I have had some thoughts swimming around in my mind for awhile that some recent comments finally have brought out of my head and onto the screen. I am a stay-at-home mom of three, soon to be four, children, the oldest of which is five. That sentence, and the reality that it represents, is usually enough to prompt comments of disbelief in a disapproving way from some, or disbelief in a bow-down-to-me way from others. Our society has changed so much over the last 100-200 years, maybe even less, that my reality is far from the norm. The reactions that this provokes are usually uncomfortable for me on both extremes.
The first reaction, the disapproval, makes me feel like I have to go on the defensive for the choices and circumstances of my family make-up. Large families are not common anymore, especially with kids as close in age as mine are (although I think in some circles we may be making a come-back). Lots of people consider three kids to be a big family. It never ceases to amaze me how people who have no stake in my family whatsoever feel free to express their opinion so freely about why we should not have any more children, or even shouldn’t have had as many as we already do. But I think it’s understandable why these comments, these reactions, would make me feel uncomfortable, and not much more needs to be said here.
It’s the other reactions, those people who act like I’ve achieved a level of deity for having and staying home with these children, that have recently been disturbing me. I don’t know any statistics regarding the number of stay-at-home moms versus working moms, but I’d be willing to bet that they’re more even than most people would realize. A stay-at-home mom is not a rare find. And this isn’t the place to begin a debate over whether moms should stay home or not. We’ve made the decision in our family, and I refuse to begin to make one for yours. However, what I find lots of times from working mothers, is this elevation of what I do past the point of actuality. It does not take a superwoman to stay home with her kids. No mom, therefore, is a superwoman simply because she stays home with her kids. I am not performing some special, extraordinary feat by staying home with three preschoolers. They are my children. I am their mother. I take care of them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a few breaks here and there. Period. Someone recently said that they believe being a SAHM takes a special calling, similar to being a vocational minister. This is completely untrue. Again, please remember that I am not setting out to debate staying home vs. working, but I will say that the only “calling” required to be a SAHM is the act of having a child. Those moms that stay home have not received any special calling or equipping from God to do so. Sometimes I’ll read articles or hear comments about the notion that motherhood, particularly staying home, is looked down on in our culture, that SAHM’s are degraded or criticized for not contributing to society. Maybe it’s just the circles I run in, but I have not experienced this attitude. I have experienced the extreme opposite. I hear people praise me for staying home to a much greater extent than it deserves. I don’t have any special powers or abilities that enable me to do what I do. I don’t feel like I’ve made a huge sacrifice deserving of any special recognition in order to stay home with my kids. I don’t have a certain temperament or personality that only a few moms have and can therefore stay home. I am not doing anything extraordinary. I am only doing what generations and generations of mothers have done before, only I have a much easier job than they did because of all the modern conveniences at my fingertips.
Even in parenting magazines, this attitude of deifying motherhood is prevalent. There are whole articles devoted to ways for moms in general to pamper themselves, or manipulate their husbands to pamper them, simply because they are a mother. There are regular columns devoted to finding “me” time. I’ve read articles on how to manipulate your husband to take on more housework so you can go out with the girls or just have a day off every single week, even when the husband works a full-time job outside the home and the mom does not. To me, this is plain selfishness. Being a mom, whether you stay home or not, is a difficult job, yes. You are raising and training and shaping children to grow up and make what you hope is a positive contribution to society. There are endless frustrations and times when you are the one crying, not your kids. But this is ordinary, not extraordinary. Yes, everyone needs some sort of time to themselves on a semi-regular basis, but I don’t deserve a day at the spa every other week just because I’ve given birth three times.
Please do not misunderstand me. I’m not saying motherhood is either easy or unimportant. I’m also not saying that I don’t want any praise for what I’m devoting my life to. I just don’t want to be placed on a pedestal. When praise is heaped on the stay-at-home mom simply for staying home, that adds to the guilt that she then feels when she does get away for a break, or the guilt that she feels on those days (which are most days) that her house doesn’t look like Mrs. Cleaver’s. These unnecessary accolades also provide a stumbling block for me, tempting me to think that I deserve them, and that I’m entitled to certain privileges because of what I do. I do want praise, but the praise I try to keep my eyes on is that which is awaiting me at the Throne on the last day. I want to hear my Father say, “Well done,” and I don’t need to hear it countless times before then. If my husband and children rise up and call me blessed, and my Father is pleased with what I’ve done with my life, then that is enough for me, and should be enough for all stay-at-home moms. Don’t put me on a pedestal. My feet are made of clay, and I can’t stand up there. My life is beautiful not because it is extraordinary, but because it is ordinary.