The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new. – Rajneesh
When I was pregnant, a friend of mine told me that her mother hadn’t been much into babies. She chuckled a bit as she recounted her mom’s comment, “I didn’t even like you until you were three.” In the midst of the mystery and sentiment of pregnancy, I had a hard time following her mother’s thinking. I mean, life was growing inside me – precious, beautiful, mysterious life! How could someone not like a baby?!? While I chuckled at the sentiment, I couldn’t quite grasp it, that is, until one actually showed up in my arms.
I suspect my initial inability to understand had something to do with the fact that I had not yet lost years of sleep, been puked on multiple times, gained over 50 pounds, spent months nauseated, endured bouts of mastitis, or tried to reason with a screaming two-year-old. I had not yet encountered the daunting challenge of quieting a screaming baby on a 20 hour flight, keeping little fingers out of electrical sockets, or short-changing conversations to clean up the box of cereal dumped on the floor. To put it simply, I had no idea what was about to hit me. Thank God. While I’d never reverse the gifts motherhood gives, I have to admit that my journey has been a bit slow-in-the-making. Even though I was fairly well prepared for the nuts-and-bolts of diaper changing and stroller assembly, I had no clue how motherhood would reshape my identity.
For a variety of reasons, it made the most sense for me to stay home full-time when our first child was born. I was ok with this decision for a while. But then I started to get a bit – *gasp* – bored. I’d call my husband every hour at work. I’d watch Jerry Springer. In extremely slow moments, I’d even resort to cleaning.
Then God did something gracious. My husband accepted a job in which he took a 25% pay cut. The loss of salary required me to work – not for luxuries but necessities. Even with the budget stripped to the bone, we couldn’t pay the bottom line bills. So, I got a job, and to my great surprise, I LOVED it. I’d practically dance out of the house. It was only about ten hours a week, but those ten hours brought a whole new level of sanity to my diaper-changing, pacifier-finding, baby-weary brain.
I don’t share this to denigrate full-time stay-at-home moms; just to show that it wasn’t working for me. (If anything, it gives me more respect for women who flourish under the stresses of staying home full-time.) As the years have passed, I’ve realized that part of my struggle in the early years of my children’s lives was that I was forging a brand new identity. I was changing in ways I’d never changed before, and it was hard. It was definitely a between time for me – between carefree young woman and responsible parent, between pretty young thing and chubby young mother, between barely awake and half asleep – and it took time to settle into.
On top of these pieces, as a part-time working mom I’m also a professional in-betweener. I pick up the kids from school with the stay-at-home moms and bemoan office politics with the working ones. I volunteer at school and juggle childcare responsibilities with my husband. In short, I hear and feel the challenges and joys of both sides of the story. I have one friend who used to be a bank executive and has translated her professional skills into running an incredibly well-executed life and an engaging homeschooling experience for her kids. Another friend works full time while finishing her Ph.D. and juggling the lives of three kids. Both are phenomenal mothers, and both have a deeply rooted, purposeful sense of identity.
Being on neither side of the mommy wars, I find myself wishing that working and stay-at-home moms could engage in a dialog that would allow each of us space to grow into our new identities, instead of trying to one-up each other with the specific details of where we spend our days.
The process of growing into my new identity began for me as I intentionally prayed through, reflected on, and tried out different scenarios. Inspired by Jan Johnson’s book Living a Purpose-full Life, I spent time discerning what God’s overarching purposes were for my life – not isolated circumstances like diaper changing or teaching, but larger purposes like caring for the tenderhearted and welcoming the stranger that I could live out in any context, in both personal and professional contexts. While I found my identity in scripture first as a child of God, I also pondered what it looked like for me to be a servant, a worker, a partner, and an advocate.
These days, I’m mostly settled into my identity as a mother. It feels normal, right, even comfortable. I not only love, but also like my kids. Already, remembering those ‘adjustment years’ makes me slightly sentimental. They were years when, like so many transitions in life, I was unsure, confused and prone to occasional freak-outs. As I bumbled through the ups and downs of poop and nursing, tantrums and ‘do-it-myselfs’, and sleepless nights, I learned a thing or two about perseverance, sacrifice, and love that earn me the Mama badge I now wear proudly. Paradoxically, it’s more a source of humility than pride, for I see now how I was growing up with them. While I was raising them, they were teaching me – as much of a newbie mama as they were newborn humans – how to live.
Have you experienced the “mommy wars”? What can we do to support other women who have opted for differing lifestyles than we might choose? If you’re a mom, how has being a parent influenced your own personal and spiritual development?
Check out Jody’s blog, Between Worlds, and learn more about the “Mommy Wars” here: