My oldest is turning five in just a few months. I've had her with me from the beginning (she used to sleep under my desk at work as a newborn) and I've been a "stay at home mom" for just over four years. Some days have been hard, some have been a joy, and most are a little bit of both.
Every mother I know has gone through stages where she has questioned her role in her child's life. Some of these mothers are "working" mothers, who feel guilty for having to leave their children. Others are "stay at home" mothers (SAHM) who are worried they aren't doing a good enough job or who are overwhelmed by the task at hand.
The mothers I know who are happiest are the ones who have found a balance in their lives between caring for their children and finding something that helps them develop personally. For some, that may be learning or perfecting an art form - photography, painting, knitting, sewing, quilting, etc. For others, that may be writing. (This is the road I've felt called to go down.) Others start up a business or take on a part-time job. But all of these mothers are looking for one thing - a balance that will help them to be present to their children but also to cultivate a gift that God has given them.
But here's the thing - underlying the question of what our balance should look like as mothers is the question of self-worth. It is hard to be a mother in a culture that views motherhood as a "hobby" or a lifestyle choice. It used to be a given that mothers were a necessary and revered part of society. But if motherhood is viewed as a mere personal choice, why does it matter? In particular, if stay-at-home motherhood is just a "hobby" (as the article linked to suggests) why does it matter at all?
I've shared our plan to hybrid homeschool next year, but honestly, when people ask me where Therese is going to school next year I just tell them the name of the school she's going to PreK at, and don't mention homeschooling. (Even though she'll only be going there two mornings a week, and the rest of the week we'll be homeschooling.) I love, love, LOVE homeschooling in practice, but I still feel like the idea of it is too "weird" to admit to practicing it. Lately, stay at home motherhood has been the same way. When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a freelance writer and that I also take care of my daughters full time.
Writing is much easier than caring for my daughters. I don't claim stay at home motherhood as my "job," but it's mainly because I'm worried about what people think of me. It's not because I don't think that it is an actual job. The reality is, though, that most other people don't view it as a valid career option. There isn't real respect, anymore, for a woman who is good at caring for her children and her home. There is no acknowledgment that a mother's care cannot be replaced. Yes, all mothers need help caring for their children in some form - some at full-time daycare, some with full time nannies or babysitters, some with weekly mother's helpers - but all of these other caretakers are just stand-ins until the mother can take over. The mother is the primary caretaker, regardless of how many hours she has with her children. A mother cannot be replaced.
That is why being a SAHM (or spending whatever amount of time you are able to spend with your children) matters. No one can replace a mother. Others can help fill that role when a mother is unable to, but no one replaces her. This isn't to say that working mothers are failing. It is saying that no matter how many or few hours a woman spends working outside of her home, she is not wasting the time that she spends caring for her children, even if it means she isn't as successful in the eyes of the world!
Being a SAHM does matter. Making it clear to your office or place of employment that your children come first (if you are a working mom) does matter. Your role as a mom matters. So many moms make huge sacrifices to be with their children. Some mothers are SAHMs and give up any outside recognition for what they accomplish. Others give up more prestigious positions so that they can work from home or work in their child's school (thinking here of my mother-in-law who worked from home for many years, and my mom who worked in our school).
Others have to work more hours than they'd like, but still find a way to prioritize their families in a way that doesn't make sense to their bosses (like women who turn down promotions because it would mean traveling away from home too much or working too many hours). I don't know what sacrifice God is calling you to make in your life as a mother, but I want you to know - your sacrifice does matter. I want to say this especially to stay at home moms, because they don't have anyone else telling them this. What you are doing matters. You cannot be replaced by a nanny or babysitter (although both can be helpful in some situations). Your care for your child, imperfect though it may be, makes a real difference. Other caretakers can (and usually will!) love your child, but nothing can ever replace your love as a mother.
Mothers - stay at home mothers and otherwise - you matter. Don't ever forget it.