Developing Our Second Bests

Freedom and Encouragement for Homemakers

G.K. Chesterton says in his Emancipation of Domesticity that a woman who has made the home her domain “may develop all her second bests.”

In a world that runs on specialization, this is an enigma, to be sure.

What do you say to a woman who isn’t a professional anything, aside from, “I could never do that!” A homemaker’s duties are necessarily broad and, therefore, prohibit the kind of narrowness of professional work. We stay-at-home moms have a variety of interests and abilities, just like everyone else. I love to write, study the Bible, bake, take pictures, and every once in a while get caught up in a knitting project, but I’m far from an expert in any of them. The time I devote to these interests is in the nooks and crannies of life — nap time, after bed time, here and there. A mother’s primary time is spent mothering, teaching, preparing meals, cleaning, instructing, laundering, diapering, snuggling, shopping, straightening, and loving.

Chesterton says that “there must be in every center of humanity one human being upon a larger plan; one who does not ‘give her best,’ but gives her all.”

When the children are little, it’s easy to think that the time to go deep into an area of interest will never come. That we will perpetually be, as Bilbo puts it, “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped across too much bread.”

Yet what amazes me about the merging of our gifts and abilities with motherhood is how God strips and equips us in ways we never could have anticipated.

God’s Gifts and Your Children

God gives us gifts and abilities, then he gives us children. And perhaps it seems he’s made an error when our gifts and abilities seem completely irrelevant to the job of bringing up children and caring for a home. We may have gotten an A in art history or creative writing or biology, but how does that help us when the laundry pile is at epic levels? We may be used to the feeling of proficiency in our pre-mothering days, having graduated with honors or received recommendations from professors or employers, yet how does this transfer into preparing meals with a crying baby on one hip and a toddler who has a natural talent for proving Newton’s laws of motion again and again?

“God is in the business of transforming us and motherhood is gospel means.”

Yet your abilities, your education, your hard earned A’s in whatever subject, do have a place in the home. The way you applied yourself then will be needed now. The discipline of study in the classroom has simply reached its goal: real life. And in real life, the lessons will be ones that require your all, rather than your best. The lessons we must engage in now are of the pass/fail variety. Was there dinner? Yes? Pass. Are there clothes to wear? Yes? Pass. And perhaps the one that undergirds them all: Did you give of yourself all that Christ has given you?

In the intense years of mothering, God is molding us, bending us, and stretching us, and even halfway through, we won’t be who we were at the beginning. And that’s a feature God has put in motherhood, not a bug. If we’re the same at the end as we were at the beginning, something’s run amok. God is in the business of transforming us and motherhood is gospel means.

Motherhood Mimics the Cross

God will use our history, our past education, our pre-motherhood achievements for a purpose we may not immediately like: to show us who we are when they are stripped from us. Who are we when we’re struggling to nurse a newborn baby who won’t latch properly? Who are we when we’re thrown into a world of medical supplies and therapy appointments having discovered our baby’s brain didn’t develop normally?

In that sense, motherhood mimics the cross. It is the great leveler of women. Babies don’t care if you have your doctorate. A child in a tantrum isn’t deterred by your 4.0 GPA. Which isn’t to say those achievements aren’t valuable, but their worth only transfers if they bear fruit in disciplining our character toward greater likeness to Jesus.

We mothers can be liberated from the need to chase after being the best, and instead give our all to what God has put before us. We can give our all to storytelling, to making dirty things clean again, to the meals that must get into little tummies, to training our people in righteousness. And then in the nooks and crannies of life, give our all to our unique interests too.

We never know where God might take us, or how the current state of affairs may be shaping us for future service. Just as Bilbo never foresaw his final journey to the undying lands, after the years of being stretched so thin, so mothers can never know how God is working for us for the years ahead.

Hobbits are surprising little things, after all. And I suppose mothers are too.