A Mother’s Work

Ernst_Lindenbauer,_1936 Wanting to be a horse was probably a mommy low point. Not just any horse, mind you. One of my kids was studying the Lipizzaners in Vienna’s Spanish Riding School; as I helped with some research, I found myself envying the horses. Not only do they live in a historic building in a European capital, but they also do nothing beyond go for long walks and occasionally jump to live orchestral music. They are taken care of. Totally. “I could live off of apples and oats,” I told myself. When my husband came home from work, I announced my new career plan. The pressure of constantly caring for everyone else’s needs made me lose focus.

Mothers need breaks now and then. But even more than that, we need perspective. And that’s easy to lose when the dishes are piled up and the baby won’t stop crying and the toddler refuses to be toilet trained.

The work of a mother never stops. No matter how much you get done every day, you rarely come to the end: there is always some laundry to fold, a toilet to scrub, or a snack to clean up. Even at night, there are scary dreams, trips to the bathroom, a nursing baby, and the occasional flu. There’s no pay-check. There are no co-workers who put in their 8 hours beside us each day. It can be lonely.

Those are the reasons the world give us for doing something besides being at home. We need to be fulfilled. We need the money. We should contribute to society. And aren’t we bored out of our minds? And it’s easy to buy into that, at least to feel a little sorry for ourselves and think that we’re being wonderfully sacrificial by staying at home. But there’s a lot more to a mother’s work than yoga pants, Winne-the-Pooh, and apple juice spots on the kitchen floor.

A mother’s work is spiritual. Not spiritual in the pseudo-sacramental ways that “intentional” mothers claim (as if the rest of us are soulless robots with no intentions), but spiritual because we are dealing with people’s souls all day. Sometimes a child’s small size and immaturity can make us forget that their souls are as big as ours. Big souls with little sanctification need much shepherding. This is an intensive aspect of a mother’s work.

A mother’s work is varied. Aside from the fundamental work of caring for the children’s souls, there is the work of caring for their minds and bodies. A mother is a teacher (with the world’s most inquisitive pupils), nutritionist, story teller, kinesiologist, and many more things. Anyone who claims that staying at home with children is boring does not have an adequate understanding of the calling. Exhausting? Yes. Boring? No. There is more scope for more gifts in motherhood than almost any other career. The sheer number of aspects to staying at home with children is staggering; a mother who practices mastery of them is blessing her children with a heritage of life’s richness, understanding and enjoying as much of creation as possible. How, Chesterton asked, can it be good for one teacher to teach many children one thing, but narrow for a mother to teach one child everything? It can’t.

A mother’s work sanctifies. Yes, hopefully parenting helps children advance in holiness. But it’s most sanctifying to the mother. Aren’t those sleepless nights revealing a lack of joy? Isn’t that child’s strong will teaching you patience? Isn’t having to make supper when you really want a shower helping you put self to death? Doesn’t the toddler throwing a fit when guests are over teach you humility? Isn’t it all making you pray more? The will of God for us is not fulfillment, or higher income, or whatever we’re not getting by staying at home. The will of God is our sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3). Isn’t your work pushing you along in this?

A mother’s work is one of sowing now, reaping in the future. Like, in 20 years. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. While the laundry is never all done and the house might not be perfectly clean all at once, the house isn’t the real work. Granted, it can take up most of the time. But the real work, where we must put in the most effort and thought and emotional investment, is the family. The husband and kids. It is the lessons learned, very slowly, that we strive after. It’s the strong marriage in an adulterous generation. It’s the ultimate contribution to society of a child who is a well-educated, hard-working citizen. It’s a home that is spiritually fruitful. Lord willing, it is the child who grows up to confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. That’s worth a lot of unnoticed, hard work, isn’t it? Realizing that results are long term can give patience and contentment today.

A mother’s work honours the Lord who created home and family. It’s not wrong for a mother to sometimes work outside the home in order to bring in needed income. But a woman who rejects work at home for the family as beneath her insults the God who ordained it as the ordinary means by which Christian mothers are faithful. This means that even if the results of our work aren’t what we hoped, we have been enabled to be faithful. It means that even if our plans and hard work are interrupted, we have been doing our best to be wise with the resources God has given. It means that when a child rejects our years of instruction, those years were not wasted if we were instructing out of love for Jesus and a desire to honour Him. It means that we can, by grace, be good and faithful servants and leave the results to God. Our gifts and abilities and efforts are never wasted when we use them to honour God.

When we increasingly understand how large and vital a mother’s work is, maybe we won’t want to be horses anymore. Maybe we’ll be thankful that we can stay at home with our children for the short years that they are in our home.