Guilt, Be Gone| May 23, 2023
The great debate of stay-at-home mothers versus working mothers is inherently flawed and unnecessary
Like countless other girls, I was inspired in seminary to make the decision to marry a boy who felt strongly about learning, and would want to continue learning for a good chunk of time. And I did.
So a few years after our wedding, we thanked our parents deeply for the very generous and much-appreciated support they’d given us over the past few years, and set out to make it work on our own.
We made a few lifestyle changes, and I found myself in a full-time desk job. Not a sad, boring desk job, but a job with lots of vibrancy, social interaction, and room for constant creativity and growth. I don’t feel bad saying I enjoy my job, and I’ve gained tremendously from my position over the years, not just professionally, but personally as well.
I’m not here to take a side in the great debate of stay-at-home mothers versus working mothers, because I think the debate is inherently flawed and unnecessary. There are no two sides, and it’s time to ditch the guilt.
No one is arguing about the fact that a woman’s family comes first, and that a job is just a means to an end.
In a fantasy world, money would flow into our bank accounts.
But in the imperfect world we live in, many, many dedicated, loving mothers, who might wish they could stay home with their children, need to work.
And sometimes things get confusing.
Hundreds of seminary girls need to choose their next step, which can go in any number of ways. They can choose a more lucrative field or one less so; more time-consuming or less; riskier or safer, oftentimes with salary sliding accordingly.
What if the classic post-seminary jobs don’t speak to someone? Is it a problem if someone wants the job that will occupy hours of her day for years to come, to allow her to utilize her talents and creativity? I think filling those needs is a soul-enriching process.
Not only does the mother benefit, but the ripple effects ultimately bolster her confidence in her motherhood. (And the martyr route never helped anyone in the long run.)
We’re products of our environment, and we’ve all absorbed to some degree the 2023 self-care mentality. We’ve digested the axiom that we need to do things that feel good for us, indulge in adult company, and get away a bit.
We’ve also gotten the message (read: guilt) that if you have a full-time job that takes up a lot of your headspace, you’re not putting your mothering first.
I don’t understand why dedicated mothering and personal fulfillment are mutually exclusive. I think we can hold both. We can feel fulfilled from mothering, from kissing boo-boos and enjoying quiet walk with a newborn, and also get heady from a business-related breakthrough.
We can be amazing mothers and give our kids a mother who doesn’t judge them, doesn’t shame them, doesn’t criticize them, and doesn’t do those things to herself either. We don’t need to pick one option over the other (especially when we do, practically, have to bring in an income). Both of those truths can fill us up on a deeper soul level. Denying ourselves the opportunity to create and produce is so unnecessary.
I don’t believe the guilt is reflective of our realities. If a mother works full-time, but children are thriving, getting lots of love, one-on-one attention, and plenty of hugs and snuggles, why do we condemn her as putting her business first?
It’s the guilt that makes us feel inadequate, diminishes our self-confidence, and makes us doubt our ability to go with our gut feeling on our parenting.
At the end of the day, it’s the guilt that makes us lose our center, snap at our kids, and explode from stress.
And the saddest part? The guilt is often prompted not by our own consciences but by others. I don’t think the mother in the previous column really felt guilty until her husband told her that she was doing something wrong. And assuming she’s a dedicated wife all year round and sets him up with proper resources when she goes away, I’m wondering if his reaction is coming from societal messages well. We’ve absorbed the message that a mother who leaves her family, even briefly, is probably putting her business before her family.
I’ve definitely had internal conflicts over whether or not I should take business trips. So I think about my kids, and what else they have going on that month, and what else I have going on that month to determine if the business trip will wipe me out and take away the strength I need to save for my family.
The answer to this internal struggle is within each of us. We shouldn’t try to answer it with externally imposed messages.
If “make mothers great again” is what resonates with a woman most deeply, then she should get out of business, and get a safer job with lower pressure. But if you believe you are a mother who is already great, and constantly strive to be great by focusing on your kids above all else, but also a woman who thrives and flourishes in a creative, if somewhat pressurizing work environment, then lean in.
You’re not a bad mother because society told you you are. We’ve gotten so used to a superficial approach, to making decisions based on the one-dimensional box society puts us into. But we’re multidimensional people and this one-size-fits-all approach is not serving us well.
We need to ask ourselves what feels right, look within for the answer, and let that be our guiding light when making the decisions that shape the nature of our days.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)
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