Yesterday, I shared with you the Top 7 Annoying Things To Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom. As I said then, annoying and hurtful comments certainly aren’t reserved for SAHMs. Today’s guest-blogger is my sister-in-law, Julie, who has worked outside the home for many years. Julie and I both agree that the Mommy Wars is mostly media sensationalism, but we know that there are some attitudes and misunderstandings that feed the Mommy Wars notion. We believe healthy dialogue and listening to each others’ perspectives are always good things. So in that spirit, I share with you Julie’s perspective, in her own words —-
I sat in my boss’s cubical trying to explain. I liked my job on his ministry team, but I had been there for two years, and there wasn’t room for promotion. The marketing team had an opening and they were interested in having me interview for a full time position. This position also was going to pay almost double what I was making. It would be a great opportunity for me to learn and it would challenge me to grow and break into a new field that held my interest.
Knowing that I had been trying my hand at part-time employment after our 2nd child was born, he said something that day that cut me like a knife –
“But Julie, who will raise your babies?”
A while back when my sister-in-law, Jenn, put it out there on her Facebook page that she was looking for a working mama to write about the most annoying comments they have ever heard, I knew I had to write this post.
You see, for 17 years I have worked outside the home and I’ve heard it all. From well-meaning people who say, “It must be nice to have all of that extra income!” To which I want to respond, “Yes, our family is just rolling in the bank. Um we live in Colorado, hello, it’s not cheap” To not-so-well-meaning questions that, when my children were younger, sounded like “How do you leave your kids with a stranger every day?” To which I wanted to respond with an instant eye-roll and “You know it’s great. I’ve found a great serial killer for a sitter!”
My kids are older now and I’ve matured. I don’t get nearly as defensive as I used to feeling like I have to justify my path as a mother who has chosen to work outside of the home. But instead of focusing on all of the negative things that have been said to me through the years, things that have also been said to countless women who choose to work outside of the home, I realized this week it was the one line said to me by my old boss 14 years ago that encapsulated them all.
Why was it such a blow to me? Why does it still cause a bit of anger and hurt to rise up in my gut when I recall that conversation?
I was in my twenties, and I had two beautiful kiddos, a supportive husband, and a growing faith that I was using my gifts and abilities to help families—for Jesus. I was eager, and excited to give back to a ministry that I felt was making a difference in the world. And what was I getting back in return?
Guilt and shame.
It wasn’t so much what he said, it was how he said it. Condescending and self-righteous. Looking back now I realize, he was a supervisor losing a valued team member. He was going to have to find a replacement. I know this guy. He is a good guy who loves Jesus and his family. He didn’t mean to hurt me. He was speaking from years of what I believe is an attitude that many evangelicals have adopted. They put their personal cultural preferences over what the Bible actually says about certain subjects.
This is often played out in the cultural Mommy Wars. Jenn and I agree that the Mommy Wars are often brought to you by the media hype looking for a good catfight on programs like The View or The Talk. Things aren’t really that bad between my friends and family when this subject comes up. But one place that I have found the Mommy Wars raging the hottest is within evangelical circles. It almost feels like there’s a select few trying to hold on to a sense of what once was or an unrealistic ideal that just isn’t possible in society today.
I am older now and I quit allowing myself to feel guilt for working outside of the home. I made my choice because it was God who opened up doors for me. By feeling like I had to justify my path, I was allowing this false guilt to creep into my thinking. I was cheapening His work in my life. Often this guilt and shame from desiring to work outside the home would come from what I thought others expected of me. When I stopped allowing myself to be manipulated by this way of feeling, I realized that I have gifts and abilities that I can humbly say that the Lord has used through the years in some pretty incredible ways.
I am often asked now that the kids are teenagers, did they suffer as children? I can honestly answer “no” because the spirit in which I took my responsibilities was forged in being obedient to God’s leading in my life. The fact that suffer is a word actually used in this conversation is crazy talk to me. Were there times that I have been off-balanced? Worked too hard? Didn’t give them as much attention as they needed? Yes, yes, and yes! But any mother will attest to being guilty at some point of all of these things. No matter if they choose to work outside the home or not.
You know what? Every mother I know works. And you know what else? We need to stop arguing about how and where she does it. Period.
For the life of me I just can’t understand why we all just can’t agree that Mommy Wars wrapped in the Biblical justification for whatever side you fall on is just nonsense.
We must stop this craziness for our daughters, for our nieces, for our granddaughters. They are watching and we have a great opportunity. Let’s not blow it.
So to help end the negativity surrounding this subject, I wanted to do my part. I want to share with you five positive observations that have been said or done for me—or I have learned over the years as a working mother. Now that I am older, I use them as guide to help me support other mothers, no matter if they work outside the home or not.
If you have other mamas around you, I challenge you to think about some of these examples, and use them to love on the women God has put in your path.
Whenever we visit my husband’s family I often find myself having these beautiful conversations with his Aunt Sue. I’m always attracted to talking with her because she has this way of drawing you into conversation in such a loving way. When I was in 20’s and working with babies, I noticed right away that the way she would always make a point to ask me how my work was going. What did I like most about my job? What I was learning? She still does this today. Aunt Sue models how I should take an interest in all mothers around me. She showed me through her actions and words how to see past the stereotypes and ask about the individual. The world needs more women like Aunt Sue.
Treat It Like A Season
After being hurt so badly by my former boss, I sought advice from a Vice President in the company who just happened to be one of the few women in leadership. She wisely looked at me across from her desk after this incident 14 years ago and said something I have never forgotten. Treat this like a season Julie. Don’t be angry. Instead, step back and ask yourself to do something intentional. Look at this as a season. One day, God may ask you to be at home. One day you may have to work more. Treat it all like a season. So when you see a mom who is struggling, hurt or torn, remind her it will not be forever. Point her to being faithful in the season, and to the one who has her there. Do this because time will eventually change the landscape for her. This advice helped me get the focus off of other’s opinions of me, and see the big picture. I am forever grateful for this lady’s ability to redirect my thinking.
If Mama Ain’t Happy Ain’t Nobody Happy
Another great lady and mentor friend of mine gave me this sage advice one day when I was communicating how much joy I felt when I worked, but I felt guilty because, you know I should feel guilty. She told me about her own mother who was very accomplished. How she would get the “guilties” and stay home with the kids when she caved into external cultural pressure. When her mother was home, my mentor told me it was terrible. Her lovely mother would get cranky and frustrated. My dear friend told me, her mother was the happiest when she worked, and that she set the whole tone for their family. I never forgot what my mentor then said to me. If Mama Ain’t Happy Julie, then Ain’t Nobody Happy. So work if it makes you happy. Stay home if it makes you happy. Your kids will reap the benefits of your being in tune with who God made you to be.
Remember The Broad Appeal of The Proverbs 31 Lady
I realize that every Christian woman wants to see herself in this lady. That is why she is there. And you know what else about her? She has a broad appeal. She could be a work from home kind of gal, or a market place chick. Either way you see her, she is a class act. And as long as I don’t put her in a box (I think God wouldn’t like that—that is why she is in Proverbs) she is a fantastic example to all women. No matter where they choose to work.
Refuse To Allow Work (Of Any kind) To Define Who You Are
For years I allowed my work to define my worth. You say well of course don’t do that, but I will challenge any woman, it is easier said than done. Women like to point to men who are most defined by their jobs. But I think women are just as guilty. And it sneaks up on us. From the CEO mom on the cover of Working Mother to the homeschooling mama who just wants a clean house. Our roles and jobs are so personal and shape who we are that they sometimes become our whole identity. We must keep in mind that these “jobs” here on earth are all temporary. We must first and foremost find our identity in the Lord. Jobs will change, family situations change and if this is the identity we have built for ourselves it is a farce. I’ve learned this lesson more times than I would care to, so I share it with you. Go deep with your work and with your family, but always allow God to be your source and vision.
So folks lets keep it positive. End the Mommy War today. Be sensitive to all moms around you, because we need the support no matter what path we choose.
Julie Abel loves Jesus, her husband Jeff, her kids Jacob (16) and Jessa (14), and their sheepadoodle Monroe. She has worked the last 19 years for Christian universities, in large corporate ministries, small affiliate ministries, and locally focused nonprofits. She and her husband own a consulting business, Rocky Mountain Media Group. You can check out her journey of leaving her suburban life in Colorado Springs behind to live in Estes Park, CO through her blog JulieAbel.com Work and Family.