Whenever I meet new people, the question is inevitably asked: “Do you work?”
I usually answer, with a grin, “Yes, I work a lot, I just don’t get paid.”
Now, there’s no hint of resentment there – the Lord provides for our family abundantly through my husband’s income. But I answer this way because I often think of my role as a mother as my career. This is my job, and I think it’s the best job in the world.
But recently I’ve been quietly self-critiquing this concept of motherhood as career. The way we think and talk about things matters, so I’ve been trying to figure out whether thinking about motherhood as a job does more harm or good – to my relationship with the kids, to my motivation levels and to how others perceive motherhood (especially younger women).
The benefits of viewing motherhood as a career:
- It helps me to spend my time during the day more wisely and productively. In fact, just recently, I confided in my husband that I felt one of the main reasons I was feeling so overwhelmed was that I was spending too much of my time on social media during the day, which meant that the important things weren’t getting done. In order to change this, I proposed that I implement a “work hours” policy, where I don’t use social media during specific hours of the day, and I asked his advice on what these hours should be (because, let’s face it, mothers often have demands on our time for all of our waking hours – and even some of the sleeping ones). He said 9-5 would be reasonable, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do since then – thinking of myself as being “at work” from 9-5, and not allow myself to slack off from the job.
- It leads me to be more serious and intentional about motherhood. I make plans and I try to take advantage of the teachable moments with my kids. I realise that I am “it”, and I’m not waiting around for someone else to come and teach them all the stuff they need to successfully get to adulthood. This is the “thing” I do with my time, so I need to do it well. I guess the opposite of this would be if I just saw my kids as people who happen to be in my life now, and each moment passes by accidentally, with much thought or consideration. Or worse, if I just viewed motherhood as something to get through or something that is a hindrance to my “real life”. Thinking of motherhood as my career leaves no doubt in my mind about where my efforts should be directed.
- It helps me to feel more valuable and appreciated for my contribution. If we can think and speak about motherhood in the language of career, it helps us to feel like we are doing something worthwhile with our time. Sometimes I have referred to my husband as the Chief Executive Officer of our family, and myself as the Chief Operations Officer.
The drawbacks of viewing motherhood as a career:
- The flip side of that last point is that this view of motherhood as a “job” or “work” comes from a capitalist system where people are valued based on their economic contribution to society. So there is a pressure on Stay at Home Mums to justify their existence in economic terms, or else risk being labelled a “drain on society” (as this recent OECD study said). When we talk about motherhood as a career, we are playing into this kind of thinking that people are only as important as the money they make (or save) and what they “do” for a living. This thinking is contrary to the Christian perspective, which says that people are valuable because they are image-bearers of God, not because of anything they do.
- Another problem is that viewing motherhood in terms of a job often leads to a focus on fairness, rather than the service and selflessness that should characterise the Christian woman’s life. Let’s face it – there is so much about motherhood that is unfair. We often don’t get to go to the toilet alone or when we want to. We share our meals, or eat them cold. We have less time to devote to our own interests. And on it goes… Looking at it purely through an investment/return paradigm, we might be tempted to grow bitter about how much we “give up” for our kids, compared to how little we get back (at least in the short term). We can also be tempted to compare our “work day” with our husbands and think about how much longer and demanding our hours are (depending on what he does, of course – my husband has informed me that he too is frequently unable to go to the toilet when he wants to and often has to work through his lunch break!). Constantly thinking about whether something is “fair” or not is a sure fire way to lead to resentment or stinginess. Because even if things are fair, by your approximation, needing to vigilantly watch out for fairness will mean even what you do give is tightly meted out, being careful not to give or do too much, lest you tip the scales into “unfairness”.
- When I think of my role as mother as my career, it can lead me to measure my success or failure based on things like how much I get done or whether I complete my to-do list. I’ve fallen into this trap before – going from elation when I get lots done to despair and overwhelm when I don’t. But then I realised that much of the work of motherhood is not measurable with pen and paper (or even Excel spreadsheets!). How do you quantify an hour spent in the sunshine, rolling around in the grass with three little munchkins? Even a note added to my list and checked off after the event – “play with kids” – seems hopelessly inadequate at capturing all that was achieved in that hour – the smiles shared, the fleeting embraces, the close examining of the leaves, the time spent watching a beetle, the discussion about why God made the trees. Some of my best “mum days” have been absolute failures according to my to-do list!
How should we think of motherhood?
As I’ve thought through the points above, it’s become clear to me that I need to stop thinking of and referring to motherhood as my career.
Sure, I should take it seriously and be intentional about it, but I think using the language of jobs and career does more damage here than good.
So how does the Bible view mothers and motherhood?
Motherhood is fruitfulness:
“And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”” Genesis 1:28
Motherhood is hard:
“To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.” Genesis 3:16
Motherhood is a position of honour:
“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12
The happiness of a mother is caught up in the character of her children:
“A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother.” Proverbs 10:1
“The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice;
he who fathers a wise son will be glad in him.
Let your father and mother be glad;
let her who bore you rejoice.” Proverbs 23:24-25
The mother/child relationship is secondary to the Christian’s love for Jesus:
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matthew 10:37
Mothers are gentle and caring:
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7
Motherhood is ministry:
“I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.” 2 Timothy 1:5
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6: 6-7
Motherhood is a conduit of love:
“ Older women likewise are to be reverent in behaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children…” Titus 2:3-4
“Mother” is not my job title.
To call motherhood my career would only diminish what it is that I do.
It goes beyond the 9-5 and it is more than any list of tasks I can achieve.
It’s who I am. It’s why I was put on this earth. It is my calling and my passion and my joy to raise these little ones to know and love Jesus.