What is stay-at-home parenting supposed to look like? This is a question I’ve wrestled with almost non-stop for the past two years. We see such different examples around us, don’t we? I can think of moms or dads who work full time, and their kids are happy and well adjusted. I have friends who are “momming” full time at home, and they seem perfectly natural with a baby on their hip, another on the way, and two “older” kids running around at their feet. Some parents work part time, some work from home. Even in ministry or on the mission-field, the level of moms’ or dads’ involvement outside the home varies significantly from one family to the next.
So, what is the “right” way to be a stay-at-home parent? Do you ever wonder if you’re doing it right? Do you worry that you’re too committed outside the home, whether it’s for work, or ministry, or volunteering? Or are you at home full time and wonder if you’re called to be involved more at church or at a volunteering opportunity? Maybe you’re struggling over whether you should work or go to school?
My Role as Mama – Ever Changing
I gotta admit – this one has been a super sensitive issue for me the past few years. When we lived in the States, I had one infant, and I worked part time – one day a week in the office and a couple hours a day from home the rest of the week. We had a phenomenal babysitter, and I was only away from Nora about eight hours a week. I got to be primary caregiver and never felt like she was being asked to sacrifice. But, I was also involved in something outside the home, being mentally challenged, and working on something to develop my social work skills and contribute to our community. I loved my job. And I loved being home with Nora. It was the perfect balance.
We’ve been missionaries in L’viv for two and a half years now. We have two kids – Nora is now three and a half, and Titus is ten months old. Both Josh and I feel strongly that my primary calling right now is to be Mama to these sweet babes. I am convicted that they should have every confidence that Mama is home with them and for them, that they should feel 100% secure in my love and attention.
My involvement in the missionary work of the church has changed multiple times since we came here. For the first year and a half, I led the worship ministry, which involved weekly practices, being at church for long hours on Sundays, and attending various meetings as one of the church leadership. After Titus was born, I stepped back from physically leading worship, but still played an overseer role for that ministry. Since then, my involvement has lessened gradually, and I am now available as an advisor to the current worship leader.
I’ve also been involved in discipling young women from the church – having them over to our house for fellowship and times of prayer and encouragement. Sometimes I have three girls over in a week. Sometimes only one comes. On Sunday mornings, I try to check in with specific women, to let them know that I’m thinking of and praying for them, and to ask them how they’re doing on certain issues in their lives.
Recently, I’ve been helping more with project management for the church. We have a few specific ministries that we’re trying to update and some new ministries we’re planning. I’ve been helping with brainstorming and “getting it all down on paper,” coming up with specific strategies on how to accomplish our goals. This involves attending meetings and working independently on writing up those plans.
Trying to Make it All Fit – Home, Ministry, Work
What does that mean for my role as Mama? Well, I’m still a full time “stay-at-home” parent. I still run the house – cleaning, cooking, laundry – and, most importantly, caring for our kids. I’m here to snuggle them when they wake up and to kiss them goodnight. We play, read books, do puzzles, go for walks…you know the drill, if you’re a stay-at-home parent.
I get up a few hours before the kids each day, so I can have some quiet time in prayer and the Bible, and then I work on my computer until they wake up. I maximize nap and quiet times by working on church or home projects during those hours, trying to do as little of that as possible when the kids are awake. I try really, really hard to give them my full attention when I’m with them.
But, inevitably, there are still times when I’m with the kids, but messaging someone on Facebook or talking on the phone about a problem they’re having. There are still those days that I need to have a meeting about a church project or ministry, and the meeting goes long, or Titus doesn’t sleep when he usually does. Occasionally, I have to turn on a cartoon for Nora while I work on a project or finish a conversation with someone.
Those are the moments that torment me, in all honesty. I remember one time, in particular, when I was still pregnant with Titus. We were at church on a Sunday morning. Josh was running sound, and I was leading worship, so we were both occupied during the beginning of the service. Nora, two and a half at the time, was following Papa around, but at one point, she just lost it, feeling insecure. From the front of the stage, in the middle of a song, I could hear my sweet, tender-hearted girl crying, and my Mama’s heart broke as I watched Josh pick her up and dart out of the room, so as not to disturb the service.
That’s when the thoughts come – “What am I doing? Is this wrong? Am I a bad mom for not focusing solely on our daughter? Is Nora suffering for the decisions we are making? Are the priorities mixed up in our family?…” The list goes on and on, but the underlying theme is this: are my children worse off if I’m involved in something outside our home?
I love our children more than I could have ever imagined. They are precious, amazing gifts from God, and it is such a privilege to raise them. I’m so thankful to be home with them and wouldn’t give that up. But, I have to admit, I miss the job I had in the States…miss how challenged I felt professionally and mentally…miss being involved in the community in a way that was helping people even outside our church. And then I hear about needs here in our city, things our pastor wants to do that are EXACTLY in keeping with desires in my heart. All of those emotions and thoughts get mixed up in my mind and heart. In Russian, we have a saying, that it’s like “kasha” (oatmeal) in my head.
Searching for answers – what is my calling?
So, I ask myself and you: what is the God-given role in life for a parent who is staying at home with their kids? What is God’s will for his or her involvement in ministry or work or anything else outside the home?
Josh and I have had countless conversations about this. I’ve searched the Bible for God’s direction. I’ve prayed. I’ve talked with other women in ministry and other women who work, while also raising a family. And I’ve come to the conclusion that there is not one, simple answer to this question. Like so many other things in our Christian life, it’s a matter of walking in the Spirit and sensing how God is leading you as an individual, a family, and a parent.
Paul said: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” – Romans 12:6-8
Now, I realize that these gifts are not specifically talking about being a parent or working or ministering or not. But, the concept is clear: God gives different people different gifts so that we can all benefit one another and bring Him glory. Moms and dads are no exception. If God has given you a desire and gift to be at home 100% of the time, then you should do it well! If He’s put it on your heart to work part time, then you should go for it, giving your all both at work and at home. And so on and so on.
How that looks on a practical level differs from one person and one family to the next. It’s a decision that I believe is left to the prayerful consideration of each family, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It’s not for me to say exactly how that should look in anyone else’s life. We can support one another, offer counsel and guidance when it is needed, but ultimately that decision is between an individual family and God.
In my situation, I’ve been struggling so much with what my calling is. I know I’m called to be our kids’ primary caregiver and that Josh and I both want me to be home. But, at the same time, I’ve had these unrelenting desires to do more ministry, something similar to the work I did in the States, only here in Ukraine instead. For long months and even years, there has been this inner turmoil, trying to figure out how it all fits, what God is calling me to do, our family to do.
Flash – the Light Goes On!
And then this past week, my oh-so-wise husband brought an incredible light to my struggle. He reminded me of the virtuous wife in Proverbs 31. Now, I know what you’re thinking, if you’re a woman reading this. Come on, ladies, let’s be honest – tell me you don’t want to strangle that woman some days!! She’s the epitome of “what I will never measure up to,” right?
But this week, Josh pointed out to me that this woman was operating in her calling, her gifting. She was thriving because she was doing what she was good at, what God had equipped her to do. And interestingly enough, although she had a husband and children, she was an enterprising woman outside the home! I’d never realized before, but as Josh pointed out to me, much of that passage actually talks about her work and how it relates to her home life, how it brings blessings to her family.
I have to tell you – it was like a light bulb went on in my head and a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders! All of a sudden, I wasn’t feeling guilty for even wanting to work or be in ministry, wasn’t struggling with the thought that our kids will take a back seat to a job or a ministry. No…the desires and talents come from God, so why wouldn’t He want to use them?!
For our family, we’re still praying about exactly what that looks like and how we are called to balance caring for our children and Mama working or ministering outside the home. But Josh and I are united in our dedication to our family, our children, while also feeling excited about the possibilities of other things God wants to do in and through our lives. We trust in His direction and the knowledge that He loves our kids even more than we do, and whatever He calls us to, He is also watching out for their very best.
So, now you tell me…
So, now, I ask you…what has worked in your life and your family? How have you balanced raising kids and being involved in other things, whether it’s work, or education, or ministry, or something else?