My daughter and I, right before her open heart surgery last December.
The sheer number of expectations we enlightened and modern mothers place on ourselves (and on our children) is mind-numbing. The birthday parties, extra-curricular activities, academic pursuits, social opportunities, and rites of passage for children leave little time for just being. I've never been one to even attempt to do it all, because I'm not even talented enough to pretend I can--not even for a little while.
When my children were very young (think three kids ages two and under), we stayed home a lot. My husband commuted to work and was thus gone long hours each day, and so the kids and I mostly hung around the house. That lifestyle felt natural and comfortable to me, and the few times I attempted to become involved in things, I eventually had to step back because it just didn't work for me.
Yes, this meant that my husband and I quit doing youth ministry when my sons came home from Ethiopia.
And yes, I did drop out of my church's hallowed Beth Moore biblestudy, once my fourth child was born.
And maybe this makes me sound like a bad person, but I never once felt guilty about those things. Not even one little bit. Because, contrary to the women's ministry representative who indicated that women not participating in the biblestudy were sinning, I believed that my vocation as wife and mother came first--long before any trappings of Evangelical Christian culture.
The truth is that to live out God's calling for wives and mothers, we must pick and choose. In recent years I have, for example, cut out any sort of homeschool or adoption support groups, none of my children are presently in regular sports activities, and the majority of our social life is spent with people from church. This is by design. Because limiting what we do is essential to sanity-preservation.
So if we know that our sanity and well-being is so important, why all the mommy guilt? Why do women feel bad for not throwing first-rate parties and raising star athletes? Why do we even feel compelled to try?
I wonder if part of the reason is that with lower birth rates (due to the popularity of hormonal birth control), a high standard of living, and the advent of technology, American families simply have more leisure time. It is thus no longer enough to simply raise your children, put food on the table, and maintain relationships with family and friends. We now have to try to excel in other areas, keep up with the Joneses, and aim to provide the Ideal Childhood for our children. And we have the time and resources to do it.
So, we do.
A simple family meal shared around the table is not considered a success or norm or ideal any longer, but a child earning recognition in three different sports is.
We mothers would do well, I think, to avoid the hamster-wheel altogether and acknowledge that the ideal woman is not the one who does it all. Because that woman just doesn't exist. The standard we should be shooting for is obedience to Jesus, charity in all things, children with well-formed consciences, and peaceful homes. None of those ideals require multiple drop-offs and pick-ups, taking out a second mortgage, or getting less than five hours of sleep. They do of course require the grace of God.
I could honestly not do what I do (raising seven children) if I internalized the pressures of society around me. And that's not to say that we are hermits--far from it, actually. My children participate in a weekly homeschool program through the public schools, as well as a twice-monthly Catholic homeschool co-op, and they also have some really great friends. Weekends often find us having dinner with other families or hanging out at church, and I occasionally have dinner or coffee out with girlfriends. We are busy.
But we're busy with things that nourish our souls, not things we feel obligated to do or that I believe make me a good mom. And we are home a lot still, and we need that too.
The more time that passes, the more I see the value in only choosing activities that you want to do and that bring you joy. If that means time out of the house, great. If it means staying home, great. But motherhood should never mean feeling guilty for not throwing Martha-Stewart-level birthday parties or raising professional football players.
God gives us this vocation in order to nurture the souls of our children, and to become more like Him.
And there's no room for guilt there!
Because, in leaving margin in our lives, there is more room for love, service, joy, and yes even big things like heart surgeries.