The working mama that had it all...wrong.
She was “successful” by the world’s terms. She had a handy, handsome, outdoor-loving husband and a curly-haired, witty, little girl, and posted on social media frequently with clever captions and cute pictures of her “perfect life.” She “had it all” or so people thought, so she herself thought. She was in the top ranks within her company, leading others, earning more than she ever imagined possible with only a four year bachelors in PR pedigree. She never imagined herself staying at home with her kids and even passed judgement on those who did saying things like, “I can’t believe she wasted her education.”
I was her. The problem is, I had it all, alright. I had it all wrong. I don’t feel like I even know that version of myself anymore. And I’m so happy I don’t. I sit here with tears in my eyes after reading a devotional about a 90-year-old grandmother. Her three young great grand kids were playing at her feet in the assisted living home. She said to the mama, “How busy things must be at your house these days. Why, I’d give anything to be able to spend an ordinary day with my children all little again. What joy!” After reading that, the thoughts, tears and words started pouring out.
Thankful, humbled, joyful, undeserving. Those are the main emotions I’m feeling right now as I sit at the kitchen table. Our oldest (3.5) and I were watching Sleeping Beauty when I decided to slip away for my quiet time before our baby twins (14 months) woke up from their morning naps. I’m so thankful that I’m here with them. Thankful for my husband’s good job that allows me to stay at home with them. I also feel a sense of urgency, an urgency to get this message out to other mamas, mamas I don’t even know, out of love for you and your sweet families. I want other families to experience the simple joys in life of being together, focusing on one other - really focusing. And not just being together but pointing your babies to Jesus. Pouring your life, love, time into each other.
I don’t have it all down. I’m not perfect. There are many times I act in ways that are selfish, jealous, and I still struggle with prioritizing the way I should. I’m not writing this to boast in my situation. I’m here to boast in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. I know that he saved me from a life focused on all the wrong things- status, money, materialism, selfishness, approval of others. Satan was trying to make me think what I was doing was important and that I (mistakenly) had it all together. He was trying to make me think I was providing for my family. “Just keep working, keep earning for them,” I told myself. I convinced myself that the kids won’t remember the time I would spend with them at home, so I justified working and trusting others to raise them. But, you see, they do remember. My sister (a stay at home mama of three) also shared with me some key findings from Harvard's Preschool Project she read about in James Dobson's Strong Willed Child. 1) A child's experiences during the ages of 8-18 months do more to influence future intellectual competence than any time before or after and 2) The single most important environmental factor in the life of the child is the mother. Whoa - no pressure, mamas. You see, they may not be able to recount the specific times you made them cookies, read them Bible stories or took them to the park, but subconsciously they do remember and so will you.
God, husband, children, work. That was supposed to be the order of my priorities. Actions speak louder than words and they always say that to really tell a person's’ priorities look at their checkbook and how they account for their time. My normal week looked about like this:
Total 168 hours in a week
- 10 hours commuting (including daycare drop off/pick up)
- 55 hours at work
- 4 hours working out
- 3 hours - church/small group/quiet time
= 40 hours left for the rest of the stuff: Cooking dinner, laundry, grocery shopping, time getting ready, socializing (in person or on my phone)
In a typical day I probably only had about one hour of quality time with my daughter and one hour with my husband. So, my priorities looked a little more like this if you look at how I spent my time:
Work/Self, child, husband, God (in a box, opened when convenient).
I may have been succeeding at work, but others were taking care of and teaching my child, my marriage wasn’t where it should be (because I was never home) and though I had been saved and born again, I had no fear of God. I had my quiet time but I didn’t appreciate his grace and mercy. I didn’t really know Him and appreciate what he did for me and continues to do each day. I didn’t live like I should live - on my knees thankful for his saving grace of the sinner that I am.
Then I got pregnant with twins and you’d think that would have made me wake up and slow down! Nope. I barreled through, planning to continue working and get a nanny. Then bedrest and complications. Only then did I finally stop and “Be still.”
God was calling us to a different plan. He knew I needed to get away from work to really understand that so many other things were more important. Way more important.
So we walked away. golden handcuffs broken. Hand in hand, scared but confident that we would figure this out - with each other and our Heavenly father. After the babies were born, I quit my job and we moved back home to be close to family. But the main move was away from the things we thought were so important and closer to God and each other.
It doesn’t all add up. Oh, but it does.
I don’t say this to brag, but to empower others. When I started staying at home, our income was about one third what it once was. If we can do it, you can too. My husband has an amazing, flexible job and his company takes care of him financially in addition to contributing to his retirement. With that in addition to my commission based salary and bonuses, we were comfortable, but stretched at the same time. The saying, “You spend what you have” is true most of the time. So, we had to scale back. We don’t go out to eat at the trendy, foodie-loving restaurants, we cook at home. (Plus, those places don't really exist in Twin City) I don’t go to Starbucks, I buy Folgers - mainly because our local grocery store doesn’t even have whole beans! I don’t shop at JCrew and Banana, I hit up the Gap and Old Navy outlets (much less frequently). We live in a small house - just enough to meet our family’s needs. We put off the big home improvement projects. None of it really seems like a sacrifice now. I don’t miss those things I once thought was normal, things I once thought I deserved and took for granted. After all when you weigh it out, would you rather have a nice, fancy new kitchen and the newest SUV? Or the memories of crayon marks on your old kitchen cabinets and playing dress up with the confidence of knowing that you are doing everything you can to be a good wife and raise and teach your children?
Quit. Just quit.
So, to the mama I once was - I feel like I owe you this message. Not out of jealousy or criticism or judgement, but out of love. I'm not going to apologize if I offend you or make you uncomfortable. I want you to think long and hard about what you are doing. What is your motivation? Nothing else matters if you are not being the child of God, wife to your husband and mama to your babies. NOTHING ELSE. They need your time, your love, your focus.
I wish that I had figured this out from day one. Looking back on it, I heard people say, “They are only little once.” I think they wanted to tell me so much more. They wanted to grab me by the face, look me dead in the eyes and say, you’ve got it all wrong!!! You will regret this. I’m stubborn and they knew I needed to figure this out on my own.
And maybe you do too, but I want to do my part in telling you what I wish I could have told myself years ago. You’ve got it all wrong. Put down “Lean In.” Shred it for that matter. Pick up the Word and seek God as you focus on being the wife and mother God wants you to be. He tells us in Proverbs 14:1 that “The wisest of women builds her house.”
Here I am, grabbing you by the shoulders and saying...ENOUGH! Quit. Quit your job. Quit working too much. Quit focusing on success by the world’s standards. Quit not putting your husband first. Quit putting off your kids for self-focused activities. Quit faking it. Quit scrolling social media. Quit getting on your phone in the first place. Quit making excuses. Quit doing everything that doesn’t help you accomplish those first three priorities of God, husband and children.
I love you and I want you to feel what I feel when I’m at home in my pajamas making my husband a hot breakfast (eh, most days) before he leaves for the day, painting with Audrey and having a dance party with popcorn and chocolate, looking forward to walking into the twins room when they wake up to see them smiling and laughing at each other. I can’t even accurately describe how wonderful it is. I often think that if I were working outside of the home, how many precious, beautiful, simple, sweet moments I would miss.
Word to your Mutha
I know there are mama’s out there who would love to be home but can’t - maybe you’re a single mom doing the absolute best you can. I’m praying for you. Maybe due to financial reasons, you have to work right now, and I pray for you as well. You are doing a wonderful job and I admire you so much. Ask for help. Ask for other mamas to help keep your kids.
To the mamas who are already home and have made the decision to focus on your family. High five. I know there can be days where you are tempted to be frustrated. Your husband may not show you the appreciation you think he should, your kids are pulling at you from all directions and you just want to sit down with a moment to yourself. God appreciates you and all that you are doing. On those days, be thankful. Thankful for the messes, the laundry, the bumped heads and bruises and endless requests for band-aids. (Hey, at least y’all were doing something fun when they fell out of the wagon or swing and you weren’t inside on your phone!).
To the yet-to-be mama - plan ahead. Don’t overextend yourself with huge house and mortgage, don’t pursue a job knowing that there won’t be a good way for you to cut back hours or quit all together when babies come, don’t become obsessed with material things once you start making the money to buy them. Focus on growing spiritually with your husband before babies come.
Listen, I know it's not realistic to expect that every mama will be able to or choose to stay at home for an indefinite amount of time with her kids. So to the working mama who is confident you are where God wants you to be - embrace it, don't feel guilty and keep doing the best you can. I have dear friends who choose to work and I love them and admire them. Plus, they are way better at prioritizing than me!
Now, for the mama who’s feeling a little convicted right now. Uncomfortable. I want you to squirm. That means that maybe you needed to hear this message. I’m just like you. I struggled with the same things. It took an extreme, life-changing experience for me to finally hear God, but that doesn't have to be the case for you. I just pray that you will take the initiative to do what is needed to make changes in your life for your family. That may be quitting work all together (at least while they are little), that may be scaling back to part-time, that may be talking to your boss to work out a schedule that meets your families’ needs first. You may not know the answer, but God does. Your family needs you. God loves you and needs you too. When we’re 90 with our great grand babies pitter-pattering at our feet, I want us to have no regrets about how we spent our time with them when they were little. After all, they are only little once. So let’s act like it.