Some moms who stop working when, or shortly after, they become moms feel lost and untethered… as if they’ve given up their gifts, identities, even themselves (their true selves – go here for more on this). Conversely, many moms continue working in a part-time capacity that’s seemingly manageable alongside childrearing tasks – and become stressed, stretched, and overwhelmed trying to do it all. I’ve seen, and can personally relate to, mothers in each scenario. Both, as I see it, are negative and outside of the design God has for us as women and mothers.
My observation (and this relates more to the second scenario above than the first) is that distractedness and a lifestyle of hurry are two of the most pervasive – and most damaging – aspects of American society today. These plunder our spirits and rob our clarity and joy more than almost anything else in modern life. And they are routinely found in moms of young children, especially those who mother and also work part-time. Distractedness and hurry are normalized and even expected in our society to the point of being routine- as is the notion that individuals (moms among them) can effectively accomplish as many tasks as they choose to as long as circumstances and childcare permit it.
Many women who mother young children seem not to realize the impact or ramifications that working part-time often can have on their emotional and spiritual health, their souls. And, consequently, on their marriages, their households, their parenting efforts, and their children. Why? Because we believe it should be doable to do both effectively – if we plan well and try hard enough. One mother of two preschoolers I know who works 15 hrs/week from home said: “I have a picture in my mind of what I should reasonably be able to accomplish in a week, and this is what I work toward and measure myself against.” The problem she discovered was that the picture was a lie.
Am I saying no mother of young children should take on work in addition to mothering? No, I am certainly not; if I believed that, I wouldn’t be working myself. But I do think that we need to recognize the degree to which many of us (certainly I) absorb and operate from cultural norms and notions about the ‘doability’ of working while also mothering. We live in a society that values the marketplace far above the home. But which does the Bible prioritize as more important for humans? The home. The home is where hearts are nourished, where character issues are most fully played out, where central relationships – including those with God – are primarily built. For adults and children alike.
A section in the “Undivided Heart” chapter of Sally Clarkson’s book The Mission of Motherhood is called “Wholehearted Mothering in a Half-Hearted Society,” and she discusses the division that exists in the hearts of many modern-day mothers. She writes, “It’s so easy, in this era of divided hearts, for women’s souls to become withered and dried up because we have so little time to read, to think, to enjoy the beauty of nature or the joy of relaxing with a friend or loved one… A divided mind that comes from a lack of wholehearted commitment to the home, as well as the simple time pressure that comes from supporting a dual career of home and family, tends to rob mother and children alike of the freedom they need to grow and thrive.” She then cites one finding of a 2001 National Institute of Health study that “the more hours children spend away from their mothers, the more likely they are to be defiant, aggressive, and disobedient by the time they get to kindergarten.”
The terms Clarkson uses here – “divided heart” and “wholehearted mothering” – resonate with me. Is it possible for moms who work part-time while raising small children to avoid an undivided heart and still mother wholeheartedly? Yes, I think can be possible (just as it’s possible to mother full-time but not in a wholehearted manner, and with a heart that’s nevertheless divided). But I also think it’s harder to do… and there are tough questions to be asked and praying to be done by those of us who do it.