Navigating Motherhood and Work

Mom-shaming is real. I hate opening this post with that statement, but it is sadly true and needs to be said. It begins as soon as you announce you are expecting and continues even into your children’s adulthood (or so I’m told…I’m not there yet, but I don’t doubt it). I, personally, have been criticized or was subject to listen to unconstructive (er, destructive?) criticism of: hospital vs. home birth, C-section vs. natural delivery, breast vs. formula feeding, public vs. private school, vaccinations, allowable screen time…just to name a few. I get it, though. We love our kids. We want what’s best for them. We want better for them than we had for ourselves. Therefore, we make these decisions based on our convictions and can become passionate about them. The danger, though, comes when we impose those passionate convictions on others.

One area in which I experienced the most mom-shaming was my decision to continue working after having my two daughters. I was not prepared for the very personal, intrusive questions and accusations that came hurtling at me – from people both in and out of the church – at a time when I was sleep-deprived and literally trying to keep my babies and me alive.

I had to defend to many my decision to continue working as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), in a hospital, where I treat mostly elderly patients who have had strokes, or were suffering from head and neck cancers or forms of dementia. I heard myself saying things like, …But I help people… It’s not just for the money…I worked hard for my advanced degree and license to practice…My work is also my ministry…I want to be an example to my girls so they see that they can work to sustain themselves and their families. Even if it was never explicitly said, the probing questions people asked made me feel as though I was being judged for not putting my family first, and that hurt.

I examined Scripture and found that the infamous and well-lauded Proverbs 31 woman did, in fact, work. She works hard both for her family and at her job .  The authors, Solomon and Kings Agur and Lemuel wrote these wise sayings of Proverbs as a wisdom textbook for all people. King Lemuel described this beautiful and industrious model of a woman as being good to her husband (v. 12), a wise shopper (v. 13,14), a manager, investor, farmer, realtor, manufacturer, seamstress and merchant (vv. 15-24). She takes care of herself in exercising and being healthy (v. 17), is generous to the needy (v. 20) is kind, wise with her words, and fears the Lord (vv. 26-31). Let’s also be realistic. Biblical scholars (and I) don’t believe that King Lemuel was describing a singular woman, able to accomplish all these things day in and day out. More likely, Proverbs 31 is a composite rendering of an ideal Christ-loving woman. In sharing my understanding of this passage of Scripture, I was able to share with others how our American Christian image of motherhood isn’t entirely in line with Biblical truths. My role is not defined by complete domestic subservience; rather, being a wife, mother and a professional all have places in God’s purpose for my life. And even for the woman who chose or chooses not to work outside the home, she is industrious in many other ways that serve her family and her community.

I have since made a couple of transitions so that I can be available for my family while still remaining a professional. I switched to working part-time and became an adjunct professor at a university. With this transition, I get the unique opportunity for my kids to be a part of my work during the summer when they help our graduate students out with a camp for kids with special needs. It is a thing of chaos and beauty when my two worlds collide. My kids get to see me, not as mom but as “Professor,” while my students observe how I balance work with parenting in real-time. It has elicited great frank conversations with both parties about work-life balance and what it can look like while also maintaining a personal walk with Christ and a marriage. I’m very honest about the messes and challenges, as well as the joys and victories.

In supporting those of you who are Christian working moms or considering it in the future, here are some things that I and some other working moms I interviewed hope you find helpful:

Make a schedule with your family that you can all agree to.

On the days that I work, my family knows that means: All hands on deck! Everyone needs to be awake and out of bed at a certain time. We work as a team to keep each other accountable. This also means preparing outfits, lunches and readying backpacks so that there is as little last-minute scrambling as possible. Meal-planning for the week also helps. Sometimes we’ll cook large meals on one night so that we have leftovers for a couple days.

Enlist help from others.

The old adage that it takes a village to raise a child is pretty accurate. If you can enlist the help of a nearby and capable grandparent (that is, your parents or in-laws) or another relative, friend or neighbor, do it. More likely than not, someone has offered you help at one point and you refused it for fear of imposition or losing face (I’m Asian-American and this is very much a thing). You will be surprised to find that there are people who would love to help pick up your child(ren) or run an errand for you because it blesses them to bless you. God sends others as extensions of Himself to show us how loved we are by Him.

Be proactive.

If your church has only or mostly daytime activities for women or kids, ask those responsible for those ministries if they might consider evenings. Small groups, kids Bible studies and even vacation bible school (VBS) can be offered in the evenings to accommodate working parents. If you don’t voice the need, it is likely your church’s leadership isn’t aware of it. You can have a kind and considerate conversation about these things with your church leaders.

Let go of perfection.

Braids might be lopsided. Socks might end up mismatched and P.E. clothes may get left behind. That anticipated Instant Pot/Crockpot meal may not turn out. You forget to sign that slip for UPS to leave your package on the doorstep. You had to get take-out for dinner…again. We’re human, and things happen. Give your family and yourself grace.

Not all the plates need to be spinning at once.

Have you seen the acrobats who can balance and spin plates on dowel rods? It’s fascinating. One mom said to me that working moms are expected to accomplish this kind of act—keeping all plates spinning simultaneously. The truth is, one plate will inevitably wobble and thus need more attention. It’s okay to put the plates down sometimes. Your health and well-being, your family, a close friend…will sometimes need to take priority over work and housework and it’s more than okay. It’s good and healthy, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of!

Written by Joyce Young

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