Young mothers beware! If you allow motherhood to dominate your life, it will suck your passions dry, make you lose your identity, and lead to misery and depression! No matter how crazy it makes your life, or the lives of your husband and children, pursue your dreams! Find your calling! Be all you can be!
Ever heard that message? I did recently at the Q Conference, a gathering of about 1,000 young evangelical leaders. Speaking was Shauna Niequist, an author, speaker, and daughter of Bill and Lynn Hybels, co-founders of Willow Creek Community Church. I’m sure Niequist meant well – and believed her message too. As Niequist explained, she had seen her mom wilt as the demands of mothering caused her mom to bury her gifts.
“We had a good mom,” she said, “but we didn’t have a happy one. Seventeen years after becoming a pastor’s wife, she walked into a counselor’s office and said, ‘I don’t have any idea who I am anymore. Something serious has to change.’”
For Lynn Hybels, change meant finding a meaningful vocation outside the home. Today, Hybels speaks and travels extensively, advocating for various social and political causes. According to Niequist, her mom is no longer miserable, but “fully alive.”
Similarly, Niequist maintains a full speaking and writing schedule, while supporting her husband’s ministry and juggling two young children. She admits it can be difficult managing two callings and two children. “But if I tried to put my calling on hold for any amount of time,” she said, “my mother would be the first one to show up on my doorstep to say, ‘No way! I didn’t walk that long path of depression and passionless days so that you can recreate them. … Write till your fingers bleed, tell stories till your voice runs out because it’s what you were made to do – mother or not, woman or not.”
Wow, that’s a tall order. I remember when I was a mom of young kids. I tried for a while to maintain my job as a newswriter for a Chicago TV station, but it became unmanageable. It added incredible stress to our home and required entrusting my kids to the care of others. Eventually, I decided it wasn’t worth the cost. So, I traded the exciting and intellectually stimulating life of the newsroom for “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and Tonka trucks.
I admit, the transition was hard. I went from hobnobbing with high-powered politicians to scrubbing crayon off the wall and obsessing over children’s bodily functions. But now, some 20 years later, I don’t regret a single sacrifice I made for my children. In fact, my only regrets are not giving them more – mainly, resorting to public school because homeschooling became so challenging. At the time, my husband and I reasoned we could confront any error our teen boys encountered in the public schools. And frankly, I wanted a break. But the break proved short-lived as the influence of rebellious peers and a godless worldview began impacting our boys. God has redeemed those years, but I’ll never forget the lesson I learned: there’s no short-cuts when raising kids.
After Niequist’s talk, I happened to run into one of the very few stay-at-home moms at Q. She asked me what I thought of the message. “I’m pushing 50 right now,” I said. “I have two grown sons and a daughter in middle school. I also have a career in radio, speaking, and writing.” (I returned to broadcasting seven years ago, after spending 13 years at home with my kids.) “I love my vocation. But it pales in comparison to my family. You get one shot at raising your children. Careers can wait; your kids’ childhoods cannot.”
We then politely excused ourselves and returned to another general session. Three hours later, this mom sought me out at one of the exits. She said with tears in her eyes, “I was hoping I would see you again. Thank you so much for what you said. You have no idea how much it meant to me.”
Why did my simple words mean so much to this mom? I suspect it’s because when you’re sacrificing your life for someone else, you desperately need to know that it’s worth it. Do we really need to convince moms that motherhood can’t possibly be enough – that they’re wasting their lives if they give it for their children? Is that the way of Christ? Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Those years I invested at home were not wasted. They formed my children – and they also formed me. In fact, I wouldn’t be effective in ministry today had I not submitted to what God was doing in those difficult, but God-glorifying days of young motherhood. I fear that many Christian women have unknowingly embraced a secular feminist philosophy – that self-actualization, not self-denial, leads to true joy. But the desperate pursuit of personal fulfillment normally doesn’t lead to the rosy destination Niequist described. Many times it simply produces burned-out moms and neglected or hurried children. Talk to a few older moms. I know many who lament giving so much to their careers and so little to their children.
When I heard Niequist’s story, it struck me that Lynn Hybels might feel very differently today if she had embarked on her career 14 years earlier and lost her children as a result. There’s no guarantee Niequist would be the person she is today had she been raised by a nanny or a distracted father trying to multi-task while writing sermons.
This is not to say moms can’t have callings in addition to motherhood, which clearly Niequist and Hybels have. And I agree it would be a shame if either sidelined those gifts indefinitely. But as Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” Yes, with the help of husbands or extended family, young moms can carve out some time for outside ministry or vocation. But not all moms need additional callings. And moms certainly don’t need to make these callings a priority when knee-deep in diapers and potty training. After all, motherhood is a noble and meaningful calling in its own right – and the time you have with your children is short. So, let’s be faithful to our calling as mothers. Let’s love our children well. And then, in God’s timing, He may call us to other things – not because motherhood has proven unfulfilling, but simply because we’re available, faithful, and willing.
This week on Up for Debate, we’ll be discussing “Should Women with Young Children Work Outside the Home?” with guests Candice Watters and Leslie Leyland Fields. Join us at 8 a.m. CST Saturday on Moody Radio.