Many women who decide to leave the workforce and become a stay at home mom struggle with their sense of dignity. Society affirms women who work outside the home, but not those dear souls who want to make a home, who have a desire to nurture their children “full-time.” In so many countries a woman’s worth is established by the marketplace, not by her intrinsic value as a human being, as a woman or as a mother. My heart is often broken by the stories I hear from women who go unrecognized or who are stigmatized because they are female, or because they chose to have children and focus on the maternal.
Recently I received an email from a woman—I shall call her Grace—who heard me speak earlier this year in Singapore. Grace wrote to share how much she is struggling because when she gave birth to her first child she left the marketplace to be a stay at home mom. Her letter was so typical of stories other women have shared that it seemed appropriate to share our correspondence.
So here is Grace’s initial email and my response (slighted edited for publication as a blog post). I hope other young mothers find it helpful. If you do, please write to me. And pass this blog post on to your friends.
This is a long overdue email to you.
I am one of the attendees of the Kingdom Worldview Conference held earlier this year in Singapore. I am writing to you because I felt frustrated in trying to understand and apply what I heard at the conference, and I hope you would be able to help me clarify or correct some of the wrong concepts I have in mind.
A little background of me. Prior to becoming a full-time mum, I was a high flyer, doing very well in my career. I was also active in ministry – I was a youth leader, I worked with the poor and the LGBTs. I do not deem any of these as worthy things to mention, except to really give you a background of myself.
So, it’s been almost 4 years since I birthed my son and became a stay at home mum. I gave up my job and stopped serving in ministries to focus on my son. I’m also homeschooling him because I see this as a calling of a mum – that we are to be responsible for our kids before God, even for their education. I take pride in raising my son and I understood that raising the next generation is a ministry – in fact, it could be one of the most important things a woman could do. Nevertheless, I still struggle with the day-to-day. I wonder what value am I creating in between diaper changes, laundry and cooking. I wonder if the work I am doing is indeed valuable to the Kingdom. I have stopped attending conferences (yours was the first in 4 years) simply because I find it a waste of time to be there – I couldn’t listen to anything and I have to manage my son. The Church always exhorts the congregation to be engaged in culture, to fight for our morality, to be relevant, to serve the poor and needy, to help out in this or that, but nobody said anything about the job of a mother. I feel the work is all about being out there.
So Darrow, could you please advise, is motherhood valuable? Am I truly contributing to the Kingdom even when I’m only just changing diapers, or mopping the floors and doing nothing else that’s “worthy” and “tangible”?
Frustrated and slightly depressed mum,
Good to hear from you. Glad you are being a mother.
Grace, you have made some hard but good choices. This is wonderful! I am sorry that you are still struggling.
You have obviously made choices based on what you “know” is important, but this may not be in line with what you “feel” is important.
One of the reasons women struggle at being stay at home mothers is that the modern world sees very little value in motherhood. This standard is so strong that most women measure their worth against this standard. Even Christian women measure their worth against the standard of “the marketplace.” When you consciously or subconsciously accept this standard, being a mother seems second class and often, unfulfilling.
If motherhood were valued based on our design, the tables would be turned. God places absolute significance on the maternal for the health and future of families and nations. In the past, many women longed to be full-time mothers, wanted desperately to be at home with their children, but they were stuck in factories or offices. Now that success is measured by a paycheck, being a mother and a maker of a home have no worth.
Here is a short piece I have written on this subject.
Grace, the ministries you mentioned—serving youth, the poor, the LGBT community—are very good things. The problem is we so often make the good the enemy of the best. Just because leading youth or serving needy people are good things doesn’t mean they are the best things for a mother to do. When we fail to make that distinction, we shortchange stay at home moms.
I am confronted with this all the time as I travel. I meet with millennials in many developing countries. They describe themselves as the fatherless generation. These are kids from middle class and upper middle class Christian families whose parents are still married. How can they call themselves “fatherless” or “motherless”? I have asked them this and they say because both my parents work and are active in the ministry of the church. They are never home. Here good things have gotten in the way of the best. Making a good income to have a nice house and being involved in church are good things. But what happens when the maternal and paternal are neglected?
If people gain their worth from the marketplace or from ministry, they ought to reconsider having children (but not without reviewing Genesis 1:28). This trend is actually growing globally. As upward mobility and material things have ever increasing value in our societies, people are delaying marriage or skipping it altogether. Many marry but don’t have children.
These choices are better than begetting, and then neglecting, children. To paraphrase Jesus’ disciples, “If this is the attitude of prospective parents, it is better not to have children” (see Matt. 19:10).
On the other hand, if marriage and family are important – indeed, the BEST – we need to commit time and energy to building a home, loving our spouse, and parenting our children.
Here are some suggestions for you.
- Networking: Find some other mums that have made the same choices you have, because of the values you have affirmed, and band together with them for fellowship, encouragement and problem solving. Or perhaps do the same with your husband and with other like-minded couples.
- Reading: Here are some books that can help you with the questions you have.
- If you have not yet read my book, Nurturing the Nations, I would encourage you to start there. I wrote it to encourage women in their maternal nature.
- Eve’s Revenge by Lillian Calles Barger is a very provocative book on the spirituality of the female body.
- Mary Pride wrote The Way Home. Mary Pride was one of the founders of the home-school movement. The subtitle of her book says it all: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality.
- Ann Crittenden, The Price of Motherhood. Crittenden is a prize-winning economic journalist who turned her back on her profession to be a mother. People began to treat her like dirt because she choose motherhood over a career. This made her angry so she wrote this fantastic book.
- Lydia Sigourney, Letters to Young Women. Sigourney lived 200 years ago when the maternal was queen. Her book is written in beautiful prose and lays out the important foundation for motherhood.
Grace, all these women helped shape my own book. They are all strong women who understand the importance of the uniqueness of the female body, of the maternal, and the incredible quality of a nurturing spirit that women have.
I have attached the slides that I use to answer the core of your question when I teach on Nurturing the Nations. I hope you find them helpful.
If you read Nurturing the Nations and find it helpful, you could begin leading a book study with other women (you could also do this with any of the other books that I have recommended). This would give you an opportunity to internalize the ideas.
I hope this brief letter is helpful. May the Lord bless you and your family because of your love of motherhood.
In His Service,