I recently encountered a young woman online who wrote about her dream to someday be a mother. She reflected that, these days, a dream of raising children to be good people doesn't seem to be widely understood or valued, and she'd encountered some tough criticism from friends. One friend could barely contain his disgust.
"Seriously?" he'd replied. "Don't you want to contribute to society?"
A sharper comment than most, perhaps, but it's representative of how our culture often views the role of mothers. The problem is not that moms are being encouraged to pursue a job outside the home, which many mothers do very well. No, the real issue here is that moms today live in a world that believes a career defines them, makes them a whole person, and that without such an occupation, women aren't using their brains or playing a meaningful role in our world.
Don't you want to contribute to society? I wish I'd been at the table during that conversation. After all, without us moms, there wouldn't be a society to contribute to. As a mother, I'm responsible for showing my kids how our world works, how they can understand or make sense out of it, and how they can live healthy lives in it.
I'm responsible for teaching my children how to do everything from chewing food to driving a car. I prevent psychological, physical and spiritual disasters on a regular basis. I am a director of security, health, education and welfare, and I take frequent shifts as financial planner, travel agent and personal adviser.
The long game
Of course, as moms we don't always have such a high view of our job. During the years we spend raising our kids, the work can often seem overwhelming and under-inspiring. I can look back now with joy, seeing it all in perspective, but there were stretches of time when I felt motherhood was sapping my strength and dreams from me. My time wasn't my own, my body wasn't my own, demands were placed on me every waking hour — and during many of my sleeping hours, too.
Not long ago, I received a desperate phone call from my friend Kay, who was in the trenches of motherhood. "Is there light at the end of this tunnel?" Kay asked. She told me she was in over her head with parenting her young children. Kay is a capable, intelligent woman and a trained psychologist. But she certainly wasn't feeling very capable then.
In fact, she sounded a bit like she was ready to throw in the towel with the entire mothering adventure. It had been a long journey from the halls of academia to the changing table, and at the moment it seemed like the wrong direction. Kay pleaded incompetence. She felt trapped, breathless. The endless clutter was closing in on her.
"I'm tired all the time," she said. "I can't get on top of anything. These kids have insatiable needs and demands. Sometimes even they don't know why they're crying."
By her own admission, Kay was "freaking out." (Psychologists can be so clinical.) The 2-year-old seemed bent on destroying everything in his path. The baby was always screaming or needing a diaper changed. "Help!" she begged.
Coincidently, that same week I'd received a pair of letters from my two older boys, who were away at college. After a moment of consideration, I decided to read the letters to my friend. These letters told of how thankful my boys were to have me as a mom, how they recognized and appreciated all the sacrifices I'd made over the years: the taxi service, the help with homework, the time we spent together talking and laughing and learning about our world and how God is working in our lives. It was the kind of sentiment that children rarely express while they're growing up, and the letters had filled me with a warm glow that week. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
By the time I finished reading the letters, I could hear that Kay was trying to hold back tears. "Thank you," she said. It is sometimes difficult to remember the big picture, she agreed, and it was nice to have a little perspective restored. It's the ultimate paradox of motherhood: We forge the future, contributing more to human society than any force on the planet, yet while in the trenches we are often completely unaware of our significance.
As moms, we often need to look beyond the day's obstacles and glimpse the bigger goals of tomorrow, of raising kind, resilient children who pursue God's plan for their lives. "I need my short-sighted vision of motherhood corrected with an eternal perspective," writes Gloria Furman, mama of four and author of Missional Motherhood. "Otherwise, we will not keep our gaze fixed on the horizon of eternity."
A big investment
I once worked part time at a department store during special sales, the kind of seasonal events that bring shoppers stampeding into the aisles when the doors opened. Witnessing that rush always reminded me of my life at home, nearly overrun by the demands of mothering my little ones.
Most moms feel this way, I suppose, during the wild years when the investment is just being made, long before we get to enjoy any of the dividends. In those times, you need a vision to focus on. You need to know, even though it may not look as if your efforts are bearing fruit, that they will pay off one day. Every little thing you do has its impact.
All three of our sons love sports. Since I loved tennis, I saw an opportunity to pass along that joy to my boys. I took each of them to the local tennis courts when they were middle schoolers to teach them the game. I spent hour after hour hitting the ball, returning volleys and helping them develop a serve.
I don't know which was harder, hitting thousands of tennis balls or being an encouragement to keep my sons going. One of my boys had a hard time, making mistakes and getting down on himself. He really wanted to succeed, but for a while it was a challenge for him. Day after day, I was his cheerleader. And eventually, his game began to click.
As my two older boys, Kent and Blake, entered high school, they played as doubles partners on the school team and became district champions. When Kent graduated, Blake found another partner, and they repeated the championship. Later, both boys went on to play competitively in college, and Kent later competed as a tennis pro. Ryan, our youngest, was a varsity letterman on his high school team.
Was the effort worth it? The boys have told me it was. Tennis scholarships allowed them to travel internationally, something we could never have afforded. Kent's earnings as a tennis pro helped pay for his graduate school.
My sons learned perseverance, self-discipline and how to win and lose gracefully. They had the satisfaction and pleasure of their accomplishments, and they continue to have confidence in life.
So much of this started by taking the time to hit the ball, build them up, hit the ball again, and build them up again.
An eternal impact
As a mom, never underestimate your impact. The great pastor Charles Spurgeon said it so well:
"You are as much serving God in looking after your own children, and training them up in God's fear, and minding the house, and making your household a church for God, as you would be if you had been called to lead an army to battle for the Lord of hosts."
If you are in a dark season of motherhood right now, if you can't see the influence you have and everything feels amiss, then remember that what you do every day is an honorable calling. Keep your hands busy on the day's tasks and your eyes focused on the long-term goal.
Trust that there really is light at the end of the tunnel.