I recently found myself drinking a cup of coffee and contemplating what is often described as the “hidden years” of Christ. Those precious years in which our Lord was being raised by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph so often capture my imagination. It’s amazing to think that we know very little about Christ’s life as he grew and matured before he started His ministry. I have realized that I too, am in my “hidden years.”
My days are consumed with dirty diapers, runny noses, and a lot of crying. Some days I fall into bed feeling invisible and crushed under the weight of endless cleaning and cooking. But when I take just a little time to contemplate gratitude, I realize my days are somehow also full of the brightest smiles I’ve ever seen and the most beautiful laughter I have ever heard. I recall that this is simply a chapter in my story, and this too, will end.
As I rediscover the world through the eyes of my children, there’s a profound sense of awe that washes over my soul when I allow it. Children are naturally full of intrigue and wonder. My days in the “hidden years” of motherhood are pregnant with the great tension found only in love– seeking joy in sacrifice and total gift of self.
A year and a half ago my husband and I finally discerned that it was time I became a stay-at-home mom (SAHM). After working in a few different roles since graduating college, I was pregnant with our third child, and the oldest was a mere 3 ½ years old. We knew it didn’t make much sense financially to continue sending our children to daycare at the rate our family was growing, not to mention that juggling a full time job including travel on my part was too draining for both of us.
There were too many nights when I would lay down exhausted and instead of counting sheep, I counted how many waking hours I was spending with my children every week. Then I would calculate how much time they spent at daycare. Our typical routine looked something like this: I spent a couple hours in the morning feeding the kids breakfast and getting them out the door, and from about 8:30 until 5:00pm they were off at daycare. After another 2.5 to 3 hours in the evening making and feeding them dinner, scrubbing them up, and trying to find some way to meaningfully connect with them before bedtime, we repeated the cycle. While I was working, my children were often achieving various milestones without my presence, and my confidence in working full-time wavered. Was I willing to accept that I was in a very real sense co-parenting with my daycare provider? I had to look honestly at my situation, and for me, I didn’t like it.
I also really loved my job. I worked with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, I traveled regularly around the country, and had so many cool opportunities that I knew I would no longer have if I became a SAHM.
As the birth of our third child approached and I prepared to start my life as a SAHM, I was experiencing so much dread and fear. Will it be as bad as they say it is? What about my career? Will I ever work again? Will my skills be obsolete by the time I can reenter the workforce? How will we survive on a single-income? The usual questions consumed my mind for weeks, even after the birth of our sweet baby girl.
This is incredibly difficult for me to admit, but there was a day in which I realized that deep down, my very sense of self was rooted more in my career than it was in being a wife and mother. It was hard to look in the mirror honestly and acknowledge this about myself.
It’s ironic really– as a woman who has worked tirelessly since college to empower women in their journey of embracing femininity and motherhood, I felt in a sense that I was almost shirking my own motherhood; I wanted to pursue my career more than I wanted to meet the needs of my (rapidly) growing family. I felt so confused and conflicted. There were moments when I realized I was angry at myself, the culture, and my subconscious acceptance of the feminist mindset surrounding motherhood especially when I realized these sentiments permeated many of my decisions prior to letting go of my career.
It has been my experience as a young mother that SAHMs are often viewed as being women who are not contributing in any meaningful way to society. Even if this isn’t usually expressed explicitly, there is undoubtedly a harmful attitude towards women who relinquish their careers to let their husband be the sole and primary breadwinners– as if doing so equates to a woman being simply unintelligent or lazy. Intellectually I’ve always known this wasn’t the case, but prior to exiting my career, I was extremely conflicted about staying home with my children.
I’m embarrassed that I felt this way. Whether this is actual or perceived, I genuinely felt that by sacrificing my career for my children, I would become another depressed, antiquated mother who would fade away into some unknown abyss at the expense of my dreams of worldly exploration and “meaningful” cultural impact. I felt (I don’t think I’m the only one here) that I was made for something “big”– as if the gift a motherhood wasn’t “big” enough.
I’ve since discovered my fears couldn’t be farther from the truth.
I want to be clear– being a SAHM is hard. My husband has come home to find me crying and hiding in the closet because I’m so overwhelmed. Choosing to be home with my children has demanded more of me physically and psychologically than anything I have ever done professionally, but I’ve never looked back.
I had to change my mindset and truly embrace my vocation–I’ve learned to be genuinely content with being “just” a SAHM. I’ve realized that in embracing “little-ness” I’ve discovered some of God’s greatest mysteries. I also have been intentional about refusing to give into the temptation to play the “what-if’s” game on my hardest days. Looking longingly at the past and wondering about how things could be different is one of Satan’s favorite tools to use against mothers so that we grow in discontentment and resentment. Of this, I am certain, and this is why mothers especially must live moment by moment.
Despite the (many) challenges of being a SAHM, there are several things I wasn’t prepared for and that no one told me might happen as a result:
- My marriage has never been healthier. My marriage was great while I was still immersed in my budding career, but I’ve noticed gradual changes, and my husband has too. Generally speaking, my attention isn’t divided between my family, maintaining a household, and having to complete a project, plan a trip, run out the door for another meeting. I can give more of myself to my husband, and he feels more valued and appreciated. There’s also more stability in our home and we trust each other to give 100% of everything we have to one another and our children.
- Staying at home hasn’t affect our finances nearly as much as we expected. My husband was particularly concerned about how much we would lose financially. Though I was working for a non-profit, what I was earning was still a very nice chunk of change all things considered. It has been a pleasant surprise to realize that our finances are actually better because we’re not paying for childcare, we eat out significantly less, and we’re not paying as much in taxes. Not to mention that my husband now is free to work the overtime that is presented to him without us having to navigate who will pick up the kids from daycare or having to consider if I will be out of town entirely.
- I know my children better. As a mom, you always know your children better than anyone, but my awareness of my children’s needs, quirks, proficiencies, and deficiencies are fine-tuned which is a great help to me as their mother especially as we embark on the journey of homeschooling– another thing I never expected I would be doing!
- The bonds I’m forming with my children are stronger than ever. This particular point was a huge surprise to me. My third child is the first child I’ve been home with since her birth, and I have undoubtedly felt my bond with her has been effortless. In hindsight, I can see that though as a mother you naturally bond with your children, the intensity of those bonds are different, and I am convinced that being a working mother had a detrimental impact on the development of the natural mother-child bond with my other two. I had to work a little harder with them on everything including the basics like breastfeeding because I was spending more time away from them.
- I have more peace in my life. I’m giving everything I am and everything I have now to raising little saints. I am the kind of person who looks back on a lot of areas in my life and thinks, “You know, I probably could have done [insert basically anything I’ve ever done here] better if I had really given more of myself.” I don’t want to feel that way about being present to my children. I have so many regrets about who I’ve been and things that I’ve done. While I know I will daily continue to make new (and old) mistakes, I’m convinced that embracing these hidden years with my young children will continue to bring me closer to God, my husband, and my children. When we draw near to Our Lord and embrace our vocation without reservation, we can’t help but discover a “peace that surpasses all understanding.”
The hidden years of a mother’s life are difficult. I try to imagine how Mary would handle the day to day difficulties I have with my children and realize so often God the Father has these challenges in “raising” me”: I’m disobedient. I complain. I so often don’t understand how He’s directing me, and it is so difficult for me to trust in His unconditional love. I have seen all these things in my children except for a lack of trust in my love of them– thankfully children give and receive love so freely. I have learned so much about myself and life since becoming a mother, and I’ve learned even more since I made the choice to focus on raising my children.
Our vocation as mothers is to raise little saints. Being a mother and a wife are truly our most sanctifying roles in life. We become saints ourselves by giving everything we have to our domestic churches. God chooses each one of our children for our sanctification, and we have a duty to be present and form the souls that God has entrusted to our care.
I realize that not everyone is truly able to be a SAHM and that many women would do anything to be home with their children, but for various reasons genuinely can’t be home with their children. This isn’t a post about shaming working mothers– there’s enough mom-on-mom shaming as it is, and I’m not about that.
My hope is that if you are a working-mom out there reading this who senses that tug to be home with her children but is hesitant– I want you to know you can do this, and you truly are made for this. Don’t let fear prevent you from embracing your vocation in its totality. Pray, discern, and move where the Lord is calling you. You won’t regret it!