From Vacation Planning to Total Meltdown
It is funny how little, almost insignificant things can make you reflect on some deep seated feelings you didn’t even realize were there. This happened to me recently. In my case, they were feelings on how I felt about myself as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) and lies I was believing about myself.
These bursts of emotions happened to me while planning our summer vacation. I knew that by making Maine this year’s destination that I would only be a few hours away from the college where I received my undergraduate degree. At first, I was excited to include a stop to Colby College as part of our schedule. I wondered where I would take my family first. Should I show the girls the buildings where I lived? Should I take them to the library? Or maybe we would make a stop to my favorite coffee place in Waterville, which to my surprise is still there. But the more I thought about it, the more I was filled with anxiety.
Colby was the place where my dreams began to come to life. My entire future was ahead of me back then. I had big plans and some very ambitious goals. And Colby gave me opportunities to do some amazing things. Study abroad in Bolivia. An internship with the US Embassy in Nicaragua. Interviewing guerrilla warriors in Guatemala. I had amazing professors and mentors that believed I could do anything I set myself out to do and for the first seven years after graduating, I very successfully followed that path. So then, why all that anxiety while planning a visit back to Colby? Because I gave up on that path a few years ago and I was afraid that going back would only highlight the “failure” I had become. Here I am now, almost forty one years old and I am “only” a SAHM.
The Lies I Believed as a SAHM
Those are the raw emotions I felt in those moments and these last couple of weeks, through prayer and reflection, I have been processing why I felt that way. There is a lie in all of this and that lie is that I am a failure. I was buying into the lie that our culture tends to emphasize over and over again that if you choose to stay home with your kids, you are not doing real work, at least not intellectual work. It is a lie that is reinforced in very subtle ways by those around us.I was buying into the lie that our culture tends to emphasize over and over again that if you choose to stay home with your kids, you are not doing real work, at least not intellectual work. Click To Tweet
As a SAHM, I am often underestimated by others. On many occasions I have been able to perceive underlying assumptions that people make about me when they know only that I am a stay-at-home mom. The most common one is that I must be uneducated. It usually does not come in the way of overt comments. They are more subtle in nature, but the effects are still the same. Even my husband notices. And honestly, it is a bit degrading.
Maybe I am more sensitive to it because I used to be a “professional” and I was used to people assuming I was just as intelligent as the others around me. And now that I am not in a professional field anymore, I can easily sense the opposite is true for people that don’t know me well. I remember one time, after given the opportunity to speak during a church service, that someone with good intentions told me, “I was surprised how eloquent you were.” I used to work in an atmosphere were people would be surprised if I wasn’t able to speak intelligently in front of a crowd. I know that person was trying to give me a compliment, but it really just reinforced a stereotype.
Those subtle messages for many of us SAHM affect the way that we see ourselves. We may not feel that we are good enough because at this time in our life, we are not meeting certain professional benchmarks as set by our culture. We feed into the lie. However, I want to tell you my fellow SAHMs, you are smart, you are intelligent, and although you have chosen to take a different path, you are valuable, obviously to your family, but also to your church, and to your communities.
We Are More Than a Label
The honest truth is that the SAHM that are in my circle, are some of the brightest women I know. Many of them have bachelors degrees and masters degrees and even those that don’t have degrees, use their minds in amazing aways. I think about my mother, who even though she is past the SAHM stage, she is a living example that you do not need a degree to be smart, savvy, or brilliant. She runs community wide operations that in any other field would be earning her six-figures. Yet, she only finished high school.
In the same way, many of the SAHM I know, are event planners, teachers, logisticians, financial wizards running mothers clubs, church events and ministries, musicians, artists, and many even own small businesses. I know women who have become experts in a particular field to better address a need in their family (a child with special needs, nutrition, health issues) and the only difference between them and a professional, is the degree. These women are absolutely brilliant. They are doing a million things, splitting themselves and their talents a hundred different ways, all while changing diapers, wiping boogers, making dinner, and using their very capable minds to teach and tutor their children.
I know from conversations I have had with other women in my position, I am not the only one that struggles with those feelings of inadequacy. I hate feeling that way, but I am even more saddened when I hear comments from other stay-at-home-moms that they feel less than worthy because they are not out working as a “professional.” These are women who sometimes feel that they are losing themselves because they are not currently pursuing a career. Women who are thinking of going back to the workplace, but think they have little to offer.
Current culture may interpret those feelings as being honest feelings from women who made the wrong choice by staying home. I beg to differ. I think those feelings stem from being in a cultural environment where being a SAHM is more often than not, undervalued. It is also an environment where the intellectual contributions of a SAHM are undervalued and underused. If the status of housewife had the same status as lawyer or doctor, many women who chose to stay home would feel better about themselves.
It Is Up To Us to Believe the Truth
But as SAHM, we can’t wait for the culture to catch up. We have to remind ourselves why we chose to do what we do, we have to remind ourselves of whose we are, and yes, we have to remind ourselves that we have something of value to contribute (If you want to read on the reasons why I became a SAHM, read Becoming a SAHM, The Bravest Thing I Have Ever Done). God has given everyone a talent or talents to be used for His purposes. At the moment we may be using those talents for the sake of our children, our husbands, our churches–but if it is accomplishing His purposes than we are being successful. Yes, our success is not measured by whether or not we reached a professional benchmark, but by whether we are accomplishing God’s will in our lives. A professional woman could very well be achieving God’s purpose in using her talents for God’s kingdom, but so can a stay-at-home-mom. And vice versa. A professional woman could be failing to use her talents for God’s purpose and so can a SAHM.
So as I consider returning to Colby or not, I have to look at my life and see that it is in no way a failure. I only feel that way, when I compare it to what others my age are doing in professional arenas. But when I am home, with my husband, my kids, and see the love of God all around us, I feel so fulfilled and content. Failure doesn’t even begin to cross my mind.
So for the SAHM out there, measure your success on whether you are fulfilling God’s will. That may look different for everyone. Not every woman will be called to stay at home. Not every woman will be called to pursue a professional career. But if your decision was made in prayer, with God at the center, then it is the right decision for you and your family. And for the men out there and women who are not SAHM, be careful not to undervalue women who are not in a “professional” career. You may be missing out.
Proverbs 31:30-31 “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.”
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