Mother Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

I have never been a traffic cop, a test pilot, or a lion tamer.

But I have been a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I think that qualifies me to be any of the above.

The Mommy Wars have raged ever since Betty Friedan told us about the “problem with no name.” Her apt description of the ennui of the enforced stay-at-home-momism of the mid-twentieth century was enough to launch a sociopolitical movement. It was also the first shot fired across the bow of full-time, stay-at-home mothering as a profession and way of life.

We haven’t stopped squabbling since. Gallup Polls recently added kindling to the fire with a survey that they say shows full-time stay-at-home moms are unhappier than their working counterparts. I could show you tables and data, but I think I just summarized the whole shebang in the previous sentence. If you’re a data wonk, just follow the link and enjoy.

The central question for me is why we as a society have latched onto the premise that personal satisfaction of the moment is the key to good living and the value by which we judge everything we chose to do with our lives. Why, in short, do we think that our own little personal momentary happiness trumps every other value or outcome our behavior might create?

This is a salient question for parents. Having babies isn’t always easy. Contrary to what they told us back in the pre-sex-education age, we don’t find them in the cabbage patch. It takes months of nausea, bloating and achy backs to make a baby. They are the sweetest little things that ever was, but babies are not always easy to come by.

Once we get them here, they’re also not always easy to raise. One of the goofier new words we’ve pushed into our language in the last few decades is “parenting.” What is that? I understand “raising” kids. But parenting? Nope. Doesn’t resonate.

I raised my kids. And as I said, it wasn’t always easy. To begin with, they cost money. Since I quit my job to stay home with them, this added expense came at a time when we’d just halved our family income. In addition to the money thing, raising kids is not an 8 to 5 job. You can’t just park them somewhere and go home to child-free life. A parent is a parent from the moment their baby is conceived until said parent crosses out of this life into the next. Maybe after that. I’m don’t know. But I do know that you never, so long as you live, stop being a parent once you’ve become one.

Nothing gets you out of it. If you kill your baby in an abortion, if they die through illness or accident or war, they are still your child and you are still their parent. I have friends who’ve lost a child, and they will tell you, “We have nine children; eight here and one in heaven.” That’s how they think of it. That’s how it is.

It is a relationship that neither time nor circumstance can sever. Nothing; not divorce, abandonment, adoption or medical chicanery can change this. If you participate in the conception of a human being, you are a parent. And you always will be.

I fear I’m making child-rearing sound like it’s some sort of punishment that we should sentence criminals to in hopes of ending recidivism. In truth, my years as a full-time, stay-at-home-mom were the best, most rewarding years of my life. I am grateful to the bone that I had them. They were also my most challenging years.

Raising children full-time is harder than any job I’ve ever had. It took every bit of ingenuity, grit and strength that I could muster. I learned to pray, really deeply pray, when I was a full-time mom. I also learned everything about humility that anyone ever needs to know.

I’m not surprised that a random survey that snapshots stay-at-home-moms in the now shows that they are not as “happy” as their working-mom counterparts. As hard as holding down a job is, it’s still a breather from the much harder and more demanding work of raising little children. Add to that the fact that mothers don’t get any respect, that stay-at-home-moms are almost universally dissed, insulted, talked down to and scorned, and you have a recipe for disgruntlement.

I don’t quarrel with the results of this survey. What I do disagree with is the way we all seem to think that momentary happiness for its own sake is the primary goal of life and that it trumps every other consideration. I have a news flash for those who are interested: Anything worth doing is going to be hard. Anything you do that makes the world a better place, that involves commitment and self-sacrifice and love of others more than yourself is going to also extract some pain, angst and work.

The irony is that if you make happiness your goal in life, you will end up in a pit of ennui that makes “the problem with no name” that Betty Friedan talked about look like deep fulfillment. The only way to be happy — to find contentment and inner peace — is to give yourself away.

That’s what being a Christian is. You give yourself away. You stop living for yourself and begin living for Christ and through Christ, for other people. Nothing in this life comes as close to the love of Christ as a mother’s selfless giving herself away to her children. I experienced it from my mother and I gave it to my own kids. My hope is that my grandchildren will know the same love.

I am not writing this to advocate for mothers to stay home with their kids. I have friends who worked while their children grew up and the kids did great. The reason is that these mothers gave themselves away to their kids just as any other mother does. You can work and raise your kids successfully. You can also stay home with your kids and have a great career later. I’m proof of that.

But whether you stay home with them full time or you go out to work to support them, you will fail as a parent if you make pleasing yourself and living a life that chases after some transitory bubble of happiness as your goals. The way to be happy is to forget about yourself and love other people enough to care for them, stand by them and be there for them.

Backwards as this sounds, when you give yourself away, that is when you find yourself for real.

  • Mary

    I love this column! My favorite part is where you talk about how nothing “gets you out of it”…
    Also, imho, I think that moms with young children who teach preschool children with special needs are a special breed…and maybe should be considered for automatic sainthood (not to mention pay raises).

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      How do we know they DON’T qualify for automatic sainthood? :-)

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com/ Jessica Hoff

    It seems to be part of the view that we have one life and that its sole purpose is the pursuit of material things which will make us happy. That us so far from the Christian viewpoint that it is no wonder the world hates us.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Very true, Jessica.

  • Becca

    I am home with my boys, and there is nothing in this world I would trade for the time I have with them ~ it brings me GREAT joy! And they both often tell me they wouldn’t trade it either! They are older, and while they do not require as much of my “hands-on” as their earlier years, they require my “mind-on” during their teenage years. Just this morning I was discussing with my oldest how bad company corrupts good morals . . . AGAIN. I pay attention to what my boys do, and who they are with.
    And to think I was told that I hated to work – there is a war on moms who stay at home!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      I was told that I was wasting my life by staying home with my kids. I imagine working moms hear that they are neglecting their kids. When it comes to moms, everybody seems to have an opinion they want to share, whether anyone else wants to hear it or not.

  • http://www.thresholdofheaven.com Peter

    “That’s what being a Christian is. You give yourself away. You stop living for yourself and begin living for Christ and through Christ, for other people. Nothing in this life comes as close to the love of Christ as a mother’s selfless giving herself away to her children.”

    Thank you for the wisdom of this post, Rebecca. May God be with you.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Peter. You were in it, you know, along with my friends that I mentioned.

  • Myra Martinez

    Thanks Rebecca! What a beautiful explanation of the joy and reward of staying at home with our children. It’s something that is just not appreciated any more and it’s a sad shame. There is nothing like those cherished years of spending time with your child! It is true, even those children we may lose in death are still part of our family forever. From my own experience of losing a child to cancer at age 7, I will always dearly cherish the years I stayed at home with her. She was my 1st child and I quit my job the day she was born, even though we were broke and my husband was still in college. I have to to say that was one of the best decisions I ever made. Thankful God lead me the right direction when I prayed and discerned about working. Thanks for your beautiful message and appreciation for all stay-at-home moms!

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Thank you Myra. You are my hero.

  • http://www.gemsofgodsgrace.wordpress.com Tammy Tkach

    Great post! I have always considered being able to stay home with my kids a tremendous blessing. They are both in their twenties now and we have a great relationship. The time I spent with them was precious.

    Thanks for visiting my blog and liking so many of my posts.
    Blessings.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Tammy, I love your blog. I look forward to each new verse.
      My kids are in their twenties, too. I am soooo glad I got to be with them when they were little.
      Thanks for stopping by.

      • http://www.gemsofgodsgrace.wordpress.com Tammy Tkach

        Thanks!

  • Amber

    Thank you so much for this- I am at home with 3 young boys and really needed to read this. Even though I want to be home raising my kids, the burn out is real, and the world’s disparagement starts to seep in.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Amber, I know all about it. It makes me so glad if this post helps. What you are doing is important. Never forget that.

    • http://greenlightlady Wendy Macdonald

      It gets easier as they age, especially boys. I do remember the “motor” noises they used to make were so cute, but at times I craved silence… ~ Wendy

  • http://greenlightlady.wordpress.com Wendy Macdonald

    I love your last line: “…when you give yourself away, that is when you find yourself for real.” As a stay-at-home mom I have found this to be sooo true! I love my family and my life. ~ Wendy

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      :-)

  • http://rachelledawson.com Rachelle

    It can be hard to see past the moment sometimes when you stay home with your kids. Thanks for this reminder that’s more to the choice than being happy right now.

  • http://www.myyearlongjourney.com Marisa Bernard

    Rebecca,
    I love this post!! I was a stay at home mom and I was so thankful I had the opportunity to do so. I love the thrust of your message, to “not chase after some transitory bubble of happiness, (but rather) forget about yourself and love other people enough to care for them, stand by them and be there for them.” You’re right… it does sound backward, but perhaps this is what Jesus (our greatest model to emulate) meant when He said He came to serve not to be served. He knew our greatest rewards would spring forth from a giving spirit. As a side bar, my daughter had a boyfriend she dated for a year and a half. He lived in the moment and made every decision based on the “feel good” factor. His motto, “I live to make myself happy now and pick up the pieces of my decision later.” Oh he would never admit this, but his actions screamed his philosophy loudly. Of course, my daughter was blinded by love and overlooked many of his blunders until one day there were too many broken pieces to mend and a severed relationship. I recently wrote a post on the “fool-proof question” (http://myyearlongjourney.com/2012/08/22/40-day-journey-out-of-the-wilderness-day-6-the-fool-proof-question/): In light of my past, present, and future what is the wise thing to do? I love this and now use this because when we pause, think/pray about our situation, and then make a wise decision even if it isn’t the one we would make for ourselves… it truly leads to a fool-proof life (rich, full, and blessed).
    Thank-YOU for blessing me this morning, friend!
    Marisa

  • http://cornerstonefaith.wordpress.com Barbara Arndt

    So true, I never have regretted staying home to raise our five children. Thank You again for blessing me with your post.

  • http://mjmky.wordpress.com Jane McClure

    I agree wholeheartedly! You summed it all up so well. I made the decision to stay home to raise my kids, and it’s the best thing I ever did. Getting by on one income is difficult and scary sometimes, but God has blessed us and provided us with what we need. My son is 15 and my daughter is 13, and I’m very thankful to be able to stay at home. There were a few short-lived times when I worked part-time, and I regret those times. When I gave up my material wants and gave in to God’s leading, I knew at home was where He meant for me to be. My kids will be grown soon, and God only knows what my life will be.


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