Several months ago, while training for the half marathon and during one of our busiest photography seasons, I found myself repeatedly confronted by the image of what I thought a good mother was supposed to look like. According to my ideal, she was always home with her children, never (or rarely) left them with someone else to care for them, didn’t have any hobbies or interests that took her outside of the home (or, at least, didn’t have very many.) I looked at the way my life used to be, home with my children, rarely ever going out to visit friends or having people over, pretty much cloistered away from others (I don’t mean we didn’t have friends, but that we saw them occasionally rather than frequently) and the way my life was now and there was such a huge difference I didn’t know what to think about it!
I found myself wondering: were the convictions I used to hold true for me anymore? Were they ever my convictions in the first place, or had I adopted them from others who believed that a good mommy was one who did X and Y and Z?
I spoke to my husband about it, and he encouraged me to continue training for my marathon and pursuing my photography business. I spoke to friends who encouraged the same. In my heart, I felt I was doing the right thing (and still feel that I was, at the time, during that season of my life.) But looking back, having cancelled my marathon training and pulled back from the extra activities that were keeping me away from home so often, I’ve discovered something… Somewhere along the way, I developed my own beliefs regarding what being a “good mother” looks like for me.* I look at my kids who are so happy to have Momma back home – who are already shedding some of the bad habits and attitudes I’ve allowed to develop over the past few months, and I realize: wherever my concept of what I believe I should be doing as a parent came from, it’s one I believe in the depths of my heart to be the correct path for me and my family.
That isn’t to say that I believe my children should never leave the house, or have friends! But it is to say that I believe with everything in me – I believe that God is showing me – that we have been spending too much time away from home and spending too much time with friends, lately. Not because those friendships are bad, but because I find myself ignoring my children while they’re playing with friends and not catching the negative things that are going on which is allowing bad attitudes to develop (for instance, rather than being right there to see who took what from whom and who had it first, I’m distracted and when they come to me I deliver a sentence that is unfair to everyone involved.) This isn’t just going on with friends, of course, it’s going on in my own home. While I’m off reading a book or working on pictures or researching the latest running techniques, my children are left to themselves and I’m doing a poor job monitoring their behavior and just plain loving on them!
People often tell me what great kids I have, and ask me how I did it. I think this is part of the answer. My life was a thousand times simpler during my older children’s formative years. I was always right there with them, we rarely had play dates, and they were “tomato staked” the majority of the time. As a result, we were able to catch and weed out improper behavior and attitudes quickly. I look at my life then and contrast it with my life now and I know that things need to change. I’m not saying that our family is going to join a monastery, but we’re going to continue doing what we’ve done this week: drawing back, limiting our commitments outside of the home, limiting our playtime with others, and I’m going to start getting my own work done and pursuing my own hobbies and interests while the kids are asleep or while my husband is home (and even then, leaving them with my husband as little as possible – I think there’s a reason God sent the husbands to work the fields, not the wives.) I’m also planning to limit the amount of photography work I take on each month – we’re already doing that to some extent, but I plan to limit it even more after the baby is born.
I know this isn’t the right way for everyone. I know that many would take issue with what we’re doing (really, with what we’ve always done save for the past year or so.) And I don’t think my way is the right way for everyone.* But I have come to believe, wholeheartedly, that it’s the right way for us. My husband told me the other day that he felt like he had his wife back, and that the kids had their mother back. I don’t think either one of us realized the strain we were under. And I look at the fruit our lifestyle has produced in our older children and I’m convinced we’re doing the right thing.
** I want to make it very clear that I make no judgements regarding the way others raise their families! The things I speak of here are the things I believe God is showing me regarding my own family. I look at Dean Karnazes who runs ultra marathons and spends more time away from his home than in it, yet says he is a better parent because of it. And I believe that. I look at the author of this post who believes she should always be home, and that her children shouldn’t be involved in any activities outside of the home and I believe she’s doing the right thing, too. We all have our own paths to follow, and this is the path I believe God is leading us on, not the path I believe is right for everyone.