To celebrate the launch of Diane's latest book, Women Who Work, Love, Pray, we wanted to revisit one of the interviews featured in the book and get an update from Sonya Crawford Bearson to see where God has taken her and her family in the two years since we interviewed her. She talks today about whether or not she will re-enter the workforce, and offers her advice to anyone considering quitting their job.
4word: Many women struggle with balancing the relationship between career and family. What did that balance look like for you?
Sonya: The short answer is that I opted out. When I became pregnant with our first child, my husband was in the process of looking for a new job, as he knew his would be ending in about a year. I was in my third year of a 4-year contract with ABC News, working as a correspondent based in Washington, D.C. When he was offered a job in his home state of Minnesota, we prayed about it and made the decision to move. I had been working very hard for 14 years in broadcast journalism, rising steadily in my career but working late nights, weekends, overnight shifts, and holidays and being on-call for breaking news. It's a demanding job, and I didn't see how I could make it work with a child or children and be the mother and wife I wanted to be.
4word: Was that a hard decision for you? What emotions did you experience?
Sonya: I feel like I'm supposed to say that it was a hard decision or that I really struggled with being at home after being a working professional, but the truth is, I haven't. I believe it was God's grace to put me in the Minneapolis area for the start of my career as a stay-at-home mom. I know moms who had a very difficult time making the transition, but I was blessed to be a part of "Right at Home," a ministry for mothers who were making the transition from the marketplace to the home. In this ministry, which was later changed to "Moms in Step," I found a great group of women who were committed to becoming a true community of believers. We were transparent with each other, helped each other physically, and supported each other emotionally and spiritually.
Motherhood introduced me to the world of women. In broadcasting, I spent most of my time with men -- photographers, editors, producers, and even reporters. There were some women, but they tended to be like me -- driven, rational, logical, and not very emotional. Even in high school and college, my closest friends were guys. I preferred sports to fashion, and I enjoyed the straightforward behavior of men rather than the clouded variety of many women. And after some bad experiences with women in my personal and professional life, I tended to enjoy the company of men. But when you have a baby, all that changes. When I was asked to be the director of our church's ministry for moms, I couldn't help but see the irony. In my roles as mother, wife, and director of a mom’s ministry, I felt accepted and celebrated. After suffering at the hands of women in my previous job, I now had a community of women that I loved and trusted.
4word: What was the most difficult part about staying home? What helped you adjust to your new arrangement?
Sonya: The part I did struggle with was the physical part of becoming a mom. It was very hard to go from running my own schedule to having to completely turn it over to a baby. When I was nursing my first, I felt like I was trapped in some sort of home-based prison. I was so frustrated that he didn't do what the books said he would do if I did A, B, and C. As a task oriented person who loved the sense of accomplishing things, I was living the life of someone who barely got anything done. It drove me crazy!
As far as not being at work, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. I knew there was no way I could do my previous job and be there for my family in the way I wanted. Since we were in a financial situation where we could make some sacrifices, and I could stay at home, I knew it was the right choice for us.
One of the keys here is that I know my husband respects me. He knows what I gave up and what I'm capable of, and we never play that game of whose job is harder. I have been in his shoes, and I know it's not easy. He has been in mine, and he knows that he is exhausted after just a few hours with the children. We are a team, and we know we need to find time for ourselves as a couple, on our own, and with our own relationships.
4word: How have you seen God working through your decision to stay home?
Sonya: There are so many examples I could give, but here are some overall themes.
Surrender. There's nothing like a child to teach you that you are not in control of as much as you thought. This starts from the moment that the baby won't go to sleep when he should to the moment you feel like a failure when your kid makes a bad decision even though you've worked so hard to build a great relationship and Biblical foundation for his life. I have had to learn to let go and pray over the things I don't have control over. I can't just push through or will something to be. God is God, and I am not.
Humility. This is closely tied to the previous point. Nobody wants to be humbled, but this has been a season of being humbled. My discipler defines humility as being known for who you really are. When you haven't showered for days and are responsible for two little lives, there's not much of a filter left.
Community. We are not meant to do this life on our own. It is meant to be shared. We are meant to need help and to help others, and God is there in the midst of it all. That sounds like such a cliché, but it is so true. Whether it's taking a meal to someone dealing with cancer, watching a child for a neighbor who needs a break, or listening to someone's frustration and struggles with their husband or co-worker, these are all opportunities to be salt and light in the world.
Identity. You don’t realize how much of your identity is wrapped up in what you do, until you don’t do it anymore. I have met many mothers who struggle with what to say when they get asked the inevitable question, “What do you do?” We have all noticed how people lose interest or bypass us when they find out we are “just” stay-at-home moms (who never seem to be at home!). We also know the stories of women on the other end of the spectrum, who struggle with figuring out who they are when their kids leave home because they only see themselves as a mother. In both cases, it’s an issue of identity. We are not defined by what we do or even who we are, but whose we are. I am made in the image of God. I am His workmanship, His masterpiece. God sent His Son to die for me so I could be in a relationship with Him. My worth and my identity is based on that, not in how I look, how my kids behave, or in what I have accomplished.
Discipleship. When I worked in broadcast journalism, I longed for a mentor, someone to disciple me in the ways of God. As a mom, you are also hungry for good advice from those who have gone before you. This has been a fertile time for me to study and obey God’s call to make disciples and disciple-makers. I am involved with a ministry called Lionshare, which envisions and equips people to make disciples. That was Jesus' original plan for changing the world. It has been exciting to see how God is using my natural skills, personal and professional experiences, and spiritual gifts to guide others on their individual journeys. But primarily, I know that my biggest influence is with my two sons. I am called to disciple them and teach them the ways of God in a society that usually values the opposite.
4word: Two years later, how has your decision to stay at home impacted your family?
Sonya: When you interviewed me two years ago, I was seven years into my time as a stay-at home mom. This week, I am hitting my nine year mark. On one hand, I am surprised that I have stayed home full-time as long as I have. On the other hand, with all that has happened in our lives in the last two years, I see why it has happened. At the same time that my younger son entered kindergarten, I was able to relinquish caregiving duties for my mother-in-law when we put her in a nursing home, I expected that after I would begin exploring going back to work at least part-time. But then I had a health issue that had been in the background come back and knock me off of my feet. I had to experiment with various dosages of medication and deal with fatigue and side effects along with the usual demands of running a household. I was so frustrated. I cried out to God, "This was supposed to finally be my time! Why are you hitting the 'pause' button?" As my health issues stabilized, my husband was traveling a lot for work and it didn't make sense to start looking for work when summer and the end of the school year was so near. Besides, my children kept showing me on a regular basis how much they needed me. I loved being the one to hear about their day as we ate after school snacks. I loved giving them a hug when their feelings were hurt as they got off the bus and praying together for the ones who hurt them. This past year, I thought I would be back in job search mode again but then my parents, who are still missionaries in South Korea, came to stay with us for most of the year to take care of various medical issues. It was exhausting physically, emotionally and spiritually but something I knew God had called me to do.
4word: Are you or will you consider reentering the workforce?
Sonya: I don't think followers of Jesus should ever say never or always say "yes." Our calling is to be obedient to what the Lord reveals to us. My husband and I are constantly re-evaluating what is best for our family and what God is asking of us in each particular season. Recently, we decided to leave the Washington, DC, area at the end of the year so that my husband can take a job as the executive director of the discipleship ministry Lionshare. Its aim is to promote Jesus' original plan for changing the world -- investing and equipping disciples who make disciples. We have been involved with Lionshare for the past decade and have seen changed lives, changed churches and even how the foundation of discipleship has strengthened our marriage and our relationships with others.
I grew up as a missionary kid/pastor's kid, but neither of us have ever worked in full-time ministry so this is a faith commitment for us as we relocate to the Nashville area. It's possible that I may go back to work as part of this calling, either in a secular or ministry capacity. We don't know what God's plan is but we trust that He will provide, as He has so many times before. When my parents returned to South Korea last month, I realized that the side benefit of that "pause" button in not returning to the workforce, is that it freed me up to really be open to this decision to relocate to Nashville, support my husband in this new role, and gives me the bandwidth to make this move happen.
4word: What advice would you share with anyone contemplating quitting their job? What factors should be considered?
Sonya: The first one is obvious -- pray. Pray that you are not just making this decision in the middle of crisis (I'm tired, I'm angry with my boss, I have failed so I Just want to run away). Make sure you are hearing from God. How do we hear from God? Look for confirmation in Scripture, through the Holy Spirit and through Godly friends and mentors who regularly speak into your life. Second, if you are married, there must be absolute unity between you and your husband. When the storms come (and they will come), you don't want there to be finger pointing over finances, who has the harder job, and division of labor around the house. A couple that mentors us intentionally does a prayer retreat 3-4 times a year to pray through all of their major decisions. Since our kids are much younger, we don't have that luxury of time but we try to do one prayer retreat a year to wait on God about major decisions like jobs, staying at home, commitments at school and church, financial giving, and relationships we want to be more intentional about. With big decisions, we pray more regularly together and separately to see if we are hearing the same thing from God.
Most of the women I talk to about quitting their jobs are moms and it is a quality of life issue. They simply can't do everything, and their health, sanity, and relationship with their husband and children are suffering. When I talk to single women, they are trying to reconcile their desire to fulfill their calling with doing something that just pays the bills. Many also wonder if they are going to meet their future mate who will team with them as they pursue their career ambition. I don't have the answers but I try to point them back to God -- His desire to be in relationship with us and fighting our tendency to try to do everything our own. As I stated above, I can sum up my experience with motherhood with five words: "Surrender. Humility. Community. Identity. Discipleship." Those things are all necessary to consider as you decide whether to stay in the workforce.
When God calls you to give up something, He has a plan for the new direction He is calling you towards. Following that new plan can be scary as you face the unknown and new circumstances. Like Sonya, you can surround yourself with community- friends and mentors who know what you are facing. Remember, we’re not meant to face the challenges of life alone.
Sonya Crawford Bearson is a former broadcast journalist and Stanford University graduate who is married to Darren and mother to two elementary aged sons. She is the daughter of Christian missionaries to South Korea who began her career in broadcasting at the age of 16, working for the Korean equivalent of the “Today” show. Sonya worked for many different media outlets including ABC News, NBC News, KNBC-TV, Orange County NewsChannel, and for public radio's business news program "Marketplace." Her most recent position was as a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for ABC News, and she has served on the boards of the Stanford Alumni Association, the Asian American Journalists Association, and Lionshare, a Christian ministry that envisions and equips people to make disciples. She was also the director of “Moms in Step,” a ministry for mothers at Woodridge Church in Medina, Minnesota for two years. Currently, she leads a "Moms in Prayer" group for her local public elementary school. Her life verse is found in Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”