Focus on the Family

The Value of Stay-at-Home Moms

by Jill Savage

It was Rose Kennedy who said, "I looked on child rearing not only as a work of love and duty but as a profession that demanded the best that I could bring to it." Like Rose, I have found that indeed motherhood is a profession, and it certainly deserves the best I can bring to it.

What happens at home is central to a child's ability to function throughout his life. Home is where bonding takes place and a child learns to attach to relationships. When a child can attach, that means they learn to trust people. Learning to trust is essential for having healthy relationships throughout life.

Our adopted son, Kolya, lived in an orphanage for the first nine years of his life. While it appears that it was a good orphanage, as orphanages go, the reality is that group care is never the same as mothering care. Since Kolya became a part of our family, Mark and I have been intentional about helping him learn to trust. Because I couldn't snuggle him as a baby, I've worked to snuggle with him in other ways. Sometimes I rub his legs, arms, and back with lotion at bedtime, other times we snuggle on the couch watching TV. This child doesn't need quality time; he needs quantity time. He needs to know that we're there in the morning when he wakes up and there at night when he goes to bed. He needs to know we'll be there after school and at any sport or music event he participates in. Home is where he is learning to trust, to love, and to be loved.

Home is where a child learns who they are. Each of us is created uniquely by God. We have unique gifts, talents, and temperaments. Home is the place those are discovered and celebrated.

Home is where we learn whose we are. We're not designed to journey through life alone. God created us to have relationship with Him. The most effective place for us to learn that is not at church — it's at home!

Home serves as our base camp. It's where we rest our head every night. It's the place we find clean clothes and a warm meal. It's a place of protection from the world and all that it demands.

With all the diverse roles that home plays in our life, someone has to be on duty to stay true to the construction blueprint.

On a construction site, the site manager is an on-site leader. He or she is present every day to make sure plans are followed, jobs are completed, and people are doing what they need to do. The site manager and the general contractor regularly communicate in order to keep the construction plan on task and on time. They confer and strategize together, and then the manager oversees the on-site work.

There is so much diversity in what goes on at home that an on-site manager is desperately needed. Someone needs to have the time and energy to invest in each member of the family as well as manage all the different facets of home. That's the essence of the job description for Mom, the site manager.


Being Available for Your Kids

Children need Mom to be available for them.

by Jill Savage

Dr. Swenson, in his book Margin, suggests that Christians need to have enough margin in their life so that when God asks them to do something, they are available to do it. He calls this the ministry of availability.

I'd like to suggest a slightly different perspective on that. I believe that motherhood is the ministry of availability. Our fast-paced world desperately needs people who recognize that life doesn't fit into nice little compartments of time such as: this is when I'll work, this is when I won't work, this is when I'll take care of myself, this is when I'll play with my kids, this is when I'll spend time with my husband, this is when I'll talk with my kids…I think you get the picture. Life doesn't work that way, and if we expect it to, we will find ourselves not only sorely disappointed but racked with guilt as well.

When Kolya jumped in the car after school and immediately asked, "Mom, who is my real mom? You know, the lady whose tummy I was in?" being available was of the utmost importance. His class had been discussing family trees in school that day, and his mind was swimming with questions that exploded out of him as soon as he left school. I needed to be available to answer those questions then — while they were fresh on his mind.

When my sister, who was pregnant with twins, ended up on full bed rest for more than three months, I had to be available: available to do her laundry, available to clean her house, available to take her older boys occasionally. But I couldn't do it all — her moms group stepped up to be available as well. Marilee spent one morning a week at her house asking, "What do you need done today, Juli?" Lianne organized women from the church to come and help do housework Juli simply couldn't do. Women from all over brought meals for months to help keep Juli in bed and keep those babies from being born too early. There was a whole band of women who stepped up because they believed in the ministry of availability.

Lotte Bailyn brought some perspective to this availability concept when she said, "Instant availability without continuous presence is probably the best role a mother can play." There is a balance between being there for your children and smothering them with your presence. Children need Mom to be available but not hovering over their lives in such a way that it robs them of independence and their ability to eventually fly from the nest.

Availability also doesn't mean that Mom is so focused on the needs of her family that she cannot take care of her own physical and emotional needs. Mom may be the site manager, but even a site manager has to step away from the job occasionally and take some time off. Who takes care of Mom? Mom has to learn the art of self-care.


Taking Care of Yourself

We need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our family.

by Jill Savage

I sat on the Southwest Airlines airplane with Anne on a trip to visit a pen pal in California. As we were preparing to push away from the gate, the flight attendant gave emergency and safety information. "Should there be a change in pressure in the plane, an oxygen mask will drop down above your head. Please place the mask over your mouth and nose and breathe normally." She continued with, "If you are traveling with a small child, please put your mask on first and then help your child with their mask. Oh, and if you are traveling with two children … well … you'll just have to pick your favorite!" Everyone on the plane laughed at her attempt to put humor into an otherwise monotonous message.

I've thought about those instructions many times since that trip. Not the part about picking your favorite, but the part where she said, "If you are traveling with a small child, please put your mask on first and then help your child with their mask." She was imparting wisdom to parents who would otherwise rush to the aid of a child before taking care of themselves. The principle behind the instruction is this: The best thing for the child in the long run is to have a parent who can take care of them beyond the crisis that requires the air mask. In other words, we need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our family. I believe that is a message every mom needs to hear.

No one else can do a better job at self-care than you. You have to identify the challenges of your job and strategies you can do to manage those challenges. You also have to identify what best refuels you emotionally and physically to help you go the distance you need to as a mom. Here are some common challenges that drain moms and some strategies for managing those challenges.

Isolation

When I first became a mom I couldn't believe how isolated I felt. I longed for a connection with other moms. I wanted to know if my experiences were normal and I needed to be with other women who understood what my life was like.

My friend Julie invited me to be a part of her playgroup. I jumped at the chance and found the camaraderie I was looking for. These women were just like me! This was my first introduction to the concept of a moms group, something I've been committed to ever since. Moms groups, whether small, loosely organized play-groups or well-structured community or church groups, are vital to a mom and her need to be with other moms. Every mom needs a mothering community — a place where she finds encouragement in her role as a wife and a mother. A moms group is also a place a mom can be cared for. When my sister went on bed rest with her pregnancy, her moms group was part of a community of women who took care of her in that challenging season. Who mothers the mother? Other mothers.

If you don't have a moms group, find one or start one. If you are a mother of a preschooler, you might start by looking for a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group in your area. Go to www.mops.org, type in your zip code and you'll be given a list of groups near your home. If your kids are older or there isn't an established moms group in your area, you can start one of your own. You might want to pick up my book Creating the Moms Group You've Been Looking For at your local bookstore or at www.hearts-at-home.org to give you ideas and get you started in the right direction.

At the very least, start making an effort to spend time with other moms. Invite a mom and her kids over to play and visit. Ask a neighbor if she'd like to go out one night a week for pie and coffee. Be intentional about spending time with other women who understand what your life is like.

No Time Off

One of the biggest challenges of full-time motherhood is the fact that there's no lunch break, no vacation time and you don't get to leave the office at the end of the day. In time, I found that this left me feeling both trapped and depleted. It's the repetitive monotony of "mommy tasks" that leave us longing for "just a few hours to myself." Can Mom have some time off? Absolutely! What she has to do, though, is learn how to create it for herself.

Time off for me has looked different in different seasons of my mothering journey. What has been consistent has been my strategy to find it. I learned early on that no one was going to walk up to me and say, "Jill, I think you need a break." Instead, I had to learn to build breaks into my life, ask for them clearly and do whatever I could to make them happen.

When Anne and Evan were small, I attended an aerobics class three evenings a week. Asking Mark to cover the home front, I headed off for exercise, but even more than that I looked forward to the conversation each night. Most of the women enrolled in the class were moms, and our conversations before and after class were always encouraging.

When Erica was a baby, I longed to read the newspaper without interruption. That's when I asked Mark if he could give me 30 minutes each evening to read the newspaper in our bedroom. The time to myself was refueling. During that summer, I also asked Mark if one night of the week could be "Daddy night." He was agreeable to that, so after dinner each Thursday night, I would meet a friend for pie, shop or head to a park with a blanket and a book.

When Erica was a preschooler, a friend and I discovered that we could give each other days off. We chose Tuesday as our day — one Tuesday was my day off and the next Tuesday was her day off. Our kids loved the arrangement because once a week they were assured of a play day together. Sometimes I would use my day off to simply come home and sleep, other days I chose to go shopping or run errands, and almost every time I would do lunch with my husband.

When asked what she wanted for her birthday, my friend Julie told her husband she wanted him to get her a hotel room just for herself. He obliged. On her birthday she checked into a local hotel with scrapbooking supplies in tow. She enjoyed a night to herself, watched any movie she wanted on television and scrapbooked for hours. The next morning she woke up without the help of an alarm clock, had a leisurely morning and checked out at noon. She said it was one of the nicest birthday presents she ever received!

If you haven't had time for yourself, think about the activities that would refuel you. Once you've determined your strategy, do whatever you need to do to make it happen. It will almost always require the help of other people: a sitter, your spouse, your parents, a friend or a neighbor. The rewards are well worth the effort, however. You need it, and your family needs it too.

Very Little Sense of Accomplishment

Most homemaking tasks could be described as mundane and repetitive. It takes four hours to clean up a house and only four minutes for your kids to trash it. A load of laundry takes two hours to complete and a potty-training toddler can dirty half that load in a single day. Once a meal is finished and all the dishes are washed or tucked in the dishwasher, it's almost time to be thinking about the next meal. At night after everyone is in bed, a weary mother can wonder, "Did I accomplish anything today?"

By the world's standards, it might not seem as though we have accomplished much. However, the world's standards don't apply to the profession of motherhood. In this profession, the little things are the big things: snuggling an infant, playing peekaboo, changing diapers, nursing, giving a bottle, attending tea parties with dolls, driving trucks in the sandbox, playing catch in the backyard, having a snack on the porch, listening to the saga of a teenage breakup, picking up a sick child from school … the list goes on and on. These are the accomplishments of motherhood. They can't be checked off a list. They don't earn you a raise. They are rarely measurable. But they matter a lot.

You and I can't look for our sense of accomplishment on a daily basis. We have to look for it over the long haul … that's about 18 years or so. What I do today does matter, but it might not be noted or valued for a long time. A woman in the profession of mothering serves and cares for her family as an extension of her relationship with God: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these…you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). With that perspective, there are no menial tasks, there is much accomplishment and there is a higher sense of purpose. Understanding that perspective is the highest form of self-care there is.


The Art of Homemaking

Homemaking is majoring in family relationships.

by Jill Savage

The word "homemaker" is often considered passé. It brings about connotations of June Cleaver in the 1950s show Leave It to Beaver. Today's mom at home is known as a "stay-at-home mom," a "mother at home," a "domestic engineer," but rarely a "homemaker." However, before we completely throw this word out, I think we need to consider how appropriate it really is. The word "homemaking" is a beautiful word. It describes "a person who makes a home."

In Professionalizing Motherhood I quoted Holly Schurter, a mother of eight, on the concept of homemaking. I think her words bear repeating:

Cultivate the skills, not only of housekeeping, but of making a home for your family. As you know already, they are not always exactly the same. Housekeeping consists of the laundry, the dishes, the toilets, and floors that need to be scrubbed, but homemaking is something else…

Homemaking is the deliberate cultivation of beauty and productivity in family relationships. Homemaking is about helping your family feel loved and comforted. Homemaking is about celebrating each other, and about caring for each other, as well as for your friends and extended families and even the occasional stranger. Anyone can keep house. Not everyone bothers to make a home.

Homemaking happens when we fully understand the value of home in our lives. Homemaking happens when we intentionally make home a safe house, a trauma unit, a pep rally, a playground, a school and more. Somebody has to have the time and energy to bring those roles alive in a family's life. Somebody has to make a house a home. Homemaking is majoring in family relationships.

I think Laura Ingalls Wilder captured it best when she said, "Just as a little thread of gold, running through a fabric, brightens the whole garment, so women's work at home, while only the doing of little things, is just like the golden gleam of sunlight that runs through and brightens the whole fabric of civilization."

Aromatherapy at Home

Some housekeeping tasks contribute toward making a house a home. For instance, have you ever considered how important smells are for a family? It's amazing where your sense of smell can take you. One whiff of someone's perfume can bring to mind a special friend who used to wear the same fragrance. The smell of cookies baking will take you back to when you were grade school age and sitting in your grandmother's kitchen. Or the fragrance of fresh flowers can cause you to remember the first bouquet delivered to your door.

However, scents not only cause us to reminisce. Aromatherapy experts will tell you that certain smells aid in emotional wellness. For instance, lavender is supposed to ease anxiety, jasmine boosts confidence, and ginger fights fatigue. I don't know that I completely buy into all the claims of aromatherapy, but as a mother I have come to understand what smells in our home mean to my family and friends. It's really one aspect of the art of homemaking.

When the kids come home from school and smell cookies baking in the oven, they feel nurtured and cared for. No matter what challenges the school day brought, it fades at the smell of fresh-baked cookies.

When my husband comes home from work and dinner is cooking, he immediately feels that home is a safe place. A refuge. A place where he is cared for. Whatever stress was experienced at work begins to melt as he walks in and knows that food and comfort go hand in hand.

When a friend stops by and smells a pot of coffee brewing, she knows someone was anticipating her arrival. She feels welcome. There is relational warmth extended to her.

When my family comes home to the smell of Pledge or Lysol, they know someone has been caring for the home they live in. There's something about the smell of cleaning products that says, "Everything's okay at home."

Our home is designed to be a place where we can relax, find comfort, feel safe and receive love. Smells can never substitute for quality conversation, physical affection or words of encouragement, but they can have a powerful effect on our emotions and sense of security in the family unit.

Several years ago I heard author and speaker Elise Arndt, a mother of five, share some of the things she had learned about homemaking. One of the things she talked about was aromatherapy for the family. She shared her secret of boiling an onion on the stove when she didn't know what was for dinner. The smell of the onion soothed her and spoke volumes to the family because it said, "Dinner is cooking. Mom's got it under control. Life is okay." And it bought her time to figure out what to add to that onion to feed her family of six.

When I first heard her talk about spraying Pledge as an air freshener or boiling an onion, I thought it might be a bit deceitful. Then I thought about the fragrance of a burning "sugar cookie" candle or the smell of potpourri or melted wax chips. Many of us intentionally fill our home with the fragrance of our favorite candle or air freshener. Elise was simply creating her own scents to speak to the specific needs of her family.

One of the reasons I'm at home is to provide an environment my family wants to come home to. As best I can, I can create a welcoming, soothing atmosphere to speak love to my family. Personally, I really don't know if peppermint improves concentration, but what I do know is that occasionally the smell of a boiling onion does wonders for my mind-set and has an incredible calming effect upon our home.

It also buys me time to figure out what's for dinner …


The Power of a Mother's Love

A mother's love needs to be given unconditionally to establish trust and a firm foundation of emotional intimacy in a child's life.

by Jill Savage

The back cover of Dr. Brenda Hunter's book The Power of Mother Love casts a vision for moms:

Mother love shapes cultures and individuals. While most mothers know that their love and emotional availability are vital to their children's well-being, many of us do not understand the profound and long-lasting impact we have in developing our young children's brains, teaching them first lessons of love, shaping their consciences … At a time when society urges women to seek their worth and personal fulfillment in things that take them away from their families and intimate bonds, Hunter invites women to come home — to their children, their best selves, their hearts.

You and I need to be willing to look inside our own experiences to identify any places we may still be affected by our relationship with our own mother. We can begin that journey by simply being willing to search our heart and better understand ourselves. Professional counseling may also be a valuable part of that process. Laura Ingalls Wilder said, "What is there in the attitude of your children toward yourself that you wish were different? Search your own heart and learn if your ways toward your own mother could be improved." This is important whether your mother is still living or not. You and I are deeply affected by our relationship with our mother and one of the most powerful gifts we can give to our children is our own emotional health. A first step you can take on this journey is reading The Mom I Want to Be by T. Suzanne Eller. This book is designed to help you rise above your past and give your kids a great future.

A child should never feel as if they need to earn a mother's love. This will leave a void in their heart all of their life. A mother's love needs to be given unconditionally to establish trust and a firm foundation of emotional intimacy in a child's life. If love is withheld, a child will look for it in a million other ways, sometimes throughout their lifetime unless they come to some sort of peace with their past. The emotional foundation we give our children at home is foundational to their life. We cannot underestimate the value of home and the power of mother love.

It's All About Influence

The profession of motherhood is all about influence. You and I have an incredible opportunity to influence the next generation by what we do as a mother every day. This is why intentionality is so important during the years that we raise our family. Be intentional about your own healing from life's hurts. Be intentional about taking care of yourself. Be intentional about investing in your marriage. Be intentional about parenting. Be intentional about homemaking. Intentionality increases influence, and influence is something God asks us to be intentional about. We cannot underestimate the power of mother love, the value of home and the significance of our intentional presence in the home.


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