She said, “So what will you do with all your time once you’re not working anymore?”
The lady was talking about my wife’s former job teaching college classes online, but she was implying (whether she knew it or not) that there are two kinds of moms out there: those who do what’s important—i.e., have a career—and those who don’t. I’m pretty sure she meant well, but I’m equally sure that she is very confused about what my wife does when she’s “not working.”
You see, I have the privilege of working from home most days. Much of my reading, writing, and counseling takes place in my home office. This room affords enough privacy to do my work, while also being close enough to the rest of the house to make me vaguely aware of how much my wife actually does.
Which is a lot.
She truly is a working mom—although her work looks very different from what the most of the Western world tends to think is honorable or impressive or noteworthy.
Every day she works from home, cleaning up after little ones, wiping their noses (and other parts), feeding them, reading to them, playing with them, and teaching them about God’s world.
She reaches out to the ladies in our community group, and she often has friends over—which means even more cleaning before (and after) they leave.
She works hard at planning meals for our family and for the frequent visitors we have in our home.
She works when she takes two toddlers to the grocery store by herself—while being pregnant with our third.
She works when she keeps those toddlers occupied while cooking dinner for the family.
And she is still working when the clock strikes five, carrying on her work until about the time her head hits the pillow. If there’s one thing my wife does, it’s work!
Tragic Cultural Confusion
This why that woman’s question seems so misguided, and I know she’s not alone. Our culture is disastrously confused about all these things on many levels.
For starters, we are confused about the beauty of womanhood. Feminism has faded into a little more than a “me too” movement, repeatedly revealing that it has nothing constructive to say about what it means to be a woman. Their best attempts result in “Anything a man can do, we can do too!” Such an approach is doomed from the start, baptizing flawed versions of masculinity in the name womanhood (like the all-girl Ghostbusters remake and the new Bond, Jane Bond). Surely we can do better than this.
Second, we lack an understanding of who we are. In this identity vacuum, we cling to anything that makes us feel respected and valuable and appreciated. Careers are a common culprit here. They tantalize us with the promise of feeling significant, of feeling like our work “really matters,” that we did something that helped somebody, and so on. But if you have to rely on what you do in order to feel good about who you are, then your work will never satisfy. (And that’s true for stay-at-home moms, too.)
Finally, our culture has a thinly veiled hatred of children. (And hatred isn’t too strong a word.) Eyes roll when a family comes into the restaurant. Snarky remarks are made about the kids of other families. Nursery volunteers are always the hardest to come by in any church. Couples delay having children until well into their 30s. Deliberate childlessness is on the rise, with the number of children born per couple is the lowest in our country’s history. Millions of abortions are still carried out each year. On and on and on. The truth is that Jesus loves the little children, but we don’t. So no wonder we think it’s odd that someone would want to devote their primary time and attention to caring for such people.
Motherhood, as It Really Is
Together those confusions explain why so many struggle to see the glory in a mother choosing to work at home with her children. This confusion reflects a stunning reversal of significance, a tragic inversion of priorities. But this isn’t anything new.
The British author G. K. Chesterton apparently faced a similar scenario about a hundred years ago. So, he wrote about motherhood as it really is to set the record straight:
“When people begin to talk about motherhood as not merely difficult but trivial and dreary, I simply give up… For I cannot with the utmost energy of imagination conceive what they mean. For instance, when motherhood is called ‘drudgery,’ I have difficult understanding what they mean. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman works dreadfully hard in the home… But if drudgery means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give up! For a mother is Queen Elizabeth in one area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; she is a Manufacturer in another area, providing toys, boots, sheets, cakes, and books; she is Aristotle within another area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene. I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it! How can it be a great career to teach other people’s children, and a small career to teach one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No! A woman’s work is laborious because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.” (Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World, with minor updates to verbiage and grammar)
Moms, I get it. Most days you might not feel like a queen or a manufacturer or an instructor, but that’s how God sees you—because that’s who he made you to be. You’re a working mom, and God uses the work you do at home to help shape souls for a lifetime. What could be more glorious than that?
Postscript: These days you can’t say something positive about one group of people without another group getting offended. “He said stay-at-home moms are great, so that means he thinks moms who work outside the home are Hitler.” But that’s not true. And besides, the Bible praises several women who worked outside the home (Prov. 31:4; Acts 16:14). It seems they were so good at caring for their husbands and children (Titus 2:4, 1 Timothy 5:14) that they had time leftover for other outside-the-home endeavors. I think that’s fantastic! The world could use all the women like that can we find.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter.