I truly cannot remember a time when I didn't dream of becoming a mother. When I finally achieved that goal at the age of 27, I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, I believe that looking for the first time into the eyes of your baby, whom you know through birth or adoption, is one of the greatest experiences a woman can have on earth.
Let's remember that motherhood is God's idea. Only eighty verses into the Bible do we read that Eve said, "With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man" (Gen. 4:1). Think about what it must have been like for Eve. She could not consult the ever-popular volume What To Expect When You're Expecting. She had no mother or mother-in-law to consult. Ponder that! No one could tell her horror stories about labor. She only had Adam to confirm that she was getting quite pudgy around the middle. Finally, she gave birth to the first baby. What a moment that must have been!
Elsewhere in Scripture, we read fascinating tales of motherhood. In Genesis 21, Sarah dealt with the fact that there were Fertile Myrtles in seemingly every tent, but she remained barren. Even her husband's mistress, Hagar, bore a son, but Sarah kept on waiting. God rewarded her patience with the birth of Isaac when she was ninety years old.
Think about Hannah. Her heart ached with the passion to be a mom. She promised the Lord that she would give her child to God. He provided Samuel, and Hannah kept her promise. How hard must it have been to send him off as a toddler. First Samuel records that Hannah "made a little robe" for Samuel. He soon grew up to be a significant leader who anointed two kings while God blessed Hannah with many other children.
The amazing accounts of the pregnancies of Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament stir the hearts of every believer but especially of women who have known the joy of motherhood.
Yes, motherhood is God's idea. No improvement is needed. He purposefully created women to carry, give birth to, nurse, nurture, teach, and tenderly love our children in a way unique to our gender. Women tend to think with their hearts first and then with their heads, unlike men. Many an advertiser has picked up on the concept that women looking into a crib have warm, fuzzy feelings. Men look in the crib and start wondering how there will ever be enough money to send Junior to college!
Motherhood is an incredible calling and has been called the most honored, cherished, important job there is. The notion that motherhood is the preeminent force for change in the world is captured in the oft quoted William Ross poem with the line, "The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world."
Given these facts, why in 2006 is the importance of motherhood often downplayed, minimized, and even belittled? More seriously, we find ourselves in an era when we must argue against same-sex marriage. What about the national shame of abortion? Have we allowed ourselves to get used to that? Amy Richards is quoted in The New York Times Magazine last year as stating categorically that she did not want to give up her New York lifestyle just because she happened to be pregnant with twins.1 She feared she would never leave her house because she would be so tied up caring for the children. She even admitted how distasteful it was for her to picture herself needing to shop in warehouse clubs for big tubs of mayonnaise. So, she felt justified in "selectively reducing" her pregnancy. The truth is, she chose to legally murder one of the babies. If that true story does not sicken us, what does? God's utter graciousness is seen in that he allowed Amy to be the mother of the remaining twin.
With this state of affairs in 2006, it is necessary for us to remind ourselves about the value and virtues of motherhood. Somewhere along the way, society lost the respect it once had for mothers. I am certain that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers didn't face this problem. Too many moms today feel unappreciated by society as a whole. Perhaps it is due to the fact that moms don't receive a report card or job evaluation sheet. Perhaps others cave to the pressure to believe that performing the "menial" tasks associated with motherhood is nothing more than what a daycare worker can do and makes no significant contribution to our world.
Thankfully, most moms don't allow themselves to think that way for long. They save the precious handmade Mother's Day cards. They savor the sweet, sticky kisses. They remember forever how their children's sparkling eyes light up when they spot mom at the door of the church nursery, knowing that no one else will suffice. At the end of the day, motherhood matters because we are charged with the awesome task to train the next generation and, together with their fathers, arm them to be warriors for Christ. It is a daunting task that requires a great deal of energy, wisdom, and time. Sally Clarkson, in her book The Mission of Motherhood, says this, "It's hard to accomplish with a divided heart, meaning we are focusing on so many things in life and motherhood is just one of those."
Lest you fear that I am about to beat up on mothers who work outside the home, let me be clear in stating that there is no biblical mandate that requires women to be at home full-time. We know Leah, Dorcas, and Priscilla were employed in some form. It's a personal decision and should not be made in haste. However, I am personally thankful every day for my husband who, like me, was raised by a stay-at-home mom and saw the intrinsic value in that decision. He would take whatever steps were necessary for me to be at home. We discussed this thoroughly before we were even engaged to be married. Too many couples wait until they are expecting and in debt to deal with this issue. I know moms who cry all the way to work because they didn't decide on this issue before they said "I do."
I was glad to contribute to our income for the six years of our marriage prior to when we had children. But as my husband says publicly, he simply could not do the job he does if I were not at home doing the job I do as the home manager and mother. Therefore, the money he earns has always been our money, and there are no issues there. I could have remained "gainfully employed," and we would have had options open to most families. We firmly believe that the finest daycare, the sharpest nanny, or even my mom or his mom would not pass our qualifications for one reason: they are not me. Do we have an inflated opinion here? No, not at all. We believe there is no one on this earth who can love, nurture, and care for our children like I can. God made me the mother of Katie and Christopher. No one else has that distinction.
This used to be the norm but not anymore. I am quickly becoming a freak of nature. Some of you are freaks like me! Did you know that less than 25 percent of married households have the husband as the sole financial provider? That's just one out of four. June Cleaver and Carol Brady stereotypes are now oddities.
I understand that economics play a large role. Some simply cannot stay above poverty level in part due to the debt they have accrued along the way, unless there are two incomes. Others are student wives whose husbands will be in school for a decade if there is not supplemental income. Others will readily admit that they want their kids to have the best of everything so they conclude that the additional income outweighs the benefit of having mom at home. Still others want the self-esteem boost that "finished projects" and accolades at work provide. The saddest cases, aside from single moms who must work, are when broken-hearted moms are given no choice. Their husbands refuse to get a second job or tighten the budget so mom can stay home.
Perhaps you have heard a radio advertisement on Christian radio that I hear much too often. The announcer says, "I have so much respect for working moms. They are the backbone of America." What in the world does that say about stay-at-home moms? Are we some kind of drag on the economy? When we hear even Christian companies espouse this mentality, it serves to either fire up or discourage stay-at-home moms. Some buy into it and start wondering if they are "wasting their God given abilities." It seems that "doing it all" is applauded and draws "oohs" and "aahs" from a group. To state otherwise seems so meaningless to some. They are afraid or even ashamed to state what they do and instead mumble under their breath, "I'm just a mom."
Let me try to summarize:
- If an employed mom's first thought in the morning and last thought at night is how best to climb the corporate ladder and make partner;
- if she had kids because they are cute, because everyone else had some, because she wants someone to visit her in the nursing home;
- if the books next to her bed are titles like Mother Infant Bonding: A Scientific Fiction and Mothers Who Work: Loving Ourselves without Sacrificing Ourselves;
- if she struggles to think of the name of her child's teacher;
- and if she calls herself a Christian,
then I challenge her to get alone with God and honestly search Scripture because her picture of motherhood is radically different than what my Bible says.
But if an employed mother,
- is employed part-time in a vocation she loves;
- if she works a couple of shifts as a nurse or teacher, for example, while her children are in school, but motherhood takes priority and the kids know that her heart is at home;
- if she leaves work at the office and realizes that she will be available to work full-time again all too soon;
- if she doesn't give her family her leftovers but protects time at home;
then she should continually pray with her husband to be sure that this is God's plan so that there are no regrets later, and she should strive to be the best mom she can be!
It is clear that women are finding that they can do it all. They just can't do it all at the same time. Karen Hughes entered the venerable oval office one day and told the president, "I have to go home." She didn't mean that she needed the rest of the day off. She meant she needed to go home and stay there for a season. What a bold but wise move for the sake of her son.
If you are an employed mom and don't want to be, hang in there and pray hard. Make sure you don't make your kids miserable, but tell them how you treasure every moment with them. Realize that this condition will hopefully be temporary. I challenge you to see what God is teaching you through this that you might not otherwise learn.
If you are a stay-at-home mom—live up to the title and don't make it an oxymoron! If you find yourself in the car, at a meeting, at a practice, at a game, at a lesson, at a performance, or at a church event so often that you seem rarely to be at home, there is a problem. Families thrive on routine, structure, and schedule. Family meals should not be an event and should not be centered around the drive through at the local restaurant. Just because you are not employed, don't fall into the pit of being so busy doing good things that you miss God's best things about being at home. This makes for a divided heart too. Set limits—and stick to them. Time magazine ran an amazing cover story in March of 2004. It sends a powerful message with the simple photo of a little guy holding on to his mom's hand and looking up to her pleadingly. We don't see her face, but she is heading to work. The title is "The Case for Staying Home."2 Some of us stay-at-home moms need to take this photo to heart too if we are constantly dragging our kids from one event to another.
Be proud to be home with your kids. Don't be one who has a pity party and whines about boredom, not having friends or meaningful conversation. If those things are true, it's your fault. I would personally like to be bored for just one day to see what it feels like. Do you know stay-at-home moms who are lazy, disorganized, and don't even get dressed until 2:00 p.m.? They have a great job that many would give their eyeteeth to have. They should do it with gusto! Many do just that and are so happy and fulfilled. God is honored in that.
It is also important to remind you of this: don't let anyone make you feel guilty for doing a full-time job full-time. Husbands should help kids understand that mommy's job is at home. They should be proud, never embarrassed, to be in the vast minority of kids who say, "My mom is a mom who stays at home with us," even though 75 percent of America's households cannot say that.
Motherhood is all about balance. These are complicated issues. No matter where you come down here, we all want to be, by God's grace, the best mom we can be. I don't know any mother who says, "I want to be a mediocre mom." How do we really strive for excellence? There are no surprises here, but I have several suggestions as I have reflected on this.
First, be a lover of God's word. This is not something to add to your to do list and hopefully check it off after a two-minute drill. It is also not quantified such that only an hour will suffice. It is all about consistency and openness to hearing God's instructions on a daily basis. Simply put, we won't be the mothers he intends if we are not serious students of his word. I heard about four ministers who were discussing the pros and cons of various Bible translations. One of the three was not saying much. Finally, one of the others asked him which one he preferred. He said, "My mother's translation." They asked which one she used. He explained, "She lived out Scripture every single day and it was the clearest translation I have ever seen." How awesome would it be if our children could say that about us?
Second, we must be women of prayer. As Fern Nichols, founder of Moms in Touch International so aptly says, "If mothers aren't praying for their children, who is?" No one knows them quite like we do as we spend so much time with them each day. We must commit to pray specifically for their needs. Too many moms just pray in a panic, "O Lord, help him to behave!" We should instead be taking concerns, requests, and praises about our kids before the throne each day.
Third, we must remember that we are called to be godly wives first. It's easy to discuss the ins and outs of motherhood, but we can't overemphasize the importance of putting marriage above motherhood. Many times, children get the best of our time and attention in part because infants are so demanding and are anything but self-sufficient. Keep in mind that husbands are cute, cuddly, and needy in a completely different way! We must be aware that motherhood is an essential component of parenthood. It is not a solo job by God's design. The father's role is vital. Celebrate the differences between you. Many moms get frustrated when daddy walks in and the kids switch into their "Oh boy, here comes Mr. Fun mode." God has wired dads to relate differently to children then we do. Different does not mean superior or inferior! Parents must work together as a team and strive to present a united front. Kids should know from an early age that mom and dad love each other deeply. The security they gain from that knowledge is incalculable.
Fourth, we should be students of motherhood. I am not suggesting that we seek to earn a B.A. in Mothering Skills. However, many of us have degrees in things we don't use regularly, but we have shelves full of books and aids for those areas. We need training in the trenches about issues facing us today as moms. Many expectant moms load up on all the latest prenatal books but once the baby is born, they quit reading. There are many wonderful resources out there for moms, by moms, who seek to be Titus 2 women to them. I challenge moms to make the time to read about their chosen profession. Some titles deal with specific problems, while others are generally encouraging and challenging. Stick with trusted authors and publishers and the recommendations of those you trust.
Fifth, make every day count! Take advantage of those teachable moments that sometimes take you by surprise. As Scripture teaches, the time is fleeting. If you have three children in diapers right now, the time may seem to be anything but fleeting. However, although it seemed like such a long wait for me to become a mother, I suddenly have just one more year before my oldest will go to college. I have so much more to teach her. No matter what your schooling choice is, your job as parents is to teach God's word from an early age. In addition, we must be deliberate about teaching neglected issues like manners and modesty—and doctrine! There are several excellent books available that assist parents in teaching the basics of Christian doctrine.
Children have an amazing ability to memorize. They can often run circles around adults in how quickly they can learn and recall memorized words. We taught our children a version of the Westminster Catechism. Its words are so carefully packed and full of meaning. One week in high school youth group, the question was asked, "What is sin?" Katie, my daughter, said nothing at first but soon the group nudged the theologian's daughter to give a good answer. Reluctantly, she replied, "Well, sin is any thought, word, or deed that breaks God's law by omission or commission." The youth group liked that response and may have assumed that theology and doctrine just seep by osmosis into one's brain when raised by a theologian. The truth is, she diligently learned and retained the catechism. What's vital here is that when a situation arises when there could be a gray area of judgment, this definition is fixed in her memory. We know that the world is increasing hostile to the gospel. If our children are not grounded in Scripture and what it means, they will be like reeds twisting in the wind.
Sixth, pace yourself! We certainly all have days when we feel completely overwhelmed and inadequate. To others, we may look like we have everything under control, but in reality, we feel like a failure and wonder if we are doing our job as we should. We must first assess a few things. Have I neglected time with the Lord? How much sleep have I had lately? Could hormonal changes be responsible here? If that doesn't provide an answer, we should ask ourselves, "How did I get to the place where I feel this way, and can I avoid being here again?" It is amazing how even one hour alone with no interruptions or responsibilities can sometimes help us regain perspective. Next, help those who are drowning. You may be in a groove right now and seem to be humming right along. Chances are, your neighbor is not. Be sensitive. Be the one to offer her an hour or two to let her regroup. Remember that you don't have to have gray hair to be a Titus 2 woman!
Lastly, resist the temptation to compare your personal motherhood philosophy with others, either in a superior or inferior way. It is irresponsible when moms criticize those who chose to have one or two children when they could have "easily" had six or eight. Celebrate the fact that they obeyed God's command to be fruitful and multiply. It is equally irresponsible to lament the fact that the Smiths are expecting again when they already have seven children. Unless the children they have are running around in the yard naked, it is really no one's business to judge how full—or empty—another family's quiver might be.
There seems to be dissention among Christian families regarding schooling choices. There are those who argue, based on Deut 6:7, that homeschooling is the only option. Some families exercise this option and do so in an excellent way that produces sharp, well-rounded children who cut out much of the busy work found in school. Others, who have been browbeaten into believing that homeschooling is the only way, are moms who not prepared to be teachers. They didn't understand algebra when they took it themselves and are in no position to teach it now! Further, the home manager aspect of motherhood is cast aside as teaching can be all consuming, especially when teaching several kids. Preschool children are left in front of the DVD player and although they are in the home, don't get the attention that their older siblings did.
Pricey private schools may provide great opportunities for academics and athletics but realize that some kids are starved to just spend time with parents. These kids may be bored or have special needs and would benefit from homeschooling but the parents have such a negative stereotype of that method that they refuse to try it. Still others opt for public schools in areas where they have not become completely corrupted in hopes of providing salt and light.
In any case, these are very personal choices that must be weighed carefully and reevaluated regularly. Instead of having the notion that one's chosen method is best, we should all be on our knees to be sure that we are being obedient to what God would have us do in regard to education.
While avoiding feelings of superiority, we should be careful not to feel inferior. This sometimes happens when you don't expect it, like in the grocery store. You run into a friend who is there with all of her kids. The mom is six weeks postpartum but looks like a model. The children are dressed in coordinating outfits and politely speak to you without interrupting. You were hoping not to run into anyone looking like you do, and you swore off taking your kids to the grocery store long ago. You walk away thinking, "Wow! She sure has it good. I wish my kids were that easy. They probably wish they had a pretty mom who doesn't yell all the time too." Realize that those well-behaved kids you just saw came out as selfish little sinners just like your kids did! What you see is the product of much hard work and biblically, consistently applied discipline.
Scripture teaches us that "foolishness is bound in the heart of a child" (Prov 22:15) and it is our job to "train up a child in the way in which he should go" (Prov 22:6). Some children seem to be more compliant, while some are more strong willed—but don't compare! You have exactly the children God intends for you to have. They have exactly the mother he intends them to have. Hospitals rarely mix up babies, but God never does. That fact should bless you!
What about abusive or neglectful mothers? Sin is in the world, but God has a plan. Many times, that involves placing those children in the welcome arms of adoptive parents. I smile every time I see adoptive families that we have been privileged to know. God knows the heart's desire of women who long to be moms. In his perfect timing, he often unites them with children who have been abandoned or need to be removed from birth mothers. Those adoptive moms are every bit as much the mother to their children as I am to mine. They become a loving, nurturing family. It is a beautiful picture of God's adoption of us, his children.
Don't let the mundane get you down. Right now in your home, there may be dishes piling up, pesky socks that don't match, a potty training set back, lunches to pack, and a long list of things to do. We start thinking that our job as mothers is little more than one menial job after another. Don't forget that today has also been full of monumental opportunities. Did you take advantage of them?
We face moral issues today as adults that our parents and grandparents did not face nor dream of facing. What will our kids be forced to deal with when they grow up? How will they possibly be ready to know how to respond? They will respond by building today upon what they learned yesterday. We have absolute truth found in God's word alone and as we impart that day by day, little by little, we are being used by God to equip the next generation. Isn't that awesome? Does that excite you? It should.
Motherhood matters because it's God's idea; because he wants us to train the leaders of tomorrow; and because he has lots to teach us as moms as we allow him to teach our children with excellence. When you hit the pillow tonight, take great joy in knowing that you can work on matching those socks eventually and finishing the project you started months ago. More importantly, God allowed you to impact your children today as only you can, and tomorrow is another fresh opportunity to be an even better mom to the glory of God alone. May God raise up an army of believers who will change tomorrow's world. May our children be leaders in that army.
1 See Amy Richards (as told to Amy Barrett), "When One is Enough" The New York Times Magazine, 18 July 2004, n.p. [accessed online 25 July 2006]. Online: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9B07EED6113BF93BA25754C0A9629C8B63.
2 Claudia Wallis, "The Case for Staying Home," Time, 22 March 2004, 51-59.