What does it mean to be “good” at something anyway? We want to be these “good” mothers and wives, yet what in the world are we intending? To win awards for best behaved child or happiest husband or most immaculate home? I’ll have anyone know that to call anything “good” is to look at the heart and not at external factors, yet in the professional world of outside-the-home work, to call something “good” means to call it “effective.” And, so, what makes a mom and wife “effective”? That question sounds so silly. The answer is obviously love. Yes and no, though. There is more to it. (Of course there is.)
Motherhood (or “good”/effective motherhood, that is) is about consistent, constant, tender love and care. Lofty, I’ll say, but important to keep in mind. The role of a “good” wife is a little trickier, but it still has everything to do with consistency, constancy, and the tenderness with which love and care are given. Our children and our husband have an emotional part in them that our homes do not have (well, our homes can have a “feeling tone,” which is related to whether it has a positive or negative “tone” to it and how it “feels” to those living in it – is it welcoming? Inviting? Warm? A place that makes you “feel good” and that makes you feel accepted?). To do our “jobs” well as the stay-at-home moms and wives that we are means that we will take into account the emotional element of the people we serve and that we will treat them well – with kindness, empathy, gentleness, and honesty.
So I just really want to get to the whole point of this. Want to know the profound turning point for me? The thing I realized that changed it all and that gave me the joy that I now have? (And it’s similar to what we all realize and feel no matter what we do in life – that we are exactly where we need to be in our lives and that we are doing what we were meant to do and that we are headed in the right direction, even despite disappointments and set-backs and obstacles and challenges – understanding, of course, that our challenges are simply the opportunities by which we grow our true, authentic selves and develop the character that makes our heart strong, vibrant, and resilient.)
It was when I realized that I wanted to do what I was doing. That it was something that I wanted for myself and my family. Even though I was wrestling with the regular feelings of insecurity, frustration, and unsettledness that we grown-ups often feel when we are doing some real growing up, I was able to see through it all and separate out from it the clear fact that I wanted to do this. Both that it was a true desire of my heart and that the desire was mine and no one else’s for me.
In other words, I hadn’t entered in to this arrangement against my will, nor did I feel that I was doing it only to please someone else or to earn their approval of me. I’m sure plenty of women do this because they are trying to make their husbands happy, their children happy, their parents happy, or their God happy. But for me, I did it and still do it because I knew that it would make my own self happy.
And here is where the issue of women staying home gets ripped open. What makes a women get to a place in her life where she feels happy – fulfilled, even – by giving up a career of her own for caring for her own children and by trading her independence and her professional identity and academic reputation (all of which contributes to the autonomy that we women have fought to have more of over ourselves, as history played out and is still playing out) for willful dependence on a man (who may or may not be kind and loving himself)? What makes a woman do that? Is she mentally and emotionally sick? Is it codependence learned in childhood? Is it fear, anxiety, a need to control? A desire to compete and be the “best” at the one thing that makes her a woman? Certainly, a combination of these and more factor into it at first. But those who make it through and become better, healthier people as a result of the staying-home journey are those who realize, at some point, that they really do – really and truly – want this for themselves, beyond wanting it for their children, husband, and family.
Those who martyr themselves will do it (and will continue to do it despite erroneously sacrificing their own self) do it only for their children, so that their children can have consistent interaction with their mother, among other reasons. Noble, isn’t it? Those women will have surely earned their ticket through the pearly gates if they exist (of course they do). But this does not produce joy – the kind of joy that is needed, nay, required for long-term enjoyment of this self-sacrificing role. If a woman can’t do it for herself, so that she can know that she’s doing what she is doing because it is what she wants to do (and, therefore, makes conscious and deliberate efforts to do it effectively), then she owes it to herself to find another way to invest her life.
As I’ve heard it put before, some moms who re-entered the workforce outside the home after spending a year or so with their child at home feel that having their own separate life and furthering their professional identity made them better moms because they were becoming better people through “having a job”/“being employed” (and that they got a break from their kids – because even with an outside job, you still have to come home to your kids at some point. You can never really escape it. Do you see how we women can feel “trapped” by performing our biological function of bearing children?).
That is it. Do what you’ve got to do to be a better person. If that is not happening through vocational motherhood as it has the potential to do, and if you get to a point where you no longer are willing to subject yourself to the discomforts and often distresses and anguish (dare I say suffering?) that accompany 24/7 stay-at-home motherhood, then yes. It is time to do something else during the eight hour work day. There are no bonus points for anyone (not even your children) if you stay home with your children but don’t really want to.