My sister, a doctor’s wife and a stay-at-home mom, recently mentioned in an online group about how she and her husband were working through some of the life and family difficulties of the medical training process. A female doctor commented that she shouldn’t use the term “we” when talking about medical training, because “working a 24 hour shift is far more difficult than staying at home with kids while your husband works,” and, “if you feel the need to claim credit for your husband’s achievements, then you have bigger problems.” Ouch. Pretty sure we all have our fair share of problems, ma'am.
Most of us stay-at-home moms in this day and age have experienced that attitude to some extent before – those comments that either bluntly or subtly indicate that “because you’re a stay-at-home mom you don’t actually do anything significant, you’re not successful, your life is easy,” etc. And it hurts, doesn’t it? Because while we know that what we’re doing matters, it doesn’t always feel that way when our days run from one long stretch of cleaning up messes, making meals and wiping butts to another, especially if we had a career or a life full of daring adventures before the baby came.
I struggled hard with this concept for the first couple years of motherhood. Even though I’d always wanted to be home with my kids and was thankful to be able to do so, the reality of being so confined in what it felt like I could accomplish was awfully hard to swallow. I remember standing in the entryway of our house after a morning of toddler care and basic chores and thinking, “This is all I do. This is all. I. do.” My husband and I were trying for another baby at the time too, so the monotony of early momhood stretched out for potentially long, unknown years ahead. It’s a strange dichotomy, isn’t it? To deeply love raising a child and at the same time buck against the lifestyle it brings?
The solution for much of this inner struggle, for not being swayed by the misunderstandings of statistically accomplished people, and for walking firmly and happily in the role of stay-at-home mom is simply this: redefine success.
Let’s Set Some Perspective
Success is largely a matter of viewpoint. According to the Oxford dictionary, success means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” This is where much of the struggle lies – in answering, or trying to answer, this question: What am I accomplishing?
In the career world, successes are generally easy to measure since there are often specific goals and specific timelines for accomplishing them. How close am I to that promotion? How much of our team goals did we finish? How well are my students doing? How many copies has my album sold? How many leads did I get this month? How many new clients have we helped this year? How many months until my degree is complete?
And then there are the stay-at-home moms over here like, “How many loads of laundry do I still need to fold? How many minutes of uninterrupted napping did I get this afternoon? How long can I play with plastic dinosaurs before I go insane? How many bananas have I fed my kid today? How many bananas can he eat before he gets completely constipated? How many days can I respectably go without a shower? How is it that I can be busy all day long and not feel like I did anything?”
Precious mothers, you are doing much. So much. And while I think we all know that deep down, it’s super important to change our entire perspective of what it means to be successful. So here we go.
First, think carefully about what type of success you really want. Is your vision of success focused on numbers or on impact? We probably don’t have any idea who the top five female sports stars are, but I bet any one of us can name five friends who are deeply important to us. Are we defining our accomplishments based on a cultural understanding or based on what really matters in who we are as people?
Next, set some goals. There are short-term goals and long-term goals, and both are important. Take a little time to write down goals you have in both categories. These can be anything from self-care and fun goals to family and life goals. Maybe you want to run five miles, start a business, call your mom once a week, be more patient with your kids, write a book, try a new recipe for dinner or pray for your husband more. What things are important to you? What do you really want to accomplish? In what ways do you want to mature and grow as a person? What are some things you really want to do in life?
Once you’ve worked out some goals (you can always add to or change these as time goes on), take intentional steps toward accomplishing them. Again, writing stuff down can really help! Whether life-long, yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, or all of the above, tracking which goals you’re working on helps ensure that you’re making progress. In Happiness Simplified: The Mom’s Organizer, I purposely included a lot of space for goal planning. It’s extremely helpful to have your goals, both the simple day-to-day ones and the deeper long-term ones, written down as part of your weekly and monthly planning.
Finally, remember to avoid the comparison trap. Don’t let others define success for you. We all have different goals, and that’s a good thing! We’re different people with different roles and different lives, and no one person is more important to God than another.
So next time someone asks what you do for work and meets your “I stay home with my kids” answer with a chuckle or blank stare, think to yourself, “That’s ok, I just have different goals than they do,” and let the jab roll right on by.
Here’s to success, precious mothers, success the way it should be. You are amazing, your goals are solid, your role really, really matters, and you are doing a darn good job. Press on!