“Being a mom is the hardest job in the world.”
I hear this a lot, both from people who are mothers, and some who aren’t. I even read an article some time ago that said that if a stay-at-home mom’s jobs could be quantified, she would earn $115,000 annually. When I first read this, I thought to myself, “Wow! How validating! My job as a mom is worth way more than any other job I’ve ever had!”
And yet, so many moms feel lost in these important, demanding “jobs”. I have often felt this way myself. Even though I knew that these jobs were part of the foundation of love and security that I was establishing for my son, my day-to-day tasks seemed empty. I would clean the kitchen only to turn around to face a decimated living room. I’d fold a load of laundry only to have another three appear in the hamper. I’d finish the dishes from breakfast only to realize that it was time for lunch. And as if that wasn’t enough, the management didn’t even have the decency to give me a solo bathroom break! I started to think that this job didn’t have the benefits that I had expected. And where the heck were my vacation days?!
Oh yeah, and you can’t quit. Ever.
Recently, I started questioning how I could make this job not seem so hard anymore. I tried tricks for becoming more organized. I created activity schedules for my toddler. I attempted to make more time for some of my hobbies that had taken a backseat. And while some of these things helped for a while, I still could not shake the feeling that I was stuck in a really hard job. Even when I was feeling appreciated by my spouse, and validated in what I was doing for my child, some days I felt like too much was expected of me. When we found out we were pregnant with our second child, and the thought of no maternity leave and more work loomed, I realized that I needed a change in the way I was approaching motherhood.
I decided to stop looking at motherhood as a job, and start seeing it as a vocation. So many stay-at-home moms, myself included, feel the need to justify what they do every day by labeling it as “work”. My husband and I had made the decision for me to stop working outside the home soon after our son was born, and in a way, I felt the need to prove to myself that it was worth it for my family. Talk about a high-pressure work environment! I believe women who work outside of the home can also feel the need to justify the time they spend mothering by putting pressure on themselves to do it all both in the workplace and at home- or as I’ve heard it described, “two full-time jobs!” For me, it was partly how I thought society was judging me, and partly my own ego that was causing the problem. I wanted to be the hardest worker in my chosen field.
Unfortunately, that just isn’t how motherhood works.
When we think of vocations, we often picture priests or nuns, or maybe we think of the lifelong commitment of marriage. True, all of these are vocations. But as I started to ponder what it meant to commit to a vocation, the more I saw that this was how I needed to approach motherhood.
In my last job, I had the pleasure of working in a facility where an order of nuns lived and worked, taking care of elderly patients in a nursing home. The work they did was physically demanding, mentally exhausting, and I’m sure, often felt thankless. And yet each time I would pass one of these sisters in the hall or see them praying in the chapel, they seemed so joyful and full of peace. A smile was quick to come to their lips and they were always kind and pleasant. I often marveled at the serenity with which they did such hard jobs. But in the back of my mind, I thought of them as being different, because this wasn’t just their job; being part of a serving order was their vocation. This is what they gave their lives to.
So when I started thinking about a different way to frame my life as a mother and wife, they were the first people to come to mind. They didn’t look at each task to be completed as just another job for which they weren’t going to be paid. They didn’t seem to be calculating how much they would be getting compensated if their circumstances were different. They just kept working, for the glory of God and for love of their fellow human beings.
The more I prayed about this, the more certain I was that this is how God wanted me to view my days. I am not a housekeeper, a babysitter, a cook, and a laundress. I am a mother and a wife. My main priority is to serve my family in a way that reflects God’s love. Yes, on most days that will mean folding their laundry and cooking their meals. But the clothes and the food aren’t the point- the love and servant heart with which I fulfill these tasks is the real goal. On days when none of those things get done, I can still be peaceful knowing that my role as a mother is not wrapped up in my chores, but in who I am to my family.
Once I started trying to think this way, the effects became apparent pretty quickly. Frustration at not being able to accomplish as much as I wanted to during the day diminished as I shifted my priority from “getting things done” to “doing everything with love”. Tough days were a little easier to get through when I was able to reframe the struggles of life with a toddler as opportunities to offer up those struggles to God. My relationship with my husband certainly improved once I stopped comparing how hard I worked at home to his work outside of the home. And finally, I had to come to terms with the fact that God has called me to motherhood not to do chores and run errands, but to be a loving, consistent, and holy presence for my children.
Did you catch that? Holy.
Yeah, that’s heavy, isn’t it? In some ways, I feel like I’ve taken a big pressure off of myself only to put a bigger one on. But the thing is, God is generous with his graces when a mother strives to be a holy influence on her children. The days when holiness seems just out of reach, God can give us the grace to be just as holy as we need to be.
This doesn’t mean that being a mom is suddenly easy. I still have to do all the things I did before. (Although I don’t get quite as upset about a messy house or getting behind on the laundry the way I used to.) But when I stop looking at parenthood as a job that has me on call 24/7, and instead look at it as the vocation that God has called me to, my daily tasks take on a purpose that allows me to complete my work not only more gracefully, but sometimes even joyfully. I still have plenty of room to grow; I am nowhere near perfect. I am not always humming happily as I change yet another diaper. But at the end of the day, more often than not, I am able to thank God for blessing me with the physical and spiritual ability to do the work he has called me to do at this point in my life.
And that sure feels like a job well done to me.