For the first two thirds of my life my thoughts towards stay-at-home moms were quite derogatory. I wrongfully assumed that women who stayed home with their children were lazy and unambitious, and in the rare case that those descriptions didn't apply, I assumed any family that intentionally lived on one income was wealthy. As you can imagine, I've since changed my tune.
I've always been an ambitious person. I'm competitive, I make goals, I dream about the future, and I have high standards for myself. This doesn't make me a good or bad person, it's just a quality I have that can lead down either avenue. Overly ambitious people can be greedy and selfish and lack care for others. The Bible has hard words for that type of person. People lacking ambition might be idle, irresponsible, and selfish in a different way. The Bible also has hard words for that type of person. And so, from the outset I want to be clear that ambition can be good and bad, and manifest itself in any person in many ways.
My error in judging stay-at-home moms (before I became one!) was that I separated mothers into two camps. Those with ambition and those without it. Ambitious mothers had children and careers. Unambitious mothers had children and didn't work outside the home.
Jen Hatmaker, whose blog I do not regularly read, but I stumbled upon her words and oh man did they resonate with my old thinking, says this:
"I remember crying a river when my mom went back to college when we were in elementary, middle, and high school because she was less available to cater to our every whim, but it very soon became a source of great pride for me, because I watched my mom do meaningful, hard work that mattered. She went for it, right in the middle of living life. As it turned out, I needed a mom who mothered, dreamed, worked, and achieved. We all did."
Her words magnify what was wrong with my simplistic thinking back then. She watched her mother work in the home for years and years, but only when she went back to school was she doing "meaningful, hard work that mattered". Those words and assumptions break my heart and make me sad and furious at the same time. In the end, her conclusion was mine: women who choose to stay home and have a larger role in the lives of their children and their home aren't doing meaningful work. They're unambitious and if they wanted to do significant work, they should get a career.
But here's the truth. One can have a successful career and children and a jam-packed schedule and still be unambitious. One can stay at home raising their children and keeping their home and be highly ambitious. And the inverse is also true for both.
For me, choosing to focus my energies at home stems from high ambition. I want to be the main influence in the lives of my children. I didn't study early childhood development, nor am I a "kid person" (whatever that means), but these are my children. I want to raise them. I want our family life to be central and foundational. I want our children to be best friends and around one another as much as possible. I'm convinced that most siblings that don't get along well never really had to. Separate rooms, separate hobbies, separate schools, separate lives. I want our home to be a place of peace, of shalom. To that end, we also intentionally limit our already-busy lives (more on that another day). And above all, I want the Christian faith to undergird everything we do - something markedly easier when I'm with my children the majority of the time.
If moral development in a child is set by age ten*, I want their best hours and the majority of their time to be with us in the early years. That's not to say that I'm against early childhood education outside the home! I'm not a homeschooler and our older two kids attend a Reggio Emilia preschool two and three days a week, respectively. I adore our kid's preschool, but they aren't learning obedience and moral development there, they're learning those things at home. I also love our church's budding children's ministry, but I'm under no illusions that Christian education is solely the responsibility of the church.
In every family this will work itself out differently, of course. For us, Brad works extremely long hours, six days a week. But he works from home, meaning there are many opportunities throughout the day for meaningful interaction. With the level of commitment his job requires, our family would be in chaos if I were to pursue a career as well. Further, we are strongly committed to secular public school. We want as much Christian influence as possible, knowing that for five hours a day our kids will be in a secular humanist institution with strong influence. If I can be there to send them off, to welcome them home for lunch each day, and to pick them up, all the better.
What Jen Hatmaker, 20-year-old me, and the majority of society is missing is this: if we place value (in this case, ambition) on a person based on one dimension of their life, (in this case, career), we're bound to miss the point. This isn't a post to perpetuate mommy wars, or proudly sport my SAHM badge. My hope in writing this is to squash the misconceptions of stay at home moms - ones I held for two decades.
I'm embarrassed and saddened at the disrespect I held for stay at home moms, some years ago. I'm annoyed by the assumption that families on one income must be extremely wealthy. We certainly aren't, and were much less financially stable when we originally went down to one income! I'm also frustrated by the notion (often in Christendom) that women who don't stay at home are wronging their families. In the end, it's a choice some families will make and some won't - and the reasons behind the choice are complex and numerous.
Me staying home allows for our goals to best be achieved, and so, we do it. It's not possible for every family, or even necessary. Each family is completely unique and I don't know what will work best for yours. But I know for us, it looks like this. I would never have imagined staying home, being ambitious at home, and thriving at home. But here I am.
*There is a lot of information available on line about this theory, here are a couple links from a quick google search, but you're bound to find more informative ones with more rigorous searching