When I left my teaching career to become a stay-at-home mom, I thought that I would stay at home for a short time and then jump back into working outside the home. I planned to find a part-time teaching or editing job and pursue the new direction in music God had called me to follow, but I never imagined that the new direction would include stepping away from work outside the home for eight years — and counting.
This was just one of many surprises I encountered when I left my full-time career. The other major surprise I didn’t expect was how difficult it was for me to embrace my new role. Whereas I felt a sense of purpose when I showed up for work each day to teach and help mold the lives of students, I struggled to find my purpose in the monotony and grind of housework and care of my small children. I began to dread the “So, what do you do?” question at get-togethers and wished I still had a badge and professional accomplishments to show others.
Sacrifices in My Role as Stay-at-Home Mom
I fought hard to keep the old me intact, but I felt her slipping away with each day. A few months after I left, I remember the day I stood in my bathroom and tried in vain to get through my normal pre-stay-at-home-mom morning routine of shower, hair, makeup, and outfit selection.
What had been so effortless when I was working and had only one, as my husband took my daughter to daycare in the morning to leave me an hour to get ready, now loomed in front of me like an impossible Mt. Everest. My 2-year-old hopped around my feet asking me to play with her. My newborn fussed in his bouncer and wanted to be picked up. As the weeks before had taught me, inevitably, if and when I could get through the shower, hair-straightening, and mascara application, my then infant son would spit up on the fresh shirt I had selected or pull out my earrings or try to eat my hair.
Suddenly, on this particular day, I realized that I could no longer keep up with my normal routine. I was going to have to adopt a new one. While I once looked down on frumpy moms at Target who wore rumpled sweats and oversized shirts, I now understood that these women hadn’t necessarily just “let themselves go” because they didn’t care or try. They didn’t have a second in their day where a baby didn’t need to be fed or a diaper changed or a meal prepared or a load of laundry put in the washer or a mess cleaned off the floor.
T-shirts and sweats didn’t seem like such a bad “work uniform” — and I followed suit. No, I didn’t just “let myself go” and give up on myself. But I stopped fighting so hard to get dolled up and set a different standard for myself: Sweats and T-shirts for the morning when I was at home with my two little ones. A shower and makeup in the afternoon during the kids’ naptime. And, if I chose an outfit for the evening, I picked extremely casual and hardy clothes. I reserved my “real clothes” for days when I left to go somewhere like church or the grocery store. I may have taken my new approach a little too far because my daughter, after she started kindergarten, did ask me in pleading tones if I could please wear “real clothes” (a.k.a., not my husband’s sweats) to the bus stop.
Letting go of my “real clothes” and morning routine weren’t the only concessions I made after becoming a stay-at-home mom. My husband’s modest teacher salary meant I had to make adjustments to my spending habits. I let go of the expensive hair salon haircuts and colorings and opted for $15 haircuts at Great Clips and do-it-yourself-color-out-of-a-box from Wal-mart. My twice-a-month pedicures dropped down to once a month (or not at all if money was tight in a month) and my clothes budget disappeared completely. I bought clothes in spurts when I literally had run out of all options and kept my clothes looking presentable by choosing, as I mentioned, not to wear any of my nice ones at home. I also became familiar with consignment sales to keep my kids clothed and made other adjustments that included shopping at a discount grocery store and eating out only occasionally, rather than weekly.
Though each of these sacrifices hurt, what hurt the most was the feeling that maybe all of the sacrifices I had made in leaving my job and adopting a more frugal lifestyle were for nothing — and what I did on a daily basis had no value. Though I knew in my head the importance of looking after the house and molding and training my children, I felt in darker moments that my stay-at-home-mom role took me away from other important things.
Do Stay-at-Home Moms Get to Have a Life?
Right now, in my current season, my older two kids are now school-age, and I have just one home with me (and she is nearing three). And yet, even though my older kids can help quite a bit now and I can take a shower in the morning if I need to, I am practically a single mom as my coach-husband is smack in the middle of lacrosse season and is also completing another degree. His nights and weekends are filled with practices, games, and schoolwork. Though we have an end in sight as lacrosse season is almost over and he will complete this degree in just a few months, each day, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I face what sometimes feels like a suffocating day a day of toddler tantrums, housework, and sibling conflict management (with my older two). Recently, after a particularly trying day of children’s antics and late work nights for my husband, I texted him these dramatic words: I feel like I am in prison.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely adore my children. Even when I say I want a minute to myself, when I do get that wish and get a few moments alone in the house, I miss my kids and can’t wait for them to get back. But sometimes all of their needs and wants and demands are so overwhelming that I feel locked in a “prison” where I exist to serve everyone else, and I have all but disappeared. As much as I understand the importance of supporting my husband and raising my children to pursue their God-given callings, I sometimes think, “But what about me? Because I am a mom, does that mean I no longer get to have a life at all?”
The Role of a Godly Wife and Mom
The Bible provides some perspective on the role of a godly wife and mom and helps me to reign in my runaway thoughts, saying in Titus 2 that women are to “love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2: 4, 5) Elsewhere, we are told that a wife of noble character (other translations say “diligent” or “capable”) is of more value than rubies (Proverbs 31:10) and her works will “bring her praise” at the city gate (Proverbs 31:31). You know what those verses tell me? Being a mom, whether a stay-at-home one or not, does require sacrifice and hard work, but that work is that which is important and worthy, no matter how pointless or unimportant it feels at times.
Not every mom is called to stay home with her kids. Elsewhere in Scripture, we see a depiction of women who engage in business and other roles, so the Bible does not say that every woman has to be a stay-at-home mom. I know many moms who balance work outside the home and the demands of a family on top of that — and do it well. In addition, not every woman is called to marriage or child-bearing. The calling of the Lord to a woman is highly individual and we see a variance of roles among the women in Scripture. However, for those of us called to marriage and motherhood, Titus 2 is clear on the point that when we commit themselves to being capable and diligent wives, mothers, and home-keepers, we send a clear picture to the world of the Gospel lived out.
We give others a picture of what it means to be a Christian not just when we witness or serve at church or give money to those in need, although we need to all of those things. We also live out our Christian walk when we provide an inviting environment for our families to live in; when we serve our children and husband by washing clothes, making meals, and helping with homework; and we teach our children the principles of the Gospel.
In those times, then, when I am tempted to de-value what I do as a stay-at-home mom, I can look at these passages and see that loving my husband and children and committing myself to the care of my home — that is part of my high and holy calling at the moment. It doesn’t mean I can’t do anything else. As women, God calls us to serve in other capacities beyond that of mother and wife. However, if we are in a season where God has called us to stay at home with our children and this role is consuming much of our time and energy, we can take pride in our work and submit ourselves to the season God has us in.
Measuring My Value as a Stay-at-Home Mom
As a stay-at-home mom, I’ve had to make sacrifices. But perhaps what I have given up needed to go because the things that made me feel worthy and important weren’t necessarily things that one needs to be important or worthy at all.
In John 8, Jesus is challenged by Pharisees who attack his credibility and testimony. Jesus has an interesting take on their comments, saying, among other things, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me” (John 8:15, 16). Essentially, Jesus shakes off their comments and dismisses them because the measurement tool by which they measure him is faulty. They judge him using human perceptions and reason without trying to understand His statements or His identity as the Messiah.
While Jesus wasn’t distracted from His mission by these comments because He always used an accurate ruler by which to assess His own actions, I am susceptible to judging myself unfairly. Often, in moments when I feel the worst about my status as a stay-at-home mom, I feel the way I do because I am measuring myself by my own expectations or goals, others’ comments or achievements in comparison to mine, or the culture’s standards. The Word says we are to “renew” our minds (Romans 12:2). I can switch out that faulty ruler I am using to measure myself and instead evaluate myself by the truth of God’s Word.
At some point, I may go back to working outside the home, but for now, I am in a season where I know that where I am is where I need to be. When I get restless or feel imprisoned, I can remember the awesome role I have been entrusted with by God. Instead of asking “When can I get back to working outside the home, Lord?” I can say, “Am I being kind, loving to my children, chaste, submissive? Am I exhibiting the Gospel?”
And this place that sometimes feels a little restrictive can be the place I display the traits Christ is working out in me …
This is the beginning of a brand new series entitled “Motherhood: The Joys, Challenges, and Trials.” It will include a few more posts this month on topics related to motherhood and helping you to navigate the challenging moments, as well as embrace your role as a mom more fully. Check out the next few weeks on the blog for related posts.
Podcast Notes and Corrections:
The podcast episode is meant to encourage those in the role of mother. The Bible does call some women to remain unmarried or not bear children. Each woman should seek out God’s will for her own life and search the Scriptures in her own journey to understand God’s will for her life.
*Updated April 16, 2019.