In many Christian circles, there’s a quiet—or sometimes not-so-quiet—understanding that the best-case scenario for every family is to have a mom who stays home with her children. Those who uphold this viewpoint believe that a “good mom” should at the very least want to be a stay-at-home mom. Ouch. Is there really only one kind of “good mom?” I don’t think so. But the assumption that there is only one definition of what constitutes a “good mom” is pervasive and damaging. It potentially provides an almost constant source of doubt, guilt, and pressure that seems particularly unwarranted, especially when you consider nearly 70% of moms of school-age children work, and of that group, 40% are primary breadwinners who must work to support their families.
For many working mothers, returning to work after maternity leave can feel excruciating. For me, by God’s grace, it really wasn’t. I missed my kids, and I loved them deeply, but even on those first days back, I felt confident I was where God created me to be, doing what I was made to be doing.
Incidentally, I also didn’t have a choice. I was the sole wage earner for the household, so for me—like many moms today—staying home was not an option. So on that first morning, three months after my second child was born, I greeted my nanny at the door, kissed both kids goodbye, and headed back to work with purpose. At the end of that first day back, one of my coworkers (all men at the time) asked if I was “just exhausted.”
“No,” I answered truthfully, “This was a breeze compared with caring for a toddler and an infant all day!”
I have so much admiration for women who stay home with their children. I admire them, not because I think they’re doing better for their kids than I did, but because I think the job they do is incredibly difficult. I accept that my mothering journey looks very different from theirs, and I’m okay with that, because I believe God loves my kids even more than I do, and I believe He is all-powerful. If having me home really was the only “right” option for them, I have to believe God would have shown me a path to make that happen. At certain times in my kids’ lives, I have felt called to be “at home” with them, and I have followed that call, trusting in God’s providence over all of us. For the most part, however, my circumstances, my strengths, my passions, and my prayers have all pointed me towards work, not away from it.
Where is God pointing you?
If you are fortunate enough to have a choice, pray then plan. If you’re struggling with whether or how much to work after your baby arrives, start with prayer. Specifically, pray that God guides your choice and prepares your heart and mind to go wherever He would have you. If you’re married, ask your husband to do the same. Consider carefully the particular gifts, personality, and passions God has gifted you with, and how they might play out in the home or at work full time. Consult with people who love you and know you well. Look closely at your finances and what you can responsibly afford to do. And then, make a (flexible) plan.
Sometimes the blessing of having a choice about whether and how much to work can feel like a burden because it’s so heavy with pressure in multiple directions. Your personality, your upbringing, your husband, your extended family, your church, friends, social circles, and the internet-at-large may all offer conflicting perspectives. Although I didn’t have the opportunity to make this particular choice, I’ve faced countless other weighty decisions as a mom, just like you will. Sometimes the fear of making mistakes can feel almost paralyzing.
We all want to do the best for our children, but there is no one “right” path to mothering well. You can’t freeze up when the decisions get hard. Once you have considered all the relevant factors, prayerfully make some choices.
Maybe you are driven by your gifts and achievements in the work place, but you want to be available for big events and to pick your kids up after school. When one member of our team interviewed, this was exactly what she expressed to me, and together we crafted a plan to make that happen. Another team member craved a different balance. Her priority is to be home with her young children, but she benefits from the intellectual stimulation that a few hours a week of “naptime writing” brings. As her children grow and enter new seasons, she adjusts her working hours as necessary. Their plans look very different, but each woman is honoring the gifts and the resources God gave her.
Plan ahead, and prepare the way. If at all possible, make a plan before the baby arrives. Do not wait to “see how you feel.” I can tell you “how you feel” after having a baby is exhausted from the lack of sleep, emotional from the rush of hormones, and confused as you try to master the countless challenges infants present. It’s not an ideal recipe for good decision-making. Having a plan in place will give you at least a starting point, and a guide to work from while making adjustments as necessary. Talk to your boss about your goals before you take maternity leave. Even if your ideal plan isn’t available to you right now, it helps to know what that plan would look like. If you’re asked to work more or less than you think you want to, it’s an opportunity to test your expectations.
Move forward with grace and flexibility. Some women who choose to stay home realize after a few months that they want and need to return to work, while others who embrace full-time work end up feeling imbalanced and out of place. Whatever choice you’ve made, keep an open mind, and give it some time. Even if you feel confident about your plan, the adjustment from work to home or vice versa can be hard. But hard isn’t necessarily wrong, sometimes it’s just something you have to work through. Know that God does have a plan for you, and His plans are good. “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 hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).
Whatever your future holds, motherhood is a learning process, and you must give yourself the freedom and the grace to make mistakes and corrections as you go.