Happy Monday, friends!
I know some of you have been waiting for me to deliver on my promise to answer the rest of this "Stay at Home Mom" post, but I've been waiting to publish part 2 until I felt settled in my spirit about it after spending much time editing and praying through it. Since I posted part 1, I've received lots of feedback from many of you and to no one's surprise (due to the subject matter) that recent post has become one of my most viewed posts. It's not an easy subject to take a stand on, nor is it one that is easily understood or defined. Being a Mom is an incredible privilege and truly, one of the most difficult jobs in the world. No matter what side of the fence you land on, working inside or outside of your home, or both, I think we can all agree that it is hard work to raise children. To add fuel to the fire, we now live in a culture that has drifted from once honoring and revering motherhood to one that now demeans it in place of a woman's right to have a career and achieve her dreams. It is hotly debated in many arenas and just mentioning the stay at home vs. working debate can polarize and divide Moms like no other topic can. While pondering and wrestling through this whole thing, I think I know one of the reasons why it's so hard for us to be gracious...
Please hear my heart in this...
Do NOT let this post or topic become a source of condemnation for you, unless God is really prompting you to consider why you are doing what you are doing. If that is the case, you'd be wise to listen to Him, but know that He never operates in guilt or condemnation. Conviction yes, but guilt no. I stated it before and I'll state it again, I do not have any desire or intention to divide or judge you. It's not my place nor do I have the right to do it. Everything I shared in my previous post was my personal opinion and evaluation of God's Word, and the reason we chose to make the decision we did, for OUR family. I do not know you or your family and I couldn't possibly know what the Lord is impressing on your heart, for YOUR family. Ultimately, He is the only one that we all stand accountable to and not each other. I am confident that he will speak to you, through His Word, and show you the way He wants you to go. We Mommies don't need other Mommies criticizing one another, inflicting guilt or inducing shame for the choices we've made, on either side of the fence. Only One can judge our hearts and we are wise to leave that task up to Him. So as I share a few more thoughts on being a stay at home Mom, please don't let yourself fall into that place of condemnation if you aren't one OR misunderstand me and hear me say that I'm in the right and you are in the wrong. I know who I answer to and I know what He's called my husband and I to do in this season of our lives. I do not regret the things He's impressed on me, even if they are not embraced or shared. But I want to give you the freedom to seek Him and move confidently in the direction He lays out for you. His Word always accomplishes what it was intended to and it never contradicts itself from one Testament to the other. It's has all the answers we need and as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says,
"All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Every good work. Like raising our children and doing our best to point them to Him. He's given us everything we need to do that in the inspired Word of God. EVERYTHING.
So look to Him, not to me, for what He'd have you do and as I move forward, know that I desire to extend grace upon grace to you as we struggle to obey the Lord together. Not from a place of self-righteousness, as none of us is perfect or without sin. On my best day I am still a wretched sinner, saved only by the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. I extend that same grace to you from a common position and only because of the Gospel do I have the ability to stand in Christ's righteousness and move forward in His likeness. He is the standard, always. So please hear my opinion as only that, my opinion and my conviction.
As I've thought about how to share the things I have learned in these last 3 years, God has been faithful to open my eyes to a few things that staying at home is NOT:
-It's not a guarantee that my children will magically be obedient to the Lord all their days or never falter or fail. Being home with them, for them, is very valuable and worthy but it's not a perfect formula for success. If there was a formula for raising perfect children, we wouldn't need a Savior...
-It's not always the best for them because I'm not always the best for them. Unfortunately, they are stuck with me and like everyone else, I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I'm very patient and kind in all that say and do concerning them. Those are the days I choose to remember! But on the other days, I'm quick tempered, I'm prone to anger, I'm irritated and I'm not a good representation of Jesus to them. I'm a Mom who is prone to sin, just like everyone else, and being at home does not cure that. In fact, it just might magnify it...
-It's not a choice that often leads to humility. Because we've sacrificed lots of things for them, or we've laid down dreams and affirmation in place of wiping noses and reading stories, it is quite easy to fall into a trap of self-righteousness and arrogance, as if our choice to be home is somehow more sanctifying than the Mom who chose differently. Staying at home full-time can cause a Pharisee-like demeanor if you aren't careful and Jesus was very clear about what He thought about the Pharisee's own self-proclaimed righteousness. To be in a minority for the sake of Christ may be noble, but if not done for His glory only, it's wrought with opportunity for pride and arrogance...
-It's not a decision that always puts the children first, as the very nature of it may cause you to become a slave to your house. I didn't stay home to stay on top of every chore or to have my life dictated by laundry and dishes and dusting. As a dear friend wisely reminded me, we stayed home for them, to be with them. It's just as easy for a stay at home Mom to be absent as it is for a career Mom who is away at the office...
-It's not easy. There are many days that feel isolating, lonely, and suffocating. Play dates don't magically happen without invitations or planning and sometimes your child doesn't play well with others. There are times that are awkward, times that are trying and times that you stare at the wall and wonder how long these years will take to be over. It's not all roses and tea parties, deep friendships and coffee dates...
I've learned there are so many misconceptions about being a stay at home Mom, many born of my own false expectations. To stay home seems like such a dreamy ideal, like a road less traveled on the moral high ground of perfect parenting. It had such fairytale implications when I chose it and I truly didn't foresee how or why I would ever struggle in it.
But I have.
While I count it a tremendous privilege that I do not take for granted, it has also been one of the hardest seasons of my life. It's not perfect and some days are messy. An imperfect Mom, raising imperfect kids is a great recipe for imperfection all around! But in the power of the Gospel, He makes all things possible and He can redeem us on the worst of days and reconcile us to Himself so that we can live out the Gospel to our children. The thing is, they don't need me to make their life better, they need Jesus. A sweet blogger was wise to point out in a comment last week that we are blessed to have a God that is Sovereign over all of our choices, good and bad, and He can use anything and anyone to draw our kids to Himself. He's not limited by our choices and we think way too highly of ourselves and far too dimly of Him if we think He cannot do it apart from us. That's not to say that our obedience or our responsiveness to His Word doesn't matter, it does. But because we are dead in our sins, apart from Him, only through Him can we further the Gospel in our homes. And that is the goal, isn't it? To do all that we can, by His grace, to teach them and point them to a saving faith in Jesus.
Staying at home has been hard yes, but it's also been incredibly rewarding and joy-filled. There are many days that I wake up and thank the Lord for this incredible opportunity to have this season with my kids. I don't know if I'll always have the privilege, but I'm so grateful that He's given me this time with them now. I don't regret it for a minute, even in the days when I've blown it and I know I was not the Mom they needed me to be. Although I already shared with you some of the ways we've felt the cost of living on one income, here are some things that decision has afforded our family...
-Freedom. I love the feeling of not being expected to be somewhere or having my schedule dictated to me. We are free to go out, to sleep late, to stay in our jammies, or to travel when we want to. After years of working, that was a huge feeling of relief to me. I remember being in the hospital with Ava and realizing when we got home, I had no place I had to be. We could just enjoy the time in front of us and go out when I felt like I was ready. That was a GIFT and one that I'm fighting to maintain before we have school looming over us. I think it's a gift to our kids as well. They might not realize it or remember it, but I'm confident that it is establishing security for them to know that I'm available for them and we don't have to go anywhere, everyday.
-Routine. In the same vein as time and freedom, being home has given me the opportunity to develop a good routine for my kids that has involved the ability to nap when they needed to nap, in their own beds and to know what we expect of them each day. I fight that routine sometimes, trying not to be enslaved to it or inflexible, that's important too, but I love that they have responded well to our routines and we can count on them to take consistent naps and to get the rest they need. Some days it's good for everyone to throw the routine out the window and just have a fun adventure, but more often than not, we are doing a similar thing for every one's good.
-Togetherness. We are making great memories and doing life, together. I love that I've seen all of their milestones and even captured most on video. I love that they each wake up and can't wait to see one another, even through the fighting and constant lessons in sharing, they are developing a strong bond and are making each giggle throughout the day...becoming little play mates. As Travis and I try to make the right decisions about when to send them to preschool, or if we send them to preschool, I realize how fleeting this season is when they are home together. SO many days have seemed endless and exhausting, refereeing between them and repeating myself time and time again, but I trust that we are laying a foundation of loyalty and love for one another that will benefit them for a lifetime. It's messy most days and there are always tears, but I believe the end result will prove to be worth it.
-Simplicity. Being home has forced us to focus on what we really need and desire for the good of our family and for God's glory to be displayed. We've had to let some former things go, hobbies or luxuries we once loved, but in their place we've gained so much more. I've tried to stay diligent about being very careful about what I say "yes" to when asked to take on things within the Church or in other areas. Clearing my schedule as much as possible and living a less busy or cluttered life has been incredibly freeing. These are not the years for tons of activities and volunteerism. Most of our days are relatively simple and involve being at home or in our neighborhood. There will be a season when we have more to do or when we will have to choose to let our kids get involved in things. But for now, nap times and bedtimes are too important and we just do not have many minutes of the day that they don't need us. So to keep life simple has been both necessary and helpful.
-Flexibility. This winter more than ever, I have seen the value of being able to be flexible when life throws a curve ball our way. When we spent Super Bowl Sunday in the ER and realized both kids had pneumonia and an ear infection, it was quickly apparent that we needed rest in our home above all else. I felt such relief when I looked at the week ahead and quite easily cleared all my days so that I could spend them on the couch with my kids, serving them and loving them until they turned a corner and regained their health. Many times it crossed my mind, how would I have been able to do that if I was expected to be somewhere or other people were counting on me to get something done? We would have done our best to juggle, but I know that my kids would not have had my full attention and that I would have been filled with guilt to leave them in the hands of someone else's care. I recognized what a gift I have been given to be able to drop everything at a moment's notice and give them what they needed.
Living on one income has been a stretch, but more do-able than I ever thought. It's taken more discipline and more sacrifice than we exercised before, but the Lord has been faithful to help us do what we committed to do and He has seen us through the lean times just as He has the abundant ones. In our one income lifestyle, we have...
-Saved money on gas because I am not in the car as much as I used to be. My drive time has been nearly non-existent, except for the days that we go somewhere or have errands to run. Compared to the daily/weekly commute I was making prior, that was an instant savings and one that I sometimes choose to maintain when we've had a big expense or an unexpected one. Sometimes it's just better to stay home and NOT spend money, than to be out and always tempted to buy something. That takes discipline and it's not always my preferred way to spend my day, but that's when we go for a walk or to the park or just have a fun day at home.
-Been careful about the dollars we spend at the grocery store. Of all the things we have cut back on, this is one area where our expenses have gone way, way up. Between diapers, wipes, formula (for a season) and two additional mouths to feed, I've had to really pay attention to and plan for our trips to the store. The best way I've saved us money is buy working out a meal plan and sticking to it and buy selecting store brands and things on sale. I do use coupons, but right now it's not something I'm able to give a lot of time to. I would like to take advantage of them more, but in this season and with the ages of my kids, it's simply a better idea for us to get in and out of the store as quickly as we can! I know that's an area that I have room to grow in, but it's not a priority for us yet. I've discovered that when I take the time to plan our meals at least a week in advance, sometimes two, and we don't have to make daily trips to the store, it's cheaper and we don't waste as much food. I usually make my big list after I look at our calendar for the week and I try to just go one time. I do leave some wiggle room for things that are a great deal that week or while trying to build up our pantry, but I usually do my very best to stay focused on what's on the list and try not deviate from it. Some weeks I'm really good about it, other weeks the lure of Target and it's many treats gets the best of me!
-Chosen second hand clothing over new clothing. I've always been a shopper and this has been one of the hardest areas for me to sacrifice. I like buying things on sale, I like certain stores and brands and I like the thrill of the hunt :) BUT, aside from the very basic things we've all needed, this was one area I immediately had to adjust in our budget. These days, unless we have a gift card somewhere or it's just a deal that is amazing, most of our clothes come from consignment stores, garage sales and Target on sale. My kids have been blessed by generous grandparents and some girlfriends of mine have also blessed us with clothes their kids have outgrown, but when I have a need for them I look first at one of several consignment stores I love and more times than not, I find exactly what I was looking for. For my birthday last week, Travis and I got some time alone to do some shopping because I desperately needed a few things and so did he. I took him to my favorite consignment store and we walked out with an armload of great stuff, all the brands we love and usually can't afford, for a fraction of the price. There was a day when I never would have wanted to do that or would have insisted that we buy it firsthand, but not anymore. The savings is just too great to pass up and we are lucky to have great stores here because we live in a very wealthy and populated area, with tons of choices. Plus, when I'm spending so little on a new shirt or pants or shoes, I feel like I can buy things that are more trendy or fun because it's not a huge investment. I'm grateful for the option to buy consignment stuff and I'm so happy that garage sale season has returned in Minnesota again!!
-Learned to be content and wait on the Lord for what we need and desire. I use the word "learned" because we've had to do exactly that. Learn it. Sometimes it's come easier than others, but there are many days when it is a struggle and one that does not come without a continual fight in my flesh. I like the freedom to get what we want, whenever we want it, but I've realized that I am prone to make that freedom the god I trust in or the one I bow down to. It's taken greater restraint and dependence on God to place a need before Him and then watch Him provide or to have Him correct me and show me that I've got everything I already need and He is asking me to thank Him for it and be content in what He's deemed good for us. Again, it's not come naturally most of the time but we have been blown away by the ways He's come through for us or just flat out blessed us, especially when we've chosen to wait on a purchase or say no to it. He has tickled us with His extravagant reminders that He is in control and He can do much more than we could ever ask or imagine.
-Put our creativity to the test. God has faithfully brought several opportunities to our lives that have generated extra income and helped us pay off some debt or make some extra purchases. While I was pregnant with Ava, a coaching job landed in Trav's lap and it's been both a financial blessing and a joy for him every fall. He'll start his 5th season of coaching soccer in August and we are so thankful! The Lord has also taken my hobby of floral arranging and used all my years of experience in shops all over the country, to have a small business on the side. Over the last 4 years, with no advertising or efforts to grow, He's faithfully brought job after job to me and I've loved making a little extra spending money while keeping my skills up. I never would have imagined we'd be doing either of those things, especially with kids, but it has been such a gift to have a little bit of extra work and an outlet that both of us enjoy. We've had to be wise about what we could handle and I've really had to scale way back, turning down some wedding jobs because the cost of all the time each one requires, is just too high a price for my kids to pay. It's no fun to make extra money if it sends the whole family into a state of stress and chaos!
We have been incredibly rewarded in our choice to have me stay at home with the kids. I'm grateful that we made choices to keep our expenses low and we've learned how to make sacrifices and live on less in as many areas as we could. I have no idea what the future holds for us, if I'll remain at home once our kids are in school or if the Lord will bless us with more children. I'm just thankful that in this season, He's allowed me this time with them and as we've sought Him and done our best to obey His leading, He's faithfully provided and taken care of us.
I titled these posts, "The Honor of Working at Home" because I believe that to be true. It is an honor and it is work. But I also got that title from one of my favorite books on being a wife and mom, called "Feminine Appeal: 7 Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother" by Carolyn Mahaney.
It's a wonderful source of truth and encouragement for women and I highly recommend it. It's truly my intention for these posts to bless you and not discourage you. I am a fellow player in the game, cheering you on, Mom!! We have the greatest job in the world and the ability to influence our children like on one else, potentially changing the world! So seek the Lord and know that He always has the right answers for our good and His glory. Much grace to you, friends...
"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since we as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful." Colossians 3:15
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11
"In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:6