Education, Parenting


There’s an article here on homeschooling your high school student. It’s short but provides a few tips on making the most of the experience.

Will we be homeschooling through high school? I get asked that question fairly often. My answer is always, “It’s the kind of thing you become more committed to as you go along. We have a general plan for homeschooling over the long haul, but we’re open to other options should we find ourselves in other circumstances. Based on the options available to us now, homeschooling is what we’re supposed to be doing.” There may come a time when the kids need things we can’t provide in a homeschool setting. But we’re not there yet.

I’ve been mulling this lately because I’ve been considering going back to work outside the home. But try though I might, I can’t find any peace in the possibility. I understand that some folks feel it’s necessary for Mom to work, and some folks even keep a foot in the professional door while homeschooling. It’s not the kind of thing I would argue about; I wouldn’t argue that my point of view is the “right” one, only that it reflects an understanding I have come to, and nothing seems to dislodge it. At least, not yet.

I feel that my career needs to stay on hold. Whether or not I’m homeschooling, I want to be available here at home. A wise woman told me, before we had children, “People think that once their kids are in high school, they are free to work full-time. But actually that’s when it’s more important for them to be there when their kids get home.” I’ve always remembered that because it’s counter-intuitive.

As with most things, I’m influenced by a mixture of principle and personal experience. I remember that my mother worked as a nursery school director when I was in 6th grade, and it meant she was no longer home when I got home from school. On Fridays, I made supper. I remember a darkness descending that year as well, a darkness that was always explained to me as the hormones of puberty. Maybe they played a role. But I remember as well the feeling of responsibility I had that year. I had a younger sister, and I felt that it was important for me not to get sick so that I would be there to walk her home from school. I was on the brink of junior high, which meant adulthood to me, and I didn’t feel ready. It was just a dark year, one of those spots of memory that sticks out to me, and the darkness spread over my high school years. It wasn’t all because Mom went to work, but the isolation was certainly intensified because of it. Material resources were brought into the household by taking Mom out of it — her physical presence, and also the many small touches of care and artistry that reflected her presence there.

Now I have children, and I’m at home with them. Sometimes I notice that it’s as though they’re alone in the house; they are playing with legos, or listening to stories, or reading, or playing outside, and I am not actively involved in what they’re doing. This seems very healthy to me. But I am still there. I am available if needed, as I sometimes am.

To me it’s that availability that defines motherhood. When all is said and done, this time when they are at home is a fairly brief period. They will graduate from high school in the blink of an eye, and I don’t want to have any regrets. As long as God provides, we’ll keep on as a single-income family. One key element in all of this is that “provision” is not necessarily “abundance”; we live on less, and there are plenty of things we cannot afford. But the operative assumption is that presence is worth more than stuff, and so far nothing has happened to convince us otherwise.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my frustrations at times. I spent many years of my life earning a doctorate, and that means I’m an educated professional who’s not in the classroom and not in the academic journals. Sometimes I long for recognition, though admitting that embarrasses me. But I’m still able to participate in my “field” in ways that I love: reading and writing, influencing young minds, and even undertaking a longer-term writing project as I have lately been preparing to do.

I have been reading some strongly feminist stuff lately, but as I’ve reflected on it I’ve been reminded that though it speaks some truth, there are seasons in life. This is a brief and precious season of nurture. And as a Christian, the project of self-development takes in a larger scope than if I did not see myself as a soul loved by God. Spiritual formation involves developing whatever profession or gifting God has given me, but always in relation to Him and in relation to others; always there is the awareness that He has purposes He graciously allows me to participate in. It’s actually a grander vision than professional achievement — though it has the humility and paradox of the mustard seed.

13 thoughts on “SAHM

  1. this speaks very strongly to me and I resonate with it and agree… one cannot underestimate the presence of one’s mother at home during these years.

  2. I have many of the same thoughts, feelings, and motives. My mom worked full time during my teen years, and though I was capable of watching my younger brother and sisters (in one respect. I was really no substitute for a mother), it just wasn’t the same as when mom was at home. And I received that instruction as well, not to think my kids didn’t need me as much as they grew older. They need mom in different ways at different times. Like you said, I don’t think that means we’re sitting with them teaching or entertaining them all day one on one, but we’re available, and our influence in the home is there.

  3. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate the encouragement — these are questions I’m sure we all return to more than once over the course of the journey!

  4. This so speaks my heart! I love your assessment of motherhood as being “available”. I wholeheartedly agree.

    I also was a child of a working mom, and I distinctly remember that black cloud you describe, that set in on me about 7th grade. I believe it’s more than puberty–I think it’s a coming-of-age realization of what responsibility means, and is a heavy burden when it’s too much too soon. My impression of my mom during those growing up years was of getting the frazzled remnants of whatever energy she had left to offer our family, though she did her very best to be all things to all people :) I still feel the heavy weight of the responsibility of being the oldest child, needing to take on more than a kid should have to, the pressure of making the load lighter for my mom, and all that goes along with it. Most sad to me now, was the dread I felt coming home every day to an empty house. I remember promising myself over and over that if I ever had kids, I would not be a working mom.

    As time has progressed for my own family, our life has moved through stages, first with me quitting a full-time job to stay home with 2 littles, and gradually moving to part-time work as they entered middle school. I wholeheartedly agree with teens need mom around. During the few opportunities when I’ve considered going back to work full time, God seems to draw my attention to how my teens don’t need my attention every minute, but they need my availability. For teenagers, this includes shuttling to activities because they don’t drive, maybe a ride home in the middle of a school day because of sickness, but also the anchor of regular meals, an orderly environment and family nights home. Those can be few and far between as the family gets older and busier, so I need to be the constant that provides a home base.

    I think that outside work is a “filler” that has provided some structure for my days and also given some wiggle room for our budget, but it is not something that I would have restructured our family around to accommodate.

    Sorry for the long reply, but THANKS for sharing on this subject!

  5. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment, JenLo. I like hearing about the different seasons in your family, and the different ways you’ve flexed without letting go of the important things. Good stuff — food for thought in the ongoing journey!

  6. This is so encouraging to read. I grapple with this question all of the time. Just this week I registered for an informational session for a grad school. My heart will always be at home, but there is always that angst of wondering if I shouldn’t be doing more- among the reasons is the example I will set for my daughters. The thought occurs to me that if my children grew up knowing me as content, available, and a lover of books . .. isn’t that enough?

  7. Yes!

    I want to be an example of a mom whose priority is caring for my children, but who has other interests and callings and ministries too. My husband is great about supporting me in all of them! But I want to have the priority right — and to be sure it’s God’s voice directing me, and not the culture’s.

    When I was a senior in high school, agonizing over what to major in in college, I remember a friend at church listening patiently and then saying, “Life is really quite long.” Wise words. There will be time for every single thing we are created for. “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.”

  8. Great post, Janet! As someone who works outside the home, I find that it is more difficult emotionally than I every expected. The reason it works for us is that my husband stays home when I work. Our kids have one stay at home parent, it’s just that it takes two of us to do it. There are times where I wonder if it is completely worth it but for now it is what works best for us.

    I think feminist or not, these are really important conversations to have with our daughters. And sons. I remember always wanting to be a doctor and at the same time knowing I wanted to be a mother who stayed home. There was never really any discussion of how that would be possible. By God’s grace it worked out beautifully for us but it wasn’t really by planning. I think it’s really important that boys and girls grow up realizing that you cannot have it all and that as you think about career you will have to make choices.

  9. Oh, goodness! What rich discussion here, Janet, and wisdom!!! My situation is similar to Alice’s (except I’m not a doctor!), but I honestly wonder if what I/we get from my working is worth the stress. I do enjoy the “outlet,” but 16 hours a weekend is a little much. Like you, my dh is extremely supportive of whatever I do. He would actually prefer that I not go back to my part-time job after the summer break, but I’m still mulling it over, mostly because the little bit of money makes more extras possible and if I hang on just a little bit longer I will FINALLY be vested in our state retirement system. I also grapple with the example I’m setting for my daughters–will being a SAHM even be an option for them? An I setting them up for disappointment. I remember working with a (rather obnoxious, truthfully) make teacher one time who said that a man shouldn’t marry a woman whose mother was a SAHM because she would want to do the same thing. (He also said he married his then-wife, who was smart AND beautiful) for her earning potential, and they’re now divorced, so there you go.). I know that ultimately I have to trust God with these things. Thank you for reaffirming my conviction that being home is important (& that life us long enough for us to fulfill all our jobs/callings).

  10. Thank you for weighing in, Amy and Alice! I’m really enjoying this conversation, and all it’s making me think about.

    Alice, I love the point about having these discussions with our children and helping them to recognize that they have to make choices. If it ever worked out for us to sort of share the SAH role, we would probably consider it. It would be important to me that we not lose the times to be all together as a fam, too, though. It’s important for the kids to see a marriage working itself out before their eyes… Helping each other, respecting each other, failing and learning and growing, even arguing and making up. My mom’s parents worked day shift and night shift jobs respectively, and she never really saw them together.

    Amy, I dated a guy once who mentioned my “earning potential.” Such a lovely phrase, isn’t it. Might as well open my mouth and inspect my teeth, too. :-) I understand what a complex decision you have with the variables you mention.

    My husband supports me as a professional creature, though from the start he felt it was part of his role to be able to provide entirely so I could be at home during this phase. He works very hard! When he encourages me to develop some aspect of myself — writing, for instance — I never feel like it’s because he wants me to justify my existence with some income, or because he’s tired of being the breadwinner. And he’s been steady in his commitment to the homeschooling idea, even in the times when I’ve been doubtful.

    The ideal for me would be to bring in some income and develop in some ways while being here at home, without taking me mentally or physically away. We’ll see what works out; where God calls He enables, and our vision is in process.

    When we put the idea of me going to work before the girls and gave them a chance to share their feelings, they were opposed. “We don’t want to be like X,” they said, referencing another family we know in which both parents work. They had some other reactions too — along the lines of “we don’t want change.” But it was interesting to discover that they had been observing other families and thinking about them. We hadn’t realized that.

  11. Reading through these most recent comments about making choices in life, reminds me of a life-defining moment I had about age 25. I had the opportunity to sit at lunch with Lois DeFleur, the (then) president of Binghamton University. She was 50-ish, single and gave me some perspective-changing advice. She told me to never let anyone tell me that “women could have it all”. She said that women can have it all, but not all at the same time. She shared how she personally made the choice to forgo marriage and a family because she saw the path her career was taking, and chose to commit to developing her career in to what it was and she knew that she could not be successful at both at the same time. She said she had never met a woman who had successfully balanced everything at once. Her opinion was that men could successfully have family and career at the same time because a man’s role at home was not the same as a women’s, therefore, they weren’t really juggling the same balance at all. To hear that from an educated, successful woman made such an impression on me, and has helped me feel the freedom to make my own choice to stay home when I felt it was necessary.

    Interestingly, when Ms. DeFleur retired, she got married for the first time :)

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