We were munching on chips dipped in salsa and sipping on sodas, but our conversation had taken a more serious turn. Sadness and confusion made her beautiful brown eyes look even darker.
Her third child had reached kindergarten age and my sweet young friend now faced the same dilemma I encountered about 15 years ago.
Do I return to the work force now? Full force? Is my job at home done?
I posted Wednesday a little about my choice to stay home as a full time mom and homemaker for the duration of the time my children were under my roof. But that post wasn't really about that choice; it was simply about staying the course on whatever path God has called you to.
But today I'm stepping out on a little bit of a limb and sharing with you why I chose to continue being home even after both of my kids had started school. Still I'm not stepping up onto a soapbox. It's not my intention to load guilt or stress onto any sweet mama's shoulders.
If, however, like my sweet young friend, you're wrestling with what comes next after dropping your last child off at kindergarten, I would like permission to gently bend your ear. I simply want to weigh in on your own contemplations. I don't want to "start something." OK? No mommy wars, no condemnation, no comparisons. But if you're already feeling a gentle tug toward remaining home after your children have gone off to school, I want to share with you the very things I shared with my friend over chips and salsa.
Because everyone else will tell you why you certainly need to go to work, I want to tell you why you should consider staying home.
Your Job is Far from Over
Just yesterday I drove by a billboard that touted that the first five years of a child's life are the most important developmentally. The sign had a picture of a physician on it, so I'm assuming this is some sort of medically proven fact.
But my experience is that there is still significant development left to take place after year five. I'm all for encouraging moms to stay home at least during the first five years of a child's life, but I think many parents miss the point when they assume that most of the job is done by this stage.
After age five your children are still learning how to take instruction, how to treat other people with respect, how to yield to authority, how to manage their time wisely, how to handle finances, how to eat and exercise in a healthy way, and so much more.
Sure you can continue to teach your child these developmental lessons even if you return to work outside of the home, but you'll find your focus and time limits you.
Your Focus Still Needs to be on Your Children
Whether they work outside the home or not, parents need to continue to pour everything they've got into training up their children in the way they should go. This doesn't become a part time role just because the kids are now at school a portion of the day. The job is no smaller, but the time and energy and focus allotted to it often are. I think that's a problem of which we're reaping the results in this country.
My mom was a school teacher when I was growing up. And she and my dad gave their all to parenting my brother and me. I do remember her lying on the couch to rest a little most afternoons, but my mom managed to stay focused and energetic enough to engage with us in the evenings and weekends. Truthfully, I barely knew she worked.
That's why I do agree that some careers are better suited to raising children than others. And only you can know if you truly have enough left over after working all day to engage with your children sufficiently in the evenings and on the weekends. But I encourage you to think about this balance carefully.
Parenting Becomes More About Your Child's Timetable
When your children are little, you get to dictate when and where and how you will engage with them. But as they head toward the teen years, their body clocks demand a different setup. Teenagers tend to be hard to crack in the mornings and more eager to talk and engage in the early afternoons. That's not just my experience; many parents and even scientific studies have noted this inner clock phenomenon.
I found that when my children first got home from school they were more likely to open up about what happened to them that day than they were later in the afternoon or evening. I was thankful that I was there to take advantage of that window of opportunity. And you'll find with teenagers that there is no prying the closed window open. Once they've retreated to their rooms, their laptops or their game systems, it's difficult to get them to engage in authentic conversation. Sure, you can make them sit at the dinner table with you or go for a walk (and I encourage you to do just that), but you'll be more successful having real and honest conversation if you engage on their timetable.
There's More for You to Do
I'm so thankful I was available to go on field trips, take cookies to an after school rehearsal, volunteer at the school and participate in my church's week day ministries. Sure, those aren't necessities, but aren't you thankful that at least some moms are available for school parties and chaperoning opportunities? You can be that mom. And that's no small role. It's important.
Plus, this is a great season in life for you to invest in a weekday morning Bible study, participate in a Christian exercise group, volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center, spend a little more one-on-one time with the Lord in the mornings, or serve as a mentor mom for that MOPS group you just outgrew. Those investments are not frivolous. Read that out loud this time. Those spiritual investments are NOT frivolous. They are the good part.
But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Mary had chosen to spend time at the Lord's feet, listening to Him, focusing on Him. This is no small priority. This is a choice that bears fruit in your own life and in your family. Don't let our culture demean your choice to invest your time and energy in spiritual matters. You are not wasting your time by attending Bible study group or serving at your church. You are investing in eternal things. Do you believe that?
I know not every mom can afford to stay home at all, much less all the way through their child's education. But I do encourage moms who are facing this decision to carefully count the costs and the benefits. Don't simply assume that this is a no brainer. Don't just get on board with the culture and follow the same route as the majority.
Look, even my husband grappled with this issue. Quite honestly, I think he would have liked for me to get a job some days. And I did work as a substitute teacher for a period and eventually began freelancing as a writer and speaker. But I knew in my heart of hearts that I needed to continue to focus on parenting my children. And I'm so thankful I did. My husband is grateful I did, too.
Do you have anything to add to my thoughts? I'd love to hear from you. And while I want to reiterate that I don't want this to be an argument or debate, I'm open to hearing any opposing views as well. Let's just keep it encouraging and friendly, though. Right?
Labels: Navigating Motherhood, parenting, priorities