Is Motherhood Really That Hard?

Motherhood is Hard--But do we make it worse on ourselves?

I had one of those weekends where I was so stressed: “I will never get through everything I have to get done!” I thought. Balancing other responsibilities with motherhood is hard.

On the family side, I homeschool our two teenage daughters. And we have a family wedding in the next few weeks!

On the speaking side, I had to speak in Burlington on Saturday morning for a women’s breakfast, so I drove down the night before to make sure I was there in time. There I had a wonderful time with a great group of ladies and really saw God work. I’m always a little nervous for the first talk of the season, because I haven’t spoken in a few months and I lose my groove a bit. I don’t use notes; I know my talks well enough that they usually just flow. But I’m always worried the flow won’t be there when I haven’t spoken in a while, but it went fine.

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Then I started for home, a 2 1/2 drive away, and realized an hour into it that I had left my Bible, my props, and my iPad behind. So I turned around and drove back, getting home much later than I thought.

This normally wouldn’t have been a big deal, but on Sunday I had to lead our quizzing program at church at 9 in the morning for two hours, and then at 4 twenty-five people were descending on my house for a surprise Jack and Jill shower for my brother-in-law and his future wife. Losing two hours of my day when I could prepare did not put me in a good mood.

Today I speak again at a women’s meeting, and Wednesday I’m taking off to Washington state for 10 days. So I’m busy. And I’m feeling a little sorry for myself. But the funny thing is that once I’m home from Washington, my life will really be quite smooth. This is just an anomaly.

But what was even more strange was that as stressed as I was by everything, the speaking, the quizzing, and the party actually all went very smoothly and was a lot of fun. I even had some time on Saturday night to just sit and knit and watch a movie with my husband.

So I’m starting to wonder if maybe I get stressed and complain a little too much. It reminds me of this blog post I read a while back about moms complaining that motherhood is hard. Here’s part of what she writes:

I do not think that it is easy to be a stay at home mom, nor do I think a working mom has it any easier (well, most days I believe it’s the same. Some days I envy the working mom- before I realized that I would then have two jobs. Gulp). In either case, it is hard to be a mom. There are challenging days when you can’t seem to put that screaming toddler down or you run out of hours to get all of your errands done. Finding time for yourself can be a bit of a challenge, if not at times impossible, but we can’t always put our own selves on the back burners. If you do not take care of yourself and put yourself first sometimes, who else is going to?

I become very confused by the people who claim not to have an identity anymore once they become a mom. Why on earth not? I get having frustrating days and feel the need to get out alone for awhile. So go ahead and do it. If you feel like you are losing yourself in your kids, then quite frankly I think you are doing it wrong. My kids are an amazing part of my life and an extension of who I am. I have become a better person in being their mom- a different person, yes. My days and my priorities do revolve around them, but it has made me stronger not question who I am as a person. I do not understand the constant lamenting of being a parent or that it affects your appearance.

In other words, if you feel like motherhood is hard and you’re too busy, take some control of the situation.

Of course your life is busy. Of course motherhood is hard. But this is what you chose, and it has a ton of benefits, and perhaps we tend to forget those. (I love this sentence that she writes, too: “Having kids is not easy, staying at home with them is hard, and I can’t begin to imagine working with kids, but I assure you that hourly Facebook updates telling us how tough it is are not going to help your situation”).

So do we complain too much? Looking back on my weekend, I certainly think that I did. Because you know what? It was actually a lot of fun. The speaking was fun. The car ride home was fun (even if it was longer than I intended, because I had my iPod with me and I blasted Broadway tunes and sang at the top of my lungs as that highway went by. That’s fun!). The youth at church are a great bunch. I still had time to talk and connect with my girls last night for an hour before we all went to bed. And the shower went so well, especially with the game that was suggested to me by a woman at the speaking function to  help the guys get in touch with their feminine side. Here’s how some of the guys looked afterwards:

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So what’s the fundamental problem?

I think that, deep in our hearts, we think life is supposed to be about having nothing to do at all.

That life is supposed to be about leisure. And it’s not. Yes, you have to cook. Yes, you have to do laundry. Yes, you have to get ready for friends coming over. But all of those things are part of a rich life. You only have to work because you have people and things to work for.

Yes, we get overwhelmed at times, and there are seasons in our lives that are especially difficult. But maybe we just need a different perspective. Being a SAHM is tiring, I’m glad I have the people I do in my life. I’m glad God has called me to the ministry He has. I’m glad I’m a mom. And I’ll try to quit complaining now!

Home Alone America

My blogging friend Terry wrote a series of posts a while back on why she came to see the world through a different, more family-centric, light. I thought this quote was particularly apt. Terry writes,

In recent years, however, I began to notice some of the same issues cropping up among these white, middle class, suburban kids that I saw in the neighborhood I grew up in. Teen pregnancy, drop-outs, drug use, etc. And in just about every case, I began to notice a  common thread: recently divorced parents or parents who were never at home leaving their adolescent kids at home all afternoon to get into all kinds of trouble. Some of these kids are the products of well-meaning, church-going, Christian parents.

Terry’s right. A few years ago I read the book Home Alone America by Mary Eberstadt, who looked at what happened to kids once both parents started working in large numbers, so that there just weren’t adults around to supervise, lend an ear, and in general know what was going on in their kids’ lives. It’s the crisis of latchkey kids.


One of the points that she makes is that life is not just harder for the kids whose parents work; it has an effect on the culture as a whole. Let’s just look at one little area, like childhood obesity. One of the reasons they believe this is increasing is because parents aren’t around to say, “no eating until dinnertime!”, or to bother to come up with alternate activities for kids to do when they’re bored, so they let kids turn to the potato chip cupboard.

But it’s not only that. It’s also that what was once commonplace in people’s homes–eating a homemade dinner together as a family–has been displaced by eating takeout or prepared food, with everyone fending for themselves or eating at different times. I remember in the 1970s when TV dinners first came out. Every few weeks my mother would buy them as treats, and she and I would sit on the couch with TV tables and watch the Carol Burnett show.

But today we have so much more than just the TV dinners. With so many people working, consumers wanted easy frozen meals. And now a large part of the grocery store is these frozen meals. And since they’re convenient, everyone is buying them, whether  you work or not. And so it has changed everyone’s diet, for the worse. Homecooked meals are no longer the norm.

Other problems that Eberstadt notices? When more and more parents are gone, kids start to hibernate instead of playing outside because there aren’t people to supervise, and this impacts even those parents who are home, because the norm is now to cocoon rather than to play outside. Hence, kids get less exercise. It also means kids don’t play with each other unless you have specific play dates.

And since more and more kids are growing up with less supervision from parents, more and more kids are also developing behaviour problems, which means that a new norm is developing at school for what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. Teachers put up with stuff today they never would have put up with forty years ago because they have to pick their battles. And this means that standards worsen.

She also notes that the importance of parents in kids’ lives does not evaporate when kids hit school. The idea, “well, I’ll stay home until the kids hit kindergarten, and then I’ll work” is still difficult for kids. Kids need the most supervision, after all, in those years that they can get into the most trouble, which tend to be the teen years. And yet that seems to be when we give them the least supervision.

Our society basically rests on the idea that each family will be a two-income earning family. And yet much of this is due to expectations. When my husband grew up in his one-income family, they had an old black and white television, they drank powdered milk, and they only had one car. They lived in an extremely small house for a family of six. They didn’t have huge wardrobes or even a lot of toys; they mostly went outside. And that was normal.

Today we expect that we will eat expensive foods, have awesome furniture, have the full cable hookup or satellite hookup with a large screen TV, and have two cars. I’m not saying that every dual income earning family expects that; only that this is considered the norm, and to have less somehow means that you haven’t arrived or you’re not providing.

I think we need to change our expectations. We have more stuff, but worse relationships. We have bigger houses (they’ve doubled in size in the last forty years, on average), and yet higher divorce rates. I know some women need to work, especially in this economy. But I would encourage everybody to be very creative when you do so, to see if you can find a job that doesn’t require you being out of the house from 8-6. Or find a way to work 3/4 time and have your husband work 3/4 time.

I know that this isn’t politically correct to say, and I know I will get lambasted for it, but I really don’t think you should have kids if you’re also assuming that both parents will be working full-time and no one will be home to care for the kids for ten to twelve hours a day. Before you even start having children, talk about how you are going to pay for things. Learn to live with one income, and save the second income before the kids are born. Stick to a budget. We have lost so much in our “home alone” culture, and we need to bring back the importance of family. I hope that people realize that most of the problems in our society can be directly traced to a breakdown of family, and decide to start emphasizing keeping the family close before we look to consumer things. Relationships matter far more than stuff, anyway.

Other posts you may find interesting:

How to Make Money as a SAHM
Living Below Your Means Increases Your Means
On Day Care, Attachment, and God’s Will

On Day Care, Attachment, God’s Will, and More!

Should Christians Use Day Care: A thoughtful look at the issues
It seems like I really waded into some trouble in this post regarding the Roots of Empathy. I compared daycare centres to institutions, and several in the comments took exception to that.

I’ve been mulling over whether it’s worth writing a long post on my reasonings behind what I think of daycare, and I was rather hesitant initially, because I know it’s a sore spot for so many. In the church we do tend to judge each other by our choices with regards to childcare, and I don’t want to perpetuate that.

But at the same time, if there’s anything that I really stand for, it’s this. So I’d be a coward not to address it. I know there are some who will be offended by what I say, but please understand that I do this after a lot of prayer and a lot of thought, and I don’t do it lightly.

So let’s start with first principles, and then we’ll move steadily outwards looking at childcare choices, discerning God’s will for our lives, and more.

1. Children Learn Through Attachment.

A child’s brain before the age of 3 is very different from a child’s brain at age 8. When children are young, they primarily learn best when they feel very attached to a specific caregiver, or perhaps to a few close caregivers.

They need to feel secure and attached before they are really able to explore the world and their place in it. When children don’t feel secure or attached, their ability to learn well is hindered. They may learn academically, but their social skills are hurt because their feelings aren’t as acknowledged or affirmed. Therefore, any childcare arrangement must be one in which a child is able to attach to a safe caregiver.

2. Children Need to be Kept Safe.

A parent’s primary responsibility is the safety of their children. What is most likely to harm children? Other children. Little supervision. Unfamiliar surroundings so that they feel scared and act inappropriately. And above all, diseases.

Here’s an excerpt from a column I wrote on the subject five years ago:

Day care certainly is a germ factory, since at any one time 16% of day care children will be ill, and 82% will attend anyway. Both the Canadian and the American Pediatric Associations say that day care centres are responsible for the epidemic of ear infections. Day care children are also three to four times more likely to be hospitalized than other children, and at least 50% more likely to die overall.

But physical illness is not the only problem. A 1998 study published in the Child Development journal found that the levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—of children in day care centres are opposite to everybody else. Most people start their mornings with high levels which peter off as the day wears on. Day care kids’ levels peak in the middle of the afternoon. The more these kids are in day care, too, the more likely they are to insecurely attach to their mothers and to exhibit behaviour problems in school.

If a child’s safety and health are most important, we must consider these factors when deciding what to do.

3. We Have a Moral Obligation to our Children.

Our children do not have an obligation to fit into our schedule; we have a moral obligation to raise them the best way that we can. For some that will mean daycare, because single parents often don’t have a choice. Especially if you have to accept subsidized care, you often have little choice except the big daycare centres.

But many who say they “don’t have a choice” really do. I don’t mean to be harsh, but we can all make decisions to spend less money. You can move to a smaller community where housing costs are not as great. You can choose not to have a second car, even if it means you drive your husband to work everyday (I did this for years). You can choose to live in an apartment rather than a house (did this one, too).

Our children did not choose to be born. We chose to have them (even if they were accidents)! Therefore, we have an obligation to give them the best, safest life there is.

4. The Daytime Caregiver Should be Someone With Whom the Child will have a Steady, Ongoing, Loving Relationship.

Here’s one where I may differ from many Christian sisters. I don’t necessarily believe that it must be the mother who stays home with the children. I just think that it must be someone who is very close to the child. One of the other pediatricians in my husband’s group of doctors works while her husband stays home full-time with their two toddlers. She has greater earning potential, so he’s home. And he does a great job with the kids–taking them to the Y, taking them to the park, reading to them, etc.

One of the happiest periods of my life when the children were very small (1 & 3) was the time when I worked half-time and my husband worked half-time. We were both earning equivalent amounts of money, and so it didn’t make a difference who worked. For six months we split it, and it was so much fun! I got the intellectual stimulation of working two and a half days a week, but I also got to be with the kids. But so did Keith! And he grew a lot closer to the girls during those months, which has had a big impact on his relationship with them, even to this day.

I also think grandparents can be wonderful caregivers. I have several friends who have used grandmothers–in one case, even both grandmothers–to care for their kids while they worked. I wouldn’t necessarily consider this ideal, but it’s pretty close to it! I can tell you that I’m going to be a wonderful grandmother, and a grandmother is in the child’s life, is concerned about the child’s feelings, and can really give excellent care. So can aunts, for that matter.

But what if you don’t have family? Are you then stuck? It is harder, no question about it. I didn’t have grandmothers who were in a position to look after my children, and I don’t have sisters, either. But a close friend from church could also fill that role, especially for single parents who don’t really have a choice.

5. Institutional Care is Not Fun and, I would argue, not fair.

We live quite near the largest daycare centre in my small town. It’s also one of the most expensive, and the one that those with government subsidies use. In other words, this is the “cream of the crop” of daycare centres near here.

And this sort of thing is what I see everyday:

Imagine two women, probably aged 19-20, pushing two strollers with 5-6 children each. In each stroller, at least one child is crying. The two caregivers, though, are chatting with each other at the Stop sign, oblivious to the children’s wails. There’s really nothing they can do, anyway.

My children didn’t always nap at the same time everyday. They didn’t always eat at the same time everyday. They wanted to explore the world, and some days we did certain things, and other days we did certain things. When they were in the process of losing their afternoon or morning naptimes, some days they would nap, and some days they wouldn’t, and that was okay (though a little aggravating for me!)

In an institutional daycare centre, there is no room for individuality. All the children nap at the same time, in cribs lined up, one after each other. They eat at the same time. They often have to sit in a stroller, or in a seat, or in a high chair, waiting for the caregiver as she gets everybody strapped in before she serves lunch.

The daycare centres may look pretty, with painted walls and lots of toys, but it doesn’t stop the fact that it is an institution. Children must conform to the schedule or everything is chaos.

Do you remember when your baby was 10 or 11 months old, and how challenging that child was? Imagine having 4-5 of the same age, and you’re the only one caring for them. Could you do it well? Likely not. The children may have more toys at daycare, but there is a reason why we don’t tend to have four babies at a time. It’s hard to look after four kids of the same age all at the same time. Kids are very demanding at that age. They need you to rock them, and talk to them, and look out for them. Could you do it well if you had four?

I know moms who look after 6 kids under 6 at the same time. It is tiring. But it is not the same thing, because the children are not all the same age. It is much easier to care for a sibling group of various ages than it is to care for four children of the same age.

One of the joys of childhood is being able to explore, relax, and learn about the world. They don’t do that in the same way when everything, by necessity, has to be regimented.

Don’t blame the caregivers, though. Daycare is one of the most challenging jobs, and thus has one of the highest turnover rates. That’s why kids rarely have consistent caregivers at a daycare centre. I have had wonderful friends who worked at a daycare centre who recently quit. Both in their forties, they raised four beautiful children each. They are great moms. But they weren’t great daycare workers because, they said, it’s an impossible job. You cannot provide that many kids with the kind of love and attention a parent can. And the kids bit them and the other children. They hit. They cried for their mothers, even after months of being in the centre. Not every child cried, but enough did that it made my friends really sad. They felt like they were enabling something that was dysfunctional, and so they quit to do something different. Their conclusion? “You just can’t replace a mom.”

6. Your primary responsibility is to your family.

I remember reading Floyd McClung’s book Living on the Devil’s Doorstep: From Kabul to Amsterdam when I was just 19. He was the founder of YWAM, and took his family to live in the red light district in Amsterdam. He was busy with his ministry. Then he began flying all over the place raising money and awareness.

And one day, after being away from his family for an extended period of time, he felt God telling him something. And this was the message:

I have given the world to the church to save. But to you individually I have given your family. You serve your family first, and then the world.

That stuck with me, even before I was married, and I have often come back to that thought when I’m trying to make decisions about my life. This is a fallen world that desperately needs help. But God has given that world to the church, not to you individually. To you individually He has given your family. And thus your family is your primary responsibility. You don’t leave them for something substandard so that you can fulfill a role that is the church’s. We must all have a place in the Great Commission, but it comes after our role in caring for our families.

I don’t believe this applies only to moms considering daycare. I think it applies to men, like Floyd, who are also balancing ministry. I do not believe God calls us to sacrifice our children for ministry.

In fact, I would argue that 1 Corinthians 7 supports that.

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs, how he can please the Lord, but a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world, how he can please his wife, and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs. Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit, but a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world, how she can please her husband. (verses 32-34)

In the context that Paul is speaking, he is giving advice about marriage. And he is telling people it is better not to marry because then you can be fully devoted to the Lord. Once you’re married, you can’t.

Think about this for a minute. If Paul thought that you should always be fully 100% for missions outreach, whether you were married or not, he would have said something like, “Do not let your feelings for your husband or your children distract you from ministry.” But instead he acknowledges that a married person will be concerned about his or her family. It’s natural. It’s the way it should be. Hence, if you want to be fully devoted to ministry, you should not marry. Otherwise there are always other considerations. You have to worry about your own safety, because others are counting on you. You have to worry about finances, and a house, because others rely on you. You have to worry about their safety. So you can’t be as devoted to the work of the Lord. Hence, Paul says, if it is possible, don’t marry.

Thus, I think another principle, when it comes to insitutional daycare, is that God would not call a family to choose this for their children in order to advance His kingdom in another way. Perhaps there may be exceptions, but I think those exceptions would be few. When you are a mom, your primary responsibility, within the will of God, is to your kids. I do not believe that God would call you outside of that.

And remember–your children are only young for a time! I’m now 40, and my kids are both teenagers. I’m in a position to do much more ministry than I was at 26, and quite frankly, I’m better at it now than I would have been then. I also still have 25 years before traditional retirement (which I don’t even really believe in, anyway). And even when the kids were little, I was still involved in ministry. I just did it in a way that allowed me to be home with them!

So where does all of this leave us? I would say these conclusions:

1. When you have pre-school aged children, who are still at a very vulnerable place in their development, your primary responsibility is to ensure that they have a safe, caring place with a caregiver that they can attach to.

2. That caring place should not be an institutionalized daycare centre, with numerous children and a turnover of caregivers. If you must use daycare for financial reasons, then choose one run in a home by a Christian friend whom you trust. And take all the precautions to ensure that it is a safe home. Don’t assume anything.

3. Don’t put your child in daycare just based on standard of living. If you need daycare to afford a house, choose an apartment. Give up the second car. Move to a cheaper city. Put off your education if you need to, or take it part time or online. You can never get these years back, and your child needs you.

Those are the conclusions I’ve come to. I do not write all this to criticize those who make other choices; it is just that I feel strongly that institutionalized settings harm children, and to not speak up because I fear hurting people’s feelings seems cowardly.

Here in Canada, the Liberal party keeps pulling out the “universal child care” option as a platform in their elections, claiming that they speak for children by wanting to increase the number of day care centres. They do not speak for children. They speak for a worldview, an ideology that they want to promote, that is essentially “anti-family values”. If they cared about kids, they would instead support tax breaks for families so it would be easier for one parent to stay at home.

Often day care is sold as being “for the kids”, a fun place where they can be stimulated and made “kindergarten-ready”. It isn’t for the kids. And as Christians, we need to stand up and support policies that would make it easier for parents to stay home, make it more likely that marriages stay together, and less likely that single parents would be forced into this in the first place. Instead of government doing anything, let’s demand a smaller government that lets us do the things that are important.

I hope that clears up my views. I also don’t want the comments to become a “fighting arena”, where we label people as bad or unChristian. I think it’s fine to express an opinion, but please acknowledge that others have the right to theirs. I’ve now expressed mine; if you disagree, feel free to explain why, and I will not assume bad motives on your part. I just ask that others who want to comment do the same thing: don’t assume bad motives on anyone’s part, and don’t malign anybody’s faith (or lack of faith!). Let’s just talk about this like friends!

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How to Make Money as a SAHM

A while back we had a long conversation on this blog about the cost of working. If you’ve got little kids, we asked, and you have to pay for childcare, then does working outside the home even contribute to your income in a substantial way?

For instance, one of the things that stay at home moms can do is to figure out how to live on less. We do have more time to do things like cook from scratch, make our own gifts, spend more time shopping for bargains, etc. We can only have one car, even though that may mean chauffeuring hubby to work so we can keep it for the day. I also find that when I’m tremendously busy, either because of speaking or because of events with the kids, it’s harder to make dinner. That’s when we go out or eat prepared foods, which adds to the budget. I know if I were working full-time I’d do the take-out thing more often, and so that would become more expensive.

Therefore, I’m not sure it always pays to work, depending on your potential income. But what do you do when you just really need money? I want to throw this question out there, because several of my long-term readers really need answers, and I thought together we could come up with something.

So here’s the scenario. You aren’t highly educated, and the maximum you could probably make would be $15/hour, and that’s if you hit the jackpot. But you really need to bring home about $1500 a month just to make ends meet. So what do you do? Here are some choices that I see:

1. Work part-time. It sounds silly, but part-time work may be able to bring in more money. When you’re not paying for childcare because your husband has the kids, and when you can still live on one vehicle, part-time work may actually leave more money in the wallet. Work two nights a week and Saturdays. Be a waitress, or work at a call centre or something. The disadvantage: you never see your husband. You don’t really have family time. So I’m not a big fan of this one.

2. Sell Mary Kay/Tupperware. I’m not an overly big fan of this one, either. I’ve gone down that route briefly, and gone to all the sales conferences, and gotten all pumped up to sell stuff, and become a leader, and have people work under me, but it just doesn’t work that well. You can work so hard at it for a few years and still have little to show for it. It works great for some–but for the majority it doesn’t. And you spend your life out at nights and trying to convince women who don’t really want to go to parties to go to just one more. Let me know if you think differently, but I know one of the women who needs money advice has already tried this and won’t do it again.

3. Become a foster parent. Don’t balk at this one right away. I’m not saying we should do it for the money. I don’t know what all jurisdictions pay, but in mine, if you take in two kids you make up that monetary gap we were talking about. It’s a lot of work. It’s a big sacrifice. You have to define your boundaries. But if you are willing, it has a lot of upsides. You’re really making a difference. You’re living out your values. You are still able to stay home and be with your own kids, and if they’re in school, you’re able to get them on and off of the bus or be there for their field trips and sports games. You have to be careful who you take, but this can be an option for some, and given how desperate they are for good foster parents, perhaps it’s one more of us should consider (even forgetting about the money!). Any foster parents out there? I’d love for you to comment on this option!

4. Help your husband to make more money. After all, you need more income. It doesn’t really matter who gets it. So how can we help our husbands boost their incomes? Can we help them start a business? Can we help them with that business by doing some of the work at home? Can we support them going back to school for a time to get more training? Any thoughts on this one?

5. Save more money. The other way to make money, of course, is simply not to spend it. If you’ve got a major shortfall, look at what you can change in how you spend money to perhaps make some of that up. That’s not always possible; I know a lot of people are already living pretty close to the bone. It’s just a thought.

6. Start your own business. Lots of people are doing it. Sell on e-bay. Turn a hobby into a business. Especially at Christmas it’s easier to make some money. Any concrete suggestions here?

So what do you all think? What’s the best way to boost income when you want to continue to stay at home with your kids? And if someone absolutely had to get a job, any suggestions on what kind of job to get?

By the way: an anonymous commenter took offense at my post a few days ago, saying that I was denigrating working moms in my “stay at home mom” rant. I addressed that in the comments, but in case she doesn’t read them, let me just say again: I didn’t mean the post against working moms. I had no idea it would be taken that way. I meant it against PEOPLE in general. In fact, the specific individuals I was thinking of aren’t moms at all. Several are male. So I’m sorry if you were offended, but I really think it was just a misunderstanding.

Stay at Home Moms are Busy, Too

Stay at Home Mom RantI’m a homeschooler, so I guess I can’t be classified as a typical “stay at home” mom. But there are some similarities. And this week I am very burnt out. Extremely burnt out. I’m tired. And so I would like to give an ear shattering stay at home mom rant, if I may. Please understand this is mostly tongue and cheek, but I have to get it out of my system.

We SAHMs stay at home because we love our kids.

We have a vision for our family that includes us being there to raise our children. We see this as a calling, not a vacation.

Therefore, stay at home moms don’t just sit around all day, doing nothing.

We play with our kids. We take them to the library. We read books. We do laundry, wash dishes, mop floors, and vacuum carpets. We go grocery shopping with three kids in tow–and research how to cut our grocery bill. We go to the bank with our purse filled with books so we can keep the kids occupied in line. We learn how to cook everything from scratch. We are busy.

Just because we’re home doesn’t mean that we are always free.

Those of us who homeschool also have schedules. We have things we have to get done. You can’t just call at any hour of the day and ask us to do you a favour (unless you’re my best friend Susan. This isn’t written against you, Susan :) ). You can’t just assume I can do something for you in the middle of the week since I “don’t have a job”. Do you know how challenging it is to teach a child to write an essay? We take this seriously, and we do want to get through our teaching goals.

No, I can’t always talk on the phone for hours on end. No, I’m not a bad friend if I have to say, “I have to go now”, because I do have to go now. I am home for my kids, not so I can talk for hours on end with my friends. I love you, but you have to think of me as being at work. I’m not just automatically available.

I do want to help at the church. I do want to help with community projects. I do care. But I do not have unlimited time. I’m really not that much different from some of the other women in your church who do work. I just work differently, and I happen to work at home. But what I do is important, and I have to get it done.

I am not boring because I don’t work. In fact, I probably know more about current events and social issues than you do because I spend a lot of my time researching things for school and keeping current on the internet. I am not a social recluse because I have a big network of friends I get together with who help me teach my children different things. But these things, too, are scheduled, and it seems as if those who are also stay at home moms and those who are also homeschoolers are much more cognizant of the fact that my time is precious than those who are not.

When I say I can’t do something, it is not because I am lazy or selfish. It is because I know what my calling from God is–to raise these kids properly, and to reach out where God has given me opportunities–and what you’re asking me to do right now doesn’t fit with that. I need to keep my eyes on the prize.

I know you’re in a bind. I know you work and you need my help.

But just because I’m at home does not mean that my time is always free so that I can be at others’ beck and call.

I do have things I need to accomplish, too. Respect that, and it will be much easier for me to respect your requests. Understand that I have a to-do list a mile long, as well. Do that, and all of us, working moms and stay at home moms, friends of all types, church acquaintances and pastors, neighbours and friends, will get along so much better.

Mothering Monday: You Just Have to Be There

'mommy and baby' photo (c) 1980, Natalie  Lucier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I spent today reminding myself why applying sunscreen is a good idea.

At least, I didn’t actually realize it until dinner time. All day, while I was outside with my kids at a track and field meet, it didn’t actually occur to me to reapply it, or to remember to do the front of my neck. I did the back of my neck. I did my arms. But not the front of my neck. Or my nose. So I look like Rudolph wearing a red bib.

My youngest daughter’s neck is also really burned. And so are her arms, and she did reapply the sunscreen. But she did so without supervision, and you should never trust children.

Other than that, though, the meet was a great success. The girls won quite a few ribbons, and we had a rip-roaring good time. They fought through hurt ankles and tiredness and feel really good about themselves and their efforts, and that’s what counts.

What occurred to me at the end of the day, though, was how many parents weren’t there. All of us homeschooling parents were, but a lot of the kids in school were there without parents. Whenever my kids do anything, even if it’s minor, I’m there. My husband tries to be there. He’ll sneak out between patients to catch them in a piano competition. My mother schedules her clients around seeing the kids.

And since the kids are involved in a drama, and music, and track, and sports, it is busy. But I’ve always been there. I have pictures, and memories, and the girls know I was involved.

These moments add up. It’s not just that you miss you child winning a ribbon. I had to have a big pep talk to Rebecca today before the 800 m race (that’s maybe half a mile, I think). She didn’t want to do it. She was afraid she’d be tired, that she wouldn’t win, that she’d get out of breath. I tried everything to no avail. And then finally I said, “you’ll be mad at yourself tonight if you don’t try.” And she gave me that look that said, “I know”, and she dragged herself to the starting line.

She placed 4th, and I was very proud of her. And she’s proud of herself.

But if I hadn’t have been there, she wouldn’t have run it.

And that’s not all that happened. Katie met up with a friend she hasn’t seen in a while, and I had a chance to reconnect with the mom. Now we might get the girls to play this summer. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t have been there, either.

I know what is going on in my kids’ lives because I am there. I know what scares them. I know when they want to back out. I know when it’s okay to let them (I let Katie back out of the 400 m today for some very good reasons, and it worked out all right), and I know when to push them. And it’s because I’ve been there.

Some moms work, and there’s no way around it. You need the money. But other people are just too busy, and figure their kids don’t really need them there. But your kids need to know they’re important, and that’s why you have to put in the time. You have to be their cheering section. Quality time is no substitute for quantity time. And that’s a fact. It’s not politically correct to say it, but it’s true. Your kids need you. So be there!

You can read more Mothering Monday posts at Bow of Bronze.

If you want to figure out if you can survive on one income, listen to my talk, Making Decisions Between Work and Family!