“I always dreamed of being a doctor and traveling, but I had children and that killed my dreams. It’s okay, though, because I raised three kids. One is a doctor, one is a CEO, and the other is traveling the world working for a magazine. They are my contribution to society, and I guess that’s enough. It has to be. Oh, I’m okay with it, really,” Mabel said, as tears dripped off her face.
Sherry told me, “I planned to be a professional writer and speaker, to change the world, you know? But I didn’t get to do that. Instead, I gave birth to twins, and two more after that. Between taking care of my children, my husband, and my home, I never had time to think, much less write or speak. My husband didn’t approve of daycare, even though he could afford to pay for it. So I stayed home and reared my children and let my dreams die. I tried not to think about what my true purpose in life was. When I did, it made me cry, just like I’m doing now. I woke many a morning with a tear-stained pillow, but I just turned the wet side down, made the bed, prepared breakfast, and got on with my day. My health is gone now, so there will be no empty-nest career for me. I have nothing to show for my life except for my children, and I am useless now. But it’s alright. They’re grown now and have children of their own. They’re happy, doing what they like to do, so it’s okay that my life was spent on them. So I never got to do what I was designed to do. I created four good people. That’s enough.” Her face was red with shame, and didn’t match her assurance that it was alright.
Sad stories of lost dreams
I’ve spent over 30 years hearing stories like these, from women all over the place and from all socioeconomic levels… women who had dreams, goals, aspirations….women who gave up everything they wanted just because they gave birth and they thought they had to stay home and raise the children because religious leaders told them they had to…women who SAY that it’s okay, but who cannot say it without tears in their eyes and regret and shame all over their faces…
Not one, in over 30 years, has been able to say it’s okay (that they gave up their dreams) without showing those emotions and signs of deception all over her face. They do not believe what they are saying. In other words: they are lying. They lie to themselves, and they lie to others. It’s not okay with them. It breaks their hearts.
There are a couple of possibilities (that I can see) as to why.
The women were told that being a mother isn’t enough, that they should do more than that to make a worthy contribution to society. They believe that they did not do enough.
Women really ARE wired to do more than just raise children and take care of a home. Having children is not “enough” for a person. Using one’s gifts and talents, pursuing one’s goals, those are needed as well, regardless of what pastors and others say about it.
Society says we have to do it all
What do I think it is? I think it’s probably both. Mary is held up as the Mother of God, and nothing else about her is emphasized (or even mentioned) in most churches. For years, I thought it was such a shame that “all she did” was raise Jesus and his stepbrothers. I wondered if perhaps she did do other things but they weren’t mentioned for some reason. Now, though, I think it’s such a shame that our culture teaches us to think that way!
I’m somewhat balanced on it at this point: I think it’s fine for Mary, and for any other mothers who truly want to have it be enough for them, and it’s fine for others who want to do more than that. Fighting societal messages is hard, but sometimes it’s needed.
Orthodoxy leaves room for different opinions
Each person is different. Each person has different goals and needs. No one should try to cram others into a mold. No one should try to tell others what they should and should not do, believe, or think. Abbot Tryphon shared a statement on facebook about how the Orthodox Church frowns on telling people what to do.
Women who are mothers have owned businesses or held jobs throughout time. It has been the exception, not the norm, for a woman to take care of only her own home and family. Taking in washing or ironing, baking extra bread to sell, babysitting, raising and selling vegetables and eggs… all of these were common in households all over the world, throughout time. If a woman did not do something to earn money, it was because she was well-to-do, not because mothering was enough.
People are goal-oriented
Humans are teleological. We need a goal to work toward, a purpose. Some things in parenting and housekeeping fit well with that, but some just don’t. Might a person have that goal-achieving need met by taking care of home and family? Sure! Especially if they write out goals and mark them off as they happen. But people don’t like to be someone else’s project. They dig in their heels at that. I know that all too well. So if housework goals aren’t enough for someone, they’ll have to get that need met elsewhere.
Perhaps a mother only has an hour a week free. That amount is not an unreasonably small amount for a stay-at-home mom. Can she accomplish any goals with such a tiny time allotment? Yes.
Learning new skills
She could choose to spend that hour following her dream of learning to dance, paint, or play a sport. Just 20 hours will give her a good foundation in nearly anything, according to Joshua Kauffman, the author of The First 20 Hours. She could develop two skills in a year, if she only has an hour a week. Over time, that will give her more abilities, more chances to do things she wants to do.
If she has an hour a day, she could develop 18 new skills in that year. Developing a number of new abilities seems worth having Dad take care of the kids for a change. Now, I know that some fathers take care of their children and give the mothers time to do things they want and need to do, but the vast majority of the ones I know don’t do much, even now. No hate mail, please.
Is raising kids enough for you?
Please don’t be like all of the stay-at-home mothers I’ve spoken to over the last 30 years. Whether you pursue hopes and dreams in addition to parenting, or whether raising kids is enough for you and you have no other ambitions, please, please do not get to the empty-nest stage and regret your choice.
Please don’t put things off in the hope that you’ll be healthy enough to do them once your children are grown, or even “older.” I’ve seen far too many people do that and find themselves confined to a rocking chair and chained to an oxygen tank. You might have the chance to do that, but please don’t count on it. Scripture is clear that we’re not promised tomorrow.
Contribution to society
Do whatever is going to make you honestly feel that you’ve made your contribution to society, that you’ve shared the music within your soul, that you’ve been who God made you to be—whatever that may include.
We must all choose either the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The pain of regret never fades, but it does fester. Join the ranks of women who feel good about how their lives were spent, not those who cried bitter tears of regret and shame. Is raising kids enough? If it is for you, fabulous. If it’s not, that’s fabulous, too. Tell Daddy-O to man up and take care of the kids while you develop another side of yourself. In either case, I pray that you will be blessed.