I was a writer and principal executive in an advertising agency when I decided to leave my profession to stay home and raise my kids. I wanted to be the one that nurtured and trained our children, and my busy job simply didn’t give me enough time to do that well.
On the one hand, when I left the business world, I never looked back. I loved being with my kids, and I began to find creative outlets in and around the home. I deepened my prayer life. There were certainly rewards. But in other ways, leaving my job was very hard. Frankly, I really wrestled over my identity.
I worked in advertising for a couple of years before leaving with two colleagues to start a new agency. I was 25. That same year, I became a born-again Christian. What an exhilarating ride! We worked ten- or twelve-hour days, and experienced some success. New business was flowing to us. The advertising associations were noticing and commending our work. We were suddenly winning clients from other cities. I even had a client in another country.
I was a woman succeeding in a man’s world. I was very much “living the dream.” I loved Jesus and being a Christian, but my primary identity was “successful professional.” My work was the main source of my personal sense of affirmation and accomplishment. I could exercise control, see results on a regular basis, and be rewarded for it, both with recognition and compensation.
Less Than My Best
A few years later, I married a wonderful guy (who happened to be one of my business partners!), and before long we had a son. I tried working part-time and was (as I know so many women are) torn and guilty much of the time. I felt like I was giving less than my best both places.
Then another son was born. I didn’t last a week at the part-time job. Even though our income was slashed, and severe budgeting became a reality, I decided to go home for good. On top of losing an income, my husband and I also felt called to begin giving 10% of what we earned to the church. While we remained in a small home with old carpet and sacrificed many “nice things,” by God’s grace, we never missed the money.
“I’m Just a Mom”
I loved so much about being at home. I loved being the main nurturer of my babies. I loved witnessing their “firsts.” I loved the bonding happening with my boys. I loved sharing Jesus with our kids, and teaching them to love him. I loved being able to get to know some moms in the neighborhood. I loved the opportunity to do a little sewing and to learn how to cook.
But there were also things I didn’t love. I didn’t like that nothing was ever done. At work, I finished projects. At home, I could work the whole day, and at the end there was absolutely no evidence I had done anything at all. There was always more laundry to do, another mess in the living room, another meal to fix, another diaper to change. At work, I could tell when I was doing a good job. At home, I struggled to have confidence in my abilities. I was pouring into my kids, but the changes were so incremental I couldn’t tell if anything I was teaching them was taking hold. Was the investment of my time and energy really making a difference?
But it was worse than that. At home, it often seemed like nobody noticed or applauded anything I did. At work, I had been a shining young professional helping people be successful and businesses grow. I had a portfolio! I was moving up! I was important! Now I was that poor woman you see at the grocery store who’s obviously not had time to take a shower or fix her hair, dressed in rumpled clothing, looking exhausted as she denies her toddler yet one more sugary treat.
If I went to a professional event with my husband and someone asked me what I did, I cringed and said, “I’m just a mom.”
Work That Lasts
Many years later, it embarrasses me to see how much value I placed on man-centered achievement and applause. I was a sincere Christian with a growing relationship with Jesus, I was teaching my children about him with joy, but I had not yet learned to find my value and worth in him. And I had not yet learned which things have eternal value, and which will soon be forgotten.
If I were to trot out any of the “spectacular” work I did in my business days, it would look hopelessly outdated and irrelevant today. On the other hand, when I look at my sons, God shows me priceless evidence and rewards for the sacrifices and investments I made in their growing up years.
Of course, I am not saying it is bad to work in the business world or in any job. Far from it! Jobs of all kinds are the wonderful way God provides for people all over the earth. And God calls many women to work outside the home — even those who have small children.
Proverbs 31 extols a woman who deftly balances business interests outside the home while providing care and nurture to her family. (I would point out, however, that even for her, there doesn’t seem to be much time to sleep!) The work itself is not bad — even though most of it is going to pass away.
A Mother’s Worth
The problem for me was when my work became my identity, when my work was the source of my “self-esteem” and made me feel more “important,” when my work seemed more worthy because it was more interesting on a day-to-day basis, when my work was necessary for approval, praise and applause.
God tells me he loved me and chose me to be his daughter before the foundation of the world, whether I work at home or on Wall Street (Ephesians 1:3–4). He says that though I am clearly a sinner rebelling against a holy God (Romans 3:23), by Jesus’s sacrifice, I am forgiven, bought, and paid for — regardless of whether I am a barista or at home changing diapers (Ephesians 1:7–8; Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 7:23). As a born-again child of God, I am an heir with Christ of all things, whether I oversee a team of a hundred or a nest of three (Romans 8:14–17; Hebrews 1:2). In light of all of this, I was irrational to look for earthly applause to make me feel valued and of worth.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)
Better to Stay at Home?
Is it better for moms to stay at home? I don’t pretend to have the definitive answer to that question, or to know God’s will for other women. But I do encourage young moms to consider their reasons for wanting to work outside the home. If your income is needed to put food on the table and clothes on the backs of your family, you may well need to work outside the home.
My heart breaks for moms who would give anything to be able to be home with their kids, but circumstances of all kinds keep them in the workplace. If this is you, know that God knows your heart, that he has called you to the work he is giving you, and that he will bless your family even as you are obedient to him in these hard things. There may be other legitimate reasons God is sincerely and surely calling you to make the sacrifice to work outside the home. The most important thing is to seek him and be obedient to the call he is giving you.
But if you are working outside the home mainly because it makes you feel good about yourself, or because you really enjoy it, or because it seems more interesting, you may need to pray about whether this is really God’s call on your life — or whether selfish interests are guiding your decisions.
Stay and Make Disciples
Over the years, I learned that my life at home did not have to be boring. I came to appreciate that the things I was doing were of lasting importance, and that doing them well made a difference. God tackled the immense pride in my heart, and used my time at home with my children to begin cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in me. Best of all, throughout those years, my greatest treasure became Jesus.
Jesus told us to make disciples, and raising children is the most concentrated opportunity we have to obey that command. As I look back on my life as a mom at home, I know I never will regret the moments that I spent nurturing, teaching, and playing with my kids. It was a true privilege to have a central role in discipling my children in each phase of their development. I am so grateful God made that possible for me and for our family.