and selflessly giving myself up. And it's worth it."
I write these words to remind myself. Sorting out these thoughts helps me see what my shortcomings are; where I'm falling short. And so I pray for strength and diligence in raising my children. Being a stay-at-home mom is hard. It can be easy to forget the purpose behind the routine, and easier still to just let things slide. So this is me, reminding myself.
Now excuse me while I load into the car with my husband, two girls, and two of my brothers. We're going on an ice cream run.
Happy Mother's Day on Sunday!